Sunday, February 12

Sunday, February 12

Russia and one of its closest allies are in the midst of the worst diplomatic spat in decades. Will Sunday’s talks help?

WHEN FRIENDS QUARREL: BELARUS AND RUSSIA

Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS

Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS

The Deputy PM of Belarus will lead a delegation to Moscow on Sunday in an attempt to iron out the worst diplomatic spat between the two in decades.

Historically, the two neighbours have shared close ties, enhanced by cultural and ethnic similarities. While Belarussian President Lukashenko has frequently sought to use the threat of warming ties with the West to improve his negotiating position with the Kremlin – usually over economic concessions – the relationship has thrived. Until recently.

On the same day as the visit, new regulations will come into place in Belarus allowing visa-free travel for citizens from 80 countries, including EU members and the US. This has upset Russia, which in response announced that a “full-fledged border protection regime” would be established along its border with Belarus, which has been totally unguarded for years. The Kremlin cited security concerns for the move.

In all likelihood, the spat between the once-friendly leaders will blow over; both countries have much to lose if it doesn’t. But the fact Moscow has come to blows with one of its closest allies is a sign of the region’s shifting geopolitics.

MUSICAL CHAIRS: GERMANY’S PRESIDENCY

Photo: YouTube

Photo: YouTube

Germany’s former foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, will be elected president on Sunday. The president holds ceremonial powers but can veto legislation if he or she deems it to be unconstitutional and accept legislation without parliamentary approval during a crisis of governance. Meanwhile, the race for the more consequential general elections has heated up.

Former European Parliament President Martin Schulz has reinvigorated the Social Democrats (SPD) since being unveiled as leader on Jan. 24. Polling data released last week shows that the centre-left party has closed the gap with Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU. This is remarkable. Just two weeks ago the SPD was shown trailing Merkel’s conservatives by some 15%.

Under a power-sharing agreement between the SPD and CDU, Schulz’s predecessor – Sigmar Gabriel – has filled the role of top diplomat, which was previously held by the soon-to-be President Steinmeier. Given the deep political polarisation afflicting much of the Western world, such cooperation between Germany’s two biggest parties is striking. September’s general election is likely to expose the limits of this political cordiality – but don’t expect a grubby scrap either.

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

The reclusive Central Asian state of Turkmenistan will hold presidential ‘elections’. Dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is expected to be elected to a third term by a landslide.

Switzerland will vote on whether to accept the government’s sweeping corporate tax reforms, which are expected to replace preferential tax rates with a lower flat tax. The plan would bring Swiss tax law in line with international standards and mean some companies currently enjoying special tax status would be required to pay more.

Yemen’s Deputy PM and Foreign Minister will visit Tunisia to discuss bilateral ties.