Opinion

The Great Debate

Putin’s anti-American rhetoric now persuades his harshest critics

People I know in Russia, members of the intelligentsia and professionals who have long been critical of President Vladimir Putin’s anti-Western stance, have suddenly turned into America-bashers. Many have been swept away by Putin’s arguments that the United States, not the Kremlin, is destabilizing Ukraine.

Since the current crisis broke in Ukraine over its efforts to side with the European Union rather than Russia, Putin has been at war with the United States. He seems intent on proving that a U.S.-centric world order is over and that Europe should decide on its own what its relations with Russia will be.

Putin’s big lie reached fever pitch after Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 went down over eastern Ukraine on July 17. Putin swiftly placed the blame on the Kiev government and its reputed U.S. masters — not even bothering to express proper condolences about the dead.

Instead, the Russian president disingenuously asked for transparency in the investigation into the downing of the plane. In his laconic statements, Putin promised cooperation but delivered little. He insisted issues of politics had to be kept out of the tragedy.

Such as the nature of autocratic propaganda: The lie has to be overwhelming.

Journalists work at a media centre as they cover Russian President Vladimir Putin's live broadcast nationwide phone-in, in MoscowIn his 14-plus years in power, Putin has honed this skill. In the Kremlin universe, when any conflict takes place around the globe, it is the West — particularly the United States — that is to blame. After hearing it repeatedly, this belief is now widely shared by the Russian public.

from Stories I’d like to see:

The Russian sanctions information gap

Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region

There are so many gaps in the reporting about the effort to use economic sanctions against Russia to get President Vladimir Putin to pull back support for the Ukraine separatists that it makes sense to devote my whole column this week to listing them.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to identify the gaps than to do the reporting to fill them. Still, many are so obvious that it suggests that for all the resources spent on getting great video of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site, interviews with the victims’ families and reports from the war front in eastern Ukraine -- all important stories -- there is more heat than light being produced when it comes to the most critical, long-term question related to the Ukrainian conflict: If economic sanctions are the global economy’s modern substitute for using military force in repelling aggression, how is that playing out in the first test of that strategy against a global economic player like Russia?

The Dutch:

For starters, we need to see some reporting from the Netherlands, a country that, as we have been repeatedly reminded, lost a higher proportion of its population in the missile attack on the Malaysian airliner that left from the country’s flagship airport than America lost in the September 11 attacks.

from Breakingviews:

Memo to Wall Street: more Ace Greenberg please

By Antony Currie

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Wall Street needs more leaders like Alan “Ace” Greenberg. The onetime Bear Stearns boss, famed for his pithy missives to staff, died on Friday. He was 86. Though he was no longer in charge, the firm’s 2008 collapse is a notable blemish on an otherwise illustrious career. The industry could use more of Greenberg’s scrappy PSD: poor, smart and driven.

The shorthand was how he described the people he wanted to work for Bear, perhaps in his own image. Even after he became chief executive in 1978, and until 1993, his office was the trading floor not the executive suite. And unlike most bosses, he answered his own calls. Greenberg also believed in sharing at least some of the wealth, insisting that his senior managing directors donate at least 4 percent of their income to charity.

Sanctions finally find Russia’s Achilles heel

Russia's President Vladimir Putin gestures as he chairs a government meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama were reportedly engaged in a heated telephone conversation last Thursday when Putin noted in passing that an aircraft had gone down in Ukraine. The tragic crash of the Malaysian airliner in rebel-held eastern Ukraine continues to dominate the headlines, but it is important to remember what agitated Putin and prompted the phone call in the first place — sanctions.

Sanctions against Russia have been the centerpiece of the U.S. response to Putin’s interference in Ukraine. While they primarily have been directed against prominent friends of Putin and their businesses, the underlying target has been a weak Russian economy.  The sanctions have definitely found Russia’s Achilles’ heel, and with harsher sanctions looming in the aftermath of flight MA17, Putin is finding it increasingly difficult to craft an effective reply.

Obama had raised the ante for Russia the day before the Malaysian airliner disaster by unexpectedly announcing a new round of sanctions. The designated enterprises included several major Russian banks (Gazprombank, VEB), energy companies (Rosneft, Novatek) and arms manufacturers. They were not, however, the full sectoral sanctions that Putin dreads the most. These would essentially exclude Russia from the international financial system and restrict major technological transfers. Though key Russian banks and energy companies are now prohibited from receiving medium or long-term dollar financing, U.S. companies are not otherwise prohibited from conducting business with them.

from Breakingviews:

Time Warner can justifiably hold out for more

By Jeffrey Goldfarb

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Time Warner can justifiably hold out for more. Though the $80 billion takeover bid from Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox includes a 20 percent premium, his quarry may well have been on track to achieve that on its own with a bit more time. The Looney Toons-to-HBO group’s Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes has a reasonable degree of negotiating power.

A 35-year Time Warner veteran who became boss in 2008, he is well versed in the ways of deal-making. Bewkes lived through the creation of the conglomerate, including the acquisitions of Warner Communications and Turner Broadcasting and the notorious merger with AOL. He also spearheaded some of the subsequent dismantling, whereby the company jettisoned theme parks, music, books, sports teams, the internet unit, cable operations and ultimately the magazines that originally begat the empire.

from Breakingviews:

Dual-share inequity to figure in Time Warner fight

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Rupert Murdoch has one last big takeover left in him. Time Warner makes the perfect swan song for the 83-year-old media mogul. The HBO-to-Looney Tunes conglomerate sits at the top of a pyramid where content is king, has no controlling shareholder and poses few insurmountable antitrust hurdles for Twenty-First Century Fox. But winning won’t just be a matter of price.

To secure his prize, Murdoch needs to be open to ditching the sort of second-class corporate governance that has, ironically, given him the chutzpah to attempt courageous bids like this $80 billion-plus tilt for Time Warner. Specifically, Murdoch will need to consider converting Fox into a one-vote, one-share company to win the battle.

from Breakingviews:

As KFC doubles down in China, will profits roost elsewhere?

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

A year after the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989, Tiananmen Square was a preternaturally quiet place. Unlike the heart of Beijing today, bicycles and pigeons outnumbered cars and people. The only exception to the calm was a bustling corner near the square: the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.

With a pocketful of the special currency then reserved for foreigners, I was able to cut ahead of the masses and order a chicken dinner in the summer of 1990. Having spent weeks in the country struggling to order food, and often severely regretting the outcome, I found the gleaming 12,000 square-foot KFC offered a certain security. It may not have been fine dining, but its taste was predictable, the price economical and its digestion relatively assured.

U.S. spying on Germany: Making enemies out of allies, and for what?

German Chancellor Merkel attends a session of Bundestag in Berlin

What were they thinking?

In the wake of last fall’s revelation that the National Security Agency had wiretapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, the report of U.S. intelligence’s involvement in two other likely cases of spying on Germany is mind-boggling.

Now the story has taken a dramatic new turn, with Germany expelling the CIA chief of station in Berlin — an almost unprecedented step by an ally. This unusual action reflects how seriously the Merkel government takes these spying allegations.

What could the CIA hope to gain by infiltrating the BND, the German Federal Intelligence Service, knowing there was a chance that the operation might be exposed? What was worth this risk?

from Breakingviews:

Hollywood’s hopes in China rest on Youku

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Look around the subway in Beijing or Shanghai and maybe nine of 10 passengers are watching videos on their mobile devices. Chances are most of them are watching content delivered to them by Youku Tudou. The country’s leading internet television operator streams 400 million videos a day. In that sense, Youku is Netflix and YouTube - plus Comcast and Liberty Media - stuffed into one dumpling. It is also the nexus for Hollywood’s high hopes in the Middle Kingdom.

You wouldn’t know it from Youku’s financial reports. The company founded by Victor Koo, and run day-to-day by a former student of central planning, Dele Liu, is listed in New York, where it commands a relatively modest $4 billion market cap compared to Netflix’s $26 billion. In the first quarter, it lost $36 million on revenue of $113 million. Still, the company is making progress, enough that China’s sultan of e-commerce, Alibaba, bought 16.5 percent of the group for $1 billion in April.

US-Iran relations: When history isn’t history after all

STUDENTS MARCH TO GATES OF TEHRAN UNIVERSITY AFTER NATIONAL STUDENT'S DAY RALLY.

I learned what a trickster history can be 20 years ago at Hanoi airport. After everything the United States gave and lost in Vietnam while trying to keep it safe from Communism, who would have thought you would find the lion lying down with the lamb at a business convention? But there it was, capitalism in capital letters, a billboard advertising VIETNAMERICA EXPO!

Who won that war again?

Things like that change how you understand the world — if only by teaching you to wonder about even those things you think you know for an absolute fact.

It happened again last weekend. I read something that laid waste one of the most common assumptions of Cold War history: that an expert 1953 CIA covert operation in Iran overthrew a democratically elected prime minister to put the shah back back in control of his country. Ray Takeyh, an Iranian-American historian and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues persuasively in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs that President Dwight Eisenhower’s CIA did not actually bring down Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh after all.

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