Stories by Alina Polyakova

Expert Voices

Amid U.S.–Russia standoffs, Putin looks for an opening in Sochi

Mike Pompeo and Sergey Lavrov
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, Russia, on May 14. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets in Sochi on Tuesday with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin to discuss a long list of issues on which the U.S. and Russia are at complete odds with each other.

The big picture: The agenda for the talks — the first high-level meeting with Russian officials since last summer's widely criticized Helsinki Summit — includes arms control, Venezuela, Ukraine, Syria and Iran, according to the State Department. While it's unlikely the needle will move on any of these sources of longstanding disagreement, Sochi may help prepare for future summits.

Expert Voices

Putin turns to Russian passports to test the West in Ukraine

A man with his daughter casting his vote at a Ukrainian polling station
A polling station in Ukraine's Donetsk region during the second-round presidential election on April 21. Photo: Valentin Sprinchak/TASS via Getty Images

Ukraine's election of comedian and political novice Volodymyr Zelensky as president marks a historic, peaceful transfer of democratic power yet runs the risk that an untested leader could invite more assertiveness from Moscow.

The big picture: A few days after last weekend's elections in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin granted an expedited path to Russian citizenship for residents of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, where Russian forces have waged slow-burning warfare since 2014. The move seems intended to consolidate Russian control of the contested territories while forcing the Ukraine's president-elect and the West to respond.

Expert Voices

Russia opens new front against Ukraine in Sea of Azov

two Ukrainian naval vessels
Russian-seized Ukrainian military vessels in a port of Kerch, Crimea, on Nov. 26. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

A Russian coast guard vessel rammed a Ukrainian tugboat in the Sea of Azov Sunday, Nov. 25, setting off a series of increasingly dangerous escalations. Russia blocked the Kerch Strait — the narrow passageway connecting the Sea of Azov to the much larger Black Sea — and detained three Ukrainian vessels and 23 sailors. On Monday, Ukraine’s government imposed short-term martial law.

Why it matters: This weekend's attack opened a new front in Russia’s four-year aggression against Ukraine, which includes the ongoing land war in Ukraine's east and the occupation of Crimea.