By Gideon Rachman
Is Vladimir Putin a wimp? The Russian president has a macho image and has shocked the west with his annexation of Crimea. But, in Moscow, there are hardliners who seem frustrated that he has not gone further.
The appointment of Donald Tusk as president of the European Council was greeted with a certain amount of bafflement in Brussels. The former prime minister of Poland does not speak much English or French – and they are the two main working languages of the EU. And while he is known as a strong and sometimes charismatic leader, he is not someone who is renowned for his interest in detail – or his patience with committee work. The main job of the council president is to broker complicated deals between national leaders – a job that requires patience, a command of detail, a degree of modesty and, preferably, an ability to converse without the need to go through translators. The outgoing council president, Herman van Rompuy, ticks all these boxes. Mr Tusk, arguably, ticks none of them. Read more
It is still called the Yalta European Strategy Meeting. But this year, the annual international forum on Ukraine and and the world is taking place in Kiev, not Yalta. That is because Yalta is now in Crimea, which has been annexed by Russia. To judge from the mood of the conference, nobody expects Crimea to return to Ukraine anytime soon. On the contrary, on Saturday morning Arseniy Yatseniuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, warned the conference that Vladimir Putin’s goal is “to take the entire Ukraine”. Read more
The announcement by Petro Poroshenko that Russia has withdrawn 70 per cent of its troops from Ukraine has prompted both hope and anguished debate in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev – where I am at the moment.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. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
At the beginning of the year, I gave a talk about “geopolitical risk” to a big conference of investors. I trotted briskly around the course: Russia, the Middle East, the South China Sea, the eurozone. Afterwards, I was having coffee with one of the other speakers, a celebrated private-equity investor, and asked him how much he thought about geopolitical risk.
By Christian Oliver and Richard Milne
Europe’s leaders are preparing for a trade war with Russia by mapping out the battlefields on which they see the highest risk of casualties.
In data released on Friday, the European Commission identified the agricultural exporters most vulnerable to Moscow’s trade embargo on EU produce. Spanish peaches, Dutch cheeses and Polish apples find themselves squarely on the front line.
Polish fruit exports to Russia were valued at €340m last year and win the dubious honour of being the most exposed crops. The Poles have launched an impassioned public campaign to try to switch to more domestic consumption with their “Eat an apple to spite Putin” slogan.
The Netherlands (with dairy exports to Russia of €257m in 2013) and Finland (€253m) are at most risk on the milk and cheese front. Spain and Greece are vulnerable in relation to citrus, with stoned fruit such as peaches and nectarines also being described by farmers as being at crisis point in terms of storage overload and no market to go to. Read more
The Gaza strip was not the only place where civilians were suffering and dying last week. There were (and are) several other lethal conflicts underway. Take the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The current edition of The Economist reports that: “Ukraine’s offensive already seems to have featured pretty indiscriminate use of artillery. By July 26th 1,129 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine, 799 of them civilians, the UN has reported … shells have already begun falling in the centre of Donetsk: the potential for things to go lethally wrong is great.”
Civilians are also dying in large numbers in Iraq. Just yesterday over 50 people were killed in car bombs in Baghdad, while 60 were killed in an Iraqi government air-strike aimed at a Sharia court, set up by Isis in Mosul. Read more
Crisis over the MH17 atrocity
Russia and the west have been increasingly at odds following the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine, an atrocity that has been widely blamed on pro-Russian separatists. What are Vladimir Putin’s options, and what diplomatic accommodation be can be found to make the situation less volatile? Katherine Hille, Moscow bureau chief, and Neil Buckley, east Europe editor, join Gideon Rachman.
By Gideon Rachman
Just a couple of months ago it was fashionable to laud Vladimir Putin for his strategic genius. American rightwingers contrasted his sure-footedness with their own president’s alleged weakness. In a column entitled “Obama vs Putin, The Mismatch”, Charles Krauthammer argued: “Under this president, Russia has run rings around America.” Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, praised Mr Putin’s decisiveness and cooed: “That’s what you call a leader.” Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence party, said Mr Putin was the world leader he most admired.
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
For months, the Russian government has been proclaiming that “fascists” have taken over Ukraine. Now we have some exit polls from the Ukrainian presidential election and it looks like the two far-right parties – Right Sector and Svoboda (pictured above at a recent rally) – have failed badly, notching up just 0.9 per cent and 1.3 per cent of the vote respectively.
There is, however, a part of Europe where the far-right really is on the march. In France, the Front National (FN) have apparently come first in the European elections, with 25 per cent of the vote. Oddly enough, however, Marine Le Pen, FN leader, is an admirer of Vladimir Putin, and was treated with great respect by the Russian government on a trip to Moscow last month. Read more
Relations between Russia and China
President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Beijing took on added significance because of the deep divisions between Russia and the west, caused by the Ukrainian crisis. The two countries signed a landmark deal on gas supplies, as well as other agreements covering trade and arms sales. So is a new Russia-China axis emerging? Gideon Rachman is joined by James Blitz and James Kynge to discuss.