The situation in the Middle East will throw up more challenges in 2019.
Based on the major trends of 2018, the decreasing role of the international organizations such as the UN, and the rise of old international and regional players may change the face of realpolitik in the coming year, presaging an unstable climate and greater potential for conflict. In short, next year will bring more challenges without solving existing ones.
Critical elections: Ukraine, Algeria, EU
The year 2019 has been dubbed as the year of elections for many developing countries. These elections might not seem important; but they will show the kind of development societies are choosing for themselves.
The most significant elections in terms of their regional consequences are those in Algeria and Ukraine. The two countries are incomparable, but their elections will have a significant impact on the international arena.
The outcome of Ukrainian elections is difficult to predict as they could be steered in a way or the other by the actions of the current government. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko is currently lagging behind other candidates. Neither Poroshenko nor his team are interested in leaving their positions because if they do so, they will be prosecuted by the next government on various charges.
Therefore, Poroshenko is trying to escalate tensions with Russia, particularly in the Donbass region prior to the elections to win more votes. By doing so, he may be able to even impose martial law in the country under the pretext of safeguarding and protecting the country’s borders from Russian invasion. This would diminish prospects of any elections being held, which would prolong his tenure in office for a year or so.
If elections are held in Ukraine regardless of atmospherics, it would not bring stability to either Ukraine or to the eastern European region. It is likely that Ukraine and its European supporters will have to face a new wave of unrest in the country leading to extreme political uncertainty.
Since 2011, when the Arab Spring broke out in some Arab countries, Algeria has remained stable except for some demonstrations in distant provinces. However, the future of Algeria seems uncertain.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 81, will reportedly run for elections the fifth time despite his frail health. In the absence of a strong figure that might be considered his worthy successor having wide supported of Algerians, the country might face instability and security-related issues, which in turn could spill over to neighbouring countries and to Europe.
The issue of Brexit will drag on until next year and finally result into UK getting out of the Union, which will pose serious existential questions for the EU’s leadership agendaMaria Dubovikova
Amid elections in developing countries, the upcoming year will also be election year for the EU Parliament. Taking into account the rise of populist movements in EU member states, it is highly unlikely that this trend will bode well for the European parliament. However, it is too early to expect major changes in the parliament’s structure though the drift to populism will be palpable.
The issue of Brexit will drag on until next year and finally result into UK getting out of the Union, which will pose serious existential questions for the EU’s leadership agenda. The EU is entering a time of instability and significant challenges as the being of being an EU member state seem less attractive than before.
A new nuclear race possible
The coming year will likely end the US-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). US officials have started contradicting each other while explaining the reasons for this decision were in response to the Russia’s latest weapons and China’s rising threat.
Americans are also not issuing a guarantee that US missiles will not be deployed in Europe. The issue of the American missiles deployment in Europe is a matter of vital national interest for Russia.
In the case of the deployment of the US ballistic missiles in the Baltic States, their flight time to hit Russia’s capital will be less than two minutes. This would make Russia incapable of protecting its territories. Thus, Russia is warning that in such a scenario it might adopt a doctrine of ‘preemptive strike’, wherein it will retain the right to strike first in self-defence.
The end of INF Treaty, if the superpowers will not try to reach another agreement that would guarantee non-deployment of the missiles of short and medium range near the Russian borders, will cause a serious crisis in Russia-US relations and kick-start an arms race.
Russia’s recent move – with its Tu-160, supersonic heavy strategic bomber taking part in the military drills in Venezuela – is a direct warning to warmongers in Washington. The stakes are rising as the international community might again be hostage to confrontation between Moscow and Washington. However, in such a confrontation, Venezuela might pay dearly for its stand on the Russian side.
The coming year might bring an end to all hopes of Iran nuclear deal. The Middle East in general will remain unstable in 2019. The Syria crisis remains the key conflict area in the Middle East, which will remain unresolved in the coming year and would likely turn into a “frozen” conflict with frequent eruptions.
The situation be in Syria would remain uncertain in 2019 if the Syrian conflict is not resolved by political means. This would cause tectonic shift and transformations in the region, particularly if the stalled Palestinian-Israeli talks are not resumed. Concerted efforts should be made in order to resolve the issues to avert another war.
Thus, more tensions can be foreseen for 2019 worldwide. The international political climate will heat up, along with the global climate.
Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub), expert of Valdai Club and RIAC (Russian International Affairs Council). Twitter: @politblogme.