The decline and fall of the final European Empire?

Posted November 16, 2017 on 7:35 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

Well, what is going to happen to the European Union in the next decade? Will it go the way of all the other attempted regimes that have come and gone since the good old days when the French, the Prussians, the Spaniards, the Habsburgs, the Nazis, the tsars, the southern Slavs and the British all spread their wings and tried to bring in their European neighbours under their protective? cover. Amazingly all of the above failed, often in deadly wars, except, arguably, Russia, with a new tsar, who shows no sign of giving up its far eastern colonial holdings, and instead  seems intent on recovering some of its old territory.
But how is the most recent attempt to bring about a united Europe doing, this time  with a capital in Brussels? If you think it is going swimmingly there lately, you haven’t been lolling around in Europe watching the whole concept of the European Union  totter while suspecting that it is slowly falling apart. The Brits have pulled one major foundation stone out, without apparently knowing what they were doing, and their absurd departure has opened possible flood gates throughout central and eastern Europe.  As in now stands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary form a solid inward-looking border buffer zone from the Baltic Sea to the Balkans with little or no loyalty to the idea that Brussels should wield the machinery of power over them.  And east of them is the wilderness, with corrupt governments ruling in half a dozen EU member states.   And no one knows where Austria will actually land – east or west -when its new government is finally announced.  Let’s face it, the EU  is now completely dependent on the resources of Germany and France, with a dash of support from the Nordic countries.  May the power be with them.

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The World According to Trump

Posted December 10, 2016 on 8:15 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iran, NATO, Russia, TRUMP, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

If the President elect of the U.S. has a world view it is a mystery. Similarly, if he has a strategic foreign policy strategy for the U.S. it too is a mystery. But there are clues that lead to thoughts of possible threats to world stability and, by extension, to American security.

Trump’s recent break from U.S.-China policy by accepting a call from the President of Taiwan was initially presented by much of the press as a faux pas. It was subsequently presented by the Trump camp as a clever, thought-out strategy to put pressure on China to bend to the will of the President elect. This theory is as realistic as his plan to have Mexico pay for America’s Great Wall. U.S. policy toward China was transformed in the Nixon years and clearly both countries have benefited from what was seen then as a seismic shift. Trump risks changing the nature of the relationship at a time when the U.S. has been focusing on developing stronger economic ties throughout Asia – the continent with the fastest growing economy.

During his campaign, Trump provided his view that NATO had become a too costly commitment for the U.S. and one that was unnecessarily confrontational to Russia. He has threatened to weaken America’s commitment to the NATO treaty that has served American and European vital interests for over 50 years, unless the European members step up their financial stake in NATO. While there may be a reasonable argument that Europe has not shouldered its share of the costs, (arguably true for some countries, not so for others) reducing America’s commitment to NATO would give a message to Russia that an invasion of the Baltic states could be a risk worth taking. As it did when invading Eastern Ukraine, Russia could argue that they are assisting ethnic Russians gain their freedom. It is curious that Turkey’s President Erdogan is the one NATO leader that Trump has reached out to with praise. He is the one NATO leader who is turning his country into a near dictatorship, with thousands summarily jailed, including hundreds of journalists who have been critical of him.

Trump has been highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal which has been supported by the members of the UN Security Council (incl. Russia and China), as well as America’s European allies. In criticizing the agreement Trump joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, several Republican Senators, right wing ideologues like John Bolton, and several major funders of GOP candidates, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. While Trump has said he would walk away from the deal it is easier said than done, since our European allies and other treaty signatories would refuse to follow suit and American economic interests would likely suffer as other countries’ businesses take advantage of the U.S. reneging on the deal.

Trump has reached out with praise to the new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has become a human rights nightmare as he exhorts his countrymen to summarily execute anyone in the country suspected of being involved in drugs. This has led to thousands of killings – many simply murders – with no reference to a system of justice. In this case Trump is making a mockery of the U.S.’s historic commitment to human rights and systems of law. His behavior shrinks our stance in the world and begins to provide a nasty model for the application of quasi fascist behavior. See this NY Times piece for a taste of Duterte’s world:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/07/world/asia/rodrigo-duterte-philippines-drugs-killings.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

Trump has not said much about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East in general other than to criticize Obama for failing in everything he has done in that part of the world and claiming that he will defeat ISIS almost as soon as he is in office. The decisions his administration make in that region will affect millions long into the future and we are largely left to guess as to what he would actually do.

Trump has made it clear that he believes he has a special relationship with Russian President Putin and indeed he may. They share a capacity for bullying, a disregard for human rights, a sensitivity to criticism, a willingness to harass the press (in Putin’s case including murder and imprisonment) and an attraction to kleptocracy. He does not seem to worry about what Putin has done in the world – e.g. Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, etc. – and has been eager and able to participate in the Russian economy, an economy that could teach Wall Street a thing or two about cronyism.

There is currently much talk of giving Trump a chance before judging him. Since he was elected we have no choice but to give him his chance, but judging can begin anon. Look at his appointments, listen to his words, read his tweets and form a judgment. If he fools us and turns out to be realistic, thoughtful and intelligent then we can adapt our judgment. Looking at his appointments to date, his short list for Secretary of State, and his statements during and after the campaign, it seems unlikely we will find that necessary.

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Can pro sports survive?

Posted January 27, 2016 on 3:22 am | In the category Russia, Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

This is obviously a rhetorical question. In many ways pro sports has never thrived more.  The big events, especially among elite participants in team sports – the World Cup of Soccer, Super Bowl of US football, NBA basketball, NHL hockey, even cricket and rugby world cups are more popular and profitable than they ever have been and betting on them is very big business. Although there have been some recent exceptions, most games at the highest level are  beyond the reach of the plague that is now tearing apart all individual sports and second and third rung team sports – results fixed through gambling.  It is  hard to see how a successful offer can be made to convince the extremely high paid stars of the elite tournaments to purposely lose a game.  They are paid too much to be interested in such deals, and in any case, just who could guarantee a loss for such highly talented teams, unless the whole team signs on, and that is not going to happen.

But this is not true of the players and the teams that lurk below the elites, and plenty of bets are made on their games, nor does this theory work as convincingly when it comes to individual sports.   Tennis is only the latest sport to come under serious suspicion, especially with regard to matches played just below the elite level, for which much betting takes place in any case.  Needless to say it is much easier to unexpectedly lose a match in tennis – a bunch  of bad returns, double faults, or sudden injuries will do the trick – than it is for a high-level football, rugby, hockey or basketball team to suddenly collapse.

And soon  we will  have the Olympics,  making its every fourth year stop, this time in Rio.  Poor track and field, the heart of the Olympics and once the mark of the pinnacle of individual performance, has been really seriously, if not fatally damaged by the other kind of cheating – the use of illegal substances to help you win, not lose as is the case in being paid to throw the result.  And the elite athletes in this are no longer anything like the amateurs who once performed.  Great amounts of money are at stake and the Olympic governors have been unable or unwilling to get unlimited doping under control.  This time it seems like the entire Russian track and field team may be banned  for drug abuse, and just about everyone in the know thinks that is just the tip of the iceberg.  The real victims here are the honest athletes who are playing by the rules.  Some of them may even be Russian.  Good luck to them!

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The Lion and the Lioness Part Two

Posted February 17, 2015 on 10:24 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

As predicted in the same-titled blog of not so long ago, (Part One), a 60 year-old woman who does not care about charisma, and lives in a modest apartment in Berlin, rather than a mansion, is now the undisputed most powerful woman in existence. Angela Merkel has also earned the right to at least  be considered the most powerful and respected political leader in the world. The German Kanzlerin seems to be the only one still willing to take her position seriously.as someone who just might be able to talk to enough lions who might be convinced to see solutions other than aggression, killing  and warfare to solve the world’s miserable problems these days.  She may well fail, but at least somebody is trying.

Seconded only by a large security detail, and in Europe by the President of France, die Kanzlerin pushed herself to the edge of exhaustion by visiting Kiew, Moscow, Munich , Berlin (f0r a pit stop)  Ottawa, Washington and Minsk in one week, delivering speeches and talking with  leaders who are missing in action in all of them except Russia, where Putin is very much in action.  By skipping London and spending as much time in Ottawa as in Washington, whose leader recently refused to meet either with the President of Israel or the Dalai Lama, Merkel made a statement of her own about the  support she could have expected but has not received in attempting to stop an all out war in Europe.  She herself has said that all that it has resulted in only a shimmer of hope.   But that’s one more  shimmer than anyone else has been  willing to risk his/her own health to produce.

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Vladimir Putin: Leadership Redefined

Posted December 26, 2014 on 11:34 pm | In the category Obama, Politics, Press, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“We don’t need tough guys. We need wise guys. We’ve tried tough guys, and it always ends in tears. Tough guys you know right away because they’re never scared of a fight. Wise guys you only know in retrospect, when you remember that they quietly walked away from the fight that now has the tough guy in a hospital.” Adam Gopnik, The NewYorker Magazine

As 2014 winds down we find the two Putins – the Russian Vladimir and Turkish President -Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – struggling to maintain their images of power, strength and competence. I’ll save Erdogan for a later posting, but for the Russian Putin the struggle has become increasingly difficult. This is in spite of the admiration expressed by the likes of America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, former Chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence Mike Rogers and Fox News TV evangelist, Mike Huckabee. In fact,reviewing the past year or two, commentators from both respected and semi-respected media outlets have nourished the fantasies of the right wing by questioning Obama’s manhood while praising Putin’s bare chested virility. This has included analysts from beltway think tanks, the editorial board of the once great Washington Post and, of some note, the NYTimes’ columnist Maureen Dowd, who has consistently whined that Obama is not an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie character. Honoring Putin’s heroic posturing following his takeover of the Crimea, Rogers said that “Putin played chess” while Obama played marbles; Giuliani commented that Putin defined “leadership” while poor Obama spent too much time “thinking”. As for erstwhile presidential candidate and Fox News analyst, Mike Huckabee, he said “I know the only time that Vladimir Putin shivers is when he takes his shirt off in a cold Russian winter”, as opposed to poor old thoughtful Obama. Other notable comments on Putin’s manly leadership included these from some of America’s finest blowhards:

  1. “Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everyone’s eyes roll, including mine,” noted war lover Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
  2. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” Former Alaska Gov. and heartbeat away from the presidency VP candidate, Sarah Palin said. “They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”
  3. “This is Putin running rings about us. There’s no question what’s going on here, is Vladimir Putin is reassembling the Soviet Union,” said conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
  4. “The Ukrainians, and I think everybody, is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement,” Fox’s (noted psychiatrist) Charles Krauthammer said. “What he’s saying is, we’re not really going to do anything.”
  5. “For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality,” wrote the once great Washington Post’s editorial board.
  6. “President Obama’s attempt to seek peace through apologetic diplomacy while defunding and dismantling our military has failed. Today, our enemies don’t fear us and our allies no longer respect us,” Senator and noted climate change denier Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.
  7. “The president must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can’t be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) “If Putin’s illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs.”

So here we are some months after Obama did not get involved in a war in Ukraine and Putin is watching helplessly as the Russian economy goes in the toilet, and realizes belatedly that Obama’s sanctions combined with the drop in oil prices has pushed Russia into a catastrophic recession. He is forcing Russian companies to sell dollars in a hopeless attempt to strengthen the Russian ruble and the Central bank has increased its interest rate to 16% ensuring a disastrous 2015 for Russia’s economy. Perhaps Putin is now asking himself how he will pay the high costs of maintaining the Crimea as a vital part of his new Russian empire. American commentators seem puzzled by the success of Obama’s foreign policy moves that have placed a premium on avoiding direct American military involvement, invoking diplomacy over confrontation and waging economic war via sanctions over sending Americans to defend other countries’ interests. While many in American politics and the press have conveniently forgotten the lessons of America’s disastrous 2003 Iraq invasion, almost automatically seeking ways for American military might to be utilized, Obama has continued to resist the temptation to send American troops into foreign battles that do not threaten our vital national interests.

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The Lion and the Lioness

Posted November 26, 2014 on 3:07 am | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago left a vacuum at the top of the two countries that have dominated Europe  for almost a century, or at least since Great Britain made it clear it didn’t really feel itself to be part of Europe , and which has trouble understanding how little greatness it still possesses and France began electing leaders whose main claim to fame is that  they take Vespas to visit their mistresses,  followed by paparazzi, a scene that seems to have stepped right out of a parody of La Dolce Vita.   Speaking of which, I’ll bet you will know the name of the last visible prime minister of bankrupt Italy, but not of the current one.  And if you take a look at the photo op of the 20 leaders who recently  gathered at the G20 meeting in Brisbane, you get high marks if you can identify more than five of these minnows.  But there are two among them you should know, one of the two women in  the photo, a rather nondescript looking German woman, and a tough-looking Russian, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin.

These two have known each  other for most of the time the wall has  been down, can speak each other’s languages,  and supposedly held lengthy private conversation in Brisbane without interpreters, and they didn’t hold them in English.  No one could claim that this daughter of a Lutheran minister in an  atheistic country dominated by the Soviet Union and the KGB’s man in the historic East German city of Dresden are friends..  But  a sort of grudging respect for each other – and each other’s country – seems to have become one of the casualties of Putin’s aggressions in Ukraine and his potential plans to reclaim other former parts of the Soviet Union.  It seems that  Frau Merkel has finally had enough of the bully she long tolerated on the assumption that bluster and theatrics were an  acceptable price to pay if German-Russian relations remained reasonably stable.  And by displaying over the years a quiet  resolution to manage Germany with moderation and respect for its newly-won dominating position in  Europe, she seems to have also now won the right to strike back at an aggressive Russian and currently has the highest domestic approval rate – after 15 years on power – of any leader in the world.  Putin is also very popular in Russia and we can only hope that  economic and political pressure will now convince him to withdraw the troops, settle down into reflected glory of Russia that has certainly regained the word’s attention under Putin’s rule and let the world worry about great problems threatening all of it elsewhere.

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Ukraine: Bad Policy OR The Absence of Policy?

Posted September 5, 2014 on 5:03 pm | In the category Europe, Press, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy, Ukraine, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy;
it is an alibi for the absence of one.
Henry Kissinger

The Ukraine crisis has raised significant – some would say unnecessary – risks of international turmoil that could become much worse if not brought under control by the main participants, esp. Russia and Ukraine. Yet, it seems clear that a significant portion of the American foreign policy community and the American press has been unable or unwilling to discuss or even consider alternatives to what has become the de facto official narrative. Official in the sense of presenting a one-sided, American/European view of a situation that is a lot more complicated and that has roots in Western policies aggressively aimed at attacking Russia’s national interest under the guise of our never-ending and almost always futile attempt to install Western democracies in countries not ready for it. e.g. Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.

But most troubling is the almost total lack of debate minus the demonizing of the debaters. Without defending Putin’s actions in Ukraine there are, nonetheless, geopolitical realities that should not be ignored while blindly following simplistic thinking of the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham in calling for military action in some form (i.e. giving lots of weapons to the Ukrainian military) as the only answer to what is a complex political and diplomatic problem.

The behavior of the American press is reminiscent of its cheerleading for the Vietnam War with unquestioning acceptance of the government narrative of the dominoes theory. The press’s support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was similarly supported without substantive debate in the press, although there were a small number of politicians willing to voice their doubts. But the alternative narratives for the Ukraine are mostly being ignored or even ridiculed.

For example, two notable commentaries by respected foreign policy thinkers provide a very different narrative of how we arrived at the Ukraine crisis and both authors have been largely ignored. John Mearsheimer, a highly regarded University of Chicago political scientist published his views of “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, reiterating points he made in an earlier piece in Foreign Policy and again in the NY Times. Princeton and New York University Russian Studies Professor Stephen Cohen presented his views in a Conference in Washington but had published extensively on the crisis in The Nation Magazine. While writing in very different journals they come to similar conclusions: that the West failed to consider the importance of an unaligned Ukraine to Russia’s security and national interest; that the West continues to treat Russia as a “defeated” former enemy; that the West – specifically the EU – blundered when they offered Ukraine an economic agreement that would begin the movement of Ukraine into the Western sphere; then supporting the revolt that toppled the elected government of Ukraine. The West eagerly accepted the bonafides of the “revolution” and by picking sides in a battle of primary political importance to Russia contributed to the crisis. Consider the U.S.’s Monroe Doctrine and what the U.S. would likely do if a rival power decided to foment revolution in Mexico. Then ask whether the U.S. and European leaders bothered to put themselves in Putin’s shoes when they decided to foment revolution in Ukraine.

As for Cohen and Mearsheimer, rather than producing a transparent, robust debate, they have been vilified as Putin’s puppets, etc. by much of what passes for an informed press. But almost no one has seriously debated them on the merits of their arguments or – more significantly – on the facts of the case. And more importantly, there is no evidence of such a serious debate behind the scenes. Most commentators have taken the facts as presented by the U.S. and Ukraine governments and have been happy to demonize Putin. As for the political players, senators from both parties have bought the line with the Republicans criticizing Obama for the lack of “action” whatever that might be, when the real issue is his over reaching in the region that contributed to a major, dangerous crisis.

Finally, lest we forget, a significant portion of the Ukraine population does not support the movement to the West and in fact yesterday the NY Times reported that hundreds of thousands of citizens of eastern Ukraine are fleeing into Russia for refuge from the Ukraine army which, according to Human Rights Watch, has matched the rebels in killing thousands of civilians. Most of those “refugees” are now planning to remain in Russia. And are there Russian troops fighting with the rebels? Maybe so, or even probably so, but that does not give us the moral edge. After all, we have had our instances of sending troops – secret in many cases – into almost every Central American country in the past when our leaders had determined it to be in our national interest. much like Mr. Putin in the Ukraine. With a Ukraine cease fire tentatively agreed to by Russia and Ukraine this morning, the West (i.e. NATO) has announced its planned “Rapid Reaction Force for Eastern Europe”. We shall see how Mr. Putin responds.

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Public Diplomacy: America’s Lost Battle

Posted March 20, 2014 on 5:22 pm | In the category International Broadcasting, Press, Public Diplomacy, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy, Ukraine | by Jeff

The role of public opinion in the current Ukraine/Crimea crisis is a good illustration of the short sightedness of America’s reduced commitment to public diplomacy,  as it continues to have a defense budget that more than exceeds the combined defense budgets of the next ten largest countries’.

President Putin has committed considerable resources to Russia’s international TV, “Russia Today” (RT), including an American operation that can be viewed in English or Spanish. In 2011 it was the second most popular international broadcaster after the BBC and claims particularly high viewership in the U.S.’ five largest cities. An international TV network that competes with CNN for its audience, including and especially a Western audience, “Russia Today” is available to some 85 million Americans via cable TV and internationally to over 650 million people via approximately 250 cable and satellite providers. RT also manages a sophisticated website that focuses on U.S. news as well as international news. And while clearly a propaganda tool of Russian foreign policy, it has managed to find Western viewers tired of CNN’s diet of American-centric news augmented with a heavy offering of political and social drivel.

The 2011 budget for RT was ca. $380 million, a large jump from its 2008 $120 million budget probably partially due to a serous image deficit following the Russia – Georgia conflict. In any case from an American perspective RT amounts to Russian operated surrogate broadcasting within the U.S., much like what Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were to the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.

At the same time that Russia has promoted its image outside Russia via RT Putin has succeeded in improving his popularity at home with extensive and harsh control of traditional sources of information, especially TV, radio and the print press. While RT has ready access to American audiences Putin has banned Russian radio stations from affiliating with Radio Svoboda, RFE/RL’s Russian broadcast service, forcing that service to rely heavily on social media, access to its website and its increased popularity on You Tube. Native Russian investigative journalists have had a tendency to “go missing” or worse; anti-government rock groups go to jail and demonstrations merely lead to mass arrests.

During the Cold War U.S. surrogate radio broadcasts into Russia and its Warsaw bloc and Soviet neighbors provided news of their own countries and the world otherwise not available. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakdown of the Soviet Union those efforts were reduced and, in fact almost eliminated. Assuming the Cold War was over, the U.S. Senate, led by a somewhat naïve Russell Feingold, led a move in 1994 to cut RFE/RL’s budget from $210 Million to $75 million. Today, RFE/RL broadcasts to 21 countries (including Afghanistan, Iran, and of course Russia) in 28 languages via the Internet, SMS text messaging, online video, satellite radio, and popular social media networks with a budget of $95 million – less than one quarter of RT’s budget. America no longer seriously competes with Russia in the critical area of public opinion and the results are obvious as we watch the Russian people salute the re-emergence of an at least semi-cold war.

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Ukraine and the war that threatens to end peace (again)

Posted March 4, 2014 on 6:15 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

And so the Crimean crisis seems to have settled down a bit. The Russian military has taken control of the Crimea, encircled Ukrainian army bases on the peninsula, and warned the two Ukrainian war ships out on the Black Sea to not even think about confronting overwhelming Russian power at its naval base in Sevastopol. Russian solders show no sign of leaving an area the size of Sicily in which 70% of the population speaks Russian and welcomes their presence. There is no doubt that if a plebiscite were held, which the Russians are demanding , the people of the Crimea would vote to join Russia. Needless to say, this is a complicated situation, demanding patience and knowledge.
Meanwhile Putin says he has called back the dogs of war out on the Russian-Ukrainian, where 150,000 Russian troops happened to be holding training exercises near Russian-speaking cities in eastern Ukraine, which might well also vote to join Russia. These areas pose a much greater threat to stability in Europe if Russian troops move in “to protect a Russian minority in a former USSR republic” stranded there by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has no treaty connection with western Europe and has no chance of joining the EU or Nato in the near future as some really ignorant commentators in the west seem to think. But Estonia and Latvia do an d include with large Russian populations still unhappily stranded after twenty years of living in independent Baltic states. They are both in the EU and Nato and any Russian movement to recover them would automatically bring all EU nations into a military confrontation with Russia. For many this will recall the way that Europe stumbled unknowingly into a carnage that killed 60 million people exactly a century ago in “The War that Ended Peace (the title of Margaret Macmillan’s fine new book on the topic) would make a lot of experts who know the complicated history of Eastern Europe very nervous indeed. If Russia should cross the Russian-Ukrainin=an border near Donetsk or Kharkov, it is unclear what might happen, and nobody is taking bets on the future of the Crimea, but Estonia is another matter. That would bring war.. And so the poobahs are assembling again, this time in Kiew, which has proven to be a very unwelcome place for good government, no matter who won the democratic elections, in the twenty years since Ukraine became free. Western commentators have found it easy to forget (or not know) that the recently deposed Prime Minister of Ukraine, who even the Russians don’t like, won an election that was deemed to be fair and square by the UN observers. He may have acted like a corrupt despot when in power, but he did win an election in which the current temporary Prime Minster, got 7% of the vote and seems to be unimpressing almost everyone.

But here they come to lay flowers , deliver some platitudes and hopefully solidify votes at home. The Canadian foreign minister John Baird does his job well, knowing there are i,3 million ethnic Ukrainians in Canada and that Ukrainian affairs play an very significant role in the settlement of the Canadian prairies,,an d the determination of elections. But before he leaves, he does mention that Canada is not considering any kind of military response. (The US might consider recalling their ambassador to Canada to give them insights into the history of Ukraine but they can’t do that since they haven’t had an ambassador in Canada for many months). John Kerry, the US Secretary of State follows Baird by several days but takes the same trail and states that Russia will have a price to pay if it doesn’t stop its aggression. Unfortunately a tired and confused-looking Kerry cannot answer any questions about what that price would be. Lat time Obama used football talk to warn about crossing a line drawn in the sand in Syria the result was no response from the US when someone did precisely that and a very clever chess move from a surprisingly wily Putin. The US certainly cannot be contemplating a military response, but it doesn’t exactly want to admit it. Putin knows it and looks like a cat who swallowed a canary in his press conference. H e also know that while the US can’t do much but bluster, he can cut off the fuel lines which heat most of Ukraine and a great deal of western Europe. How do you like dem chops? Let’s hope Putin is also a pragmatic figure and knows that he too certainly does not want a war, and that he steps back and considers what to do on the Crimea.. And th at will take serious negotiations by a number of parties. One figure who seems to be placing himself and his country in a position of mediation is German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Whether he likes it or not, he may have to step in and play a big role as this (very fine) German Foreign Minister has a unique insight into the dangers that come up like ghosts from the past when countries get carried away thumping nationalistic big sticks out on the borderlands of Eurasia.

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Chernobyl will not die

Posted April 26, 2011 on 1:20 pm | In the category Europe, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

Exactly twenty-five years ago today a rather remote nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, Ukraine – at that time still in the Soviet Union – exploded and sent a deadly dose of radioactivity into the atmosphere where it eventually spread out over the skies of neighbouring Belarus, in particular, but soon over much of northern and central Europe as well. At first the Soviet government denied that there was a serious problem and sent in men on suicide missions with shovels and fire hoses to supposedly cover up a potential danger which in fact was already completely out of the bottle. The results are now there for all to contemplate. One third (!) of the soil of Belarus is contaminated, a substantial zone around Chernobyl is uninhabitable and will remain so for centuries, and scores of thousands have died.
And now in far-of and technologically sophisticated Japan, something similar is going on. The government greatly understated the danger, courageous men were sent in, certainly better protected than the fireman of Chernobyl but still in mortal danger, but the evil genie was already out of the bottle, the ocean itself is contaminated and 80,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. There is no guarantee that they will ever be allowed to return. And this time there has been some reflection on what it means since it is very unlikely that the next catastrophe will need another twenty-five years. Germany has shut down, at least temporarily, its oldest reactors and is considering a future without nuclear power, with no easy solution once one has become addicted to it. But resource-poor France, and increasingly India and China, have made clear that they are putting all their energy bets on nuclear power and even poor Belarus is building its first nuclear reactor right on the Lithuanian, and EU, border. So much for learning from the past.

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