Ukraine

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.

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

  • Borzou Daragahi reports on how the violence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon is merging into a single sectarian war whose Shia and Sunni protagonists are receiving support from regional powers “amid a dizzying and ever-changing cast of militia leaders, jihadi adventurers, sectarian politicians and rogue gangs dressed up as political groups”.
  • As for the conflict in Ukraine, Courtney Weaver discovers that dozens of Chechen fighters have joined pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, claiming to have been ordered there by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. “They’ve killed one of our guys and we will not forget this,” said Magomed, a 30 year-old Chechen fighter with a wolf tattooed across his chest. “We will take one hundred of their lives for the life our brother.”
  • On the European front, “the outcome of the European elections (at home and elsewhere) paves the way for Italy to play an active role in Europe,” says the Bruegel think-tank as it chews over the success of Matteo Renzi and the Democratic party. But now that Renzi has a mandate, “Italy should play a role and put itself forward as a decided leader in the project of more European integration.”
  • One for a quiet moment and a cup of coffee: The Guardian has gone deep into “enemy territory” and produced an outsider’s guide to the City of London. “I am trying to understand the culture of the City; to find out whether those who work there have learned the lessons of the crash of 2007-08, and if the City can ever be made ‘disaster proof’,” writes Stephen Moss.
  • On that note, Martin Wolf ponders the crisis-prone nature of capitalism and asks what governments must do to minimise the damage without having to resort to the comprehensive measures needed after the last crash.

 Read more

Gideon Rachman

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.

By Gideon Rachman

In America, they have Super Tuesday. Europe is about to have a Super Sunday, with elections for the European Parliament taking place across the 28-member EU, ending on May 25. That same Sunday, Ukraine will be holding a presidential election. The next day, Egypt will hold its own presidential vote. And then, towards the end of that week, on May 29, President Vladimir Putin’s pet project – the formation of a Eurasian Union – will receive the formal go-ahead with a signing ceremony between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

By Gideon Rachman
The disputed referendums in eastern Ukraine give President Vladimir Putin time to take stock and choose between two very different paths. The first involves grabbing more territory for Russia, attempting to rebuild an empire in the old Soviet sphere, and accepting a prolonged confrontation with the west. The second is more pragmatic – and involves attempting to pocket his Crimean winnings and rebuild relations with the US and the EU.

The Tolmachevy Sisters (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The politics of the Eurovision Song Contest are, as a rule, reassuringly simple: countries with shared cultures, languages or borders, or a combination thereof, can generally be relied on to support each other. So the Greeks vote for Cyprus and the Cypriots vote for Greece; all the Scandinavians vote for each other, as do the Balts, as do Austria and Germany… and Russia and Ukraine.

It is a pattern that seems to transcend historical differences including war, genocide and economic catastrophe. For instance, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been reliable co-supporters for years; in 2009 Greece came a creditable seventh despite being widely blamed across the continent as the feckless idlers responsible for the eurozone’s woes; and in 2011, just as the Germans were being vilified for their insistence on hairshirt austerity – with frequent references to the Nazis – they managed a reasonable tenth. At Eurovision, it appears, ancient grudges that have started fights in bierkellers and tavernas from Hamburg to Trieste are generally submerged in a welter of kitsch and predictably awful key changes. When in 2009 Georgia, still smarting from its defeat at Russian hands in South Ossetia, tried to enter a song entitled “We’re Not Gonna Put In” (geddit?), the Eurovision organisers rejected it as too political. 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