Eastern Europe

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  • Poland’s lossmaking coal industry, once seen as a bulwark against reliance on Russian energy resources, is in dire need of reform
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Gideon Rachman

The announcement by Petro Poroshenko that Russia has withdrawn 70 per cent of its troops from Ukraine has prompted both hope and anguished debate in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev – where I am at the moment. The argument now is whether Ukraine should try to cut a peace deal with Moscow.

President Poroshenko is regarded as the chief partisan of the “peace party” in Ukraine. But he has to tread carefully because many Ukrainians would regard cutting a deal with Vladimir Putin’s Russia as folly or betrayal – or both. 

Rising tensions over war in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine, the rising tensions between Russia and the West, Vladimir Putin’s objectives, and how ordinary Russians and Russia’s other neighbouring states see the conflict. Neil Buckley, the FT’s eastern Europe editor and Jack Farchy, Moscow correspondent, join Gideon Rachman.

By Gideon Rachman
The people who prepare President Barack Obama’s national security briefing must be wondering what to put at the top of the pile. Should it be the Russian assault on Ukraine, or the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) in Iraq and Syria? And what items should go just below that?

Gideon Rachman

Leaked tapes of expletive-filled conversations involving senior Polish ministers are extremely embarrassing to the government in Warsaw and to some of its leading figures, such as Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister (above). And that, presumably, is exactly the intention.

Amidst all the uproar, relatively few people seem to be asking who would have the resources and expertise to expertly bug several Warsaw restaurants – over the course of a year – and then the motivation to release the tapes. The obvious answer, based entirely on circumstantial evidence, would be Russia’s intelligence service. 

Tony Barber

Now that most of the results have come in from the European parliament elections, let’s take a family photograph of Europe’s presidents, chancellors and prime ministers. Who have the broadest smiles on their faces, and who are sobbing into their handkerchiefs?

Among the European Union’s six biggest states – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK – the happiest leader must surely be Matteo Renzi, Italy’s premier. He won, and won big. Mr Renzi (above) demolished the notion that Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement is on an unstoppable roll. He also inflicted an emphatic defeat on Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party.

Even though it was not a national election, the youthful Mr Renzi can now claim to have a mandate of sorts for the political, economic and social reforms that he knows are necessary to modernise Italy. This is not to say that he will succeed – the power of entrenched anti-reform interests in Italy is formidable. But maybe he has a better chance than he did 48 hours ago. 

Gideon Rachman

 

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during talks in Stralsund, northeastern Germany. (Getty)

Over the weekend, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande met and issued a statement that threatened Russia with new sanctions if it disrupts the Ukrainian presidential election or fails to pull troops back from the border. So far, so resolute.

However, President Hollande’s visit to Germany took place against the background of newspaper headlines that send an embarrassingly different message. France is pressing ahead with its sale of two warships to Russia. Indeed 400 Russian sailors are due to arrive in France on June 1st, for extended training on the Mistral ships. The first of the ships is due to be delivered later this year. 

The differing responses to the Ukraine crisis
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, and Ukraine will top the agenda. Washington has led the way on sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russians and scores of companies, in an attempt to show Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that his interference in Ukraine will bring rising economic costs. The EU on the other hand, seems deeply resistant to tougher economic sanctions, given the much more important ties between Europe and Russia. In this week’s podcast, Ben Hall, world news editor, is joined by Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent, and Stefan Wagstyl, Berlin bureau chief, to discuss how the two leaders should handle the escalating situation

By Gideon Rachman

Most politicians try to say something uplifting when they take office. Arseniy Yatseniuk took a different approach. Accepting the post of interim prime minister of Ukraine in February, his opening words were: “Welcome to hell.”

Vladimir Putin speaking at a session of the Russian security services board April 7 (Getty)

At one level, what is happening this week in the cities of eastern Ukraine is thoroughly confusing. Ukrainian security forces are trying to recapture government buildings in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk that were seized earlier this week by unidentified pro-Russia demonstrators. Who exactly is fighting whom? Who is really in charge in the region?

But at another level, what is going on is very clear. Vladimir Putin is providing an object lesson in how to destroy a state.