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from The Great Debate:

Putin’s Moscow is anxious, gilded and hollow

Putin chairs a meeting with members of the presidential council for civil society and human rights at the Kremlin in Moscow

The last time I saw Maria Baronova on Nikolskaya Street in Moscow, she was taking part in a silent anti-government demonstration before being bundled into a police bus with a half dozen other protesters. Now, almost three years later, we meet for a beer in an English pub on that same ancient street near the Kremlin. So much has changed. The Moscow protest movement fizzled out after Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency; activists like Baronova were prosecuted, and a blanket of repression is muffling the last voices of dissent.

When I first met Baronova in December 2011, I took an instant liking to her because she was unpretentious and smart, with a zany sense of humor. She embodied the contradictions of Russians who love their country, warts and all, and seek to reconcile it with the rest of the world. Today she sounds resigned, using the psychological term “learned helplessness” to describe Muscovites’ acceptance of the status quo – including, perhaps, her own.

Charges against Baronova of inciting a riot at a May 2012 rally were dropped in a pre-Olympic amnesty in December, which also freed Mikhail Khodorkovsky and members of Pussy Riot from prison. But while the former oil tycoon and punk-rock performance artists tour the world as celebrities, Baronova can’t even get a European Union visa because her name appears in a Russian police database as a result of her legal case. She fought for “Western values,” Baronova says, and now the West is punishing her for it. Without any irony, Baronova, 30, posits that it may be better to accept Putin as a leader for another 15 years than to squander the rest of her youth in the turmoil that would likely follow his departure.

Moscow is always a surprising kind of place. As a journalist who worked in the Russian capital for more than eight years, I expected Putin’s us-against-them nationalism to be more strident than ever. But flying in from Ukraine, which I have been covering for most of this year, I find the city uncharacteristically subdued and anxious about the future.

from The Great Debate:

The best role for Kiev provisional government? Exiting.

kiev rally

Successful provisional governments are quickly forgotten. Failed provisional governments, like the one during the 1917 Russian revolution, can be remembered forever.

Ukraine’s current provisional government already has, in many ways, outstayed its welcome. If the May 25 presidential election produces a definitive result, however, it still has a chance of quietly leaving the stage.

from MacroScope:

Ukraine fissure

Pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in Sunday’s referendum on self-rule for eastern Ukraine, with some saying that meant independence and others eventual union with Russia. On the ground, fighting appears to be getting increasingly out of control.

The EU declared the referendum illegal but separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine may use the vote to formalise a split with Kiev. Nearly 90 percent of voters in Donetsk, the larger of two eastern regions where a plebiscite was held, voted for self-rule, the head of the separatist election commission there said.

from MacroScope:

Five days on, Ukraine accord at risk of unravelling

An international agreement to avert wider conflict in Ukraine, brokered only five days ago, is teetering with pro-Moscow separatist gunmen showing no sign of surrendering government buildings and Kiev and Moscow trading accusations over who was responsible for killings over the weekend.

Washington, which signed last week's accord in Geneva along with Moscow, Kiev and the European Union, said it would decide "in days" on additional sanctions if Russia does not take steps to implement the agreement. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Kiev where he is expected to announce a package of technical assistance.

from The Great Debate:

To punish Putin, help Ukraine

Sunday’s referendum in Crimea and provocative Russian troop maneuvers have raised the Ukraine crisis to new heights.

Congress has expressed strong support for Ukraine and condemned Russia’s seizure of Crimea. Unfortunately, some on Capitol Hill are pushing ideas that would do little to punish Moscow while undercutting U.S. and NATO security interests. Congress needs to be smart in how it seeks to help Ukraine and punish Russia.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Markets already see a Putin win

Oscar Wilde described marriage as the triumph of hope over experience. In finance and geopolitics, by contrast, experience must always prevail over hope, and realism over wishful thinking.

A grim case in point is the confrontation between Russia and the West in Ukraine. What makes this conflict so dangerous is that U.S. and EU policy seems to be motivated entirely by hope and wishful thinking. Hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will “see sense” -- or at least be deterred by the threat of sanctions to Russia’s economic interests and the personal wealth of his oligarch friends. Wishful thinking about “democracy and freedom” inevitably overcoming dictatorship and military bullying.

from The Great Debate:

Putin’s anti-Olympic creed

The Putin era in Russia, now in its 15th year, has given birth to the ongoing diplomatic challenge of reading what’s going on behind the Kremlin leader’s steely eyes.

President George W. Bush famously perceived something trustworthy and sympathetic in President Vladimir Putin in 2001, while former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in his new memoir, recalls seeing “a stone-cold killer.” But there is no doubt what was preoccupying the Russian president during the closing ceremonies in Sochi on Sunday: the upheaval underway 250 miles to the west, the distance to the border between Russia and Ukraine -- where Viktor Yanukovich’s government had just been toppled.

from MacroScope:

Breakneck speed of events in Ukraine

 

An extraordinary weekend. Ukraine’s President Yanukovich is gone and is probably at large somewhere in the pro-Russian heartlands of the east.

There’s no prospect of his return given how fast events have moved and after his people saw the shameless opulence stored within his country retreat.

from MacroScope:

A glimmer of hope in Kiev

A glimmer of hope in Ukraine?

Let’s not count our chickens after 75 people were killed over the past two days but President Viktor Yanukovich’s people are saying an agreement on resolving the crisis has been reached at all-night talks involving the president, opposition leaders and three visiting European Union ministers.
A deal is due to be signed at 1000 GMT apparently although no details are as yet forthcoming. There has been no word from the EU ministers or the opposition so far.

Even if the violence subsides and some sort of political agreement is reached (a huge if), there is potential financial chaos to deal with despite Russia’s only partially delivered pledge of $15 billion to bail its neighbour out.

from MacroScope:

Cold War chill over Ukraine

Dramatic twist in the Ukraine saga last night with a conversation between a State Department official and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine posted on YouTube which appeared to show the official, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, deliberating on the make-up of the next government in Kiev.

That led to a furious tit-for-tat with Moscow accusing Washington of planning a coup and the United States in turn saying Russia had leaked the video, which carried subtitles in Russian. A Kremlin aide said Moscow might block U.S. "interference" in Kiev.

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