This year saw the continuing trend for the condensation of time and the acceleration of global political processes. In December 2016, Russia had a different set of instruments compared to what it had at the beginning of the year.
The biggest dangers forecast for 2016 were the possibility of a Russian-Turkish conflict on the Black Sea and Russian-US air incidents over Syria or the Baltic Sea. Brexit appeared impossible. It was believed that Hillary Clinton would become the next US president. The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreements were expected to be signed by the end of the year.
None of these forecasts have come true.
This year has been far from stable. The resumption of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh in April amid Russian-Turkish tensions could have grown into a regional conflict. Victory in the UK referendum to leave the EU rocked the markets and a belief in the EU’s bright future. The anti-Russia campaign during the Rio Olympics and around Aleppo exposed the manipulations of the global media. The Turkey coup attempt helped bridge Turkey’s ruptured relations with Russia. Ukraine’s subversive activities in Crimea threatened to provoke an armed clash with Russia. Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election was a bolt out of the blue. Russia was accused of interfering with the US election and there was the threat of a cyberwar. A Russian ambassador was killed in Turkey to prevent an agreement on Syria between Russia, Turkey and Iran.
In short, the events that have happened have overshadowed the forecasts that have not.
Will weekly crises become a new fact of international life? Can forecasts and plans be made in this atmosphere? I will present the political contours of 2017 as I see them.
Russian-US relations will remain a key uncertainty. Donald Trump’s surprise victory has opened a window of opportunity to normalize bilateral relations, at least on issues where progress can be made relatively quickly.
The proxy war in Syria can be stopped, but this outcome depends above all on Russian-US relations and the general war-weariness. Key roles in ending this proxy war will be played by regional powers – Turkey and Iran.
There may be a government reshuffle or a complete change of political leadership in Ukraine. If the government is changed in a constitutional manner, the new authorities will carry on the previous government’s foreign policy. On the other hand, another coup in Kiev will destabilize the domestic situation, provoke serious international consequences and bring to power forces that could attempt to escalate the conflict in Donbass. For lack of a better strategy, the key EU countries – France and Germany – will continue their policy regarding Ukraine.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will remain the biggest security problem in the South Caucasus, since the fragile truce there was badly shaken by the military and political escalation in April 2016. A negative scenario is possible in certain conditions, such as the failure of the Russia-mediated negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The erosion of alliances will continue, and the world’s leading countries will carry on a policy of unilateral actions.
Many EU countries will abandon austerity measures and will resume the policy of stimulating consumption. Discussions of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will resume but are unlikely to be completed in 2017.
Britain will begin the process of leaving the EU, but negotiations will go slowly and the practical withdrawal conditions will not be coordinated by the end of 2017. Sweden and Finland will take a more active part in NATO activities and will strengthen their cooperation with the bloc, but they are unlikely to enter a path towards NATO membership in 2017. The EU will not create its own army in 2017.
Some of the economic sanctions against Russia will likely be lifted, but others will last for years. European politicians need them as a compromise formula for maintaining unity in relations with Russia.
It is almost impossible to resolve the problems that have provoked the massive inflow of refugees into Europe, that is, socioeconomic instability in their home countries. Even if the civil war ends in Syria, the country will lie in ruins. Restoring order in Africa is an impossible dream, because the development of nation states is a very long process. However, ways to ease tensions can be discussed. The restoration of the Libyan dictatorship and an EU-Turkey deal can halt migration into Europe.
Andrey Sushentsov is Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club