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Europe-Russia

Tag Archives | Europe-Russia

How to Read Vladimir Putin

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Putin is a statist who wants to safeguard a strong and great Russia. Photo: AFP

It was the sinking of the Russian submarine, the Kursk, in 2000 that first prompted Vladimir Putin to reveal critical elements of his personality to the world.

Putin is a statist who wants to safeguard a strong and great Russia. Photo: AFP

Since then, the Western media have generally characterised him as a heartless bully bent on challenging the West. While various Western experts claim to have insight into Putin’s thinking, in reality, few do. A big part of the reason is that so few view Putin through the prism of his upbringing, and Russian history, which is critical to getting Putin right.

By Western standards, he came from nothing. Excelling at judo presented Putin with his first opportunity to become something more than an average kid living in communal housing. During his martial arts training, he became more reactionary and disciplined. He calculated manoeuvres on the mat, waiting patiently to take an opponent down, which made his mind more focused and goal-oriented. Like so many Russians raised during the Soviet era, Putin was driven by opportunity, which is not the same as greed, but rather, a survival instinct.

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Keep Your Friends Close, But Your Enemies Closer

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President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Mexico, June 18, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

This old cliché is still apropos in President Barrack Obama’s saber-rattling standoff with President Vladimir Putin.

President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Mexico, June 18, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

In Europe last week Mr. Obama said that Russia was a declining “regional power.” In seizing Crimea, Mr. Putin was expanding Russia’s influence over Ukraine–part of the lost former Soviet Empire–was the inference. I am sure Mr. Putin is still fuming over those remarks. For the U.S. the annexation of Crimea is not a national security threat as was the Cold War era. Containing Russia’s further incursion into Ukraine is important however the most pressing foreign security issues are the control of Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s chemical stockpile. Mr. Putin is the key to both issues.

Mr. Obama needs to spend time with Mr. Putin, to better understand his goals–at least his thinking. The Crimea takeover could have been averted. Reversing its integration into the Russian Empire probably will not happen. Western allies wringing their hands and seeking punishing sanctions will not change the takeover. What we don’t want to do is push Mr. Putin into annexing Ukraine. This would begin a more regional conflict and draw in neighboring countries.

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Continental Drift: Europe’s Breakaways

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Independence marches in Scotland, Crimea and Catalonia

“Happy families are all alike: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Independence marches in Scotland, Crimea and Catalonia

The opening to Tolstoy’s great novel of love and tragedy could be a metaphor for Europe today, where “unhappy families” of Catalans, Scots, Belgiums, Ukrainians, and Italians contemplate divorcing the countries they are currently a part of. And in a case where reality mirrors fiction, they are each unhappy in their own way.

While the U.S. and its allies may rail against the recent referendum in the Crimea that broke the peninsula free of Ukraine, Scots will consider a very similar one on Sept. 18, and Catalans would very much like to do the same. So would residents of South Tyrol, and Flemish speakers in northern Belgium.

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Not a new Cold War

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"If at this moment it has been decided to invade the Ameer's territory, we are acting in pursuance of a policy which in its intention has been uniformly friendly to Afghanistan"

Suddenly the talk is of a new Cold War between Russia and the West, as Crimea is quietly written off as “lost” for the foreseeable future and the diplomatic focus moves to preventing a further—and potentially devastating—move into eastern Ukraine.

“If at this moment it has been decided to invade the Ameer’s territory, we are acting in pursuance of a policy which in its intention has been uniformly friendly to Afghanistan”

While an understandable metaphor, though, this is a dangerous one. The Cold War, for all its brinkmanship and proxy conflicts, was a relatively stable and even rules-bound process. Instead, in this new “hot peace,” perhaps a better, if less comfortable analogy would be the Great Game, that (since mythologized) nineteenth-century era of imperial rivalry over Central Asia between Britain and Russia,, the freewheeling nineteenth-century struggle for authority in Central Asia.

One of the particular characteristics of the original Great Game was that there was little real distinction between the instruments of conventional conflict and competition such as wars, diplomatic missions and treaties and those of the informal realm, from subsidized bandit chieftains to third-party intelligence freelancers.

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Mr. Putin’s Picnic in the Crimea

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Russian soldier during the crisis in Crimea

Very little can be said or should be said about the Russian annexation of the Crimea.

Russian soldier during the crisis in Crimea

The West, in total, handed the parcel over to the Russian President like a Boxing Day gift. I will not endeavor to call it appeasement. (That is the task of my more realist and conservative colleagues.) What I will say is that the United States facilitated the move by illustrating weakness. Not since the end of World War II or the end of the Cold War has the United States advertised disarmament in the manner of the Obama administration. This was punctuated by the declaration that a military response was not an option. In this regard, Vladimir Putin was and is free to take as many pieces of his Western European neighbors as he likes.

Liberal International Relations theorists will dispute this claim. They will argue complex interdependence will keep the Russian Bear at bay. Yet, the Russians took hold of the eastern part of the Ukraine in a matter of days. Interdependence works both ways. It is clear that the European Union lacks the moxy to implement effective sanctions. This assumes that sanctions will even work. In the meantime, Secretary of State John Kerry will run around Europe, pimping American power to the highest bidder, attempting to keep the U.S. fingers in the dam. It isn’t surprising that Kerry has not gotten much from his travels other than some out of date peanuts and a passenger’s pillow. The “interdependence” is asymmetrical in nature because of Russia’s stakes: natural gas and oil.

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The West is Unlikely to Slap Meaningful Economic Sanctions on Russia

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Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris, France

Escalation of the Crimean conflict and the risk of an invasion by Russian troops further into Ukraine have raised a concern about international mechanisms of deterrence, economic sanctions being among them.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris, France

Although Brussels and Washington made rather harsh statements at the outset of the crisis, it is quite improbable that they will impose heavy sanctions on Moscow. This means that the international community lacks an adequate response to Russia. The Russian Federation is the third largest trading partner with the European Union (next to the US and China) with $417.4 billion in trade in 2013. Therefore economic sanctions could have an adverse effect on Europe. Considering the current state of several European economies, the results would be grave.

Russia is one of the world’s biggest oil producing countries and the world’s second largest oil exporter. It supplies most of its oil and gas to the European Union. The only way to affect the Russian economy and deter Putin would be to target Russia’s energy sector. The European Union would have to refuse to purchase Russian natural gas, which presently they are not be able to do. In 2013, Russia’s earnings from oil and natural gas exports amounted to $229 billion.

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The Monuments Men Reviews: Book and Film

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Claudette Barius/Columbia Pictures
Claudette Barius/Columbia Pictures

Claudette Barius/Columbia Pictures

Artistic license can take many forms when applied to historical narrative, and it is my hope that in reading my reviews of the book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, and the film adaptation, The Monuments Men, the reader will get a full picture of the heroic men and women who rescued European art from the Nazis – the Monuments Men, and how they have been portrayed in print and on the silver screen.

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What Would a Russian Invasion of Ukraine Look Like?

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Would Russia find invading Ukraine easier than Crimea?

I’ve been asked this question a lot, and had the chance to expound on it at a recent event in Parliament sponsored by the Henry Jackson Society, so thought I’d briefly outline my thoughts here.

Would Russia find invading Ukraine easier than Crimea?

That said, though, I should stress that the more time passes, the less likely I think such an attack becomes, because of the shifting political situation and also–as Kyiv moves forces east and mobilises reserves and volunteers–the military calculus. However, it cannot be excluded, so it is worth still considering, not least as the preparatory phases I outline below have all been carried out; the Russian General Staff may well not yet know if it is going to be invading, but it has made sure that if the word does come down from the Kremlin, it will be ready.

In brief, the aim would be a blitzkrieg that, before Ukraine has the chance properly to muster its forces and, perhaps more to the point, the West can meaningfully react, allows the Russians to draw a new front line and assert their own ground truth, much as happened in Crimea (though this would be much more bloody and contested). This would not be a bid to conquer the whole country (the real question is whether they’d seek to push as far as Odessa, taking more risks and extending their supply lines, but also essentially depriving Ukraine of a coastline) but instead quickly to take those areas where there are potentially supportive local political elites and Russophone populations, and consequently pretexts (however flimsy) to portray invasion as ‘liberation.’

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Karl Kraus, the Press, and War

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Alamy
Alamy

Alamy

Reviewing Jonathan Franzen’s book The Kraus Project, the German poet Michael Hoffmann argues that people call the Austrian satirist, Karl Kraus, brilliant, “though it’s sometimes said with a there-now-go-away-please undertone.” By that Hoffman implies that people all too freely bestow the title of genius on the fin-de-siècle Viennese journalist, because they do not fully comprehend what he is trying to say with his intricate, quotation-drenched, and aphorism-dominated prose. After all, partial comprehension is often a prerequisite for mantled brilliance. If we could comprehend Kraus in his entirety, the title of genius might become superfluous. To many, therefore, to this day, Karl Kraus remains a distant mystery.

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IMF Close to Agreement on Aid Package for Ukraine

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IMF headquarters

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is close to agreement with Ukraine on financial assistance worth $14-18bn (£8.5-£11bn) over the next two years. An agreement still needs approval by the full board of the IMF. The stand-by arrangement comes at the end of a three-week visit by IMF officials to the country. The deal is expected to unlock a further $27bn in loans for Ukraine from the European Union and the US.

“Following the intense economic and political turbulence of recent months, Ukraine has achieved some stability but faces difficult challenges,” the IMF’s Mission Chief for Ukraine said in a statement. The deal goes hand in hand with a reform programme for Ukraine’s ailing economy. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s interim government agreed to raise gas prices by 50% in its effort to secure the IMF aid package.

The Bombs that Failed: NATO and Serbia, 15 Years On

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Former Bosnian Serb wartime Commander Ratko Mladic pictured with U.S. General Wesley Clark meeting in Banjaluka on August 27, 1994. Ranko Cukovic/Reuters

It is never fitting to be too morose. Sigmund Freud’s distinction between those who mourn from those who are melancholic was fundamental.

Former Bosnian Serb wartime Commander Ratko Mladic pictured with U.S. General Wesley Clark meeting in Banjaluka on August 27, 1994. Ranko Cukovic/Reuters

To mourn is to concede that an act has happened, that it lies in the realm of the undoable and irreversible. One can only learn. To be melancholic is a concession that things have never entirely left, that it lingers, the memory haunting like the sun defying shadow. The wars in the Balkans have tended to foster the melancholia of a past that never leaves, granting it the status of a permanent stand in for the ever present. Such sentinels can make poor company, but they are unavoidable. As Ukraine’s situation accelerates with actions of sanctions, annexations, coups and counter-coups, it is worth noting how another compact was firstly dissolved and then subsequently tortured in the 1990s. The trends are similar – the moralising, the external interference, the bullying of powers extraneous yet obsessed with holding the levers of a disintegrating country.

The Yugoslavian Federation, an experiment bound by the iron fist and held by the iron glove, frayed and then fell apart during the early 1990s. By the time NATO revealed itself, not so much as a defensive alliance as an offensive one, Serbian civilians found themselves the target of a military offensive ostensibly to punish them for their government’s ruthless policies in Kosovo. Never mind the fact that there was a secessionist movement on home soil also dedicated to extreme violence. Nor did it matter that many Serbs were against the authoritarian insanities of the Milošević regime. As some protesters in Maidan can feel sorrowful over, their voices became the distant echoes of intrusion and interference, railroaded and road blocked by other powers.

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Russia’s Takeover of Crimea Needs Careful Action

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President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of Ukraine in the Oval Office, March 12, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

On Friday March 21 President Vladimir Putin signed the annexation treaty making Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea region a part of Russia.

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of Ukraine in the Oval Office, March 12, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

The port city of Sevastopol on the Black Sea, home to Russia’s naval fleet in the region, was included. Russia flexing its muscle in Crimea was reminiscent of the World War II Stalin era. It was in 1944 that the minority Muslim Tatar’s were deported from Crimea, and shipped off to the Urals. Stalin had accused them of collaborating with the Nazis. Thousands of Tatars died along the way. Ironically male Tatars were serving in the Soviet army at the time. Upon their return home they found their families gone.

As the Cold War was ending in 1989 the exiled Tatars were allowed to return to their ancestral homes in Crimea. Many of the 250,000 Tatars living in the region still remember vividly being expelled from Crimea by the Soviets. They see Putin as Stalin’s protégé, and fear for the future. A number of Tatar’s have joined the ranks of the Islamist rebels fighting in Syria, attempting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, who Putin supports.

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Adolfo Suarez: Spain’s Transitional Leader

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Adolfo Suarez pictured here in 1998. Photo: Barriopedro/Efe

Adolfo Suarez, who died on Sunday, was Spain’s first democratically elected Prime Minister after the Franco years and was an instrumental figure in ensuring the country’s transition into a constitutional state.

Adolfo Suarez pictured here in 1998. Photo: Barriopedro/Efe

“My pain is great, my gratitude permanent,” reads part of a statement delivered by a visibly emotional Juan Carlos, the Spanish King following the death of the former Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez. Behind him was a picture of the two men walking in a garden in Suarez’s home, the king’s arm around Suarez, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for many years.

Suarez who had been hospitalized last Monday with a “respiratory infection that later developed into pneumonia” passed away on Sunday. He was 81. He led Spain during one of the most crucial and delicate periods in the country’s recent history-following the death of Dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Under his leadership, Spain embarked on its transition to a constitutional democracy, legalizing political parties and trade unions in what was described by the King as “one of the most brilliant chapters of Spanish history.”

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Sanctions against Russia look Great on Paper but they’re a Dead-End

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U.S. reliance on Russian uranium makes sanctions difficult

Now that Crimea has voted to unite with Russia and Vladimir Putin has welcomed Crimea with open arms, the Western half of the world, especially the United States and the European Union, are talking at lengths about imposing sanctions on Russia in order to bring Vladimir Putin to his senses.

U.S. reliance on Russian uranium makes sanctions difficult

However, the task seems easier said than done. The United States is simply not in a position to impose long-term sanctions on Russia. Economic and political ties between the United States and Russia are surely not exemplary. Yet, one key American industry relies heavily on a particular import from Russia: fuel for nuclear power plants. American dependency on Russia for its nuclear fuel is not a new development. It dates back to the early 1990s, when the HEU-LEU scheme was launched after the demise of the Soviet Union. Under this scheme, highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Russian nuclear warheads is processed into low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel for American nuclear power plants.

While there are plans of reducing the need for nuclear energy, the United States still receives 100 GW of its power from nuclear power plants (compare this with Russia’s nuclear energy production of 230 GW). As a result, during 2014, 48 million pounds of uranium will be needed to fuel America’s nuclear power plants. Going by data released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the total uranium Oxide produced within the United States is roughly 4.8 million pounds. Barely 10% of the total demand.

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NATO Warns of Russian Army build-up on Ukraine Border

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Russian forces stand guard in the Crimea. Photo: Sasha Maksymenko

NATO’s military commander in Europe has issued a warning about the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border.

Russian forces stand guard in the Crimea. Photo: Sasha Maksymenko

US Air Force General Philip Breedlove said NATO was in particular concerned about the threat to Moldova’s Transdniestria region. Russia said its forces east of Ukraine complied with international agreements. The build-up has been allied with Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, following the removal of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia warned that the risk of war with Russia was growing. “The problem is with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is that he doesn’t want to talk to - not only to the Ukrainian government - but also to the Western leaders,” Mr. Deshchytsia told the BBC. “And this is quite a danger for the decision-making process. We could only expect that he might invade.”

Meanwhile, US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said Washington was reviewing every request Ukraine was making for help. “When it comes to military assistance, we’re looking at it,” he told CNN. But he added: “The facts are these: even if assistance were to go to Ukraine, that is very unlikely to change Russia’s calculus or prevent any invasion.” President Barack Obama earlier ruled out sending US troops to Ukraine.

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