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

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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

Lavrov and Zarif

The general perception in the west is that Russia and Iran lack subtlety and our broader understanding of the world. That they’re driven by aggression, or ancient angers, ideology or religion.

Coming to the realisation that this view is simply wrong has for me been a progressive journey over the last few decades. What I have to guard against now is falling into a sort of mirror image perception where their qualities are unduly lionised and ours dismissed. Given the frequent incoherence of western policies and pronouncements in recent years, guarding against that danger has from time to time been a near full-time job.

What prompted these brief reflections was the coincidence of two recent interviews, one with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the other with the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, both appearing on the same day.

Question: Will Russia and European countries be able to restore mutual trust in the foreseeable future?

Sergey Lavrov: Obviously, relations between Russia and the European Union are under severe strain. The destructive line our European partners have taken on the Ukrainian crisis – applying double standards to the situation in Ukraine, unjustifiably blaming the Ukrainian tragedy on us, attempting to exert pressure through sanctions – seriously undermines confidence in Europe.

However, I am convinced that our relations have not yet reached the point of no return. We hope that the safety net that has been created over the years will prove strong enough and will enable us not only to return to the status quo that existed before the conflict, but to move forward. To this end, it is necessary to abandon the faulty logic of sanctions and threats and begin a constructive and pragmatic search for solutions to the problems that have piled up. It is important that common sense and an awareness of the dead-end nature of the policy pursued with regard to our country prevail over hawkish sentiments.

We have consistently argued that there is no reasonable alternative to continued mutually beneficial and equitable cooperation between Russia and the EU, because there is too much that binds us geographically, economically, historically and in human terms.

Continue reading

Is the battle in eastern Ukraine at a turning point?

A few weeks ago, the separatist militias appeared to be under the gun. In the last few days, the Ukrainian forces have been melting away in an apparent stunning reversal.

The western narrative puts this down to recent direct Russian intervention. Maybe, but there seem to be real grounds for doubt.

At Sic Semper Tyrannis (SST), one of their contributors with a deep military and intelligence background suggests a very different narrative may be called for. While Russia has almost certainly been covertly supplying materials and intelligence to the militias throughout the conflict, there seems little or no credible evidence that they’ve become directly involved. Instead, the separatist forces (with indirect Russian assistance) may have survived the Ukrainian onslaught and, through a mixture of luck, pluck and smart manoeuvring (and, probably, Russian intelligence), turned the tide. Continue reading

Ukraine factories equip Russian military despite support for rebels | The Washington Post

Ah, what a tangled web.

But Kiev’s pleas for an end to trade ties have run into strong resistance from workers at companies like Motor Sich, here in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, where 27,000 employees build engines tailor-made for Russian military helicopters and planes. Most senior executives here grew up as part of the same Soviet military-industrial club as their Russian peers.“

We have our own party, the party of Motor Sich,’’ company spokesman Anatoliy Malysh said.

The competing pulls are complicating Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s efforts to chart a new course with Moscow at a time when Ukraine and Russia’s economies remain deeply intertwined.

There’s no simple solution here. The economic, social and cultural ties run deep.

“We’re dependent on Russia,” said Malysh, the company spokesman. Leaders in Kiev “think that national interests are more important than the economy. But let them speak to people who live without jobs. We are also patriots,” he said. Motor Sich hasn’t stopped exports to fulfill existing contracts, he said.

Many people tied to the plant say they have conflicted feelings about severing ties with their neighbor.

“Nobody ever thought about this. We’re brothers,” said Alla Kozlovskaya, 47, a teacher at a trade school designed to funnel students onto the factory floor. She said she had family in Moscow.

Continue reading