By Simon Saradzhyan
Simon Saradzhyan is assistant director of the U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism and a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.
It seems there has been no Russia watcher left in the world who has not opined on Vladimir Putin’s swift and not so covert moves in the Crimea, pondering: “who’s to blame and what to do?” In times like these it is also as customary for analysts of international affairs to wonder “to whose benefit?” Yet this question remains open even though some of the Western diplomats are already calling the current standoff the biggest crisis in Europe of the 21st century.
By Simon Saradzhyan
This is an extended version of the author’s “Mixing Turncoats and Terrorism” op-ed published in The Moscow Times on September 9, 2012.
Events of one August day in Russia’s volatile republic of Dagestan have once again highlighted how turncoats can enhance terrorists’ capabilities to carry out deadly attacks in the North Caucasus and other regions of Russia.
On Aug. 28, Aminat Kurbanova, an ethnic Russian woman whose original name is Alla Saprykina, visited Said Afandi al-Chirkawi, the spiritual leader of two major Sufi orders in the North Caucasus. The prominent sheikh was initially reluctant to meet Kurbanova, but the 29-year-old woman said she was a Russian who wanted to convert to Islam and he eventually agreed to receiver her in his village home. In reality, this former actress-cum-dancer had not only already converted to Islam, but had also joined the ranks of the believers in Salafiyyah, the so-called pure Islam. Once in the same room with the sheikh, the woman detonated the bomb concealed under her clothes to kill him and seven others, including herself. Read more
By Simon Saradzhyan
Belfer Center Research Fellow
This August, Russia, Georgia and its breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia commemorate the fourth anniversary of the war that they fought in 2008.
But while the mood has been predictably festive in Moscow and the two provinces, which prevailed in that war, there has already been, as Russians say, at least one spoonful of tar in the barrel filled with honey. Anonymous authors have posted a ‘documentary’ on Youtube, in which three former high-ranking Russian commanders accuse Russia’s then Commander-in-Chief Dmitry Medvedev of indecisiveness during the initial stage of the 2008 war. The documentary doesn’t only criticize Medvedev, but also lauds his mentor and Russia’s current Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin as playing a decisive role in preparing a plan to repel Georgia and then ordering its execution. The incumbent president’s response to these claims indicates that his PR strategists may be seeking not only to boost Putin’s ratings, but also to offer a more convincing explanation as to why he had to come back to the Kremlin four years after stepping down and backing Medvedev to succeed him as Russia’s president. Read more
By Simon Saradzhyan and Nabi Abdullaev
(Updated Monday, March 5, 2012)
There was little doubt that Vladimir Putin would be elected president of Russia on Sunday and return to the Kremlin for a third term. The Central Elections Committee announced on Monday that Putin won more than 60 percent of the vote and avoided a second round. But there is also little doubt that the legitimacy of his presidency will be contested during his third term, given the scale of recent protests against his return and strong criticism of the Sunday vote, which some of the opposition leaders and independent observers condemned as unfair and fraudulent. Read more
Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
By Ben W. Heineman Jr.
(This commentary first appeared on theAtlantic.com)
Following Vladmir Putin’s decision that he will run again for President of the Russian Federation next March, there are questions about continuity or change in economic reform, political reform, weapons control, U.S.-Russian relations, and a host of other issues.
But there will surely be one constant: Putin’s concern about arresting the demographic decline of Russia — especially of Russia’s working-age males — which has significant implications for Russian society, economy, and standing in the world. Read more
By BG Kevin Ryan (US Army retired)
Executive Director for Research, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
According to American press reports, the United States and Russia were close to signing an agreement on missile defense cooperation on the margins of the G8 Summit in May of this year. The details of the proposal are not public, but the disappointment over not achieving the agreement is.
On the surface (and indeed well below), the disagreement between the US and Russia over US missile defense plans seems intractable and destined to scuttle further arms and security agreements. In worst-case scenarios it is feared that it would drop the “bilateral temperature” enough to start a new Cold War. It is true that not since the failure at the Reykjavik Summit 25 years ago to stem deployment of offensive nuclear missiles in Europe have Russia and the US faced off on such a serious arms issue. Read more
A satellite image of Japan showing damage after an earthquake and tsunami at the Dai Ichi Power Plant in Fukushima, taken just three minutes after an explosion. (DigitalGlobe Photo)
The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan is sending shockwaves through nuclear planning agencies around the world. Policy makers are asking for reviews of safety regulations, publics are expressing concern, and it appears likely that some of the planned construction will be curtailed. The politics of nuclear power is likely to be more contentious even in places where public support has been strong (or irrelevant). As a result, in the coming decade, nuclear power may make less of a contribution to the mitigation of carbon emissions than it otherwise might have, (though even before the current crisis its role in overcoming the climate change challenge was a minor one). Below are thumbnail sketches of how the discussion of nuclear energy is unfolding in key countries where plans for growth are most significant.
– Martin Malin, Executive Director, Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
Analysis by Yun Zhou, Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow
The Fukushima tragedy really gave the Chinese a serious wake up call on the importance of nuclear safety. Currently, China has 13 reactor units in operation and 28 units under construction. Although the Chinese government quickly claimed China would not change its plan for developing nuclear power projects right after the Fukushima crisis began on 12th March, the latest news shows the Chinese government taking actions to strengthen its nuclear safety at reactors in operation and under construction. On 16 March, China decided to conduct a comprehensive safety inspection for every nuclear facility. In the meantime, China will update current nuclear safety regulations and guidelines based on the lessons learned in Fukushima accidents. Nuclear projects which do not comply with the new safety regulation and requirements will be suspended or terminated. In addition, China will adjust “its medium and long nuclear energy development plan” and stop approving new nuclear power projects before the updated nuclear safety regulation and guideline are released. Read more