Eastern Europe

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. Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

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. 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