September 2, 2014
Past Lessons and New Challenges

This one of the most instructive, complete and balanced pieces written on the crisis in Ukraine, its sources and implications. It is by Eugene Rumer for Carnegie Moscow. AT

Until Anne Applebaum’s August 29 essay in the Washington Post, even the greatest of pessimists did not warn that there was a risk of a premeditated, head-on military collision between Russia and the West. Contributing to the risk of accidental war in the Ukraine crisis was the failure of the United States and Europe to anticipate Russia’s moves, which at every step exceeded Western expectations of what Russia was willing to do and the risks it was prepared to take to advance its interests. As during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, the United States and Europe did not see it coming. Although the prospect of an all-out war involving Russia and the United States remains unthinkable, neither party to this conflict should ignore the danger of small incidents that could inadvertently set in motion a spiral that would in turn culminate in war that no one intended, wanted or thought possible, as was true in Europe in 1914.

The analogy to 1914 is appropriate. But its lessons that Europe, the United States—and Russia!—should heed now are not limited to the pre-World War I war period, to the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of political brinkmanship and military escalation, the danger of misreading adversary intentions and sending ill-conceived messages. The danger is also in not drawing lessons from the post-World War I period. Then, major powers failed in one crucial respect: they failed to devise a blueprint for Europe that would have enmeshed the vanquished nation—Germany—in a new European security framework. Europe paid a horrible price for that failure in World War II, but the West learned the lesson of the previous disaster and secured Germany in a web of trans-Atlantic institutions thus ensuring its role as the model European citizen.

However, what was done for Germany in the 1950s was not done for Russia in the 1990s after the West “won” the Cold War and the Soviet Union collapsed. Despite early misgivings about post-World War II Germany’s fate in a new European security order, the part of Germany occupied by the United States, France and Great Britain joined NATO in 1955 and was fully integrated in the West. Its place in Europe was never in question.
That was not the case with Russia after 1991. Its place in a post-Cold War Europe whole and free was tenuous even in the best of times. The possibility of NATO membership was never under serious consideration, and whenever this idea came up (be it from Yeltsin or Putin), it was always treated as a far-fetched, theoretical possibility. The necessity of devising a new security arrangement to replace both Cold War structures—the Warsaw Pact and NATO—was never considered. There never was any question about NATO’s future after the Cold War, it would continue, period.

Moreover, NATO would expand. NATO’s enlargement to the East, not explicitly intended to threaten Russia, nonetheless had a hedging element even if the primary purpose was to cement a post-Cold War role for the United States on the Continent. If Russia failed in its transformation and reverted to its old expansionist self, NATO enlargement would provide Central Europe with the security umbrella that would guard against Russian encroachment. In the words of some of the earliest and most active advocates of NATO enlargement, Russia was a “special case.” Its place in Europe was a matter of grave doubt:

“Russia nevertheless remains a special case due to its size, geostrategic position and long imperial tradition. Many Europeans believe that Russia is not a European country, is unlikely to become one and should not be allowed into core European institutions. Indeed, at the moment not a single Atlantic alliance member is in favor of allowing Russia into either the EC or NATO, although most avoid saying so openly.”

The possibility of the EU (then European Community) membership for Russia was not on the table either.

In other words, whereas Russia’s former satellites in Central Europe and the Baltics had a clear destination at the end of their post-Communist transition and a guaranteed place in Europe’s security and political structures, Russia did not. It would have to prove its European identity.

The cautious approach was understandable. Russia’s size, history, political culture, military traditions, as well as its geographic position on two continents, made integrating it a daunting, perhaps impossible task. Crucially, it saw itself as an integrator, not an integree. The result was Europe’s and the United States’ two-pronged approach to Russia: one element of it was to hedge against Russian resurgence as an adversary; the other element of Western strategy was to engage Russia, and encourage its transformation in the hope that it would see the benefits of market, democracy and joining the West (albeit on the West’s terms).

But in the words attributed to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and used by many others, “hope is not a strategy.” The United States and Europe had a strategy for Central Europe. They never really had one for Russia. Russia remained outside the key European institutions, it was not enmeshed in the trans-Atlantic political and security network as Germany was after World War II, while Russia’s economic ties to Europe and the United States have been turned into a potential vulnerability for both sides as a result of the Ukraine crisis.

The entire European political and security architecture was built on the foundation of two institutions—the European Union and NATO—which did not include Russia. To advance its fundamental vision of Europe whole, free and at peace with itself and its neighbors, Europe and the United States relied on the hope that Russia would eventually embrace them on its own accord. Well over two decades into the post-Cold War era, this approach to European security turned out to be a huge gamble. It paid off in Central Europe. But not in Russia.

The Ukraine crisis is undoubtedly a cataclysmic event for Europe. But Ukraine is not the cause of the crisis. It is rather a symptom of the even larger problem for Europe. Europe’s problem is with Russia, its rejection of the security architecture devised and promoted by the West since the end of the Cold War.

Europe’s and the United States’ principal political, security, and economic challenge for the coming years is to develop a new strategy for dealing with its giant neighbor. This strategy will have to be built on a realistic understanding of Russia as it is, rather than on what the West would like it to be and hopes it will one day become. This challenge will not, cannot be addressed at the upcoming NATO summit in Wales. But the best that NATO leaders can do when they convene in Wales in a few days is to recognize the magnitude of the real problem facing the alliance and task their governments to begin the difficult work of developing such a strategy. Unless they do so, the summit will be remembered only as a missed opportunity.

Eugene Rumer for Carnegie Moscow

September 2, 2014
Arm Ukraine or Surrender

MOSCOW — Russia and Ukraine are now at war. At least 2,200 people have died in the conflict; thousands more may die yet. The Western powers — America, Europe, NATO — now have no good options, but they cannot do nothing. President Vladimir V. Putin has left us with two dire choices, both fraught with risk: Either we arm Ukraine, or we force Kiev to surrender and let Mr. Putin carve whatever territories he wants into a Russian-occupied zone of “frozen conflict.”

It is a stark choice, and Mr. Putin is not rational. Any rational leader would have reeled from the cost of Western sanctions. Russia’s economy is being hit hard by a credit crunch, capital flight, spiraling inflation and incipient recession. This will hurt Mr. Putin’s surging popularity at home. But none of this has deterred the smirking enigma.

Ukraine cannot win this war. Mr. Putin has made it clear that the Russian Army will annihilate Ukrainian forces if they attempt to liberate Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine’s ramshackle army cannot rout the crack troops and conscript forces of an oil-fueled giant.

The West needs to be honest with Ukraine. We talk as though this country were one of us — as if, one day, it will become a member of the European Union and the NATO alliance. That is Kiev’s wish, but the West is not giving Ukraine the means to fight this war.

Ukraine is being destroyed. The economy is in tatters. The military will not survive a Russian offensive. Ukrainians are taking refuge in romantic nationalism and preparing for partisan warfare. The costs are mounting — continuing to fight will cost thousands of lives — and the liberal dreams of the revolution are drowning in the jingoistic fury and hysteria of war.

A few more months without meaningful Western help and Ukraine will have lost the fighting core of its army — and its infatuation with the West. This will be replaced by a sense of betrayal, and there will be no way for Ukraine’s pro-European liberals to survive the backlash. The far-right extremists now on the fringe will ride into Kiev’s parliament on the lids of the caskets being shipped back from the front. Ukraine will become a ravaged conflict zone: a European Syria, or a hideously enlarged Bosnia.

We cannot let this happen. If we believe that Ukraine will one day become a member of the European Union and NATO, then we should be ready to arm it. We must face the fact that the costs of unlimited European Union and NATO expansion have meant war with Russia by proxy — and then fight the war. Having reignited the hottest moments of the Cold War, we must deal with the consequences of encouraging democratization in Eastern Europe.

This logic demands that we send Western military advisers to Kiev, and give the Ukrainians full intelligence and satellite support. And we must ship them guns, tanks, drones and medical kits by the ton. We must even be ready to deploy NATO troops if Russian tanks roll toward Crimea, as many fear they will, to build a land bridge to the mainland of southern Russia.

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No question, this path involves enormous risks. Russia will throw its might into Ukraine. American and British special forces should be dispatched to plant the flag and protect the airports of Kiev and Odessa. But Mr. Putin may call our bluff: Russian forces might — in an echo of the 1999 Kosovo war — encircle them.

But if we are not prepared to take these risks, then we must force the Ukrainians to abandon their deadly delusion. It would be up to us to prevent Russia from slaughtering Ukrainian conscripts in vain.

The only way to achieve this is for the West to oblige Ukraine to surrender. Ukraine is completely dependent on the International Monetary Fund, which is Western money. We must tell Kiev to accept as a fait accompli that Russia has carved out a South Ossetia in the east — or we turn the money off. We can console them: Being another Georgia is not the worst thing in the world.

We could save thousands of lives this way, but it would be a crushing defeat for the West. Russia would have restored itself as an empire — the former Soviet Union once more under the sway of the Kremlin. The West would thus concede, in effect, that Russia may invade or annex any of these territories as it pleases. And in these lands, the appeasers would flourish, and democracy wilt.

Russia would have triumphed over the world order imposed by the West after the Soviet Union lost the Cold War. This would mean the destruction of American geopolitical deterrence. America’s enemies, from China to Iran, would see this as an invitation to establish their own spheres of influence amid the wreckage.

Russia would not stop there. Mr. Putin wants to undermine NATO, and the smell of weakness would tempt him further. It would be merely a matter of time before Moscow exploited the Russians in the Baltic States to manufacture new “frozen conflicts.” Poland would feel compelled to act as though NATO did not exist, creating a defensive military alliance of its own with the Baltics; it might even establish a buffer zone in western Ukraine.

There is no easy way out now. But we must not let thousands of Ukrainians die because we dithered. We must be honest with them if we are not willing to fight a new Cold War with Russia over Ukrainians’ independence. But if we force Ukraine to surrender, rather than sacrifice lives in a fight for which we have no stomach, then we must accept that it is a surrender, too, for NATO, for Europe and liberal democracy, and for American global leadership. That is the choice before us.

Ben Judah is the author of “Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love With Vladimir Putin.”

August 26, 2014
Germany committed to Europe and NATO flexible on Ukraine

People need to stop the knee-jerk reactions to any statement made by German leaders. The crisis in Ukraine, and implicitly the one between Russia and the West, is a serious crisis that worries a lot of people. The reasons cover the full spectrum of strategic, political and economic fallouts not to say anything about the huge human cost and real potential for downward spiralling. People are right to be worried. Regardless where one stands on the issues there is little doubt that Russia is now directly fuelling the war in Eastern Ukraine. And that is something the West needs to address both immediately and on the longer term. But lets be clear, however bad this looks, Russia is not the Soviet Union and this is not a New Cold War. Not at this stage at least. It can turn into that without vision and leadership. It can also turn into that without a very careful coordination of the Western allies in NATO and of the EU member states with the US. This is why, however convoluted and puzzling here statements may be at times, what Merkel says does not make for a Stalin Hitler pact. The twisted wording is part of the signalling and positioning that precedes a few very difficult multi side negotiations. Germany is committed to Europe and NATO but flexible on Ukraine. To call this a Ribbentrop Molotov moment is preposterous and no different than the Russian hysterical discourse and blatant propaganda about “fascists Ukrainian authorities threatening/attacking Russian ethnics in Eastern Ukraine”. In fact, Germany, Ukraine and Russia are all under the pressure of the NATO summit in Wales that opens on September 4th. They all have incentives to find a compromise till then. If not, they each risk very different but equally unpleasant outcomes. Germany, as the largest economy in Europe is the most exposed in Russia and on its markets (and making most money there too). It has the most to lose if EU-Russian economic and political relations really go sour. They are already at the lowest point since the end of the Soviet Union. A stronger NATO response may accelerate that but Germany risks being isolated if it appears to block that. It is also the most interested in having a stable and manageable partner in the east on the long term. This is a matter of national security and national strategy for Germany. At times this may be at odds with the perspective and preferences of other NATO and EU states and also the US. But Germans are neither naive nor having any illusions about Russia and its current regime. Also Germany needs to contend with its EU partners and their very different and diverging views and interests on the crisis and the solutions. As much as Germany cherishes its relationship with Russia it is foolish to think it will jeopardise its relations with the West and in particular its excellent trade and investment relations the US and EU over this. However big Russia is and however important its gas is to Germany’s economy it only comes 11th as trade partner for Germany. Russia ranks a bit higher as export destination for German goods. The US imports almost three times as much from Germany than Russia does. And Germany’s EU partners ten times as much! To put it in some context, Germany trades less with Russia than it does with Poland, less than it does with Switzerland and almost on a pair with what it does with the Czech Republic. Germany exports less to Russia than it does to countries like Belgium and imports more from Italy or the Netherlands and another five countries individually, including the US, than it does from Russia. Germany’s overall trade with the EU is above 57% of its total trade while about 4% with Russia. Now this may be little but it is not the entire story. Imports in particular show a pattern of dependence from Russia. While only affecting 1% of German companies these imports are critical as mostly they represent energy and raw materials. Economically important as it is, this “dependence” on Russian raw materials pales compared with the huge interdependence in investment, technology and other links between Germany and its EU and American partners. But there are also less palpable but not less evident links between Germany and Russia, including the “historical burden”. Twenty three million Soviet citizens died in WWII many of these Russian. This is not lost on either side. It may have been many decades ago but as shown by the discourse on Russian TV these days, the “enemies” of Russia and Russians living abroad are still “the fascist”. At the heart of the EU and inside NATO, Germany is very much a civilian power. It is part of its legacy and DNA as a post war and post totalitarian state. Last but not least today’s Germany is a country and a society vested in a space of norms and principles, a democratic power at core. Its own citizens bear the legacy of the twentieth century’s most criminal dictatorships. All this does not come in contradiction with Germany’s astute grasp of power politics and its ability to get a lions share in particular in manufacturing and trade. German policymakers, businessmen and politicians understand the transactional nature of international politics and want out of a zero sum situation in Europe’s East. Actually less than zero as all parties are registering net losses today. So does Washington but it is far less pressed on Ukraine. Partly for these reasons, the West largely succeeded in staying convincingly coherent if not terribly effective on Ukraine. It is a fair bit more complex in Moscow. To some extent because they appear caught in their own rhetoric and propaganda – with all the “fascist” labels systematically attached to anything having to do with the authorities in Kiev and blaming the West for causing the crisis in the first place. For Moscow this only happens because “the West has stepped into Russia’s most intimate sphere of interests threatening its interests and security”. At the end of the day, they may appear egger to play a game of poker or roulette over this, but the decision makers in Russia, like the Germans, understand business too. Because they act as spoilers they have the advantage of playing a more flexible game in Ukraine and the region but also globally. They also think they are getting their message across forcefully and successfully! One still expects the Russians to suspect that they are perceived as the aggressor even by those that to some extent sympathise or understand the Russian position. This is why leaders like Angela Merkel think that to stop the war in Ukraine and move the crisis in a different realm, there needs to be some accommodation of Russian interests (however fanciful, illegitimate or egregious some of these may be). And who can blame her? Stoping the bloodshed in Eastern Ukraine is a priority. So is ensuring the East-West flow of gas and trade for Europe. Finally, whatever some may actually think in Moscow (or Berlin) nothing can be truly done over the head of the Ukrainians. They can be pressured and cajoled and Poroshenko means business and is ready for compromise (at home and abroad). Kiev is at the receiving end from both its friends in the West and Russia but Ukrainian leaders cannot accept something the Ukrainian street will not tolerate. At the same time, they will have to find a way out of the crisis as there simply is no military way out of it. Ukraine appears to be lacking the capability and organisation to withstand even the limited Russian onslaught in the East. Economically, Ukraine, or rather any government in Kiev, depends on Russia to survive. There needs to be some sort of negotiated solution. It’s almost certain it will be one nobody will be happy with. It will be a sort of compromise regarding Ukrainian relations with both the EU and Russia. Now that being said, there is not turning back. No path is possible to status quo ante but maybe a new normal is possible following a real climbdown. The opposite appears still the more probable path. Unless Russia also learns something out of this criss they will only have to contend with some limited accommodation to than learn slowly that they are increasingly isolated and strategically corralled at a high cost. They will pay for Crimea’s huge overhead while loosing money left and right and having to contend with an economic slow down and loss of revenue. Europe will be less willing to invest and buy Russian products including energy. This should not be underestimated. Making good money in Russia and buying its historically reliable gas is one thing. Depending strategically from Russian energy and cooperation in today’s circumstances is a totally different one. What the current criss has achieved is shatter all illusions. Russia may believe it sent a strong signal of its willingness to “defend a red line” and act as a power and to some extent that is part of the story. However, as was the case after the 2009 gas crisis, the West and Europe will only increase the myriad of legal and institutional steps that ween Europe of its strategic and energy dependence on Russia. That is not in Russia’s advantage but the policy planers in Moscow do not appear concerned about this at this stage. They think in different terms and are obsessed with the US-Russian dynamic. The new Russian National Strategy document presented a couple of days ago is a clear signal in this respect. It needs to be treated as seriously as the blatant propaganda on Russia’s increasingly controlled media. The policymakers in Moscow think the substitution of western goods and investments will revive the ailing Russian economy. They also think emerging economies will make for reliable and dependable economic and strategic partners less concerned with human rights and other domestic issues and more aligned with Russia on its world view. At the same time the current and coming western policy decisions may lack the punchy effect and scale of the sort advocated systematically by minister Sikorsky and other EU and US voices and that create an illusion of immunity to their effects. Moscow also appears to have reached the conclusion that Europe is a spent force politically and economically destined for slow but inevitable sidelining and overall strategically irrelevant because of its divisions. However the effect of EU policy and economic decisions regarding Russia should not be underestimated. NATO is back and it will be a more serious presence and one that does not treat Russia as a “parter”. It cannot under such circumstances. In the medium term, this will create a direct cost that Moscow policymakers may consider acceptable but Russia’s budget and elites may not. If this extends to the strategic level (as it appears to) the cost will mount rapidly for Russia with a relatively limited impact for Europe and the US. Even a small increase in defense spending and posture in Europe is of such magnitude that Russia’s current GDP cannot sustain. Moscow gambles this will not happen however. In any case, EU’s energy policy will continue to develop alternatives to Russian gas and ensure the capabilities for increasing resilience to stoppages in normal flows via interconnections, reserves and alternative sources. Also, investment in Russia from the West in non energy sectors will diminish as will trade beyond current reciprocal sanctions. Overall the de-structuring of relations between Russia and the West will mean direct and indirect costs that will leave Russia increasingly dependent on willing but not necessarily more pliable partners. Russia appears to be thinking that mercantile European and US interest will prevail. In the long run, betting against the West may prove costly for Russia. Unfortunately also for the West. The biggest loss is to the “liberal idea” of a peaceful normative space Europe. We will increasingly have voices like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and other strident pragmatic populists or just uber pragmatic politicians ready for deals. It remains to be seen if the crisis will lead to a strengthening of the trans-atlantic link and force Europe out of its strategic numbness. As for Russia, however big the public support for Putin appears today, Russia will see an increase in its own centrifugal forces and loss of talent and capital. In part this is because under current nationalistic and orthodox-centric trends its domestic policies are bound to become more repressive too. Its own domestic problems are not going away anytime soon simply because it forcibly occupied Crimea or it has eventually retained some degree of control over Ukraine. The only true way out of this would require a reset of the sort neither side appears prepared for. We also appear to lack the vision driven leaders that can plot a successful grand strategy for the West’s relationship with Russia that includes a forceful, credible and balanced response to this crisis. We are forced to contend that for the near future the realistic scenario appears to lead to a moderate accommodation in Ukraine doubled by a longer term frozen relationship with Russia. This may change with a deepening of the current crisis or a new one impacting both the West and Russia. AT

August 22, 2014
Russia’s New National Strategy - Carnegie Europe

A watershed moment. A divorce made official by document. Publishing its New National Strategy, Russia de facto and de jure assumes a strategic posture and a clear set of policies that make official its disengagement from Europe and the West. Given that this means not just an isolationist stance but in fact a rather offensive posture in Russia’s near abroad - Europe’s neighborhood or even backyard - what Russia officially presents here is a policy of antagonism towards the West (NATO and EU in particular). For those that think otherwise this is not in response and it is nothing like EU and NATO enlargement. While this shave constantly been interpreted by Russia as challenging its sphere of influence, they never threatened Russian stability and security and one can argue were never really intended or designed to counter Russian interest. If anything Russia greatly benefited economically (and politically) from its opening towards Europe and the west. NATO and EU enlargement and rapprochement to countries in the former communist bloc were also driven by a clearly expressed political desire of the new member states and new independent states of the former USSR. None of these steps involved arming separatist militias, creating alternative separatist so called “governments” using foreign agents, shooting down planes civilian and military, using energy as a pressure instrument, limiting the policy choices of sovereign countries and certainly it did not involve invading sovereign territories. Under the circumstances and on top of the dire crises in Ukraine, this New Russian National Strategy is a big step-back for Russia and its people. While it is presented as a strengthening of its defence sector, its domestic industry and manufacturing as well as agriculture and food sectors this is a thin veil over a decade of failed economic policies. Russia did not do the reforms needed to substitute imports and reduce its huge GDP reliance on energy and mineral resources exports while all but integrated in the global markets. Now, cutting itself away and antagonising its best customers and investment partners has even lower chances of doing so. In the meanwhile it is getting cosy with its real strategic competitors all to glad to get good terms for access to Russia’s intellectual and natural resources. Getting out of the horrible case of dutch disease would be a good thing for Russia. Only this soft divorce and certainly unamiable separation from the West is not a credible path. For one, Russia’s main investment and technology partners are getting more and more reluctant and its economy is bleeding domestic and foreign money. It remains to be seen if it does have the technological, financial and human capacity to keep this new national strategy credible while maintaining public support for the central authority in Kremlin and the territorial coherence of the Federation. I am utterly sad to say it but it smacks as the good old five year plans of Soviet era. But times are different and Russia is not the Soviet Union. Counting on BRICS and other similarly inclined countries is probably a delusion. Russia’s economic dependence on the willingness of huge regional emerging powers will cost it immensely. More worrying is the risk of bleeding more talent and technical elites. An illiberal economy even if it returns to a credible growth (now is in recession) cannot create a thriving intellectual and technical community without a driving ideology. Unlike international socialism, Russian orthodoxy and national traditions are a pretty lousy incentive for the truly creative class. Especially in closing in multinational and multi-religion federation while the rest of the world best more globalised. This is not the Cold War. It is a one sided, self imposed, belligerent stance that if anything shows the limits of current Russian policymaking and economic reform in a cleptocratic and idiosyncratic personal regime. This crisis was caused by mistakes made by both Russian and Western leaders and policymakers but the choice is ultimately Russia’s. In turn, this divorce will be costly for Europe too. It will pay not as much for its current stance against Russian belligerence and interference in Ucraine, blatant breach of international law and sovereignty of a nation but for its mercantile indifference to Russia’s despair in the 90s and its slide into an increasingly illiberal and corrupt regime more recently. However, if it serves as a mechanism increasing EU coherence and consistence of its foreign, economic and social policies it will be just the boost it needs at a time of constitutional and political crisis. Ultimately its entire trade with Russia, while representing a considerable amount, is but a tiny sliver of its GDP. For drawing the right lessons and making the right steps Europe needs to say stop to the pragmatic populists that dominate the center left and right for the past decade. Europe needs to return to real, policy and values driven politicians that can discuss issues like immigration, EU reform, fairness of the new European economic model in adult terms. Equally, this crisis will provide a real incentive for NATO to be serious about reform and member states about their defence spending and future defense integration. In fact this may be just the turning point for an emerging global power Europe. A power that is equally aware of the immense responsibility it has as a successful normative space , the force of its values but also the cost of stability and security in a world where history does not stop just because the West “won” the Cold War. AT

May 26, 2014
A Time to Rescue Europe’s Values

European Elections on May 25th have offered a chilling perspective on where Europe stands. It is divided and lost. Despite its economic prospects being positive it is pessimistic and bitter. It lacks the coherence required to provide a strong answer to the crisis in Ukraine. Germany is de facto the leading power but it is neither fully committed to do so nor prepared to assume the task alone. Anti-European, xenophobic and sometimes racist forces have taken a lead in France and UK. Blaming the financial crisis is a dangerous illusion.

This is the price for a decade of pragmatic mainstream populism. Europe’s citizens have slammed the door on the hands of centrist politicians. Mislead not by extremists but by mainstream forces that have too often crossed lines in discourse and action, European citizens have expressed their anger falling back on the fear mongering forces of the extreme right and anti-European nationalist populists. Many of the right wing parties’ voters are below 35. Many citizens have simply stayed home. The wave goes from UK to Hungary. The results are indeed chilling.

One after another mainstream populists in government - both the left and the right - have come out to deplore the results. Opposition leaders have done the same. Nobody assumes any responsibility. With the same speeches they continued the unchanged dangerous populist rhetoric that has confused Europeans. They paid token tributes to European values and continued with narcoleptic messages. Wooden tongued references to competitiveness, fiscal discipline, the need to put Europeans in the driving seat, returning the confidence to European business to ensure employment! All this while for two decades leaders right and left were busy dismantling Europe’s social model. This is not just about how much Europe spends on social programs but an inverted logic where profit has displaced growth both economic and social.

Europe has both sluggish growth and gapping income and quality of life disparities both inside and between member states. While banks are bailed out without much of a question, citizens are not. They are also told austerity is the price for, guess what: a united and strong Europe. And this is true Europe is a huge economic powerhouse and a leading world economy only too many of its citizens feel left out. Europe is not just about profits and short-term competitiveness. This is why Europe needs to refocus its model and address the fundamental challenges: demographic, technological educational. This can only work if we keep in mind and in sight our values. As soon as mainstream pragmatic politicians are prepared to bend them for a few votes (even if only in discourse) they become populists that open the door for what we have seen on May 25th. Manuel Valls is as guilty in his positions as is Nicolas Sarkozy in his Le Point OpEd. We point our finger to Marine Le Pen but we forget that it was the mainstream’s discourse that accepted and legitimized these themes instead of real issues. It is telling that less than a week away from this national routing of centrist forces by extreme populist and rabid nationalists in France an ex-president is calling for less Europe, an Europe a la carte, a stop to Schengen and a tight control of immigration.

At both national level and at the EU level it is time for a credible return to policies leading to inclusive development for communities and cohesive projects for a shared European future. The time has gone for bashing “socially assisted parasites”, dividing Europeans in “hard working north and partying south” and scapegoating Brussels for all the failures of national politics. Two decades of putting profits and corporate gains as well as elections in front of inclusive economic development have led to increasing social and economic divides and diverging trends in EU’s nations.

The writing was on the wall. Still, not even after the catastrophic European election do mainstream leaders appear to be cognizant of their role in this debacle. Neither do most commentators appear to grasp the real implications of this sea change in what is tolerable in European politics. Extreme nationalism, factionalism, separatism, xenophobic sentiment and anti-European mantras are all shaking Europe at a time when the opposite is needed.

In fact one can see leaders like Putin being quite pleased with their investment in anti-democratic parties like FN, Jobbik etc. We are undermining Europe solidarity via mercantilism on one side and revival of toxic nationalism on the other. This is a sweet deal for the enemies of open society inside and around Europe.

This is just one of the aspects showing why Europe needs to be coherent in both its domestic and foreign policy. The challenge of a rapidly changing world economy and growing global competition also adds to the need and so do conflicts in regions adjacent to Europe. Europe needs one strong, credible and respected voice. That can only be based on values.

In turn such coherence requires a new European narrative. It is going to be extremely difficult to achieve that with mainstream pragmatic populist leaders blind to the fundamental problems of Europe. And for the first time in almost 70 years the problem appears to be at the level of values. Europe has become bureaucratic, pompous and blind to the suffering of the many of globalization’s losers. Also it has become comfortable in the illusory reality that conflicts only happened to other people, poverty is for the south (including its own) that profits matter more than values. Europe was created to deliver peace, prosperity and stability. It did so for decades. The financial crises shattered this credo but only for some. Profits still went up. Some countries were fed the illusion that they are somehow better and morally so. Others bought the lie that Brussels is the source of all the evils. Too many in the elites and too many mainstream populist stopped caring about values. The public followed suit. Who can blame them? Their leading politicians have been doing it for quite some time.

Now it is time for politicians and citizens to come up with a plan to rescue Europe’s values not just its profits and coffers.


May 7, 2014
Russia and the Silk Road Approach

An interesting perspective on the New Silk Road from the former Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio. Very well argued, the project syndicate article puts the NSR in the context of solving the conundrum created by the Ukrainian crisis in the relationship between Russia and the West. In many ways it follows the same East-West logic I used in the Aspenia piece last December:


MADRID – The unraveling of Ukraine has brought to the fore three major foreign policy challenges for the West: the danger of isolating Russia, the conundrum of China’s aloofness, and the pervasive lack of fresh ideas. Surmounting them will require a concerted drive to enhance cooperation and build trust among countries with disparate political systems and national interests. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Silk Road economic belt could contribute to such an effort.
Europe and the United States’ response to the crisis in Ukraine has failed in two respects. First and foremost, it has been anemic, projecting an image of weakness that undermines its ability to reverse Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which has been tacitly accepted, or counter its aggressive behavior toward eastern Ukraine. At the same time, the use of targeted sanctions and diplomatic snubs has contributed to Russia’s international isolation, undercutting the long-term goal of building a functional relationship.
While it is critical for the West to stand by its principles, including by imposing biting sanctions, pragmatism is equally important. After all, a weak, isolated Russia is far more dangerous than a strong, internationally integrated one. And yet there can be no denying that the relationship with Russia is now broken, with mutual trust having reached its lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In this context, bringing Russia back into the international fold will require the involvement of China. But, for China, the Ukraine issue is complex, owing to its interest in fostering closer ties with Russia and, to some degree, the parallels with its own actions in places like Tibet. Given this – and China’s general reticence to assume a global leadership position – direct Chinese engagement is likely to come only through targeted initiatives with concrete goals.


March 11, 2014
Ukraine – A Case for Chinese Involvement

A most interesting perspective to the crisis in Ukraine in an article published in “the Diplomat” by Andong Peng, a researcher at Tsinghua University’s School of Public Policy and Management. His area of focus includes Chinese foreign policy and communications.

The situation in the Ukraine is delicate, to say the least. On balance, Russia is probably where it wants to be given its inability to prevent the initial ouster of Yanukovych: it controls a region over which it has a strong historical claim, and has managed to do this without creating any antagonism in the rest of the Ukraine that did not already exist. This has been done without fatalities, and Russia remains a potential “friend.” Having said that, with every passing day it is Russia rather than the West that will be under increasing pressure to come up a resolution to the impasse, especially given the U.S. position.

China has, as usual, sat on the sidelines without getting even remotely involved. And why should it? Neville Chamberlain’s description of conflict in “a far away country between people of whom we know nothing” was never more apt than in understanding China’s view of Eastern Europe, which holds little in the way of natural resources and for the moment does not represent a significant export market. True, the Chinese own 9 percent of Ukrainian farmland now; but the crisis has probably been welcomed insofar as it has relegated deeper analysis of the recent Kunming terrorist attack and the broader Xinjiang problem to the back pages.

Yet China is mistaken to sit back and do nothing on Ukraine, because there is something at stake. Strategically, Beijing may calculate that letting the Americans become “involved” in the Ukraine means a further weakening of Obama’s already rudderless efforts in the Pacific. But this is only half the story: if this involvement went on to constitute a “defeat” (any scenario where Russia ends up with a more secure border than before) it would help weaken the strongest weapon in the U.S. arsenal: the soft power effect. This would further dent belief across the world in the efficacy of American action, helping China in its own Asian strategy. Moreover, China has no interest in helping legitimize public protests as a form of sociopolitical reform and development. In Kiev, just as in comparable situations such as Istanbul, Cairo and Bangkok, there is an ongoing battle over the question of whether mass urban protest is justifiable and productive, and how outside powers should intervene with support or otherwise. China clearly is not incentivized to see the overthrow of incumbent regimes.

There is also a longer term calculation. China is in many ways an imperialistic power utilizing a “big country” approach towards diplomacy. It has demonstrated a reluctance to engage in diplomacy as viewed through the Westphalian paradigm, and its insensitivity constantly surprises Western observers. But there is one issue which it cares deeply about: Taiwan. And the Russian seizure of the Crimea provides an interesting template for China as to how eventual reunification might take place in the “worst case” scenario, namely through force. What the Russians have managed on their peninsula is to act quickly and decisively, presenting the world with a fait accompli. It has done so with very little violence, and through the mobilization of insiders supportive to the region, whether or not they are in the majority, it can present photogenic welcoming parties to the arriving forces. At the very least, the situation is not (even in the Western media) a black-and-white case of aggression. That is all that Russia needed; it is difficult to envisage any outcome of the crisis now which does not see Russia with a strengthened position in the Crimea, irrespective of what happens with the rest of the Ukraine. A corresponding outcome with Taiwan would suit China nicely. To continue reading the article click the title link.

March 4, 2014
Putin’s error in Ukraine is the kind that leads to catastrophe

David Ignatius is right in many ways except in his central idea that the Crimean invasion was somehow a mistake and we have a reading that Putin does not grasp. This was also voiced by German officials after the Putin-Merkel phone call yesterday. On the contrary, I believe these actions are constructed not only to wrestle some control back but in Russia’s near abroad, but also (an maybe more importantly) to send a message to the Russian public at large. Yes Russia’s citizens would like to have a more western lifestyle but not sure if they are so keen about those western political values Ignatius talks about. Those include a stricter separation of church and state, free speech, racial, ethnic and gender tolerance etc. Unfortunately, many of these are not ranking too high in contemporary Russia. The country is becoming more intolerant, more conservative and more nationalistic than it was in Soviet times - communist internationalist and humanist education had perverse effects. Instead they may want some of the pride of being citizens of a great power. Nothing signals that as the images of your own forces occupying foreign held land. Ask most US citizens about US tanks in Iraq. This is even more so if you rightly or wrongly consider that you have rights to it - as most Russians think about Crimea. If one is to believe polls presented by the media, most Russians approve Putin’s decisions and the actions of the country’s military in Ukraine/Crimea. A catastrophe may well be in the making but I do not believe that for now Putin has made many “mistakes”. I do not believe this is at all in the best interest of Russian citizens. Neither do I accept the idea that this will somehow accelerate the changes in Russia and herald, or even catalyze, a new pro western plurality in the country. The consolidation of Putin’s regime can be hardly construed as a mistake, even if it will prove costly in the long run. In that respect, it is hardly the only mistake the regime has made. Some Russian analysts even seem to think that Russia needs to be a again great power first and only then revert to a democracy. And that great power status necessarily requires an assertive military might. Putin for one appears convinced of this. Herein lies the greatest challenge for the West. In reacting to the neo-imperial folly of Russia we need to find space for a message to the Russians not only the regime. We need to convince Russians that the problem is not only with the methods but also the idea that somehow imposing your will and preferences onto your historical neighbors is somehow related to greatness. Influence is one thing an automatic sphere of influence is another. Ignatius is correct in the fact that the choice is whether in Moscow the second most spoken language will be English (or German) or Chinese. He does not actually say that, but he does talk about competing social and economic models. This is something Russians understand. Most do not want to be lumped together with Kazakhstan and this is why Ukraine is critical for the image of a great Russia. The real problem is that the model we present to them as a competitor for Putin’s own vision of Russia is broken. The EU in particular appears as prosperous but also as terribly unequal and pessimistic and more importantly utterly irrelevant in foreign policy. This is why Russians expect Obama and the US to react to the Ukrainian crisis. This is something for the “real powers”. For Putin the actual threat was the EU’s economic and social pull in Ukraine. Fore the new stage, the one he set after Crimea, Europe is no match. Partly because it is devoid of actual means and partly because mercantilistic EU members states lack the real political will to absorb costly sanctions and countermeasures. This is why this is a test but not for Obama, or NATO, or the EU, or Merkel but for the West. As before Vilnius the mistakes are all ours to make when playing for these stakes. AT

March 2, 2014
Why Russia No Longer Fears the West

Ben Judah’s scathing criticism of the West’s stance on Russia in POLITICO. He makes a very clear and morally unambiguous case for the Wests failures when it comest to credibility in front of Russia’s leaders. Ben Judah does not mumble his words to lay blame and shame a culture of realist corporate profit that is sinking Europe. Here is what he has to say: “All this has made Putin confident, very confident – confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him.” Also “Europe is really run by an elite with the morality of the hedge fund: Make money at all costs and move it offshore.”The same pragmatic populism as I call it that dominates domestic politics and effectively paralyzed Europe socially has infected Europe’s strategic interests. AT

March 2, 2014
John Kerry warns of consequences for Russia after Ukraine invasion

The sanctions need to have some bite. Let’s look a bit at the simplified picture. It is clear by now that Moscow has figured in some “consequences” and decided the cost is worth it. This includes the strategic and actual operational costs as well as long tail effects like those of economic sanctions, loss of business etc. One expects that they believe the increase in energy prices will offset some of these costs. The political ones are relative. Sochi showed us Moscow is still much interested in status but the primary target for the show was domestic not international. Not inviting Russia at G8 is a step but Russia and its partners in the fast emerging economies have already set up a similar BRICS meeting to hollow this option out. NATO Russia and NATO EU councils have been essentially meaningless lately. With president Obama having shunned away from a meeting with Putin this is not an option either. In both Syria and Iran the US and the West need Russia … That leaves precious few options. There will be no UN sanctions so these will be unilateral and decided by the West. So it will look like a new Cold War but so does what’s going on in Ukraine. Depending on who you ask it resembles Cyprus in 1974 or Czechoslovakia in 1968. One practical option increased NATO presence in the Black Sea at the limit of what current treaties allow. The US NATO Anti Missile Shield that Moscow is adamant about being a threat to its interests needs to be accelerated and extended. While having absolutely no impact on the strategic and military balance between Russia and the West it is symbolically an area that Russia appears sensitive too. Freezing military sales to Russia will also be a strong signal and it depends on countries like France stoping the delivery of Mistral class costal warfare ships. Complicated given the importance of those jobs in the French economy right now! The final packet of possible sanctions is largely economic and needs to include individuals, businesses and institutions. Economic sanctions will hurt Western businesses too but it appears the only way. It will all come down to the EU’s ability to drastically reduce its energy imports form Russia. Together with positive signals like a visa facilitation agreement for Ukraine and a string financial package for Kiev these will have an effect not only on Moscow’s policies but also how these are perceived by the Russian public. Today Russian citizens are not isolated Soviet subjects they travel! Again we are looking at Germany to see if the West and the EU is able to operate in sync and create a common position that is backed by coherent and sustained policies. And watching the US to see if it can help the EU make those decisions. Lately it was not the case and we got bogged down in this mess that is to a large degree a self made predicament. Russia bets this has not changed! AT

February 25, 2014
Monnet's Brandy and Europe's Fate

A great text, visual and audio essay by Strobe Talbott the president of Brookings Institutions

February 23, 2014
Ukraine Teeters on Brink of Bankruptcy

Ukraine is bankrupt! And here is where the EU’s vision needs to play in solving the difficult long term issues in Ukraine. It will not be easy and will require a perfect and lasting coordination between the EU and the US and to some degree an open channel with Moscow. Ukraine’s economic needs are dire and immediate. The EU needs to come up with a significant aid package and a plan for a long term shoring up of Ukraine. This needs to be a tool to support a democratic and effective transition in Ukraine. The resistance will be fierce. In the name of independence, dignity and the “heroes of the Miadan” the new power will do anything to access help while making no or very limited concessions. This is a trap. Not only prior mistakes that followed the Orange Revolution need to be avoided but a clear message is needed. No pussyfooting and soft language but a stark message: the old style power politics using nationalism as a forint to oligarchs and politicians fighting for trophies will not receive Western carte blanche backing. This also needs to send Moscow a clear message that the alternative narrative and its propaganda and separatism discourse is going to backfire. A democratic and reformed Ukraine is going to be a difficult and long term process. The first day of the new regime does not bid well. The new president Turchynov is a former secret service head close to Tymoshenko and her oligarchic business empire and also known for shady dealings with thugs in Ukraine and Russia. Among the first laws voted by the new Parliamentary majority in Kiev was one abolishing minority languages in contradiction not only with European standards but also prior practice. The game of nationalism and mythical hero worshiping has started and it does not signal good things. Again the EU and the West has a powerful tool to quell these reflexes and influence the process. The conditionality should be less about EU business in Ukraine and more about Ukrainian political, legal and governance standards. Just a final note that the article linked here contains a significant mistake. It claims Ukraine’s industrial and mining hub lies in the west and it agricultural heartland in the east. It is quite the opposite.

February 22, 2014


Are People More Open About Life When Running?

In a park in downtown London, directors Matan Rochlitz and Ivo Gormley set out to ask the most intimate questions of unsuspecting joggers. With the idea that the unconventional interview location would drop the runners’ guards, the filmmakers were able to elicit candid, funny, and oftentimes moving responses.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Rochlitz talks about the impetus for the film, and how they captured the runners in motion.

Read more.

December 2, 2013
Commission regrets Băsescu’s ‘bigger Romania’ statements | EurActiv

Staying at the core of Europe and doing what it takes to become fully part of the EU economically, politically and strategically is the priority for Romania. In this respect Romania should not sacrifice its European position, however desirable this would be for shady business and political interests tired of the “yoke” represented by the CVM. A distancing from the European core is incompatible with the Romania’s long term national interest. If a “greater Romania” comes about this would be with Moscow’s approval. This could entail a rapprochement or at least a certain extension of Russia’s economic and political interest. It would not be a union where Moldova re-joins Romania but rather Romania being absorbed into a different sphere of influence. Romania would play an automatic role in the economic and strategic puzzle that connects Russia to the Adriatic. This is not a negligible probability outcome in the context of event transitory EU strategic and political weakness. Romania’s European anchors may be stronger than they appear but they are not set in stone and the sands are shifting. Romania is not part of the Euro-zone, its entry in the Schengen area is long overdue and with the continued CVM all are signs of vulnerability. These tie into Romania’s reputation but also its ability to function as a core EU country. This should be the focus of both the EU and Romania. In turn Romania’s neighborhood policy should be a part of this. this includes a new set of policies and initiatives vis a vis Russia. It needs to be carefully and convincingly crafted jointly with the EU partners. A noisy unionist project runs the risk of covering other critically important subjects for Romania and the EU and in fact lead to a widening of teh distamce between Romania and EU’s core. This would serve a lot of interests but neither Romania’s nor Moldova’s Here is what the EU Commission says on the issue. AT

November 6, 2013
Russia’s Foreign Policy Is Nearing Complete Failure

A compact critical review of Russian foreign policy situation by : Stephen Sestanovich

It seems only yesterday that President Vladimir Putin seized the world’s attention with his proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. To many, the fancy footwork had a clear message: Russia was back in the diplomatic big league at last.

We can see now what all the headlines briefly obscured. Since Mr Putin regained the presidency last year, his foreign policy has foundered. Russia has not faced such a serious need to rethink its role in the world for more than a quarter century.

Start with Europe. For the past decade, Moscow avoided conflict in relations with the EU by staying on good terms with Germany. No more. Whether the issue is energy pricing or gay rights, Berlin is now one of Mr Putin’s foremost critics. Russian trade tactics – such as a recent threat to ban Dutch tulips as unsafe – make enemies across the continent.

Belligerence has antagonised former Soviet neighbours, too. To thwart Ukraine's and Moldova's interest in closer ties with the EU, Moscow has warned that it may block their goods from entering Russia. In September it started a similar quarrel with Belarus; last month, with Lithuania. Mr Putin, it seems, will pick a fight with anyone.

Russia’s influence in the Middle East is also declining. Almost three years into the Arab spring, it is on worse terms with nearly all the region’s states. Seen from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Jordan, Israel and Egypt, Moscow’s support for Iran promotes instability. And Russian backing for Syria’s regime evokes genuine anger.

Relations with the US show the same pattern. President Barack Obama cancelled his Labor day summit with Mr Putin because it promised no results. Yes, Russia’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower, annoyed the US. But the summit was scratched because there was so little to justify it.

Some experts point out that Mr Putin has at least improved ties with China. This achievement is far less significant than it should be, however. Imagine how the US would feel in the same position. When you have good relations only with China, you have nowhere else to turn. Russians are as uneasy about China’s rise as Americans – maybe more so. But they are facing it alone.

Mr Putin may reckon others will eventually yield to his pressure. But his strategy is clearly not working. The response of most governments is outrage and resistance. Many think they can stand up to Moscow because its leverage is declining. Upheaval in global energy markets – especially the shale gas revolution – is one reason. The dramatic drop in Russian economic growth this year further saps Russian influence.

And although it threatens a trade war, Moscow ignores the fact that many of its neighbours have already redirected their exports to the EU. Russia’s diplomatic tools are weaker in other areas, too. For years, Moscow found a middle route in the stand-off between the US and Iran. Now, with Washington and Tehran in wary contact, Russia’s influence with both will decline.

A record this poor ought to be a problem for Mr Putin. Yet it is rarely criticised. The public seems to like his bristly nationalism. The president has mounted an intense domestic propaganda campaign to portray his Syria moves as a huge success. Disputing this claim – much less suggesting that the rest of his policy is going nowhere – only invites retribution.

Even many of Mr Putin’s critics seem to think that attacking his international record is not the best way to challenge him. Better to focus on economic, political or legal reform – issues on which he may be more vulnerable. When Russia starts to change, I have been told, foreign policy will take care of itself.

Right or wrong, these answers testify to the timidity of Russia’s foreign policy establishment, its intellectual and business elite and its political opposition. Yet it is hard to believe the nation will long be satisfied with the path he has put it on. Current policy produces too little benefit for anyone. A more fundamental course correction – no easy undertaking in any country – is inevitable.

Can the rest of us do anything to hasten a Russian reassessment? Anti-Putin crusading will not help much; to many Russians, it simply confirms he is doing the right thing. But conciliation is not the right response either; it too suggests he is getting results. What Russian policy makers and experts alike should hear from Europe and the US – a message delivered more in sorrow than in anger – is that their foreign policy has gone way off track. Until it rights itself, Russia will have less and less global influence.

The old remark about Britain in the 1960s – that it had lost an empire but not yet found a role – captures Moscow’s predicament exactly. More than 20 years after the Soviet collapse, Russians have to think this problem through for themselves. Mr Putin, unfortunately, keeps putting the answer out of reach.

This article appears in full on by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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