Anders Lustgarten writes: In the desert, the smugglers lace their water with petrol so the smuggled won’t gulp it down and cost more. Sometimes the trucks they’re packed into stall crossing the Sahara; they have to jump out to push, and some are left behind when the trucks drive off again. In transit camps in Libya before the perilous venture across the Blue Desert, they play football, fight, and pool their scanty resources so an even poorer friend can pay his way. One man says his tiny wooden boat was flanked by dolphins as they made the journey, three on each side, like guardian angels, and this was what gave him hope.
These are the people we are allowing to die in the Mediterranean. The EU’s de facto policy is to let migrants drown to stop others coming. Last year nearly four thousand bodies were recovered from the Med. Those are just the ones we found. The total number of arrivals in Italy in 2014 went up over 300% from the year before, to more than 170,000. And the EU’s response, driven by the cruellest British government in living memory, was to cut the main rescue operation, Mare Nostrum.
The inevitable result is that 500 people have already died this year. The figure for the equivalent period in 2014 was 15. There are half a million people in Libya waiting to make the crossing. How many more deaths can we stomach?
Migration illustrates one of the signal features of modern life, which is malice by proxy. Like drones and derivatives, migration policy allows the powerful to inflict horrors on the powerless without getting their hands dirty. [Continue reading…]
AFP reports: The number of Europeans fighting with jihadist groups in Syria could exceed 6,000, a top EU official told a French newspaper Monday.
“At the European level, we estimate that 5,000-6,000 individuals have left for Syria,” EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jouriva told Le Figaro in an interview, adding the true number was likely to be far higher due to the difficulty of tracking foreign fighters in the conflict.
“At the time of the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, we decided not to allow ourselves to be guided by fear,” she said, referring to January’s twin Islamist attacks in the French capital and the subsequent deadly shootings on a cultural centre in Denmark.
Focusing on those seeking to leave for Syria to wage jihad, or those returning from the conflict, meant intervening “too late”, she said.
Jouriva said the EU instead wanted to promote prevention as a means of curtailing the steady flow of European nationals, looking at the diverse reasons of why people joined jihadist groups beyond simply religion.
British research had identified “a desire for adventure, boredom, dissatisfaction with their situation in life or a lack of prospects,” in those who had opted to leave their families behind and head for Syria, the commissioner said. [Continue reading…]
With another impending international debt deadline, Greece runs the risk of becoming the first OECD country to default on its obligations to the IMF. The country owes €448m – and many are once again raising the “spectre of Grexit” idea, accompanied by damning commentary on Greece’s failure to get successfully through the crisis.
Mainstream accounts of Greece’s economic situation emphasise how the so-called troika (the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) has been aiding Greece by throwing it a much-needed financial lifeline of billions.
All this bail-out money is supposedly helping to keep the country afloat and prevent the Greek economy from going bankrupt. But in spite of all this aid, the Greek economy keeps sinking and Greeks apparently only seek to satisfy a growing appetite for easy money.
These popular accounts are, however, full of misconceptions over the nature of the financial aid Greece is receiving and serve to damage the prospect of a more balanced understanding of the situation – and effectively stymie chances for a more viable solution. Greece emerges as a country morally indebted to the troika’s help, only against the backdrop of a quite dangerous mythology, consisting of a constellation of falsehoods, dogmatic hypotheses and unwholesome oversimplifications.
But where has all the money gone?
The vast majority of the financial lifeline meant to save Greece has never entered the Greek economy. The record loan of €240 billion was mostly channelled directly for debt-servicing purposes. It was primarily meant to prevent – chiefly French and German – financial institutions from suffering losses, by ensuring that European taxpayers bought an (unpayable) debt. This, all in the name of “Greek aid”.
Moreover, Greece’s primary surpluses since 2013 mean that it needs cash only in order to service the massive debt that the bail-out money has kept in place. The Greek state has sufficient money for its domestic needs but cannot simultaneously afford to repay billions of debt at this point – not without turning a blind eye to its most needy citizens.
Still, the nature of the bail-out is overshadowed by deceptive representations which give the impression that the Greek economy is rescued by being the recipient of billions of euros. It would be truly interesting, indeed, to know how many of Europe’s taxpayers know that more than 90% of the €240 billion borrowed by Greece went directly to financial institutions.
John Simpson writes: Mikhail Vanin, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, looks like a shrewd little man, with fuzzy hair and sharp, Putin-like eyes behind rimless glasses. And he has quite a way with words. Speaking to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 21 March, he said: “I don’t think that Danes fully understand the consequences if Denmark joins the American-led missile defence shield . . . If they do, then Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles . . .
“It is, of course, your own decision. I just want to remind you that your finances and security will suffer.” I don’t suppose that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, most of us imagined that we would hear threats of this crudity being uttered in Europe again.
It is a little over a year since the west’s relationship with Russia seemed, if inevitably spiky, at least rational and manageable. Now here is a Russian diplomat publicly warning a small member of Nato and the EU of the possibility of nuclear war. How could things have got this bad in such a short space of time? How could the post-cold war consensus have vanished so utterly?
After Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Moscow Ukrainian government collapsed following the often violent protests of February 2014, Russia started to infiltrate Crimea with its forces as part of a plan that was worked out, we are now told, by Putin himself. They cut off Crimea from mainland Ukraine, annexed it and received the post-dated agreement of a large majority of its inhabitants. After that, the same combination of nasty civilian thugs (one whom I came up against in Crimea had “Rossiya” tattooed across his forehead) and serving soldiers in unmarked uniforms headed to eastern Ukraine. They are still fighting there.
The methodology goes back to the heart of the postwar Soviet era, with a few 21st-century touches. If Moscow’s grip on a country that mattered seemed about to loosen, excuses were found and fraternal forces were assembled to make sure that it didn’t happen – the hard way. Remember Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Afghanistan in 1979 and now Ukraine in 2014. Keeping hold of what they have has always mattered to Russia’s rulers. If they let one part go, the whole structure might start to fall down. Above all, it suggests weakness and there will always be those inside or outside the system who might take advantage of it and bring the rulers down. As we shall see, some Putin-watchers think that this pattern is being repeated. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A motley crew of representatives of fringe right-wing political organizations in Europe and the United States used a conference here on Sunday to denounce what they called the degradation of white, Christian traditions in the West. Their hosts used the conference to advance Russia’s effort to lure political allies of any stripe.
Railing against same-sex marriage, immigration, New York financiers, radical Islam and globalization, among other targets, one speaker after another lauded Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin as a pillar of robust, conservative, even manly values.
Mr. Putin has for some time sought international influence by casting Russia as the global guardian of traditional mores. Yet the effort has acquired new urgency, as Moscow seeks to undermine support in Europe for economic sanctions and other policies meant to isolate Moscow over its aggressive actions against Ukraine.
“Putin’s calculation is that Europe should change its attitude toward Ukraine, and it can easily happen when and if internal European problems outweigh Ukrainian events,” said Nikolai Petrov, a political scientist in Moscow.
“They can make friends with everybody who poses a threat to the ruling parties, including radical forces,” he said. “If the radical nationalists are increasing their weight in Europe, they can serve as good allies for the Kremlin.” [Continue reading…]
Alexander J. Motyl writes: Much Western thinking about the causes of the Russo-Ukrainian War is rooted in a myth. It posits that the West — or, more specifically, NATO — attempted to wrest Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence, thereby forcing Vladimir Putin to defend Russia’s legitimate strategic interests by going to war with Ukraine.
The logic is impeccable. The only problem is that there isn’t a shred of truth to this claim.
Was the West determined to integrate Ukraine into its institutions? Until the Maidan Revolution broke out in late 2013, Ukraine “fatigue” had characterized Western policy since about 2008, when the government of then-President Viktor Yushchenko lost the reformist zeal it had inherited from the 2004 Orange Revolution. Even before that, Western policymakers never talked of including Ukraine in the European Union. Indeed, the EU’s Eastern Partnership program and its offer of an Association Agreement to Kyiv were supposed to placate Ukraine without promising it even the distant prospect of membership in the EU. The reluctance to offer that prospect remains unchanged.
Was the West determined to transform Ukraine into a pro-Western democracy? The United States and Europe pumped several billions of dollars into Ukrainian civil society projects since 1991, while remaining indifferent to the Leonid Kuchma regime’s slide toward authoritarianism in the late 1990s, the abandonment by Yushchenko’s “Orange government” of its democratic reform agenda, and Viktor Yanukovych’s establishment of a full-fledged authoritarian regime in 2010-2013. Some Western policymakers supported the Maidan Revolution rhetorically and insisted that Yanukovych seek a compromise with the democratic revolutionaries; but most did not. No Western state actually provided any material assistance to the Maidan. And no Western presidents or prime ministers called on Yanukovych to step down during the revolution: quite the contrary, they travelled to Kyiv in late February 2014 with the express purpose of saving him. Once he abandoned his office, many Western policymakers welcomed his move — but that was after, and not before, the fact. [Continue reading…]
The Independent reports: A Palestinian boy who fled Gaza has told his harrowing story of being kidnapped, beaten, imprisoned and starved in his battle to reach Europe for a better life.
Yusuf, not his real name, is one of more than 8,000 migrants have made the treacherous crossing to Italy in boats run by ruthless traffickers since the start of this year alone.
Save the Children cared for the 17-year-old when he arrived in the port of Lampedusa last month. Despite the horrors of his long journey from Gaza, Yusuf said he knew he was lucky to have made it.
Almost 1,000 migrants had to be rescued by Italian authorities during a 24-hour-period last week, when at least 10 people died after their boat capsized. [Continue reading…]
Benjamin Ward writes: On the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa stands a graveyard filled with simple wooden crosses. We don’t know the names and stories of those buried there, except that they perished at sea trying to reach Europe, fleeing conflict in Syria, human-rights abuses in Somalia and Eritrea, poverty in West Africa.
Over the last decade, an estimated 20,000 people have died attempting to make the crossing. Last year was the deadliest on record, with more than 3,500 drowning or succumbing to hunger, thirst, or cold.
The number of deaths would have been far higher had it not been for the efforts of the Italian navy. After a deadly shipwreck in October of 2013 off the coast of Lampedusa, in which more than 350 people drowned — an incident the pope described as a moral failure — Italy deployed its navy in a major rescue operation known as Mare Nostrum, Latin for “our sea.” The operation extended almost to the coast of Libya, from where many of the rickety boats embark. They rescued tens of thousands of people.
The Italian government has repeatedly asked member states of the European Union to share responsibility for rescue efforts. The EU is supposed to have a common asylum policy. But there was no appetite in Europe’s capitals for a pan-European effort, in part because of concerns that Mare Nostrum was acting as a pull factor. Instead, European governments collectively resolved to focus on deterring departures, combating the smuggling that makes these crossings possible, and addressing the “root causes” of migration in countries of origin.
In October of 2014, Italy finally concluded, for political and financial reasons, that it was not possible to continue with operation Mare Nostrum alone. The EU’s proposed alternative, Operation Triton, focuses more narrowly on border security — not saving lives. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Along the southern frontier of the European Union, a small but growing number of aspiring jihadists are blazing trails by road and ferry to Syria’s battlefields, sidestepping heightened airport security and slipping through the holes in Europe’s intelligence dragnet.
Some fighters follow meandering bus routes through several countries en route to the more loosely guarded border of Bulgaria to Turkey. Others engage in what authorities call “broken travel,” using family visits or holiday destinations as an initial leg to mask their final destination.
That was how the wife of Paris terrorist Amedy Coulibaly slipped into Syria days before her husband killed four people at a kosher grocery last month. The woman, Hayat Boumeddiene, drove from France to Spain, then flew to Turkey before joining Islamic State in Syria. She later called for others to join her, in an interview with the militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Western diplomats and intelligence officials say most aspiring European fighters still try to fly directly to Turkey, which borders western Syria.
But the growing use of alternative routes magnifies a security challenge for EU policy makers: How to catch suspected militants without undermining the bloc’s commitment to free movement across a region where passport and customs checks at national borders have been effectively abolished. [Continue reading…]
Philippe Legrain writes: Ever since the initial bargain in the 1950s between post-Nazi West Germany and its wartime victims, European integration has been built on compromise. So there is huge pressure on Greece’s new Syriza government to be “good Europeans” and compromise on their demands for debt justice from their European partners — also known as creditors. But sometimes compromise is the wrong course of action. Sometimes you need to take a stand.
Let’s face it: no advanced economies in living memory have been as catastrophically mismanaged as the eurozone has been in recent years, as I document at length in my book, European Spring. Seven years into the crisis, the eurozone economy is doing much worse than the United States, worse than Japan during its lost decade in the 1990s and worse even than Europe in the 1930s: GDP is still 2 percent lower than seven years ago and the unemployment rate is in double digits. The policy stance set by Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin, implemented by the European Commission in Brussels, and sometimes tempered — but more often enforced — by the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, remains disastrous. Continuing with current policies — austerity and wage cuts, forbearance for banks, no debt restructuring or adjustment to Germany’s mercantilism — is leading Europe into the ditch; the launch of quantitative easing is unlikely to change that. So settling for a “compromise” that shifts Merkel’s line by a millimeter would be a mistake; it must be challenged and dismantled.
While Greece alone may not be able to change the entire monetary union, it could act as a catalyst for the growing political backlash against the eurozone’s stagnation policies.
For the first time in years, there is hope that the dead hand of Merkelism can be unclasped, not just fear of the consequences and nationalist loathing.
More immediately, Greece can save itself. Left in the clutches of its EU creditors, it is not destined for the sunlit uplands of recovery, but for the enduring misery of debt bondage. So the four-point plan put forward by its dashing new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is eminently sensible. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Ending an acrimonious standoff, European leaders hashed out a deal on Friday to extend Greece’s bailout by four months, giving the troubled country a financial lifeline and avoiding a bankruptcy with potentially destabilizing consequences for the region.
The agreement, reached at an emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers here, paves the way for Greece to unlock further aid from its bailout, worth 240 billion euros, or $273 billion. But the creditors will dole out the funds only if Greece meets certain conditions, setting the stage for tense negotiations that could unsettle the markets and create more political friction with Germany and other European countries.
If Athens moves slowly, it might not get the money for months. Or the deal could fall apart altogether, again raising the prospect of a messy Greek departure from the euro currency. [Continue reading…]
Helena Smith writes: Varoufakis is muscular, fit, amiable, slightly off-centre, everything he seems on camera. But what film does not capture is his energy, focus and intensity. An hour in his company will take you places; in our case, from Marxist theory to the joys of jazz; the eurozone and its incomplete architecture; sartorial tastes; Nazism; the bigness of America; austerity politics; debt traps; poetry; exercise and Varoufakis’ tendency to keep his hands in his pockets (the result of a shoulder injury).
The academic, who had a faithful following on the lecture circuit, despite being a self-described accidental economist, subscribes to the view that one should have an opinion about all and sundry. It is, he says, something he picked up long ago. “I was told, once, by a leftwing scholar that as a Marxist you have to do two things: always be optimistic and always have a view about everything. That advice still sounds good to me.”
At 53, Varoufakis is still clear that he “understands the world better” as a result of having read Marx. But he no longer considers himself a diehard leftie, whatever others may think. Rather, he says, he is a libertarian or erratic Marxist, who can marvel at the wondrousness of capitalism but is also painfully aware of its inherent contradictions, just as he is “the awful legacy” of the left. “It is a system that produces massive wealth and massive poverty,” proclaims the economist who taught at the universities of East Anglia, Cambridge, Glasgow and Sydney after gaining his doctoral degree at the University of Essex. “I don’t think you can understand capitalism until and unless you understand those contradictions and ask yourself if capitalism is the natural state. I don’t think it is. That’s why I am a leftwinger.”
More than that, Varoufakis is an iconoclast, a self-styled “contrarian” who is also an idealist, “because if you are not an idealist, you are a cynic”. And he has, he laments, lost a lot of friends on the left who believe that Grexit, Greece’s exit from the currency bloc, would be the country’s best course.
“It’s one thing to say you shouldn’t have gotten into the euro, it’s quite another to say you should get out of the euro. If we backtrack, we fall off a cliff. This is my argument to everyone.” Europe, he insists, is stuck with Greece because Athens is never going to ask to leave the euro. Fittingly, perhaps, the new MP, who has dual Greek-Australian citizenship, is not a signed-up member of Syriza, the party he now represents in the rambunctious Athens parliament. Syriza’s militant wing wants nothing more than to get out of the monetary union. [Continue reading…]
After all night talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk, the outcomes of the four party talks in the so-called Normandy format (Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany) have neither brought a major breakthrough or a complete disaster. As a deal, it is not a solution, but perhaps a step towards one.
It almost seems to be business as usual – yet another ceasefire deal and commitments to further negotiations on a more durable political settlement – but, by the standards of this crisis, this is not the outcome Ukraine’s people may have hoped for. Not least because the deal, as soon as it was announced, ran into its first set of problems with rebels demanding Ukrainian forces withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve before they would agree to the ceasefire.
At the very least, this might mean two more days of heavy fighting before the ceasefire starts on 15 February, at worst it might mean the deal will never be implemented at all.
In the run-up to last might’s summit, the crisis in Ukraine seemed to head towards a major juncture, along with relations between Russia and the West and within the Transatlantic alliance. The weeks before the summit in Minsk has seen intensifying diplomacy, escalating rhetoric, increased fighting on the ground, and a worsening humanitarian situation.
Lucian Kim writes: The European Union, with Germany at its head, sleepwalked into the Ukraine crisis. Shielded by U.S. military might since the end of World War Two, Western Europeans had come to live under the illusion that their irresistible soft power — democratic values and economic prosperity — is alone strong enough to bring the continent together. In their attempt to finalize an association agreement with Ukraine in 2013, EU leaders jostled with Putin for influence, not realizing that what they regarded as a trade deal, he viewed as brazen geopolitical encroachment. When the pro-EU protest on the Maidan unexpectedly succeeded in chasing Kremlin client Viktor Yanukovych from power last February, Putin watched the West crossing a red line it had chosen not to see. Securing Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Crimea was the first priority. Wreaking havoc on Kiev’s interim government by fomenting an uprising in eastern Ukraine was the second.
Could anybody have anticipated Russia’s actions a year ago? Radoslaw Sikorski, who was Poland’s foreign minister during the Maidan protest, said that at last year’s Munich conference he had asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov if the Kremlin had territorial ambitions in Ukraine. “He flatly denied it,” Sikorski said. Less than a month later, Yanukovych fled Kiev, and Russian troops were fanning out across Crimea.
Lavrov was also in Munich this year. The usually suave Russian foreign minister was visibly nervous as he delivered his speech, rattling off a standard list of slights and transgressions — almost all of them committed by the Bush administration — and blaming the United States for everything. When Lavrov said that Crimea chose the path of self-determination as foreseen under the United Nations Charter, the audience of VIPs burst into laughter.
The Russian position afforded a glimpse into the alternate reality presented day in and day out by the Kremlin propaganda machine. “There are no Russian troops in Ukraine,” Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of the Russian Duma’s foreign affairs committee, said in English. “There is no evidence — just statements, statements, statements.” According to his version of events, Russia is sitting and watching idly as a civil war unfolds across hundreds of miles of undefended border. “I thank Madame Merkel for a very strong position,” Kosachyov said about her rejection of arms for Ukraine.
Even if the West doesn’t believe that it’s engaged in a proxy war with Russia, the Kremlin reading is that it’s already taking place. [Continue reading…]
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes: Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has spelled out the negotiating strategy of the Syriza government with crystal clarity.
“Exit from the euro does not even enter into our plans, quite simply because the euro is fragile. It is like a house of cards. If you pull away the Greek card, they all come down,” he said.
“Do we really want Europe to break apart? Anybody who is tempted to think it possible to amputate Greece strategically from Europe should be careful. It is very dangerous. Who would be hit after us? Portugal? What would happen to Italy when it discovers that it is impossible to stay within the austerity straight-jacket?”
“There are Italian officials – I won’t say from which institution – who have approached me to say they support us, but they can’t say the truth because Italy is at risk of bankruptcy and they fear the consequence from Germany. A cloud of fear has been hanging over Europe over recent years. We are becoming worse than the Soviet Union,” he told the Italian TV station RAI.
This earned a stiff rebuke from the Italian finance minister, Pier Carlo Padoan. “These comments are out of place. Italy’s debt is solid and sustainable,” he said.
Yet the point remains. Deflationary conditions are causing interest costs to rise faster than nominal GDP in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, automatically pushing public debt ratios ever higher.
Berkeley economist Barry Eichengreen warns that Grexit would be “Lehman squared”, setting off a calamitous chain reaction with worldwide consequences. Syriza’s gamble is that the EU authorities know this, whatever officials may claim in public. [Continue reading…]
Dan Hancox writes: When Ernesto Laclau passed away last April aged 78, few would have guessed that this Argentinian-born, Oxford-educated post-Marxist would become the key intellectual figure behind a political process that exploded into life a mere six weeks later, when Spanish leftist party Podemos won five seats and 1.2m votes in last May’s European elections.
Throughout his academic career, most of which he spent as professor of political theory at the University of Essex, Laclau developed a vocabulary beyond classical Marxist thought, replacing the traditional analysis of class struggle with a concept of “radical democracy” that stretched beyond the narrow confines of the ballot box (or the trade union). Most importantly for Syriza, Podemos and its excitable sympathisers outside Greece and Spain, he sought to rescue “populism” from its many detractors.
Íñigo Errejón, one of Podemos’s key strategists, completed his 2011 doctorate on recent Bolivian populism, taking substantial inspiration from Laclau and his wife and collaborator Chantal Mouffe, as he explains in this obituary. To read Errejón on Laclau is to take an exhilarating short-cut to understanding the intellectual forces that are shaping Europe’s future. Syriza’s victory in Greece, for one, has been directly driven by the ideas of Laclau and an Essex cohort that includes among its alumni a Syriza MP, the governor of Athens, and Yanis Varoufakis. Syriza built its political coalition in exactly the way Laclau prescribed in his key 2005 book On Populist Reason – as Essex professor David Howarth puts it, “binding together different demands by focusing on their opposition to a common enemy”.
On the Mediterranean side of austerity Europe, the common enemy is not hard to discern. During Spain’s massive indignados protests and encampments of summer 2011, one of the principal slogans was the quintessentially populist “We are neither right nor left, we are coming from the bottom and going for the top”. It is, in Laclau’s terms, “the formation of an internal antagonistic frontier” like this, between a broadly defined sense of “the people” and a ruling class unwilling to yield to their demands, that readies the ground for a populist movement like Podemos.[Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The leaders of Germany and France abruptly announced a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow on Friday in response to overtures from the Kremlin, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the year-old Ukraine conflict.
The sudden and unusual decision by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the president, François Hollande, to travel to Moscow, with the French leader talking of decisions of war and peace, increased the stakes in the crisis while also raising suspicions that the Kremlin was seeking to split Europe and the US. Putin was said to have made “initiatives” to the European leaders in recent days.
Merkel and Hollande met the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, in Kiev on Thursday evening but left without making any comment. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said on Twitter that the leaders had discussed “steps so that the Minsk agreement can start working”. A ceasefire signed in Minsk in September froze the frontlines at their positions at the time, but never held.
Friday’s visit will be Merkel’s first trip to Russia since the outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine, which has now cost more than 5,000 lives. The increase in diplomatic efforts came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, also met Poroshenko and other top officials in Kiev.
At a joint news conference with Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Kerry sounded lukewarm about Merkel and Hollande’s visit. [Continue reading…]
Shaun Walker writes: In Kiev, John Kerry had a clear message for Russia and Vladimir Putin: the Kremlin should respect Ukraine’s territory, negotiate constructively and stop funnelling weapons and troops into the east of the country.
The problem is that it is the same message the US secretary of state and other western politicians have been delivering for more than half a year, to pretty much zero effect.
The issue for western negotiators has been how to force Russia to stop doing something that, even in private, it won’t admit it is doing. Washington is now grappling with whether it should back up its messages to Putin with an “or else” and seriously begin negotiations on supplying arms to Kiev.
In an editorial, The Guardian says: Europe does have leverage, if it chooses to use it. Russia may be a geopolitical giant but its GDP is no bigger than Italy’s. It is dependent on Europe’s financial structures. Yet next to the plunging oil price, the EU sanctions thus far have had a virtually symbolic impact. Cutting Russian banks and companies from the Belgium-based Swift international transaction system would, by contrast, impose a serious jolt. It could be done quickly, but then also rolled rapidly back. It has worked before, against Iran, which entered nuclear negotiations soon after being banned from Swift in 2012. Many businesses would balk at the costs. But these would surely be easier to bear than the enduring damage done by a widening war on the European continent.
Mr Putin regards the EU as a strategic midget. He will respect it only when Russia’s predatory oligarchy is confronted with some red lines. When Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande head for Moscow, they should put Swift on the table.
The New York Times reports: The leftist-led coalition that won Greece’s elections unveiled its government on Tuesday, with the crucial post of finance minister going to an economist who has called the eurozone’s austerity policies “fiscal waterboarding.”
The new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, a professor and avid blogger, will confront Greece’s international creditors in tough talks over the austerity policies, widely despised by the Greeks. Those talks could have profound consequences for Greece, the future of the euro currency and the financial integration of the European Union.
Twenty-two ministries have been streamlined to 10 in the new cabinet, all but one held by members of Syriza, the radical-left party that won the most votes in the Sunday elections and that has vowed to renegotiate the country’s onerous debts.
The Defense Ministry post went to Panos Kammenos, the leader of Syriza’s coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, and a handful of deputy posts went to his colleagues.
But the most important post filled by the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, the 40-year-old leader of Syriza, was his choice of finance minister: Mr. Varoufakis, 53, who left a teaching post at the University of Texas to join Syriza’s election campaign. [Continue reading…]
Yanis Varoufakis interviewed by Johanna Jaufer: You have been a politician for only three weeks now…
Have you had to think it over very much? In your blog you wrote that you were frightened, too.
It was a major decision. Primarily, because I entered politics in order to do a job that I always thought should be done and I was offered the opportunity to do it. It has to do with the negotiations between Greece and the European Union if Syriza wins, which is an extremely scary project and prospect. At the same time I am an academic, I am a citizen, an active citizen, so I am used to dialogue where the point of the conversation really should be that I learn from you and you learn from me – we are going to have disagreements, but through these disagreements we enrich each other’s points of view.
It’s not about winning the other one over…
That’s right – actually in politics, it is worse: each side tries to destroy the other side – in the eyes of the public – and that is something that is completely alien to me and something that I didn’t want to get used to.
What about your university job? Have you put it on hold?
Yes, indeed. I have resigned from University of Texas. I still retain my chair at the University of Athens – without pay – and hopefully it won’t be too long before I return to it.
Wouldn’t you be ready to stay in a government for a longer time?
No, I don’t want to make a career out of politics. Ideally, I would like somebody else to do it, and to do it better than I. It’s just that this was a window of opportunity, because Syriza rising to power is a precedence. So, it was a small window of opportunity to get something done that would not have been done otherwise. I’m not a prophet, so I can’t tell you where I will be in two, three, five, ten years. But if you’re asking me now, my ideal outcome would be that our government succeeds in renegotiating a deal with Europe that renders Greece sustainable, and then other people, you know… power should be rotated, no one should grow particularly fond of it. [Continue reading…]
Yiannis Baboulias writes: Prior to the financial crisis of 2008, anyone familiar with the Greek nation and its politics would have been surprised by the events of Sunday night. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras addressed a crowd of thousands who had gathered in central Athens to celebrate his party’s general election victory. The new Greek Prime Minister—state educated, young and not related to previous prime ministers—is unlike any of his predecessors. His party is a coalition of the radical left, that was born as a fringe party six years ago.
“The Greek people gave us a clear, indisputable mandate to end austerity,” said Tsipras. But despite the fact Syriza is the outright winner, it didn’t quite manage to get the seats it needed to form a majority government (increasing its share of the vote from 4.6 per cent in 2009, to more than 36 per cent now.) Yesterday we learned that it would form a coalition with the populist right, anti-austerity party Independent Greeks.
Analysts rightly point out that the parties will be uneasy bedfellows. Syriza comes from a breakaway faction of the traditional communist party, and is itself a coalition of smaller entities that range from the centre-left to anarchism. The Independent Greeks on the other hand broke away from the centre-right party New Democracy when it signed up to austerity after its election in 2012. [Continue reading…]