Reuters blog archive
from The Great Debate:
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.
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:
Now that Russia President Vladimir Putin has swallowed Crimea, the question becomes: What if the peninsula doesn’t satisfy his appetite for new Russian territory? What if the only thing that will satiate his hunger for power is the goulash known as eastern Ukraine? Or does he then move on to Moldova, and then on and on?
Indeed, while the world watched the protests in Kiev and the Sochi Olympics last month, the Moldovan territory of Gagauzia quietly held a referendum about whether or not to join Russia if the rest of the country opts for stronger ties to the European Union. Its citizens, just like those in Crimea, have argued that they would be economically better off on Putin’s planet, rather than as meager satellites in the Western solar system.
A reported 0300 GMT deadline, which Russian forces denied had been issued, for Ukraine’s troops to disarm in Crimea or face the consequences has passed without incident and in the last hour President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops that took part in military exercises in western Russia to return to base.
That has helped lift the euro but the situation remains incredibly tense. Russia’s stock market is up a little over two percent and the rouble has found a footing but they are nowhere near clawing back Monday’s precipitous losses.
Russia’s next move remains the great unanswered question for Ukraine but there are glimmers that things might be starting to move elsewhere.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde said last night she would send a technical support team to Ukraine soon if Kiev makes a request. It can’t do so until an interim government is formed, probably tomorrow. That would be step one, but only step one, down the road to an international aid package.
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.
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.
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.
from The Great Debate:
In the three weeks since Ukraine formally suspended talks aimed at signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, two important facts have become clear.
First, it is now apparent that Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovich, had no effective strategy to resist intense pressure against the EU deal from Moscow. The Kremlin promised big cash loans, a gas discount and debt forgiveness, while explicitly threatening to block Ukraine's access to the Russian market and implicitly threatening to stoke separatism in regions of the country.
from The Great Debate:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has had a good run over the past few months.
Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, landed on his doorstep, a gift from the PR gods. Agreement on Syria went from no chance to golden opportunity in the course of one afternoon. Forbes dubbed Putin the most powerful man in the world. Yet all these successes obscure a basic fact: Russia is running out of money.
To be fair, Russia is far from broke. Revenues continue to stream in from oil and gas sales, and Moscow maintains healthy financial reserves for future rainy days. Russia also dislikes budget deficits and keeps its foreign debt down -- a model of fiscal rectitude that most Western countries can only dream about.