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from The Great Debate:

Moscow fiddles, while Kiev burns

Timing is everything in politics, and this adage could not be truer for the whirlwind now enveloping Russia and Ukraine. Both countries are in the headlines -- Russia for the coming $50 billion Winter Olympics extravaganza, and Ukraine for an economic and political collapse that has left the country on the cusp of revolution.

The confluence of these two events has created a unique set of circumstances unlikely to change until the Olympic flame is extinguished on February 23. For the prestige of hosting the Olympics -- and the huge international spotlight that accompanies the spectacle -- limits Moscow’s ability to act decisively toward Ukraine as it might have otherwise.

This unexpected inaction can be traced to a failure of Russian soft power and a large segment of the Ukrainian population’s unwillingness to be bought off.

Russia could still resort to tougher measures, including trade boycotts, energy cutoffs, even direct aid to the Ukrainian security services. But Moscow has chosen not to so far -- in large part because the consequences of such actions are incendiary. If Russia were to intervene -- and fail -- its new status as a re-emerging power would be severely damaged.

from The Great Debate:

Putin’s (un)happy new year

Russian President Vladimir Putin has bid farewell to 2013 with his state of the nation address, followed closely by his annual 4-plus-hour marathon news conference. He even managed to appear magnanimous, notably in his decision to pardon the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovksy.

He is setting the stage for the main event: the Sochi Olympics.

But as Putin subtly warned in his final 2013 appearances -- and as the Volgograd bombings so graphically confirmed -- major changes must come in the new year. Putin virtually admitted in his December speeches that the current path is not sustainable, while the Volgograd bombings have increased the urgency to face up to Russia’s problems.

from The Great Debate:

International pressure works on Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin had expected the grandest of guests for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi -- presidents, billionaires, the global big players.

For years he had imagined the presidential box like this: Needling President Barack Obama that NASA now depends on Russian rockets to get American astronauts into orbit. Emphasizing to French President Francois Hollande that France would be better served in the business world if it dropped all references to human rights. Making deals with the German delegation over champagne, as the ice skaters pirouette below, around the Olympic flame.

from The Great Debate:

Ukraine’s Protests: Not (yet) a revolution

In the three weeks since Ukraine formally suspended talks aimed at signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, two important facts have become clear.

First, it is now apparent that Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovich, had no effective strategy to resist intense pressure against the EU deal from Moscow. The Kremlin promised big cash loans, a gas discount and debt forgiveness, while explicitly threatening to block Ukraine's access to the Russian market and implicitly threatening to stoke separatism in regions of the country.

from The Great Debate:

A potential turning point for Syria

In the dizzying debate over U.S. military intervention in Syria, one key point of consensus stands out: Both the Obama administration and Congress recognize that the resolution to Syria’s conflict must come through a negotiated settlement. Key international actors share the same conclusion.

But how do we get there? Russia’s recent proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control could open a viable path to a long-sought diplomatic solution.

from The Great Debate:

The short and long of emerging markets

Fickle investors have spurned emerging markets in recent weeks, but this rout has obscured a more alluring vista out on the horizon.

Developing economies now account for 50 percent of global output and 80 percent of economic expansion and are projected to continue growing far faster than developed nations. They are expected to possess an even larger share of global growth, wealth and investment opportunities in years to come. So much so that the labels investors use to classify some of these nations will change as the developing develop and the emerging emerge into more potent economic powers

from The Great Debate:

How Russia puts business behind bars

President Vladimir Putin at a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The Russian Duma approved its much anticipated amnesty for entrepreneurs on July 2, seeking to halt the legal onslaught against the Russian business community. More than 100,000 Russian businesspeople are now either in prison or have been subject to criminal proceedings, according to Boris Titov, Russia’s official ombudsman for the defense of the rights of entrepreneurs. He maintains that the majority are innocent.  Releasing them -- and improving Russia’s overall business climate -- remains critical as the Russian economy continues stumbling along with low growth and falling revenues.

from David Rohde:

Prosperity without power

A woman walking near the headquarters (L) of the Federal Security Service, in central Moscow, May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

In Moscow, they are “non-Soviet Russians.” In New Delhi, they are a “political Goliath” that may soon awake. In Beijing and São Paolo, they are lawyers and other professionals who complain about glacial government bureaucracies and endemic graft.

from The Great Debate:

For Russia, Syria is not in the Middle East

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with (clockwise, starting in top left.) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Prime Minister David Cameron, next Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. REUTERS/FILES

A string of leaders and senior emissaries, seeking to prevent further escalation of the Syria crisis, has headed to Moscow recently to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. First, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, then British Prime Minister David Cameron, next Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now, most recently, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon These leaders see Russia as the key to resolving the Syria quandary.

from David Rohde:

The devil who can’t deliver

Picture of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad riddled with holes on the Aleppo police academy, after capture by Free Syrian Army fighters, March 4, 2013.  REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

MOSCOW – After marathon meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry here Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hinted that Moscow may finally pressure Syrian President Bashir al-Assad to leave office.

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