10
Mar

venezuela

As Venezuela passed the one-year anniversary of the death of strongman Hugo Chavez today, his successor Nicolás Maduro continued his crackdown against protestors demanding an end to corruption, rampant crime, and economic mismanagement. Since nationwide demonstrations began a month ago, clashes between Venezuelan security forces and protestors have resulted so far in at least 18 deaths and over 250 injuries.

Chavez’s socialist experiment has left Venezuela’s economy and society in shambles. A Gallup poll recently reported that the dire economic situation “pushed Venezuelan pessimism about the nation’s economy in 2013 to an all-time high-62% of Venezuelan adults said the economy is getting worse, while a record-low 12% said it was getting better.” Even official Venezuelan government figures show that one in four basic household goods, such as milk or toilet paper, is in short supply. What’s more, growth in violent crime has accompanied the oil-rich country’s economic slide. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-governmental group that tracks trends in crime, estimated that the country’s homicide rate had quadrupled since 1998.

As many thousands of Venezuelans across the country have taken to the streets to demonstrate against their deteriorating economic and social conditions, Maduro has used increasingly heavy-handed tactics to silence critics, control the flow of information, and violently suppress political dissent. Regime security forces have banned street protests, fired tear gas and pellets into crowds, and raided offices of opposition members, while also temporarily blocking users from sending or receiving Twitter images, taking a Colombian television station off the air, and threatening CNN and other international media stations covering the protests. News reports indicate the Maduro government has also utilized pro-regime gangs known as colectivos to crack down violently on protestors. As opposition deputy leader María Corina Machado-a member of Venezuela’s National Assembly whom pro-regime lawmakers physically attacked on the legislature’s floor last year-recently warned: “We live under ruthless repression not only by State security bodies, but also by colectivos, and armed paramilitary groups protected by the Government.”

The Maduro government’s resort to violence and intimidation reflects, in no small part, the regime’s growing fragility. Although Chavez used massive state oil revenues to buy public support, years of mismanagement at the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela have brought the Maduro government’s foreign exchange reserves to a ten-year low. Moreover, Maduro’s failed currency reform has resulted in rampant, 56% inflation. For Maduro, the Wilson Center’s Eric Olson recently noted, “[p]ast strategies for navigating economic hardship with oil largesse are no longer viable given that oil production is falling, some unexploited oil has already been monetized, and the dual currency program is proving economically costly and increasingly untenable.” Read more…

Patrick Christy is a senior analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative. Published on Mar. 6, 2014 in http://www.realclearworld.com

7
Mar

China's President Xi Jinping ( C) and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovich inspect honour guards during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 5, 2013. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

 

This post is one of a three-part Asia Unbound series on the implications for Asia of the crisis in Ukraine. See related posts from my colleagues Alyssa Ayres and Sheila Smith.

Russia’s de facto assertion of military control in Ukraine’s Crimean region has put China in a bind. Moscow’s actions fly in the face of one of China’s longest held tenets of foreign policy: “no interference in the internal affairs of others.” Yet China is loathe to criticize publicly one of the few countries that never criticizes it. So what is Beijing to do?

Reading media headlines in the United States, it would be easy to assume that China had simply cast its lot with Russia. Referring to commentary in state-run media such as theGlobal Times and Xinhua, many western outlets see Beijing as unequivocally supporting Moscow. And indeed, an editorial in the Global Times is particularly clear in its preference that China stand with Russia. It notes that Russia is China’s “most reliable strategic partner” and urges that China not “disappoint Russia when it finds itself in a time of need.” According to the Global Times, China should prove itself a reliable strategic partner: “This way, we will make friends.” It is tempting to ask what kind of friends China will be making by supporting Russia, but that seems beside the point. As for China’s long-standing commitment to non-interference, the Global Times offers this rather confused commentary: “Some think China’s policy of non-interference will be tested in this matter, and that if China supports Russia, it will become ensnared in a diplomatic trap. This is the mentality of the weak. The West has interfered in the internal affairs of many countries, but never admitted it.”

Yet before we assume that the Global Times is a government mouthpiece, I am mindful of a meeting I had a few years back with officials from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). They were emphatic in arguing that the Chinese media—whether state-funded or not—were not a reliable proxy for official Chinese policy. Indeed, there is nothing to date in statements by the PRC’s foreign ministry to suggest that Chinese president Xi Jinping is prepared to hold hands with Putin and jump off a diplomatic cliff. Here is what MOFA spokesman Qin Gang has said thus far: “It is China’s longstanding position not to interfere in others’ internal affairs. We respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” And further, he noted, “We understand the historical background of the Ukraine issue, and the complexity of the current reality. As I have said yesterday, to get to this point today, things happened for a reason. We hope that all parties can, through dialogue and consultation, find a political situation, prevent further escalation and work together to safeguard peace and stability in the region.”

What is behind China’s failure to stand up for Moscow? As Voice of America has reported, China has strong business interests in Ukraine that would undoubtedly be threatened were China to come out in support of Russia. Ukraine is a major source of arms for China and a growing partner in China’s resource quest. For example, Ukraine has agreed to lease 5 percent of its land to China for agricultural purposes in exchange for Chinese infrastructure investment. Of course these deals were struck under ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. It is possible that the new government will not recognize or revoke them if they were struck under terms perceived as unequal by the new government. Certainly, however, Chinese-Ukrainian business relations will suffer more if Beijing overtly backs Moscow. Read more…

 

By Elizabeth Economy, Published on March 5, 2014 in http://blogs.cfr.org

6
Mar

Henry A. Kissinger was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977.

Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.

Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.

Russia must accept that to try to force Ukraine into a satellite status, and thereby move Russia’s borders again, would doom Moscow to repeat its history of self-fulfilling cycles of reciprocal pressures with Europe and the United States.
The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then. Some of the most important battles for Russian freedom, starting with the Battle of Poltava in 1709 , were fought on Ukrainian soil. The Black Sea Fleet — Russia’s means of projecting power in the Mediterranean — is based by long-term lease in Sevastopol, in Crimea. Even such famed dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russian history and, indeed, of Russia.The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities.

The Ukrainians are the decisive element. They live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939, when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian, became part of Ukraine only in 1954 , when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic; the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or breakup. To treat Ukraine as part of an East-West confrontation would scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia and the West — especially Russia and Europe — into a cooperative international system. Read more…

As published in the Washington Post on March 5, 2014 http://www.washingtonpost.com

 

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

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