Gideon Rachman

As the situation in eastern Ukraine gets ever more volatile, the West is still trying to figure out what to do. On Monday April 14th, EU foreign ministers are due to meet to discuss the situation. Top of the agenda will be the question of how to respond, if Russia invades eastern Ukraine. Defining “invasion” might be a trickier task than is sometimes realised. Agreeing on effective sanctions will be even harder. All the same, a new sanctions package really needs to be pulled together – and fast. Read more

Gideon Rachman

The first time I met Bob Carr, who was then Australian foreign minister, he struck me as a polite and humble man. That just shows how wrong you can be. For Mr Carr, who lost office when the Labor Party lost power in Australia, has just published a book called Diary of a Foreign Minister, which reveals – with remarkable frankness – his raging egotism. Among other things, the former minister congratulates himself on his membership of the “elite of the flat-stomached” (fellow members, Barack Obama and Prince Charles), his brilliance as a chairman and his taste in ties. He also complains vociferously about the iniquities of business-class travel on an airline. (Apparently the layout of the seats is similar to a slave-ship). He also publishes, in full, an apology sent to him by Singapore Airlines, for sins that include not providing English subtitles on the Wagner opera that the minister had been watching in first-class. Read more

Gideon Rachman

The news that Greece is returning to the markets as an issuer of sovereign-debt is symbolic of the resurgence of interest in Europe among international – and particularly US – investors. As ever there is a circular logic in play here.

Because most investors no longer fear a collapse of the euro, Greece can come back to the markets. And the sight of Greece returning to the markets will confirm the prejudices of those who argue that the crisis in the eurozone is over.

But just as international investors were, in retrospect, too panic-stricken about Europe in 2012 – I suspect they are probably too relaxed now.

Greece’s return to the markets is one striking sign of this. Another is the fact that 5-year Spanish bonds now have a lower yield than their US equivalent – despite the fact that Spain is barely growing, that its budget-deficit continues to bust EU rules, while unemployment is more than 25 per cent. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
“Whatever it takes.” Mario Draghi’s declaration that he would save the euro could well go down as the most effective three-word statement by a Roman since Julius Caesar’s veni, vidi, vici.

Gideon Rachman

 

Arseniy Yatseniuk (centre), Ukraine

Is the European Union in some way to blame for the fate of Ukraine? That idea has been popularised by the British politician, Nigel Farage, who has argued that Europe has “blood on its hands” in Ukraine – apparently because the Europeans irresponsibly encouraged Ukrainian aspirations to “join Europe”, without thinking what they would do, if Russia reacted aggressively. Mr Farage has been roundly denounced for taking this line. But he is not alone in making the charge that the EU is at fault. I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed by Asian and American policymakers. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Any western leader negotiating over the fate of smaller countries in central or eastern Europe does so in the shadow of two bitter historical experiences: the Munich agreement of 1938 and the Yalta agreement of 1945. At Munich, the British and the French agreed to Adolf Hitler’s demands for the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia – without the participation of the Czech government, which was not represented at the talks. At Yalta, the British and the Americans made a deal with Josef Stalin that, de facto, accepted Soviet domination over postwar Poland and other countries under Russian occupation – again, without the participation of those concerned.

Gideon Rachman

What is it about the last week of May and elections? I already have the elections to the European Parliament marked in my diary. They are scheduled to take place in 28 EU nations between May 22 and May 25, and the European Parliament has modestly billed them as the “second biggest democratic exercise in the world”. The biggest, obviously, is the Indian elections – the results of which will have been declared just a week earlier. The Indian and European elections were scheduled some time ago. But we now also have the Ukrainian presidential election - an event that has taken on global significance – scheduled to take place on May 25. Meanwhile, Egypt has just announced that it too will hold a presidential election on May 26-27. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Wednesday night’s debate in Britain between the standard-bearers of the pro- and anti-EU camps came out as a victory for the eurosceptic, Nigel Farage, over the pro-European deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. That is not my judgement, it is the verdict of the polls. A snap poll showed that 57% of viewers had Farage winning, whereas 36% had Clegg ahead. That verdict is extra-depressing for pro-Europeans since the polling company weighted the audience to make sure that it was as neutral as possible. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

As US President Barack Obama and the leaders of the EU huddle together this week, they will strive to look united and resolved. The reality, as Vladimir Putin knows, is that they are divided and uncertain. The Russian president has moved with a speed and ruthlessness that has left western leaders floundering. Russia swallowed Crimea, in less than a week, with scarcely a shot fired. It has now massed troops on Ukraine’s eastern border – and all that the west has so far offered the Ukrainian military is a supply of US army ready-meals.

Gideon Rachman

Most people in Washington are dismayed about the turn of events in Ukraine. But there are two groups I have come across that seem pleased: lobbyists for the defence industry and specialists on Europe. At a conference on the future of Europe that I spoke at yesterday at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one of the other speakers said firmly – “This should be the end of America’s pivot to Asia.” The remark was greeted with widespread approval. Read more