For those who missed the “Voldemort Wars” between the Chinese and Japanese ambassadors to the UK this past week, China’s ambassador Liu Xiaoming, in a piece in The Telegraph, compared Japan’s militarism to Lord Voldemort — the same He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named from the Harry Potter series.

While Dennis Rodman is perhaps the most outlandish celebrity to visit an authoritarian regime, he certainly isn't the first. The former NBA star hosted an exhibition game between North Koreans and former NBA players today. He insists his trip is apolitical, although he has repeatedly professed his fondness for Kim Jong-un, his new “friend for life.”

Judging by 2014's crowded election calendar, this will be a landmark year for democracy. The Economist estimates that an unprecedented 40 percent of the world’s population will have a chance to vote in national polls in 2014. We'll see races in populous countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, the United States, and, most notably, India, where 700 million people are expected to cast ballots in what Fareed Zakaria has called the “largest democratic process in human history.”

December 24, 2013

The two remaining imprisoned Pussy Riot members were released from prison Monday under Russia’s new amnesty law. The pair slammed the move, and accused President Vladimir Putin of freeing them as a public relations effort meant to smooth out international human rights criticisms ahead of the winter Olympics.

It was an awkward debate for Russia’s dissidents and the Western politicians who support them. Should they thank President Vladimir Putin for the massive amnesty that freed Russia’s most famous political prisoners over the past week? Or was the attempt to whitewash Russia’s record on human rights in time for the Olympic Games in Sochi too brazen to deserve any gratitude?

Rarely covered in the English-speaking press because of its past as a Portuguese colony, the behavior of the government in Angola is becoming increasingly troubling. Crony capitalism isn't rare on the African continent—or indeed anywhere else in the world—but Angola's iteration is particularly extreme. Following a civil war that ran on and off from the nation's independence from Portugal in 1975 all the way to 2002, Angola’s elite—overseen by 71-year old President José Eduardo dos Santos—has fed greedily at a trough of oil and gas.

Diplomats often speak with purposeful ambiguity, to please multiple audiences and to not give away their hand prematurely. But a careful parsing of diplo-speak can offer valuable clues in anticipating future policy moves. In what was billed as a major statement on U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean, earlier this week Secretary of State John Kerry included four substantive paragraphs on Cuba — which were largely misinterpreted by the U.S. media.

A little caviar and a lot of oil goes a long way. In recent years, Baku has spent millions of dollars to persuade politicians in Europe and the United States that the oil-rich Caucasus country is a reliable partner -- and to distract them from criticism that the country is authoritarian and fails to respect fundamental human rights.