In this edition of the Global Risk Bulletin, we explore possible outcome of heightened Russia-Ukraine tensions, assess the prospects for sustained calm in Kazakhstan in the aftermath of widespread protests in January, and look at the background to and potential fallout of former President Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial in South Africa.
Russian roulette: Russia’s ‘will they, won’t they’ foreign policy
Russia’s military build-up along its border with Ukraine has prompted some concern among governments, think tanks and policy experts that an invasion of Ukraine is likely. While Russia has demanded that Ukraine be banned from NATO membership, NATO remains steadfast in its commitment to the organisation’s ‘open door’ policy. Despite the apparent stalemate, Russia’s military posturing is simply a warning against the perceived threat driven by NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe, and a widespread military escalation is unlikely.
Kazakhstan protests – the calm before the storm?
Kazakhstan’s recent anti-government protests were triggered by the government’s decision to lift the cap on fuel prices, but sustained by entrenched grievances against the country’s ruling elite. The government’s violent crackdown - with the aid of Russian-led troops under the Collective Security Treaty Organisation - largely subdued the unrest, and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has since sacked his government and made bold overtures to tackle inequality. But Tokayev’s promises of reform are likely mostly superficial, and deep-seated dissatisfaction could drive a resurgence in unrest.
The trial of former South African President Jacob Zuma
While the corruption trial of former President Jacob Zuma is scheduled to resume in April, the South African political landscape remains in a state of ongoing tumult. Factional divisions within the ruling African National Congress, persistent corruption and inequality, and simmering popular discontent with an ailing economy present a complex mix of challenges for the government. A positive outcome from Zuma’s trial would be an important demonstration for accountability and the rule of law, but may not be enough to stave off turbulence in the years to come.