Merkel and Hollande in Moscow

The tragedy in Ukraine grinds on. After the comparatively peaceful period ushered in by the Minsk agreement in September, renewed fighting has broken out in recent weeks. Russia is copping most of the blame with the US (and more aggressive European players) considering sizeable arms transfers to Ukraine.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. In (most) western eyes, Russia is ipso facto guilty. That Ukraine has failed to honour their side of the Minsk agreement is never mentioned. The obligations, it seems, are entirely one-sided.

At any rate, the more important (or at least intriguing) news is that Merkel and Hollande are in Moscow this weekend. They arrived on Friday night, direct from Kiev, and went straight to the Kremlin where they remained closeted with Putin for an initial five hours. Media were not welcome; apparently photographers were allowed in for about 30 seconds and not a word was spoken.

German Chancellor Merkel gets into a car upon her arrival at Moscow's Vnukovo airport

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets into a car upon her arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport February 6, 2015. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin) – Courtesy RT

What does this all mean? Continue reading

Putin interview with German TV

In an interview with German TV channel ARD on November 13, Putin expressed cautious optimism about Ukraine’s future before adding:

You know, there is only one thing that is missing. I believe, what is missing is the understanding that in order to be successful, stable and prosperous, the people who live on this territory, regardless of the language they speak (Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian or Polish), must feel that this territory is their homeland. To achieve that they must feel that they can realise their potential here as well as in any other territories and possibly even better to some extent. That is why I do not understand the unwillingness of some political forces in Ukraine to even hear about the possibility of federalisation.

Pushed by Hubert Seipel about whether Russia “can do more” to rein in the separatists, Putin eventually went back to what he sees as “the essence of the problem”. Continue reading

Europe, NATO reengage Russia | Indian Punchline

The rift between Russia and Europe may be closing.

Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned up President Vladimir Putin on Thursday [Oct 2nd] to discuss Ukraine. Significantly, Merkel ‘engaged” Putin in a wide-ranging conversation that touched on the Islamic State and Ebola — and, hold your breath, the ASEM 10 Summit scheduled to be held in Milan, Italy, on October 16-17. [ . . . ]

To be sure, Putin is attending this important meeting in MIlan that promises to bring him face to face with the European leaders. In sum, the ice will break in the standoff between Russia and the European Union. Simply put, European leaders are directly engaging Putin. Now, the countdown may be beginning for the rollback of the EU’s sanctions against Russia.

As Mr Bhadrakumar sees it, this possible rapprochement is mostly due to the longstanding relationship between Germany and Russia. There’s been a change of the guard at NATO too, however, which may bring its own positive impetus.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has got a new secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, former Norwegian prime minister, replacing Fogh Anders Rasmussen, whom Moscow distrusted. Putin has warmed up to the appointment of Stoltenberg with whom he apparently enjoys good personal equations [relations?].

At any ratee, in his very first press conference in the NATO Hqs in Brussels on Tuesday, Stoltenberg called for “a constructive and cooperative relationship” with Russia and for reconvening the Russia-NATO Council. Now, that wouldn’t have been possible without Obama’s consent.

It’s much too early to be confident but a somewhat more rational phase perhaps lies ahead.

New Silk Roads and a Eurasian Century? | Pepe Escobar

Geopolitical change is usually glacial. Shifts in economic and military power large enough to alter the international balance take time, lots of time. It’s also true, however, that once the pieces are in place realignments can occur with stunning rapidity. We may be in the midst of just such a revolution.

Those wedded to the existing paradigm are often the last to see it coming. After decades, generations or in some cases centuries at the pinnacle, the existing arrangement can seem to have all the force of a law of nature. That may be even more true when the top dog’s view of itself as exceptional pre-dates its ascendancy.

From Beijing’s point of view, the Ukraine crisis was a case of Washington crossing every imaginable red line to harass and isolate Russia. To its leaders, this looks like a concerted attempt to destabilize the region in ways favorable to American interests, supported by a full range of Washington’s elite from neocons and Cold War “liberals” to humanitarian interventionists in the Susan Rice and Samantha Power mold. Of course, if you’ve been following the Ukraine crisis from Washington, such perspectives seem as alien as those of any Martian.

Pepe Escobar thinks a most unusual brew may be fermenting. One that adds Germany to the Eurasian ascendancy he believes is already well underway. Continue reading

Ukraine, MH17 and the Struggle for Europe | Conflicts Forum

In 1989 the US was supreme. Victorious, incomparably powerful and, for the most part, adored and admired.

Had it honoured its subsequent promises to Russia, kept its nose clean in the Middle East and tried to genuinely broker a settlement between Israel and Palestine, those accolades would still hold. Instead it’s riven internally, distrusted externally and burdened with a strategically incoherent and increasingly belligerent foreign policy.

It’s a sad tale, indeed a tragic one, not just for America but for the world. Rarely has so much been thrown away so quickly.

In “Ukraine, MH17 and the Struggle for Europe“, Alistair Crooke looks at how all this is playing out in the troubled relationship between the US and Germany. After more than a half-century of almost intimate relations, they now stand on the brink. The spying revelations have done serious damage.

Germans, who acutely remember the totalitarian surveillance of Nazi Germany and East Germany, cherish their strict data protection and limits on state monitoring. The pervasive spying on one of America’s most valuable partners — including the snooping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone from a rooftop listening post at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin — has enraged the German public.

Even more important though is the growing sense that the US has become an alarmingly, perhaps even dangerously unpredictable partner.

It is not surprising that Europeans ask to where will escalating sanctions take us?  What is the end game?  Sanctions will hollow out the significant European trade with Russia, and will leave European economies open and vulnerable to US commercial interests. That the American establishment sees sanctions as an end itself – sees ‘breaking’ and humiliating Putin – as an end in itself is a truly frightening prospect.

Continue reading

D H Lawrence: A Letter from Germany

Remarkable letter written from, and about, Germany by DH Lawrence in 1928. For all the beauty of his descriptions, it feels like divination rather than reportage.

Immediately you are over the Rhine, the spirit of place has changed. There is no more attempt at the bluff of geniality. The marshy places are frozen. The fields are vacant. There seems nobody in the world.

It is as if the life had retreated eastwards. As if the Germanic life were slowly ebbing away from contact with western Europe, ebbing to the deserts of the east. And there stand the heavy, ponderous round hills of the Black Forest, black with an inky blackness of Germanic trees, and patched with a whiteness of snow. They are like a series of huge, involved black mounds, obstructing the vision eastwards. You look at them from the Rhine plain, and you know that you stand on an actual border, up against something.

The moment you are in Germany, you know. It feels empty, and, somehow, menacing. So must the Roman soldiers have watched those black, massive round hills: with a certain fear, and with the knowledge that they were at their own limit. A fear of the invisible natives. A fear of the invisible life lurking among the woods. A fear of their own opposite.

He had been in Germany only a few years before but it now felt alien, utterly transformed. As if it were no longer interested in western Europe, no longer open to reconciliation or even trade. Even though the door isn’t quite yet closed, it might as well be. Continue reading