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Russian President Vladimir Putin has had some success recently using his support for the Assad regime in Syria to strengthen Moscow’s position in the Middle East. But his progress on this front is much less important than Moscow’s growing troubles in its “near abroad,” as it refers to the strategically vital area to its immediate west.

In a replay of the classic East-West rivalry of the Cold War, but with the United States conspicuously on the sidelines, Russia has used economic and security threats to draw post-communist countries into its Eurasian Customs Union and to block the European Union’s Eastern Partnership initiative, which seeks the reform and possible eventual integration of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine into European Union structures. Russian pressures have escalated with the approach of a November summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, at which several of the countries could sign association or free-trade agreements with the EU.

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