Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

3
Mar

This is perhaps the most dangerous point in Europe‘s history since the end of the cold war. Direct confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian forces will draw in the United States, one way or another. While there is still time, it’s extremely important to understand what each party involved is aiming for.

Over the last 10 days, Moscow has been unpleasantly surprised several times. First, when Ukraine‘s then president, Viktor Yanukovych, halted an operation which would have cleared his opponents from the positions they occupied in central Kiev. Given the clear order, the Berkut riot police were closing in on the Maidan – the protest movement, named after Kiev’s Independence Square, whose leaders were desperately calling for a truce, – but suddenly the Berkut advance was stopped. Instead, Yanukovych invited the opposition for negotiations. The second surprise came when the negotiations turned into talks about Yanukovych’s concessions, with the participation of three European Union foreign ministers.

The agreement, signed on 21 February, was a delayed capitulation by Yanukovych – who had been seen triumphant only a couple of days earlier. An even bigger surprise was the rejection of these capitulation terms by the radicals, and the opposition supporting Yanukovych’s immediate resignation. Finally, the German, Polish and French governments, who had just witnessed the Kiev accord, raised no objection to the just-signed agreement being scrapped within hours.

Russia, whose representative had been invited to witness the signing of the 21 February document, but who wisely refused to co-sign it, was incensed. What Moscow saw on 21-22 February was a coup d’état in Kiev. This development led to a fundamental reassessment of Russian policy in Ukraine, and vis-à-vis the West.

Viewing the February revolution in Kiev as a coup engineered by Ukrainian radical nationalists from the west of the country – assisted by Europe and the United States – the Kremlin believed Russia’s important interests were directly affected. First, Russian president Vladimir Putin‘s plans of economic integration in the post-Soviet space would have to do without Ukraine. Second, the fact that radical nationalist components were among the beneficiaries of the Kiev revolution left no doubt about Ukraine’s future foreign and security policy and its domestic policies. Read more…

By Dmitri Trenin, Published in the Guardian on 2 March 2014, www.theguardian.com

28
Feb

mira

 

On Tuesday 25 February, Mira Milosevich, Senior Researcher at the FAES Foundation and frequent contributor to El Pais, El Mundo, ABC and La Cope, addressed the prickly and highly timely topic of Ukraine. According to Ms. Milosevich, the current crisis in Ukraine has shown that 1) the country is unable to produce a stable and unified government 2) the post-soviet state is unworkable and 3) the Cold War may be over, but geopolitics certainly live on. To buttress her first point, Ms. Milosevich pointed out to the fact that Ukraine had undergone 3 revolutions in a single generation: in 1991, when it obtained independence from the USSR, in 2004 with the Orange Revolution (or Velvet revolution) and in 2013/2014, as it unfolds today.

In essence, the core problem in Ukraine is  geography not politics. Ukraine (which means “on the border”) is precisely that, on the border between the West and Russia. Its population is almost perfectly divided between the East which is pro-Russian and speaks predominantly Russian and the West which is Pro-EU and speaks Ukrainian. What is playing out today in Ukraine is a tug of war between the EU and Russia. Ukraine has a much deeper historical and cultural significance for Russia. It also represents a vital security issue for Russia since keeping a strong influence over Ukraine creates a buffer between Russia and the West. The EU’s interest is much milder and less visceral. How far will each “bloc” go to win Ukraine over? That is the million dollar question. At the end of the day, the one with deeper pockets will most certainly win the chess game, and right now Ukraine desperately needs $35 billion.

And so what comes next for Ukraine? There are 3 options at this point. The current status quo could be maintained and the resulting period of instability and turmoil. Russia or the EU could manage to win the entire country over to its side….by offering large amounts of aid and benefits. Or, last and perhaps most probable, the country could be partitioned. Let’s hope that whatever happens, democracy is preserved and Ukrainians freely choose their future government.

27
Feb

Spotlight on Crimea

Written on February 27, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Foreign Policy, News

With the victory of the Maidan movement in Ukraine and fall of President Viktor Yanukovich, many questions about the future of Ukraine are swirling. The most important and potentially disastrous question involves Crimea. Pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators in Crimea clashed on Wednesday as Putin ordered military exercises across the border and the Crimean parliament ruled out debating a split from Kiev.

Crimea, a majority-Russian-speaking peninsula in the south of Ukraine on the Black Sea coast, could become the next flashpoint in the Ukrainian crisis. History is a big part of the problem.

Crimea was conquered by the Russian tsar Catherine the Great in 1783 from the Crimean Tatar Khanate, a state descended from the Mongol Empire and for centuries affiliated with the Ottoman Empire. Crimea was settled primarily by Russian nobles and serfs in the succeeding century.

Joseph Stalin deported the entire Tatar population of Crimea to Central Asia during World War II in one of his fits of paranoia. Crimea had little historical connection with Ukraine until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula from the Russian Socialist republic to the Ukrainian Socialist republic in 1954, in honor of the three-hundredth anniversary of the annexation of the Eastern half of Ukraine by the Russian tsar Aleksei in 1654.

Nikita Khrushchev and most of the world thought this was meaningless because both republics were part of the Soviet Union. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Crimea became part of the independent Ukrainian state.

Russian elites have never really accepted Crimea as a valid part of Ukraine. Many Russians own or rent summer dachas on the peninsula. The Russian Navy maintains an important base at Sevastopol. Read more…

Eric Lohr is Professor of Russian History, and Anya Schmemann is an Assistant Dean at American University.

Published in the National Interest on 27 February: http://nationalinterest.org

24
Feb

ukraine

 

The bloody conflict in Ukraine could trigger yet another confrontation between the West and Russia. Dominance in Europe is at stake on the geopolitical chess board. While Ukraine itself could descend into civil war.

The quote printed in SPIEGEL 33 years ago was a noteworthy one, and still sounds remarkably topical: “We have to ensure that this Soviet empire, when it breaks apart due to its internal contradictions, does so with a whimper rather than a bang.” The sentence was spoken by US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger during an interview conducted in September of 1981.

This week in Ukraine, one of the core regions of that former empire, it is looking very much like a “bang.” Thursday in Kiev has seen bloody violence that has cost the lives of dozens amid gunfire and brutal clashes on Independence Square. Hundreds have been wounded, many seriously. The violence comes on the heels of similar battles on Tuesday — and mark the beginning of what could become an extended and dramatic conflict over the country’s future. Some of those who have traveled to Kiev to view the situation first hand in recent weeks are fully aware of what a “bang” looks like — US Senator John McCain, 77, for example, a veteran of Vietnam who was shot down in 1967 and spent over two years as a prisoner of war. In December, he stood on the Independence Square stage in Kiev and called out: “People of Ukraine, this is your moment! The free world is with you! America is with you!”

In other words, the Cold War has returned and Moscow is once again the adversary. The only difference is that the weapons have changed.

It is no longer just the association agreement with the European Union that is at stake. Nor is the future of President Viktor Yanukovych, a man surrounded by rumors of corruption, the focus anymore. Rather, geopolitics has taken center stage and the question as to which power centers in Europe and the Eurasia region will be dominant in the future has become paramount. Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski once compared the region to a chess board. The players, as always, include the US, Russia, the EU and NATO. Read more…

By Uwe Klussmann

Published in Der Spiegel on Feb. 20, 2014 http://www.spiegel.de

 

7
Feb

The Geopolitics of Sochi

Written on February 7, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, International Conflict, Terrorism & Security, Op Ed

sochiThe founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Courbetin, had a vision that athletic competitions would attenuate geopolitical ones. Sport, he believed, could cut across cultures and thereby foster amity in the international realm. Accordingly, he worked for the revival of the athletic competitions of the ancient Greeks: the Olympic Games. To popularize the modern version of those games and build an intercontinental following, he championed the rotation of the games among different national hosts every four years. Today, as de Courbetin might have wished, the Olympic movement is a truly global phenomenon. Nations around the world strive to burnish their reputations through participating in the games, winning medals at them, and, above all, by hosting the games. When holding the games on its soil, a country takes the world stage to showcase itself.

Yet de Courbetin’s vision has been realized only partway. While the Olympic Games do generate goodwill and international good-feeling, they also occasionally aggravate international tensions by serving as a platform upon which countries play out rivalries and indulge their vanity, reveal their insecurities, and expose their grudges, as the 1936, 1972, 1980, and 1984 games illustrate. The Frenchman’s aspirations notwithstanding, the games sometimes exacerbate rather than ameliorate animosity.

The 2014 Winter Olympics, too, may well deepen international acrimony, and do so to the detriment of United States foreign policy. The 22nd Winter Games will take place next month in the picturesque port of Sochi.  A resort town on the Black Sea blessed with a subtropical climate and the presence of alpine mountains just thirty-seven miles outside the city, Sochi would seem a superb location for a winter sporting event. In addition, the games have the express and enthusiastic backing of the host country’s head of state. Read more…

Michael A. Reynolds, a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, is an Associate Professor in Princeton’s Department of Near Eastern Studies, where he teaches courses on modern Middle Eastern and Eurasian history, comparative empire, military and ethnic conflict, and secularism.

Originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

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