Eastern Europe

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. 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.

Every armed conflict has its femme fatale, the woman who tantalises men on the home front, or taunts them from behind enemy lines.

In World War Two, think of Betty Grable, the leggy film star whose image graced countless US servicemen’s quarters, or Tokyo Rose, the nickname for the Japanese-American radio presenter later prosecuted as a war criminal. Or Lili Marleen, the fictional soldiers’ siren from the popular song played and sung on both sides of the front.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and apparent designs on eastern Ukraine – a murky tale with few identifiable heroes or villains – has brought the world Natalya Poklonskaya, who has become the fresh and comely face of an ugly and fast-expanding east European war. Read more

Imagine you are the boss of a multinational company with a long-planned meeting with an authoritarian leader of a vital trading partner. Then just before the scheduled get-together, he decides to invade one of his neighbours. What do you do?

That, roughly, was the position of Joe Kaeser, chief executive of Germany’s Siemens, as he decided to go through with a meeting with Vladimir Putin this week at the Russian president’s nineteenth century country residence on the outskirts of Moscow. 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.

Both the US and the EU are stepping up their sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea. So far it has all been very personal; both the US and the EU have focused on making life difficult for key individuals in and around the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin. But that is unlikely to be the end of it. Both the US and the EU have threatened to impose further, broader, sanctions on the Russian economy. So in terms of trade, what might they target? Read more

James Blitz

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, declared on Tuesday that the referendum on independence in Crimea was conducted in strict accordance with democratic principles and international law.

In particular, he cited Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 as an example of self-determination that has been praised by the west – and which provided a legitimate template for Russia’s action in Crimea.

But how justified are these arguments? Read more

By John Thornhill

Look at Ukraine’s polling data and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that even if Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘wins’ Crimea he runs a far bigger risk of ‘losing’ Ukraine. Read more

Tony Barber

Orient Express

I was passing through eastern Croatia the other day and found myself in Vinkovci, a pleasant town not far from the Danube river border with Serbia. As any Agatha Christie enthusiast will tell you, Vinkovci is the place in Murder on the Orient Express whereSamuel Ratchett, a shady American traveller, is bumped off while the famous train is stuck in a snowdrift. Read more