The results of Kosovo’s recent general election were a huge surprise: Vetëvendosje (“Self-determination”), up to now a small opposition party, won 32 seats, making it the largest party in parliament. This put a sudden end to the political duopoly exercised by Kosovo’s two dominant parties, the PDK and the LDK, under whose rule the country fell prey to persistent corruption and economic stagnation.
During those dismal years, apathy set in among the electorate – but Vetëvendosje has put an end to that. As Albin Kurti, the party’s nominee for prime minister, told me: “We cannot just give people hope, but we can give them courage.”
Evidently this strategy has paid off. But while the new public enthusiasm that carried Vetëvendosje to victory might seem welcome, not everyone in Kosovo is happy about it.
Under the terms of a widely criticised 2014 ruling by Kosovo’s constitutional court, if a coalition formed before the election collectively wins the largest number of seats, it has the automatic right to first try to form a parliamentary majority. A coalition comprising the country’s so-called “war wing” parties collectively won 39 seats, and is now frantically trying to pull together a parliamentary coalition. To do so, it will need the support of various smaller parties who represent Kosovo’s minority communities.
WASHINGTON: US legislation renewing and tightening sanctions on Russia, stalled in the House of Representatives, was not passed before the US and Russian presidents met at the G20 summit in Hamburg. The proposed bill had already received criticism not only from Russia but also from Germany and Austria about the impact sanctions may have on Europe’s gas supply.
Europe and the United States need not worry: Energy markets have undergone significant transformation in favor of importers, and Russia’s tough talk warning against sanctions is little more than posturing. Russia needs Europe as a market for its oil and gas.
The proposed sanctions bill – if passed by the House of Representatives and not vetoed by President Donald Trump – would put into law sanctions previously established under former President Barack Obama as well as expand them, targeting various companies and sectors of the Russian economy, including the energy sector. The sanctions, renewing earlier sanctions for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine, are a response to Russia’s cyberattacks during the 2016 US presidential election as well as weapons supply to Syria’s government. Significantly, the new bill hinders Trump from easing sanctions on Russia without approval from Congress. The Senate approved the bill nearly unanimously in June.
Russia’s majority state-owned gas company, Gazprom, complains that the new sanctions target European companies involved in Russia’s controversial Nord Stream II pipeline project. The planned project expands the existing Nord Stream system that pumps Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany and bypasses Europe’s previous gas transit hub, Ukraine. With companies from Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK on board with the project, Nord Stream II, if completed, would support the dominance of Russian gas in Europe. Gazprom controls about 15 percent of global reserves and more than 70 percent of Russia’s.
In 1934, confronted with rising pro-communist sentiments in his country, Chiang Kai-shek, leader of China’s Nationalist Party, launched the neotraditionalist New Life Movement (新生活运动) as part of a comprehensive anti-communist program that sought to use traditional values as a counterweight against Bolshevik-inspired revolutionist ideas. Fast forward to today’s China and the head of China’s Communist Party is actively promoting a wave of neotraditionalism. Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized the need to “advance and enrich outstanding traditional Chinese culture (中华优秀传统文化)” (CCP News, July 22, 2015). Why is Xi following this strategy and what are his end goals? In addition to immediate political aims, Xi’s neotraditionalist policy is part of a long-term vision to remake Chinese culture and society by weaving together selected traditional values with contemporary national consciousness.
Xi Jinping’s Neotraditionalism
In politics neotraditionalism means “the deliberate revival and revamping of old cultures, practices, and institutions for use in new political contexts and strategies” (Encyclopedia Britannica). After assuming the presidency, Xi has repeatedly touted traditional Chinese culture to the public. Xi’s emphasis on culture mirrors the strategy of his fallen rival Bo Xilai, whose signature campaign as the party secretary of Chongqing was the neo-Maoist “Sing Red and Strike Black (唱红打黑),” a revival of Mao-era culture and the suppression of criminality. While comparable to Bo on the “strike black” front, Xi’s cultural policy is less about “singing red,” yet it appeals to a much broader base of Chinese conservatives rather than just the extreme Left.
While Xi has emulated Mao’s statecraft in many ways, his neotraditionalism deviates from the Maoist path (China Brief, March 6, 2015). In sharp contrast to the iconoclastic Mao, who viewed the “old society (旧社会)” with contempt, Xi declared traditional thought and culture the “soul (灵魂)” of the nation (Xinhua, August 8, 2016). “Outstanding traditional culture is a country and nation’s basis for continuation and development. Losing it is the same as severing a country and nation’s lifeline” (Phoenix News, September 5, 2016). Thus, “A country and nation’s power and prosperity must always be supported by a flourishing culture. The prosperous development of Chinese culture is the prerequisite to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” (Phoenix News, September 5, 2016).
As the India-China standoff at the Doklam tri-junction area enters its second month, it is clear this is the most serious crisis between the two countries in 30 years. There are several ways in which it might develop. Unilateral concessions and Chinese escalation are unlikely, with the local military balance precluding any quick and decisive action by the People's Liberation Army (PLA). A longer-term standoff, perhaps even stretching through the winter, is more likely – but also unsatisfactory to Beijing, and therefore unstable. A diplomatic off-ramp is currently hard to see, but may become easier in the autumn. These options are explored in turn, below.
The first scenario is that one side or the other will make a unilateral concession, either China abandoning its road construction in disputed territory or India withdrawing troops to allow China to proceed unimpeded. This scenario, though comforting, is exceptionally unlikely.
Both sides have made it absolutely clear that they see important interests at stake (sovereignty for China, national security and alliance credibility for India) and have dug in their heels. China has backed up this position with military exercises, unusually aggressive threats, and an effort to lobby P5 countries. While playing down the seriousness of the episode and emphasising diplomacy, India is showing no signs of wobbling. New Delhi has taken opposition parties into confidence, moved troops from the 20th and 27th mountain divisions towards Doklam, proposed a doubling of border guard deployments, and indicated that its forces will block Chinese construction for as long as necessary.
The second scenario is the Chinese use of force to expel India's 300-400 troops, resume road construction, and, as John Garver has put it, 'teach India a lesson before China's advantage is eroded'. Whether through snap exercises, warnings that its patience is running out, or lurid threatsfrom former Chinese diplomats, Beijing certainly wants New Delhi to think that this is a serious possibility. Some Indian experts agree, warning that Chinese signals echo those seen before past wars.
Strong powers can underplay their hands and afford to make mistakes. Weak powers, on the other hand, need to exaggerate their power and be far more precise in its use. Power is like money; the less you have, the more you need to flaunt it and the fewer mistakes you can afford to make. But by trying to convince others that they have more power than they actually do, they run the risk of squandering a scarce resource. It’s nearly impossible to both flaunt power and preserve it at the same time.
This is the core strategic problem of Russia. On the one hand, it is still trying to find its way more than 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event President Vladimir Putin has referred to as “the greatest political catastrophe” of the 20th century. In the lives of nations, a quarter of a century is not very long, and the reverberations of the catastrophe are still being felt. On the other hand, Russia lives in a complex and dangerous region, and appearing weak can be the biggest threat to its well-being. Therefore, like a wealthy person coming into hard times, Russia must simultaneously try to appear more powerful than it is and meticulously manage what power it has.
Russia’s Geographic Weakness
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has faced two fundamental problems. The first is geographic. The second, which we’ll return to later, is economic.
The leadership of Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter and the self-professed leader of the Islamic and Arab worlds, is in the midst of radical, and perhaps contested, change. The thirty-one-year-old crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman (MbS), who is already king all but in name, could take the throne soon, perhaps within days. The Wall Street Journal has reported that a video was recorded in recent weeks in which the king says the time has come for MbS to become king. Such an announcement, according to "people familiar with the royal court," could be used upon the king's death or as a public abdication announcement. An unnamed royal court official was quoted as saying, "The king's health is excellent…" But he went on: "Any country that abandons its leader in his last days for a critical health condition is a country with no dignity and prestige."
Since 1964, one Saudi king has been deposed by the rest of the royal family, and another has been assassinated by a nephew, but most have died of natural causes, usually the consequence of old age. Abdication would be new, although it is allowed for in Saudi law for medical reasons. Despite the claim of the royal court official, King Salman, eighty-one this year, often appears confused and has a short attention span. He is given to repeating the same anecdote to visitors and needs a computer screen to prompt him on his talking points. When he last visited Washington, his entourage actually brought his furniture from one of his palaces to make his hotel suite feel familiar.
Both senior British and U.S. officials date this deterioration to before Salman became king in 2015, noting that even then he was no longer an ultimate decisionmaker. Why Salman's condition did not stop him from becoming king probably owes to the late King Abdullah's hope that another half-brother, Muqrin, then deputy crown prince, could replace Salman as crown prince. Muqrin would have acted as a placeholder until Abdullah's son Mitab, the then and still current minister of the national guard, could take over. Such a scheme was derailed when Salman sacked Muqrin three months after he became king.
The viciousness of Saudi palace intrigue is clear from reporting by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times about the removal of Muhammad bin Nayef (MbN) from the position of crown prince in June, a move in which MbS was the driving force. MbN was separated from his bodyguards and close advisors, stripped of his cell phones, and denied access to his diabetes medication until he renounced his position and was videotaped giving the oath of allegiance to MbS. The deposed crown prince is now confined to his palace in Jeddah, guarded by men loyal to MbS. One explanation for the timing of the removal is MbN's known opposition to the current Saudi policy against Qatar, but the ostensible justification was reported to be his health. Some have speculated, here, that he is addicted to prescription painkillers and other substances. People who have met him say he displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, probably a consequence of a near-death incident in 2009, when a suicide bomber detonated himself a few feet away.
Americans should have been surprised that the French broadly approved President Emmanuel Macron’s invitation to President Donald Trump as guest of honor for the July 14 Bastille Day celebration.
Unlike what was seen at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, there were no widespread protests against Trump.
Don’t the French disdain Trump, and aren’t they incredulous that the supposedly great American democracy could have elected him?
As a sheer political calculation, wasn’t Macron taking a large, unnecessary risk in the invitation? Of damaging his support in public opinion and even among his majority in parliament?
Chinese government leaders, subtle masters of propaganda, seem to have discovered a Sun Tzu formula for taming dissent on the Internet: The best strategy may not be to confront critics directly, but to lull or distract them with a tide of good news.
This intriguing argument is suggested by a recent article in the American Political Science Review titled “How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument.” With complex data, it supports a simple thesis about life in the Internet age: Arguing the facts often doesn’t work; frequently, confrontation just makes people resist harder.
The study analyzes China, but its implications are relevant for America in the age of Donald Trump. As I noted in a column last August, Trump’s supporters sometimes seem impervious to fact-based argument. Trump’s base has mostly stayed loyal since his inauguration, despite his lack of legislative achievements and his impulsive, arguably unethical actions. Why is this so? Read on.
The Chinese case examines the same conundrum explored by Christopher Graves, an Ogilvy Public Relations executive-turned-behavioral scientist. He summed up the limitations of factual argument in an October 2016 article in Harvard Business Review, “When Saying Something Nice Is the Only Way to Change Someone’s Mind.” That’s a lesson Trump critics haven’t learned. Trump makes inflammatory statements, opponents howl in outrage, and his core supporters applaud. The impasse continues.
In May 1944, Chinese Nationalist and U.S. Army troops converged on the city of Myitkyina, one of the last remaining obstacles to the opening of the Burma Road. Intelligence indicated that the Japanese garrison defending Myitkyina numbered no more than 1,000 soldiers, but the actual number was three times that amount. The American-Kachin Rangers, consisting of U.S. special operators from the Office of Strategic Services and indigenous Kachin tribesmen, prowled ahead of the conventional units to collect information and wreak havoc behind Japanese lines. Ranger reports on Japanese troop movements enabled Chinese and U.S. infantry to trounce the Japanese on the ground, and Allied bombers to plaster them from the air. A U.S. infantry officer observed that “without the assistance and support of the Kachins, we would have been licked before we even got started.” Myitkyina fell in August, and a few months later supplies were flowing up the Burma Road to China.
As one of the first U.S. special operations outfits, the American-Kachin Rangers exhibited many of the traits that would account for the successes and popularity of special operations forces in decades to come. By forging ties with the local population, a few Americans enlisted the help of local warriors who knew the physical and cultural terrain better than the enemy. The low American profile kept the Rangers from attracting the attention a U.S. infantry unit would attract. Emphasis on stealth and speed enabled the Rangers to sneak up on the enemy to slit throats and demolish bridges.
In the 75 years since the creation of the United States’ first special operations forces, the achievements of those forces have built up popular confidence in their capabilities to such an extent that their success is often taken for granted. The recounting of their numerous triumphs, however, can easily obscure the historical reality that their tribulations have often been as numerous. The Burma campaign of World War II is a case in point. Five of the first six special operations teams sent into Burma disappeared or were destroyed. Only the team sent into the Kachin territories found a sympathetic population that refused to betray it to the Japanese authorities.
To ignore the tribulations is to risk endangerment of today’s troops and missions. Before putting special operators in harm’s way, the makers of policy and strategy must give great thought to the factors that determine tactical and strategic outcomes. No foolproof methodology exists, but powerful insights are to be found by studying the history of U.S. special operations forces.
On 13 July, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) issued a regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) which will allow the banning of the Islamist organisation Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). This follows the government’s announcement on 9 May that it intended to disband HTI on the grounds that its teachings conflicted with the constitution and state ideology of Pancasila, and that its activities were creating public unrest.
The government’s actions have proven controversial and there are strong grounds for arguing that both decisions undermine Indonesian democracy and carry considerable political risk for Jokowi. The use of the Perppu, in particular, points to the government’s inept legal and political strategies behind the banning.
Hizbut Tahrir has been present in Indonesia since the early 1980s. Initially a covert movement, it has operated above ground since 2000. It has grown rapidly over the past two decades and has branches in most of Indonesia’s provinces. It keeps its membership numbers secret, but has been regularly able to mobilise thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, to its rallies.
The cornerstone of its teaching is the necessity to restore a global caliphate, after the last of the Ottoman caliphs was removed by Turkey in 1924. It regards democracy as un-Islamic and campaigns fervently but peacefully for sharia law implementation and the rejection of capitalism and secularism.
Twenty years ago this month, Hong Kong embodied the hopes and dreams of an emerging liberal century. The United Kingdom handed control of the island back to China, marking the end of centuries of colonialism in East Asia. Economies were opening up across the region, as Hong Kong and the economies of the other Four Asian Tigers transformed from agricultural backwaters into post-industrial economic powerhouses thanks to economic liberalization. Even China, the largest lingering communist state, seemed to be opening up following Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s sweeping economic reforms in the 1980s. Yet two decades into the unhappy marriage of China and Hong Kong, the upstart island city has moved from being an exemplar of liberalism into a victim of China’s refusal to reform.
To understand what happened between 1997 and 2017, you have to understand what had happened since 1841. Hong Kong was under British rule for 156 years: First as a Crown Colony following China’s defeat in the First Opium War, a dispute over trade and China’s sovereignty. Subsequently, the United Kingdom formally leased Hong Kong and neighboring territories from the Qing Dynasty for 99 years. During this time, British institutions were established in the city. These included independent courts, free trade, a free press, and relatively strong protections for human rights. They set Hong Kong apart from the rest of Asia.
With the lease set to end in 1997, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Premier Zhao Ziyang signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984. This document set the terms for the handover of Hong Kong, including China’s future treatment of Hong Kong and the city’s autonomous constitution, the Basic Law. As per the agreement, there would only be one China, but there would be two distinct political and economic systems: one-party communism in China and free market liberal democracy in Hong Kong. China further agreed not to meddle in the city’s affairs until 2047. In essence, Hong Kong’s reunification with China was premised on 50 years of political and economic autonomy.
Fast-forwarding to 2017, 20 years into the handover, it is clear that Beijing has no intention to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy. Earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang went so far as to question the importance of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, stating that it was a historical document that “no longer had any practical significance.” While the official disregard for Hong Kong’s autonomy shocked many, China has spent the last 20 years gradually undermining political liberty and home-rule in Hong Kong. There are three ways China has violated Hong Kong’s autonomy over the past five years.
Imagine if, in 1945, the War Department and senior American commanders in Europe and Asia had been permitted to define victory simply as the fall of Berlin and Tokyo, with no post-combat stabilization and reconstruction program for either Germany or Japan. Imagine if, in 2003, the United States had invaded Iraq without a realistic, implementable plan for governance after the fall of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein. Imagine if the West had fought Qaddafi in 2011 without much thought given to what would replace him. In fact, no imagination at all is required for the cases of Iraq and Libya. Both operations were undertaken with no serious regard to what would follow. Both produced disaster.
In the campaign to defeat ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) in Syria, the US Department of Defense and Central Command (CENTCOM) think they have a formula for addressing the “what’s next” question in a way that evades and transfers responsibility entirely. They have defined their mission and that of the American-led, anti-ISIS international coalition, as one of supporting indigenous “partner forces:” in this case a Syrian-Kurdish-dominated militia (the “Syrian Democratic Forces”) top-heavy with Syrian Arab auxiliaries. “Partner forces”—featuring Kurds with close ties to the terrorist PKK—are the ones who have been handed responsibility for what happens on the ground once predominantly Syrian Arab areas are liberated from ISIS. American military aviation and special forces on the ground are only there to “support,” don’t you know.
The theory behind entrusting post-ISIS stabilization to a Kurdish-led militia, one trained and equipped by the United States, is that indigenous forces are much better suited for the task than foreigners. As former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter noted in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “History has shown this task is difficult for outsiders to accomplish.” Indeed, Douglas MacArthur and Lucius Clay would not have minimized the difficulties. Yet even they upheld the central post-combat principle of military civil affairs by drawing to the maximum on indigenous elements for policing, schooling, utilities, public sanitation, and the like. What, one might ask, does any of this have to do with autonomy-seeking Kurds operating militarily in Arab towns and cities?
Indeed, the reach of a Kurdish-dominated militia does not extend very far south in the Euphrates River Valley, where ISIS has ensconced itself. CENTCOM knows that its “partner forces” may be limited to the capture of Raqqa, ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital. It has therefore invited the Assad regime and the Iranian-led Shia foreign fighters supporting that regime to help themselves to the rest of eastern Syria so long as they shoot at ISIS and avoid targeting “partner forces.”
Russia’s large-scale military exercise to be conducted in September can provide critical insight for NATO allies seeking to improve their readiness posture against an increasingly revanchist Russia, according to an Estonian defense official.
“Russians train exactly as they intend to fight, thus Zapad will give up ample information on their military and political thinking as it is right now,” Kristjan Prikk, undersecretary for defense policy at Estonia’s Ministry of Defense, said at the Atlantic Council on July 11. According to Prikk, “we don’t consider this year’s Zapad exercise in itself to be a direct threat to us [NATO] or a cover for an attack, but we have to keep in mind that the Russians have the nasty habit of hiding their actual military endeavors behind exercises.”
“We have to be calm, vigilant, flexible,” in the months leading up to and following Zapad 2017, said Prikk.
In September, Russia will conduct a joint military exercise with Belarus—Zapad. Based on initial indications and past Zapads, the exercise, which will take place in Belarus, will assess the readiness of Russia’s military across many forces—land, sea, and air—and test a range of capabilities—not only conventional, but also cyber and nuclear, within a particular set of scenarios. This will be the first Zapad exercise since 2013. Zapad, which is also the Russian word for “west,” will take place against the backdrop of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, ongoing war in Ukraine, military intervention in Syria, and meddling in the US and French presidential elections.
China’s actions so far in the ongoing North Korean affair have been ambiguous. In order to try to understand China’s strategy toward North Korea, it is necessary to understand China’s strategy in general. To do that, it is important to recognize the imperatives and constraints that drive the country.
First, we need to outline China’s basic geographical parts. The country has four buffer regions that are under its control. Tibet in the southwest has seen some instability and is vulnerable to outside influences. Xinjiang in the northwest is predominantly Muslim, with a significant insurgency but not one that threatens Chinese control. Inner Mongolia in the north is stable. Manchuria in the northeast is also stable and of all four buffers is the most integrated with the Chinese core. These last two regions are now dominated by the Han Chinese, China’s main ethnic group, but they are still distinct. When you look at a map of China, you will see that a good part of what we think of China is not ethnically Chinese.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit and Expo 2017 hosted in the Kazakh capital Astana in June served to highlight important regional trends to which US policy makers should play close attention.
First, Eurasia is in the midst of a massive geopolitical realignment. This realignment, shaped by China and Russia, is centered on China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative—a $3-trillion infrastructure project to which nearly seventy countries and institutions have signed up. Russia, meanwhile, is pushing forward with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which creates an integrated single market that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.
The United States is not part of either the SCO, the security bloc jointly led by Russia and China, or the EAEU. Iran and Turkey, however, have expressed an interest in SCO membership. Iran is already working with Russia on North-South transportation corridors from Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea to Bandar Abbas on the Arabian Sea. Turkey, meanwhile, is crucial for a number of energy and transportation projects, including the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, and the Sultan Selim Bridge that connects Asia and Europe. Iranian and Turkish membership in the SCO will further shift the balance of power in Eurasia away from the West.
The Obama administration unfortunately shunned the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) even as the United States’ Western allies rushed to join it. US President Donald J. Trump’s administration should not compound this error by shunning OBOR and Central Asia at a time when regional cooperation is deepening.
There are few among us who have never cited some version of the opening of Polonius’ famous advice about clothing: “The apparel oft proclaims the man.” Usually we don’t connect it to the end of the thought: “And they in France of the best rank and station are of a most select and generous chief in that.” As France begins a new political season, Shakespeare might well reaffirm that her politicians know better than anyone else that clothes make the man, especially when the man pretends to lead a revolution.
Following Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the presidential election two months ago, his party, La République en Marche, and its allies won a solid majority of seats -- 350 of 577 -- in June’s legislative elections. The traditional parties on the right and left of the political spectrum, Les Republicains and the Socialists, finished respectively with 112 and 30 seats. But this election represents their last hurrah. Like picnic leftovers under a simmering summer sun, both parties are rapidly decomposing. The left and right in France continue to disagree over how to maintain confidence in their traditional ideologies.
Setting aside En Marche, the one party not riven by internal dissent is the fledgling La France Insoumise (Defiant France). Seventeen Defiant Ones won seats, including the party’s leader, Jean-Luc Melenchon. Composed of former members of the Socialist and Communist parties, as well as splinter groups from France’s hard left, La France Insoumise has risen from the rubble left by the Socialist collapse. According to a recent IFOP poll, a large majority now views Melenchon’s party as the principal force on the left.
Which brings us back to the clothes that make the man and the woman. At the ceremonial opening of the legislative session at the Palais Bourbon -- the home of the National Assembly -- the male contingent of Les Insoumis arrived tieless. As one member, Alexis Corbiere, explained, “the people” are entering the august chamber. “In any case,” he added helpfully, “this what we mean symbolically.”
Yevgeny Shevchuk, the former “president” of the separatist region of Transnistria, escaped prosecution by the current Transnistrian leadership on June 28, finding refuge in Moldova of all places. Despite speculation of his departure to Malta, Shevchuk appears to be living comfortably with his family in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau (Newsmaker.md, July 11). As the new leadership in Transnistria consolidates power in what is an intra-elite power struggle, the Russian State Duma approved a declaration on what it views as negative developments around Transnistria. Specifically, the Duma resolution blames Moldova and Ukraine for allegedly jeopardizing the security and stability of the region by introducing joint checkpoints on the Transnistrian segment of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border and by obstructing Russia’s regional military presence (Duma.gov.ru, July 7). Soon after, reports revealed that Ukrainian counter-intelligence arrested Russian Army Colonel Valeri Gratov, who had been training separatists in Donbas and was about to be appointed to a leadership position in the Transnistrian security sector (Obozrevatel.com, July 9). All these developments point to growing volatility in the Transnistrian region.
After winning the “presidential” race in Transnistria last December (see EDM, December 16, 2016), Vadim Krasnoselski—who is backed by the most powerful local oligarch, the head of Sheriff Company, Victor Gusan—has been seeking to do away with any potential challengers. Despite losing the election to Krasnoselski, former “president” Shevchuk has retained some popular support and remains the leader of the weak but vocal political opposition in Transnistria. Shevchuk has a long and acrimonious history with Sheriff, having served as the company’s deputy director and then leader of its political wing, Obnovlenie (Renewal Party). Shevchuk was once a young and promising politician who brought Sheriff its first major political success in the “national legislative” elections of 2005. However, Shevchuk later fell out of favor with Gusan. Nonetheless, Shevchuk was able to win the 2011 “presidential” election as an anti-system independent against Gusan’s candidate, Anatolii Kaminski, who was also backed by the Kremlin’s United Russia Party.
Once in power, Shevchuk challenged Gusan’s economic grip over the separatist region, but fell short of significantly weakening his opponent. Instead, Gusan was able to undermine Shevchuk’s own power by employing his vast wealth, control over the Transnistrian “legislature,” and capitalizing on Shevchuk’s own failures, particularly when it came to improving the worsening economic conditions in Transnistria. Yet, pulling Transnistria out of the downward economic spiral is a tall order, given the structure of its economy and the adverse regional context. Thus, blaming Shevchuk for all of Transnistria’s woes, along with Moldova and Ukraine, is their default option. Still, the fact that Gusan and Krasnoselski allowed Shevchuk to flee Transnistria after stripping him of his “parliamentary” immunity most likely indicates Moscow’s reluctance to see Shevchuk convicted. Some of the charges levied against him cast a dark shadow over Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who serves as Putin’s special envoy for Transnistria and has been, in effect, overseeing Shevchuk’s alleged criminal activities, including the embezzlement of Russian assistance (Europaibera.org, July 2).
Against this background, the timing of the Russian Duma declaration comes as no surprise. The strong rhetoric against Moldova and Ukraine is, at least in part, aimed at deflecting attention from the intra-elite power struggle in Transnistria as well as from Russia’s own failed record in maintaining the pretense of political stability and economic prosperity in this separatist territory. After the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the Russian accusations of a “blockade” of Transnistria (Mfa.gov.md, July 7), backed by an equally strong message from Ukraine calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the region (Mfa.gov.ua, July 11), Moldova’s pro-Russian President Igor Dodon predictably tried to have it both ways when reacting to the declaration of the Russian parliament. Dodon faced domestic ridicule after telling an insistent journalist to read between the lines of his rather vague statement (Newsmaker.md, July 7). Dodon’s Russian benefactors are not making his life any easier when Russian lawmakers threaten a Donbas-like scenario in Moldova (Newsmaker.md, July 7). Moreover, taking into account the latest incident of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) sending a seasoned Donbas operative to take a leading role in the Transnistrian security apparatus (see above), the threats coming from Russian lawmakers no longer seem empty.
It's the big idea of the moment among certain economists and activists in the West: Universal basic income (UBI), a policy of allocating a fixed amount of money to every citizen, is seen by some as a way to confront rising unemployment — particularly in the face of automation — in developed countries.
But while UBI has been tested (with mixed results) in local experiments and national referendums in Europe, some are now considering whether it could also be a recipe in the developing world. Last week, the think tank NABNI (French acronym for "Our Algeria Built on New Ideas") laid out the case for a fixed monthly income in the North African country. The Algerian daily El Watan reports that the proposed monthly income would come to 60 euros, which is about one-third of the current minimum wage in Algeria.
The think tank argues that de-industrialization, often cited as a challenge in the developed world, is also hitting countries like Algeria, which has to adapt its economy to the expansion of the service sector over heavy industry and agriculture in an increasingly globalized market, notes French daily Les Echos.
Similar factors have been cited by advocates of UBI in the West. A national referendum last year proposing a 2,500 Swiss Francs ($2,580) monthly income in Switzerland, which did not pass, garnered international attention; in neighboring France, Socialist party candidate Benoit Hamon made the idea a centerpiece of his (failed) campaign for president. The concept has had a bit more success in Finland, where on January 1, an unconditional basic income of 560 euros was granted to 2,000 unemployed people randomly chosen.