"What's New? How Is the World Treating You?"

In 1939 Johnny Burke (1908-1964) composed the music and Bob Haggard (1914-1998) wrote the lyrics for the hit song "What's New?" whose first line serves as the title of this blog.  To listen to Linda Ronstadt (born 1946) perform "What's New?" with Nelson Riddle (1921-1985) and his orchestra (Asylum, 1983), click here.  A new window will open, allowing the music to play in the background.

Check this web page for occasional posts containing news and commentary, mainly about events in Central Europe.  To read the article of your choice, either click on the title that appears in the table of contents or scroll down the page.
For news and commentary from the most recent past quarter, click here.  For earlier quarters in the year or previous years, see the Introduction and Index for "What's New?"

Table of Contents for the First Quarter of 2015


  1. 1 Nazi Hideout in Argentina    24 March 2015
  2. 2 No Tomatoes, Please    24 March 2015
  3. 3 Operation Dragoon Ride    21 March 2015
  4. 4 Russian Treaty with South Ossetia    19 March 2015
  5. 5 IS Kidnapped Czech Citizen in Libya    9 March 2015
  6. 6 Migrants from Kosovo    9 March 2015
  7. 7 Anti-American Sentiment in Russia    9 March 2015
  8. 8 US Arms to the Baltics    9 March 2015
  9. 9 Hungary’s New Blue Law    9 March 2015
  10. 10 Six Suspects in Nemtsov’s Killing    8 March 2015    UPDATE!
  11. 11 Ukraine to Buy Weapons from UAE    8 March 2015
  12. 12 If the Truce Holds    8 March 2015
  13. 13 Fallout from the Ukraine Crisis    7 March 2015
  14. 14 Segbers: Thoughts on Putin and the Russian Economy 7 March 2015
  15. 15 Suspects in the Nemtsov Murder    7 March 2015
  16. 16 Ukrainian Cease Fire Holds    7 March 2015
  17. 17 Hungary’s Stance on TTIP    6 March 2015
  18. 18 Finland and NATO    6 March 2015
  19. 19 Bulgaria’s Nabucco-West Pipeline    6 March 2015
  20. 20 News about Russia    6 March 2015
    1. 20.1 Russia and Egypt
    2. 20.2 Navalny Released
    3. 20.3 Kazakhstan Blocks Russian Petroleum
    4. 20.4 Russia to Cut Bureaucrats’ Salaries
  21. 21 Ukraine: “Place of Temporary Dislocation”    6 March 2015
    1. 21.1 Unrecorded Deaths
    2. 21.2 Motives for Volunteering
    3. 21.3 Returning Home to a War Zone
    4. 21.4 The Need for More Cease-Fire Monitors
    5. 21.5 Nadiya Savchenko
    6. 21.6 Lawsuit with a Candy Coating
    7. 21.7 A Few Days of Gas
    8. 21.8 Disagreement in the Polish Government
  22. 22 Four More Months for Greece    5 March 2015
  23. 23 Slovakia’s Vote on Same-Sex Marriage    5 March 2015
  24. 24 Ukraine’s Economy    5 March 2015
  25. 25 Paid Foreign Russian Recruits    5 March 2015
  26. 26 Russians Repatriate Assets    5 March 2015
  27. 27 Unrest in Kosovo    5 March 2015
  28. 28 Slovakia’s Media    5 March 2015
  29. 29 Hungary's Nuclear Deal with Russia Secret    5 March 2015
  30. 30 Crimea One Year Later    5 March 2015
  31. 31 Zeman Scores a Success in Washington    4 March 2015
  32. 32 The Unknown Putin    2 March 2015
  33. 33 An Academic’s Solution to the Ukrainian Crisis    2 March 2015
  34. 34 Austria’s Law Regarding Islam    2 March 2015
  35. 35 Commemoration for Nemtsov in Russia    2 March 2015
  36. 36 Main Estonian Government Party Won Reelection    2 March 2015  UPDATE!
  37. 37 Lithuania to Purchase LNG from the US     2 March 2015
  38. 38 Ukraine’s Oligarchs    2 March 2015
  39. 39 Savchenko near Death    28 February 2015
  40. 40 Nemtsov Murdered in Moscow    28 February 2015
  41. 41 New Moldovan Prime Minister    25 February 2015
  42. 42 Breaking the Stalemate in Ukraine    25 February 2015
  43. 43 Orbán Loses Majority    25 February 2015
  44. 44 Cyprus Ports for the Russian Navy    25 February 2015    UPDATE!
  45. 45 Developments in Ukraine    23 January 2014
  46. 46 Gas Watch    23 January 2015
  47. 47 The New Croatian President    21 January 2015
  48. 48 British in America View US Healthcare    21 January 2015
  49. 49 Steelcase in the Czech Republic    21 January 2015
  50. 50 Interpol Wants Yanukovich    21 January 2015
  51. 51 Gypsies in East-Central Europe    10 January 2015    UPDATE!
  52. 52 Poroshenko’s December Speech in Poland    10 January 2014
  53. 53 Republic of Budjak?    10 January 2015
  54. 54 UK and Czech Republic Take a Common Stand on Environmental Targets    10 January 2015
  55. 55 Ukraine Violated Loan Terms    10 January 2015
  56. 56 Romanov Photographs    10 January 2015
  57. 57 Call for EU to Take on Islamist and Russian Propaganda    10 January 2015
  58. 58 Fitch Cut Russia’s Rating    10 January 2014
  59. 59 Jewish Degrees Reinstated    9 January 2015
  60. 60 Byzantine Shipwrecks    9 January 2015
  61. 61 Financial and Military News about Ukraine    9 January 2015
  62. 62 Hungary’s Fickle Russian Policy    9 January 2015
  63. 63 Open in the Event of War    9 January 2015
  64. 64 Recruiting Russian Volunteers for Southeastern Ukraine    7 January 2015
  65. 65 Primer on Russian Weaponry    7 January 2015
  66. 66 European Opinions about the Ukraine Crisis    6 January 2015
  67. 67 Greek Elections    5 January 201
  68. 68 Tomb of Queen Khentakawess III Discovered    4 January 2015
  69. 69 Protest in Budapest    2 January 2014
  70. 70 Nazi Nuclear Bomb Research Facility   2 January 2015
  71. 71 Ukrainian Nationalist Demonstration    1 January 2015
  72. 72 Enticement for Russia    1 January 2015
  73. 73 Eurasian Economic Union Begins    1 January 2015
  74. 74 Russian Spies    1 January 2015
  75. 75 Lithuanians Welcome the Euro    1 January 2015
  76. 76 Navalny at Moscow Protest    1 January 2015
  77. 77 Updated “Career Guide for History Majors”    1 January 2015
  78. 78 2015 Vienna Philharmonic Concert on PBS    1 January 2015

Nazi Hideout in Argentina    24 March 2015

Archaeologists began investigating a structure in a remote jungle area that appears to be a hideout for Nazis.  Among the artifacts are German coins minted from 1938 to 1944, and there are Nazi symbols carved in the stone of the ruins.  The Germans supposedly built several such secret structures in remote areas around the world in the event that they lost the Second World War.  It does not appear that the structure ever was used.  Argentina accepted German immigrants, regardless of their background, after the war.  See https://gma.yahoo.com/nazi-hideout-argentina-discovered-archaeologists-142743373--abc-news-travel.html.

No Tomatoes, Please    24 March 2015

RT, the Russian broadcaster that often lacks objectivity with respect to issues regarding Russian foreign policy, reported that certain groups in the Czech Republic plan to protest the American Army convoy of slightly more than 100 vehicles that will travel through the country from 29 March to 1 April on the way to its base in Germany.  It also reported about announcements in the Czech media about penalties for throwing such things as eggs and tomatoes, inciting disorder, and sabotage.  The Czech minister of defense, according to Radio Prague, stated that those opposing the Czech Republic’s presence in NATO will use the opportunity to protest.  Demonstrations are planned in various parts of the country, including the politically significant Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) in Prague.  The US Army already has begin its trek through Poland on Monday.  See http://rt.com/news/243221-czech-us-convoy-tomatoes-warnings/; http://www.radio.cz/cz/rubrika/zpravy/odpurci-prujezdu-americkeho-vojenskeho-konvoje-chystaji-protesty (in Czech); http://news.yahoo.com/us-troops-drive-eastern-europe-show-defense-readiness-133453591.html; and the immediately preceding posting.

Operation Dragoon Ride    21 March 2015

About 500 soldiers and tens of vehicles from the American 3rd Squadron of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, who are training in Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland, will travel 1,100 miles in so-called Operation Dragoon Ride through Latvia and the Czech Republic to their base in Vilseck, Germany.  The US Army’s 12th Combat Aviation Brigade will provide reconnaissance.  Normally, the equipment after an exercise returns to its base by rail, but the convoy will serve as a statement of NATO support for Baltic and East-Central European states that have been nervous because of Russian brinkmanship.  It also will enable the military to test its equipment and conduct scheduled meetings with local groups.

Between 29 March and 1 April, the Czech military will secure the path through the republic for the convoy, which will enter Czech territory from Poland at three different points: Harrachov, Náchod, and Bohumín.  The three columns will converge to the east and west of Prague and travel through Plzeň, where they will visit the memorial to the American soldiers who liberated the city in 1945, at the end of the Second World War.  From there, they will travel west and cross the border into Germany at Rozvadov.

Russian Treaty with South Ossetia    19 March 2015

After ten days of absence from the media, which generated speculation of illness, the birth of an illegitimate child, or a coup d’etat, President Vladimir Putin dramatically reentered the political scene.  On 16 March, he met with the Kyrgyz president, which was uneventful.  Far more dramatic was his order to put the Russian military on full combat readiness, supposedly a response to ongoing NATO exercises near the Russian border.  Then, on 18 March, Putin signed a treaty with the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia that may ease the way for its annexation into Russia.  The treaty, which Putin and Leonid Tibilov, the South Ossetian president, signed on the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, gives Russia control over South Ossetia’s borders, military, and economy.  Russia also promised RUB 9 billion in aid over the next three years.  Russia ratified a similar treaty with Abkhazia, another breakaway region of Georgia, in January (Russia and Abkhazia had signed the treaty in November).  Half of the population of Abkhazia is Abkhaz, and Georgians, who once comprised approximately 45 percent of the population, now are less than 20 percent.  Ossetians make up nearly 90 percent of South Ossetia’s population, and the number of Georgians in the area is about 9 percent, two-thirds of what it once was.  Russians in Abkhazia and South Ossetia currently number 9 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

IS Kidnapped Czech Citizen in Libya    9 March 2015

The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that a Czech is among the nine foreign workers Islamic State terrorists kidnapped, on 6 March, from the al-Ghani oil field in Libya.  The name of the Czech citizen is not yet available.  During the attack, the terrorists killed eleven Libyan guards, eight by beheading.  One oil worker died of a heart attack when the beheadings occurred. See http://www.mzv.cz/jnp/cz/udalosti_a_media/tiskove_zpravy/x2015_03_09_vlada_projednala_informaci_ministra_zahranici.html (in Czech); and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31802393.

Migrants from Kosovo    9 March 2015

In the midst of increasing anti-Muslim bias and resistance to foreign workers in the European Union, more Kosovars, most of whom are Muslim, are seeking economic opportunity in the West.  Economic aid from the European Union may help stem the temporary exodus, but a valid concern is that corruption may siphon off many of the funds the country would receive for development.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/world/europe/kosovars-who-fought-for-land-are-now-eager-to-leave-it.html?_r=1.

Anti-American Sentiment in Russia    9 March 2015

The amount of anti-American sentiment in Russia is higher today than it was during the latter years of the cold war.  It peaked recently with the murder of Boris Nemtsov, likely because the Kremlin posited that one of the motives for the opposition leader’s murder was a western plot to destabilize Russia politically.  Approximately 80 percent of Russians hold a negative opinion about the United States, the highest percentage since the 1988, when the Levada-Center, an independent polling group, began the survey.  The long-term data is useful in determining spikes in anti-American sentiment, such as the 1999 bombing of Russia’s ally, Serbia, and NATO expansion.  These reveal an upward trend in the negative opinion Russians have of America.  Based on past spikes, experts predict a higher degree of anti-American feeling if the West sends weapons to Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s skillful propaganda campaign has blamed NATO and European Union expansion eastward, the breakup of the Soviet Union, economic difficulties, and various real or perceived Russian weakness on the West, especially the United States.  At the same time, it has presented Russian military strength, the need for Russian unity, nationalism, and economic advancement that simultaneously weakens the position of the American dollar as ways Russia is countering the western desire to keep Russia as a second-rate power.  With the success of such a campaign, it is easy to understand how the Kremlin can succeed at imposing sanctions against the West that hurt Russian consumers and place the blame squarely on the West.

The most recent Time magazine carried an article by Simon Shuster in Moscow titled “Putin’s On-Air Army: The Global News Network RT Is the Kremlin’s Main Weapon in an Intensifying Information War with the West” (16 March 2015): 46-51.  In 2005, Putin established the successful television broadcaster, which now has a budget close to that of the BBC.  It lacks objectivity in its reporting and has direct ties with the Kremlin.

US Arms to the Baltics    9 March 2015

The United States has delivered more than 100 pieces of heavy military equipment to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all members of NATO, to deter Russia. The items, which include Abrams tanks, will remain until the crisis abates.  See http://news.yahoo.com/us-sends-heavy-armour-baltic-states-deter-russia-132033780.html.

Hungary’s New Blue Law    9 March 2015

A new law in Hungary that will take effect on 15 March requires most businesses to close on Sundays, and it limits opening hours to the period from 6.00 am to 10.00 pm. Business and consumers opposed the measure, and some business plan to expand their regular hours to compensate for the forced Sunday closings.  Exceptions include airports, train stations, pharmacies, and heavy tourist areas.  See http://news.yahoo.com/hungarians-face-ban-shopping-most-sundays-nights-182159188.html.

Six Suspects in Nemtsov’s Killing    8 March 2015    UPDATE!

Russian authorities now have five Chechen suspects in custody for the death of the Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov.  Two face formal charges (one provided some sort of confession), and three are suspects.  One being held claims that he was working at the time of the murder.  A sixth committed suicide while resisting arrest.  Many Russians are skeptical about the validity of the charges against the men and are convinced the Kremlin somehow is connected with the murder.  See http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/07/europe/russia-nemtsov-murder-arrest/index.html.

Ilya Yashin, who had established Solidarnost with Nemtsov, claimed that the official reason for the murder of Nemtsov–his anti-Islamic statements–is “more than absurd.”  Nemtsov never criticized Islam, according to Yashin, and only condemned the murders in France.  Yashin added that "Our worst fears are coming true: the hitman has been arrested, but the commander will remain free."  See http://news.yahoo.com/two-charged-nemtsov-murder-russian-court-004552765.html.

Ukraine to Buy Weapons from UAE    8 March 2015

On 24 February , while visiting the IDEX arms exposition in the United Arab Emirates, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that he had struck a deal with the UAE to purchase approximately USD 100 million in defensive weapons.  There were no details regarding the purchase from either side, but it could involve either UAE-produced goods (some made in partnership with Russian firms) or used weaponry from the UAE that originally had come from American manufacturers.  See http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/international/2015/03/01/ukraine-cuts-deals-waiting-us-poroshenko-russia-ukroboronprom-uae/23978657/; and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/innokenty-kes-grekov/all-about-that-brass-the-_b_6770860.html.

If the Truce Holds    8 March 2015

As the truce between Ukraine and the separatist regions takes hold, both sides can relax, and Donetsk did it in style.  To commemorate the international day of women on 8 March, the government in Donetsk organized a beauty pageant that featured women soldiers.  They wore their evening gowns on the runway and their fatigues for the awards. See http://photos.denverpost.com/2015/03/07/photos-pro-russian-rebel-beauty-pageant/#1.

Assuming the truce holds, the next steps in the Minsk II agreement are designed to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  Elections are to take place in the southeastern Ukraine separatist areas, which are to receive expanded autonomy that Ukranian constitutional reform will guarantee.  Both sides are to exchange prisoners, and an amnesty will protect those who were involved in separatist activities.  All foreign and mercenary troops will leave Ukraine, including its southeastern regions, and the government in Kyiv will take control of the external border in southeastern Ukraine.  Finally, normal economic activity will resume in southeastern Ukraine.

The full text of the Minsk Agreement is available in several places, including http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/11408266/Minsk-agreement-on-Ukraine-crisis-text-in-full.html.

Fallout from the Ukraine Crisis    7 March 2015

Suspicion of Russia’s intentions are high not only in the West and in Ukraine but also in Central Europe and the Baltics, especially among the states that once bordered the former Soviet Union or, like the Baltic states, were part of it.  Each week brings new concerns on the part of governments and citizens, but Europeans also are taking actions to thwart any thoughts in the Kremlin of further expansion.

Poland and Germany have announced that they will swap several commanders and battalions to further the coordination of their militaries.  The Germans have taken such efforts in the past with their allies to the west but not to the east.  Lithuania, which already distributed a book to all libraries explaining what to do in the event of an invasion, will consider reinstating the draft next week in its parliament.  The issue is controversial in the country, but many are nervous about the Russian threat, including the country’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, who initiated the proposal to expand the military.  See http://uk.businessinsider.com/r-german-and-polish-armies-to-swap-commands-of-battalions-2015-3http://www.newsweek.com/lithuania-vote-conscription-combat-russian-threat-312015; and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31607930.

Diplomats in the European Union have discussed the possibilities of improving relations with Belarus, long considered the last dictatorship in Europe, aside from Russia.  The role Belarus played in the forging of the first Ukrainian cease fire, which failed, and the second, which now is in place, suggests that Belarus itself wants to review its options, especially since Russia is ever more isolated from the West.  See http://news.yahoo.com/eu-warms-little-belarus-russia-relations-freeze-114944322.html.

Segbers: Thoughts on Putin and the Russian Economy 7 March 2015

Russian actions are unpredictable because of President Vladimir Putin.  Compromise and diplomacy require that two sides in any situation negotiate in good faith, and Putin has not done so, despite his appearances of fairness.  While he negotiates, he simultaneously takes steps to undermine the agreement the two sides are forging.  This approach has given him tactical advantages and has made him appear unstoppable, but he has ruined his credibility abroad.  His popularity remains high at home, but with a disapproval rating somewhat shy of 20 percent, it may begin to become apparent to Russians that Putin’s expansionist policies are counterproductive for Russia.

Klaus Segbers, a political scientist at the Institute for East European Studies at the Freie Universität in Berlin, said, in a recent interview, that “the Putin regime is notoriously volatile and not reliable.  Putin himself is a cheater: he openly cheats and lies.  No matter who will succeed him, with Putin we cannot come to good terms.”  Segbers noted that Putin’s actions have made him popular at home but that Russians are not in favor of playing an active military role in Ukraine.

Dr. Segbers also considered other aspects of the situation in Russia, including the country’s economic woes.  The combination of rapidly falling oil prices, Russia’s dependency on raw-material exports, and the sanctions have created a perfect storm that has hurt the Russian economy–a storm that President Vladimir Putin is not certain to weather, especially if it is prolonged.  Segbers provides his perspective on this issue, correctly pointing out that the sanctions played a relatively small role in creating the crisis.  Nevertheless, he noted that the sanctions have led to shortages and high prices in the marketplace for consumers, which shapes their negatives opinions about the sanctions and the West.

For more about Dr. Segbers’s comments about Russia, see http://neweasterneurope.eu/interviews/1512-there-is-no-common-ground-with-putin.

Suspects in the Nemtsov Murder    7 March 2015

Authorities in Russia detained two suspects, both from the country’s North Caucasus region, in the recent murder of the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.  The officials provided no additional information, including details about their connections to the murder.  See http://news.yahoo.com/russia-2-suspects-detained-murder-boris-nemtsov-092959570.html.

Ukrainian Cease Fire Holds    7 March 2015

As of 7 March, the Minsk II cease fire, announced on 12 February to halt the fighting southeastern Ukraine, seems to be holding, and both sides have moved their heavy artillery behind the specified lines the treaty established.  OSCE observers have confirmed the artillery movements but do not have the information they need to determine if all the weaponry is clear from the area and otherwise in compliance.  The OSCE has taken the recommendation of Russia and Germany and has increased the number of observers to 1,000.  The head of the OSCE noted, however, that his main problem in verifying the cease fire was not the number of observers but access.

Although the Ukrainian military has experienced no casualties in the past day, on 6 March, before all the heavy guns were well behind the lines, Kyiv reported that separatists had shelled villages 14 times in one day in the area of Donetsk and in the direction of Mariupol.  Many observers expect that the separatists and their covert Russian military units will have the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol as their next target in an attempt to create a land link between Crimea and the Russian mainland.  Plans for building a bridge or a tunnel across the Kerch Strait are too costly for Russia, at the moment, and have technical and international legal complications.  Having a connection by land for Russia would be very convenient.

As the Ukrainian military pulled back its heavy weaponry, the Rada voted to increase the military from 184,000, a number it set in 2012, to 250,000.  Meanwhile, the Ukrainians continue to maintain that the Russians are supplying the separatists with weapons.  The Russians deny the charge, and no independent observations can confirm or deny the allegation.  Nevertheless, it is Russian equipment that the separatists are using.

Russia continues to trade verbal barbs with western governments.  Recently, Russia’s deputy defense minister dismissed the estimate of the American assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, that there were 12,000 Russian soldiers in southeastern Ukraine.  He said that the Americans fabricated the number, and they could have chosen a much larger one, perhaps double the number.  The exchange involved lower-level officials, suggesting that both sides are testing hypotheses and reactions.  Nuland also noted that Russians continue to equip the separatists, and Russia continues to deny any direct involvement in the conflict.

Hungary’s Stance on TTIP    6 March 2015

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, stated that he would oppose a trade deal between the United States and the European Union, the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), that would take legal cases outside of Hungarian courts.  One fear the opponents of TTIP have is that it will allow US multinational corporations to challenge EU laws as restricting commerce.  The EU, maintains, however, that the treaty will preserve its manufacturing and environmental standards.  TTIP would create the largest tariff-free market in the world that would involve more than 800 million consumers.  See http://finance.yahoo.com/news/hungary-not-back-eu-u-074923693.html.  A brief overview of the opposition to the TTIP is at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/feb/05/us-eu-trade-deal-the-guardian-briefing.  The EU’s website with information about TTIP is at http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip/.  For the American perspective, see https://ustr.gov/ttip.

Finland and NATO    6 March 2015

On 5 March, the prime minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb, stated that Finland should consider joining NATO.  More than half of Finnish voters oppose doing so, but the actions of Russia in Ukraine and elsewhere have raised concerns among Finns about Russian intentions.  Recently, Finns have signed a military agreement with neutral Sweden and have joined NATO efforts in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

During the Second World War, Finland allied with Nazi Germany, in part to regain territory the Soviet Union had taken from Finland in the 1939 Winter War.  After the Second World War, Finland was a democracy and had a capitalist economic system, but in order not to irritate the Soviet Union, Finland aligned its foreign policy with the Soviets.

Bulgaria’s Nabucco-West Pipeline    6 March 2015

During talks in Sofia, the Bulgarian prime minister and Azerbaijan's president announced that they will resurrect the notion of a Nabucco-West pipeline that will pump Azerbaijani petroleum to Europe.  See http://news.yahoo.com/bulgaria-seeks-transit-azeri-gas-europe-183700861.html.

News about Russia    6 March 2015

Russia and Egypt

Russia and Egypt have agreed to military cooperation.  Egyptian officers, for example, will attend anti-terrorist training in Russia, and the two countries will hold a joint naval drill in the Mediterranean.  Egypt also will purchase helicopters, antitank guns, air defense systems, and MIG-29 fighters from Russia.  See http://finance.yahoo.com/news/russia-egypt-just-got-even-222300713.html.

Navalny Released

After fifteen days in jail for distributing protest leaflets, Alexei Navalny is again free.  He visited the grave of his fellow opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, and stated that he was not afraid to continue challenging President Vladimir Putin.  See http://news.yahoo.com/kremlin-critic-navalny-walks-moscow-jail-085856658.html.

Kazakhstan Blocks Russian Petroleum

Because of the devalued ruble, Russian petroleum exports were beginning to undercut petroleum producers in Kazakhstan.  As a result, the government stopped the flow of petroleum and natural gas and will continue to prohibit it for at least 45 days.  Both Russia and Kazakhstan are members of the Eurasian Economic Community.  See http://news.yahoo.com/kazakhstan-suspends-russian-fuel-imports-avert-surplus-200705600.html.

Russia to Cut Bureaucrats’ Salaries

Because of Russia’s economic problems, President Vladimir Putin has ordered a reduction in all government salaries, including his own, by 10 percent, effective 1 May 2015. He also ordered a reduction in the number of statebureaucrats by 5-20 percent.  

Ukraine: “Place of Temporary Dislocation”    6 March 2015

Unrecorded Deaths

Word of mouth and information from independent sources, such as Novaya Gazeta (website in English: http://en.novayagazeta.ru/), provide information about Russians who are casualties in what the Russian military informs their loved ones was a special operation in a “place of temporary dislocation.” The euphemism is for southeastern Ukraine. The number of casualties, which is unknown, is beginning to make it more difficult for Russia to deny involvement in the fighting. See http://finance.yahoo.com/news/putin-dead-soldiers-evidence-deceit-111500275.html; and

Motives for Volunteering

A reporter from AFP has uncovered some of the motives of Russians who have volunteered for duty in southeastern Ukraine. Adventure is one, and another is nationalism that originates from the belief that Russia must stop the incursion of the West in its historic area of interest.  Others have deeper motives, including those who receive training from the ultranationalist Imperial Legion (website: http://www.rusimperia.info/p/legion.html), which has a strong monarchist and Orthodox base.  See http://news.yahoo.com/patriotism-adventure-lure-russian-volunteers-ukraine-conflict-095632074.html.

Returning Home to a War Zone

With the cease fire in southeastern Ukraine holding, many of those who fled to Russia to escape the fighting are returning, often in chartered busses.  The monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the Donetsk check point reported a daily average of 289 entries into Ukraine from Russia during the past week. Gukovo, another crossing point, saw significantly less traffic.  See http://www.ibtimes.com/ukraine-russia-border-traffic-ceasefire-causing-more-ukrainians-return-flee-osce-says-1837666; and http://www.osce.org/om/143891.

The Need for More Cease-Fire Monitors

Both Germany and Russia are encouraging the OSCE to double the number of truce observers from approximately 450 to about 1,000.  There are some areas that observers cannot monitor and others where they have not received access.  The fear is that if this truce does not hold, especially if the rebels target the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, the West may arm Ukraine and deny Russia access to SWIFT bank transfers.  See http://news.yahoo.com/russia-germany-urge-osce-double-ukraine-observers-1-174926831.html.

Nadiya Savchenko

After 83 days, Nadiya Savchenko has ended her hunger strike in order to be prepared to fight the charges against her.  She remains in a Russian prison as an accessory to the killing of two Russian journalists in a mortar attack in southeastern Ukraine. Her defense lawyers state that her cell phone indicates she already was a prisoner of war when the attack on the journalists had occurred.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31760361.  For the posting about Savchenko on this web site, click here. Biographical information on Svachenko is available at http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1508-nadiya-savchenko-a-woman-vs-a-system.

Lawsuit with a Candy Coating

The UK architectural firm, Jones East8, is suing Roshen, the chocolate factory that Ukrainian President Viktor Poroshenko owns, for not paying the 40 percent fee due on the construction of a candy factory.  The architectural firm’s director in Ukraine abruptly resigned after a phone call with a Roshen representative, and the Jones Easst8 accused Roshen of intimidation.  The architectural firm’s owner, Phil Hudson, earlier accused Roshen of “mafia management methods.”  See http://www.newsweek.com/ukrainian-presidents-company-accused-intimidation-uk-firm-311534.

A Few Days of Gas

Gazprom reported, on 5 March 2015, that Ukraine has paid USD 15 million in advance for a few days worth of natural gas.  Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement recently for the supply of gas (see the posting on this website here), based on Ukraine making advanced payments, through the month of March.  See http://finance.yahoo.com/news/russias-gazprom-gets-15-mln-104325422.html.

Disagreement in the Polish Government

The Polish prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, criticized her coalition partner and deputy prime minister, Janusz Piechociński, for having claimed that Ukraine’s economy is on the verge of collapse that could result in a flood of migrants entering Poland from Ukraine.  She said that Ukraine needs solid backing from its international supporters.  See http://screen.yahoo.com/polish-pm-chastises-deputy-warnings-092831801.html; http://news.yahoo.com/ukraines-economy-starting-disintegrate-polish-deputy-pm-132503885.html; and the posting on this website here.

Four More Months for Greece    5 March 2015

On 24 February, Greece’s debtors agreed to give the country a four-month extension on its bailout.  In return, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the left-wing Syriza and the new Greek prime minister, agreed to keep most of the terms of its EUR 240 billion bailout, largely because of German insistence.  Many in Greece, however, still maintain the need to eliminate the strict austerity measures of the original agreement, and news of the deal brought antigovernment riots.  In the meantime, there is speculation that Greece will not have enough liquidity in the near future and will require a third bailout.

Slovakia’s Vote on Same-Sex Marriage    5 March 2015

On 7 February, voters supported strengthening a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, but since voter turnout only was 21.4 percent, and the measure needed at least 50 percent to be valid.  Conservatives fear that support for their position is waning.  Currently, ten European Union countries accept same-sex marriage, and 18 recognize some form of civil partnership, including eight of those countries that accept same-sex marriage.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31170464; and http://eu-digest.blogspot.com/2015/02/homosexuality-tolerated-but-not.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FWwTPi+%28EU-DIGEST%29.

Ukraine’s Economy    5 March 2015

Ukraine is preparing to end its government subsidies to consumers of natural gas, a move which will increase gas prices threefold, something analysts fear Ukrainian homeowners will not manage financially.  The government’s position, however, is that the move is necessary to reduce the country’s dependence on Russian natural gas.  In past weeks, Kyiv accused Russia of undersupplying gas, while Moscow noted that Ukraine had cut off gas supplies to the separatist provinces in the southeast.  On 2 March, however, both sides agreed that Ukraine will pay in advance for Russian natural gas through the month of March.  Meanwhile, Polish politicians fear that the imminent economic collapse of Ukraine will result in an influx of immigrants into Poland.  Ukraine passed austerity measures on 2 March, including pension cuts and tax increases.  In the separatist-held territories, the local government has opened banks, which have not been open since November.  A lively black market exists in the separatist areas.

Paid Foreign Russian Recruits    5 March 2015

As of January 2015, Russia is paying citizens from foreign countries, mainly former Soviet republics, to join its armed forces, and they are offering citizenship to foreign soldiers. Some means already exist for foreigners to serve in the Russian military, but some former Soviet republics have legal means of blocking such activity.  See http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-foreigners-military-recruiting/26800177.html.

The commander of the United States Army Europe Group, Ben Hodges, stated this week that Russia has about 12,000 men in southeastern Ukraine and thousands more near the borders with Ukraine.  The current cease fire is holding, and at the end of February, Ukraine pulled back its heavy weapons from the front lines, in accordance with the agreement.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/03/us-ukraine-russia-soldiers-idUSKBN0LZ2FV20150303; and http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/02/26/389232358/ukraine-starts-withdrawing-heavy-weapons-from-front-lines?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20150226&utm_campaign=dailydigest&utm_term=nprnews

Russians Repatriate Assets    5 March 2015

Wealthy Russians are repatriating their assets because of new regulations that came into effect in January.  Russians will have to pay a tax of 13 percent on foreign assets and 20 percent if the companies are foreign controlled.   One wealthy Russian, Alexander Lebedev, notes that the two-decade trend of moving money out of Russia was not to gain tax advantages but “to protect their assets from corrupt officials or hostile takeovers.”  See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-01-19/richest-russians-repatriate-assets-after-putin-turns-tax-screw.

In other news, on 5 March, President Barack Obama told Congress that he will extend sanctions on Russia for another year, resulting in Russian stocks falling on Wall Street.  See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-04/stocks-fall-as-obama-signals-panishment-russia-overnight.

Unrest in Kosovo    5 March 2015

On 27 January, unrest broke out when ethnic Albanians demanded the resignation of a Serb cabinet minister who insulted Albanians.  His involvement in the cabinet ended on 3 February.  Another issue is the ownership of the Terpča mines.  Meanwhile, Kosovo’s foreign minister, Hashim Thaçi, has urged the European Union and NATO to speed up their expansion into the Balkans, including Kosovo, to thwart Islamist radicalism and Russian interference.  See http://www.voanews.com/content/kosovo-unrest-leaves-37-injured-including-22-policemen/2615738.html; http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2015/01/running-battles-streets-kosovo-150129105525297.html; and http://news.yahoo.com/citing-russia-threat-kosovo-urges-faster-eu-expansion-135319406.html.

Slovakia’s Media    5 March 2015

Penta, an investment group, purchased Slovakia’s largest newspaper, SME, last September, prompting its editor, Matúš Kostolný, to resign.  In several weeks, he will launch an online media project, with the help of other reporters who quit SME, called N-daily.  The N stands for nezávislosť or independence.  A similar situation, with respect to the traditional media, exists in the Czech Republic, where the Slovak-born Andrej Babiš, who currently is the country’s minister of finance and head of the ANO 2011 party, owns the newspapers Lidové noviny and Mladá fronta DNES, a TV station, and Radio Impuls.  See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/127186.

Hungary's Nuclear Deal with Russia Secret    5 March 2015

The Hungarian parliament has voted to keep the details of the deal with Russia to expand the country's nuclear reactor at Pak secret for 30 years.  Critics claim that the purpose was to hide corruption.  See http://finance.yahoo.com/news/hungary-makes-nuclear-deal-russia-120713783.html.

Crimea One Year Later    5 March 2015

Around the 27 February anniversary of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, several articles in the media focused on difficulties of Crimea’s Russian population as well as its Tatar and Ukrainian citizens.  Tourism has fallen, business is depressed, disappearances have taken place, and the promised funding from Russia has not materialized.  Nevertheless, a Ukrainian pollster reported that, in a recent telephone survey, 82 percent of the population supports the Russian annexation of Crimea, in part because it means the peninsula is safe from war.  See http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/06/putin-peninsula-lonely-island-crimea-annexation-russia-ukraine; http://news.yahoo.com/crimea-backs-russias-tough-love-one-055259460.html; http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-02-06/one-year-later-crimeans-prefer-russia?cmpid=yhoo; and http://news.yahoo.com/crimean-tatars-living-fear-homeland-ruled-russia-074021253.html.

While on a recent visit to Japan, the Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, stated that there was no possibility of regularizing relations with Russia until it returns Crimea to Ukraine. See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-says-return-crimea-must-mending-ties-russia-082326347.html.

Zeman Scores a Success in Washington    4 March 2015

The Czech Republic’s president, Miloš Zeman, is no stranger to controversy.  He lit up a cigarette in the White House in front of then President George Bush, a former smoker and now ardent non-smoker.  During a visit to a cigarette factory, he recommended that children wait until adulthood to smoke because, as he learned from his own experience, the habit then will not harm their health.  Zeman appeared to have been drunk on several occasions, including the time when he attended a ceremony to display the Bohemian crown jewels.  The president swore during a radio address, especially during his criticism of Pussy Riot, when he used citations from their songs.  Afterward, Czech Radio required that he tape his addresses in advance, so he found another broadcaster to carry his messages live.  Zeman has cultivated relations with China and non-democratic countries in Central Asia.  Critical about the stance the European Union and the United States have taken regarding Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia, he is supportive of Vladimir Putin.  In this regard, Zeman has been a source of embarrassment to the Czech government, which backs Ukraine.  During the 2014 commemoration of the 17 November 1989 demonstrations that began the process of toppling communist rule in Czechoslovakia, the crowd pelted Zeman with food.  Although he was unscathed, but one projectile hit the German president, Joachim Gauck.  Zeman’s stance regarding Ukraine was the main reason for the crowd’s discontent, but his controversial statements and actions contribute to the frustrations of average Czechs.  Most recently, for example, after a gunman had shot and killed eight in a Czech restaurant, Zeman called for “death to abstainers and vegetarians,” during his remarks to Czech winemakers.  His spokesperson later explained that he was referring to Adolf Hitler, who was a vegetarian, non-drinker, and non-smoker.

Advanced age often frees individuals from conventional restraints, prompting them to speak their mind, and that may explain, in part, Zeman’s unusual standpoints.  He also may assume that the office of the Czech presidency gives him the obligation to make moral pronouncements and instruct Czech society, in the tradition of Tomáš G. Masaryk (1850-1937; president, 1918-1935).  Because of his many faux pas, it is not surprising that many Czechs feared another embarrassing moment when Zeman appeared as one of the speakers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on 2 March 2015.  That was not the case.

Zeman’s remarks were one of the high points of the conference.  His entire speech is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_s7Vnb35eI, from 24.43 min. to 36.46 min.  He reminded listeners that Czechoslovakia delivered weapons to Israel in 1948 and how a Czech pilot trained Israeli pilots, including Ezer Weizman (1924-2005; president, 1993-2000).  He criticized what he referred to as “Islamic terrorism” and maintained that the struggle against it has two phases.  The first is an expression of solidarity with Jews. After noting the famous phrase of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963; president, 1961-1963), “Ich bin ein Berliner,” Zeman said, in English and Hebrew, that we all must proclain: “I am a Jew,” which drew a standing ovation. “Your discrimination is our discrimination.  Your victims are our victims,” he continued.  The “Je suis Charlie” campaign that emerged after Muslim extremists murdered 12 individuals at Charlie Hebdo may have inspired Zeman, but he made no reference to it.  Second, in light of the cowardness and appeasement that abound, he proposed the “systematic and coordinated fight against the basis of Islamic terrorism.”  Zeman identified the Muslim Brotherhood as the cover organization for all sorts of extremist groups, such as Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Taliban.  He proposed “a coordinated action of [the] international community, if possible, under the umbrella of [the] Security Council, because super powers have many, many conflicts but one common enemy, Islamic terrorism.”  He compared the proposed map in 2020 of the Islamic Caliphate with the success of Adolf Hitler, a “madman” whose Nazi Germany “occupied practically all [of] Europe.”  Zeman stated: “We need a new strategy in the fight against Islamic terrorism [and] not the occupation of massive territory.  [We need] no tanks, no infantry [and] no artillery but drones, rangers, and secret services.”  He closed his remarks with the phrase “never again.”

When the moderator asked Zeman why there was such solidarity between Israel and the Czech Republic, he explained: 

Very simple question and very simple answer. . . . We have the same history with [a] time lag of approximately one century.  Well, we were surrounded by . . . enemies [and] by dictatorship.  It was not only Hitler in Germany it was Piłsudski in Poland, Horthy in Hungary, and Dollfuss in Austria, and former Czechoslovakia has been the single island of democracy in Central Europe, the Heart of Europe.

The Czech president noted that  Jose Maria Aznar, the former president of Spain who spoke minutes before, identified Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East.  Zeman said that “there must be . . . solidarity between those islands against the ocean of dictatorship.”  Zeman also could have mentioned the support Masaryk had given to Jews not only as president but even before the First World War, when he had defended a young Jew who had stood trial on a charge of ritual murder.

The reception of Zeman’s remarks have been positive, although some recognize a contradiction in his international positions. On 3 March 2015, in the Algemeiner, a Jewish newspaper in America, one reader, named Mayer, commented that “hypocrisy on behalf of a leader who has openly exonerated the Russians for what they are doing in Ukraine, has infuriated the Czech and international public and with his opportunism has damaged Václav Havel’s legacy, who stood up against oppression.”  For Jews, however, Zeman’s comments were nothing but positive, and his reputation among them soared.

Zeman’s record regarding Ukraine resulted in not only President Barack Obama but also members of Congress refusing to meet with him during his brief American visit.  That did not stop Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who faced his own snubbing from the White House and Democrats because of partisan politics and differences over the question of Iran’s nuclear program, from praising Zeman, during his AIPAC address.  Netanyahu recalled that when he had entered the Israel Defense Forces, he received a Czechoslovak rifle.  

See http://zpravy.idnes.cz/kritika-pussy-riot-byla-pripravena-prozradil-zeman-fyg-/domaci.aspx?c=A141105_073352_domaci_fer (in Czech about Pussy Riot); http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/czechrepublic/11444544/Death-to-vegetarians-and-teetotallers-says-Czech-president.html; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30086495 (about the incident on 17 November 2014); http://www.praguepost.com/world-news/44779-zeman-to-be-ignored-by-u-s-representatives; http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/03/02/netanyahu-to-aipac-no-disrespect-for-obama/; http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/03/02/czech-president-at-aipac-world-must-unite-to-destroy-muslim-brotherhood/; and http://www.algemeiner.com/2015/03/02/czech-republic-president-milos-zeman-we-all-must-say-i-am-a-jew/.  Photo from http://www.lidovky.cz/jsem-zid-prohlasil-zeman-ve-washingtonu-odmenil-ho-potlesk-po9-/zpravy-svet.aspx?c=A150302_160706_ln_zahranici_msl.

The Unknown Putin    2 March 2015

The Fiscal Times has compiled 17 details about the life of Vladimir Putin that help readers understand the Russian president’s character and policy.  The article is available at http://finance.yahoo.com/news/vladimir-putin-17-things-didn-110000808.html.

An Academic’s Solution to the Ukrainian Crisis    2 March 2015

William R. Polk, a retired professor of history at the University of Chicago, was part of the Policy Planning Council of presidents Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and he specialized in Central Asia, Middle East, and North Africa.  In a brief piece for the History News Network, he argues that the United States should not arm Ukraine because of the risk of war with Russia, and NATO should not bring Ukraine into the alliance.  Nevertheless, he advocates admitting Ukraine into the European Union.  His article is available at http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/158613 and at http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/158613#sthash.PXNjfTKw.dpuf.

According to General Petr Pavel, head of the Czech General Staff and newly elected chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Russia wants Ukraine to serve as a buffer between itself and NATO.  The opinion of Pavel is in line with Polk’s stance.  See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-03/ukrainian-rebel-push-reveals-russian-power-grab-to-czech-general?cmpid=yhoo.

Austria’s Law Regarding Islam    2 March 2015

On 25 February, Austria passed a law requiring imams to have the ability to speak German, but it guarantees Muslims access to imams in healthcare and other institutions and the right to have halal meals.  The Turkish government, which offers Austrian Muslims financial support, has criticized the provision that prohibits foreign funding for Islamic institutions in the country.  Turkey’s president of the Presidency of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Görmet, criticized the law, stating that it is “a 100-year regression.”  Austria’s previous law on Islam dates from 1912, four years after it annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Ottoman Empire.  See http://news.yahoo.com/austria-passes-law-islam-banning-foreign-funding-194035622.html.

Commemoration for Nemtsov in Russia    2 March 2015

Approximately 56,000 demonstrators marched in Moscow to commemorate the slain opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov.  The march largely was peaceful, but at times the participants chanted slogans against Russian President Vladimir Putin.  The demonstrators crossed the bridge, where a murderer shot Nemtsov four times in the back, a place that has become a shrine.  Nemtsov and his girlfriend, Anna Duritskaya, a Ukrainian model, had dinner just before the shooting.  The authorities have prohibited Duritskaya from returning to Ukraine.  Police detained approximately during the demonstration, including Volodymyr Groisman, a member of the Ukrainian parliament.  Protests also took place in other Russian cities, such as Ekaterinburg and St. Petersburg.

According to RT, a spokesperson for the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation gave several possible motives for Nemtsov’s murder: 1) a “provocation to destabilize the political situation in the country”; 2) Nemtsov’s condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris; 3) the Ukrainian civil war; 4) Nemtsov’s business affairs; and 5) a personal matter.

Main Estonian Government Party Won Reelection    2 March 2015  UPDATE!

The Reform party, the main party in Estonia’s current governing coalition, has won reelection, with 28 percent of the votes, down about 1 percent from the previous election.  The prime minister, Taavi Roivas, will have to form a coalition government, but his coalition partners in the Social Democratic party lost four seats in the legislature.  The pro-Russian Center party, which receives most of its support from Estonia’s Russian minority that forms 25 percent of the population, won 27 out of 101 seats in the legislature.  Many analysts anticipated a better performance for the Center party.  Roivas, who, a 35 years old, is Europe’s youngest prime minister, has excluded the possibility of cooperating with the Center party.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31681293.

The election took place shortly after the 24 February commemoration of independence day in Estonia, when the country became independent in 1918 from Russia.  Military parades that day demonstrated Estonia’s ties with NATO at a time when the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all NATO and European Union members, are nervous about Russian involvement in Ukraine and possible Russian interference in their countries.  All the Baltic states have significant Russian minorities, and in the past year, all have experienced Russian military maneuvers near their borders and Russian incursions into their air space.  See http://news.yahoo.com/estonia-shows-off-nato-ties-celebrations-russian-border-204533658.html; and http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2015/0224/With-wary-eye-on-Russia-Lithuania-to-reintroduce-the-draft.


In an article in Bloomberg, Estonia's president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, revealed that his country's approach to defense against Russia was to secure membership in NATO and the European Union, despite the difficulties that entailed, while Russia still was militarily weak.  Ukraine, however, was complacent.  Now, Russia is applying "the Sudetenland model" to Ukraine, referring to Nazi Germany's success in taking the German-populated Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia at the 1938 Munich Conference, but Ilves does not rule out the example of Poland, when Russia, in conjunction with Nazi Germany, attacked Poland in 1939 and partitioned it out of existence. See http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-03-03/estonia-did-its-post-soviet-homework?cmpid=yhoo.

Lithuania to Purchase LNG from the US     2 March 2015

On 28 February, Lithuania announced that it will purchase liquified natural gas from the United States in order to eliminate the need for Russian natural gas.  The LNG from the US will arrive at Lithuania’s new floating LNG terminal and supply approximately one-fifth of the country’s needs.  See http://news.yahoo.com/lithuania-signs-us-deal-replace-russian-gas-232614157.html.

Ukraine’s Oligarchs    2 March 2015

In an article for the Huffington Post, Nikolas Kozloff, the author of a number of non-fiction and fiction works, has traced the fortunes of Ukraine’s oligarchs, highlighting their ability to thrive during the regime of Viktor Yanukovych, to navigate the Maidan Square revolution of a year ago, and to maintain their influence over Ukrainian politics.  See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nikolas-kozloff/ukraine-insider-oligarchs-derail-maidan-revolution_b_6773856.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592.

Savchenko near Death    28 February 2015

Nadia Savchenko, the thirty-four-year-old Ukrainian helicopter pilot taken as a prisoner of war and then transferred to Russia, where she is accused of being responsible for a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists, has been on a hunger strike since December.  AFP now reports that she has internal organ damage is days from death.  See http://www.newsweek.com/ukraine-pilot-nadiya-savchenko-confronts-her-kremlin-captors-300052, and http://news.yahoo.com/ukrainian-pilot-could-die-within-days-russian-jail-100006666.html.

Nemtsov Murdered in Moscow    28 February 2015

On 27 February, Boris Nemtsov (1959-2015) was murdered in Moscow.  Nemtsov was Russia’s deputy prime minister in 1997-1998, and he was a critic of Vladimir Putin since the current president took office more than fifteen years ago.  He was a member of Russia’s regional parliament of Yaroslavl and one of the leaders of the Republican Party of Russia–People’s Freedom party (a member of the European Liberal-Democratic Alliance).  He became a noted opposition figure and was one of the founders, along with some members of the former liberal Yabloko party, of Solidarnost, an organization that served as a basis of the Freedom party.

In 2011, Nemtsov helped write the well-known opposition report Putin: Corruption, which is available in English translation at the blog titled “La Russophobe,” a site with a sharp anti-Putin tenor that may have far-right connections.  Despite the site’s questionable background, it provides information in English that is difficult to obtain.  Putin: Corruption  outlines the personal gain of Putin and those around him and describes the lavish lifestyle of Russia’s top leaders, including their yachts and watches, and concludes that: “Systemic corruption presents a threat to the security of Russia.  Capital flight (over $38 billion in 2010 alone), and lack of investment, most importantly in the non-raw-materials sector, is leading Russia to become a raw-materials appendage of not just the West but of China too.”  The text is available at https://larussophobe.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/special-extra-the-nemtsov-white-paper-part-v-putin-the-thief/.

Recently, Nemtsov had received death threats and was concerned about being killed.  He had reason for concern since other critics of Putin had met a similar fate.  On the evening of 27 February, security cameras recorded how Nemtsov was walking, with a Ukrainian female acquaintance, not far from the Kremlin.  A car drove near Nemtsov, and his killer shot him four times in the back.  Authorities are questioning the woman, who was unhurt.  The Kremlin denies any part in the murder, and Putin condemned the act.  He promised an investigation, but Russians are not expecting any results.

Nemtsov was planning a demonstration on 1 March against the war in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and Russia’s economic downturn.  His associates have called off the demonstration and are organizing a march through Moscow in Nemtsov’s memory.  The strength and mood of the demonstration on 1 March and any subsequent protests in the near future, will determine how much Nemtsov’s murder has galvanized the anti-Putin opposition and whether it is had any influence on Russian citizens as a whole.

New Moldovan Prime Minister    25 February 2015

On 18 February, the Moldovan legislature approved Chiril Gaburici, a pro-European, as prime minister.  Russia has warned Moldova that closer ties with Europe may mean that Moldova will lose Transnistria and pay a premium for Russian natural gas.  See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/127693.

Breaking the Stalemate in Ukraine    25 February 2015

The 12 February 2015 second Minsk ceasefire is not holding, although there have been no Ukrainian military deaths in the past 24 hours.  Russian gas is flowing to Ukraine at reduced rates, after Ukraine cut deliveries to the southeast, claiming that fighting damaged a pipeline.  Russia, which still denies any involvement in eastern Ukraine, continues to supply equipment, training, and troops to the separatists.  Ukraine lost the rail junction of Debaltseve and on 18 February withdrew its troops from the city.  A buildup of separatist forces near the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has led to speculation that the city will be under attack, and the French foreign minister warned his Russian counterpart that taking Mariupol and more Ukrainian territory to create a land link between Russia and Crimea would result in even more sanctions.

Many believe the solution to the crisis is in arming Ukraine so that it can better withstand the separatists and their Russian backers.  Such a solution, however, has its pitfalls.  Professor Emeritus Walter G. Moss, of Eastern Michigan University, presents seven convincing reasons for not arming Ukraine: 1) the Russians will match the equipment; 2) Vladimir Putin is not Adolf Hitler and every crisis is not the same as Munich 1938; 3) the equipment may end up in the wrong hands; 4) the expense, while likely worsening the crisis, would detract from other areas in need of funds; 5) arming Ukraine would increase tensions with Russia that would hinder progress in other areas; 6) it would increase divisions among NATO’s ranks; and 7) it would detract from efforts to provide financial, technical, and political support to Ukraine.  For Moss’s full article, see http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/158605.

Russia desires a friendly regime in Ukraine and likely will not be satisfied with annexing the southeastern areas.  There is a good chance, therefore, that conflict would continue, even if Ukraine ceded territory to Russia.  Following that logic, Tymofiy Mylovanov, an economist at the University of Pittsburgh and an editorial board member of VoxUkraine, presented six ways that Ukrainians can take steps to make their country unappealing to Russia.  In essence, the idea is to sour the milk so that Russia loses interest in Ukraine.  Mylovanov’s recommendations are: 1) insist on transparency to prevent secret deals with Russia; 2) replace long-time government administrators with Western-influenced specialists; 3) sell assets that interest Russians to western firms and enact high tariffs with Russia so that Ukrainian businesses focus on the West; 4) default on Russian bonds and sue Russia as a vulture creditor; 5) prosecute or fire administrators who are incompetent; 6) enact meaningful economic and legal reforms.  See more at http://voxukraine.org/2015/01/25/ukraine-must-stop-russia/.

Logic seems to dictate that Ukraine should cut its losses, abandon the territory the separatists have, and focus on restructuring its politics and economy.  Governments, however, do not voluntarily surrender territory, but that is not something the Ukrainian government will have to face.  Vladimir Putin will make that decision when the separatists acquire what he determines is strategic.  There is no doubt that Mariupol will fall and that Russia will engineer a land link with Crimea.  Building a tunnel or a bridge to connect Crimea with Russia are fraught with engineering challenges, financial problems, and legal issues.  Russia may construct one or the other, but a land route to Crimea is essential.

The West will do what it can to support Ukraine, but Putin understands that the West has its limits.  It does not have the will to back Ukraine to such an extent that it will lead to a conflict between Russia and the West over territory that is largely Russian.  Western leaders also recognize, despite Putin’s rhetoric to the contrary, that Russia has a strategic interest in Ukraine and Belarus, and the West is unlikely to infringe on that area, especially if it contains ethnic Russians.

Ironically, time is on the side of Ukraine.  As Russian-backed separatists gradually take the territory they and their Moscow allies desire and gloat at the deteriorating situation in Kyiv they hope will work to their advantage, Kyiv can turn the tide.  With deep and rapid political, administrative, and economic reforms along with strengthened western political and economic ties, Ukraine can become more stable.  Positive changes emanating from Kyiv may make separation from Ukraine and possibly union with Russia less desirable.  Russia, too, may weaken its determination to control Ukraine and may have less desire to interfere with its foreign affairs.  There is not just one option for Ukraine or only one scenario for the ethnically Russian areas in Ukraine, but a realist approach must accept the likelihood that Ukraine not only has lost Crimea but that it will see Russia take more of its territory.  Ukraine’s response to this crisis, in terms of its internal politics and foreign affairs, will determine the options the country has in the foreseeable future.

Orbán Loses Majority    25 February 2015

In a by-election this past Sunday, Viktor Orbán’s party lost to an independent candidate in Veszprem and broke the government’s two-thirds majority, which it held by one seat.  Orbán’s popularity has been waning because of anti-democratic reforms, raising taxes, and closer ties with Russia.  Recently, Hungary not only gave a contract to expand its nuclear power plant in Paks but also struck a deal with Russia for importing natural gas in the future.  Hungary has criticized European Union sanctions against Russia and has agreed not to supply Russian gas it receives to Ukraine.  Vladimir Putin visited Hungary on 17 February, which drew a number of protesters in Budapest.

Cyprus Ports for the Russian Navy    25 February 2015    UPDATE!

Cyprus announced that it signed an agreement with Russia, signed on 25 February, that enables Russian ships to visit Cypriot ports on a regular basis.  For the most part, these ships primarily are engaged in anti-terrorist and anti-pirating activities.  The Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, spoke of his country's relationship with Russia in glowing terms and praised Vladimir Putin's peacemaking role in Ukraine.  He also noted that sanctions and Russian responses "have negative results, not only for Cyprus, but also for a number of other European Union countries”  See http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/cyprus-signs-military-deal-russia-29212358, and https://euobserver.com/foreign/127801.

Developments in Ukraine    23 January 2014

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine met in Berlin on 22 January and announced a demarcation line between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, but a few hours later, shelling killed 34 civilians in Donetsk–12 in a trolleybus and one in a nearby car.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-talks-reach-agreement-demarcation-line-steinmeier-says-002642396--business.html; and http://news.yahoo.com/bus-shelling-ukraines-donetsk-kills-13-075026210.html.

The foreign ministers had failed to make progress earlier in January, and as a result, the summit that was to take place in Minsk on the crisis in Ukraine on 15 January did not take place.  See http://news.yahoo.com/top-diplomats-meet-try-save-ukraine-peace-summit-193837041.html.

About half way into his state of the union address, Barack Obama praised the American policy with respect to Ukraine because it did not reflect “bluster” but “steady resolve.”  Ne noted that:

we are demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy. We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.

As expected, the Russian authorities reacted negatively to the comment.  See http://time.com/3675705/full-text-state-union-2015/.

The war in Ukraine that now has claimed more than 5,000 lives has witnessed a number of gruesome civilian deaths. Several hundred miners in the separatist-held region were fortunate on 12 January, however, when they managed to reach the surface, after having been trapped in their mine because of shelling.  See http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/01/11/miners-trapped-ukraine_n_6453278.html.

Gas Watch    23 January 2015

As of Ukraine can receive a greater amount of reverse flow gas from Western Europe as a result of a new connection point that will begin functioning on 24 January at Budince, Slovakia.  See http://news.yahoo.com/eu-reverse-gas-flow-capacity-ukraine-rise-40-102247027--finance.html.

As of 7 January, Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine, which also affected Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Turkey.  See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1106382/Europe-plunged-energy-crisis-Russia-cuts-gas-supply-Ukraine.html.

The New Croatian President    21 January 2015

On 11 January, Croatians elected a new president, the conservative candidate, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (known as Barbie), who was a former foreign minister and the assistant secretary general for public diplomacy at NATO.  Voters abandoned the incumbent, Ivo Josipović (known as Squid), once a Social Democrat.  Analysts see the very narrow victory of Grabar-Kitarović as resulting from the anger on the part of voters, who blame the current coalition that the Social Democrats lead for the country’s poor economic performance.  See http://news.yahoo.com/croatia-holds-close-presidential-runoff-vote-084849285.html and http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21639580-grumpy-electorate-turfs-out-incumbent-barbie-wins.

British in America View US Healthcare    21 January 2015

For a cynical view of the healthcare system in the United States from British nationals who live in the Sates, see http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/exposure-to-us-healthcare-system-leaves-british-expats-appalled-baffled-and-enraged/.  Britain’s healthcare system is relatively new, and it is far from perfect.  During Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister, the government underfunded it, which magnified its problems.  Still, anyone can get the healthcare they need.  The European Union has learned that health care, like good education, are not privileges but rights.  German citizens, for example, have had more than a century of national health care.  Americans still are learning that lesson.

Steelcase in the Czech Republic    21 January 2015

The American office furniture, Seelcase, opened a new facility in Ostrava, Czech Republic, that will manufacture and distribute its products throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.  It employs 150 people and expects to double that number.  The Czech factory is replacing one that the company is closing in Germany.  See http://www.radio.cz/cz/rubrika/zpravy/americky-steelcase-otevrel-vyrobnu-nabytku-v-zone-u-stribra (in Czech).

Interpol Wants Yanukovich    21 January 2015

Because of embezzlement and other financial crimes, Interpol placed Viktor Yanukovich, the former president of Ukraine, on its wanted list in the middle of January.  It is unlikely that Russia will extradite him to Ukraine.  See http://news.yahoo.com/interpol-lists-ousted-ukraine-president-yanukovich-wanted-person-131346405.html.

Gypsies in East-Central Europe    10 January 2015    UPDATE!

The on-line version of New Eastern Europe, published in Poland, contains a brief and general description of the situation of Gypsies (Roma) in East-Central Europe that includes eight photographs of Roma families in what is obviously a poor village.  Unfortunately, the author does not identify the village or even the country.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1439-photo-report-the-roma-of-central-and-eastern-europe.  On a personal note, the interior of the homes reminds me of some Slovak interiors I saw in the 1970s in poor villages.

For a review of The Romani Gypsies by Yaron Matras, who teaches linguistics at the University of Manchester, see http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/13/the-story-of-the-roma-europe-s-most-discriminated-group.html.

Poroshenko’s December Speech in Poland    10 January 2014

New Eastern Europe released a transcript, in English, of the speech that Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, gave in the Polish Sejm on 17 December 2014.  Poroshenko thanked Poland for its recent support during the revolution and as it attempts to integrate into the European Union.  He reminded the Sejm of the historic Polish-Ukrainian ties, repeating what the Polish president had told him: “The past, even the most tragic one, cannot divide our nations.”  Poroshenko considered Ukraine’s current conflict with the separatists and Russia, concluding that:

Today, it is an unquestionable fact that Ukraine's non-aligned status declared in 2010 has not guaranteed our security and territorial integrity. This is why today, in the hall of the Polish Sejm, I decided to announce that Ukraine is coming back to the path of integration with the Euro-Atlantic security zone. As soon as I return, I will ask the Ukrainian parliament to change our non-aligned status.

Before the month was out, Ukraine abandoned its neutrality.  Poroshenko asked the Poles for their continued support, not only in the economic difficulties that Ukraine faces and in its efforts to enter the EU but also in its desire to preserve the spirit of the Euromaidan Revolution of February 2014.

Republic of Budjak?    10 January 2015

Marcin Kosienkowski, at John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, considered the possibility of Russian interference in the area west of Odessa, Ukraine, and the creation of a separate Budjak Republic or Bessarabian People’s Republic in an article in New Eastern Europe at http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1437-the-republic-of-budjak-next-in-line.  The scenario is unlikely because the minorities of the region, Russians, Gagauz (ethnic Turks who are Orthodox and use the Latin script), Romanians (Moldavians), Bulgarians, and Gypsies, are interested in peace and have no anti-Ukrainian common agenda.  There also is no common border with Russia.

See http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1437-the-republic-of-budjak-next-in-line.  For a map of the area, click on http://ukrmap.su/program2010/uh11/uh11_27_files/image001.jpg.  The text is in Cyrillic, but the ethnic groups in the area west of Odessa are Russian (2), Ukrainian (1), Gagauz (23), Moldavian (11), Gypsy (16), and Bulgarian (4).

UK and Czech Republic Take a Common Stand on Environmental Targets    10 January 2015

The United Kingdom and the Czech Republic want the European Union to let member states decide on how they reach 2010 environmental targets.  Both countries would prefer to rely on nuclear power and underground carbon storage instead of renewable resources, an area in which they both lag.  The Czech Republic is at 30 percent and the UK is 80 percent of the EU average for renewable energy.  See https://euobserver.com/environment/127120.

Ukraine Violated Loan Terms    10 January 2015

The Russian finance minister stated that Ukraine has violated terms of a 2013 loan of USD 3 billion by having incurred more debt than 60 percent of its annual GDP.  The Russians have not decided whether to demand early repayment of the loan.  Doing so could push Ukraine into default.  See http://finance.yahoo.com/news/russia-likely-demand-early-repayment-093334232.html.

Romanov Photographs    10 January 2015

Candid shots of the Romanovs in 1915-1916, giving the impression that the Tsar, his wife, and their children are like a typical privileged bourgeois family at the time, are available at http://mashable.com/2015/01/10/romanov-family-photos/.

Call for EU to Take on Islamist and Russian Propaganda    10 January 2015

Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom have circulated a two-page paper calling on the European Union to do more to combat Russian and Islamist propaganda.  It does not advocate creating a propaganda machine but finding ways to expose propaganda so that citizens are less susceptible to it.  The letter praised the American Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty model but also suggested that simple assistance to investigative journalists would help combat propaganda.  The letter noted that Russian Television, for example, even supplied disinformation through game shows.  Russian media even falsely claimed that Ukrainians crucified a Russian-speaking child.  The letter is not public, but an EUObserver reporter obtained a copy of it.  More information is at https://euobserver.com/foreign/127155.

Fitch Cut Russia’s Rating    10 January 2014

Fitch cut Russia’s rating from BBB to BBB- on 10 January, and their analysts do not expect an economic recovery in the country until 2017.  Further intervention on the part of the central bank might help prop up the economy, but it will reduce the country’s reserves, which, according to Fitch, already are at their lowest since 2008.  Fitch included the following justifications in its report:

The economic outlook has deteriorated significantly since mid-2014 following sharp falls in the oil price and the rouble, coupled with a steep rise in interest rates. Western sanctions first imposed in March 2014 continue to weigh on the economy by blocking Russian banks' and corporates' access to external capital markets. Having grown by just 0.6% in 2014, Fitch now expects the economy to contract by 4% in 2015, compared with our previous forecast of minus 1.5%, as steep falls in consumption and investment are only partially offset by an improvement in net exports, driven by a sharp drop in imports. Growth may not return until 2017.

Plunging oil prices have exposed the close link between growth and oil prices, notwithstanding the impact of a more flexible exchange rate. For 2015, Fitch is assuming oil prices average USD70/bbl, markedly lower than the USD100/bbl we assumed in July 2014. If the oil price stays well below this, it could precipitate a deeper recession and put further strain on public finances, severely limiting the authorities' room for manoeuvre.

Jewish Degrees Reinstated    9 January 2015

Wrocław University in Poland is reinstating degrees to Jewish recipients it rescinded during the Nazi era, when the city was Breslau and part of the German state of Lower Silesia.

Byzantine Shipwrecks    9 January 2015

In 2004, archaeologists discovered 37 Byzantine ships in the harbor at Yenikapi, İstanbul, which is on the Sea of Marmara. roughly half way between the City Walls and the Seraglio.  Researchers now report that the shipwrecks have helped them determine that, in the seventh century, shipbuilders began constructing the ship’s skeleton first instead of beginning with the shell.  The site also is important because it is the first time that archaeologists have uncovered Byzantine galleys.  Previously, only drawings and written accounts about them existed.  The Yenikapi excavations are on the site of the harbor of Theodosius (reigned 347-395), which silt eventually covered.  Theodosius also built the City Walls.  See http://www.newhistorian.com/byzantine-shipwrecks-shed-new-light-ancient-ship-building/2597/.

Financial and Military News about Ukraine    9 January 2015

George Soros, the American financier, wrote an article on 7 January in the New York Review of Books that sanctions against Russia have been extremely effective, especially when combined with declining oil prices.  Although the Russian economy is managing to stay afloat, the country is in danger of defaulting.  Should that occur, Soros warned that it would destabilize the world economy.  Ukraine’s financial collapse also will have worldwide negative consequences, and Ukraine now is a bulwark against Russian aggression against Europe.  Soros outlined a plan to keep the sanctions against Russia, at least for now, while providing Ukraine with a number of financial programs to stabilize its economy and promote needed reforms.  A stronger Ukraine, he argued, will be a less attractive target for Russia.  The article is available at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/feb/05/new-policy-rescue-ukraine/?pagination=false&printpage=true.

On 7 January, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has given Ukraine EUR 500 million in credit to prop up its faltering economy.  It is only a token amount, given the outline Soros presented, but it is a start.  It is not a surprise that Merkel has acted alone and has responded to Soros’s recommendations with funding for Ukraine that she obviously was preparing before Soros published his piece.  Merkel has been a leading force in Europe for supporting Ukraine, and Soros praised her efforts in his article.  See http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2015/01/08/merkel-saves-ukraine-as-russia-game-changer-approaches/?partner=yahootix.

On 6 January, the OSCE reported that on 4-5 January, the Donetsk area experienced a total of 69 peace violations that both sides reported.  Other areas of Southeastern Ukraine were calm.  See http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm/133471.  On 9 January, there were reports that separatist attacks in the Donetsk area increased, after the arrival of a Russian aid convoy that Ukrainian authorities claim included military equipment.  Because of the conflict, more than a million people are displaced from their homes, nearly half of whom have fled Ukraine.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30744825; and http://news.yahoo.com/more-one-million-flee-ukraine-close-humanitarian-catastrophe-182613108.html.

Hungary’s Fickle Russian Policy    9 January 2015

In keeping with Hungary’s policy of befriending Russia while supporting the German government’s determination to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the chairman of the Hungarian parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee, Zsolt Németh, called on Hungary to distance itself further from Russia.  See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-08/hungary-must-make-russian-policy-reversal-clear-nemeth-tells-hv.html?cmpid=yhoo.

Open in the Event of War    9 January 2015

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all in the European Union and NATO, have sizeable Russian minorities, and recent statements of Vladimir Putin that sound similar to the saber rattling he initiated before invading Ukraine have made the populations of these countries nervous.  Furthermore, Russian planes and subs have transgressed into the air space and territorial waters of the Baltic countries, and authorities in the Baltic states have captured Russian spies.  As a result, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense has released a 100-page book on how civilians should react in the event of a military invasion.  It focuses on the notion of a hybrid war of military incursions and disinformation in the media.  The ministry will digitize the volume in the coming days.  See http://www.newsweek.com/lithuania-publishes-book-educating-citizens-how-respond-russian-invasion-297347.

In a related move, a Facebook group is putting stickers with orange bugs that resemble Russia’s St. George Ribbon on Russian products in Lithuanian grocery stores so that buyers can avoid purchasing them.  See http://www.businessinsider.com/lithuania-just-made-a-freedom-fries-move-against-russia-2015-1.  The group’s Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/koloradai.

Recruiting Russian Volunteers for Southeastern Ukraine    7 January 2015

A Newsweek article that is based on an interview from the 24 December 2014 edition of Yekaterinburg Online describes how Russian volunteers make their way to Southeastern Ukraine.  Their recruiters are former military personnel, including those from Russian special forces.  Once approved, a recruit gets a salary, which various donors pay.  Weapons are available to recruits only after they reach Southeastern Ukraine, and they must surrender them when they return to Russia.  The interviewee claims that the funds do not come from the government, yet there are indicators in the interview that point to the Russian government’s involvement in the process.  Here is the interviewee’s response about funding the volunteers:

We get help, for everything except for the salaries, from volunteers and activists. They find and organize KamAZes [cargo trucks] with humanitarian aid. They find people willing to help with equipping the fighters. We don’t have a formal [bank] account for assisting the volunteers. So often, this is the mechanism we use: We bring our sponsors with the bills for what we need. After it’s paid, we get a chit for the goods with which we pick them up. It also can happen that someone will have 100,000 rubles [$1,700] and will call me and say, “Let’s go buy them something.” Then we’ll take him with eight volunteers and each one can choose what he needs.

Primer on Russian Weaponry    7 January 2015

A photographic primer of Russian weaponry is available at http://www.businessinsider.com/the-most-advanced-weapons-systems-used-by-the-russian-army-2015-1.  It contains no analysis, but the article is useful as a reference to understand the military equipment that sometimes appears in various news articles.

European Opinions about the Ukraine Crisis    6 January 2015

François Hollande, the president of France, indicated that if the Russians will guarantee that they will not annex Southeastern Ukraine, the European Union should eliminate the sanctions against Russia.  Otherwise, they should remain.  Apparently, he is willing to acknowledge Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  Talks are set for 15 January in Kazakhstan involving Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/127101.

The leaders of Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia as well as other political leaders in Europe have expressed their desire to end the sanctions against Russia as soon as possible.  With respect to the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, and the Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, the former Slovak prime minister and sociologist, Iveta Radičová, indicated in an interview with the Czech news agency, ČTK, that their standpoint appeals to those nostalgic for the days of communism but that the actions of the states they lead are different.  For example, Slovakia still supplies gas to Ukraine.  See http://www.praguepost.com/eu-news/43642-former-slovak-pm-critical-of-populism.

Greek Elections    5 January 201

Greeks will go to the polls on 25 January, after their parliament failed three times to elect a president.  Many in Europe fear that if the winner is the popular leftist party, Syriza (acronym for Coalition of the Radical Left), austerity will end, and Greece will leave the eurozone.  Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, for example, sparked controversy when she stated “Grexit” as the likely scenario should Syriza be victorious.  During the financial crisis, Greece received EUR 240 billion in bailout funds, faced unemployment at 27 percent, and  saw its economy shrink by as much as 25 percent.  Now, it is rebounding, with a 0.7 percent growth rate in the last quarter of 2014 and a budget surplus.  So, what is the concern? More than half of Greek voters do not want to exit the eurozone and want their economy to recover.  Nevertheless, they have had enough of austerity, and as their economy progresses, they are suffering from a case of relative deprivation.  See http://www.marketwatch.com/story/greek-growth-rates-put-germany-eurozone-to-shame-2014-11-14; http://news.yahoo.com/merkel-under-fire-over-possible-grexit-approval-163333227.html; http://euobserver.com/economic/127085; and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30679182.

Tomb of Queen Khentakawess III Discovered    4 January 2015

The Czech Egyptologist, Miroslav Bárta, announced the discovery of the tomb of Khentakawess III (the Czech is Chentkaus), the previously unknown wife of Pharaoh Neferefre, a ruler during the Fifth Dynasty from approximately 4,500 years ago.  The tomb, in which the builders inscribed the name and rank of the queen, is at Abu Sir, southwest of Cairo. See http://radio.cz/en/section/news/czech-archaeologists-discover-tomb-of-previously-unknown-queen-in-egypt; and http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/2015-01-05/tomb-of-fifth-dynasty-queen-found-in-egypt/1403717.

Protest in Budapest    2 January 2014

On 2 January, thousands at the National Opera in Budapest protested against the increasingly pro-Russian policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who recently agreed to have a Russian firm expand a Hungarian nuclear power plant.  Another in a series of protests, which have been common since the government unsuccessfully proposed a tax on Internet services last autumn, will occur on 1 February, on the eve of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Budapest.  See http://news.yahoo.com/hungarian-protesters-hit-orbans-move-towards-russia-201353130.html.

Nazi Nuclear Bomb Research Facility   2 January 2015

An Austrian film maker, Andreas Sulzer, while researching for a documentary near St. Georgen an der Gusen, discovered a secret series of tunnels that likely housed Nazi laboratories where scientists attempted to construct an atomic bomb.  The American military inspected a nearby site connected with the manufacture of jet-propelled fighter planes after the war, but they overlooked the second set of tunnels.  Sulzer is requesting permission to undertake further excavations in the site.  See http://www.newhistorian.com/filmmaker-finds-nazi-atomic-bomb-research-bunker/2547/.

Ukrainian Nationalist Demonstration    1 January 2015

On 1 January 2015, approximately 2,000 Ukrainian nationalists demonstrated in Kyiv to commemorate the 106th birthday of Stepan Bandera (1909-1959).  With Nazi support, he led Ukrainian forces against the Soviets during the Second World War, but the Nazis imprisoned him because he became involved in an independent Ukrainian government.  At the end of the war, they released Bandera, whom they hoped would hold back the advance of the Red Army.  The Russians view Bandera as a Nazi sympathizer, and many Ukrainian nationalists and ultra-nationalists view him as a hero.  His reputation in Ukraine is controversial.  See http://www.dw.de/ukrainian-right-wingers-march-to-commemorate-nationalist/a-18166964.

Enticement for Russia    1 January 2015

France has offered to provide two of the three Mistral-class war ships that Russia had ordered if there is a lasting peace in Ukraine, according to the French defense minister. Talks France will join international talks on the Ukrainian question on 15 January in Minsk.  See http://news.yahoo.com/france-wants-signs-ukraine-peace-russia-warship-delivery-003035187.html.

Eurasian Economic Union Begins    1 January 2015

Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia inaugurated the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) today to replace the Eurasian Economic Community.  Armenia will join tomorrow, 2 January, and Kyrgyzstan will join in May 2015, after ratification of the treaty.  The EEU mirrors the European Union, with a Eurasian Commission, Court of the EEU, and Eurasian Development Bank.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken about creating a Eurasian Parliament.  None of the economies are robust, especially since Belarus and Kazakhstan are so economically tied to Russia.

Russian Spies    1 January 2015

More Russian spies have emerged in Europe in recent days.  The Lithuanians announced on 31 December 2014 that they arrested a number of Russian spies at the Zoknai NATO air force base.  In the middle of December 2014, the Estonians announced that a member of their security services had acted as a double agent since 1966.  The Russian television station, NTV, revealed the work of spy, Uno Puusepp, who retired in 2011 and now lives in Moscow.  Puusepp conveyed information to Moscow not only about Estonian but also about American activities.

Lithuanians Welcome the Euro    1 January 2015

At midnight on 1 January 2015, Lithuania abandoned the litas and adopted the euro, joining the other Baltic States in the eurozone–Latvia (2014) and Estonia (2011)–and 18 other European countries.  Initially, a majority of Lithuanians opposed adopting the euro, but that attitude shifted with the looming threat of Russia, which in the past year, has violated Lithuanian air space and has blocked border traffic.  The euro strengthens the ties Lithuania has to the rest of Europe, thus strengthening the country’s security.  Lithuania’s adoption of the euro occurs when the European Commission projected that its GDP in 2015 will rise to 78 percent of the EU average.

Navalny at Moscow Protest    1 January 2015

Alexey Navalny appeared at a demonstration in Moscow on 30 December that attracted thousands to protest the verdict against his brother, who received a three and one half year sentence for what appear to be specious charges of fraud.  Alexey Navalny received a suspended sentence for the same crime.  Police broke up the protest, returned Navalny to his flat, and detained approximately 100 others.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30635874.

The United States condemned the verdict against the Navalny brothers, as did the German government.  The European Union stated that it appears to have been “politically motivated.”  See http://en.europeonline-magazine.eu/eu-navalny-verdict-appears-politically-motivated_369779.html.

Updated “Career Guide for History Majors”    1 January 2015

Since the very beginning of this website in 2011, there has been a page dedicated to Career Guide for History Majors that I have updated over time.  Most recently, I added new information based on the latest figures from the American Community Survey of the US Census Bureau about the salaries of history majors.  It appears in the section titled “How Much Do Historians Earn, Even in Alternate Career Paths?”  There also is a description in “How Many Major in . . .?” of the Linkedin statistical search tool that compiles data about the majors Linkedin users had as students.

On a related theme, those interested in obtaining a doctorate in history may be interested in the 28 December 2014 post on this website about the job market.

2015 Vienna Philharmonic Concert on PBS    1 January 2015

Tune to PBS today, 1 January 2015, at 2.30 EST (check local listings) for the New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic.  Zubin Mehta will be at the podium, and Julie Andrews will host the event that includes a healthy dose of Strauss Family compositions.  Join with the scandalous clapping of the Viennese concert goers when the symphony plays its final piece, the “Radetzky March.”  See http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/vienna-new-years-celebration-2015-preview/3652/.