If the Greek debt crisis is teaching the European Union some harsh lessons about the design of its monetary union, no less serious is the message coming from Ukraine about the effectiveness of EU foreign policy. Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s newly elected president, agreed a deal with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia last week that gave Moscow a 25-year extension of the right to station its Black Sea fleet in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. In return, Ukraine secured a 30 per cent cut in the price of Russian gas deliveries. Read more
You know that the European Union is in trouble when Russia offers more intelligent advice on the eurozone’s debt crisis than Spain, the country that holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, disclosed the other day that he had recommended to George Papandreou, Greece’s prime minister, that the Greek government should request assistance from the International Monetary Fund to sort out its problems.
This is exactly the course of action advocated by several non-eurozone EU countries as well as a host of distinguished economists and, dare I say it, the editorial writers of the Financial Times. As it happens, I don’t agree – if by IMF assistance we mean financial help. The IMF will be involved, along with the European Central Bank, the European Commission and eurozone finance ministers, in monitoring Greece’s public finances and providing technical aid as required. Read more
There is an amusing and rather revealing story doing the rounds in Brussels about a conversation that took place at last month’s European Union-Russia summit in Stockholm.
In the course of a conversation with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a mischievous allusion to the EU’s imminent institutional changes, under which Barroso will for the first time deal with a full-time EU president representing the bloc’s 27 governments – Herman Van Rompuy, Belgium’s ex-prime minister. Read more
October 30 saw one of the most important moments so far of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency in Russia. On a video blog posted on the presidential website, he squarely addressed the issue of the mass repressions carried out under Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator from the mid-1920s to 1953. I agree with Tomas Hirst, who wrote on the Prospect magazine blog that this was a brave step on Medvedev’s part.
Medvedev didn’t simply condemn Stalin’s crimes. He criticised Russians – and, sad to say, there are an awful lot of them – who make excuses for Stalin by saying some supposed “supreme goals of the state” justified the arrest, deportation, imprisonment, execution and death by starvation of millions of people. It is still quite common to hear Russians defend Stalin by saying that he led the Soviet Union to victory over Nazi Germany. Significantly, however, Medvedev entitles his video blog “Memory of National Tragedies is as Sacred as the Memory of Victories”. Read more
Everyone interested in modern Russia should read a report out this week on the nation’s deepening demographic crisis. It’s published by the United Nations Development Programme, but it’s written by a team of Russian academic experts, so no one can say it’s tainted with bias.
The report describes the stark reality of a country whose population is falling fast, to a considerable extent because of rampant alcohol abuse among men, who on average are dying before they make it to 60 years old. “Short life expectancy is the main feature of this crisis, though by no means its only feature. The birth rate is too low, the population is shrinking and ageing, and Russia is on the threshold of rapid loss of able-bodied population, which will be accompanied by a growing demographic burden per able-bodied individual. The number of potential mothers is starting to decline and the country needs to host large flows of immigrants,” the report says. Read more