Author: Irina KHALTURINA
Despite strong warnings about the worsening of situation in the most active hot spots of the planet and a huge uncertainty related to the election of Donald Trump as the U.S. President, 2017 will remain in history as a relatively calm year. Local wars and bloody terrorist attacks in Turkey, Iran, Spain, Russia, Britain, Egypt, Pakistan took thousands of lives, but major international conflicts that could change the course of the world history were avoided. But perhaps the significance of 2017 will be evaluated after some time, when the scale of the past developments become clear. After all, the clear signs of the decline of the seemingly top political arrangement called liberal democracy and the shortcomings of globalization became increasingly evident in 2017. In general, this year was a strength test for all the Western values. These challenges were discussed as early as the beginning of 2017 at the Munich Security Conference. But even then, no one dared provide a single recipe of what to do next, the realities we live in and the ways to adapt to them. Such recipes were not available by the end of the year either.
Trump remains adequate
Certainly, the main newsmaker in 2017 was the U.S. President Donald Trump. It was partly true because he was the leader of the strongest state in the world, but also due to his peculiar habit of Twitter mania. Some experts believe that turning part of the energy of the head of the White House into words is a good hobby. Indeed, during the first year of his presidency, Trump almost did nothing radical. Among his most controversial actions were the leave of the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Paris Climate Accord, the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his decree to tighten the immigration policy towards the citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In general, Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East is known for the explicit turn of Washington towards its old allies, the Gulf monarchies and Israel. The threats voiced by the Trump administration to cancel the nuclear agreement with Iran, to reform relations with the “outdated” NATO, to start a trade war with China, and to build a wall on the Mexican-American border remained as such. The constant theme of American media was Russian-American relations, which mainly focused on Trump's accusations of his links with the Russian leadership and Moscow's interference in the 2016 election. Accordingly, relations between the U.S. and Russia were systematically deteriorating.
Political fortune did not favor many other Western leaders in 2017 as well. The British Prime Minister Theresa May wished to strengthen her party's position in the early parliamentary elections held on June 8, but failed to know her actual strength. True, the Conservatives won but worsened their position losing the majority in the parliament. In addition, May held talks with Brussels on the terms of Brexit although the opinion polls showed that most of the Britons have regretted their choice after the referendum.
It seems that the past year was the beginning of the downhill in the political career of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On September 24, the country held parliamentary elections. The single conservative bloc including CDU / CSU and SPD remained the two largest powers in the Bundestag but all three parties received a significantly smaller share of the votes than in the 2013 elections. Nevertheless, Eurosceptic political party AfD (Alternative for Germany) was able to pass to the Bundestag. This resulted in difficult negotiations about the establishment of the new government (nicknamed Jamaica shortly after AfD’s parliamentary victory) and the prospect of re-elections. Der Spiegel’s special editorial column dedicated to ongoing events foreshadowed “the end of the Merkel era”.
Le Pen’s failure
Yet another unsuccessful woman politician of 2017 was a French national. The leader of the National Front, Marin Le Pen, who was predicted to win the presidential elections in France, ceded to her counterpart in the En Marche! Movement, Emmanuel Macron. Macron could not do much yet, and in fact, he has not fulfilled any of his promises including the reform of the EU.
EU’s Catalan stumble
The European Union turning sixty years old in 2017 is going through hard times: a systemic crisis and a crisis of interaction aggravated by Brexit and the Catalan independence referendum. The referendum took place on October 1 and not only put Spain on the verge of a constitutional crisis, but also challenged the authority of Brussels by demonstrating the double standards of international law. The plan of the Catalan separatists did not work out – the decisions of the Catalan government were abolished, and Prime Minister Carles Puigdemont was removed from office and detained in Brussels. Yet the Catalan issue is far from being over - in late December, three parties supporting the independence of the region won the early parliamentary elections in Catalonia. Puigdemont described the election results as “the victory of the Republic of Catalonia and the defeat of the Spanish state”.
Saakashvili vs. Poroshenko
Apparently, the EU was not up for Ukraine having been exposed to own internal strength tests listed above. In 2017, the Ukrainian crisis preserved the status quo, and its partial resolution is postponed until a new change of power in Kiev. The West is demonstrating an increasing discontent with Peter Poroshenko, especially in his fight against corruption, and is threatening to cut monetary aid and stop the visa-free regime with the Schengen countries, which was introduced this year. Since September 10, Mikhail Saakashvili’s political career has continued to gather momentum in Ukraine. Of course, if the former president of Georgia and the governor of the Odessa region is not favoured by some third parties…
Syria continued to hit the headlines of the media in 2017 as far as the situation in the Middle East was concerned. Many events (mostly negative and related to the deaths of people and children) occurred there this year but by the end of 2017, ISIS has suffered numerous defeats, and the Asad troops took control of vast territories within the country. The key to such a turn of events was the cooperation of Russia, Iran and Turkey supported by the Astana format, and then summed up by the meeting in Sochi. Russia announced the withdrawal of its military troops from Syria but its military presence at bases in Tartus and Khmeimim near Latakia only intensified. In general, Moscow has consistently strengthened its position in the Middle East throughout the year - interacting with Turkey (Putin met with Erdogan seven times during 2017), investing in Northern Iraq, selling arms to many countries in the region and even getting closer with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, no one can assert that the war with ISIS in the Middle East is over. There is no certainty in the next steps of the American foreign policy in the region mostly relegated to the background by the Russian, Turkish, and Iranian triumvirate. Syria is a ruined country with more than 400,000 people killed and another 5.4 million people as refugees. The restoration of the country requires at least $180 billion.
During the most active phase of the Syrian conflict in 2017, the Kurdish issue also entered the scene. On September 25, the leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan held a referendum on independence. The territorial integrity of the Iraqi state was under threat, and in response, Iraqi government troops occupied Kirkuk in Iraqi Kurdistan. Apparently, the Kurdish issue in Syria is still an integral part of the political agenda.
In early December, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict escalated immediately after the decision of Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer the American embassy from Tel Aviv to this city. This caused a negative reaction from many countries of the world, and clashes took place in the “city of the three religions”. The status of Jerusalem is one of the key problems of the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation because each side considers it its own capital. Trump’s motives to make such a step are unknown although he was going to hold a summit on the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict this summer. At a joint press conference with the PNA leader Mahmoud Abbas, the U.S. president officially announced the start of the process, which he said would “lead to peace,” and called upon the Israelis and Palestinians who interrupted the peace dialogue as early as in 2014 to make “difficult decisions” in the name of peace.
North Korea’s nuclear power
In 2017, the source of great pain for the world community was North Korea, which has improved its nuclear program throughout the year by conducting nuclear tests and launching long-range missiles capable of striking the U.S. territory. The events in the country have worsened the situation in the Asia-Pacific region so much that experts and politicians were very serious about the threat of a nuclear war. Fortunately, both Trump and Kim Jong-eun have limited themselves to a verbal war although the fears that this verbal exchange can sharply enter the hot phase remain. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, the conflict can take millions of lives. Many observers hope for the mediating role of Russia and especially China, where president Xi Jinping has significantly strengthened its power after the October Congress of the Communist Party and can now pursue a more assertive policy.
The Awaiter-2017 and the Clown-2018
According to Google, the politics was not the hottest topic of discussions for the most people around the world. This is yet another evidence that 2017 was a relatively calm year. Users are most interested in smartphones iPhone 8 and iPhone X, crypto currency, the hurricane Irma and the meme Awaiter (Homunculus loxodontus, R+).
On the other hand, the forecasts for 2018 are exaggerated, as always. They predict the aggravation of the Palestinian-Israeli and Ukrainian conflicts, as well as the next American-Iranian confrontation. The wars in Yemen and Syria can bring up new challenges. The most potentially dangerous situation is the crisis around North Korea. Certainly, attentions will be focused mainly on the presidential elections in Russia planned for the beginning of the year. Also, presidential or parliamentary elections will be held in Georgia, Moldova, Hungary, Lebanon. Incidentally, The Economist, known for its cover image with predictions for the new year, released its latest issue full of different symbols and images from the Statue of Liberty, the Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and St. Basil's Cathedral to a nuclear explosion, clown, DNA and a filling station. Well, we can only thank the passing year 2017 for its relative calmness and fasten our seat belts tighter on the eve of the coming year.