Twenty-five years ago, after seventy years of Soviet dominance and over three hundred years of rule by Russia, Ukraine declared its independence. This occurred after a national referendum in which over 90 percent of Ukraine’s voters chose independence. Every part of the country, including Crimea—which at that time had a population that was over 60 percent ethnic Russian—chose independence by a majority vote. 

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In recent weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been doing what he is best at: war mongering. It began with the Kremlin’s accusation that Ukrainian leaders had “chosen terror over peace,” despite the fact Russia has not been able to produce any credible evidence of the alleged “sabotage plot” in Crimea. Additionally, neither the OSCE’s monitors, witnesses on the ground, nor any independent media have confirmed Russia’s claims of an armed confrontation or bombardment by Ukrainian forces.

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“If we cannot cause the politician to change, then we must inspire the citizen to be bold,” said Pastor Evan Mawarire, founder of Zimbabwe’s #ThisFlag movement, at the Atlantic Council on Wednesday, August 17.

Mawarire gave his remarks draped in a Zimbabwean flag, the symbol of the movement. “We are rising up to say that our government has failed us. We’re not afraid anymore to raise our voices, because it is the truth. [...] the Zimbabwean citizens are the missing voice that has not been present in the timeline of building Zimbabwe.”

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Since the Middle Ages, Kyivan Rus—the loose network of warring principalities whose borders vaguely coincide with today’s Ukraine—has been exposed to waves of invaders from neighboring states. This list of aggressors includes the Normans, Mongols, Poles, Ottomans, Habsburg Austrians, Germans, and Nazis—and not least, Muscovite Russians, the Romanov Russian Empire, and Bolsheviks. Each invasion destroyed political and social institutions, produced staggering human casualties, and delayed the country’s development.

Today Russia’s policy toward Ukraine demonstrates that Russian foreign policy has always been expansionist. Russia is eager to control neighboring states through diplomacy and economic ties if possible (to wit, the Eurasian Economic Union), and through destabilization and force if necessary. The Russian drive for empire is so primeval, it has been in evidence even without an “official” ideological doctrine since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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It has been a long time since I have sensed any cause for optimism about the prospects of a political settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Indeed, Armenia and Azerbaijan nearly resumed full-scale war in April, when their troops clashed along the line of contact with a level of ferocity unprecedented during the twenty-two years since the previous ceasefire. As the dust has settled, however, two new openings have emerged, one rather unexpectedly from Russian President Vladimir Putin and another from a regional business leader. Both merit Washington’s close examination and perhaps its embrace.

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It may seem strange, but the Kremlin's propaganda machine is not backing US Presidential Republican Candidate Donald Trump. It has a bigger goal: Discrediting democracy in the United States.

The Kremlin's main propaganda outlets in the US are the television station RT—formerly Russia Today—and the radio and online outlet Sputnik. Both are headed by Kremlin loyalists and closely mirror Russia's foreign policy. While their effect on the presidential race is likely to be minimal, their reporting is useful for the insight it provides into the Kremlin's intentions.    

That reporting focuses on specifically attacking US Presidential Democratic Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the general nature of US democracy . As such, it appears that the Kremlin is less interested in promoting Trump than promoting discontent. 

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Russian President Vladimir Putin may be preparing a new offensive in Ukraine. Russia has prepared an excuse for a military incursion to connect Crimea with rebel-held areas of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. Fighting along the corridor has already heated up; the Ukrainian military reports that on the night of August 8 more than 200 artillery and mortar rounds fell on Shyrokyne, on the Azov Sea coast east of Mariupol. Now, following Russian claims of thwarted terrorist attacks in Crimea that the United States cannot confirm, Putin is vowing revenge. “We obviously will not let such things slide by,” he warned.

Putin met with his security council on August 11. According to a Kremlin spokesman, the group discussed “additional measures” for ensuring security. “Scenarios were carefully considered for anti-terrorist security measures at the land border, in the waters and in the airspace of Crimea.”

Separatists and the government believe a fresh outbreak in hostilities is imminent.

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Peace in Europe is impossible as long as Vladimir Putin remains Russia’s leader. As both the biggest obstacle to peace and the key source of potential war, Putin has become the main threat to Russia’s neighbors and the West. But what, exactly, motivates him?

Analysts are divided over the reasons for Putin’s foreign policy moves. Some see them as being grounded in his realist fears of Western strategic encirclement. Others root them in his authoritarian regime and imperialist ideology. Putin’s most striking feature, however, is his unpredictability.

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Russia’s efforts to spread disinformation in other countries as part of a hybrid war against the West sometimes make us forget that the media networks inside Russia also greatly matter. Even though Russia’s domestic media targets the Russian-speaking population, its narratives and portrayals of the international scene can tell us a lot about Russia’s foreign policy.

Uncovering the roles that European politicians play in the Russian media can help us understand who has the biggest influence in Russia, what it takes to get space in news articles, and who is perceived by Russians as real representatives of European politics worthy of dealing with the Russian president.

The following research, analyzing over fifty-nine million Russian-language articles from over two thousand sources published between January 2014 to May 2016, attempted exactly that. The results suggest that European politicians need to follow three simple steps in order to gain the Russian media's attention.

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On August 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed his long-time chief of staff Sergei Ivanov. Ivanov was the second most important person in the Russian political hierarchy; this is a major change in the Putin government with many implications. Putin replaced Ivanov with Anton Vaino, a former diplomat and head of Putin’s protocol office for many years. Vaino is a grandson of Estonia’s former communist leader.

Putin and Ivanov reportedly attended the KGB training school at the same time, but unlike Putin, Ivanov was an outstanding officer. Ivanov, who speaks fluent English and Swedish, was KGB chief in Finland. He is secure, speaks happily with foreigners, and has a good sense of humor.

Ivanov was persistently a member of Putin’s inner circle. After starting as national security secretary in 1999, Ivanov was Russia’s minister of defense from 2001 to 2007. Putin promoted him to first deputy prime minister—letting him compete with Dmitri Medvedev for the position of president. Putin ultimately chose Medvedev, preferring the weaker candidate. In December of 2011, Putin appointed Ivanov his chief of staff.

Although Putin and Ivanov have been so close to one another, Ivanov has been seen as a rival to Putin. Ivanov used to say that Putin became only lieutenant colonel in the KGB, while he was lieutenant general. Their feuds have focused on security and international affairs issues. Ivanov is usually seen both as a hardliner and as a problem solver. He is a supporter of Russia’s state corporations—especially its armament industry—while he has no known connections with Putin’s billionaire cronies.

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