Putin’s Lonely Christmas Amid His Hopeless War

It was a striking image for a traditional season of joy and hope: Russian President Vladimir Putin attending the Orthodox Christmas service all alone in one of the Kremlin’s cathedrals.

Vladimir Putin celebrating a less isolated Christmas in 2019. Photo: The Presidential Press and Information Office / Wikimedia Commons

This loneliness stands in contrast with his persistent attempts to show himself actively engaging with subordinates, particularly servicemen — for example, during his visit to the Southern Military District’s headquarters on December 31, 2022 (Kremlin.ru, December 31).

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Russia Remains Stuck in 2022, a Year of Miscalculated War and Deep Degradation

The new year of cheerful celebrations and renewed hopes has failed to arrive in Russia, which is sinking deeper into the vortex of President Vladimir Putin’s devastating war against Ukraine.

This image illustrates Putin’s New Year speech at the official presidential website kremlin.ru

Putin has duly delivered his traditional New Year’s message, emphasizing the sacred duty of defending the motherland (Meduza, December 31).

However, his best wishes did not produce any joy among the populace, which remains disconcerted with lost prosperity and worried about a new wave of mobilization (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 24).

The first wave of mobilization, which was announced in September 2022 after many reassurances from the Kremlin that such dragooning would be unnecessary, was a big shock for society as many Russians had preferred to pretend that the “special military operation” launched on February 24, 2022 — again after many assertions that it would not happen — had no relevance for their everyday lives.Read More

Right on Its Side, but Not Might?

The lessons an ancient Greek war can teach Ukraine today.

Ukraine is confronted with a stark choice: fight on through a bitter winter with death raining from above, or initiate negotiations with Russia under unfavorable terms. Two-and-a-half millennia ago, the leaders of the Greek island of Melos confronted a similar choice.

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The Results of a Prediction Competition Suggest the Fog of War Can Be Partially Lifted

We may never be able to eradicate political violence like what is now seen in Ethiopia, or in the deaths and damage wrought around the Colombo region in Sri Lanka. As Plato noted, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. But a more realistic goal may be within our grasp: if we can more clearly see when and where violence starts, we can better prepare for and mitigate the harm of conflicts.

Illustration: Leo Reynolds / Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Computing useful conflict predictions, however, remains daunting. Despite a decade of scientific progress that has tremendously increased our ability to predict the continuation of ongoing conflicts (and peace), even sophisticated models continue to be caught by surprise by changes in fatalities, for example when tensions intensify, leap between dis-contiguous regions, or de-escalate.Read More

What Can Somalia’s Federal Member States Learn from Somaliland as They Transition to Multiparty Elections?

Democratisation in the territories of the former ‘Somali Republic’ is influenced by the experience with the 1960s elections. After independence, the Somali republic adopted a parliamentary democracy.

Photo: International Crisis Group

However, this democracy was short lived as elections became fraught with malpractices such as rigging, fraud, intimidation, and manipulation.Read More

Putin’s Wartime Leadership Wavers and Wanes

Bold and unpredictable maneuvers are supposed to be the trademark political style of Russian President Vladimir Putin; last week, however, he surprised observers of various persuasions not with a proactive move but with an unusual act of avoidance.

Putin at one of his annual press conferences. This year, this is canceled. Photo: kremlin.ru

Putin’s annual marathon end-of-the-year press conference has been canceled, as has the traditional “direct line” with carefully trained audiences, and his constitutionally prescribed annual address to the Federal Assembly has been postponed indefinitely (RTVi.com, December 15).Read More

50 Years Hence: Can the Apollo Missions Inspire Us Today?

Last week, 50 years ago, Apollo 17’s lunar module left the moon. Since then, no one has set foot there. Let us pause for a moment to think about the signficance of that rather unique adventure called Apollo.

Earthrise. Captured by Bill Anders on Christmas Eve 1968. Photo: NASA

The Apollo program defies belief. At a time when much of modern technology – not least computer technology – was in its infancy, and immensely simpler than it is today, NASA managed to land human beings on the moon. It was, and remains, a daunting and dangerous task: to send living human beings into the airless void of space and then to land safely on – and not least return safely from – the surface of another heavenly body.Read More

As Ukraine Conducts Deep Strikes, Russia Turns to Iran

On December 5, two Ukrainian strikes on Russian air bases deep into Russian territory and far from the frontlines produced a painful shock for Russian forces and could signify a further mutation, if not escalation, of the war.

The Engels air base in the Saratov region is hundreds of miles from the border to Ukraine. Photo: Russian Defense Ministry

Each time Ukrainian forces deliver a long-range high-precision attack — from the sinking of the Moskva cruiser in mid-April 2022 to the strike on Saky air base in Crimea in early August and the swarm attack of air and naval drones on Sevastopol in late October — Russia has been caught unprepared and has struggled to find a response.Read More

Civil Society Faces an Uphill Struggle to Defend Democracy

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize jointly to Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski, the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties, and the Russian human rights organization Memorial for their promotion of “the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens.”

Ill. Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Prize Outreach

This year’s prize constitutes an important and timely recognition of the critical work of civil society in introducing and defending human rights, civil liberties, and democracy in a time when these actors are faced with historically challenging circumstances. Read More

Russian Energy Policy Wriggles Under a Hard Ceiling

The enforcement of the price ceiling for Russian oil transported by sea enacted on December 5 is not a surprise, as this measure was being discussed by the Unites States and its key partners as early as September 2022.

Photo: David Martin / CC BY-SA 2.0

It is, nevertheless, important proof of the Western coalition’s undiminished resolve in undercutting Russia’s ability to sustain its all-out aggression against Ukraine. Commentators in Moscow had been keenly following the protracted debates in the European Union on the exact figure of this ceiling, hoping that it would be set high enough to render the measure merely symbolic (Valdaiclub.com, October 30; Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 21).

Yet, these expectations were disappointed as the agreed mark of $60 per barrel is well below the average price on the Russian Urals brand for 2022 and is set to preclude sharp spikes to the statistically notable level of $100 per barrel, as was the case in mid-June (RBC, December 2).Read More