Opinion

The Great Debate

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Why this Ukraine ceasefire will stick

A boy sits on an APC as he poses for a picture during a parade in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine

The war in eastern Ukraine, which has had more impact on the European economy than any news coming out of Frankfurt or Brussels, appears to be ending. Despite the sporadic attacks that have wrecked previous ceasefire attempts.

Investors have mostly assumed that the ceasefire would not hold, either because Russian President Vladimir Putin is deceitful and greedy for more territorial conquest, or because Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko would not accept the splintering of his country that Russia demands. But this fashionable pessimism is probably wrong.

The ceasefire no longer relies on good faith or benevolence but on a convergence of interests: Putin has achieved all his key objectives, and Poroshenko recognizes that trying to reverse militarily the Russian gains would be national suicide.

Admittedly, there is still a “party of war” in Kiev, seemingly led by Prime Minister Arsenyi Yatsenyuk, who has called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to back his country in an all-out war with Russia. But this week’s vote in the Ukrainian Parliament on temporary autonomy for the rebel regions suggests that most of the country’s politicians have abandoned hope of winning a war with Russia. They also understood that Western military assistance is not coming.

Ukraine President Poroshenko speaks after his meeting with Obama in WashingtonThis may sound like a grimly defeatist analysis. Yet a modest victory for Russia was actually the least bad outcome to be expected -- given that there was never any chance of economic sanctions stopping Putin, for reasons explained here in March. There are several good reasons to welcome the incipient Ukraine deal:

from John Lloyd:

Ukraine’s future lies with the West, but there is much suffering ahead

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Ukraine did something very Ukrainian this week. It sued for peace with Russia, apparently confirming a centuries-old subordination to Big Brother to the east. Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister jailed by the deposed President Victor Yanukovich and now leader of the political party Batkivshchyna, called the laws implementing peace by granting autonomy to parts of eastern Ukraine “humiliating and betraying.”

At the same time, Ukraine did something very un-Ukrainian. It moved westward, toward the European Union, when it ratified an association-cum-trade agreement with the EU, thus taking a decisive first move away from Big Brother to the east. “Tell me,” proclaimed President Petro Poroshenko to the 355 members of the Ukrainian Parliament before they unanimously endorsed the pact, “who will now dare to shut Ukraine's doors to Europe? Who will be against our future membership of the EU, towards which today we are taking our first but very decisive step?" Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who does not like to be upstaged by his president, said, “We are fixing a 350-year-old mistake: Ukraine is Europe!”

The president of the European Parliament, the German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, said the Ukrainian vote was a "historic moment" that met the "dreams of the people who fought for democracy" in Ukraine. A few days later, Porshenko flew to the United States to address the Congress: he said his soldiers were “fighting a war for the free world” against Russian aggression – and asked for advanced weaponry (which he’s unlikely to get).

Russians love their children, too – but that alone won’t stop a nuclear war

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Back when most of today’s Western decision-makers were in college, Sting had a hit song with “Russians.” It began:

In Europe and America, there’s a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mr. Khrushchev said we will bury you
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
It would be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too

It sometimes seems that most Western analysis of Russia has the sophistication of this song.

The simplicity of the idea that all humans are essentially the same, and that a common understanding is thus always within reach, is seductive. Its appeal stems from the fact that few things are harder than knowing someone whose views of the world are profoundly different from yours. This is why it has been so difficult for a veritable army of Western experts to explain or predict Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior.

NATO could have trouble combating Putin’s military strategy

A Canadian Air Task Force jets CF-18 stands in the Siauliai air base

Since Russian troops seized Ukraine’s strategic Crimean peninsula in late February, and separatists backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin began waging a bloody insurgency in the country’s east, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has walked a fine line.

The transatlantic military alliance has sent hundreds of troops to Ukraine to train alongside Kiev’s forces. But at a major summit in early September, NATO declined to offer Ukraine membership. The alliance doesn’t really want to go to war over Ukraine.

If Russia were to expand its coercive campaign, however, and invade neighboring Estonia — where a security officer is said to have been abducted by Russian forces, a little more than a week ago — NATO’s 27 other member states would have little choice but to deploy troops in combat. They are obligated under Article 5 of NATO’s 1949 founding charter to defend each other from attack.

Plans to stop Russia show NATO and the West are in denial

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For more than six months now, since Russia annexed Crimea, Western politicians and analysts have been asking what can make Vladimir Putin stop or retreat. It’s the wrong question, and the policies that have flowed from the resulting debate have been misguided, because they are based on the fallacy that the West can do something to influence Putin’s actions.

Putin has always been a master of the public lie, both of the bold-faced variety and the mixed-message variety, and for the last six months he has used this skill to keep the West playing catch-up in Ukraine. It’s a game the West is losing.

Western politicians, for their part, have heeded only those of Putin’s statements that they want to hear — or at least ones that make sense in their picture of the world. Leaders have chosen to believe that Russia invaded Ukraine to protect vital strategic interests: the need for a “buffer state” between itself and NATO. They have validated Putin’s avowed concern about the fate of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. And right now, they are going along with a charade Putin is playing out regarding cease-fire negotiations with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko – negotiations that Putin’s press secretary managed to disavow minutes after the fateful telephone conversation concluded on Wednesday.

from Edward Hadas:

Russia-Ukraine conflict shows money isn’t the root of all war

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Many people think politics is really a branch of economics. When the United States invaded Iraq in 1991, the common cry was that it was all about oil. On the same thinking, rich countries were indifferent to the brutal civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – which has cost 5.4 million lives, according to the International Rescue Committee – because the economic stakes were too low to matter. This economic reductionism goes on in developed countries too. Pundits and pollsters argue that elections are won and lost above all else on the economy.

Such ideas can be traced back to the philosopher Karl Marx. He believed that material considerations motivated everything people do, including how they are governed. In modern surveys, people routinely say that the desire for better jobs or higher incomes is not what drives their voting behaviour. On Marx’s view, these respondents are either lying, or in denial. They may not realise that economic discontents and aspirations drive their action – and all of history.

Followers of this dialectic should be disconcerted by current events. Only a die-hard Trotskyite could see economic issues behind the conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq.

Five smart takes explain the Russia-Ukraine conflict from square one

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Ever since the Ukrainian revolution in February this year, the Eastern European country has witnessed spiraling political instability and bloodshed.

Former President Viktor Yanukovich, a Kremlin ally, was driven out by demonstrators in the city’s Independence Square after he refused to sign a political and trade accord with the European Union, which would have brought Ukraine closer to the West.

So far, the conflict has led to the annexation of Crimea by Russia2,593 civilian deaths — not including the 298 victims onboard when Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down by an antiaircraft missile — and more than 730,000 kicked out of their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many cities eastern cities, such as Donetsk and Luhansk, where the majority of fighting is taking place, are heavily damaged.

As if things weren’t Badenov: Even in good times, Russians are villains in Hollywood

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The fact that Moscow is behaving badly — with President Vladimir Putin meddling in Ukraine’s presidential affairs last December, annexing Crimea in March and now, despite denials, likely supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine — has validated Americans’ view of “evil” Soviets lurking in the new Russian empire. Even before Putin took back Crimea, more than 60 percent of Americans regarded Russia as a bad guy on the world stage.

Politics is largely to blame, but Hollywood may be the true villain in this drama. American culture never adapted to Moscow’s friendlier face. Though the Cold War was over, movie executives decided to ignore that memo. Russia may have been trying to leave behind its bad old days, but in the movies, Russians were still the bad guys.

In Air Force One (1997 – six years after the Soviet Union’s dissolution), a Russian nationalist psycho hijacks the plane of the U.S. president (Harrison Ford) in order to overthrow post-Soviet democracies. In The Saint (1997), based on a suave 1960s British television series starring Roger Moore, the heavy is a communist mafioso intent on diverting Russia from its new liberal course.

Ukraine fight shows how far Russia’s star has fallen from Soviet ‘glory’


How far the Soviet star has fallen A statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, stands near Sputnik in the first gallery of the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow. REUTERS/Jason Fields Russia's just not the same under President Vladimir Putin. It wasn't long ago that Russia didn’t need to paint its military convoys a pale white to cross international boundaries. The trucks and tanks were green and boldly emblazoned with red stars — not crosses — on their sides and turrets. And when they …

View “How far the Soviet star has fallen” on Spundge

Pity Moscow’s foodies as Putin’s sanctions bite deep

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I find Vladimir Putin annoying at the best of times, but this month my distaste has blossomed into unbridled loathing. By imposing sanctions on food imports from the United States, European Union, Canada and Japan, Russia’s kefir-drinking head of state scuppered my chances of making a decent plate of cacio i pepe or a batch of brownies for the next calendar year. The specter of Soviet-era scarcity is already making itself felt in eerie ways in supermarkets all over Moscow.

An entire section of the once expansive dairy aisle at one market is empty and shuttered with a sign citing “technical difficulties” where once Irish butter, French creme fraiche and Finnish skim milk stood proudly alongside Russian sour cream, kefir and milk. The Indian host of a sushi restaurant in my neighborhood, hugely popular with Japanese businessmen and diplomats, shook his head in despair, as he relies heavily on fish imports from Norway for his delectable sashimi and sushi. Heading back to Moscow from Italy yesterday, I loaded up my suitcase with 10 pounds of parmesan, vacuum-packed smoked ham and elegant jars of sage, rosemary, basil and mushroom pesto. Less than a week ago, they were all available at select grocery stores and wholesalers. Now, everyone is scrambling.

“Uh…uh..agh…aghhhhhhhh….?” was all my buddy, Michelle, who is a chef at the American Embassy, could spurt when she heard the news. She couldn’t stop long to chat; she was on her way to loop through all the upscale supermarkets to stockpile the Belgian baking chocolate she relies upon to make her legendary cakes and cookies.

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