In 1993, Russia literally had to fight to adopt its new constitution. In October that year, the then president Boris Yeltsin ordered tanks to shell the White House in Moscow (seat of then Supreme Soviet, now of the Russian government), where plotters were hoping to restore the Soviet Union and roll back democratic reforms. In 2020, no show of force was required to amend the constitution (if we are to ignore the military parade on the Red Square on the eve of the seven-day-long referendum), and yet the consequences of this move for both Russia and its neighbours might be even more drastic than those 30 years ago.
For Russia the novel SARS-CoV-2 still seems to be the best of a bad lot, as the country still reports relatively low numbers of infected people. But, if coupled with other pre-existing problems (power transfer and economic hardships), the pandemic could exacerbate an already unstable situation and lead to new unpredictable foreign policy moves. Russia’s strategy in times of SARS-CoV-2 is most likely going to be threefold: further working on its global image by sending aid and offering assistance; shifting its focus from the near abroad to great power politics; and doubling up the ongoing information warfare if the first two do not bring immediate results.
Speculations about “Транзит“ or transfer of power have circulated in the Russian mass media since Vladimir Putin got elected as the President of the Russian Federation for the fourth time in March 2018. The turbulent political events of the first weeks of 2020 shed some light on Putin’s strategy for his future. In case he chooses to leave the president’s chair, he will hardly be able to fully control the handover of power and will likely face some unintended consequences.
The beginning of conflict in Eastern Ukraine is nearing its sixth anniversary. The concerted effort of Russian, French, German and Ukrainian leaders to settle this issue diplomatically has yielded few tangible results so far. The recent meeting in Paris of four leaders gives ground for cautious optimism. What have the parties agreed upon? What problems remain and what has changed since the last round of Normandy negotiations?