In late 2006 and early 2007, relations between Russia and Belarus were hit by the most serious crisis in many years. In a setting of heightened tension, the Belarusian authorities decided to gradually modify their economic policy and thoroughly restructure the ruling class. The new situation created new, much more difficult challenges for the Belarusian opposition.
In late August and early September 2006, Kondopoga, a town of 40,000 inhabitants in Russia's Republic of Karelia, became the scene of ethnic riots. The pretext for the outbreak was one specific incident - a fight in a café between the local Russians and a group of Chechens and Azeris, in which two Russians were killed. Several days later, members of the nationalist organisation Movement Against Illegal Immigration arrived in the town and skilfullymanipulated public sentiments by organising rallies in which the demonstrators' demands included the expulsion of all Caucasian immigrants from the region. At night-time, property belonging to members of the Caucasian community was burned or destroyed. It was only several days later that the tense situation was calmed.
Belarus holds a special position in Russian policy due to its geopolitical, military and transit significance. Russia's influence and position in the entire Eastern European region largely depend on how strong Russian influence in Belarus is. The process of Russian-Belarusian integration began in 1994, when Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power in Minsk.
The rise of a new leader of the state of Turkmenistan – President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who became ruler of the central Asian state after the 21-year rule of Saparmurad Niyazov, the self-proclaimed Turkmenbashi, who died on December 21, 2006 – has initiated changes in Turkmenistan’s political life. The new president has broken with the previous policy of self-isolation, and has directed the country towards openness to the outside world. Opportunities have thereby arisen for competitors in the ‘Great Game’, to gain political influence in Turkmenistan and access to hitherto unexploited Turkmen deposits of gas and oil. A new stage in the Great Game, which has been played for influence in Central Asia and control of access to its energy resources for many years, can thus be said to have been launched, and Turkmenistan has become the main setting for it. The major actors involved are Russia, the United States, China and the European Union.
The Southern Caucasus is the site of three armed conflicts with separatist backgrounds, which have remained unsolved for years: the conflicts in Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Azerbaijan's conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (including the areas around Nagorno-Karabakh which were seized by Armenian separatists in the course of the war). Neither Georgia nor Azerbaijan have had any control over the disputed areas since the early 1990s. Both states are simultaneously in conflict with the separatists' informal patrons, respectively Russia and Armenia.
Under Vladimir Putin's rule, Russia consistently and systematically expanded its activity in Asia, establishing closer political contacts with key countries in the region, rebuilding relations with former allies from Soviet times, and strengthening its presence in the Asian markets, in the energy sphere also. These activities were accompanied by intensive Russian propaganda, the message of which was that relations with the West can be restricted in favour of developing closer relations with Asian states.
The energy sector, especially with regard to natural gas trade, is one of the key areas of co-operation between the EU and Russia. However, the character of this co-operation has given rise to increasing doubts both in Brussels and among the EU member states. The questions have emerged whether this co-operation does not make the EU excessively dependent on Russian energy supplies, and whether Gazprom's presence in the EU will not allow Moscow to interfere in the proces of devising the EU energy policy.
The conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been Georgia's main security problem since the beginning of the 1990s, and, along with the Armenian-Azeri conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, have made up the main security problems in the South Caucasus
The evaluation of Turkey's standpoint and potential regarding the aforementioned issues is especially important, considering the tensions existing in Turkey's relations with the EU and the USA, as well as the West's increasing engagement in the Caucasus, Central Asia and Black Sea regions. In this process, Ankara may play the role of a significant ally for the West.
The question of Kosovo's status is currently one of the most important issues in international politics. Since 1999, Kosovo has been an international protectorate which was created in the aftermath of the NATO intervention to stop the brutal pacification of the Albanian insurgency by Serb forces. The province has since de facto become independent of Serbia.