1
Feb

Lights Out for the Putin Regime

Written on February 1, 2016 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Foreign Policy, Security

Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a selfie with members of the youth military patriotic club "Vympel" (The Pennant), November 4, 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used to seem invincible. Today, he and his regime look enervated, confused, and desperate. Increasingly, both Russian and Western commentators suggest that Russia may be on the verge of deep instability, possibly evencollapse.

This perceptual shift is unsurprising. Last year, Russia was basking in the glow of its annexation of Crimea and aggression in the Donbas. The economy, although stagnant, seemed stable. Putin was running circles around Western policymakers and domestic critics. His popularity was sky-high. Now it is only his popularity that remains; everything else has turned for the worse. Crimea and the Donbas are economic hellholes andhuge drains on Russian resources. The war with Ukraine has stalemated. Energy prices are collapsing, and the Russian economy is in recession. Putin’s punitive economic measures against Ukraine, Turkey, and the West have only harmed the Russian economy further. Meanwhile, the country’s intervention in Syria is poised to become a quagmire.

Things are probably  much worse for Russia than this cursory survey ofnegative trends suggests. The country is weathering three crises brought about by Putin’s rule—and Russia’s foreign-policy misadventures in Ukraine and Syria are only exacerbating them.

First, the Russian economy is in free fall. That oil and gas prices are unlikely to rise much anytime soon is bad enough. Far worse, Russia’s energy-dependent economy is unreformed, uncompetitive, and un-modernized and will remain so as long as it serves as a wealth-producing machine for Russia’s political elite. Second, Putin’s political system is disintegrating. His brand of authoritarian centralization was supposed to create a strong “power vertical” that would bring order to the administrative apparatus, rid it of corruption, and subordinate regional Russian and non-Russian elites to Moscow’s will. Instead, over-centralization has produced the opposite effect, fragmenting the bureaucracy, encouraging bureaucrats to pursue their own interests, and enabling regional elites to become increasingly insubordinate—withRamzan Kadyrov, Putin’s strongman in Chechnya, being the prime example. Third, Putin himself, as the linchpin of the Russian system, has clearly passed his prime. Since his catastrophic decision to prevent Ukraine from signing an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2013, he has committed strategic blunder after strategic blunder. His formerly attractive macho image is wearing thin, and his recent attempts to promote his cult of personality by publishing a book of his quotes and a Putin calendar look laughable and desperate. Read more…

 

Published on Jan. 27 in foreignaffairs.com; Written by By Alexander J. Motyl

29
Jan

 

One day in 2008, a friend called to tell me that he thought the world might be coming to an end. He was not a religious fanatic; he worked in markets. Lehman Brothers had just gone bankrupt and the international financial system appeared to be in its death agony. As Marx might have put it, the final “crisis of capitalism” seemed to have arrived.

But the world did not end. The international proletarian revolution did not arrive either, though a few decades earlier, it might have done. Financial collapse on the scale of 2008 might, once upon a time, have inspired the formerly powerful revolutionary Marxist and near-Marxist political parties of western Europe to take to the streets. But because Marxism was so thoroughly discredited by the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no appetite for radical revolution two decades later. Economic fashion, even on the political left, seemed to have moved on.

Fast forward eight years and the situation is drastically different. Many have noticed that the old-fashioned left is back. Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labour party all now contain radicals who would, if they could, renationalise industry and put an end to free trade. But the more remarkable and less obvious change is taking place on what we used to call the far right. The nationalist parties of Europe, long dismissed as fringe groupings, are now winning votes by adopting previously discredited “leftwing” ideas.

Exhibit A is France’s National Front. Though better known for its anti-immigration rhetoric, the party, under Marine Le Pen’s leadership, has also taken over some of the symbols of the old left, as well as some of its economic policies. A few years ago, the party began holding rallies on May 1, the traditional international socialists’ holiday.

At one of those rallies in 2014, Ms Le Pen attacked the “draconian policy of austerity” that favoured “globalised elites at the expense of the people”. She and her colleagues have also denounced the “neoliberal” policies that supposedly unite the French left, the French right and the EU. Instead, the National Front wants to replace the “establishment” with a “muscular state” that taxes imports and nationalises foreign companies and banks. Read more…

 

By Anne Applebaum; Published on Jan. 27 in www.ft.com

28
Jan

In late 2014, when I visited the Peshmerga on the northern Iraq frontline with Isis, the famed Kurdish warriors were in buoyant mood. After a wobble when the militant Islamists captured Mosul that June, the Kurds had restored their image by recapturing a swath of land where the jihadis had massacred, terrorised and displaced Iraqi ethnic minorities.

Iraq’s Kurds have proved the most reliable western allies in an anti-Isis struggle in which other regional forces have been at best ambivalent and at worst have colluded with the jihadis.

With the survival of the autonomous Kurdish enclave at stake, and their aspirations of statehood closer to being realised, the Kurds have not vacillated in their resolve. For that, they have been celebrated and supported by western governments.

This tale of determination makes the Peshmerga’s treatment of towns and villages seized from Isis all the more distressing.

Stories of abuse have trickled out but it was only a few days ago that I read a comprehensive account. A friend handed me a report she had written for Amnesty International based on more than a year’s investigation into the areas recovered by the Peshmerga.

Through visits, satellite imagery and interviews with displaced people, she found a disturbing pattern. Arab residents of these towns and villages who fled to the Kurdish north were deliberately prevented from returning; in several cases the Peshmerga have destroyed or allowed the destruction of homes to ensure that villagers had nowhere to return to.

The forced displacement of populations may amount to a war crime, according to Amnesty. Read more…

 

By Roula Khalaf; published on Jan. 27  in www.ft.com

27
Jan

 

Why Arabs would regret a toothless Chinese dragon

Xi Jinping has left the Middle East, but the first visit of his presidency to the region has set pundits wondering if the Chinese dragon is preparing to replace the American eagle.

Here’s the short answer: it is not. Even if it were, the Arabs will not find a Chinese superpower more to their liking than the US one.

Much as the Middle East dislikes US foreign policy, Chinese foreign policy will bring with it its own problems. In particular, the Chinese policy of “non-interference” in the affairs of other nations, if applied to the Middle East, would not please the Arabs.

Here’s why. China has touted its policy of non-interference for decades. On one level, that sounds good – after all, non-interference in the affairs of other nation states is one of the pillars of the global system.

Perhaps a better way of thinking about it would be remaining neutral in the face of threats to allies. And that kind of “neutrality” is emphatically not what the Arabs want.

Neutrality, understood in that way, has two serious problems for the Middle East. It takes no sides in disputes and it entrenches the status quo. Neither of which is what the region needs right now.

Start with the disputes. As China’s global power rises, it gains greater leverage over international institutions such as the UN and over individual countries. As trade and cooperation increase between Arab countries and China, there is a natural next step where, having gained significant influence in Beijing, the Arab world will look to China to use its influence around the world in their favour. That’s what allies do, they support their allies.

What happens then, if China maintains its policy of strict neutrality? What happens when the Arab world asks China to use its influence at the UN to support the Palestinians – and China says no, on the ground of neutrality? Read more…

By Faisal Al Yafai; Published on Jan. 25 in thenational.ae

22
Jan

What Is the Post-Post-Davos Model of the World?

Written on January 22, 2016 by Waya Quiviger in Global Economy

As the masters of the universe gather for the annual World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, the world economy that they will be gazing down upon isn’t looking very healthy.

As the masters of the universe (and many journalists, too) gather for their annual confab in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, the world economy that they will be gazing down upon isn’t looking very healthy. The financial markets are in turmoil. The oil price is in a free fall. China just announced its lowest G.D.P. growth rate in a quarter of a century. The European Union has been in crisis for years. The Middle East . . . enough said. Even the American economy, one of the world’s few bright spots, is showing some signs of slowing down.

What to think? The optimistic view, which is always well represented in Davos, is that the response to the market gyrations has been overdone. In a blog post earlier this week, Olivier Blanchard, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, pointed out that exports to China make up less than two per cent of U.S. G.D.P., so even a serious slowdown in China shouldn’t be a big drag on the American economy. And lower oil prices should be good news for advanced economies, because that leaves their consumers with more money to spend on other stuff. Read more…

Published in the New Yorker on Jan. 19

John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more, for newyorker.com.

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