Thursday, 18 December 2014

Putin Meets the Press – as State takes Tighter Grip of Economy

Vladimir Putin has delivered his annual press conference and at the top of the agenda was the Russian economy, reflecting that the turmoil buffeting the Russian rouble has reached critical levels.

After a steady depreciation over recent months, the rouble reached an all-time low on December 16. The country is on the verge of a recession as a result of falling oil prices and the impact of Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Long Shadows of War: The Aftermath and Legacies of Conflicts in Europe

This year is full of poignant anniversaries; none more so than the outbreak of the First World War. Whilst the century of the outbreak of ‘the war to end all wars’ has focused attention on the causes of the conflict, as the contributions to the forthcoming edited volume, Aftermath: Legacies and Memories of War in Europe, 1918-1945-1989 highlight, the sight of poppies in the first half of November should also give us pause to reflect on the long shadows cast by that war.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Round-table: The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict - The Uses and Misuses of History

This round-table will discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict - one of the most complex and protracted ethno-territorial conflicts in the post-Soviet space. It will focus on the role of historical narrative in the political discourse of all parties involved in the conflict. We will gather together scholars and policy-makers with in-depth empirical, scholarly and political experience of this turbulent region. The round-table is organised by The University of Birmingham Research Group on the Caucasus in collaboration with the Centre for Russian, Eurasian and European Studies and the Department of Political Science and International Studies of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

Date: Wednesday, 26 November 2014
Time: 16:00 - 18:00h.
Location: University of Birmingham (Edgbaston Campus), Muirhead Tower, Room 121 

Friday, 26 September 2014

The (E)U-turn on Ukraine: Pragmatism or Surrender?

by Dr. Rilka Dragneva and Dr. Kataryna Wolczuk

Few bilateral agreements have had such a turbulent history and implications as the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine. The refusal to sign the agreement by then president Yanukovych triggered massive protests in Ukraine resulting in his overthrow in February 2014. This in turn provoked Russia’s response: annexing Crimea and fuelling separatism in Eastern Ukraine, including direct military incursion in August 2014.

Importantly, the Agreement envisages a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), which entails tariff changes but also provides for Ukraine’s integration into the EU single market. Russia has objected to both, alleging potential damage to its economy. Clearly, an important aspect of this ‘damage’ lies in the fact that the DCFTA precludes Ukraine’s membership into the Eurasian integration bloc, something which Russia has actively sought and presented as a viable (and indeed preferable) alternative to integration with the EU.

Friday, 12 September 2014

North Caucasians’ Sad, Paradoxical Fight in Eastern Ukraine

Widespread reports, not to mention video footage, confirm that North Caucasians are indeed fighting in Ukraine. Areas like Chechnya and Ingushetia, where Russia is arguably already at war, now link Moscow to the newer conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk. In other words, one of Russia's most violent areas is now feeding the bloodshed in Europe's newest war zone.

Chechen militants have reportedly joined pro-Russian separatist groups in Ukraine, most notably the Vostok battalion, whose name recycles the moniker of a battalion that fought Islamic extremists in Chechnya from 1999-2009. These are the “Kadyrovtsy,” well-trained irregular armed forces loyal to Chechnya's current leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Nationalism Sparks a Summer of Deadly Violence in the Caucasus

By Dr. Kevork Oskanian, University of Birmingham

The world has been brutally reminded of the unresolved conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in the South Caucasus which Armenia and Azerbaijan have locked horns over for more than 25 years. While the situation is clearly at a low ebb, the facts of what is happening are far from clear.

The two sides' accounts of the violence are, as ever, directly contradictory. In the absence of third-party monitoring, the only certainty seems to be that dozens of Azeri (or Azerbaijani) and Armenian soldiers have lost their lives in tit-for-tat exploratory and retaliatory raids, while civilians around the line of contact have been plagued by an upsurge in shelling and sniper fire.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Sum and Its Parts: The European Union and its Member States

by Dr. Tim Haughton

August is perhaps the best month to reflect on European integration. True, there are the inevitable crises to deal with which tend to disrupt the holiday plans of foreign ministers and external relations personnel, but many of the Brussels-based bureaucrats have swapped their offices around Rond-point Schuman for warmer and sunnier climes, and many academics can finally get round to reading some of the books on the must-read pile.  

Sunday, 17 August 2014

On Reporting the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

(This is a fragment of a longer piece on the British media's coverage of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict)

In early August 2014 the British media reported an escalation in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This has brought the conflict, which has been less covered since the cease-fire of May 1994, back to the media’s attention. This blog is intended to shed some light on the role of the British, and the wider Western, media in shaping particular attitudes among the public, as well as policy-makers involved in the negotiation process over this conflict. It is based on analysis of the main premises of over 4,000 reports and analytical commentaries on the conflict by BBC TV, The Guardian, The Observer, The Times, The Financial Times, The Independent and The Economist in the period 1988-2014, including during the ‘hot’ stage of the conflict from 1988 to 1994. It focuses on the media’s interpretations of historical causes of the conflict and juxtaposes these interpretations with relevant historical facts.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Predictably Unpredictable: The 2014 parliamentary elections in Slovenia

By Dr. Alenka Krašovec, University of Ljubljana and Dr. Tim Haughton, University of Birmingham
Parliamentary elections and party politics in Slovenia are becoming predictable in their unpredictability. For the first two decades of the country’s independence party politics was largely stable. True, in the second decade the once mighty force of Slovene politics, Liberal Democracy, saw its support drop, the Social Democrats emerged as a powerful force, but only really for one election in 2008, and there were a stream of new parties. Nonetheless, in a region marked by high levels of electoral volatility, Slovenia appeared to be more stable than most. All that changed in December 2011 when early elections (provoked by the disintegration of a coalition) witnessed two parties formed just weeks before the polls garner 37% of the vote. Three-and-a-half years on, another early election provoked by a battle over the leadership in the biggest governmental party, Positive Slovenia, and the disintegration of the governing coalition, saw one new party formed just over a month before the polls scoop nearly 35% of the vote.

Monday, 21 July 2014

How Far Were Russia’s ‘Little Green Men’ Involved in the Downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17?

By Kataryna Wolczuk, University of Birmingham

The shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in Eastern Ukraine on 17th June has placed the conflict which has engulfed that part of Ukraine into an entirely new context. It has transformed the event from a localised, regional rebellion into a crisis that brings Russia’s role into the open.

At present the vast bulk of international opinion holds that Russian-backed separatists were responsible for the shooting down. And therein lies the difficulty: what exactly do we mean by “Russian-backed”?. That Russia has been supporting the separatists has been inferred from extensive and wide-ranging but mainly anecdotal evidence. As a result, is there evidence to conclude that Russia is implicated in the shooting down of the civilian airplane?

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Politics of Broken Relationships? Croatia on the Eve of the European Parliament Elections

A short walk from the Croatian parliament is the Museum of Broken Relationships. Zagreb’s quirkiest museum displays countless artefacts donated by couples from around the world symbolizing the end of their love. The results of Sunday’s elections to the European Parliament may make the long-standing political parties in Croatia and their voters suitable for exhibition.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Notes on the ‘Worthless Dowry’ of Soviet Industrial Modernity

The monotown, or ‘town-forming enterprise’, was, and remains a key organisation of urban space in the former Soviet Union. Bound up with such a specifically socialist-conception of space is a host of social and cultural signifiers relating to class, kinship, social networks, local identity, and more.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Could Russia Repeat a Ukraine Scenario in Belarus?

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has often been justified in terms of defending the interests of ethnic Russians. According to the 2009 national census, almost 800,000 Russians live in Belarus – 8.3% of the population. As the titular nationality, Belarusians are actually in quite a strong position – ethnic Belarusians make up a larger proportion of the population of Belarus than Ukrainians do in Ukraine or Russians do in the Russian Federation.

There are less Russians in Belarus than Ukraine as a proportion of population, but more Russian speakers. Based on the 2009 census again, Russian is the mother tongue of 41.5% of the population, but the language of convenience commonly used at home for 70% of the population. Russian is already an official language alongside Belarusian however, and it would be difficult to claim that rights of Russian speakers are being suppressed.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Can the CIS Survive the Ukraine Crisis?

The death of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has been foretold many times during its history of (now) more than 20 years. Dissatisfaction with its weak and confusing institutional structure and a failure to promote effective regional integration has become an almost permanent background to its existence. Despite the remarkable resilience of the CIS, there are several signs suggesting that the current crisis is more fundamental and extreme than previous shake-ups.

Firstly, the present crisis focuses on a founding member of the CIS, Ukraine. It is important to remember that the very CIS formula came into being at the secret Belovezhskaia Pushcha meeting between Presidents Yeltsin, Kravchuk and Shushkevich of 8 December 1991 in order to accommodate Ukraine’s refusal to participate in a reformed Union,[i] and was very much ‘thrust upon’ the other former Soviet republics. Arguably, Ukraine was instrumental in shaping the design and ultimately the limits of the CIS in its gradual institutionalisation in the early 1990s. It did not sign the Charter of the CIS in January 1993 but took an active role in its drafting and, as President Kravchuk stated, considered itself a ‘member of the CIS, actively participating in its improvement’.[ii] 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Déjà Vu? Regionalism and Separatism in Ukraine in a Longer Term Perspective

In 1991 Ukraine emerged as an independent country with strong regional differences. The reconciling of these differences has since represented one of the most profound challenges that Ukraine has faced and failed to address. A lack of effective and systematic efforts to tackle regional diversity has repeatedly presented grave ramifications for Ukraine’s political cohesion and territorial integrity. Rather than diminish, over the last two decades this regional diversity has metamorphosed into a political confrontation, albeit with a changing configuration of parties and elites. As a result, the political contest in today’s Ukraine is still fought along geographical lines, rather than being focused on the problems that plague the country as a whole - such as living standards and corruption - despite their top ranking in public opinion surveys in all its regions.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Welcome to the Centre for Russian and East European Studies' Blog

Operating since 1963 within the University of Birmingham, the Centre for Russian and East European Studies (CREES) has generated world-class social-scientific and humanities-based research and analysis on its region of focus for over half a century.  Recent events in Ukraine have once again demonstrated the strategic importance of its area of interest: the geographically vast territories between the river Oder and the Pacific Ocean, populated by states of varying power and coherence, with variably free societies and a wide range of ethno-political complications.

This blog will provide its readers with short articles aimed at stimulating thought and debate on current events, emerging research, and broader issues related to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, written by members of the CREES community, including current and former academics, researchers, PhD students and alumni.  Aiming to both provide ‘advice to the prince’ and ‘speak truth to power’ from within the social sciences and humanities, it will allow its contributors greater leeway than formal academic writing in expressing their opinions on subjects of acute concern to a wider audience.

Our first contribution is due to be published before the end of April 2014, with others to follow soon thereafter.  In time, we aim to transform this space into one of the premier sites for information and discussion on an always evolving and ever-complicated region.