This post by Mark Temnycky originally appeared in the Euromaidan Press. Mark is a graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

November 2020 marked the seven-year anniversary of the Euromaidan protests and the Russian military invasion into eastern Ukraine. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region has resulted in the displacement of 1.5 million people and the deaths of over 14,000.
Despite the hardships caused by the Russian incursion, Ukraine persevered by containing these invaders to the occupied regions in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s success is in part thanks to the international community, including that of the United States.
American assistance to this Eastern European state is no secret as the U.S.-Ukraine relationship dominated headlines earlier this year. Since the start of the Donbas conflict in 2014, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with $1.5 billion in military assistance. This American aid, however, has been questioned by some political pundits, policy analysts, and high-ranking government officials. Their arguments spanned from Ukraine being a corrupt country to how American assistance could escalate the Donbas conflict.

Unbeknownst to the critics of this aid, the U.S. does not simply throw financial assistance to Ukraine in the hopes that it will magically help reform the country. Instead, American aid to the Eastern European state is delivered in various forms, such as educational initiatives, reform programs, and military exercises.
An example of sustained support to Ukraine is the California-Ukraine State Partnership Program.

Established in 1993, the U.S. Department of Defense, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, launched the State Partnership Program, or SPP. The SPP’s goal was to assist the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet states in their democracy efforts and reform their defense forces following the Soviet Union’s collapse. The SPP has since expanded beyond Europe, where there are now 89 programs worldwide.
To support these program objectives, U.S. National Guard units are paired with various countries around the world. These American National Guard units are then charged to oversee the success of these SPPs.
Ukraine was one of the first recipients of this program. According to Lt. Col. Robert Swertfager, a former Director of the California-Ukraine SPP, the Eastern European state was paired with California due to its “similar agricultural output, long coastlines, and large tech[nology] sectors.”
California and Ukraine have [been] extremely cooperative” over the past three decades, said Lt. Col. Swertfager in an interview with the U.S. Air Force’s 144th Fighter Wing. “The more [the United States] can increase Ukraine’s ability to interoperate with other nations, the more secure the region becomes for both Ukraine and its neighbors.”
Throughout this 27-year-old relationship, the California National Guard conducted regular military-to-military engagements with the Ukrainians, and these training exercises have established an element of trust between both parties.

When asked about the California-Ukraine SPP, a spokesperson from the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, DC underlined that “the Ukrainian government appreciates America’s robust and unwavering support of Ukraine, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity, as well as [America’s] assistance with the implementation of comprehensive reforms” in Ukraine. The spokesperson also emphasized that “it is a priority for Kyiv to further develop and strengthen this strategic partnership between the United States and Ukraine.”
The success of this relationship could help “the U.S. and Ukraine proceed to more ambitious goals in this security domain,” added another spokesperson.
The formation of this particular SPP has helped Ukraine improve its defense capabilities, thus developing it into a valuable strategic partner for the West.
For example, NATO military exercise Operation Rapid Trident “contributed to Ukraine’s continued defense modernization to U.S. standardization.”
Meanwhile, Operation Clear Sky, a NATO military exercise hosted by the Ukrainian Air Force, influenced the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to implement substantial changes to Ukraine’s military doctrine.
In other words, the work of the California-Ukraine SPP has led to significant defense reforms in Ukraine, and it has helped Ukraine’s ability to interoperate with the West.
Despite the complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the California-Ukraine SPP still remains active. In September 2020, members of the American and Ukrainian National Guard gathered to participate in the annual multinational Rapid Trident training exercise. This two-week operation was hosted near Yavoriv, Ukraine.

“Rapid Trident 2020 demonstrate[d] the strength of Ukraine’s strategic partnership with the U.S. and others, and [Ukraine’s] commitment to enhanced readiness,” the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv stated.
Over 4,000 military personnel participated in this year’s multinational operation.
During these [annual] exercises, the Californians and Ukrainians collaborate to complete their objectives,” said Col. Andrii Ordynovych of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “This cooperation leads to the division of tasks, which multiplies their probabilities of success.”
The California-Ukraine SPP, however, is not without challenges. For example, language barriers between American and Ukrainian military personnel have led to miscommunications, but both parties have overcome these hurdles. Attempts to reduce future issues are demonstrated by Ukraine’s efforts to incorporate language interoperability while conducting various military training exercises.
Second, while the Ukrainians made strides toward improving their military capabilities, other avenues of success have been difficult to measure as specific guidelines do not exist. Nonetheless, some benefits are difficult to quantify, such as the long-term personal relationships formed from the partnership.

The intangible results include trust between both parties. Mutual learning extends beyond military systems and operations, and service members gain an understanding of each other’s history, cultures, and traditions. These personal interactions are invaluable as it promotes the continuing transformation and democratization of Ukraine.
Finally, funding for the SPP appears to be minimal on the macro level.
According to a Pentagon comptroller report, only $22.8 million was allocated to the SPP in fiscal year 2019. This figure, however, excludes funds received from the various National Guard units and the United States Combatant Commands (in the case of the California-Ukraine SPP, the United States European Command provides additional funding for this program).
Thus, despite the claims of some critics, American aid is not simply thrown to foreign governments. Instead, these resources provide for developmental opportunities, such as the SPP.
Overall, the California-Ukraine SPP is one of the many ways in which the U.S. provides foreign military assistance to Ukraine. The program denotes California’s commitment toward Ukraine’s success, and the Eastern European state has made strides toward reforming its military.

The SPP has demonstrated the importance of the partnerships the U.S. has established with its allies throughout the world. This has helped countries develop their own democracies and defensive capabilities. Through the sustained mentoring provided by American National Guard units to the California-Ukraine SPP, and with Ukraine’s willingness and desire to modernize its defense capabilities, the Eastern European state has demonstrated it has what it takes to become an important strategic partner on the European continent.

This post by Prof. Jok Madut Jok originally appeared in the Nation of Kenya.

As Covid-19 rips through the United States of America, where new case numbers and death toll have been at 150 thousand and 1,500 a day respectively since Monday, the scale of the tragedy has certainly prompted almost an unprecedented scramble to develop a vaccine. 

The pandemic has been so politicised in America that politicians and their appointee scientists have chosen bravado over science, suggesting that they can beat this disease through herd immunity, a total misuse of that concept.

Luckily, while there has been no political leadership to rally the American people behind a national plan of action, there has been an army of conscientious scientists who have tried their best to battle the disease from their labs and medical personnel standing on the frontlines against the disease in their intensive care units and hospital wards with bravery, humility and humanity.  

Most of these scientists have sustained the zeal to stick to the facts and deserve an applause for the current momentum on the vaccine front.

As the world continues to be hammered by this disease with ferocity unseen since the 1918 Spanish flu, the global biopharmaceutical industry has worked non-stop since January to develop safe and effective vaccines against Covid. These efforts now appear to be paying off, at least for the countries in the global north for the immediate future, and perhaps later for the rest of the world. 

There are now several vaccines that have shown immense promise, some exhibiting up to 95pc efficacy in preventing Covid-19 infections. The most prominent of these are from the global giant Pfizer in collaboration with a German research firm, BioNTech, from a Boston-based Moderna and from AstraZeneca in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

With the announcement on Wednesday that the United Kingdom’s Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has approved the Pfizer vaccine and plans to deploy it within the UK in the next week or so, the world has edged closer to a relief. US vaccine developers also announced on Monday that they, too, have filed for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, the US regulator. 

With these, victory against this most monstrous of viruses seems imminent. Or is it? 
Vaccines are wonderful gifts of science to humanity and there is no question the news is being greeted with euphoria around the world. But it appears that many corners of the world will not be touched by the good news just yet.

Access race

Africa, particularly, will have challenges ahead regarding access to vaccines in the near future, and this will give many Africans material for debate, just as the puzzle of the continent’s low case numbers has triggered all manner of speculation. 

First of all, there is still a wait-and-see attitude toward the Pfizer vaccine, even within North America and Europe. The European Union will not take the UK approval of the Pfizer vaccine as a done deal for its member states but will first subject it to its own verification and approval mechanism, which is quite intriguing, given that the vaccine was developed in concert with a German company, was manufactured in Belgium and yet, Europe wants its own corroboration of the vaccine. 

Secondly, it’s quite costly, $20 a jab for a two shots regimen. On both accounts, the uncertainty about safety and efficacy and the cost, Africans will most likely want to wait and see. After all, the trials in the West selected participants that covered all population segments by age, medical conditions, social characteristics and race, and there is no telling whether vaccines developed without participation of African volunteers could be administered to Africans without further tests that consider the unique population characteristics in Africa.


Thirdly, there is the issue of the logistics to move and store the vaccines. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires storage conditions of minus 70 degrees centigrade temperature, something one can hardly imagine possible in many African countries where electricity, transport infrastructure and security are such serious challenges as to make it impossible to keep the vaccine safe and potent.

Fourthly, while there has been negotiation involving World Health Organisation (WHO), the Africa Centre for Disease Control and the vaccine alliance (GAVI) to find ways to get the vaccines to the developing world through something called COVAX Facility, Europe and North America will first prioritise vaccination of their most at-risk populations, and Africa might not get a chance until mid 2021. Alternatively, the pharmaceutical companies might be persuaded to grant permission to developing world’s local manufacturers in India,

South Africa or Egypt, which would reduce the cost, assuming safety and efficacy matters can be sorted out by these countries.

Fifth, perhaps the most important, is the nature of the coronavirus itself, which has continued to elude a good handle on it, even as more and more is understood about it. For example, as some countries have a disaster on their hands, others seem to have been relatively spared, in some cases due to public health actions and other times for reasons that are yet to be discovered. 

In Africa, where the infection rates have remained quite low and declining, where most people who got infected remained asymptomatic and those with symptoms not developing severe clinical conditions, the situation has evolved in surprising ways. 

Africa has now gone from the doomsday predictions when the virus first landed there in March, that, due to poverty of the people and the poor health services in most countries, the streets would be littered with dead bodies, as Melinda Gates and other public health experts once declared, to a situation where Africans are wondering if the global race to develop a vaccine is even a priority for Africa at the moment. 

Most Africans have presumably moved on with their lives, past the fears that the coronavirus had imposed on them, not in the spirit of bluster exhibited by the American politicians, but because people were not seeing the feared community spread of Covid, and because the measures that governments had imposed were just unworkable. 

And, with this, the vaccine will come to Africa when it does, but I suspect ordinary Africans are not losing sleep over the vaccine. What African scientists should be doing now is to find out what is making Covid less deadly in Africa.


This is not to say Covid-19 did not affect Africa. Far from it. The maximum lockdowns, night curfews and mobility restrictions imposed across the continent have all visited a disastrous situation on most African economies and livelihoods. Covid has come to Africa in ways that will be deadly to Africans for years to come, not by invading lungs, but by creating conditions that will allow poverty to invade homes and hunger to invade human bodies. 

Not only has it ruined national economies, impeding the countries’ ability to deliver goods and services, it has also given governments perfect alibis for failure to take responsibility for public welfare and misuse of public resources. 

It has also enabled unscrupulous government officials and their cronies in the markets to steal funds meant to fight Covid. Kenya’s “Covid Billionaires” is a case in point.

Revealed social ills 

Covid-19 has revealed a lot of social ills. It is being utilised by governments to suppress descent and take away past democratic and civic gains. For example, the government of Uganda has arrested opposition leader Bobi Wine, disrupted his election campaigns, all on accusations that he has violated Covid-19 moratorium on crowds, but it’s known that he is being harassed on political grounds. 

It is also now convenient for the government of South Sudan to blame Covid-19 for the country’s bankruptcy, even as every citizen knows this is not entirely true, that the country’s wealth had started migrating into individual bank accounts in Eastern Africa and beyond long before Wuhan coughed. 

This is East Africa’s pivotal moment for democratic forces to push for a change agenda on all the glaring inequities and institutional frailties that Covid-19 has unmasked. Perhaps, like in Europe and America, African scientists will labour on with research even as political leaders take advantage of health emergencies to score for themselves.

This piece was written by Prof. Jok Madut Jok. It originally appeared as an editorial in Kenya’s Nation newspaper.

The war that is raging in northern Ethiopia, between the Federal Army (Ethiopian National Defence Forces) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is uncalled-for and ghastly by all measures.
The passions that have seized both sides and propelled them to use war as a means of settling differences are historically deep.

The government of Ethiopia represents the old imperial pride imbued with the arrogance of centuries of dictating to everyone from Addis Ababa, and Tigray is incensed by the gradual loss of power its leaders had wielded for over three decades since the fall of the Derg in 1991, power which the current Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been chipping away through his programme of rapid and slightly unclear reforms since his ascent to power in 2018.
A little background is necessary here. One of the things that Abiy did was dismantle Ethiopia’s ruling party, EPRDF, which had run the country with violence and brutality under former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for almost 30 years. The guys who ran that show were TPLF and they were sidelined by Abiy’s reforms. Since then, he has accused them of destabilising the country by stoking ethnic tensions.

His allies have accused them of assassinations, including one attempt against Abiy himself. When the government of Ethiopia postponed the elections scheduled for August 29, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tigray defied Addis Ababa and forged ahead with its elections, asserting the region’s autonomy and undermining the central government, which has clearly angered the rest of the leadership.

On November 3, 2020, after the Ethiopian government accused TPLF of supporting rebels who massacred civilians in western Oromia, several Tigrayan officials escalated words, threatening to “bring down” Abiy’s government. Then on November 4, 2020, the government announced that the TPLF forces had attacked the Ethiopian National Defence Forces Base located in Tigray region and attempted to rob the northern command of artillery and military equipment. That’s when Abiy ordered his army into the Tigray region.
The result of this confrontation is a senseless war, perhaps a war whose true origins are beyond Ethiopia and the outcome of which will benefit no one in the country.
What we see from outside Ethiopia is that Africa has yet again, without fail, showed the world the old images that paint the continent as a place of misery, where citizens suffer unnecessarily just because the leaders running some of the countries have chosen personal pride and wrestling for control of power over and above the welfare of the people, over the viability of the country itself. It seems that it is going to be Ethiopia’s turn this time round to shame the region, just as the East African region may have thought South Sudan was the winner in terms of senseless and pointless wars.

West Africa region, while still faced with the problem of leaders who cling to power beyond their term limits, has really made a marked progress when it comes to reining in war tendencies. Southern Africa is far ahead of the rest in this regard since it ended cold war era civil wars. East, Central and Horn of Africa have a long way to go in terms of resisting the temptation to rush to arms.

And when it is the turn of Ethiopia to make us in this region look bad, the war is all the more painful, not just because it is the biggest country, the most populated, the biggest economy, nor even the fact of it being the capital of Africa in a way, the African Union base, but also because what ails Ethiopia also in many ways bites in Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and further afield.
One is unable to wrap their head around the wave of news headlines about this conflict. Reports of close to 30,000 Tigrayan and other Ethiopians fleeing to Sudan to escape attacks by the Ethiopian Federal Army; the involvement of Eritrea on Ethiopian government’s side; the appeals for peace talks from regional organisations and heads of state from within the Horn and East Africa; of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed showing determination to end this conflict militarily; the Tigrayan leaders in Makelle, the regional capital, insisting that they would rather die standing up than surrender to what they see as a one man dictatorship.

But Ethiopia, a country that has been the pride of the region because of its double digit growth, its government’s reform agenda, the inspirational story of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is stuck between the federal government’s right to assert control over the country’s affairs, a right no one doubts, and the cries from the civilians in Tigray who are being hammered in this confrontation. Who will blink first to save Ethiopia from totally ruining itself by its own hands and spare the regional neighbourhood the ripple effects of this baseless war?
Prime Minister Abiy is caught at once between Ethiopia’s ethnic politics, the desire for state monopoly of force and the Nobel Prize for peace he received in 2019 on the occasion of ending the war with Eritrea.
Which way will he pick? Perhaps his own attempt to remind us all about the pains of war would best be read back to him in an effort to sway him against the way of war. During his Nobel lecture, he talked about his participation in war and he called it the epitome of hell, saying, “I’ve seen brothers slaughtering brothers on the battlefield. I have seen older men, women and children trembling in terror under the deadly shower of bullets and artillery shells. War makes for bitter men, heartless and savage men.”

For a man with such memory to get into a power struggle with his own former comrades to the point of driving his country to the brink of an all-out war, Abiy Ahmed will have a lot of explaining to do to thousands of Ethiopians who are facing death because their leader, like others before him, could not swallow his pride and take the path of peace, if only to just honour his peace prize and his own reflections on what war does to men.
Whatever he chooses to do going forward, assuming it is all up to him and no invisible hands steering him, whether to sit down in peace talks with TPLF, pursue a military solution or isolate and starve Tigray over a long period of time, there is no question that Ethiopia as a country will be the biggest loser, not just in terms of lives wasted, infrastructure destroyed or resources squandered, but most importantly the injury to the country’s body politic. Ethiopia’s unity will be in tatters and the war will no longer be confined to Tigray.
With huge street demonstrations that took place in Addis Ababa on Monday and Tuesday, which are purported to be spontaneous in support of the war, but were reportedly encouraged by the Prime Minister himself to drum up the case for a sense of aggression the rest of Ethiopia feels Tigray has inflicted, it is clear that he wants to first exhaust his military options before seeking a peaceful settlement. On November 17, 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said “the final and crucial” military operation will launch in the coming days against TPLF forces.

Perhaps it is time for the elders of West and Southern Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Graca Machel Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, to apply their hard-earned statesmanship to take yet another peace trip to Ethiopia. They can stop along the way to get Paul Kagame, the only East African leader who has earned that status while still in office. Can Africa, for once, just once, put out its own fires!

Mark Temnycky, graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs and Citizenship, is the author of this article for the Wilson Center on Ukraine’s local elections and what the results will mean for Zelensky’s Servant of the People party.

In April 2019, political novice Volodymyr Zelensky defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s presidential election in historic fashion. Zelensky’s success then extended to the July 2019 parliamentary elections, where his Servant of the People party won a majority of seats in the Verkhovna Rada. The results meant that Ukrainians were willing to give the inexperienced men and women of Zelensky’s party an opportunity to lead their country. Servant of the People ran on a reformist platform, and the party’s victory suggested that its members would pursue anticorruption reform in Ukraine. Zelensky’s alleged ties to Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky put some on edge, as skeptics wondered if Zelensky’s rise to power had been encouraged by Kolomoisky so that the oligarch could reclaim PrivatBank. Nonetheless, they were willing to give Zelensky a chance.
Servant of the People pushed through several pieces of anticorruption legislation in its first few months in parliament, and the new government revitalized various anticorruption institutes. Ukraine’s gross domestic product grew by 3.5 percent. Zelensky negotiated a large prisoner exchange with Russia in December 2019—a decision viewed positively by the West—and also remained firm with Russia during the Normandy Summit.

Things seemed to be going well for Ukraine under Zelensky, but by March 2020 everything changed. Zelensky appointed as his new chief of staff Andriy Yermak, a person rumored to have business connections to Russia. Zelensky sacked his cabinet of ministers, and Denys Shmyhal, a former governor who had ties to oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, became the new prime minister. The Verkhovna Rada also voted to remove prosecutor general Ruslan Ryaboshapka, a decision that concerned the West. In selecting his new cabinet, Zelensky appointed numerous figures who had ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk. Zelensky, it seemed, was surrounding himself with Ukraine’s old faces.
Beyond the internal government turmoil, there also were problems within Servant of the People. Some reports claim the party is fragmenting. Other reports state that the party lacks a sense of direction. As a result, support for the party has significantly declined. According to a poll conducted by the Sociological Group Rating, support for Servant of the People has waned to 34 percent. Zelensky’s personal popularity has also declined. During the presidential election, Zelensky won 73.2 percent of the popular vote. By September 2020, his popularity dropped to 31.8 percent. This sharp decline demonstrates that voters have started to lose faith in their government.
Ukrainians expressed their frustrations with Zelensky and Servant of the People during the recent local elections, and the Ukrainian president and his party experienced their first major political loss since their historic presidential and parliamentary victories in 2019. According to Ukrainian exit polls, Servant of the People did not perform well in any of the prominent mayoral races. The party is also not expected to perform well in any of the runoff elections.

The results of Ukraine’s local elections illustrate the drastic decline of Servant of the People. What was once viewed as a potential reform party has now become a group synonymous with Ukraine’s corruption crisis. It is no wonder why Zelensky’s popularity and the popularity of his party have faded. Zelensky and his team will now regroup as they try to formulate a strategy on how they can maintain their influence despite this significant political loss.
Meanwhile, voter turnout in this year’s local elections fell significantly. During the 2015 local elections, Ukraine had a turnout of roughly 47 percent, and some western oblasts had a turnout of greater than 50 percent. The turnout for the 2020 local elections, however, was 37 percent. Some of the low turnout can be attributed to the precautions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. According to a poll conducted by the Sociological Group Rating, 20 percent of survey participants did not vote in the local elections citing health reasons. Another 10 percent did not vote because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This means that one-third of those surveyed did not vote because of health reasons, which is a serious matter.
The other reasons listed as to why Ukrainians did not vote were even more troubling. Fifteen percent stated they were too busy to vote on election day, 14 percent said they did not know who they should vote for and thus decided not to vote, and 12 percent said they were not interested in the local elections. In other words, 41 percent of eligible voters provided troubling reasons for why they did not vote. These responses demonstrate that the Ukrainian electorate may be losing faith in its government.
Ukrainians may feel hopeless with their country’s current political situation. Many of the same issues that have put strains on Ukraine, such as corruption, a struggling economy, and the ongoing Donbas conflict, still remain. This has been a difficult period in Ukrainian history, and many Ukrainian families are feeling the effects of these trying times. Despite these challenges, Ukrainian voters must realize they have the power to decide their future. Traditionally, low voter turnout usually leads to the reelection of career politicians. This also means that Ukraine’s political and socioeconomic situations are unlikely to change.

If Ukrainian elections were to have higher turnouts, however, this could help change the political landscape of Ukraine. In this scenario, Ukrainian citizens could vote for better-suited and more qualified candidates, rather than for their career politicians who rely on voter apathy to retain their seats, which is something that has traditionally occurred. Such a scenario could bring about genuine change to Ukraine. Ukrainians will have to be patient before a new electoral opportunity presents itself, but they will know what kind of power they have with their vote. In the meantime, Ukrainians will watch carefully as Zelensky and Servant of the People regroup after their major political loss. Their leadership’s response may well help determine the results of the next Ukrainian election.

This guest blog was written by Mark Temnycky, graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. It originally appeared on the website for the Center for European Policy Analysis.

How far is President Vladimir Putin willing to go to keep Belarus within Russia’s orbit? How does the Kremlin define success in Belarus, and what are the tripwire events that could prompt Russia to get involved in Belarus’ internal affairs even more than it already is? Given the security implications alone, these are the kinds of questions that ought to be keeping strategists in the West up at night.

Disquieted by how quickly President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s legitimacy was damaged by widespread protests across Belarus this summer, the Kremlin has sprung into action. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin visited Lukashenka at the start of September in what was an apparent show of Russian support for the Belarusian leader. Lukashenka and Putin then met in mid-September, with Russia pledging a $1.5 billion loan to Belarus at the summit.

For its part, the European Union (EU) recently imposed economic sanctions on Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka himself. While a welcome move, in the immediate term it has forced those targeted to rely even more heavily on Russia. Meanwhile, in an effort to help get propaganda messaging up to Kremlin standards, journalists on Belarusian state television have been replaced by Russian reporters from RT.

The situation remains far from settled, and it is easy to imagine how Russia could end up wading in deeper. If the Belarusian protests were to turn violent, for example, Putin has already committed to supplying a peacekeeping force to help quell the disturbance. As events evolve, Putin could lose patience with Lukashenka and seek to have him replaced. With the ability to pivot to the West foreclosed, Lukashenka would have to play along and appoint a Kremlin-approved successor. Such a move, however, is not likely to bring stability and could demand even more involvement from Russia. Over time, this might result in a kind of soft annexation, resulting in the two countries merging into a “union state”—something many analysts suspect is Russia’s ultimate goal anyway.

A full-scale invasion of Belarus, however, remains a low-probability event for the time being. For one, it would be costly for the Kremlin. Neither Crimea nor the Donbas has given the Russians much beyond headaches. Hundreds of millions of rubles have been squandered in the Donbas, and thousands of soldiers and civilians have perished in the conflict. The integration of Crimea has also not gone according to plan, proving to be far costlier to state coffers than most anticipated. Further afield, Russia’s interventions in Syria and Libya have also been expensive disappointments.

Furthermore, Russia’s behavior in Ukraine has led to sanctions being imposed by the U.S. and the EU. These sanctions have already damaged the Russian economy, and with the negative financial impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic piling up, the Kremlin can ill afford another costly reprisal from the West.

All that said, it would be irresponsible to write off the merely unlikely as completely impossible. After all, few predicted the Russian incursion into Georgia in 2008 or Ukraine in 2014.

Taking such an eventuality seriously is necessary given its security implications. Russian occupation of Belarus could result in Russian troops being stationed near the Belarus-Ukraine border, introducing a potential new theater in the still-simmering Russo-Ukrainian war. And a military incursion into Belarus would put Russian troops literally on NATO’s doorstep, escalating tensions with the Alliance to hair-trigger levels. Taken together, these developments would represent a level of instability not seen in Europe since the middle of the 20th century.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron stated that Europeans do not want a repeat situation of Georgia or Ukraine in Belarus. The unsettling feeling one gets watching events unfold is that there has been very little contingency planning among Western leaders. Merely not wanting something to happen is not a strategy.

By Louis Kriesberg

 The struggle for equal justice for Blacks, under the banner of Black Lives Matter (BLM), has demonstrated widespread public awareness of and opposition to injustices.   Yet, tragic unjust events recur.   Some scattered progress is occurring.  But bringing about widespread changes that are widely desired is mired in many other grave conflicts, in new crises, and by willful distractions.  Nevertheless, there are many alternatives that many different people can take to advance justice for all. Injustices occur at the neighborhood, city, county, state, and national levels, within and between governmental and non-governmental organizations.  Therefore, the injustices can be diminished in all these diverse settings by various interacting people.  I begin with considering city and county settings, which have their own police departments.   One proven strategy is to form ad hoc boards or commissions, which may be convened by mayors, county legislatures, non-governmental public interest organization, or even some grouping of religious, business, or other local leaders.  A few persons from each of the major stakeholders in police-citizen relations are brought together to meet for a limited time period and come up with recommendations for restructuring or modifying police-citizen relations.  It is important that the people chosen have credibility in their respective constituencies.  The meetings might well be facilitated by persons or organizations with experience in mediating or negotiating contentious matters.  The topics for possible recommendations are numerous.  For example, one issue might be splitting off the police from dealing with mentally ill persons, which raises issues about funding, about alternative agencies for serving the mentally ill, and about routing of calls for help.  Another issue may be regulations about police accountability, ongoing coordination among stakeholders, and funding to improve services.

Over the years, many efforts have been made to improve policy-community relations, including instituting policing training.  Many organizations, such as the Urban Institute, provide programs to improve trust and understanding.  It could be useful to engage local BLM and other activist groups in shaping and implementing such training.  Going forward, local BLM chapters and other activist groups need to expand their range of tactics beyond rallies and protest marches.  They could build more and closer ties with civic organizations, including political parties, unions, religious institutions, and media sources.  This could help in conducting negotiations and lobbying of local, school, state, and national officials, which can benefit by joining in unlikely coalitions for specific causes.  In a longer-time perspective some activists may enter the political arena or undertake a career that serves to overcome criminal injustices.   

Many of the strategies mentioned above are also applicable at the state level.  Governors or leaders of other state-wide organizations could convene working groups to make recommendations for reducing injustices relating to race or other identities.  This may result in guidelines regarding police training, accountability, or public engagement.  Given the great range in funds in cities and counties for police-related services, possible ways to make funds more equitable might be reviewed. 

Police and national guard responses to protests warrants more attention.  In too many instances police or national guard interventions escalate the contention and result in episodes of violence.  Much is known about ways to moderate and contain crowds and social protests and the counterproductive consequences of using coercive tactics.  State legislatures are important in regard to the underlying conditions that sustain or that reduce Black-White inequities.  Public policies regarding income and race inequities in education and housing impact police conduct with Blacks. Conduct at the national level is also highly relevant for the injustices we are discussing.   This includes giving assistance to locations where police-community relations are improved by the work of the Community Relations Service (CRS), a component of the Department of Justice. For example, CRS has the program “Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships program,” which was recently piloted in Erie, PA, and Topeka, KS.  Much more attention and perhaps impact however, follow from President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about dominating the streets and imposing “law and order.”  His behavior encourages armed White supremacist groups who appear at some BLM demonstrations.  Acting to counter White supremacist threats is part of overcoming Black injustices.

 A great deal must be done at the national level in regard to crime bills, gun control, and massive incarceration. These matters could be important expansions of the agenda of local BLM chapters and other activists.  They are matters in contention in the November 3rd election.  All voters should consider them when they vote. 

There are many shared interests in reducing injustices suffered by Blacks.  Injustices contribute to manifestations of mistrust, fear, and deadly tragedies.  Police are safer when they work in environments of mutual trust.  Police accountability, which holds individuals who act badly responsible for their acts, enhances the safety, reputation, and respect of police officers in general.

We each should often recall our pledge of allegiance to our country that gives us liberty and justice for all.  

By Louis Kriesberg

We Americans are living in a highly consequential time.  We are beset by many conflicts, which, if waged well can be broadly beneficial, but if waged badly, will have destructive consequences.   The struggle for equal justice for Blacks, under the banner of Black Lives Matter (BLM), erupted nationally immediately after the rapid spread of videos of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020.  Massive protest demonstrations quickly spread to over 2,000 cities and towns across the country, and also in many other countries. 

Surprisingly, the protesters were diverse in ethnicity, age, and experience.  The demonstrations were essentially nonviolent and peaceful; in some localities, police expressed solidarity with demonstrators, while in other localities confrontations escalated into forceful encounters.  In a few cities, opportunistic gangs looted and burned stores, and in several localities, armed white supremacists tried to disrupt the demonstrations.

 The Black Lives Matter (BLM) social movement had emerged in 2014, after a large-scale uprising in Ferguson, Missouri. The uprising followed the military-style suppression of the nonviolent protests after the killing of Michael Brown, an18-year old Black man.  The BLM organization was founded then, becoming a wide network, led by local community members, some sharing a new vision.  After each subsequent killing of an unarmed Black person by white police officers, protest demonstrations occurred in many localities, focusing on reforming police departments.

 Americans have long engaged in many conflicts relating to gaining equal justice for Blacks, at the local, state and national levels.   They usually have been waged constructively and achieved broad and lasting benefits.  Sometimes, however, conflicts escalated badly with widespread losses or only short-lived gains.  In most cities, the BLM protests against murderous treatment of Blacks by police have been conducted within the traditional norms protecting the constitutional right of free speech and the right of the people to peaceably protest.  Frequently, as a result, legislative and administrative actions have been taken to end improper police conduct. Often, this has followed conversations and negotiations between protesters and government officials.  The locality-based nature of the BLM social movement and its protest actions have begun to bring about significant reforms in local police departments.  Local BLM chapters and other community-based, Black-led organizations studied police reform efforts, how to organize protests, and how to get results.  This included posting a Conflict Resolution Toolkit on the BLM website.

Of course, the federal government can play an important role in influencing how protests against unjust police actions are conducted and have constructive consequences.  The 2014 violence in Fergusson drew  President Barack Obama’s attention and he ordered a review of the actions and practices of the Fergusson Police Department (FPD).  In March 2015, the DOJ announced finding that the FPD had engaged in systemic misconduct against the citizenry of Ferguson, including discriminating against Black citizens.  It then imposed a consent decree requiring non-discriminatory conduct and indeed the FPD’s conduct was and is greatly improved.

President Donald Trump, however, prefers waging conflicts coercively and has encouraged police to act roughly.  When some of the BLM protests escalated to include violence, he made it clear that protesters should be dominated, and police could use military tools and tactics.  This approach appealed to armed white supremacist groups who appeared at some demonstrations.  The goal of this militant strategy is not clear, it expresses emotions, even if it is usually counterproductive.  The official and civilian violence against the civil rights campaigners during their struggle in the South, in the 1950s and 1960s, was clearly destructive and ultimately self-defeating.   

Going forward, the BLM activists and their supporters may well need to expand their range of tactics.  That is true in conducting negotiations and lobbying of local, school, state, and national officials, which can benefit by joining in unlikely coalitions for specific causes.  More generally, the present national situation opens up an opportunity for a very broad coalition, with electoral implications.  Many Americans, Republicans as well as Democrats, are concerned that the authoritarian conduct of President Trump and his appointed officials are undermining American democracy.   It follows, that BLM and other movements for justice should join together for an election result that repudiates Trump and Trumpism.

How Americans who are not part of the BLM movement respond to it is critical. Expressing recognition of the injustices African Americans experience in the criminal justice system is a step toward peace and justice.  Particular groups have special opportunities to enhance both peace and justice.  Some police unions have given too high priority to simply protect any members who acted badly, rather than maximizing the good standing of their members as a whole. Lawyers in the criminal justice system might provide more information about injustices and suggest ways to overcome them.  Constructive public engagement in solving present-day problems is the essence of democracy. 

Mark Temnycky, graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, originally wrote this article for the Wilson Center on the fragile Hungarian-Ukrainian relationship and how these two countries are making amends.

After a three-year political dispute between Hungary and Ukraine, it appears the two countries have begun to mend their relationship.

Hungarian-Ukrainian relations took a contentious turn in September 2017 when then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a controversial language law. The bill stated that secondary education in Ukraine would be taught strictly in Ukrainian, although minority groups could still learn their respective languages in other classes. Poroshenko argued that the Ukrainian language law was “in harmony with European standards” and that it would raise the Ukrainian language’s status within “the education process.” Ukrainian authorities stated that the enforcement of the Ukrainian language would help minority groups integrate into Ukrainian society. Nevertheless, the law sparked outrage from the various ethnic minority communities in Ukraine.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voiced its concerns after the bill was signed, stating the law “did not create an appropriate balance between” the various languages spoken in Ukraine. PACE then offered seven recommendations on how Ukraine could modify its language law to be more inclusive toward minority groups, such as by providing more time during the transition period and improving the quality of Ukrainian language teaching. The Venice Commission presented these proposed amendments in December 2017.

Government officials from Ukraine’s neighboring states also voiced their concerns. In response to Ukraine’s language bill, Hungary—one of the language law’s most vocal critics—took a series of actions to block Ukraine’s integration efforts with the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This is where the Hungarian-Ukrainian dispute began.

According to Hungarian authorities, the Ukrainian language law was discriminatory as it diminished the status of minority languages in Ukraine. Ukraine’s ethnic Hungarian community comprises nearly 160,000 people, or 0.3% of Ukraine’s total population. This minority group is concentrated in the Transcarpathian region near the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, and many of these residents hold dual Hungarian-Ukrainian citizenship (though the Ukrainian government does not formally recognize dual citizenship).

The election of Volodymyr Zelensky as the new president of Ukraine, however, has seen a turn in the Hungarian-Ukrainian relationship. In April 2019, prior to Zelensky’s appointment, Ukraine passed a new education law which stated that Ukraine’s secondary schools would be permitted to use minority languages. Ukrainian remained the official language in the classroom, but the law meant that minority groups would now be allowed to use their own languages in these education settings.

Zelensky then worked to comply with the recommendations proposed by the Venice Commission on Ukraine’s language law, where he notably met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss these issues. As of October 2019, Ukraine has amended its education law by implementing six of the Venice Commission’s seven recommendations. Most recently, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reassured Hungary and the Venice Commission that Ukraine would implement this seventh recommendation, although this would be at a later date. The Ukrainian government’s willingness to interact with these international bodies has demonstrated to the Hungarians that the Ukrainians were actively working to resolve this issue, and these efforts have begun to mend the Hungarian-Ukrainian relationship.

During a trip to Hungary earlier this year, Kuleba expressed that now was the time to “open a new chapter in [Ukraine’s] bilateral relations” with Hungary. Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó agreed, stating that he had hoped Ukraine’s language controversies were now resolved. Both governments also expressed their desire to draft a joint declaration on the Hungarian community in western Ukraine. The provisions discussed included integrating the Hungarian minority group into Ukrainian society, upholding the minority group’s language and culture in the Transcarpathia region, and turning this community into a “success story” for Hungarian-Ukrainian relations. Hungary also stated that it would support economic and infrastructure programs in Ukraine. The most important and recent development, however, was Szijjártó’s announcement that Hungary was now looking into lifting its veto on the NATO-Ukraine Commission. “[A]s soon as the issues related to the right to education of the Hungarian ethnic minorities are settled, we will lift the veto and ensure a NATO-Ukraine meeting,” Szijjártó declared.

Following their discussions, Kuleba invited Szijjártó to visit Ukraine, barring any travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. The foreign ministers of both countries further discussed it at the Hungary-Ukraine bilateral agreement on September 23.

Overall, Hungarian-Ukrainian relations have been sour over the past few years, but it appears that both states are now working together to resolve their disputes. The efforts of these two governments have demonstrated that they are willing to cooperate to achieve a greater goal, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Ukrainian President Zelensky have even expressed their desire to meet with one another to normalize Hungarian-Ukrainian relations.

Should Ukraine amend its language and education laws to the satisfaction of the Hungarians, and should Hungary lift its veto on Ukraine’s integration efforts with the EU and NATO, this would be a major success. Ukraine would gain an important ally in these Western alliances, and the EU and NATO would gain a strategic partner in the region. The possibilities and benefits of these mutually beneficial relationships are endless.

This post was written by Mark Temnycky, a graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. It originally appeared in the Diplomatic Courier.

On July 1, Russian citizens voted on over 200 proposed changes to the Russian constitution. Of the 200 amendments listed, the most noteworthy change was the proposal to nullify the number of presidential terms held by Russia’s current presidential incumbent, thereby allowing the individual to serve for two additional six-year stints.

The results of the national referendum revealed a foregone conclusion. The conjured outcome claimed that 78% of voters had supported the constitutional changes, but the results were nothing more than a farce. The referendum means that current Russian President Vladimir Putin is now eligible to run for office in 2024 and 2030, indicating he could remain in power until 2036.

This referendum will not bode well for Russia’s neighbors and the international community as Russia has pursued an aggressive foreign policy throughout Putin’s presidential tenure. Most recently, the Russian leader’s ideologies and interpretation of past and current events were made public in a six-page opinion piece published by The National Interest. Given Putin’s imperial ambitions, what will 16 more years of Putin mean for Russia’s neighbors and the West?

Georgia and Ukraine

To understand Russia’s future aspirations, one must examine Russia’s past and current behavior under Putin. During his tenure, Russia attempted to impose its will on the former Soviet republics to ensure that they would not leave Russia’s sphere of influence. This was the case with Georgia and Ukraine and their ambitions to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). To thwart their desires, Russia launched military incursions into northern Georgia and eastern Ukraine in 2008 and 2014 respectively, to destabilize these countries. (Russia also annexed the Crimean Peninsula in the spring of 2014). The damage caused by these conflicts has been devastating, as the combined impact of these crises has resulted in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of millions.

Georgia and Ukraine also face a significant financial burden, as it is estimated the restoration efforts in northern Georgia and eastern Ukraine will cost roughly €3 billion and €10 billion, respectively. Finally, according to the Study on NATO Enlargement, aspiring NATO members must resolve all of their territorial disputes before joining the Alliance. Currently, the Russian Federation controls territory in both countries, thus putting Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO aspirations on hold.

Venezuela, Libya, and Syria

Outside of Eastern Europe and the Caucuses, Russia has exerted its influence in places such as Venezuela, Libya, and Syria. In the case of these countries, Russia has opted to back the regimes of oppressive rulers. Putin has supported Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Libyan rebel commander Khalifa Haftar, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during their respective crises. While the conflicts in these states occurred for different reasons, Russia’s involvement in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria has been similar. In these instances, the Russians have served as an economic lifeline for the countries. Throughout the conflicts in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria, Russia conducted business with their respective energy companies, provided them with military assistance, and used its veto at the United Nations Security Council to block resolutions on Venezuela, Libya, and Syria. Prominent Russian government officials, such as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have also met with the political figures from these countries. Meanwhile, the West has called for an end to these crises. Western leaders also attempted to enforce sanctions on the oppressive regimes as a way of forcing their hands, but to no avail. Based on the conflicting viewpoints on how to resolve the conflicts, altercations between Russia and the West have continued while the conflicts in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria remain unresolved.  

In an effort to destabilize Western democracies and their institutions, Russia meddled in the political and electoral processes of various states within the EU and the United States. Recent and well-known examples of Russian interference occurred in the United Kingdom’s 2016 EU membership referendum, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the 2017 French presidential election. During these events, Russia used similar methods to undermine the fair and free processes of these elections. Common patterns included hacking servers, collecting documents from prominent government officials, using social media platforms to spread disinformation, and creating false political advertisements. Due to the success of Russia’s previous operations, the EU and U.S. are working toward a solution on how they can counter Russia’s future efforts.


With these examples in mind, Russia’s previous actions will indicate where it will conduct its future exploits. The first and most obvious location is Belarus. For 26-years, Alexander Lukashenko has served as the president of Belarus. Throughout his tenure, the leader of Belarus has sought to enforce the policies of the former Soviet Union by empowering the state. Under Lukashenko, the government has taken hold of the economy and the media. He has also developed a close relationship with Russia, where Belarus and Russia have worked toward a “Union State”. In terms of the economy, Belarusian exports rely heavily on access to the Russian market. Finally, Belarus and Russia have conducted several military exercises together. Their fragile relationship is now threatened because Belarus has been recently cast into a political crisis. After Lukashenko imprisoned several of his political opponents and falsified the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential elections, thousands of Belarusians swarmed to the streets to protest the election results. In response, riot police fired upon the protestors to disperse the crowds. Should the protests escalate, Putin could see this as an opportunity to intervene. If this were to occur, Russia would claim that it is acting on behalf of the Russian-speaking people in Belarus, similar to what the Russians stated when they annexed Crimea. Russia’s occupation of Belarus would put a swift end to the protests, and Russia’s expansion into Belarus would alter the geopolitical climate in Eastern Europe, particularly for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The Baltics

The Baltic States are the next probable flashpoint in the region, given substantial ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking minorities reside in these states. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Baltic States quickly joined the EU and NATO. Their integration into these Western organizations was an attempt to escape Russia’s sphere of influence, but their efforts did not go unnoticed. Following their ascension into these organizations, Russia conducted a series of cyberattacks against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to cripple their critical infrastructures. Russia has also voiced its concerns about how the Russian minority groups are treated in these countries, as these groups make up roughly one-third of the population in both Estonia and Latvia. Finally, Russia has continued to violate the airspace of the Baltic States, and has conducted military exercises near their borders. Should Russia continue this provocation, this would put the NATO Alliance to the test. NATO’s Article 5 reads that “an armed attack against one or more [member states] shall be considered an attack against them all,” but the current political climate may suggest otherwise. According to a poll conducted by British firm YouGov in December 2019, survey participants from various NATO members states conveyed that they would be hesitant to aid their fellow member states during their time of need. Should these survey results hold, Russia could embark on its aggressive foreign policy strategy into the Baltics without consequence.

The Balkans

Finally, the Balkans are a third probable location for Russia’s future expansionary efforts, due to Russia’s historical, ethnic, and religious connection to the region. During the 1800s, Russia supported Serbia’s independence movement against the Ottomans. Russia also came to the aid of Serbia during the First World War, and most recently, Russia supported Serbia during the Yugoslav crisis in the 1990s.

Russia has always sought to exert its influence in the Balkans, as this would give the Russians a foothold in the mainland of Europe. NATO’s expansion into the region, however, has complicated Russia’s efforts. Montenegro and North Macedonia, two states that were part of former Yugoslavia, recently joined NATO in 2017 and 2020. Nonetheless, Russia still tried to halt their ascension into NATO. According to reports, Russia attempted to block Montenegro’s NATO membership by sending agents to the Balkan state to stage a coup. The plan also included an assassination attempt on then-Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic, but the plot was foiled. This demonstrated the lengths to which Russia would go to achieve its goals.

Russia has also sought to destabilize North Macedonia, NATO’s most recent member, by launching a series of disinformation campaigns against the state. Finally, Russia’s continual relationship with Serbia and its continued provocation in the Balkans have led to a rise in tensions in the region, and this has particularly put Kosovo on edge.

Should Putin look to spread Russia’s influence into Belarus, the Baltics, and the Balkans, the West will need to develop a strategy for how it will cope with Russian aggression. Russia’s aggressive behavior is unlikely to change during Putin’s additional 16-year rule, thus Western politicians and policymakers must react swiftly.

There are two options as to how the West might respond to Russia’s future ambitions. The first scenario would see the West and its allies stand up to Russian aggression. To date, the U.S. and the EU have continued to impose economic sanctions on Russia. The international community also took measures to punish Russia by removing it from the G8 and expelling Russian diplomats from various embassies and NATO. These decisions have led to a declining Russian economy and they have isolated Russia from the international community. If Russia were to continue its aggressive behavior, the West should take additional measures to punish Russia. For example, more severe sanctions would further weaken the Russian economy. This could see Russia alter its behavior, similar to how the West’s immense spending during the arms race led to the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union. While additional disciplinary actions against Russia may not lead to the collapse of the Russian state, it would force Russia to cooperate with the West, at least in the short term.

An alternative scenario, however, would be much more dangerous. As Russia continues its aggressive behavior throughout the world, some Western states have opted to develop an appeasement strategy with Russia rather than trying to force its hand. For example, Russia was expelled from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2014 following its illegal annexation of Crimea and its military incursion into eastern Ukraine. In order to be reinstated into the organization, PACE declared that Russia would have to change its actions in Ukraine. Five years later, Russia has not changed its behavior, yet it was readmitted into the organization. Some Western leaders have also advocated for a similar approach. During the summer of 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would pursue a new “Russia reset” policy while U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that Russia should be re-invited to the G7. More recently, some prominent U.S. diplomats, government officials, and policymakers have called for a “Russia reset”. Finally, some EU states have called for an end to Russian sanctions, citing that they have been “ineffective” while others have argued that the sanctions have brought harm to the economies of EU states. History, however, has shown that appeasing an aggressive state never works. Such was the case with the Second World War. If the West were to adopt a “Russia reset” policy proposed by these individuals, this appeasement strategy would demonstrate to the Russians that they can continue their aggressive behavior throughout the world without consequence.

Finally, the world has been forced to deal with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. This global issue has resulted in tremendous losses. The gross domestic products of several nations have plummeted, millions of citizens have become unemployed, and over half a million people have perished from the coronavirus worldwide. While struggling to fight against this pandemic, the international community has also had to combat climate change while also having to cope with the global refugee crisis. As the West remains distracted by these issues, and if it were to adopt an appeasement strategy with Russia, this could lead to the abandonment of the West’s commitment to promoting democracy abroad. Meanwhile, authoritarian leaders such as Putin will use the pandemic as an opportunity to expand their power. Should the West ease its role as a police force against autocratic leaders, this will allow Putin to pursue Russia’s territorial ambitions without end. Ultimately, this could lead to a new global conflict, and the consequences would be catastrophic.

Russia’s aggressive foreign policy and its interactions with the international community are unlikely to change during Putin’s extended 16-year tenure as the president of Russia. The West must band together and prepare an effective strategy on how it will counter Russian aggression for the next two decades. If a course of action is not taken Russia will be allowed to spread its influence and meddle in the affairs of its neighbors and the international community without end. Such events would lead to the deconstruction of Western values and the fundamental principles of international relations.

This post is by Prof. Jok Madut Jok, Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University. It originally appeared in the Nation.

What you need to know:

  • Ethiopia is an African giant in many respects.
  • But some of the policies that are being pursued by its current leadership, promising and applauded as they were initially, might actually prove to be a threat to its national security and stability.
  • Critics say that ethnic federalism was not genuinely designed to dispense power to all the regions but was meant to consolidate power in the hands of the federal government.
  • Ethiopia might just wither the challenges of developmental and democratic reforms, but only if it recognises that politics is almost always local.

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has demonstrated its resourcefulness, resilience and dominance in the Horn of Africa. Despite numerous challenges facing it, be it the stories about its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the diplomatic row over it with Egypt, which have recently dominated the news headlines, or the security threats in its Oromia, Tigray and Somali regions, Ethiopia remains the envy of neighbors on numerous counts.

But some of the policies that are being pursued by its current leadership, promising and applauded as they were initially, might actually prove to be a threat to its national security and stability. The uncertainty surrounding the future of “ethnic federalism,” the suspicion surrounding the federal government’s commitment to full implementation of a reform programme, and the insistence on holding parliamentary elections in 2021, despite the fears that holding these elections before conducting a census, necessary for redistricting, could inflame ethnic competition. The country’s major political parties are also ethnic based and such competition could undermine the developmental and democratic gains of the past few years.

Ethiopia draws its power from being the second-most populated country on the continent and also from its 162,000-member strong active duty military force, the size and steady growth of its economy, its people’s industriousness and a history of political leadership that has had relative success in instilling in their people a sense of collective Ethiopian identity and national pride. But the ambitious reform agenda that the country’s 10th Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has introduced since 2018, has concurrently raised expectations that he cannot deliver on and have revealed a degree of reluctance about the reform programme. This has betrayed either a lack of confidence in the reforms that were announced and started or a resistance by the elite power base.

Ethiopia is as ethnically diverse as the rest of black Africa, but although many of its regions have always expressed dissatisfaction with the way the central government has perfunctorily included them in the corridors of power and development services along ethnic or regional lines, there is no mistaking their pride in Ethiopia, often expressed in songs and by glorification of its name, even by regions most critical of its government. It also has the advantage of a uniquely long history of literacy in a local language, Amharic, which symbolises a degree of unity among many of its people and a source of strong connection to its roots, unlike the cultural dislocation that colonialism has fashioned in much of the rest of Africa.

Serious problems

However, Ethiopia is beset by serious problems that threaten its stability, its unity and cohesion. For example, while its massive population has been its most important asset, its most valuable resource, it is also a liability in terms of general discontent with the country’s ability to provide equitable services to all of them, to meet the needs of the many youth and rural poor who are flocking to the cities in ever larger numbers. Climate change, land degradation, landlessness and lack of basic services, are all pushing massive and unsustainable urbanisation, complete with all its attendant complications of congestion, housing problems, poor public health services and unemployment.

The federal government has tried its best to improve urban infrastructure, partly thanks to Chinese investments, and has provided low-income housing, affordable public transit system and expanded tertiary education, including the creation of 11 new universities in the past five years alone. But this is not likely to tackle poverty, the biggest problem facing the country, with over 22 million people living below the national poverty line. Also, it has not kept pace with the influx of young and poor people to the city, and Addis Ababa, the capital, is plagued by the usual problems that confront African metropolis like crime, inadequate water supply, especially into the sprawling high-rise structures in the suburbs. This has made for a restive population, both in federal regions and in Addis Ababa, and will most likely become new threats to the peace that the country has enjoyed in varying degrees since the war with Eritrea (1998-2000).

But the biggest threat to Ethiopia’s stability in the near future is its system of governance itself. Its “ethnic federal” system has produced mixed results and sentiments, just as the country’s leadership that is managing this system does not seem entirely convinced that it is the most effective way to administer such a vast and diverse country. There is the dilemma of pursuing ethnic federalism more vigorously at the risk of keeping the Ethiopians divided and defined by ethnicity and not by what is common between most or all of them, or phasing it out over time at the risk of the regions protesting their return to stringent controls that Addis Ababa imposes on regional governments. There are no straight answers to this dilemma, but it remains the one thing that could lead Ethiopia down the path of regional rebellions, if the country does not weigh these options with care.

Critics say that ethnic federalism was not genuinely designed to dispense power to all the regions but was primarily a mechanism for consolidation of power in the hands of the federal government by creating in the regions a loyal clientele out of state governments, but remaining unable to resolve the fundamental governance issues such as equitable resource sharing between the states. Ethnic federalism was the brainchild of the late Meles Zenawi, the 8th Prime Minister, who managed and implemented it with a combination of an iron fist and ideological developmental persuasion of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The system has never been challenged in a way similar to what we have seen since Mr Ahmed came to power in April 2018.

Unprecedented energy

Mr Ahmed came with unprecedented energy to change things, perhaps owing that to his Pentecostal faith, with an ambitious reform agenda, which saw him free up civic spaces almost unknown in Ethiopia’s recent past, releasing jailed journalists, turning the old imperial palace into a culture park and museum, and offering an olive branch to Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki to end the war between the two sisterly countries. And above all, he was applauded for forming a cabinet with a gender balance, giving half of all ministerial portfolios to women. For the first time in Ethiopia’s history, women took the top security posts, including the ministry of defense and ministry of peace, which oversees the federal police, the intelligence services and the information security agency and has taken the lead in tackling much of the ethnic unrest that keeps cropping up in different regions of the country since the reforms started. How long these actions can last or how fast they will materialise as part of a stabilising agenda is as good as predicting their capacity to cause an implosion in the country, be it along ethnic-based political parties, religious confrontation or rural rebellions.

Ethiopia, however, is not just a regional power to reckon with. Although it has found itself in a struggle for dominance in the Horn and East African regional affairs, particularly against Kenya, it has also exhibited leadership within the regional trade bloc, the Inter-Governmental Agency on Development (IGAD), especially on matters of peace-making and peace-keeping in South Sudan and in the African Union’s efforts to combat Islamic militant group, al-Shabab, in Somalia. In reading both the domestic and regional dynamics, Ethiopia might just wither the challenges of developmental and democratic reforms, but only if it recognises that politics is almost always local, and so long as ethnic groups remain the strongest fall back position for citizens when the state fails to protect them, the country cannot afford an empty talk of ethnic federalism.