March 2016

Hungary, Poland and Illiberal Democracy

By George Friedman

Over the past several years, Hungary and Poland have been heavily criticized within the European Union. Both have been scolded, but neither have had sanctions imposed against them. The charge against them is that they have moved in the direction of repression. Since 2010, the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been criticized for, in the view of its critics, impeding on press freedoms and independence of the judiciary, as well as undermining checks and balances and the rule of law. In Poland, after coming to power in October 2015, the new government of the Law and Justice party has introduced laws that, according to its critics, limit the independence of the media. Moreover, the government triggered a constitutional crisis when it took steps that undermined the ability of the Constitutional Tribunal to function. In addition, both countries have come under attack for opposing large-scale immigration.

Kazakhstan Faces Militarization of the Caspian

video

By George Voloshin

In late February, Russian TV channel Zvezda, which is wholly owned by the Ministry of Defense, broadcast a video about a new type of assault boat that will be commissioned next year as part of Russia’s strategy to boost its coastal defense. The Murena-class fast assault air-cushion craft will run on a couple of high-temperature gas turbine engines, 10,000 horsepower each, and will be capable of transporting troops and equipment during rapid response operations of an unspecified nature. The new boat will notably be deployed to the Caspian Sea (Zvezda, February 26; RIA Novosti, February 28).

Nord Stream 2: Pros and Cons

video

By Viktor Katona

When Gazprom announced that it was adding two gas pipelines to the Nord Stream project at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2015, few people expected the company to garner so much interest in such a short time. The initiative, which has since been given the name Nord Stream 2, is now key to Gazprom’s European ambitions, following the failures of South Stream and Turkish Stream.

France sends 1,600 police to transport hubs after Brussels attacks

France is to send an extra 1,600 police to public transport hubs following the blasts at Brussels Zaventem airport and at the Maalbeck metro station, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced after an emergency meeting with other ministers on Tuesday morning. Flights from France and Belgium and direct trains between Paris and Brussels have been stopped.

Joint press point by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow and the President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė

President Grybauskaitė, it is great to be back in Lithuania. On behalf of the North Atlantic Council, I thank you for your warm welcome. And for Lithuania's strong commitment to this Alliance and as a resident of Brussels, let me also thank you for the solidarity you have expressed today.

Kazakhstan to Host Offshore Yuan Center

By John C. K. Daly

Many observers both inside and outside Central Asia have noticed China’s rising economic influence there, supplanting the region’s traditional hegemon, Russia. In yet another sign of China’s growing economic clout in Eurasia, Astana International Financial Center governor and former National Bank chairman Kairat Kelimbetov announced, on February 29, that Kazakhstan will build an offshore yuan center. According to Kelimbetov, the offshore Chinese currency center will serve the entire Central Asian region in anticipation of rising regional trade and investment with China (The Shanghai Daily, February 29). He added that Kazakhstan will also expand its cooperation with the Shanghai stock and gold exchanges as part of a broader effort to encourage more Chinese financial institutions to assist his country in developing Astana as an international financial center. The choice of Astana is not accidental: Kazakhstan has Central Asia’s most dynamic economy, far ahead of neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan.