"What's New? How Is the World Treating You?"
Table of Contents for the Fourth Quarter of 2014
Petro Poroshenko announced a summit on 15 January 2015 in Astana, Kazakhstan, with French, German, and Russian heads of state to stabilize the troubled cease fire in Southeastern Ukraine. See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-29/poroshenko-to-meet-with-putin-merkel-hollande-as-truce-wobbles.html.
The Ukrainian Rada also passed a budget on 29 December that cut social services and increased defense spending but met the parameters for the country to receive a loan from the International Monetary Fund of USD 17 billion. See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-29/ukraine-parliament-approves-2015-state-budget-to-unlock-imf-aid.html.
Otto Skorzeny (1908-1975), famous for his daring rescue of Benito Mussolini toward the end of the Second World War, spent part of his latter years on a farm he owned in Ireland. For an account on his time in Ireland from the BBC, see http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-30571335.
A Russian court sentenced the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, and his brother, Oleg Navalny, to three and a half years in prison for fraud, but it suspended Alexei Navalny’s sentence. The brothers also have to pay various fines. The activist criticized the decision, stating that the intent was to punish a family for an individual’s actions. The court could order Navalny to prison for any infraction of the law. The sentence, which the court was to pronounce after the new year, came early in what many speculate was an effort to avoid protests that the opposition had schedued. The charge against the Navalny brothers was defrauding a subsidiary of Yves Rocher, based on a memo an employee of the company had written, but that individual never appeared in court. Before the trial, Navalny posted a letter, supposedly from Yves Rocher, absolving the two brothers. The Russian courts handed Alexei Navalny a suspended sentence in 2013 for embezzlement. See
In Braunau, Austria, on the Inn River, across the border from Germany, the building where Adolf Hitler was born still remains vacant after several years. He was born above an inn that was on the ground floor and moved from the building, with his family, when he was three years old. The Austrian government once rented it as a daycare center for the elderly. The owner has not decided what to do with the structure but recently rejected an offer of a Russian deputy of the State Duma to purchase the building in order to demolish it. See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30596951.
Earlier references to Hitler’s birthplace on this website are at: http://www.centraleuropeanobserver.com/a/centraleuropeanobserver.com/central-european-observer/-what-s-new-how-is-the-world-treating-you-1q2012#TOC-Items-Related-to-Nazism-and-the-Second-World-War-11-April-2012; and http://www.centraleuropeanobserver.com/-what-s-new-how-is-the-world-treating-you-1#TOC-The-Fate-of-Hitler-s-Birthplace-28-September-2012.
Tune to PBS on 1 January at 2.30 EST (check local listings) for the 2015 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/.
On 26 December, President Vladimir Putin signed a new military doctrine for Russia. The document named NATO Russia’s greatest threat because of its increasing military power and influence. Several of the 13 other threats that the document outlined are linked to American foreign policy initiatives, including “the use of military force in the territories of states contiguous with the Russian Federation and its allies,” “the deployment (buildup) of military contingents of foreign states (groups of states) in the territories of states contiguous with the Russian Federation,” and “the creation and deployment of strategic missile defense systems that undermine global stability . . . [and] the “intention to place weapons in space, as well as the deployment of strategic non-nuclear, precision weapons systems.” The list also includes “the growing threat of global extremism (terrorism).”
The revised document retained the same stance toward nuclear war, which accepts the notion of using nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack and when the country’s existence is at steak, but it also allows for employing conventional precision weapons as a “strategic deterrent.” The document also identifies as part of Russia’s national interest the Arctic region, which includes the North Sea Route (NSR) for shipping that is becoming more accessible with global warming.
The tone of the document conveys a much greater sense of apprehension than the military doctrine that President Barack Obama stated on 5 January 2012.
See http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/12/26/world/europe/ap-eu-russia-military-doctrine.html?_r=0; http://www.dw.de/nato-hits-back-at-kremlin-assertion-that-it-is-a-security-threat/a-18153172. The text (in Russian) of the document is at http://news.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/41d527556bec8deb3530.pdf; and http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/us/obama-at-pentagon-to-outline-cuts-and-strategic-shifts.html (President Obama’s military doctrine).
In related news, Russia’s military announced that, by 2019, it will deploy trains, known as Barguzin, to carry nuclear missiles. They will be difficult to follow because they will appear like refrigerator cars. See http://rt.com/news/217795-russia-nuclear-missile-trains/.
A survey of the American Historical Association reported that the number of jobs for historians with doctorates has dropped for a second year in a row. The market reached its peak before the recession, but it is higher than the 2009-2010 academic year. See http://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2014/the-academic-job-markets-jagged-line.
On 21 December, Romania inaugurated its new president, Klaus Iohannis, who vows to fight corruption. The effort already was underway, with a fearless head of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, Laura Codruţa Kövesi.
The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, dismissed the prime minister, central bank head, and other key figures as part of his effort to keep his country’s economy stable. The decline of the Russian ruble has affected Ukraine, whose exports to Russia have dropped. Belarus no longer accepts the Russian ruble for transactions with Russia and takes in payment only American dollars or euros. See http://news.yahoo.com/belarus-lukashenko-appoints-chief-staff-prime-minister-115332893.html.
The negotiations that were tot take place in Minsk regarding the situation in Ukraine were inconclusive. The immediate problem was the unwillingness on the part of the separatists to fulfill their part of a prisoner swap that was to repatriate 125 Ukrainian military personnel and 225 separatist fighters. The talks were to center on removing heavy artillery from the field that was part of the September agreement to end the fighting.
On Friday, 26 December, however, a prisoner swap finally took place between Ukraine and the separatist areas involving 222 separatist troops and 145 Ukrainian troops. There was no word about whether the Minsk talks will resume.
See http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/26/373249361/ukrainian-peace-talks-put-on-hold?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20141226&utm_campaign=dailydigest&utm_term=nprnews; and http://news.yahoo.com/no-ukraine-peace-talks-minsk-friday-belarus-102032502.html.
In other news, Ukraine has stopped rail and bus transport to Crimea, citing safety concerns. It also stopped electric service to the peninsula for some time, claiming that it was not conserving energy, as the government had directed in all regions. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/26/ukraine-trains-crimea_n_6381818.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592.
The Czech President, Miloš Zeman, has had his share of controversy, but this year was particularly troublesome. He claimed that the police suppression of students on 17 November 1989 did not spark the end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia and was not a massacre, prompting students to pelt him with eggs on 17 November 2014. Some (or at least a portion of one–the reports are conflicting) accidentally hit the visiting German president. Zeman has become less critical of Russia’s interference in Ukraine, claiming that Russian troops are not in the country, and he has called on an easing of sanctions against Russia. With his Eurasian visits, he also seems to be more supportive of other authoritarian regimes than in the past. During a 2 November radio interview, he criticized Pussy Riot for being vulgar and used an expletive to translate the band’s name. The Washington Post, on 21 November, while reporting on the unveiling of a bust of former Czech president, Václav Havel, at the US Capitol, stated that Zeman was a “virtual mouthpiece for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denouncing Russian political prisoners in vulgar terms and denying Russian aggression in Ukraine.” The Czech public also is embarrassed about their president’s problem with alcohol. In May 2013, Zeman appeared to be drunk at the opening of an exhibition of the Bohemian crown jewels, and it was not the first such occurrence. Recently, some Czechs combined Zeman’s comments about Pussy Riot with his apparent propensity to become inebriated to establish the PussyWalk game, available at http://pussywalk.com/cs. It challenges players to make an intoxicated Zeman walk to the crown jewels. Inspiration for the game’s title also likely came from Iggy Pop’s 1996 “Pussy Walk,” from his “Naughty Little Doggie” album.
See http://www.praguepost.com/czech-news/43499-zeman-s-past-year-full-of-controversies; http://euobserver.com/political/126556; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30086495; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2324457/Drunk-Czech-president-Milos-Zeman-hardly-stand-ceremonial-occasion.html.
After the fall of communism, Hungarians took out mortgages in foreign currencies, particularly Swiss francs, because the interest rate was lower. Now, as the Hungarian currency has devalued, they are facing financial disaster. The government has had to pass a number of measures to ease the crisis, but many Hungarians expect they never will recover financially. See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/14/business/hard-lessons-for-borrowers-in-hungary.html?action=click&contentCollection=Europe®ion=Footer&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=article&_r=0.
In October 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the Valdai Club, a Russian-based discussion forum of academics and experts on Russian affairs. The Kremlin posted an English-language version of Putin’s speech as well as a transcript of the discussion that followed at http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/23137.
Putin expressed his view that the United States declared itself victor in the cold war instead of attempting to construct a new balance of power, a position which has led to today’s crisis. Furthermore, the US intimidates its enemies and spends “billions of dollars on keeping the whole world, including its own closest allies, under surveillance.” Putin noted that the US supported Islamic terrorists against the Soviet Union and only sought international support to fight such terrorism after the 11 September 2001 attacks. It also seeks to identify a major foe in order to create a quasi-bipolar world in which the US can dominate its allies. Sanctions against Russia are one way of achieving this goal.
Putin remarked that the situation in Ukraine was tied to the desire of the US to weaken Russia and tip the balance of power in America’s favor. He linked the Ukrainian crisis with America’s desire to derail the current arms control arrangements. Putin noted that “this dangerous process was launched by the United States of America when it unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, and then set about and continues today to actively pursue the creation of its global missile defense system.” He continued: “I want to point out that we did not start this.”
In order to control the situation, America and its allies “use regional conflicts and design ‘color revolutions’ to suit their interests, but the genie escaped the bottle. It looks like the controlled chaos theory fathers themselves do not know what to do with it; there is disarray in their ranks.” The result is “global chaos.”
Russia, according to Putin, made its choice: “Our priorities are further improving our democratic and open economy institutions, accelerated internal development, taking into account all the positive modern trends in the world, and consolidating society based on traditional values and patriotism.”
In the discussion that followed, Putin stated that the revolution in Kyiv “was an armed seizure of power” and that the people of Crimea have the right to self-determination. Part of what drove the population’s desire to join with Russia was the rise of neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine. Furthermore, the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 occurred illegally. In answering another question about Ukraine, Putin blamed the failure of the Minsk peace process on Ukraine.
Putin promised a strong Russian response to any threat through an analogy: “You may remember the wonderful saying: Whatever Jupiter is allowed, the Ox is not. We cannot agree with such an approach. The ox may not be allowed something, but the bear will not even bother to ask permission. Here we consider it the master of the taiga, and I know for sure that it does not intend to move to any other climatic zones – it will not be comfortable there. However, it will not let anyone have its taiga either. I believe this is clear.”
Putin also addressed the question of Russia’s economy, stating that it was sound and prospering, although spending must be reasonable.
NPR provided a very accurate description of Christmas Eve dinner in Slovakia, which holds true, for the most part, in the Czech Republic. The main course is carp, which some families, to this day, keep swimming in their bath tub before preparing it for dinner. The only thing that the report missed is that a traditional cook will make a tasty soup from the carp’s head. See http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/12/22/372088391/in-slovakia-christmas-dinner-starts-in-the-bathtub.
Perhaps because the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has alienated so many in the European Union, has built a reputation as an apologist for Russia, and gives the impression of being a sympathizer of Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, he has begun to offset his policy toward the Kremlin by taking a a conciliatory approach toward Germany. See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-28/hungary-retreats-from-putin-as-orban-rediscovers-germany.html?cmpid=yhoo.
Click on http://www.vox.com/2014/8/19/5942585/40-maps-that-explain-the-roman-empire to see a series of maps and illustrations that succinctly explain the history of the Roman Empire.
Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakstan, and Kyrgyzstan will launch their Eurasian Economic Union on 1 January 2015 and signed the final accords to begin the customs union and free trade zone. The strained relations between Belarus and Russia, however, dampened the festivities. Russia is imposing import and transit restrictions on foods from Belarus because of the amount of foodstuffs from the European Union that pass through Belarus on their way to Russia. The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, was angry that Russia did not consult with him before imposing the ban. See http://news.yahoo.com/russia-4-ex-soviet-nations-finalize-alliance-144828097--finance.html.
A large convoy of supplies from Russia to the separatist fighters in Southeastern Ukraine at the end of November sparked expectations of renewed fighting. Tension heightened as well when Kyiv cut funding to the Southeastern provinces under separatist control, with the supposition that the separatists were using some of the finances for military purposes. Skirmishes continued, but neither side started a major offensive. As the Russian economy and the weather worsend, speculation shifted to whether any movement will occur at all in the next few months. So far, even the Minsk peace process is stalled, despite initial the optimism of the September agreement and the promise of new negotiations on 24 and 26 December. All sides continue to posture–Ukraine recently eliminated its nonaligned status, and Russia threatened Ukraine with financial ruin–but it is unlikely that much military activity will occur until the spring.
See http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/ukraine-president-says-cease-fire-holding-calming-conflict-with-russia/2014/12/12/d1f9d3e2-820b-11e4-b936-f3afab0155a7_story.html; http://news.yahoo.com/large-unauthorized-convoy-enters-east-ukraine-russia-ukrainian-134642916.html; and http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/22/us-ukraine-crisis-meeting-idUSKBN0K01QU20141222.
In related news, a special report from Reuters shows how a Ukrainian ally of the Kremlin, Dmitry Firtash, who now is free on bail in Austria, managed to make a fortune dealing in Russian gas. The report is available at http://news.yahoo.com/special-report-putins-allies-channeled-billions-ukraine-oligarch-131143198.html.
In the middle of November, a Turkish construction company unearthed a cistern or possibly a shop from the Byzantine Era during construction in İstanbul. A citizen alerted the authorities, who now are determining whether construction can continue. A few months earlier, two Christian graves also were discovered and damaged during construction, and authorities had not received the required notification of construction. See http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/construction-company-tries-to-cover-up-byzantine-structure-with-cement-.aspx?PageID=238&NID=74323&NewsCatID=375.
China its prepared to assist Russia during its financial crisis, noting its willingness to extend loans to Russia. The two countries already are negotiating several projects, such as Chinese cooperation to build a deep-water port in Crimea, to lay a Russia-China pipeline, and to construct railroads in Russia’s Far East that would benefit Russian-Chinese trade.
On 11 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India, another country that is increasing its economic ties to Russia. The two countries signed a number of trade agreements, including one for the sale of Russian nuclear power technology to India and another for more Russian diamonds for India’s cutting and polishing industry.
See http://euobserver.com/foreign/127036; and http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-russia-india-military-trade-20141211-story.html.
Belarus is attempting to isolate itself from Russia’s economic problems and their repercussions. Because its citizens are rushing to acquire American dollars, the Belarus government has imposed a 30 percent tax on purchasing dollars. It also blocked websites from reporting on the decline of the Russian ruble. The government also required that Russian-Belarussian transactions to be based on dollars instead of rubles. This may cause major difficulties for Russian citizens because Belarus has been purchasing European Union foodstuffs and selling them to Russian firms as a means of profiting from the sanctions. Russia is not stopping the trade because it keeps the shelves of grocery stores stocked, even though the price of goods from the EU is higher. Average Russians, therefore, are somewhat insulated from the sanctions. See http://euobserver.com/tickers/127029; and http://euobserver.com/foreign/127036.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 174 countries in 2014 is available at http://www.transparency.org/cpi2014. Denmark is ranked as the least corrupt (score of 90), and Somalia (score of 8) is at the bottom of the list. Rankings are based on the score, and not all ranks have a corresponding country. Furthermore, more than one country can hold the same rank and score. For comparison, Germany is ranked at 12 (score of 79), and the United States is 17 (score of 74). Rankings from Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans are as follows:
Note that Czechs perceive corruption as worsening since their country’s ranking went from a score of 48 in 2013 to 51 in 2014. Slovakia also worsened, going from a score of 47 in 2013 to 51 in 2014. Italy is on a par with Bulgaria and Romania. Russia remained the same, with a score of 28 in 2013 to 27 this year. Ukraine also essentially remained steady, with a score of 25 in 2013 and one point better this year.
While visiting Ankara, Turkey, on 1 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia no longer plans to build the South Stream pipeline through the Bulgaria and Serbia to bypass Ukraine. The motive for scrapping the project was the European Union’s opposition to the plan because of anti-monopoly violations as well as the financial difficulties Russia currently faces. A third reason–the most important–is that Russia and Turkey announced an expansion of the existing Blue Stream pipeline from Russia to Turkey. Furthermore, Russia will build a nuclear power plant in Turkey.
Putin suggested that Bulgaria, which already has invested in constructing parts of the pipeline, should seek compensation from the European Union. To solve the question of energy supply, the EU is planning a pipeline from Azerbaijan through Turkey. In its dealings with Russia, Turkey is seeking a discount for Russian petroleum products and better treatment for the Crimean Tatars.
See http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/01/us-russia-gas-gazprom-pipeline-idUSKCN0JF30A20141201; and http://euobserver.com/foreign/126749.
On 9 December, Hungary signed a contract with Russia’s Atomenergoprom for two new nuclear reactors at its existing Paks nuclear power plant. See http://itar-tass.com/en/economy/765936.
On 23 December, the Rada in Ukraine voted to end the country’s non-aligned status, paving the way for possible entry into NATO. Already in late November, Ukraine and Lithuania signed an agreement for Lithuania to supply military equipment and training to Ukrainian forces and to cooperate in other military matters. At the same time, the United States agreed to provide Ukraine with counter-mortar radar equipment and training. See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-parliament-takes-historic-step-toward-nato-102848451.html; http://www.newsweek.com/lithuania-military-aid-ukraine-286531; and http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2014/11/24/US-supplies-Ukraine-with-counter-mortar-radar-systems/7201416841149/.
William R. Polk, a Middle Eastern and foreign affairs expert who served as a diplomat and was a professor of history at Harvard and the University of Chicago, has written a brief survey of Russian and Ukrainian history for History News Network that is available at http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/157941. As with any summary, there are some slight distortions and omissions. For example, there is no mention of the Ukrainian Cossack leader Bogdan Chmielnicki (c. 1595-1657) or the role of the Czechoslovak legions in the Russian civil war. Nevertheless, the piece furthers the understanding of those who are looking for an introduction to the current problems between Russia and Ukraine.
There are new discussions about an ornate iron sword discovered in 1975 in Siberia, with some experts claiming that it belonged to Ivan IV (1530-1584; reigned 1533-1584; tsar after 1547), known as Ivan the Terrible. See http://io9.com/did-this-medieval-sword-actually-belong-to-ivan-the-ter-1662663204.
At a recent summit, European Union leaders indicated that they may consider lifting sanctions against Russia if Ukraine’s territorial integrity is not compromised, which long has been one of the major goals of the sanctions. Germany’s Angela Merkel and the United Kingdom’s David Cameron spoke in favor of the sanctions regime; while the French president, François Hollande, was in agreement, his tone was more conciliatory. European Council president, Donald Tusk, lauded the EU’s unity with respect to the sanctions. An unnamed EU diplomat told the Russian news agency, TASS, that the sanctions expire in March, and the leaders will have to agree, during a summit at that time, whether to continue with the sanctions. The TASS report likely was an effort to offset news of the recent imposition of additional sanctions against Russian firms and individuals with business dealings that focus on Crimea. One unnamed source noted that Russia is lobbying Hungary, Italy, and Cyprus to overturn sanctions next year and is hoping that Greece, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic might be supportive of such a move.
See http://itar-tass.com/en/world/768003; http://euobserver.com/foreign/127002; http://euobserver.com/foreign/126986; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30560941; and lhttp://euobserver.com/foreign/126879. A full list of EU sanctions is available at http://europa.eu/newsroom/highlights/special-coverage/eu_sanctions/index_en.htm. For information about sanctions on Ukrainian separatists, see http://news.yahoo.com/eu-adds-13-ukrainian-separatists-five-organizations-sanctions-121725903.html.
Meanwhile, Russia’s economy continues to suffer from restrictions resulting from the sanctions and the dramatic drop in the price of oil. During his 4 December state of the nation address, President Vladimir Putin was upbeat. Then, in a press conference on 18 December that lasted more than three hours, he promised that the Russian economy will rebound in two years. Nevertheless, dismal economic news continues to emerge from Russia. The latest is Google’s announcement about closing its Russian engineering operations because of Russian restrictions on the Internet, requiring that data on Russians remain in the country, and official pressure to remove links from Google.
See http://www.npr.org/2014/12/04/368529423/putin-stands-firm-in-state-of-the-nation-address; http://www.businessinsider.com/the-ruble-crash-and-putins-choices-2014-12#ixzz3M7ha13MR; http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-12-18/vladmir-putins-surreal-press-conference; http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2014/dec/18/vladimir-putin-press-conference-rouble-oil-live; and http://www.cnbc.com/id/102263070. For the difficulties of Russian musicians who oppose their country’s position on Ukraine, see http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/12/10/369367027/russian-pop-stars-pay-a-price-for-speaking-out-on-ukraine?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20141210&utm_campaign=dailydigest&utm_term=nprnews.
The European Union continues to react to Russian involvement in Ukraine, although it sometimes is difficult to determine the precise influence the crisis has. Russian and “unknown” incursions into territorial waters and air space continue, alleged spies emerge, and in a clear reaction to the tensions between the EU and Russia, Estonia expelled a pro-Russian Italian journalist who tried to enter the country. At times, the links with Moscow are uncertain, such as the accusation that radical eurosceptic parties, such as the far-right Austrian Freedom party, have accepted funds from the Kremlin. Motives are more difficult when it comes to EU enlargement, although EU officials deny that there is any link between negotiations about expansion and the deteriorating relations with Russia. Recently, the EU opened new chapters in the negotiations with Montenegro, bringing the number of negotiated chapters to 16 out of 35 (two already are closed). Negotiations about EU membership also continue with other Balkan states, although there is no movement with respect to Turkey, which persists in adopting measures that strain its democracy. Turkey recently arrested approximately 30 journalists on suspicion of conspiracy. Meanwhile, Turkey is improving its diplomatic and economic relations with Russia .
See http://euobserver.com/foreign/126676; http://westernbalkanseu.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/montenegro-opened-five-chapters-with-the-eu/; http://euobserver.com/justice/126959; http://euobserver.com/foreign/126960; and http://euobserver.com/news/126912. On the German and Russian spy expulsions in the middle of November, see http://www.ibtimes.com/german-diplomat-expelled-russia-after-suspected-russian-spy-forced-out-bonn-1724430?ft=h6k97.
After six months of negotiations, Kosovo has a new government under Isa Mustafa of the Democratic League of Kosovo. The former prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, is foreign minister and one of the deputy prime ministers. See http://www.dw.de/kosovo-chooses-new-government-after-six-month-stalemate/a-18119560; and http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/kosovo-elects-central-institutions.
Viktor Ponta, the Romanian prime minister who recently lost the country’s presidential election, appointed a new cabinet on 14 December, after the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania withdrew from the governing coalition. Ponta’s fourth government now includes his Social Democratic party as well as the Conservative party, National Union for the Progress of Romania, and National Liberal party. It has 58 percent of the seats in the parliament, while Ponta’s third government commanded 65 percent of the seats.
Ponta has cleaned house in other ways as well. He notified the rector of Bucharest University that he is renouncing his doctorate, which has been a matter of controversy since 2012, when evidence emerged that he had plagiarized large portions of his dissertation. Ponta still maintains that he did not plagiarize any portion of his dissertation, although he admits that he should have footnoted segments of texts that he had cited in his bibliography. He reasoning for the timing of his decision was that he did not want to taint the new minister of education with the scandal involving the plagiarism accusations.
Clearly, Ponta’s political future is in question, and he is doing what he can to solidify his position.
The architectural critic, Martin Filler, has denounced the renovation of Chartres Cathedral, which involves painting the interior in an effort to restore it to its original appearance. He maintains that the composition of the paint that once was on the walls is unknown and that it fell off within a few generations. As a result, the bright white interior that is emerging from the restoration is unlike anything that visitors to the cathedral might have seen in the middle ages. See http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/dec/14/scandalous-makeover-chartres/.
France and the United States have signed an agreement, which the French legislature still must approve, to provide compensation to anyone living in the United States whom the French railway system transported to a concentration camp during the Second World War. Previous compensation arrangements only applied to those living in France. See http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_UNITED_STATES_FRANCE_HOLOCAUST?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT.
The election results for the Moldovan election place show that the pro-Russian Socialist party won a plurality of votes. Banning the Patria party from the election for having taken funds from Moscow prompted its supporters to vote Socialist, which accounts for the Socialist victory. The Democrats and Liberal Democrats, who had a pact during the election not to attack each other, likely will form the basis of a ruling coalition. With just shy of 36 percent of the votes and a total of 42 seats out of 101 seats, they will have to find other partners to join the government or support a minority government in the legislature. The Liberals or Communists, who are in favor of European integration, are the obvious choices. The percentage of votes and the likely number of seats each of the major parties gained are as follows:
Socialist Party of Moldova: 20.51 per cent of the votes, 25 seats out of 101 seats
Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova: 20.16 percent, 23 seats
Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova:17.48 per cent, 21 seats
Democratic Party of Moldova: 15.80 per cent, 19 seats
Liberal Party: 9.67 per cent, 13 seats
Perceptions are that the elections were less than totally fair. Part of the problem is that the courts did not release information about the evidence they had against the Patria party. Furthermore, only 3,000 cast their votes in Moscow, where 200,000 Moldovans reside.
The parties have not formed a new government, but the Liberal Democratic party, Liberal party, and Democratic party have agreed to form a coalition. It is likely that the current prime minister, Iurie Leancă, who is from the Liberal Democratic party, which received the largest number of votes, will remain in office.
See http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1409-a-disappointing-victory; http://www.aldeparty.eu/en/news/pro-european-forces-form-government-moldova; http://voteaza.md/r/r/; and http://www.rri.ro/en_gb/negotiations_for_the_formation_of_a_new_government_in_chisinau-2523986.
In other news related to Moldova, an essay on Moldovan identity in light of the 2014 census, the results of which still are not available, is at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1405-the-unanswerable-question-of-identity.
Parliamentary elections took place in Moldova on 30 November, and the pro-European parties won a narrow victory of at least 55 out of 101 seats over the pro-Russian parties. Some see the election as invalid because one pro-Russian party leader was banned from the election, supposedly because he had accepted campaign money from Russia. He fled to Moscow just days before the election. Another party that imitated the Communists may have had its origins with pro-Western politicians, who wanted to reduce the number who would vote for the Communists. Such a tactic occasionally takes place in order to weaken anti-system parties and movements (cases occurred in Finland and Belgium between the two world wars). In fact, the new so-called “clone” party garnered enough votes to reduce the Communists’ numbers and to secure the pro-European victory. In fact not all the Communists are pro-Russian, and some speculate that they may cooperate with the pro-European parties in the parliament. Talks now are underway to establish a ruling coalition.
In a run-off election, the socialist prime minister of Romania, Viktor Ponta, whom many accuse of trampling on democratic freedoms, lost his bid for the presidency to an ethnic German and former mayor of Sibiu (German: Hermannstadt), Klaus Iohannis, of the Liberal party, who promised to reduce corruption. Part of Ponta’s problem was the poor organization for elections at Romanian embassies abroad, but there were bigger difficulties: the perception that he was beginning to cement his grip on power, the reputation the government and bureaucracy have for being corrupt; and the expectation that Ponta would continue his anti-democratic actions. Ponta stated that he has no reason to resign as prime minister because he had lost the presidential race.
On the Romanian election, see:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30076716; and http://www.dw.de/romanias-iohannis-wins-ponta-concedes/a-18068398.
On the Moldovan election, see: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21635339-moldovans-choose-europe-barely.http://news.yahoo.com/russian-tv-channel-says-photos-show-mh17-shot-120128390.html.
The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, decreed that government offices and banks will close as of Monday and that they should evacuate all assets, records, and those personnel who wish to leave. He also is requesting that the Rada eliminate the special status of the regions. His moves are in anticipation of a Russian-backed separatist offensive to expel the remaining Ukrainian troops from Donetsk and Luhansk and unite those areas with Russia. See http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Latest-News-Wires/2014/1115/Ukraine-closes-state-institutions-banking-services-in-east.
The Abkhazian authorities signed an agreement with their Russian counterparts to integrate their militaries. That has caused protesters in Georgia to claim that Russia is trying to annex the territory. Russia covertly supported the creation of a breakaway Abkhazian state during the 1992-1993 war between Abkhazia and Georgia. See http://news.yahoo.com/georgians-protest-russia-abkhazia-province-deal-131655173.html.
The foreign and defense ministers of the European Union will meet on Monday to discuss a number of issues, including Bosnian ethnic conflict, the EULEX corruption scandal in Kosovo, and Ukraine. There is speculation that the Baltic States, Poland, Romania, UK, and the Nordic countries are in favor of taking action against Russia, but France, Germany, and Italy want to delay any decision until the December summit of EU leaders. See http://euobserver.com/agenda/126526.
On 14 November, Swedish authorities confirmed that a foreign submarine of unknown origin illegally crossed into Swedish waters in October. Experts assume the sub was Russian, but no proof exists. The prime minister, Stefan Lofven, vowed to defend the borders of Sweden “with all available means.”
The question of why Russia is provoking the West may be clear, in the cases of the United States and the European Union as a whole, but Sweden, although an EU member, is not in NATO. If the sub was Russian (and it probably was), the Kremlin might have sought to gain intelligence about Swedish defenses or simply plan a sensitive military exercise for training. Putin may have approved of the operation (there is little doubt that such a mission would not have Kremlin approval) simply as another show of force. He will gain little from such antics, and the costs may be great. Sweden certainly will consider strengthening its defenses, which it allowed to weaken since the end of the cold war, and discussions in Sweden about joining NATO will resume.
See http://news.yahoo.com/swedes-unknown-submarine-did-violate-waters-105306823.html; and http://euobserver.com/opinion/126528.
Both President Obama and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy criticized Russia’s actions with respect to Ukraine when speaking with reporters, on 14 November, at the G20 summit in Australia. In response, Yuri Ushakov, a foreign-policy aid to Russian President Vladimir Putin, stated: “We are not involved.” The latest to emerge from the summit is that Putin will leave as soon as the meetings conclude and will not participate in the concluding lunch. See http://news.yahoo.com/putin-put-notice-g20-summit-end-ukraine-crisis-030926230--business.html; and http://news.yahoo.com/putin-leave-g20-summit-early-russian-delegate-135749163.html.
Meanwhile, reports on 15 November state at NATO planes intercepted two Russian fighter jets near Latvian air space. On 14 November, Russia has warned France of legal action if it does deliver the war ships it had purchased before the Ukrainian crisis escalated. France responded that it will not be intimidated. Russia also conducted anti-terrorist maneuvers in Serbia not far from the Croatian border, even though Serbia has expressed its desire to enter the EU. When the Canadian prime minister, Steven Harper, shook hands with Putin, he told the Russian president that the Russians need to get out of Ukraine: “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.” Putin’s spokesman remarked that “Putin told him that this is impossible because they [the Russians] are not there.” See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-15/nato-jets-intercept-two-russian-fighter-planes-over-baltic-sea.html?cmpid=yhoo; http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-is-threatening-france-with-grave-consequences-if-it-does-not-deliver-war-ships-2014-11; http://news.yahoo.com/russian-troops-hold-drills-serbia-162814039.html; and http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-15/harper-uses-handshake-to-tell-putin-he-must-get-out-of-ukraine-.html?cmpid=yhoo.
NATO has confirmed the presence of Russian troops and equipment moving into Southeastern Ukraine for what likely will be a final push to separate the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk from Ukraine and attach them to Russia. This has prompted the European Union to consider even more sanctions against Russia, but a final decision on this matter will have to wait until the summit in the middle of December of EU leaders. Te delay may make additional economic bans moot. Ukraine is redeploying its forces in anticipation of a major separatist offensive. Fighting has escalated recently, and the truce arranged this past September in Minsk remains only on paper.
Russia has imposed their own sanctions on the EU and the United States, but banned EU consumer goods still find their way into the Russian market, and they are completely legal. Russia’s customs union partners, Belarus and Kazakhstan, are not part of the sanctions regime. Goods can flow from the EU to these countries and then legally enter Russia. Belarus is geographically poised to serve as the merchant to supply EU goods to Russia, and the country’s economics minister, Nikolai Snopkov, told the Associated Press that the sanctions regime is strengthening his country’s ties with the EU. He welcomed new possibilities to process EU goods for export to Russia and claimed that the Russians have no difficulty with the arrangement.
Improved economic ties among countries frequently lead to better political links, and that may be the scenario between the EU and Belarus should the sanctions regime continue. Russia may get its way through force in Southeastern Ukraine, but if the sanctions continue, Belarus may well establish deeper economic ties with the EU that weaken its dependency on Russia. The only ways Russia could prevent such a scenario would be to entice its customs union partners to apply their own sanctions on the EU or by taking steps to block imports from those countries, which could unravel the customs union.
The EU has its own difficulty with Hungary. Its prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is steadily eroding democratic freedoms, and he has criticized EU sanctions against Russia. He negotiated with the Russians to purchase a nuclear power plant, stopped supplying Ukraine with natural gas, and continued to support construction of Russia’s South Stream pipeline that does not meet EU regulations separating the ownership of the pipeline from the ownership of its contents. The Russians and Hungarians will play a soccer match in Budapest on 18 November, and Orbán’s planned attendance will be a strong political statement of support for improved Hungarian-Russian ties that flout EU sanctions.
See http://news.yahoo.com/belarus-official-ukraine-war-may-push-us-west-152455338.html; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30025138; http://news.yahoo.com/eu-allies-alarmed-hungarys-kremlin-drift-133753176.html; and http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/13/us-ukraine-crisis-eu-idUSKCN0IX2CZ20141113?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews.
Russian tanks, trucks, antiaircraft missiles, and troops have been pouring into Southeastern Ukraine in what apparently is a buildup to a major offensive against Ukraine that will separate the Donbas (Luhansk and Donetsk) or even more territory and attach it to Russia. The Kremlin continues to deny its involvement in covertly supporting the separatists. The adage of the big lie seems to apply, although the citizens of the Western states are unlikely to believe it. Most Russian citizens do, but only for the time being. It hardly is highly scientific, and the risk of inappropriately implying that Vladimir Putin is akin to Adolf Hitler is great, but the statement of Moe in the Three Stooges’ “You Natzty Spy!” seems to apply: “We must lend our neighbors a helping hand! We must lend them two helping hands, and help ourselves to our neighbors!” The West, although paralyzed, faces the age-old dilemma of democracies: hesitancy to risk war, even for the sake of a friendly state, without sufficient provocation.
What is likely, and how should the West respond? Without any hope of the kind of support from the West that the separatists are getting from Russia, the Donbas will join Crimea in Russia as part of a twenty-first century land grab that is reminiscent of what European powers did from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. Should Ukrainian democracy survive the second amputation and should its population not abandon all its faith in the West that they demonstrated during the country’s recent election, NATO and the European Union should embrace Ukraine. They should support it with financial and military aid and offer it a fast track to membership in the EU and NATO. If Russia takes the Donbas, the West need not concern itself with the courtesy of preserving any aspect of a buffer zone between Russia and the EU-NATO partnership. If Russia does not respect it, there is no need to maintain it. Doing so only will invite the Russian scalpel, which, under Putin’s leadership, does not see buffer zones but unclaimed territory ripe for domination.
For an analysis of the Russian buildup in Southeastern Ukraine in the past two weeks, see http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/11/10/in-ukraine-winter-is-coming-and-so-are-the-russians.html.
Declassified files reveal that about 1,000 former Nazis worked for the FBI, CIA, and other spying agencies after the Second World War. These agencies also were responsible for protecting the former Nazis, even shielding them from investigations that the US Justice Department undertook to extradite former Nazis. See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/us/in-cold-war-us-spy-agencies-used-1000-nazis.html?_r=0; and http://www.democracynow.org/2014/10/31/the_nazis_next_door_eric_lichtblau.
Information also surfaced that more than three dozen ex-Nazis received Social Security benefits because they emigrated from the United States before being prosecuted. The program was a means of eliminating the lengthy and costly process of deporting them using the courts. Had they lost during the proceedings, they would have been deported without the right to receive any government pension. It was not always a policy that was attractive to those in the American government, but it was practical. See http://news.yahoo.com/expelled-nazis-paid-millions-social-security-010341906.html.
Victor Ponta, Romania’s prime minister, won the first round of Romanian elections on 2 November with 40 percent of the vote and will compete with a pro-Western ethnic German, Klaus Iohannis, who garnered 30.9 percent of the vote, in the second round that will take place on 16 November. See http://euobserver.com/political/126343.
Russia has decertified a great number of school texts, many of which are quite popular with students and educators, but one particular company, Enlightenment, under the leadership of a friend and former judo sparing partner of Vladimir Putin, has had no difficulties and is poised to fill the newly-created gap. Some texts faced removal from the approved list because their illustrations were not sufficiently national. See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/world/europe/putins-friend-profits-in-purge-of-schoolbooks.html?_r=0. In another piece, Ivan Kurilla, who teaches at Volgograd State University, wrote “The Struggle for the History Textbook in Russia,” NewsNet: News of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies 54 (October 2014): 13-15, to explain how the government is attempting to present a unified and sanitized view of Russian history.
On 22 October, Russia opened a new naval base on Wrangel Island, the first of many bases that will solidify Russia’s claim to the oil- and mineral-rich Arctic. Wrangel Island is near Alaska and marks the eastern end of the East Siberian Sea and the extreme end of the western portion of the Chukchi Sea. Competing with Russia in territorial claims in the Arctic are the United States, Norway, Denmark, and Canada. The Russian government also announced that it would clean up debris left from the Soviet era in the region in an effort to silence environmental concerns about the military presence in the Arctic. See http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/russia-s-first-arctic-base-opens-for-business/509913.html.
The pro-Western parties won the Ukrainian elections of 26 October 2014. The major victors were Petro Poroshenko’s electoral coalition, with 21.83 percent of the vote (132 out of 450 seats), the People’s Front of the prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, with 22.16 percent of the vote (82 seats), and Self-help, under Andrey Sadoviy, the mayor of Lviv, with 10.98 percent (32 seats). These parties represent about 55 percent of the vote, but when combined with other parties and politicians who stand for a clear break with communism and the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych, an overwhelming number of voters–about 80 percent–have backed the changes in Ukraine.
Two nationalist parties, Svoboda and the Radical party, made it into the Rada, but the Right Sector, accused of being a neo-Nazi movement, failed to make the 5 percent threshold. The Communist party, which has supported ties with Russia, also did not make it into the Rada. The party of the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been jailed during the Yanukovych regime, barely managed to get into the Rada with 5.68 percent of the votes. Opposition Bloc, which includes those who supported Yanukovych, received 9.4 percent of the votes (29 seats).
Voting in the western part of the country was strong (about 70 percent), approximately half the voters turned out in the center of the country, where there is a mix of Russians and Ukrainians, and less than one-third turned out in the separatist southeast. Overall turnout was 52.4 percent of the eligible voters. The Rada, with 450 seats, will have 27 vacant seats to represent those in Southeastern Ukraine.
See http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1369-ukrainian-parliamentary-elections-2014; and http://euobserver.com/foreign/126260.
In related news, shortly before the elections, Ukrainian authorities have uncovered a cache of arms and explosives they claim Russian agents were going to use in an attack on targets in Kyiv. See http://www.newsweek.com/ukrainian-intelligence-seize-arms-cache-they-uncover-russian-plot-attack-kiev-279031.
On 2 November, in the southeastern portion of Ukraine, voting took place in the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Voting monitors were present, but they were unofficial and intentionally deceived voters. According to the election results, Aleksandr Zakharchenko won the leadership of the Donetsk People's Republic with approximately 79 percent of the vote, and Igor Plotnitsky is to head the Luhansk People’s Republic with about 64 percent of the vote.
Despite the fact that the voting is a violation of the Minsk Agreement, which states that Ukraine should organize the voting in the separatist-held areas, the Russian foreign ministry stated in advance that it will recognize the unofficial voting as representing the will of the people. After the voting, the German government and the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security announced that they did not recognize the vote and that the rebel leaders are to negotiate with Kyiv, according to the Minsk Agreement.
Russian troop reinforcements and equipment started moving into Southeastern Ukraine after the vote.
See http://www.dw.de/germany-eu-reject-rebel-polls-in-eastern-ukraine/a-18036407; http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/11/ukrainian-rebel-regions-vote-with-fake-election-monitors-real-anger/; http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-european-union-election-rebels-/26671252.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter; and http://www.ibtimes.com/russian-troops-surge-ukraine-donetsk-luhansk-elections-reveal-winners-1717678.
In October, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened in Warsaw. It contains an important permanent exhibition that includes a replica ceiling from the seventeenth-century wooden synagogue in Gwoździec, which now is in Ukraine, that the Nazis destroyed. The building, which has nearly 13,000 square meters, is in an attractive green space in Warsaw and is the design of the Finish architect Rainer Mahlamäki. See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/22/world/europe/warsaw-museum-of-the-history-of-polish-jews.html?emc=edit_tnt_20141021&nlid=46945321&tntemail0=y&_r=0. The website of the museum is at http://www.polin.pl/en.
Jewish gravestones have turned up during excavation for a supermarket in Brest, Belarus, and others have appeared in the foundation of homes and elsewhere. The destruction of Jewish culture that began with the Nazis continued under the Communists. See http://www.vice.com/read/jewish-graves-in-brest-belarussia-kate-samuelson-333.
Officials are offering a reward for information leading to the recovery of the iron gate to Dachau Concentration Camp that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei.” Thieves stole the historical object on the night of 1-2 November. See http://www.thelocal.de/20141107/police-offer-reward-for-dachau-gate-theft.
The wealthy Hungarian-American financier, George Soros, has warned the United States and particularly the European Union that they have lost their nerve after the 2008 financial crisis and have allowed Vladimir Putin to take the initiative in carving out Russian interests in Eastern Europe. See http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/nov/20/wake-up-europe/?insrc=hpss.
There are several commemorative pieces about the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. See http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/03/behind-wall; http://www.euractiv.com/sections/languages-culture/25-years-after-fall-berlin-wall-divisions-germany-remain-309724; http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/11/08/361160675/the-cold-war-broadcast-that-gave-east-german-dissidents-a-voice?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20141108&utm_campaign=dailydigest&utm_term=nprnews; http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/11/05/361787858/the-cold-war-mole-who-smuggled-1-000-east-germans-to-the-west?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20141109&utm_campaign=dailydigest&utm_term=nprnews; http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21631130-fall-berlin-wall-closed-question-communism-it-reopened-question; and http://blogs.wsj.com/brussels/2014/11/05/the-fourth-man-who-prompted-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall/.
A slideshow of portions of the Berlin Wall and how the same areas appears today is at http://news.yahoo.com/photos/the-berlin-wall-then-and-now-1415311407-slideshow/.
Speaking at a commemoration of the Berlin Wall’s fall, Mikhail S. Gorbachev warned that Europe is headed toward a new cold war. He also said that, with the European Union and NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territory, the West had done much to antagonize Russia. See http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-gorbachev-new-cold-war-20141108-story.html.
A study of the Pew Research Center shows that six in ten Americans who were eight years old or older remember where they were when the Berlin Wall fell. Where were you? This author was in San Francisco, researching at Stanford University and the Hoover Institution with a post-doctoral fellowship and devouring every scrap of news about events throughout former Eastern Europe as they unfolded. See http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/11/03/berlin-walls-fall-marked-the-end-of-the-cold-war-for-the-american-public/.
Sir Nicholas Winton (born 1909) received the greatest honor the Czech Republic bestows on an individual, the Order of the White Lion, for saving 669 children from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and for attempting to save approximately 200 more, which failed when the Second World War began in 1939. Winton flew into Prague for the ceremony at the Prague Castle and returned home immediately because of his advanced age. At the same time, Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965) received the Order of the White Lion, which Churchill’s grandson accepted. Czech President Miloš Zeman remarked that he was embarrassed that it had taken so long to recognize the work of Winton and Churchill. See http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-29798434 and http://www.praguepost.com/czech-news/42318-white-lion-goes-to-winton-and-winston.
Swiss consumers recently were shocked to find that their favorite creamer sported images of Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini instead of flowers, animals, and other innocuous images. The company claims it has no idea how the images passed various company controls. See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/world/europe/swiss-company-apologizes-for-hitler-coffee-cream-containers.html?_r=0.
Russia jumped in its “Doing Business” ranking to sixty-second place from ninety-second place and now is between Greece and Moldova. Singapore is first, and the United States is seventh in the survey. A number of reforms, including legal procedures, account for Russia’s improved score. Vladimir Putin’s goal is to get Russia into the top 20 before the end of the decade. More information is available at http://rt.com/business/200383-russia-doing-business-ranking/ and http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/GIAWB/Doing%20Business/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB15-Full-Report.pdf.
Russia has been hoarding gold since 2012, and it now is apparent why. In order to prop up the faltering economy that has been suffering as a result of Western sanctions over Russia’s involvement in Southeastern Ukraine, the Russian government has promised to dip into its gold reserves to supplement various budget cuts. Apparently, the Kremlin was anticipating Western actions many months before the United States and the European Union imposed any sanctions. See http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-building-its-gold-reserves-2014-11.
In late October, the European Union has lodged a complaint against Russia for higher tariffs on paper products, palm oil, and refrigerators. The Russian government also has filed complaints against the EU. See http://euobserver.com/news/126339.
NPR host, David Green, spent the last week of October in Crimea and filed a number of reports that describe how life has changed under Russian rule:
The Russians have been playing a cat-and-mouse troops with Western militaries. First was the hunt for the Russian submarine in Swedish waters, and a spate of occurrences followed. More recently, NATO planes escorted out of Estonian air space a Russian jet that had ventured 600 meters across the border. Then, in late October, Norwegian forces escourted two Russian bombers out of their country's air space, and British forces intercepted two Russian bombers, just before they entered the United Kingdom's air space. See http://euobserver.com/tickers/126198; and http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/01/raf-russian-bomber-uk-airspace.
For a complete list of Russian provocations to date, see http://euobserver.com/defence/126454.
European Union officials are investigating allegations that the top administrators of the EU’s rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, Eulex, have accepted bribes from gangs to prevent criminal investigations and have engaged in other illegal activity. See http://euobserver.com/foreign/126408; and http://euobserver.com/foreign/126369.
Hungary continues to pursue an antidemocratic path that has angered Western states and its own citizens. In recent weeks, several items have demonstrated what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán means when he refers to Hungary becoming an illiberal state:
The Hungarians ultimately will decide if dedemocratization is the course they wish to see for their state, but given the protests over the Internet tax, it is apparent that the electorate has its limits. The question is whether Orbán and his party will face a popular challenge very soon and whether it will be on the street or at the ballot box. Much will depend on whether the Hungarians believe the erosion of minor democratic rights to be a threat. Given the record of Western democracies on this issue, it is doubtful that Hungarian voters will assign a high priority to the society’s loss of one freedom or another, especially if their personal freedoms and pocket books remain unaffected.
On 30 October, Ukraine and Russia struck a bargain over gas deliveries to Ukraine. The agreement requires Ukraine to pay its debt for gas in two payments of USD 1.45 billion immediately and USD 1.65 billion by the end of December. With the first payment, Russia committed to begin pumping gas to Ukraine. For the remainder of 2014, the price will be USD 378 per thousand cubic meters, which will drop to USD 365 between January and March 2015. The Arbitration Institute in Stockholm will help settle the price of gas after March 2015. Ukraine still claims that the price is USD 100 above market prices. Russia also waived the requirement that Ukraine pay for gas that it does not use.
The agreement not only is on paper but appears to be holding. Ukraine reported, on 4 November, that it had paid USD 1.45 billion of past-due gas bills to Gazprom, and Russian gas then began to flow.
Ukraine stated that it will need additional European Union and International Monetary Fund support to pay for the gas, since the country is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Lithuania decided to break its dependence on Russian gas by ordering a floating liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal, which arrived in Klaipeda on 27 October. It can supply up to 90 percent of the natural gas needs of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, with gas that Lithuania has a contracted to purchase from Norway. See http://euobserver.com/news/126272.
In related news, Baltic states are increasing their defense spending, particularly anti-tank equipment. See http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-29766667.
Few would think of China today as a totalitarian state, especially when one thinks of its capitalist economy, but the government’s response to protests in Hong Kong, tensions with the Uyghurs, problems with Tibet, issues involving corruption, and criticism of dissidents reminds observers that China is best described as a post-totalitarian state, a term that the late Czech president and former dissident, Václav Havel, coined. One of the features of totalitarianism is that the minority governing the state dictates creative expression, such as literature, art, and music. One need only think of socialist realism of the Stalinist age that continued, in various forms, until the collapse of communism.
A reminder of China’s totalitarian heritage was the two-hour address President Xi Jinping delivered at a literary symposium, during which he noted that art must “be like sunshine from the blue sky and the breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles.” He was specific in his criticism of certain architectural structures, such as the CCTV headquarters, the design of Rem Koolhaus.
In his directive to artists and others, Xi told them that art should “disseminate contemporary Chinese values, embody Chinese traditional culture and reflect Chinese people's aesthetic pursuit.” Furthermore, he stated that “socialist culture and art is, in essence, the culture and art of the people.”
The question is whether Xi intends to somehow impose his opinion on artists and designers and what weight his opinions have with China’s cultural and business community.
Archaeologists have unearthed temple they had identified in 2009 that may be 6,000 years old in the so-called Nebelivka settlement about 250 km south of Kyiv, Ukraine. The temple is 20 meters wide and 60 meters long and was used for animal sacrifices. In addition to altars and pottery, the site contained animal bones and human-like figurines. The structures on the site were part of the Trypillian (Slavic) or Cucuteni (Romanian) culture that existed in the Neolithic (7000-1700 BC) and the more advanced Eneolithic (5300-1700 BC) periods (ca. 4800 to 3000 BC) that extended into parts of today’s Romania and Ukraine. See http://www.livescience.com/48352-prehistoric-ukraine-temple-discovered.html.
Russ and Ukraine failed to reach an agreement over natural gas during their meeting on 21 October in Brussels. According to the Russian negotiator, the difficulty is how Ukraine will pay $1.6 billion in advance for November and December. Elections in Ukraine will take place on 26 October, and it is likely that the Russians will not close a deal before that date in the hopes that the embarrassment will hurt Petro Poroshenko and his pro-Western allies at the polls. See http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/21/us-ukraine-crisis-gas-idUSKCN0IA17920141021; and http://euobserver.com/foreign/126174.
Human Rights Watch has evidence that Ukraine used cluster bombs against separatists in Donetsk and elsewhere, and it suspects that the separatists also have used them. Such bombs likely killed one International Red Cross worker, and the HRW report documents this incident and several others. The Ukrainian government has not responded to the accusation, and HWR has called on Ukraine to pledge not to use cluster bombs. Unlike many countries, Ukraine has not signed an agreement banning the weapons that can cause widespread civilian deaths. Employing cluster bombs could be a war crime. See http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/10/20/ukraine-widespread-use-cluster-munitions.
In other news related to Ukraine, Russian officials stated that their country will not accept conditions the West has imposed to end sanctions after talks between Russia and Ukraine in Milan last week were inconclusive. Since then, more skirmishes between Ukrainian forces and separatists have erupted. On Monday, EU leaders agreed to continue sanctions in a united front against Russian interference in Ukraine. See http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-10-19/ukraine-fighting-simmers-as-no-breakthrough-at-talks; and http://euobserver.com/foreign/126160 (this article also contains a reference to Sikoski not denying his comments about Putin offering to divide Ukraine with Poland).
Nigel Farage, an MP of the UK Independence party and MEP and chairman of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, a eurosceptic group, is breathing a bit easier since Robert Iwaszkiewicz, a Polish MEP, joined EFDD. Earlier, a Latvian member abandoned the group, which made it one member short of the rule that every political grouping in the European Parliament must have at least 25 members from at least seven member states. Some controversy surrounds the move because European Parliament officials claim that EFDD must recertify, which can take several days, while EFDD claims that Iwaszkiewicz joined before the Latvian MEP quit the group. There also is speculation that Iwaszkiewicz joined EFDD so that EFDD can provide some members to Iwaszkiewicz's old grouping, Congress of the New Right (KNP), which is interested in establishing its own far-right group in the European Parliament. Each group in the European Parliament benefits from EU financial support and speaking time at plenary sessions. Iwaszkiewicz has been in the news because of a remark that hitting wives can "help them come back down to earth," which he defended as a joke that was taken out of context. See http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-29706994.
In an interview with Politico, Poland’s former foreign minister, Radosław Sikorski, stated that Vladimir Putin offered to divide Ukraine with Poland when Putin met in 2008 with Donald Tusk, then Poland’s prime minister. Specifically, Putin offered Poland Lviv and other areas carved from Ukraine, what Putin has referred to as “an artificial state.” Sikorski said that Poland had no interest in such a venture and that Tusk never responded to the offer because the conversation was recorded. Apparently, Tusk realized that the Russians could alter and misuse even a recorded criticism of such a notion. Sikorski later stated that his remark was “overinterpreted,” but he did not deny the comments. The Politico article also quotes Sikorski as stating that Putin has effectively staged a coup in Russia by rendering a number of politicians powerless. Now, he listens only to the military and the security service. His management of the annexation of Crimea, according to Sikorski, was what empowered Putin to strengthen his position in the Kremlin.
Putin's offer to divide Ukraine with Poland was a gamble that would have paid big dividends for the Kremlin. Had Poland accepted the plan, the European Union would have ostracized Poland, and the border agreements statesmen negotiated after the Second World War and that states recognized after the fall of communism would have been compromised. Poland would have had no choice but to develop close ties with Russia, Poland's new benefactor. The plan is consistent with Putin's risky behavior and his willingness to jeopardize the stability of Europe in order to further his own position and Russian nationalism. In light of Putin's 2008 offer, it is not surprising that Sikorski and Tusk have been so active in defending Ukraine's interests.
See http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/vladimir-putins-coup-112025.html?hp=t3_3. Sikorski’s remarks about partitioning Ukraine are on the third page of the article. Reports about the article are in http://wyborcza.pl/1,75477,16835817,Sikorski_ujawnia_w__Politico___Rosja_od_lat_chciala.html (in Polish); http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-2800667/Putin-offered-divide-Ukraine-Poland--Polish-ex-minister.html; and https://screen.yahoo.com/polish-ex-minister-quoted-saying-164629742.html.
The German intelligence service (BND) has concluded that Ukrainian separatists shot down Flight MH17 on 17 July with a captured Ukrainian missile, not one the Russians supplied the separatists. The Russians maintained that a Ukrainian jet was flying too close to the passenger airliner and that a Ukrainian missile shot down the plane. The BND report concluded that neither of those assumptions is correct. See http://www.dw.de/spiegel-review-finds-rebels-shot-down-mh17-in-ukraine/a-18006712.
Although confirmation has not come from either the Russian government or Gazprom, Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, remarked on Ukrainian television that Russia will supply natural gas to Ukraine through March 2015 at the rate of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters. He expects to sign an agreement in Brussels this coming Tuesday. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/19/ukraine-russia-gas_n_6010424.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592.
The Los Angeles Times has published an article on the poor readiness of the Ukrainian military. Not only are its numbers small, but it has outdated weapons. According to the article, Ukraine spends approximately $1.9 billion on defense, while Russia spends approximately $4.47 billion, but those estimates must be inaccurate. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute puts the 2013 figures at $87.8 billion for Russia and $5.3 billion for Ukraine, which are more realistic. The United States, in comparison, spent $640.2 billion in 2013. Certainly, the numbers alone indicate that Ukraine is at a great disadvantage with respect to Russia, even though Russia is not committing their entire military to the fight. See http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-ukraine-neglected-army-20141018-story.html#page=1; and http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/milex_database.
The coalition government of the Social Democrats (ČSSD), Catholic party (KDU-ČSL), and ANO has maintained its majority after mid-term Senate elections today in the Czech Republic. The coalition, with 46 seats out of 81 in the Senate (it won 18 out of 27 seats contested in the election), saw losses for ČSSD, but the other two coalition partners gained senators. See http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/10/18/uk-czech-senate-election-idUKKCN0I70KJ20141018; and http://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/coalition-parties-win-18-seats-in-senate-elections-to-maintain-majority.
More information has emerged from the summit that included European Union leaders, Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, and Vladimir Putin of Russia. Although there was no breakthrough on the issue of Ukraine, Putin stated that he did not want another frozen conflict, as exists in Moldova, but his statement carried no weight with the other heads of state. Russian troops still remain in Ukraine, even though Putin denies it, and others are staged on the Ukrainian border.
Poroshenko indicated that Ukraine and Russia have made some progress on the price the Russians are willing to accept for natural gas. José Manuel Barroso, head of the European Commission, indicated that there may be additional talks about gas delivery in Brussels on Tuesday and that the EU may provide additional financial assistance to pay for the natural gas because Ukraine has made progress on instituting various reforms. After the meeting, Putin remarked that the EU should help Ukraine pay for Russian natural gas. In addition to paying for gas in advance, Ukraine must pay, by the end of the year, $1.6 billion it owes for gas already delivered.
See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29653393; and http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-10-17/ukraine-signals-progress-in-russia-gas-talks-before-leaders-meet.html.
As the Milan meetings were taking place, Sweden scrambled its naval and air defenses to investigate credible reports of a Russian submarine in Swedish waters. See http://news.sky.com/story/1355426/sweden-hunts-foreign-submarine-off-stockholm.
UPDATE! As of 19 October, the Swedish military still is searching for the submarine, but officials have not identified it as Russian. During a press conference, they released a picture of the vessel, which has been sighted three times since 17 October. See http://news.yahoo.com/mystery-deepens-over-reported-russian-sub-sweden-151454396.html.
Just as Putin is willing to use frozen conflicts when he is unable to partition or absorb a state, part of his negotiating style is to give the appearance of being conciliatory on one issue while provoking on another. These are means Putin uses to delay real progress on issues and to exploit divisions among allies in order to gain an advantage. His counterparts must remain united, which is difficult, and not tolerate deception or breaches in international convention. Finding that resolve to resist Putin’s maneuvers without risking direct conflict is difficult, and Putin is well aware that no state wants to risk a war with Russia.
Margot Wölk, the only food taster for Adolf Hitler to have survived Germany’s collapse at the end of the Second World War, has granted an interview with RBB Television that recounted the fears she had when testing the food and the horrors of Russian captivity. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/hitlers-food-taster-reveals-the-horrors-of-the-wolfs-lair-9738880.html.
Radovan Karadžić, the former president of the Srpska Republika, rested his defense on 7 October at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. He is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and murder, but he claims that he knew nothing of the atrocities. The judges likely will take several months to render a verdict. See http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_WAR_CRIMES_KARADZIC?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT; and http://www.icty.org/x/cases/karadzic/cis/en/cis_karadzic_en.pdf.
The breakaway Transnistrian province in the “frozen state” of Moldova is on Ukraine’s western border. There seems to be a natural alliance between the pro-Russian inhabitants of Transnistria and those of Eastern Ukraine, but the picture is more complicated. In fact, the Transnistrians find their special unofficial arrangement with Ukraine to be quite convenient, partly because both sides have profited from legitimate and illegitimate trade across the Ukrainian-Transnistrian border. A Ukrainian economic blockade, furthermore, would hurt the much smaller Transnistrian economy, as poor relations in 2005 between the two proved. Russia cannot do much to support Transnistria in any direct way, considering it shares no border with the province. It appears that the willingness of the two sides to maintain the status quo remains, something which is described in the secretly recorded conversation in July 2014 between the Transnistrian minister of the interior, Gennady Kuzmichev, and the deputy chief of the southern region of the Ukrainian State Border Service, Vladimir Gorozhakin. Nevertheless, Transnistria depends on the cooperation and good faith of Russia, so it is unlikely that its relations with Ukraine, which is suspicious of Transnistria, will improve.
Ethnicity is an important factor to consider, since Ukrainians are nearly half of the Transnistrian population (49 percent). The remainder are Romanians (30 percent), Russians (9 percent), Jews (9 percent), and others. Ukraine supported Transnistria in its bid in the 1990s to separate from Moldova, and Transnistria had good relations with Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych. With the pro-Russian government in Kyiv gone and Ukraine struggling to maintain its integrity in the face of separatist and Russian threats, Transnistrian inhabitants may become more ambivalent toward Russia.
Background information on this topic is available at: http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1342-ukraine-and-transnistria-a-troubled-borderland; http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1313-transnistria-and-ukraine-allies-or-foes; and http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1286-transnistria-s-difficult-choice.
The defense minister of Georgia, Irakly Alasania, announced that the country will host a joint Georgian-NATO training facility and a NATO logistical center, despite pressure from Russia to keep Georgia out of NATO and the European Union. Georgia is one of the “frozen conflict” states, with Russia controlling South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the 2008 Russian-Georgian war. In June, Georgia and the EU signed an association agreement, which resulted in Russia imposing trade restrictions on Georgia. That same month, NATO refused to provide Georgia with a Membership Action Plan (MAP) in order not to antagonize Russia. See http://news.yahoo.com/defying-russia-georgia-host-nato-training-center-minister-092900598.html.
Reports indicate that there has been no progress on talks that took place today between European states and Ukraine, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other hand, at the Milan summit. All sides are standing their ground, but Angela Merkel, in response to Vladimir Putin’s questioning the legitimacy of the Ukrainian state, reminded Putin of the accords signed in 1994 in Budapest that recognized Ukraine’s independence, including Crimea. See http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/17/us-ukraine-crisis-meeting-idUSKCN0I52YO20141017.
The Russian state oil company, Rosneft, and Arkady Rotenberg, a close aid of Vladimir Putin whose name appears on the sanctions list, are suing the European Council in the European Court of Justice. They filed their cases on 9 and 10 October. See http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8e460fe4-5547-11e4-b750-00144feab7de.html.
Russian health authorities have closed at least three dozen McDonald’s fast-food restaurants since the introduction of sanctions, although no official statement exists that link the closures to the sanctions. Included on the list of shuttered restaurants is the first and most famous McDonald’s on Pushkin Square in Moscow, which closed on 20 August. See http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-moscow-closes-mcdonalds/26542785.html; and http://www.vox.com/2014/10/17/6989397/russia-mcdonalds-putin-ukraine-yolo.
Archaeologists have discovered another grave in Bulgaria which includes the remains of a male with a stake through his heart. The skeleton is from the middle ages, but it is in the location of a settlement that dates from 5000 BC. Archaeologists have unearthed more than 100 such graves in Bulgaria. See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/bulgaria/11153923/Vampire-grave-found-in-Bulgaria.html.
Two topless Ukrainian demonstrators from the group Femen stood in the plaza in front of the cathedral in Milan today and poured red wine on themselves to represent the blood being shed in Eastern Ukraine that is a result of Vladimir Putin’s backing of separatist forces. The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which Putin and other leaders are attending, focuses on economics. Nevertheless, Putin will meet with Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, at a function tomorrow, and they may meet separately. See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/femen-protesters-vladimir-putin-milan-ukraine.
On the day of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Serbia, the Belgrade newspaper, Politika, published an interview with the Russian president. He spoke of the crisis in Ukraine and good relations between Russia and Serbia. He noted that Russia has invested $3 billion in Serbia, stated that the South Stream pipeline will mean an additional $2.5 billion, and suggested that Serbia may get another loan from Russia. The European Union provided Serbia only about $264 in aid. See http://euobserver.com/foreign/126098.
Albanian soccer players and Serbian fans clashed in a Belgrade stadium on 14 October after Serbs had shouted insults during the Albanian national anthem and a drone had appeared, flying a flag of greater Albania that included parts of Serbia. The fighting ended the match roughly half way into the game. Top officials of each country are blaming the other, and European Union diplomats are trying to diffuse the situation, which may affect the approaching historic visit of the Albanian foreign minister to Belgrade. No such meeting has taken place in 70 years. Uefa will take disciplinary action against both sides. See http://euobserver.com/news/126090.
The Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, during an interview with CNBC, stated that a “restart” on Russian-American relations is impossible, under the current circumstances. He called the sanctions “stupid” and “destructive,” and he expects that they simply will dissipate. For more of his comments, see http://www.cnbc.com/id/102086463.
Members of the Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda party clashed with police in front of the Ukrainian Rada on 14 October when the parliament refused to designate as heroes the members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which had the support of the Nazis in its attempt to ethnically cleanse Ukraine and establish a separate Ukrainian state. The police detained 36 people.
In recent days, 14 people died as a result of fighting in Eastern Ukraine as the separatists broke the terms of the ceasefire. Several died as a result of the separatists’ continued efforts to take the Donetsk airport from government troops.
The Serbian prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić, announced that his country will proceed with the construction of the South Stream Pipeline, despite European Union warnings that it does not comply with EU laws, and that Serbia will not join in economic sanctions against Russia. Vladimir Putin will participate in a parade in Belgrade to commemorate the liberation of Yugoslavia during the Second World War before proceeding to Milan to meet with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine to discuss the crisis in that state. See http://euobserver.com/foreign/126078.
Most of the seats in municipal elections this weekend went to independent candidates, which has been a common trend, but ANO, a relatively new party of the wealthy Andrej Babiš, who vows to eliminate corruption, was the victor in the larger cities. Among the traditional parties, the Christian and Democratic Union–Czechoslovak People’s party and the Social Democrats received the largest number of votes. The country’s ruling coalition includes the Social Democrats, ANO, and the Catholic party. See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/established-parties-take-back-seat-in-local-elections; and http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-10-12/billionaire-s-party-wins-key-czech-cities-in-local-vote.html. Statistics (in Czech) are available at volby.idnes.cz/.
Elections this past Sunday in Bosnia have returned some leaders who may be unable and unwilling to compromise. Bakir Izetbegović, whose father led Bosnia during the wars of Yugoslavia disintegration, represents the Muslim Bosniaks and expressed his desire to cooperate with the other two elected members of the three-person rotating presidency of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH). The second victor for FBiH presidency (each member governs for eight months) is Dragan Čović, for the Bosnian Croats. Željka Cvijanović and Mladen Ivanić are locked in a tight race for the Bosnian Serbs, and the ballot-counting process continues. The president of the Republika Srpska will be Milorad Dodik, who has won another term. Cvijanović and Dodik are allies and strong Serb nationalists, and Dodik would like the Republika Srpska to become independent. Čović is a strong Croat nationalist. More moderate voices are in the country’s upper and lower houses of the legislature. The question is whether the leading politicians will reignite nationalist sentiments or manage to cooperate to tackle the country’s high unemployment, which is at approximately 44 percent, poor economy, and corruption. See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/13/bosnia-elections-nationalists-rival-ethnic-groups-claim-victory; and http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/bosnia-victors-emerge-as-ballot-count-continues.
Russia ordered 17,600 troops withdrawn from maneuvers near the Ukrainian border and returned to their bases in advance of talks between Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko in Milan. Some observers contend that the troops actually were not even on maneuvers. Russia continues to deny involvement in the separatist movement in Ukraine, and the order does not pertain to the Russian troops assisting separatists. See http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/12/world/europe/russia-ukraine/index.html.
On 10 October, the Czech television, film, and stage actor, Pavel Landovský, died. Americans may recognize him in a small role he had as a thief in the Oscar-winning film Closely Watched Trains (1966). Landovský signed Charter 77, and after a severe beating from the secret police, he left Czechoslovakia to work in the Burgtheater in Vienna. After the fall of Communism in 1989, he returned to Czechoslovakia, where his friend, the playwright and dissident, Václav Havel, had become president. See http://www.usnews.com/news/entertainment/articles/2014/10/11/czech-actor-pavel-landovsky-dies-at-78.
In related news, Poroshenko named a new defense minister for Ukraine, the fourth this year. See http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-ukraine-defense-minister-20141012-story.html.
Norway’s Statoil has cut a deal with Ukraine to sell it natural gas at the rate of $340 per thousand cubic meters, which is $45 less per thousand cubic meters than the Russian Gazprom offer. Ukraine is getting 11 million cubic meters of gas each day from Norway, but it may need 12 billion cubic meters to get through the winter. See http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/569067/20141009/ukraine-naftogaz-statoil-norway-russia.htm. For a retrospective view of the immediate crisis, see http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140927/news/140928488/.
During a meeting of Commonwealth of Independent States’ leaders, Vladimir Putin remarked, with reference to the delayed European Union-Ukraine trade agreement: "Where was Moldova? Why couldn't we build a relationship like that with Moldova?” He added that “we wanted to, and asked many times for it. Unfortunately, we haven't heard a clear answer from our Moldovan friends. . . . We have to resolve the existing differences and find compromise solutions . . . [in order to assist] all the member states of the CIS free trade zone.” See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29571108.
Putin not only is concerned about Russians living in Moldova, as in the case of Ukraine, but he is aware of the close economic ties that these states have had with Russia. Ukraine, for example, provides Russia with crucial industrial goods that are necessary for the military. With integration into the EU, trade patterns will change, partly because of EU manufacturing and trade regulations. While these concerns are real, the majority interest of these countries also is a factor. For the most part, they desire the values and benefits the EU has to offer and are disinterested in continuing what amounts to restrictive bilateral relations with Russia and enduring oligarchic kleptocracies in power at home. If Russia is unable to construct that kind of relationship with its neighbors, it holds over them the threat of reactivating the Russian separatist question.
For the EU and the West to ignore the interests of Ukraine and Moldova and to write them off as falling within the sphere of influence of Russia is irresponsible. Meanwhile, their full integration into the European Union and NATO is not an option for the Kremlin. Finland solved a similar problem during the cold war by agreeing with Russia in foreign policy, staying out of NATO, and accepting only associate member status in the European Free Trade Association. Similar options may be available for Ukraine and Moldova.
Some analysts in the West are supportive of the Kremlin and believe that Ukraine and Moldova should be a buffer zone between Russia and the EU, but appeasing Russia means that they would mimic Belarus--integrally tied to Russia economically and politically dependent on strong men who benefit personally from ties with Russia and who restrict voices that demand alternatives. The EU should not hesitate to develop closer ties in every way with Moldova and Ukraine. While doing so, however, it should consider ways to ensure that the trade between these countries and Russia is unimpaired. Exemptions and special deals, while not welcome in the EU, are a feature of relations among EU states. Special economic arrangements may ease the Kremlin’s fears, at least to some extent. Once they are in place, EU laws regarding the status of minorities and the absence of economic tensions between Russia and its neighbors to the west will mollify ethnic concerns.
The Baltic States, once part of the Soviet Union, are now not only in the EU but also in NATO. Their entry into these institutions, however, occurred before Putin began his efforts to reassert Russian dominance over former Soviet areas. It might be necessary, for the sake of global stability, to offer EU membership to Ukraine and Moldova without entry into NATO. Despite the fact that Ukraine looks to NATO to supplement its defense capabilities in the wake of Russia’s seizure of Ukraine and its attempt to take Eastern Ukraine, it may be necessary to preserve the neutrality it had before the current conflict erupted. Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta, and Sweden, all countries in the EU, are not part of NATO. Still, they can rely on Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty that guarantees the support of all the EU states in the security of one. It is untested, but NATO’s Article 5 that provides for the mutual defense of its members, only has been invoked once, after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. One cannot determine how either the NATO or the EU guarantee would stand up to an attack that member states considered a limited threat. Russian violations of Swedish air space this year shook the confidence of some Swedes in their neutrality and reliance on EU’s joint defense, prompting some to call for NATO membership, but the majority of the country still favors the current arrangement. Moldova and Ukraine could look to the example EU’s neutral states have to offer.
Compromise with respect to Ukraine and Moldova is desirable, but that does not mean the mere acceptance of the Kremlin’s demands. Creative thinking and patience may diffuse the situation and help build the trust necessary for compromise.
The last German state has eliminated tuition for its university students, and Germany does not charge tuition for foreign students. For American students, who are faced with rising tuition and crushing student debt, such government largesse is unthinkable. For more information, see http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/10/10/germany_college_is_free_there_even_for_foreign_students_why.html.
Estonian citizens and non-citizens anywhere in the world can receive a digital identity (distinct from citizenship, of course) from the government in order to access its digital services. It will be the first country in the world to offer such an option. One should not be surprised: Estonia was the first to offer free WiFi throughout the country. See http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/estonia-become-first-country-offer-e-residency/.
Slovenia has nominated a woman from the business world who recently entered politics as its commissioner to the European Union, despite calls from the EU to send to Brussels someone with experience. It may help that she is a shaman and a fire-walker. See http://euobserver.com/political/126010.
German authorities have charged, Oskar Groening, who is 93 years old, with accessory to the murder of 425,000 Hungarian Jews between May and June 1944, when he was stationed at Auschwitz. Part of the case against him is that he collected and counted the money and other valuables of the Jews. He spoke openly in the past of the horrors of the camp but denied having taken part in any atrocities. See http://bigstory.ap.org/article/93-year-old-former-auschwitz-guard-charged.
The Global Competitiveness Index of 144 countries is available. Switzerland tops the list with a score of 5.7, while the United States is tied for third with Finland. The scores for Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Balkans are:
Montenegro, Georgia, and Slovenia received slightly higher than the median score, and countries just below the median score were Slovakia, Ukraine, and Croatia. Belarus, Bosnia, and Kosovo are not ranked.
The World Economic Forum, which did the study, defines competitiveness as “set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country. The level of productivity, in turn, sets the level of prosperity that can be reached by an economy. The productivity level also determines the rates of return obtained by investments in an economy, which in turn are the fundamental drivers of its growth rates. In other words, a more competitive economy is one that is likely to grow faster over time.”
Former Slovenian prime minister, Alenka Bratušek, who nominated herself as European commissioner while she still was in office, has withdrawn her candidacy after opposition from members of the European Parliament. Until late in the process, she retained the confidence of the president-elect of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29555651.
Archaeologists working in Tokat, Turkey, in the middle of Anatolia and not far from the Black Sea, have unearthed two dungeons at a castle, one of which held Dracula, most likely between 1452 and 1474. See http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/clues-about-draculas-captivity-unearthed-in-tokat.aspx?pageID=238&nid=71501&NewsCatID=375.
On the eve of presidential elections in Romania, a scandal has emerged that accuses certain top politicians of receiving kickbacks through offshore accounts for arranging the sale of Microsoft products and computing equipment at inflated prices to the government. The scandal is proving to be an embarrassment to the Social Democratic prime minister, Victor Ponta, who is running for president. See http://euobserver.com/political/125868.
Ukraine and Russia are still negotiating an arrangement to supply Ukraine with natural gas. The Ukrainians are complaining that the price the Russians are demanding is higher than other European countries pay and that they are being forced to compensate Russia for the cost of the war in Eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, reports throughout the region indicate that Russia continues to use natural gas as a weapon. Hungary cut off the reverse flow of natural gas to Ukraine for technical reasons the day after an official from Gazprom visited Budapest. Early in October, Russia halved its deliveries to Slovakia, which provides reverse-flow gas to Ukraine. Romania, which does not supply gas to Ukraine, claims that is natural gas deliveries from Russia are down by 13 percent.
Ewa Kopacz replaced Donald Tusk as prime minister of Poland, after Tusk took the position of European Council chair. Kopacz replaced five of the 18 members of the cabinet, and her policies will not deviate from those of Tusk. See http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2014/09/polands-new-foreign-minister and http://euobserver.com/political/125851.
In September, the German Marshall Fund released the results of a Transatlantic Trend survey it conducted in June that showed 52 percent of European supported Ukraine’s entry into the European Union. The biggest supporters were Poland, Spain, and Italy; France and Germany were the most hesitant. See http://www.gmfus.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files_mf/1408726801Trends_2014_complete.pdf, pages 49-52.
On 9 September, Hungarian authorities raided the offices of two Norwegian NGOs it accused of financial impropriety and funneling money to opponents of the government. The NGOs deny the charges. See http://euobserver.com/political/125537.
Despite the fact that the Russian Central Bank has injected USD 1.75 into the ruble from the country’s foreign currency reserves, the country’s currency continues to fall. The ruble is now 0.025 to the US dollar. It rate was more than 40 to the US dollar at the time of this posting (11.50 CDST), and its average between 1993 to 2014 was 24.37 to the dollar. Russia also is facing certain food shortages, contributing to an inflation rate that now is at 8 percent. See http://www.businessinsider.com/russian-inflation-hits-8-and-there-are-food-shortages-2014-10 and http://www.businessinsider.com/the-ruble-is-collapsing-to-record-lows-despite-central-bank-intervention-2014-10.
Kosovo must construct a new ruling coalition after its June elections, but the prime minister, Hashim Thaci, will not resign, despite a Constitutional Court ruling. Not only has he paralyzed Kosovo politics, but he is delaying the implementation of legislation that will allow The Hague to try cases of human organ trafficking during the wars of Yugoslavia’s disintegration. Thaci’s KLA is one group accused of using human organ trafficking to finance its efforts during the war. See http://euobserver.com/foreign/125957.
Russia’s plans for its South Stream pipeline to increase Europe’s energy dependency on Russia and to bypass Ukraine may run into more problems. The EU prohibits a company from owning the means of delivery for petroleum products as well as the products themselves, which the pipeline violates. This brought Bulgaria to stop working on the South Stream pipeline. The EU also warned other member states that the pipeline violates EU legislation. Now, in a progress report on Serbia’s compliance with EU norms released today, the EU Commission suggests that Serbia cease its involvement in the pipeline. See http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2014/20140108-serbia-progress-report_en.pdf, pp. 32-33.
On 7 October, separatists in Eastern Ukraine ignored the ceasefire, in place since 5 September, and renewed their efforts to take the Donetsk airport from the Ukraine military. Drones also appeared over Ukrainian-held Mariupol, on the Azov Sea, where Russian paratroopers have reinforced separatist fighters. Violations of the ceasefire, unfortunately, are nothing new. The assumption is that the separatists want to gain more territory before the 26 October elections in order to make sure the vote does not take place in Eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine may face a hopeless situation. The separatists, with the support of the Kremlin, may never accept anything Kyiv has to offer until they manage to join their provinces with Russia. Already, on the day that Ukraine ratified the trade treaty with the European Union, it also gave the eastern provinces special autonomy for three years that allows them to have their own police and to strengthen ties with Russia. The separatist fighters also received immunity from prosecution, provided that they disarm and had not committed any crimes. These types of provisions are along the lines of what the separatists had demanded and are a good start to a solution that would end the conflict and preserve Ukraine’s unity, the loss of Crimea notwithstanding. The separatists, however, seem unwilling to embrace the initiative of the Kyiv government.
See http://euobserver.com/foreign/125642 and http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-ukraine-russia-targets-20141007-story.html. For an example of an earlier violation of the ceasefire, see http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/09/13/348191985/ukraine-peace-disrupted-by-barrage-russia-sends-new-aid-convoy?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20140913&utm_campaign=dailydigest&utm_term=nprnews.
On 28 September, the first gay pride parade took place in Belgrade since 2010, and there were no incidents of violence. Since the government had refused to issue a permit for the parade for several years, many have praised Serbia’s progress toward LGBT tolerance. The Orthodox Church and others still oppose gay rights. See http://euobserver.com/social/125795.
Bloomberg reports that divisions in the Kremlin are increasing, and the two biggest players, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, are at odds with each other. On one side are those around Putin, who want to see more state-controlled enterprises; on the other side are those behind Medvedev, who are committed to capitalism and the world market. Russia’s share of state-run enterprises has increased since Putin came to power from about 30 percent to approximately 50 percent. The heads of major Russian firms, such as Rostec, Rosneft, Sberbank, and VTB, as well as those in state security are backing Putin and attempting to increase state control over the economy as Western investment evaporates. On 16 September, Vladimir Evtushenkov, an ally of Medvedev, was arrested for money laundering, and his oil company, Bashneft, is next in line for dismantling. Some analysts believe that Medvedev will not succeed in defending Evtushenkov. See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-10-05/putin-clans-said-gridlocked-over-arrest-as-sanctions-bite.html.
In the second election in 18 months, Bulgaria’s center-right GERB party won a plurality of approximately 33 percent of the votes. The Bulgarian Socialist party, which had backed the previous government, won approximately 15 percent. The GERB, which headed an unpopular government that resigned in 2013, now must attempt to build a coalition, something it had failed to do after the 2013 elections. See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-10-05/putin-clans-said-gridlocked-over-arrest-as-sanctions-bite.html.
The unresolved situation in Ukraine continues to escalate what amounts to a new cold war between the West and Russia. The cold wars of 1945-1991 and today are very dissimilar, and those differences dictate not only the current course of events but also their possible resolution. Most apparent is that Russia does not have the ideologically-based communistic totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union. The country now has many characteristics of a modern democracy, although Vladimir Putin’s grip on the political system has stunted the opposition movement and has compromised certain rights in the country, including the freedom of information. As a result, while Putin manipulates public opinion, he does not control all forms of expression and cannot present the government’s propaganda as the only source of information in the state. Furthermore, the Soviet Union had a semi-autarkic, centrally-planned economy, but Russia today has a capitalist economy that is integrated into the world marketplace. Its private enterprises are focused on profit and are dependent on foreign investment and trade. Just as Putin can continue to persecute his opponents but would be hard pressed to eliminate all vestiges of free speech and opposition, he cannot expect that the state can pursue policies that are destructive to the economy without vexing business owners or that the state can undertake a large-scale underwriting of business interests to offset the ill effects certain political decisions entail.
Thus far, the West has settled on a reasonable approach to Russia over Ukraine, even though these policies are the result of happenstance as opposed to a concerted plan. NATO has strengthened its presence on its eastern border with more bases, and it has publically reassured its members that were once part of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc of the alliance’s protection. It also engaged in a joint training exercise in the middle of September with Ukrainian forces in the western part of Ukraine. On 12 September, Russia appeared to have gained a victory when it managed to intimidate the European Union and Ukraine into postponing the implementation of their so-called deep and concentrated fair-trade agreement (DCFTA) from coming into force this November and moving the date to December 2015. In the interim, Ukraine will have access to EU markets, but Ukrainian protective tariffs with respect to the EU will stay in place. That will keep cheaper EU goods from entering the Russian market through Ukraine and maintain Ukraine’s shipment of industrial goods that are necessary for Russia’s military. Many view the decision as strengthening Putin’s hand, but the rationale was to ensure that Russia and separatist forces in Ukraine respect the 5 September cease-fire. The limits of Moscow’s success were apparent when the Russians attempted to convince the EU to rewrite some of the provisions of the treaty. The president of the EU Commission, José Manuel Barroso, wrote publically to Putin on 1 October that Russia has no right to interfere in the agreement.
Sanctions continue to take their toll on the Russian economy, which not only is shrinking and is in danger of recession but is suffering from capital flight. Tightening the noose are the new sanctions from the United States and the EU of 12 September that target more individuals as well as long-term loans, dual-use, that is, military and civilian goods, and oil (but not gas) technology. President Barack Obama warned that the sanctions will not ease unless the 12 points of the peace plan in Ukraine are functioning: maintaining the ceasefire, having the OSCE verify the ceasefire, decentralizing the Ukrainian administration, securing the Russian-Ukrainian border, releasing prisoners, ensuring immunity for separatist fighters in Ukraine, continuing the dialogue, alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Donbass, conducting local elections in Eastern Ukraine, withdrawing unlawful armed forces from Ukraine, enacting an economic revitalization plan for Eastern Ukraine, and guaranteeing the security of negotiators. Thus far, some violations of the truce have occurred, but slow progress is encouraging, including a buffer zone around contested areas. Meanwhile, the talks in Minsk continue.
The effects of the sanctions regime are clearly noticeable on both sides. Trade with Russia has diminished, in part because Russia also began imposing sanctions, and particularly hard hit are Western Europe’s fruit and vegetable producers. Germany’s large volume of trade with Russia is diminishing because of the souring Russian economy. Škoda, the Czech automobile manufacturer, even shuttered its assembly facilities in Russia for two weeks. While the economic war may stunt the economy of Europe, which has much more trade with Russia than the US, Russia is feeling more of the economic pain. Eastern, Central, and Western Europe soon may feel the cold, however, since the Russians may decide to reduce or even cut natural gas supplies during the coming winter. Already on 5 October, there were reductions through gas pipelines in Ukraine that have resulted in several countries warning of crises.
There are cloak-and-dagger effects of the new cold war that are alarming. In the first week of September, just days after Obama visited Estonia and reassured eastern countries of NATO support in the face of Russian threats, Russian agents kidnaped an Estonian agent, Eston Kohver, from his home in Estonia. He still is in custody as the Russians investigate his actions, and Estonian authorities believe that he is being intimidated and that he may not receive a fair trial. It also appears that hackers linked with the Russian government recently compromised JPMorgan and other financial institutions’ computer systems. The intruders obtained access to JPMorgan’s files outlining the firm’s security efforts that will take months to correct.
The current stalemate in Ukraine could work to Russia’s advantage, or it could end up benefitting all Ukrainians, including citizens of Russian ethnicity. If the EU and the US maintain their economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia, Moscow may not have the courage to exploit the ceasefire in Ukraine to strengthen separatist forces. Likewise, it may be unable to separate Eastern Ukraine from the rest of the country or to secure Ukrainian territory that would provide Russia with a land link to the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova. The most Russia could hope for, under such circumstances, still is undesirable for Ukraine: a permanent standoff that forces Ukraine to comply with Russian demands. Such is the situation in Georgia and Moldova, both of which have separatist regions that benefit from Russian support. Four things may prevent that scenario from occurring. The first is the continued resolution of the EU and the US to uphold the terms of the ceasefire. Second is the ability of the EU to funnel aid to Ukraine to demonstrate the benefits of cooperating with the EU, assuming a proportional amount of those funds reaches the eastern part of the country. Third, Kyiv must enact meaningful reforms that give the east broad political and cultural autonomy and that may introduce the country to a consociational form of democracy. Fourth, opposition forces and businesses in Russia must pressure Putin to deescalate the crisis. Protests that opposition leaders organized in Moscow on 21 September about the country’s involvement in Ukraine as well as discontent over the Russian economy may intensify. Similarly, business leaders may balk quietly against stifled initiatives and lost opportunities in addition to declining profits.
The governing coalition of the Unity party, Nationalist Alliance, and Union of Greens and Farmers has won Latvia’s parliamentary elections of 4 October with 61 seats out of 100 in the legislature, and the prime minister, Laimdota Straujuma, will remain in power. It even is possible that a fourth party may join the coalition in a display of Latvian solidarity against the actions of Vladimir Putin in Russia. The party that won a plurality of votes in the election was Concord (sometimes translated as Harmony), which has the support of the country’s Russian minority and won approximately 24 percent of the vote and 25 seats in the legislature. Despite its victory, Concord was the loser in the election. Not only does it have no allies in the legislature with whom it can build a governing coalition, the party actually lost six seats since the 2011 election. The leader of Concord also is the popular mayor of Riga, where more than 40 percent of the population are Russians. As a whole, Russians comprise 26 percent of the country’s population, while Latvians account for 61.4 percent. See http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/04/us-latvia-election-idUSKCN0HT0C720141004 and https://news.yahoo.com/latvias-ruling-parties-win-election-dominated-russian-issue-154159572.html.
Some readers may wonder why no postings have appeared on this website for the month of September. The problem simply has been the many tasks that accompanied the beginning of the semester. The work continues to mount unrelentingly, but I will make every effort to stay up to date with postings and to add a few entries of essential items from September. In the meantime, I continue to look forward to the day when a new startup named Clone-a-Drone will enable humans to employ our mechanical look-alikes, at least to do some of the menial tasks confronting us each day.