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US Gains Favor in Russian Media, Polls

Nearly three years ago, in the wake of Western governments’ denunciations of the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of eastern Ukraine, Russian approval of the United States and European countries plummeted. In the Russian media, sanctions placed on Russia by both parties were presented as proof of the West’s determination to destroy or ruin Russia.

But since those events, Russians’ approval of the United States and the West have slowly rebounded from the lows they hit at the beginning of the conflict.

People Power Rise Up Against Corruption in Romania

In a world that seems to be awash in bad news, there's a terrific story shaping up in Romania.

The government of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu took office only a month ago, but one of its early decisions brought hundreds of thousands of Romanians to the streets to protest.

Grindeanu, who represents the Social Democratic Party (PSD), was not his party's first choice to be prime minister. After winning 46 percent of the vote in 2016's parliamentary election, PSD formed a governing coalition but was unable to make its leader, Liviu Dragnea, the prime minister. Mr. Dragnea is currently serving a two-year suspended sentence after being convicted of attempting to rig a 2012 vote on whether to impeach the then-president.

This conviction made him ineligible to serve as the country's prime minister, an unusual situation in a country where it is generally assumed that the leader of the winning party will take that post. He is, however, the chairman of Romania’s parliament, the Chamber of Deputies. The first proposed prime minister was rejected by the president for being too much an agent of Dragnea. The second was Grindeanu.

Deconstructing the Conventional and Simplistic Take on Ukraine

To travel through Ukraine is to journey through hundreds of years of history, the remnants of divergent diasporas, forced famines, Nazi and Communist atrocities, and not an insignificant number of now-defunct empires.

In his new book “In Wartime: Stories From Ukraine,” (Deckle Edge, Oct 2016) former Balkan War correspondent Tim Judah tours a modern Ukraine where history keeps returning with a vengeance. After Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and launched an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Mr. Judah began reporting from the country, bringing his considerable expertise and critical eye to the only active conflict on the European continent. Writing in 2014 when the war between Ukraine and Russia was at its hottest, his series of vignettes from across Europe’s largest country beautifully tell the story of a country that has finally embarked on a journey of self-discovery after 25 years of independence.

Ukrainians Find Economic Refuge in Poland—For Now

Contrary to its reputation for disliking foreign workers and refugees, Poland has emerged as one of Europe’s largest grantors of residence permits. After Malta and Cyprus, where foreigners can easily purchase residency, Poland is the European Union’s largest issuer of such permits.

Vladimir Putin’s Best Week Ever

Last week, while much of the world was focused on the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the US elections, things in Europe and Eurasia took an ominous turn. Even leaving aside the Trump victory, which the Kremlin seems to view with both concern at Mr. Trump’s unpredictability, and glee at his pro-Russia statements, Vladimir Putin had a terrific week.

Estonia, Bulgaria, and Moldova, all underwent political changes that look to be good news for Moscow, while the Kremlin’s influence in international policing matters also got a major boost.

Interpol

Georgia Goes for Ganja

In the midst of election turmoil in the small south Caucasus nation of Georgia, one big change went largely unnoticed. On September 29, Georgia’s Constitutional Court made a ruling that has essentially made the possession and use of marijuana legal in the conservative country.

Tabula reports that the court has “ruled that it was unconstitutional to arrest individuals for purchasing or possession of Marijuana, as there is no risk of danger to other individuals.”

The issue was brought to Georgia’s highest court after a young activist named Beka Tsikarishvili sued the government when he was arrested in 2014 and threatened with up to 14 years in prison. Mr. Tsikarishvili argued that jail sentences for possession of marijuana without the intent to distribute was a violation of his personal dignity.

The State of Play in Transdnistria

The drive from Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, to the breakaway region of Transdnistria takes only about an hour. Transdnistria, which runs like a ribbon between the curved borders of Moldova and Ukraine, takes its name from the fact that most of it—though not all—lies across the Dniester river.

Transdnistria does have a somewhat different modern history than does the rest of Moldova—a much more Soviet one. From 1921-1940, much of the area that is now called Transdnistria was part of the Soviet Union. The so-called Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (officially founded in 1924) was a constituent part of the Ukrainian SSR, and for much of the time had its capital in Tiraspol. So while Transdnistria was Sovietized—and large amounts of Russians and Ukrainians were imported to work in the newly industrialized area—the rest of what we now know as Moldova was part of the Kingdom of Romania.

Dueling Narratives: EU Overreach vs Hungary's Resistance

"Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?" This was the question asked to Hungarians on Sunday's special referendum. It was prompted by an outcry from Hungarians at the throngs of Middle Eastern refugees and migrants that have crossed into their country in the past two years, and President Victor Orbán's disgust at the European Union's plan to distribute refugees amongst all of its member countries regardless of the wishes of the citizenry.

The referendum was Orbán and his ruling Fidesz Party's opportunity to snub their nose at European Union and German leadership on the issue. But things did not go precisely as planned. While the results were as expected—a resounding 98.3 percent said 'No' to the above question—the turnout numbers have proven to be the fly in Orbán's ointment.

Putin Consolidates Power as Young Loyalists Enter Duma

When the final results of the September 18th Russian Duma elections were announced on Friday, the outcomes were entirely as expected. President Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party was victorious, though reports of electoral fraud indicate that, particularly in cities, those results had to be manipulated. Turnout was down to only 48 percent, helping United Russia push its share of Duma seats even higher than it had been before. When the new Duma is seated, 76 percent of its deputies will be from United Russia and will hold 105 more seats than it had previously. The remaining seats went to the systemic opposition parties that Putin trusts to not rock the political boat: the Communist Party, A Just Russia, and the Liberal Democratic Party. Each of these saw their share of Duma seats shrink markedly.

Remembering a Winter on Fire

Before the winter of 2013-2014, Ukraine had spent its 22 years of independence peacefully. Where Russia had seen wars with separatist regions (Chechnya, 1994-1996 and 2000-2005), witnessed its president turn tank barrels on the parliament (October 1993), and had seen opposition-leaning Russians jailed and beaten by riot police for peaceful demonstrations (Winter 2012-2013), Ukraine had remained quiet. Certainly, the country had its share of political assassinations in the 1990s, but even 2004’s Orange Revolution was concluded peacefully and without violence against the protestors in the street or the politicians involved.

So the decision by then-President Viktor Yanukovych to use force on the thousands of Ukrainian citizens peacefully protesting his choice to forego signing an association agreement with the European Union came as a great shock to the body politic. Netflix’s newest documentary, Winter on Fire, tells the story of what happened next, as Ukrainians were killed, kidnapped and beaten by their government for daring to believe in the possibility of a new, uncorrupt, and European Ukraine.

Moscow Bookstore Oozes with Kremlin Propaganda

The titles on the shelves are nothing short of sensational: The End of Project “Ukraine, Kyiv Kaput, World Wars and World Elites, The Defense of Donbas. They all sit prominently displayed in the politics section of Biblio-Globus, a sprawling bookstore just a stone’s throw from the infamous Lubyanka Prison, in central Moscow.

The overall theme is clear: Ukraine, an unnatural country, has been overrun by an American-controlled junta bent on leading the world to war and destroying Russia. That same message is ever-present on television screens across Russia and in the print media. With dramatic on-the-ground reports from the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine and documentaries about the possible rise of fascism in Mongolia and Japan, the situation seems urgent indeed.  

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