European Council on Foreign Relations

Is Assad fishing for a deal?


Given two years of brutal violence and the killing of over 40,000 people, it is hard to take seriously any comments from the Syrian regime suggesting a political solution to the devastating crisis. Remarks by Syrian Vice President, Farouq al-Sharaa, to the Lebanese daily, al-Akhbar, criticising the regime’s approach, stating that it cannot win the battle militarily, and calling for a “historic settlement” including the establishment of an empowered national unity government - that is to say a negotiated agreement - have been widely rejected as a new attempt by the regime to buy time.

The prospect of any near-term form of political dialogue and solution to the conflict seems far-fetched at best. The levels of polarisation now run too bloody and too deep. On Sunday regime jets bombed the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus, and every day new reports of state brutality

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The faces of a post-Putin future?

“Russia has no future.” Last autumn you heard this repeated like a mantra in Moscow. “We have no future.” Putin’s capital talked this way because everyone interested in politics had done the same thing on September 24th 2011. The day of the United Russia party congress that the “national leader” announced he would return to the Kremlin. Everyone interested in politics had calculated how old they would be in 2024. The year that constitutionally Putin would have to leave the President’s post. That moment etched itself into the memory of a generation. It seemed only to mean one thing – Putin had a monopoly on the future.

Then the unexpected occurred. The Moscow protest movement suddenly flared and even if it did not break, or really dent, Putin’s grip over the Duma, the bureaucracy, the oil, the gas or the FSB, it cost him that monopoly on tomorrow. It exposed that he was not in

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North Africa Power Audit launched in Sofia


Bulgaria counts as an Eastern European country, but let’s not forget that it is closer to southern countries such as Greece, Turkey or Italy than it is to, say, the Baltics. Data from the 2011 census shows that 10% of the population is Muslim. Which is in all likelihood the highest share amongst current EU members (France comes second with roughly 9%).  Add to this the MFA-sponsored Sofia Platform, a forum to channel lessons from the post-communist transitions to the countries of the Arab Awakening, and you understand why ECFR’s acclaimed Power Audit of EU-North Africa relations should find a welcome reception in Bulgaria’s capital. 
Yesterday, ECFR Sofia hosted one of the authors, Nick Witney, at the local branch of the Instituto Cervantes (muchisimas gracias to our friends at the Spanish Embassy and personally to Luis Canovas del Castillo Munoz for their amazing

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Has the Russian opposition lost its way?


If the Russian opposition ever comes to power, one of its shrines will surely be the bullying, ferro-concrete statue of the Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky on Triumphalnaya Square. This is where for years, the opposition gathered on the 31st of every month, to protest the violation of the 31st article of the Russian constitution – which guarantees freedom of assembly.

In December 2011, for a few dizzying weeks Muscovites dared to begin to imagine life without Putin. Would the KGB (now FSB) Lubyanka headquarters be turned into a museum of the crimes of the secret police?  What, on earth, would the country look like? Would Triumphalnaya Square be renamed Triumph of the Opposition square? This winter that future seems very far away. “Renovations,” to stop anyone from gathering there, has thrown huge grills up.  In the center of Moscow, it looks as if Mayakovsky is imprisoned. And

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The Russian opposition’s unease with the West


Moscow is emotional place: the political mood matters enormously, and over the last year it has changed as dramatically as the seasons. During the winter of 2011- 2012 the opposition mood was euphoric as a spontaneous protest movement promised hope just as Putin announced his return to the Kremlin. That feeling rolled into the spring but then died in the summer, somewhere between the passing of a raft of authoritarian laws and the Pussy Riot sentence.

This winter the mood has been pessimistic and depressed. There are no more large crowds on colorful marches and talk of the Putin era ending anytime before the next election in 2018 has slipped back into the “crazy-talk” category. Those that came out to the streets to protest - the capital’s professionals, intellectuals and educated youth - are confused and anguished as they try to come to terms with the hard fact this could be

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