American Elephants


Liberal Intellectuals and Why They Are: by The Elephant's Child

From the preface to Jean François Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a post-Soviet Era, by Anthony Daniels:

[L]iberal democracy is not an ideology in the sense that Marxism or any other form of utopian political thought is an ideology; liberal democracy does not hold out the hope of a denouement of history in which all human contradictions are resolved, no conflicts can arise and everyone is ceaselessly—and one might almost add remorselessly—happy. It assumes that conflicts, difficulties, problems and dissatisfactions are inescapable characteristics of the human condition, and that the best that can be hoped for is compromise without slaughter, bringing with it some faint hope, though not the certainty of progress. There is no blueprint. …

Intellectuals, the justification for whose existence is that they have a superior understanding of the world to that of non-intellectuals, find it hard to accept that all understanding of empirical matters is partial, temporary, subject to revision and doubtful; and that any political system that does not take this into account will end up imposing lies (and worse) upon whole populations. There have been times and places in history, perhaps, when to impose a prori schema on society has not been utterly disastrous; but Europe in the twentieth century was decidedly not one of them.

But intellectuals not only want to think well of themselves; they want to be important. The attraction of ideology is that it offers a simple principle, or a few simple principles, by which to understand the world; and of course, it offers the prospect of power to those who know and wield those principles with the greatest facility. It seems to me likely that inside every Marxist Western intellectual there has been a Stalin trying to get out.



The Soviet Story (2008) by The Elephant's Child

A question that occasionally comes up in conversation: “How come the villains  are always Nazis? We hear constantly about the Nazi concentration camps, but never about the Gulag. Stéphane Courtois’ The Black Book of Communism and Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror alone should make it clear that Russia is not exactly going to respond cordially to ‘reset buttons’ or pleas for conversation, even when we have more ‘flexibility.’ Or perhaps Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History, Or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’ s The Gulag Archipelago. Why do we choose not to know, when the information is right there? How can our administration be “astonished” when the Russians choose not to risk losing their Black Sea port and access to the Mediterranean? This is the country that planned and carried out the Holodomor — The Great Terror, on the Ukraine.

This is long, an hour and a half film from 2008, that probably most people never saw. If you can’t spare that much time now, make time to watch it later.



Naivety And Incomprehension: What Happened to The Working Relationship? by The Elephant's Child

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Vladimir Putin just pitched the post Cold War rule-book out the window, and the European countries are understandably nervous. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement that he wants to downsize the military to the size it was before World War II, may go down in history as the most inappropriate announcement ever made by a cabinet member.

The White House spin machine is telling friendly reporters that Vladimir Putin has fallen into a trap,  which may be carrying the idea of “spin” a little too far. Walter Russell Mead said “Putin is increasingly likely to go down in history as a failed state builder, a man who took Russia down the wrong path and who added to the burden of Russian history.”

But those are long term considerations that, unfortunately for the diligent White House staffers working to spin the next news cycle, won’t help the President now.  In the short term President Putin has put President Obama in an ugly spot. President Obama’s foreign policy depends on three big ideas: that a working relationship with Russia can help the United States stabilize the Middle East, that a number of American adversaries are willing to settle their differences with us on the basis of compromises that we can accept, and that President Obama has the smarts to know who we can trust.

Putin’s attack on Ukraine calls all three propositions into question. What Obama’s belief in the possibility of deals with countries like Russia and Iran leaves out is that some countries around the world may count the reduction of American power and prestige among their vital interests. They may not be hampering and thwarting us because we are unnecessarily and arbitrarily blocking their path toward a reasonable goal; they may be hampering and frustrating us because curbing our power is one of their central objectives. This is not necessarily irrational behavior from their point of view; American power is not a good thing if you hate the post-Cold War status quo, and it can make sense to sacrifice the advantages of a particular compromise with the United States if as a result you can reduce America’s ability to interfere with your broader goals.

Washington’s flat-footed, deer-in-the-headlights incomprehension about Russia’s Crimean adventure undermines President Obama’s broader credibility in a deeply damaging way. If he could be this blind and misguided about Vladimir Putin, how smart is he about the Ayatollah Khameni, a much more difficult figure to read? President Obama is about to have a difficult meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he will tell Netanyahu essentially that Israel should ground its national security policy on the wisdom of President Obama and his profound grasp of the forces of history. The effect will be somewhat undermined by President Obama’s failure to understand the most elementary things about Vladimir Putin.

Foreign policy is harder than it looks, and Mr. Obama’s foreign policy team is not an impressive bunch. Will the American public see this as just another case of difficult foreigners doing bad things in some little-known country, or will they see this as  clear evidence that this president is too naive and too passive and he is endangering the country?

Secretary Kerry said huffily on Face the Nation: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country. That’s not the act of somebody who’s strong, Putin is acting out of “weakness” and “desperation.”

It’s easier to threaten friends. They probably won’t do anything. Obama said essentially that if Israel wouldn’t agree to the U.S. idea of a peace deal with the Palestinians, then the U.S. won’t be able to defend Israel if the peace talks fail. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which began last July, have made no visible progress. Palestine refuses to recognize the right of the Israeli state to exist, won’t stop shooting rockets into Israel, continues to teach its small children that martyrdom in the interest of killing Jews is a holy aim, and insists of the ‘right of return.’ Obama’s ideas about Israel were likely formed by his friendship with the radical Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi. He does not change his mind.



The Ukraine Crisis is Upsetting, so Obama Does What He Likes Best — Campaigning. by The Elephant's Child

President Obama, focused like a laser beam on the crisis in the Ukraine, hits the campaign trail to pitch an increase in the minimum wage. He will appear with four Democrat governors from New England on Wednesday in Connecticut to boost his uphill fight to get Congress to approve an increase in the federal minimum wage.

His 2015 budget proposal  will be released on Tuesday, calling for increased spending on manufacturing and early childhood education as well as hiking the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, theoretically redistributing income, but mostly destroying more jobs — in this case an estimated 2,500,000 jobs. We already have 7.8 million people working part-time who want full time jobs. Raising the minimum wage will put a lot more on part-time (ObamaCare regulations) and fulfill only the president’s fantasy of redistributing income.

The Democrats aren’t going to be able to run on the economy this fall. They won’t be able to run on increasing employment opportunities, nor on foreign policy, but by golly, there’s always the minimum wage. That’s the only thing they have to campaign on. If employers don’t just say the hell with it and purchase robots, tablet menus, or automated check out machines, they can always move to a state where business is more welcome.

You can trust Obama to always inadvertently come up with another way to kill jobs.

 



The Oscars Live From Kiev. by The Elephant's Child

(h/t: American Digest)

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Could We Possibly Get to A Point Where We Are Not “Astonished” by Events? by The Elephant's Child

Politico report called it “a crisis no one anticipated.” The Daily Beast, reporting on Friday’s US intelligence assessment that “Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine,” and quotes a Senate aide claiming that “no one really saw this kind of thing coming.” The American Interest noted that the mainstream media remains deeply convinced that President Obama and his dovish team are “the masters of foreign relations, nothing poor Putin did could possibly derail the stately progress of our genius president. There were, we were told lots of reasons not to worry about Ukraine. War is too costly for Russia’s weak economy. Trade would suffer, the ruble would take a hit. The 2008 war with Georgia is a bad historical comparison, Putin doesn’t want to spoil his upcoming G8 summit, or his good press from Sochi.”

How many times did foolishly confident American experts and officials come out with some variant of the phrase “We all share a common interest in a stable and prosperous Ukraine.” We may think that’s true, but Putin doesn’t.

We blame this in part on the absence of true intellectual and ideological diversity in so much of the academy, the policy world and the mainstream media. Most college kids at good schools today know many more people from different races and cultural groups than their grandparents did, but they are much less exposed to people who think outside the left-liberal box. How many faithful New York Times readers have no idea what American conservatives think, much less how Russian oligarchs do? Well bred and well read Americans live in an ideological and cultural cocoon and this makes them fatally slow to understand the very different motivations that animate actors ranging from the Tea Party to the Kremlin to, dare we say it, the Supreme Leader and Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As far as we can tell, the default assumption guiding our political leadership these days is that the people on the other side of the bargaining table (unless they are mindless Tea Party Republicans) are fundamentally reasonable people who see the world as we do, and are motivated by the same things that motivate us. Many people are, of course, guided by an outlook not all that dissimilar from the standard upper middle class gentry American set of progressive ideas. But some aren’t, and when worlds collide, trouble comes.

Canada has promptly recalled its ambassador to Russia, and cancelled their attendance at the G8 conference. The G7 are suspending their participation in any international summit in Russia. I think that The American Interest has it exactly right. The White House operates on the assumption that the people with whom we negotiate are really reasonable people who basically want the same things that we do.  Well, no they’re not. Has no one noticed that Putin has allied himself with Syria, Iran, North Korea. Moscow denounced the overthrow of Moscow’s man in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych as the illegal work of fascist bandits.

Obama wants stability. He sees Ukraine as a crisis to be managed. Democracy must come organically from international developments, not imposed by outside intervention. What he does not understand is that American inaction creates a vacuum. Obama’s meaningless “red line” in Syria invited in Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Obama’s failure to get a status of forces agreement with Iraq invited in Iran and al Qaeda. And he is apparently ready to turn Afghanistan over to the Taliban. Obama’s lifting of the sanctions against Iran has allowed them the freedom to finish developing their nuclear weapons.

These are not reasonable people who want the same things we do.The citizens of these countries may be reasonable people, but their governments are a different bunch. The people of Iran were once quite cosmopolitan, but the Mullahs await the return of the Mahdi  and expect nuclear weapons to hasten the reestablishment of the Caliphate.

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The Saudis and  the leaders of the Gulf States are deeply worried about Iran. One might assume that they are more familiar with their neighbors than we are. We should perhaps pay attention.

Putin has told us over and over that the fall of Soviet Russia was the world’s greatest catastrophe, and he clearly regrets the loss of superpower status. Part of restoring the Soviet Union would seem to be recapturing its former satellite states. If we paid attention, and knew our history, we might anticipate such crises. That seems a worthy goal.



Miscalculation, Misunderstanding or Blunder? Or All Three? by The Elephant's Child

The situation in the Ukraine continues to deteriorate. Putin has invaded the Crimea, as expected. President Obama skipped the National Security Meeting on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

A Ukrainian official at the U.N. said an additional 15,000 Russian troops were streaming into Crimea after President Vladimir Putin received formal approval from the upper chamber of parliament to send forces into his neighboring country.

Ukrainian officials said two Russian anti-submarine warships had approached the coastline near Sevastopol, violating the two countries’ agreement on the Russian naval base there.

These moves came shortly after Obama said in the White House press briefing that “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.” There’s a statement designed to send chills down the backbone of any Russian czar, or not.

“Russian troops will remain deployed until the “political-social situation in the country is normalized,” the Kremlin said.

President Obama skipped the National Security Meeting on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine., but I repeat myself.

He told us so back when he was running for office, but you didn’t pay attention. Richard Fernandez notes:

During the height of the Cold War it was believed that having to emphasize the obvious represented a failure of policy. Deterrence had to be self-evident; a daily thing. You didn’t go on the air to issue bloodcurdling warnings. You didn’t have to because stability was there, part of the normal like the air or the earth. The Russian president only had to look at the his daily briefing to know that the USAF was flying and hence that the day could begin as peacefully as the previous one.

Well, when the world heats up, just issue a firm statement — “there will be costs.” That should do it.



Russians Move into the Ukraine, but Deny Any Such Move. by The Elephant's Child

President Obama just spoke on the situation in the Ukraine. Deeply concerned. Destabilizing. Profound interference. Situation remains fluid. We will continue to communicate.

Do you suppose President Putin noticed that President Obama wants to cut our military down to pre-World War II levels? Of course. The world pays attention to these things. Wire reports say that Russia has seized the government buildings in the Crimea, and taken control of the airport. The Russian Defense Ministry says it is taking measures to guarantee the safety of the Black Sea Fleet, which is based at Sevastopol in the Crimea. (It is helpful to look at Google maps if you are as fuzzy on geography as I am.)

The questions are — will Putin take the Crimea by force? And if so, will his ambitions be limited to simply securing the Black Sea Fleet’s bases or does he have greater ambitions?

What else, besides issuing statements of concern, is President Obama prepared to do? The new interior minister, Arsen Avakov, described it as a military invasion and occupation, and asked the U.N. Security Council to intervene in the escalating conflict. Russian forces denied any involvement.

Charles Krauthammer suggests that Putin’s mission is restoration. Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century. The 2008 war with Georgia returned two of its provinces to the bosom of Mother Russia, and last year pressured Ukraine to reject a long-negotiated deal with the European Union. Putin, Krauthammer says, wants Ukraine back.

The New York Times says that Obama wants stability. He sees Ukraine as merely a crisis to be managed rather than an opportunity to change the autocratic trajectory of the region. Krauthammer says:

Sure, Obama is sympathetic to democracy. But it must arise organically, from internal developments. “These democratic movements will be more sustainable if they are seen as . . . coming from within these societies,” says deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes. Democracy must not be imposed by outside intervention but develop on its own.

But Ukraine is never on its own. Not with a bear next door. American neutrality doesn’t allow an authentic Ukrainian polity to emerge. It leaves Ukraine naked to Russian pressure.

Obama says he has assigned Vice President Biden to talk to the new Prime Minister of the Ukraine, whose name Obama couldn’t remember. Secretary of State Kerry said a vague something or other about Russian action being a mistake. That should be helpful.

This is a difficult situation. President Obama has staked his credibility on being the president who ended the dumb war in Iraq, got bin-Laden, and is getting us out of Afghanistan. He sees America as a world bully that needs be restrained, and Americans as “war-weary.”

Others see Obama as embarrassingly passive and demonstrating American weakness before an increasingly violent world. I am not surprised by Putin’s actions. He has told us that he regrets the demise of the Soviet Union — have people forgotten the Cold War?



Obama Engineers America’s Global Retreat by The Elephant's Child

For Obama, the world’s major events might as well be happening on the planet Pluto. Russia is re-establishing itself in its “near abroad,” and working with Iran to project a neo-Soviet agenda from Southwest Asia to the Mediterranean. China is inexorably asserting sovereignty over the Western Pacific. As Islam’s Sunni and Shia factions tear at each other’s vitals, they seem to agree only on contempt for America.
Angelo Codevilla, Professor emeritus of international Relations, Boston U.

Historian Niall Ferguson wrote in the Wall Street Journal about “America’s Global Retreat.” It is the U.S. geopolitical taper that is stirring world anxiety. To see the geopolitical taper at work consider President Obama’s comment Wednesday on the horrific killings of protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev: “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”

Obama watched passively when the Iranian people rose up against their theocratic rulers in 2009. He was caught off-balance by the illusion of an “Arab Spring.” When crowds swarmed in Tahrir Square in 2011, calling for the ouster of longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, he backed the government led by Mohammed Morsi, after the Muslim Brotherhood won the 2012 elections. Then he backed the military coup against Morsi.

Syria has been one of the great blunders of post World War II American foreign policy. When he might have intervened effectively, he hesitated, When he did intervene, it was ineffectual. His non-threat to launch airstrikes if Congress agreed handed the initiative to Russia. Assad isn’t handing over his chemical weapons.

The result of this U.S. inaction is a disaster. At a minimum, 130,000 Syrian civilians have been killed and nine million driven from their homes by forces loyal to the tyrant. At least 11,000 people have been tortured to death. Hundreds of thousands are besieged, their supplies of food and medicine cut off, as bombs and shells rain down.

He sent Joe Biden to negotiate a “Status of Forces” agreement with Iraq, which failed, and the troops were pulled out anyway, leaving Iraq to fall apart and Al Qaeda in Iraq to take over Fallujah. If you recall, Obama claimed to truly understand the world because he lived in Indonesia until he was 10. Other than that he proclaimed Iraq to be a “dumb war” and wanted to close down Gitmo at once. Whatever it was – was Bush’s fault. The reason to be in Afghanistan was to get bin Laden. Obama has announced our withdrawal, so the Taliban can plan the timing for their takeover.

We’ve had reset buttons, and a “pivot” from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific is the closest we have come to a strategy. Ambassadors are chosen for the amount that was donated to Obama’s election and re-election, and have never visited the countries to which they are assigned.

Peter Wehner says that Obama is Consciously Engineering America’s Decline. “[H]e views the weakening of American power as a downright positive thing, as a contributor to peace and stability, and a means through which America will be more respected and loved in the world.”

Henry Kissinger once observed: ” Those ages which in retrospect seem most peaceful were least in search of peace. Those whose quest for it seems unending appear least able to achieve tranquility. Whenever peace—conceived as the avoidance of war—has been the primary objective … the international system has been at the mercy of [its] most ruthless member.”

Keith Koffler, veteran White House reporter asked plaintively “Does Obama Have Any Foreign Policy Successes?” The answer seems to be a resounding NO. Try to find a country with whom our relations have improved.

Winston Churchill, May 2, 1935, in the House of Commons:

It is possible that the dangers into which we are steadily advancing would never have arisen …[but] when the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand, we apply too late the remedies which might have affected a cure.

There is nothing new to the story. It is as old as [Rome]. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-reservation strikes its jarring gong — these are features which constitute the endless repetition of history.



Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level. by The Elephant's Child

What is the natural state of the world? Is it peace — or war? That’s one of the big questions, and much depends on your answer.

At the extremes are those who are sure that if we just lay down our arms, destroy them, and ask the world to follow our example, then there will be real and permanent peace. At the other extreme are those who believe that we are a fallen, quarrelsome species always looking for an opportunity to dominate another.

A conservative …takes the world as given, a place always full of sin, silliness and a rich surplus of stupidity—but also much goodness and mirth. The conservative fancies he views the world, as the philosophers say, as in itself it really is. Utopia is not his idea of a good time; it is not, for him, an idea at all, but an illusion.  If he is sensible, he understands the need to alter social arrangements that are cruel or grossly unfair. But the installation of perfection in a patently permanently imperfect world is not something he has signed on to deliver. This in itself ought to bring a smile to his face. Joseph Epstein

Headline in today’s New York Times: Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level. Not back to the level of 1933, when the Army of the United States of America was 16th in size, at 137,000 men. By December 7, 1941 — the army was 1,640,000, and after our entry into World War II expanded to 8,300,000 officers and men. About 5,000,000 served overseas. In 2011, numbers were 556,000. Secretary Hagel proposes 440,000 – 450,000.

Budget cuts and indifference to maintaining the “arsenal of democracy” have led to units that are not ready to deploy, and soldiers with weapons their grandfathers used. According to reports 85% of its brigades are not combat-ready.

The Navy is down to 10 carriers, even though there is currently a demand for 15 carriers. The Navy has tried to make up the lack by deploying carriers for longer than ever at sea, but the price has been high. Similar cuts are planned for the Air Force and the Marines.

British military historian Sir Hew Strachan, an expert on the history of war, says that the president’s strategic failures in Afghanistan and Syria have crippled America’s position in the world. President Obama is “chronically incapable” of military strategy and falls far short of his predecessor George W. Bush, according to one of Britain’s most senior military advisors. “Obama,” he said, “has no sense of what he wants to do in the world.”

Part of the problem, Strachan says, is that politicians are worried about allowing military leaders to give open and frank advice. Concern about the military speaking out shows a lack of maturity. You need their advice.

As of last October, President Obama has fired an unprecedented, and baffling, 197 officers. The military is being cleansed of any officer suspected of disloyalty or disagreement with the administration on matters of policy or force structure, leaving the compliant and fearful. Reasons range from “loss of confidence in command ability,” ‘mishandling of funds” to” inappropriate relationships,” “Inappropriate behavior,” to “low morale in troops commanded,” or simply no reason given.

For President Obama, the military of a once-feared superpower is an anachronistic vestige of an America whose exceptionalism and world leadership require repeated apologies. It must be gutted and fundamentally transformed into a force wearing gender-neutral headgear only useful for holding the presidential umbrella when it rains. It is to be “his” military and used only for “his” purposes.  Investors

I have no expertise in matters military, except a fairly good knowledge of history, and attention to what is going on in the world. Defense Secretary Gates was dismayed by the controlling nature of the White House, and found Obama to be deeply suspicious of senior officers and recommendations. All decisions were political. Osama bin Laden may be gone, but al Qaeda is growing and strengthening.  The American people now believe that Obama is not respected on the world stage, according to Gallup. Even if we are hated around the world, when disaster strikes, they call for American help—and we have been ready to provide it.



Obama May Be Uninterested in Geopolitics, But The World Won’t Wait. by The Elephant's Child

A pro-European protester wears a gas mask during street violence in Kiev

The Ukrainian government’s assault on protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square has shocked the world. The European Union is being forced to reexamine some of their assumptions about foreign policy. After the horrendous killings of protesters, President Obama, backed by his sterling foreign policy team, Chuck Hagel, Susan Rice and Joe Biden, said “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”

No one took that warning seriously. There is a fundamental shift we are witnessing in the national-security strategy of the United States, and this one means big repercussions for the world. Government snipers kept right on shooting protesters, and Obama’s passive statement merely reminded the world of all his previous red lines.

Talks mediated by three EU foreign ministers and a Russian envoy, got Viktor Yanukovych to agree to stop the violence, share power and hold early elections. Later on Friday, the Ukrainian parliament unanimously restored the 2004 constitution which curtails presidential powers. Mr. Yanukovych has lost control over the chamber, which also voted to release his predecessor, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed on trumped-up charges in 2011. Government riot police which had used live ammunition against civilians, withdrew from the capital’s center.

A new “national unity” government is to be created within 10 days to work out other constitutional changes to strengthen Ukraine’s democracy. Presidential elections will be held before the end of the year.

Yanukovych has fled Kiev for the city of Kharkiv. The protesters want Yanukovych to resign. He says he is not resigning, and may just be attempting to shore up support. Russia is reportedly prepared to fight a war over the Ukrainian territory of Crimea to protect the ethnic Russian population and the military base there. Russian officials say in private that Ukraine falls inside Russia’s sphere of influence.

“We will not allow Europe and the US to take Ukraine from us. The states of the former Soviet Union, we are one family,” said a foreign policy official. “They think Russia is still as weak as in the early 1990s but we are not.”

There is no scenario where Yanukovych resigns and the opposition takes over. Putin does not intend to lose the Ukraine. Yanukovych has enriched himself and his family  since taking power in 2010, but his popularity has declined as the corruption has gone up. The people want a clear path into the EU and NATO, the clubs of a free Europe. They have experienced Russian domination, and don’t like it. And the Holodomor may have been long ago, but it is not forgotten. For Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, the possibility that a united Ukraine might desert Russia and join Europe is completely unacceptable. The situation is — fluid.



You Can’t Turn Your Back On Russia! by The Elephant's Child

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Ukraine seems to be caught once again between the West and Russia. The European Union has wanted to establish a more modern policy towards Eastern Europe through the proposed association with Ukraine. The highlight of Friday’s Eastern Partnership Summit was supposed to be the formal signing of an agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, instead put the deal on hold.

Ukraine is a huge country torn between a western portion that looks towards Europe and Brussels and an eastern region that remains highly influenced by Russia. Kiev erupted with massive and bloody protests as hundreds of thousands of protesters poured into the Independence Square. But it is not just about Ukraine’s relationship but with Europe’s relationship with Russia, the sensitive former world power. Ukraine was once a part of the Soviet Union, and although few remain who lived through the Holodomor, when the Soviets deliberately starved Ukraine in the 1930s, the national memory is strong.

President Yanukovych was elected promising to smooth relations with the Russians, but had intended to sign the agreement with the EU. EU member states like Poland want to direct the EU’s influence toward the east, in part as protection against Russia. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin plays power politics. The EU has its own financial crisis, as does Russia, but Russia is promising to give Ukraine billions in loans, but without guarantees.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso rejected Russian interference, saying “What we cannot accept is a condition on a bilateral agreement to have…a possible veto of a third country.”

Russia once lorded it over the entire Eastern bloc, but for the last 25 years has had to sit back and watch as one country after another has turned its back on Russia, and looked towards the West. The Soviets gave them good reason to turn their backs on Russia, but it must be humiliating for the Russians. Putin wants to stop what he sees as the West’s advance all the way to Russia’s borders. Lots of sticky problems here. Russia is  well-provided with natural gas, and has threatened to blackmail a Europe that is flush with expensive alternative energy that is far more costly than anticipated. Yanukovych is widely regarded as corrupt, and has complained about the International Monetary Fund’s refusal to simply give him billions in loans without conditions.

Police responded violently, leaving many of the 500,000 protesters bloody and beaten, but officials from both Russia and the West were taken aback by the scale of the protests. The battle is now between the street and Yanukovych.

In some ways this is just the continuation of an old story. For the background, I highly recommend Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder.  A new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history. Required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.




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