Ukraine left to fend for itself

Having already had Crimea occupied and annexed by Russia, Ukraine’s government is struggling to hold the rest of the country together as Russia uses covert actions and propaganda to drive unrest, violence and fear.  Meanwhile the international community seems incapable of doing little more than making toothless statements of concern and placing weak sanctions which have so far been totally ineffective in deterring Russian President, Vladimir Putin from further aggression. Earlier this week the Ukrainian authorities deployed an anti-terrorist operation following several days of unrest as pro-Russian armed groups carried out coordinated attacks taking-over police stations and government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine.  The operation is expected to last several days b...

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Shining Big Tobacco's shoes

US Chamber of Commerce chief Tom Donohoe (right) meets José Manuel Barroso in Brussels. Two very powerful Americans - let's call them VPAs - have been welcomed to Brussels by the EU's grovelling grandees over the past month. The first of these visitors was Barack Obama. Displaying his usual charm, the president received a lot of attention when he declared his love for Belgian beer and chocolate. By contrast, the second visit of a VPA went largely unreported. It was by Tom Donohoe, head of the US Chamber of Commerce. Last week, he met top-level representatives of the European Commission. The low profile nature of his trip belies Donohoe's influence. The US Chamber of Commerce boasts of being the world's largest business association. It has spent more than $1 billion on ...

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Commissioners or Courtiers

The cynical politics of sixteenth-century Italy gave birth to two seminal self-help guides: The Prince and The Courtier. If Machiavelli’s The Prince provided a philosophy for an ambitious individual to establish a new regime, Castiglione’s The Courtier was a guide for anyone living under that regime, and it recommends compliance and flattery. The two books are becoming Brussels’s most hotly-downloaded Renaissance pamphlets (probably), and for good reason. As the EU’s influence retracts, and its territories begin arguing over the spoils, Brussels is turning into a kind of antique city state. At its heart lies a body which exerts transnational spiritual power beyond the city walls and a very hard material power within them: it is the European Parliament that will emerge from the inter-ins...

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Ukraine: Why Protests in the East are Fake

It does seem that Ukraine is long away from stability. The unrest which have been stirred up in the East and the South since Yanukovych's escape and the formation of the interim government assumed a radical form last weekend. Local government buidlings were attacked and occupied in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv. Radical groups have proclaimed the Kharkiv and Donetsk «Independent Republics». One of their key demands is holding a referendum on the issue of accession to the Russian Federation, following the Crimean scenario. There is much evidence that these protests have hardly anything to do with democracy and popular will, but are rather carefully instigated from the outside. Indeed, there are no obvious reasons that could bring people to the streets in the East and South of Ukraine. ...

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After Crimea: Putin's Balance Sheet

When it comes to foreign policy, Russia is good at sprinting, while the West – and especially the EU – is better at marathons. The use of kinetic military force by Moscow is to a large extent a sign that other, long-term foreign policy means failed in Ukraine: Russian coercive diplomacy – based on sticks (embargoes and sanctions) and carrots (offers of cheaper gas and greater market access) – did not have the desired effect. Moscow believes it can achieve its goals with rapid bursts of sprinting, and that the West will not quicken its pace in response. In Crimea, the territory was captured in a manner that was both quick and bloodless, with the weak state institutions of Ukraine simply crumbling in the face of Russian aggression. The problem is that other post-Soviet states are equally ...

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Those are crazy ideas, US!

Free trade with the US? Sure. Free trade is a good thing and bigger markets to sell European stuff has to be a good thing, right? Open borders?  I´m in favor, the more circulation, the merrier. And it is going to bring us tens of thousands of new jobs as well as € 120 bn in cash, I hear. Still. How exactly will a free trade agreement with the US achieve all that since there are very few barriers in place between the EU and the US in the first place? As the European Commission puts it: …”the economic relationships between the United States and the European Union can be considered to be among the most open in the world…” Yep, the US is our biggest trading partner and we´ve done away with most customs and trade barriers ages ago. The barriers we´ve bothered to keep in place are for...

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Arrested for confronting arms-dealers

My arrest at today's conference of the European Defence Agency. I spent seven hours today in a police station cell. Why? Because I tried to disrupt a feast of flesh-pressing between weapons dealers and top political figures. As the annual conference of the European Defence Agency (EDA) was about to begin in Brussels this morning, two peace activists poured buckets of fake blood outside the venue's entrance. Disguised as corporate lobbyists, I and a few others then sat down in the dark red puddle. We were promptly arrested. The purpose of the action was to make the invitation-only attendees walk through "blood". This was entirely appropriate: the arms industry thrives on wars in which innocent people are killed as a matter of routine. We may not have caused too big a headac...

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Casus Ucrainae

This is a moment of truth for Eastern Europe. Society in general and elites are divided over Crimea and over Russia’s new, expansive course. It is a little conflict within a conflict: colleagues quarrel in the office; friends and family members sulk; some Russian intellectuals sign letters of support for Putin, others strongly disapprove; Belarusians clash with Ukrainian family members, or with relatives in Russia. What was the whole reason again? That “Russians” must be saved. And how come it’s legitimate? Because 97 percent of Crimeans asked for it. The 3 percent of Crimeans who said No in the “referendum” have been oppressing the 97 percent said to have said Yes? As well as the “Martians” - the nickname of the balaclava-wearing, gun-toting, friends of Russia who fell from the sky i...

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Invisible, the big party drama at the centre of EU politics

With the Social Democrats (S&D) and the conservatives (EPP) neck-and-neck in ever more refined EU wide opinion pools, the lead up to the European elections has never been more exciting. It’s down to one seat whether the next Commission president is Social Democrat or Conservative. 214-213; Europe’s Social Democrats retain a one seat lead over the EPP in the latest EU wide opinion pool from Poll Watch / Burson-Marsteller; the Liberals regain third position with 66 ALDE MEPs. Whilst national media across the EU focus on the rise of Euro-sceptic and extreme right and left wing parties in countries such as the UK, France and Greece, the real drama in May’s elections takes place largely unnoticed at the very centre of European politics. To the surprise of many observers, Europe’s c...

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Turkey: The blue bird cannot be silenced

It is a well-established fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has a deep-seated phobia of social media. He detests all of it: Facebook, YouTube and most particularly Twitter. Still his bird-brained decision to ban those little blue birds really exposed how desperate he is these days. You would have hoped that one of his “super smart” advisers could have told him, “Dear Mr. Prime Minister, such a decision is a waste of time because people will easily get around it and you will only end up further humiliating yourself.” Clearly, they did not. What happened next is now well known. News of the ban spread like wildfire with an explosion of tweets. The hashtags #TwitterisblockedinTurkey and #Turkey blockedTwitter became the top trending topics globally last Friday. A further explosio...

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