5
Mar

putin By Thomas Friedman

Just as we’ve turned the coverage of politics into sports, we’re doing the same with geopolitics. There is much nonsense being written about how Vladimir Putin showed how he is “tougher” than Barack Obama and how Obama now needs to demonstrate his manhood. This is how great powers get drawn into the politics of small tribes and end up in great wars that end badly for everyone. We vastly exaggerate Putin’s strength — so does he — and we vastly underestimate our own strength, and ability to weaken him through nonmilitary means.

Let’s start with Putin. Any man who actually believes, as Putin has said, that the breakup of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century is caught up in a dangerous fantasy that can’t end well for him or his people. The Soviet Union died because Communism could not provide rising standards of living, and its collapse actually unleashed boundless human energy all across Eastern Europe and Russia. A wise Putin would have redesigned Russia so its vast human talent could take advantage of all that energy. He would be fighting today to get Russia into the European Union, not to keep Ukraine out. But that is not who Putin is and never will be. He is guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations toward his people and prefers to turn Russia into a mafia-run petro-state — all the better to steal from.

So Putin is now fighting human nature among his own young people and his neighbors — who both want more E.U. and less Putinism. To put it in market terms, Putin is long oil and short history. He has made himself steadily richer and Russia steadily more reliant on natural resources rather than its human ones. History will not be kind to him — especially if energy prices ever collapse.

So spare me the Putin-body-slammed-Obama prattle. This isn’t All-Star Wrestling. The fact that Putin has seized Crimea, a Russian-speaking zone of Ukraine, once part of Russia, where many of the citizens prefer to be part of Russia and where Russia has a major naval base, is not like taking Poland. I support economic and diplomatic sanctions to punish Russia for its violation of international norms and making clear that harsher sanctions, even military aid for Kiev, would ensue should Putin try to bite off more of Ukraine. But we need to remember that that little corner of the world is always going to mean more, much more, to Putin than to us, and we should refrain from making threats on which we’re not going to deliver.

What disturbs me about Crimea is the larger trend it fits into, that Putinism used to just be a threat to Russia but is now becoming a threat to global stability. I opposed expanding NATO toward Russia after the Cold War, when Russia was at its most democratic and least threatening. It remains one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done and, of course, laid the groundwork for Putin’s rise.

I don’t want to go to war with Putin, but it is time we expose his real weakness and our real strength. That, though, requires a long-term strategy — not just fulminating on “Meet the Press.” It requires going after the twin pillars of his regime: oil and gas. Just as the oil glut of the 1980s, partly engineered by the Saudis, brought down global oil prices to a level that helped collapse Soviet Communism, we could do the same today to Putinism by putting the right long-term policies in place. That is by investing in the facilities to liquefy and export our natural gas bounty (provided it is extracted at the highest environmental standards) and making Europe, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, more dependent on us instead. I’d also raise our gasoline tax, put in place a carbon tax and a national renewable energy portfolio standard — all of which would also help lower the global oil price (and make us stronger, with cleaner air, less oil dependence and more innovation).

You want to frighten Putin? Just announce those steps. But you know the story, the tough guys in Washington who want to take on Putin would rather ask 1 percent of Americans — the military and their families — to make the ultimate sacrifice than have all of us make a small sacrifice in the form of tiny energy price increases. Those tough guys who thump their chests in Congress but run for the hills if you ask them to vote for a 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax that would actually boost our leverage, they’ll never rise to this challenge. We’ll do anything to expose Putin’s weakness; anything that isn’t hard. And you wonder why Putin holds us in contempt?

5
Mar

aMERICA IS nOT IN RETREAT

Written on March 5, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Op Ed

As America navigates a changing world, the people who seem to be having the greatest difficulty with the adjustment are the country’s pundits. Over the past few weeks, a new conventional wisdom has congealed on the op-ed pages: The United States is in retreat, and this is having terrible consequences around the world.This week, The Post’s Richard Cohen presented the usual parade of horrible things happening around the world — chiefly Syria — for which President Obama is to blame, and he added a few new ones for good measure, such as Scotland’s and Catalonia’s possible moves toward secession. In the face of all these challenges, Cohen asserted, Obama refuses to be the world’s policeman or even its “hall monitor.” Yes, if only the president would blow a whistle, the Scots and Catalans would end their centuries-old quest for independence!

Forget the Federal Reserve’s “taper,” Niall Ferguson tells us in the Wall Street Journal, the much greater danger is Washington’s “geopolitical taper.” He presents as evidence of Obama’s disastrous policies the fact that more people have died in the “Greater Middle East” under Obama than under George W. Bush. But there is a huge difference in the two cases. In the Bush years, the numbers were high because of the war in Iraq, a conflict initiated by the Bush administration. In the Obama years, the numbers are high because of the war in Syria, a conflict that the Obama administration has stayed out of. If this logic were to be followed, Bush is responsible for the tens of thousands of deaths in Sudan and Congo during his presidency.

Most of the critiques were written before the fall of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanu­kovych, so they tend to view Ukraine as another example of the weak and feckless Obama administration. Events in Ukraine actually illustrate how the world has changed and how U.S. leadership is better exercised in this new era.First, the United States was not the most important player in the crisis. Ukraine wants to be part of the European Union, and it is the European Union that will make the crucial set of decisions that will affect the fate of Kiev. (That’s why Washington was understandably frustrated with the union’s slow and fitful diplomacy, as evidenced in Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s profane phone criticism.) By staying relatively quiet and working behind the scenes, the Obama administration ensured that the story was not about America’s plans to steal Ukraine from Russia but rather about the Ukrainian people’s desire to move West. (Nationalism, that crucial force, is not working against U.S. interests for a change.) Now the United States can play a key role in helping to deter Russia from derailing Ukraine’s aspirations. That will require some firmness but also careful negotiations, not bluster.The world is not in great disorder. It is mostly at peace with one zone of instability, the greater Middle East, an area that has been unstable for four decades at least — think of the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanese civil war, the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War, the Iraq war, the Sudanese civil war, the Afghan wars and now the Syrian civil war. The Obama administration has not magically stopped this trail of tumult.  Read more…

 

By Fareed Zakaria, Published on Feb. 28 in the Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com

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

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