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23 Eurasian Politicians to Watch in 2023

In this annual review, Koen Donatz identifies 23 Eurasian politicians who are set to make their mark across the Eurasian sphere in 2023. Highlighting the geographical diversity of political influence, Koen analyses the strategic decisions that have made said politicians some of the most important figures to watch across the region.

Photo Credits: 内閣官房内閣広報室

Around the start of the new year, there are always several rankings designating which people were the most powerful in the previous year. Well-known among them are Politico’s ranking of most influential Europeans, Time’s overview of the 100 most influential people, and Forbes’ list of the 100 most powerful women. This article contributes to this tradition but gives it a Eurasian twist. It features 23 politicians from across Eurasia who stand to make their mark on the developments and events of Eurasia in 2023, for better or worse.

Before going to the list, three points of clarification should be made. First, any such list has a degree of arbitrariness. Eurasia has 5.4 billion inhabitants, so there are definitely more people in Eurasia that will be influential in 2023 and merit attention (World Atlas, n.d.). Xi Jinping (President of China), Emmanuel Macron (President of France), Olaf Schulz (Chancellor of Germany), and Fumio Kishida (Prime Minister of Japan), for instance, all did not make the list, although they are very influential. Hence, this list should be considered as non-exhaustive. Second, a mention on this list is not by any means a stamp of approval for a leader, it merely indicates that they will likely remain a key player in Eurasia in 2023. Third, the list is not a ranking; the number 23 on the list is not necessarily less influential than the number 1.

To compile this list, several criteria have been used. To feature on this list, a politician must have the following:

· Considerable influence on international events or developments in Eurasia. Some politicians are powerful within their own country but are not influential enough beyond their national borders. Those politicians are not included.

· Current residence within Eurasia. Joe Biden has a lot of influence over developments within Eurasia but is not living in Eurasia and therefore not included.

· A political role in 2023. Christine Lagarde used to be a politician, serving in several ministerial roles in France. However, as the current president of the European Central Bank, she no longer is a politician and, therefore, not on the list (European Central Bank, n.d.).

Moreover, the list aims to reflect the geographical diversity of Eurasia, including leaders not only from the great powers but also from smaller countries. The list is not balanced in terms of gender. This is not a normative choice but merely a reflection of the reality that (unfortunately) women are severely underrepresented in politics across Eurasia. Without further ado, below is the list of 23 Eurasian politicians to watch in 2023:

1. Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission) With the Ukraine War raging on just outside the EU’s borders, Von der Leyen has the huge task of reshaping the EU into a geopolitically more savvy Union ahead of her in 2023. At the same time, Von der Leyen has various other problems to address this year, such as navigating the EU’s difficult relations with China and further implementing the Green New Deal.

2. Roberta Metsola (President of the European Parliament) The revelation that certain MEPs had taken bribes from Qatar brought the EU Parliament’s reputation to a low point in 2022. As its President, Metsola has to prove this year that corruption can and will be banned from the centre of European democracy (Vinocur, 2022).

3. Volodymyr Zelensky (President of Ukraine) From comedian to war-time president, Zelensky has made an unusual career switch, but one that seems to fit him well. In the first 10 months of the war, Zelensky gave a staggering 500 speeches, rallying support for Ukraine across the world (President of Ukraine, 2022). The year 2023 will be a stamina test for him; will Zelensky be able to keep the morale high among the Ukrainian troops and population and to keep his international supporters unified against Russian aggression?

4. Vladimir Putin (President of Russia) The architect of the invasion of Ukraine, a war that will most likely continue to shape the geopolitics of Europe in 2023. With the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, a veto in the United Nations Security Council, and borders stretching from Norway to North Korea, there is no way around Putin’s Russia in Eurasian affairs (Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, 2022).

5. Jens Stoltenberg (Secretary General of NATO) As the leader of NATO, Stoltenberg has been a central figure in the international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The NATO members confirmed their approval of Stoltenberg’s leadership when they extended his term as Secretary General for a year due to the Ukraine War (NATO, 2022). With eight months of his term left, the former Norwegian Prime Minister has a final chance to show this extension was worthwhile.

6. Li Qiang (#2 of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo’s Standing Committee) At the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022, Li was chosen as the second most important leader of the party, meaning he is destined to become China’s next Premier in 2023 (Yu, 2022). This year it will become clear how he will manage the world’s second-largest economy during the (hopefully) final stage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

7. Tsai Ing-Wen (President of Taiwan) Tsai is presiding over what China considers a renegade province, and faces a potential military confrontation with China’s powerful, nuclear-armed People’s Liberation Army. As tensions rise between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, Tsai has to prepare her island for a potential conflict while securing the support of the United States and its allies in 2023 (Maizland, 2022).

8. Joko Widodo (President of Indonesia) Having presided over the G20 in 2022, Jokowi has presented himself to the world as a statesman capable of getting countries to cooperate amidst conflict (Wee, 2022). In 2023, Jokowi has the opportunity to cement his domestic and international legacy ahead of the 2024 presidential elections.

9. Lawrence Wong (Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Singapore) Current Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated that Wong would take over from him as Prime Minister around the elections of 2025 (Lin & Kok, 2022). As Wong prepares for his promotion to the top job, 2023 and 2024 may already give a glimpse of how he wants to lead Singapore once in office.

10. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (President of the Philippines) Having won the presidency in May 2022, Marcos Jr. made a number of large promises to his electorate, such as making the Philippines a middle-income country within six years. In 2023, it has to become clear whether Bongbong will deliver on his promises or whether he is more like his father; a ruthless, violent, and corrupt dictator (De Guzman, 2022; Beltran, 2022).

11. Narendra Modi (Prime Minister of India) Modi has been leading India since 2014, the country that is predicted to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation in 2023 (Hegarty, 11 July 2022). As India holds the presidency of the G20 this year, the question is whether Modi has the political skills to make G20 members cooperate in a time of geopolitical tensions (Ghoshal, 2022).

12. Nirmala Sitharaman (Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs of India) Named the most powerful female in India by Fortune, Sitharaman has the important job of steering the Indian economy through difficult times. As the economy is struggling with the aftermath of the pandemic and the impact of the Ukrainian War, she must do what is in her power in 2023 to ensure India remains a rising economy (Fortune India, 2022).

13. Sheikh Hasina Wazed (Prime Minister of Bangladesh) Hasina is the longest-serving Prime Minister in Bangladesh’s history, a role in which she focuses on poverty alleviation, food security, education, and healthcare, among other things (Forbes, n.d.). During the pandemic, poverty rates in Bangladesh increased, so Hasina will have to double down her efforts if she wants to fight the large-scale poverty in this populous South Asian nation (The World Bank, 2022).

14. Giorgia Meloni (Prime Minister of Italy) Last October, Meloni became the first female Prime Minister of Italy. Leading a right-wing coalition, Meloni has tried to reassure the other EU states that Italy will remain a reliable partner, for instance, by dialling down her anti-EU rhetoric. 2023 will reveal whether Meloni is serious about her commitment to the EU, or whether she will put Italy on a more nationalist, isolationist course after all (Roberts, 2022; Baczynska & Balmer, 2022).

15. Rishi Sunak (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) This alumnus of Goldman Sachs took over the lead of the British government after a politically chaotic year, thereby becoming the first British Prime Minister of colour (Sherwood, 2022). 2023 is the year in which he must prove that he (contrary to Johnson and Truss) has what it takes to lead the UK in a post-Covid, post-Brexit era.

16. Sanna Marin (Prime Minister of Finland) Marin is the youngest ever Prime Minister of Finland, obtaining the job at the age of 34 in 2019 (Henley, 2019). With a warring Russia on its border, Marin made the historic step of taking Finland into NATO, and in 2023 we may well see more significant changes in Finnish foreign policy under her guidance (Pillai, 2022).

17. Mark Rutte (Prime Minister of the Netherlands) Rutte is the longest-serving Prime Minister in Dutch history, having been in power since 2010 (Sterling, 2022). Thereby, he is after Orban of Hungary, the longest-serving leader in the European Council. This seniority gives Rutte considerable influence in Europe anno 2023, after Merkel left a power vacuum in the Council (Abels, 2022).

18. Donald Tusk (Chairman of Civic Platform, Poland) A former Prime Minister of Poland and former President of the European Council, Tusk remains an important leader in Polish politics (De La Baume, 2021). As the head of the opposition coalition Civic Platform, Tusk will lead the opposition against the ruling Law and Justice Party in the 2023 parliamentary elections (Broszkowski, 2022).

19. Annalena Baerbock (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany) As the first female German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Baerbock quickly became a player to reckon with in the EU’s response to the Ukraine War. After the outbreak of the war, Germany rapidly reversed decades of relatively pacifist foreign policy by supporting weapon deliveries to Ukraine, and Baerbock is now leading German foreign policy in uncharted territory (Treeck, 2022).

20. Benjamin Netanyahu (Prime Minister of Israel) Netanyahu has proven to be a political survivor. At the end of 2022, he was sworn in as Israel’s Prime Minister, the second time he reclaimed this office after losing it. The government Netanyahu is heading will be Israel’s most right-wing government in history, and 2023 will show what this will mean for the country and the wider region (Al Jazeera, 2022).

21. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (President of Türkiye) The Ukraine War gave Erdogan, Türkiye’s longest-serving leader ever, the chance to profile himself as a power broker by negotiating a grain export deal between Russia and Ukraine (Wax, Lau & Aarup, 2022). This flair of statesmanship will come in handy when Erdoğan aims to win yet another term as president of Türkiye in 2023 (Bouqet, 2022).

22. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (President of Kazakhstan) In January 2022, protests engulfed Kazakhstan, and Tokayev only restored stability with the help of nearly 4.000 foreign troops, mainly from Russia (Putz, 2022). As such, in 2023, the burden is on Tokayev to show that he can maintain stability in this huge Central Asian republic on his own, and that he can finally exit the long shadow cast by his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev (President of Kazakhstan from 1991-2019).

23. Mahsa Amini (former citizen of Iran) Amini is not a politician, but was an ordinary Iranian citizen who posthumously became a symbol of resistance against authoritarianism. Her tragic death at the hands of the Iranian morality police in September 2022 sparked large protests across Iran (Fassihi & Engelbrecht, 2022). These protests will probably continue to shape the politics of Iran and beyond in 2023.

Thus, the politics of Eurasia in 2023 will be shaped by a combination of veteran leaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as relative newcomers such as Giorgia Meloni. However, the great importance of these politicians notwithstanding, #23 Masha Amini reminds us that Eurasia is much more than the sum of its leaders. Once political leaders get too out of touch with the people that they govern, they get into trouble. It is therefore important that civil society groups, such as STEAR, across Europe and Asia use their voices to remind their leaders that international cooperation, rather than confrontation is the path forward in 2023.

This article represents the views of contributors to STEAR's online digital publications, and not those of STEAR, which takes no institutional positions.



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