The New York Times reports: Warning that Russia was pushing the conflict in Ukraine toward “the point of no return,” the president of the European Union’s executive arm said on Saturday that European leaders meeting in Brussels would probably endorse new and tougher sanctions in an effort to make Moscow “come to reason.”
After morning talks with the visiting president of Ukraine, Petro O. Poroshenko, the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, voiced Europe’s growing alarm and exasperation at Russian actions in Ukraine and the risks of a wider war.
Mr. Poroshenko, speaking at a joint news conference with Mr. Barroso, said Ukraine still hoped for a political settlement with Russian-backed rebels in the east of his country but said a flow of Russian troops and armored vehicles into Ukraine in recent days in support of rebels were stoking the fires of a broader conflict.
“We are too close to a border where there will be no return to the peace plan,” Mr. Poroshenko said, asserting that, since Wednesday, “thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine, with a very high risk not only for the peace and stability of Ukraine but for the peace and stability of the whole of Europe.” [Continue reading...]
By Didier Bigo, Francesco Ragazzi, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet, and Laurent Bonelli, Open Democracy, June 4, 2014
The deadly attacks in Madrid (2004), London (2005), Glasgow (2007) and Stockholm (2010), followed by the foiled attempts and arrests in Copenhagen (2010) and Berlin (2011) have together moved the issue of violent extremism and
‘radicalisation’ back onto political agendas at the European Union and across its member states.
Fear of ‘radicalisation’ has taken a turn for the worse since 2011 with the publication of alarmist intelligence reports and the multiplication of news reports about European citizens flocking to Syria to fight, mostly alongside the Syrian opposition.
Almost unnoticeably, the representation of Syria has moved from chaotic images of civil war to a monstrous cradle for a resurgent Al-Qaida, a powerful magnet for confirmed Jihadists and a key location for nurturing new generations of violent individuals.
The fear that European citizens travelling to Syria to fight the Assad regime may be influenced by groups linked to Al-Qaida and the spectre of dozens of battle-hardened, experienced extremists returning to their European homes full of anger and resentment and prepared to stage deadly attacks is an anxious thought stuck in our minds.
Even though it is difficult to ascertain the number of European citizens who have gone to or are still in Syria since March 2011 – the figures fluctuate between 400 to 2000 – the need for an assessment of the threat posed by these assumed radicalised European fighters heading back home is largely shared across the European Union member states. The recent French anti-radicalisation strategy presented by the French interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, in April 2014 and inspired by the British strategy, is a reaction against the growing ranks of French youth joining alleged jihadist groups in Syria. However, what is the logical link – if any – between an engagement in Syria – whatever it might be – and the likelihood of future attacks in Europe?
— Michael Roth MdB (@MiRo_SPD) May 25, 2014
Following elections in France and the rest of the EU, Roger Cohen writes: Make no mistake, [National Front leader Marine Le Pen] could become president. The National Front has surged before, notably in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the incumbent’s father, reached the runoff stage of the presidential election. But in the dozen years since then the European and French crises have deepened. France has near zero growth and growing unemployment. With an estimated 25 percent of the European Parliament vote, the National Front crushed both the governing Socialists (14 percent) and the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (20.8 percent).
“An earthquake,” was the verdict of the Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls. He is not wrong. A two-party system is now a three-party system. Marine Le Pen, subtler and cleverer and more ambitious than her father, is electable. She is plausible.
Elsewhere on the Continent the anger behind the National Front’s surge was also evident (no election is better suited for letting off steam than the European because the real power of the European Parliament is limited). In Britain, Austria and Denmark, more than 15 percent of the vote went to similar anti-immigrant, anti-Europe, anti-establishment, anti-boredom political movements. But it is in France, which constitutes with Germany the core of the European Union, that a European, economic and psychological crisis has assumed its most acute form.
According to the French daily Le Monde, the National Front took 43 percent of workers’ votes and 37 percent of the vote of the unemployed. Popular sentiment in France has turned against a Europe associated with austerity, stagnation, unemployment and high immigration. Le Pen’s promise of a more nationalist and anti-immigrant France, rejecting European integration and America, has appeal to the disenchanted. A promised Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis, with Putin and his “family values” as Europe’s salvation, masks a void of economic ideas. [Continue reading...]
Martin Kettle writes: Britain likes to think that it marches to a different political drum from the rest of Europe. Yet the 2014 European parliament election has generated a great political paradox. In these elections, British voters flocked in record numbers to the anti-Europe flagship party Ukip. And yet, as they voted against Europe, British voters have never seemed more part of the European mainstream than they do this morning. Across Europe, in one way or another, voters in most countries did very much the same thing.
The European Union has never confronted a crisis of legitimacy like the one that erupted in the polling booths of Europe this weekend. From Aberdeen to Athens and from Lisbon to Leipzig, and irrespective of whether the nation is in or out of the eurozone, the 2014 European elections were an uncoordinated but common revolt against national governments and a revolt against the post-crash priorities of the European project.
This election wasn’t a revolt of Britain against the EU. It was a revolt of European voters against the EU and against national governing parties. And British voters were simply one part of it. [Continue reading...]
Tony Brenton, former British ambassador to Russia, writes: A way out of the Ukraine crisis may now be faintly discernible. The round-table negotiations promoted by the Germans has the support of all the key governments. It is intended to produce a ceasefire, discussion of future Ukrainian constitutional arrangements, and the election of a new Ukrainian president on 25 May. There are still all sorts of ways it could go wrong: the east Ukrainian dissidents are not yet involved and will need to be; and polarisation continues, with both sides gradually losing control of their thuggish surrogates. But things now look marginally more hopeful than they have since the ill-fated Geneva agreement of a month ago.
The west has had to learn some hard lessons to get to where we are now.
It is generally accepted that the EU (in a mode splendidly described by one commentator as of “impotent megalomania”) precipitated matters by blundering into the most sensitive part of Russia’s backyard without seriously asking itself how it might react. This was not an isolated error but the culmination of 20 years of the west simply not taking Russia seriously, most notably with the Kosovo war and the expansion of Nato. When Russia did react in the (legally indefensible, but historically understandable) form of annexing Crimea and destabilising east Ukraine, the western view then swung 180 degrees to focusing on the need to “contain” a revanchist Russia intent on rebuilding the Soviet Union.
In the absence of any willingness among western publics to fight for the independence of Simferopol, the only weapon available was sanctions. These allowed western leaders to claim they were “doing something”, but in fact cruelly exposed their unwillingness to take real economic pain on Ukraine’s behalf. They have also become something of a badge of patriotic pride for those Russians targeted by them – of the six uses of sanctions by the west against the USSR/Russia since the second world war none have worked.
Happily, we now seem to be waking up to the reality that we are dealing not with a revanchist Russia, but with a coldly calculating one – a Russia that is neither patsy nor praying mantis. They don’t want to fight a war or take on the economic burden of rebuilding eastern Ukraine, but they do have a minimal list of requirements – Ukrainian neutrality, more autonomy for Russian speakers – which have to be met before they will back off. [Continue reading...]
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered troops deployed near Ukraine to return to their home bases and praised the launch of a dialogue between the Ukrainian government and its opponents even as fighting continued in the eastern parts of the country.
The Guardian reports: The top European court has backed the “right to be forgotten” and said Google must delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its results when a member of the public requests it.
The test case privacy ruling by the European Union’s court of justice against Google Spain was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper in Catalonia.
Costeja González argued that the matter, in which his house had been auctioned to recover his social security debts, had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google.
He told the Guardian: “Like anyone would be when you tell them they’re right, I’m happy. I was fighting for the elimination of data that adversely affects people’s honour, dignity and exposes their private lives. Everything that undermines human beings, that’s not freedom of expression.” [Continue reading...]
James Goldgeier and Andrew S. Weiss write: With the Ukraine crisis now entering its sixth month, policymakers ought to step back from the daily torrent of bad news and ask whether the West’s current approach is yielding positive results.
The honest answer has to be: not really.
The tragic loss of life in Odessa on May 2 and the stepped-up fighting in and around separatist strongholds in eastern Ukraine appear to be setting in motion precisely the series of events that the West has sought to avoid: full-scale armed conflict between Moscow and Kiev and the prospect of Ukraine’s collapse as a unitary state.
Ever since the dramatic overthrow of the Viktor Yanukovich government in late February, U.S. and EU leaders have failed to come to terms with an unpleasant reality. As former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer put it, Vladimir Putin “cares a whole lot more about losing Ukraine than the West cares about keeping it.”
There are no excuses for the reckless policies Putin has pursued. His annexation of Crimea, and his unapologetic embrace of Russian chauvinism and ultra-nationalist themes are evocative of the worst aspects of European power politics during the first half of the twentieth century. It is deeply disconcerting to see far-right wing European politicians, from Marine Le Pen to Geert Wilders, touting Putin as their ideological soul-mate and comrade-in-arms in the fight against European elites and the soulless EU bureaucracy.
But even if events do not come to a head in coming days, a protracted crisis in Ukraine may, over time, simply exhaust Western capabilities to counter a Russian campaign to destabilize Ukraine or to keep its basket-case economy afloat. What we are looking at now is nothing less than a bigger, messier version of Georgia across a territory the size of France with the potential for a lot more bloodshed.
Rather than developing a new approach to avoid catastrophe, Western leaders are doubling down. President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last week that the derailing of the May 25 presidential elections could be the basis for imposition of so-called sectoral sanctions on Russia. While they and other Western leaders continue to profess their desire to see a diplomatic solution to the crisis, high-level dialogue with the Kremlin amounts to little more than exchanging public statements. Nor are we aware of any serious back-channel diplomatic moves to resolve the crisis. The West has said elections or else, but Moscow shows no sign of acquiescing to a smooth internal political transition. Quite the contrary. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: As Ukraine tries to contain a pro-Russian insurgency convulsing its eastern region, a perhaps more significant struggle for the country hinges on what happens beneath the ground here in a placid woodland in the far west, on the border with Slovakia.
This is where about $20 billion worth of Russian natural gas flows each year through huge underground pipelines to enter Europe after a nearly 3,000-mile journey from Siberia. It is also, the pro-European government in Kiev believes, where Ukraine has a chance to finally break free from the grip of Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy behemoth.
In an effort to do this, Ukraine has for more than a year been pushing hard to start so-called reverse-flow deliveries of gas from Europe via Slovakia to Ukraine, thus blunting repeated Russian threats to turn off the gas tap.
An agreement signed last week between Slovak and Ukrainian pipeline operators opened the way for modest reverse-flow deliveries of gas from Europe, where prices are much lower than those demanded by Gazprom for its direct sales to Ukraine.
But the deal, brokered by the European Union and nudged along by the White House, fell so far short of what Ukraine had been lobbying for that it left a nagging question: Why has it been so difficult to prod tiny Slovakia, a European Union member, to get a technically simple and, for Ukraine and for the credibility of the 28-nation bloc, vitally important venture off the ground? [Continue reading...]
Der Spiegel reports: Following the apparent failure of the Geneva agreements, the inconceivable suddenly seems possible: the invasion of eastern Ukraine by the Russian army. Fears are growing in the West of the breakout of a new war in Europe.
These days, Heinz Otto Fausten, a 94-year-old retired high school principal from Sinzig, Germany, can’t bear to watch the news about Ukraine. Whenever he sees images of tanks on TV, he grabs the remote and switches channels. “I don’t want to be subjected to these images,” he says. “I can’t bear it.”
When he was deployed as a soldier in the Ukraine, in 1943, Fausten was struck by grenade shrapnel in the hollow of his knee, just outside Kiev, and lost his right leg. The German presence in Ukraine at the time was, of course, part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. But, even so, Fausten didn’t think he would ever again witness scenes from Ukraine hinting at the potential outbreak of war.
For anyone watching the news, these recent images, and the links between them, are hard to ignore. In eastern Ukraine, government troops could be seen battling separatists; burning barricades gave the impression of an impending civil war. On Wednesday, Russian long-range bombers entered into Dutch airspace — it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened, but now it felt like a warning to the West. Don’t be so sure of yourselves, the message seemed to be, conjuring up the possibility of a larger war. [Continue reading...]
Mark Leonard writes: “We have spent thirty years trying to integrate Russia into the international system, and now we are trying to kick it out again.”
These words — from a senior British official — sum up the disappointment and bewilderment of western diplomats struggling to handle Russia. They face two imperfect options: inaction in the face of Russia’s territorial aggression, and reacting so strongly that they unravel the international system that has sustained order for the last five decades.
As pro-Russian protesters declare a “people’s republic” in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Western leaders are smart to focus on deterring Putin from expanding beyond Crimea. But the West needs to think more about how its actions are seen beyond the Kremlin. The consequences of Crimea could be even more dramatic at a global level than within the post-Soviet countries.
In his March 18 speech, Putin expressed three ideas that Europeans have rejected since World War Two — nationalism that is not tempered by the guilt of war; identity defined by ethnicity, rather than geography or institutions; and social conservatism based in religion.
Yet these ideas remain popular outside the West. Just look at the Middle East, where Iran and Saudi Arabia are both defending their “people” across borders. China may one day want to defend its citizens overseas, in the same way that Putin sees himself as the defender of ethnic Russians. If other countries view Russia’s actions as cost-free, they could carry out copy-cat incursions.
America’s allies could also react in worrying ways if they lose trust in western deterrence. I recently spoke to well-connected military strategists in Tokyo and Seoul, who were disappointed by the West’s reaction to Russian expansionism. They predicted that within Japan and South Korea, security hawks might call for nuclear weapons as a hedge against American withdrawal from the world.
But if the West’s attempts to preserve its credibility are too clumsy, they could also lead to disorder — in particular, if the West throws Russia out of the global economy and the institutions that govern it. [Continue reading...]
Srećko Horvat writes: A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Lenin.
Back in 2011 Ukraine was preparing to host Euro 2012. The government decided to release a promotional video titled Switch On Ukraine. Among the sites shown in the video was Liberty Square in the north-eastern city of Kharkiv. But something was missing. When the sun rose over the square, instead of an 8.5 metre-high statue of Lenin there was only an empty plinth. Someone had digitally erased the politically problematic icon.
In 2013 another statue of Lenin, this time in Kiev’s central plaza – once known as October Revolution Square and now known as Euromaidan – was smashed by angry protesters using sledgehammers. Many have correctly identified this as the key point in Ukraine’s political crisis. According to one estimate, of the nearly 1,500 Lenin memorials across Ukraine, protesters have destroyed around 100 of them, from Poltava to Chernihiv, from Zhytomyr to Khmelnytskyi.
This is nothing new of course. During the very beginning of the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia, I remember vividly how communist and anti-fascist monuments were torn down by nationalists who believed that democracy had finally arrived. Some urinated on them, others blew them up. In the period from 1990 to 2000 at least 3,000 monuments were torn down in Croatia alone.
Is the monument mayhem in Ukraine any different? It is: last week, residents of Kharkiv – the same town where the symbolic erasure of Lenin started in 2011 – installed barricades around the statue of Lenin after fending off an attack by Euromaidan revolutionaries. Even if the protesters weren’t defending the image of Lenin so much as exhibiting their attachment to Putin this is a remarkable state of affairs.
To return to the former Yugoslavia for the moment: according to the last statistics from the World Bank, the unemployment rate among young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina is 57.9%. This ex-Yugoslav state is not yet part of the European Union, but is already approaching Greece’s 60% rate. The newest member of the EU, neighbouring Croatia, is third in the union when it comes to youth unemployment, at 52%.
So this is what we got by getting rid of communism and entering the EU. [Continue reading...]
Anatole Kaletsky writes: Oscar Wilde described marriage as the triumph of hope over experience. In finance and geopolitics, by contrast, experience must always prevail over hope, and realism over wishful thinking.
A grim case in point is the confrontation between Russia and the West in Ukraine. What makes this conflict so dangerous is that U.S. and EU policy seems to be motivated entirely by hope and wishful thinking. Hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will “see sense” — or at least be deterred by the threat of sanctions to Russia’s economic interests and the personal wealth of his oligarch friends. Wishful thinking about “democracy and freedom” inevitably overcoming dictatorship and military bullying.
Investors and businesses cannot afford to be so sentimental. Though we should never forget Nathan Rothschild’s advice at the battle of Waterloo — “buy on the sound of gunfire” — the market response to this week’s events in Ukraine makes sense only if we believe that Russia has won.
The alternative to acquiescence in the Russian annexation of Crimea would be for the Ukrainian government to try to fight back, either by military means or by pressuring the Russian minority in the rest of the country. That, in turn, would almost inevitably imply a descent into Yugoslav-style civil war — with the strong possibility of sucking in Poland, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States.
The West has no intermediate option between accepting the Russian invasion and full-scale war because it seems inconceivable that Putin would voluntarily withdraw from Crimea. Having grabbed Crimea by force, to give it up now would almost certainly mean the end of Putin’s presidency. The Russian public, not to mention the military and security apparatus, believes almost unanimously that Crimea is “naturally” part of Russia, having been transferred to Ukraine, almost by accident, in 1954. In fact, many Russians think, rightly or wrongly, that the entire Ukraine “belongs” to them. (The word “u-krainy” in Russian means “at the frontier,” and definitely not “beyond the frontier.”)
Under these circumstances, the idea that Putin would respond to Western economic sanctions, no matter how stringent, by giving up his newly gained territory is pure wishful thinking. [Continue reading...]
Stephen Beard writes: Few people know more about the mechanics of smart sanctions against Russians than Bill Browder, Chief Executive Officer of Hermitage Capital Management. Once the biggest foreign investor in Russia, Browder fell foul of the Kremlin after exposing corruption. His lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was later detained, and died in custody in murky circumstances. Browder lobbied for The Magnitsky Act, which has so far imposed asset freezes and visa bans on more than a dozen Russian officials. Browder argues that Putin could certainly be targeted too.
“He has lots of assets in the U.K., France, Germany and various places. I am sure there are plenty of intelligence agencies that have plenty of information about what Putin owns and where,” Browder says.
Putin’s true net worth has not been published. Some estimates suggest it could be as much $70 billion.
And here’s the problem: The Russian leader and his oligarchs own so much wealth that freezing it all would be a monumental task. Take Chelsea Football Club, now owned by one of Putin’s closest associates, Roman Abramovic. Are the British authorities really going to seize it? It just goes to show – admits Anne Applebaum – how dependent London has become on Russian cash. [Continue reading...]
Russia and the West are tearing Ukraine apart. Both sides must stand down now or face the consequences
Anatol Lieven writes: If there is one absolutely undeniable fact about Ukraine, which screams from every election and every opinion poll since its independence two decades ago, it is that the country’s population is deeply divided between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiments. Every election victory for one side or another has been by a narrow margin, and has subsequently been reversed by an electoral victory for an opposing coalition.
What has saved the country until recently has been the existence of a certain middle ground of Ukrainians sharing elements of both positions; that the division in consequence was not clear cut; and that the West and Russia generally refrained from forcing Ukrainians to make a clear choice between these positions.
During George W. Bush’s second term as president, the U.S., Britain, and other NATO countries made a morally criminal attempt to force this choice by the offer of a NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine (despite the fact that repeated opinion polls had shown around two-thirds of Ukrainians opposed to NATO membership). French and German opposition delayed this ill-advised gambit, and after August 2008, it was quietly abandoned. The Georgian-Russian war in that month had made clear both the extreme dangers of further NATO expansion, and that the United States would not in fact fight to defend its allies in the former Soviet Union.
In the two decades after the collapse of the USSR, it should have become obvious that neither West nor Russia had reliable allies in Ukraine. As the demonstrations in Kiev have amply demonstrated, the “pro-Western” camp in Ukraine contains many ultra-nationalists and even neo-fascists who detest Western democracy and modern Western culture. As for Russia’s allies from the former Soviet establishment, they have extracted as much financial aid from Russia as possible, diverted most of it into their own pockets, and done as little for Russia in return as they possibly could.
Over the past year, both Russia and the European Union tried to force Ukraine to make a clear choice between them—and the entirely predictable result has been to tear the country apart. Russia attempted to draw Ukraine into the Eurasian Customs Union by offering a massive financial bailout and heavily subsidized gas supplies. The European Union then tried to block this by offering an association agreement, though (initially) with no major financial aid attached. Neither Russia nor the EU made any serious effort to talk to each other about whether a compromise might be reached that would allow Ukraine somehow to combine the two agreements, to avoid having to choose sides. [Continue reading...]
Andrej Nikolaidis writes: Jorge Luis Borges once said that a true gentleman is interested in lost causes only. If you’re looking for a decent contemporary lost cause, you will surely find it in Ukraine, since if it comes to war, no matter who wins, most of the ordinary people will be losers.
We, the citizens of Bosnia, can tell you a thing or two about being losers. It was April 1992, during the start of Sarajevo’s siege. I was a long-haired teenager, dressed in blue jeans and a shirt with the famous black and white “Unknown Pleasures” print. From the window of my suburban flat, I was watching the Yugoslav People Army’s cannons, located in the Lukavica army camp, firing projectiles on Sarajevo. That army was controlled by Slobodan Milošević, the president of Serbia.
The National Radio was broadcasting Bosnian president Alija Izetbegović‘s discussion with Yugoslav army general Milutin Kukanjac. Izetbegovic asked the army to stop the bombing. Kukanjac claimed that not a single shot was fired from his army positions. I remember like it was yesterday that my glass of milk was jumping on the table to the rhythm of cannonballs “not fired” on Sarajevo.
When common people find themselves in the middle of a geopolitical storm – as the citizens of Ukraine do now, or my family back then in Bosnia – the dilemma “is this glass half empty or half full?” is irrelevant: soon, it will be broken.
The people in Bosnia were so full of optimism during the first days, even months, of war. Neighbours were saying that the west would never allow it to happen because “we are Europe”. My aunt went to Belgrade, but refused to take her money from a Sarajevo bank. It will be over in a week; we’ll be back soon, she said. President Izetbegovic, in his TV address to the people, said: “Sleep peacefully: there will be no war.”
Well, we woke up after a four-year nightmare.
Now, the events in Ukraine seem to us Bosnians like a terrifying deja vu. The parallels between Ukraine now and Bosnia in 1992 are obvious. The Russian army acted aggressively towards Ukraine, as Milošević’s army did in Bosnia. Putin had strong support in parts of Ukraine, as Milošević had in large parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now Kiev has the support of the EU and the US, as Sarajevo did. We even had Bono and Pavarotti singing about Miss Sarajevo. Yet all the musical telegrams of support from the free world didn’t stop the ethnic cleansing in eastern Bosnia, close to the Serbian border. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The mass surveillance carried out by the US National Security Agency means that governance of the internet has to be made more international and less dominated by America, the European Union’s executive has declared.
Setting out proposals on how the world wide web should function and be regulated, the European commission called for a shift away from the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which is subject to US law, is contracted by the US administration and is empowered to supervise how digital traffic operates.
“Recent revelations of large-scale surveillance have called into question the stewardship of the US when it comes to internet governance,” said the commission.
“Given the US-centric model of internet governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance …
“Large-scale surveillance and intelligence activities have led to a loss of confidence in the internet and its present governance arrangements.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The crisis posed by millions of refugees from Syria’s civil war flooding into neighbouring countries is becoming a humanitarian and political catastrophe that can only be eased if Europe opens its doors, the UN and European commission have warned.
More than 2.1 million refugees have been registered by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) in Syria’s four neighbouring states; hundreds of thousands more are known to be living outside Syria’s borders without access to aid.
The scale of the crisis is perhaps the most acute since the end of the second world war. David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), described the ever-deteriorating situation in Syria as “the defining humanitarian crisis of our time”.
The UNHCR, European commission and British Refugee Council have urged EU leaders to acknowledge the exceptional crisis posed by the Syrian civil war and accept the temporary settlement of Syrian refugees inside their borders – relaxing “fortress” policies designed to keep migrants out of Europe.
The UN has issued an urgent call to resettle 30,000 of the most vulnerable Syrians worldwide – a call that remains unmet as the exodus from Syria into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq fast outpaces the capacity to provide for them. The UK government has refused to take part in the resettlement scheme, calling the idea tokenistic and stressing the importance of the £500m of aid it has sent to the region. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Mass surveillance programmes used by the US and Britain to spy on people in Europe have been condemned in the “strongest possible terms” by the first parliamentary inquiry into the disclosures, which has demanded an end to the vast, systematic and indiscriminate collection of personal data by intelligence agencies.
The inquiry by the European parliament’s civil liberties committee says the activities of America’s National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, GCHQ, appear to be illegal and that their operations have “profoundly shaken” the trust between countries that considered themselves allies.
The 51-page draft report, obtained by the Guardian, was discussed by the committee on Thursday. Claude Moraes, the rapporteur asked to assess the impact of revelations made by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, also condemns the “chilling” way journalists working on the stories have been intimidated by state authorities.
Though Snowden is still in Russia, MEPs are expected to take evidence from him via video-link in the coming weeks, as the European parliament continues to assess the damage from the disclosures. Committee MEPs voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to have Snowden testify, defying warnings from key US congressmen that giving the “felon” a public platform would wreck the European parliament’s reputation and hamper co-operation with Washington. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The latest disclosures from the Snowden files provoked exasperation at the European commission, with officials saying they intended to press the British and American governments for answers about the targeting of one its most senior officials.
Reacting shortly after an EU summit had finished in Brussels, the commission said disclosures about the targeting of Joaquín Almunia, a vice-president with responsibility for competition policy, was “not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states”.
A spokesman added: “This piece of news follows a series of other revelations which, as we clearly stated in the past, if proven true, are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation.”
In Britain, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chair of the parliamentary committee that provides oversight of GCHQ, said he was “disturbed by these allegations.” He added he could be “examining them in due course as part of the intelligence and security committee’s wider investigation into the interception of communications.”
A prominent German MP, Hans-Christian Ströbele, who met Edward Snowden in Moscow in October, told the Guardian it was becoming “increasingly clear that Britain has been more than the US’ stooge in this surveillance scandal”. He suggested the snooping by GCHQ on German government buildings and embassies was unacceptable.
“Great Britain is not just any country. It is a country that we are supposed to be in a union with. It’s incredible for one member of the European Union to spy on another – it’s like members of a family spying on each other. The German government will need to raise this with the British government directly and ask tough questions about the victims, and that is the right word, of this affair.”
The Liberal Democrats have been inching towards calling for an independent commission to investigate the activities of Britain’s spy agencies and the party president, Tim Farron, said that “spying on friendly governments like this is not only bad politics, it is bad foreign policy”.
“These nations are our allies and we should work together on issues from terrorism to Iran and climate change,” he said. “But we seem to be spying on them in conjunction with the NSA in what seems like an industrial basis.” [Continue reading...]