What a difference a year – an eternity in geopolitics – makes. No one could see this coming; the ideological matrix of all strands of Salafi-jihadi terror – which Russia fights no holds barred, from ISIS/Daesh to the Caucasus Emirate – beating a path to the Kremlin and about to embrace Russia as a strategic ally.The House of Saud was horrified by Russia’s successful campaign to prevent regime change in Syria. Moscow was solidifying its alliance with Tehran. Hawks in the Obama administration were imposing on Saudi Arabia a strategy of keeping oil prices down to hurt the Russian economy.
Category Archives: Europe
Für Michail kam die Öffnung der Kinderheime ein paar Jahre zu spät. Als die Heimleitung anfing, mit Fotos in der Zeitung und Aufrufen im Radio nach Pflegeeltern für die Kinder zu suchen, war er schon ein Teenager. Familien nehmen aber am liebsten Säuglinge oder kleine Mädchen auf. Jugendliche, die sich schon rasieren, haben schlechte Chancen. «Michail konnte zu seiner Zeit nicht vermittelt werden», sagt die Heimdirektorin Irina Orlowa entschuldigend.
Mit siebzehn Jahren brauche er sowieso keine Erziehungsberechtigten mehr, wehrt Michail ab. Seine Stimme klingt schon männlich, doch das Lächeln ist noch knabenhaft. In kurzer Hose sitzt der Jugendliche an diesem warmen Tag im Sprechzimmer der Psychologin des Kinderheims Nr. 2 in der sibirischen Stadt Kemerowo. Die Direktorin hat ihn hereingebeten, damit er einer ausländischen Journalistin Fragen beantwortet.
I imagine a cosy dining room somewhere in eastern Europe, in Bucharest or perhaps Zagreb. But it could be Timișoara or Bratislava as well. It is Sunday, and a family has gathered for lunch around a big table, as they often do in my part of the world. Usually, first comes a beef or chicken soup with home-made dumplings, then a hearty meat dish and potatoes from the oven, garnished with vegetables, followed by cake and coffee. There are three generations around the table. Mother and father are about my age, born some time in the early 1950s. Their children were born in the 1980s – just in time to remember a little bit of life under communism, that is. And their grandchildren are too young to care.
Brexit, Krexit and Crexit: Britain leaves the EU, Kurdistan declares independence from Iraq, Catalonia secedes from Spain – three massive political changes either underway or put on the political agenda by recent referendums. Three very different countries, but in all cases a conviction among a significant number of voters that they would be better off on their own outside any measure of control by a supranational authority like the EU or a nation state like Iraq or Spain.
Referendums have a lot to answer for: no wonder divided governments, demagogues and dictators have such a fondness for them. They have the appearance of popular democracy and give the impression that important decisions are finally being made by reducing complex questions into an over-simple “yes” or “no”. They make public opinion easy to manipulate because what voters are being asked to assent to is most often wishful thinking and what they are opposing is a rag-bag of unrelated grievances. There are a great many unhappy and dissatisfied people in the three countries which have voted in referendums in the last fifteen months, but no reason to suppose that their vote will make them happier or better off.
Is there truth in the conspiracy theories about who killed Russian Lieutenant General Valery Asapov in Syria?
The Russian air force arrived in Syria two years ago this week to save President Bashar al-Assad and his army. They succeeded. The Syrian army held out, albeit at the cost of (then) 56,000 of its soldiers. “We’re not going to have another Afghanistan here,” the Russians told everyone they met in Damascus. But of course, soon they would have Forward Air Observers on the ground to vector their Sukhois onto their targets, de-mining specialists to pull the forests of Isis bombs out of the soil, military police officers to oversee the passage of Islamist fighters out of Syria’s great western cities. And generals to advise – and, last week, to be killed – in Syria.
As the Brexit shadow-boxing goes on between London and Brussels, our Government has aligned itself firmly with the EU. For the moment,this is an entirely sensible strategy. No point cosying up to Theresa May’s government when it cannot decide what it wants itself.But just how far will our European partners go to fight against any return of Border controls on the island of Ireland? The Government welcomed the commitment in the EU document this week that everything possible must be done to avoid the creation of a “ hard Border” on the island. Politically this is important, but practically no one has defined what is meant by a “ hard” Border. By using this ambiguous phrase, Europe has given itself wriggle room.The European Commission added that solutions to the Border issue “must respect the proper functioning of the internal market and of the customs union as well as the integrity and effectiveness of the union legal order”.
Crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the south, it’s sometimes difficult to tell when you leave the kingdom and enter the Republic. The traffic signs are different and there are subtle clues too in the changing colour of road markings and even the texture of the asphalt. Your mobile phone will slip in and out of networks for several miles. The feeling is of one country fading indistinguishably into another. All around, there are signs of the activities that thrive in liminal places; petrol stations and shops taking advantage of the differences in tax and exchange rates, skid marks on the roads from jurisdiction-escaping joyriders, a hand-painted advertisement offering illegal “Red Diesel for Sale” discarded in a ditch.Tied to a lamppost, near a defunct custom post, is a placard titled, “Respect the Remain Vote.” It continues, “Warning! If there is a hard border this road may be closed from March 2019.” It is signed, “Border Communities Against Brexit.” All along the 310-mile border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, such signs remind travellers and locals that the boundary will likely not remain invisible for long.
Remainers are too reasonable. One emollient speech from our beleaguered prime minister making concessions to reality that have been obviously necessary ever since the 2016 referendum is depicted as a breakthrough. A “cliff edge” has been averted, trills a leading business lobby group. This overture deserves a fair hearing: prepare for a new partnership with Europe, opines a leading pro-EU newspaper, its bite suddenly muzzled. And more of the same.Mrs May may have moved, but she remains firmly lashed to the Big Lies that underpin Brexit, propagated by the obsessed right of her party. There is no “opportunity”, as they endlessly repeat, in leaving the EU: the trade deals that allegedly will more than compensate for what Britain is losing do not exist. Brexit is a monumental, self-inflicted wound, delivered by the attempt to build an imagined Thatcherite utopia and “global Britain” that are undeliverable fantasies. Mrs May’s concessions to realism have yet to recognise this.
USSR: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. At first, the name does not refer to a territory, but to an idea — world revolution. Its borders will be those of the uprising that has triumphed in Russia, and later of those expected to triumph elsewhere. In the top left corner of a huge red flag, a hammer and sickle symbolises the new state, the first national anthem of which is The Internationale.The founder of the USSR is internationalist, no question. Lenin spends much of his life as a professional revolutionary in exile in Munich, London, Geneva, Paris, Krakow, Zurich, Helsinki… And he takes part in almost all the major debates of the workers’ movement. In April 1917 he returns to Russia, where the Revolution has broken out and the tsar has abdicated. As his train is crossing Germany at the height of the Great War, he hears The Marseillaise, a song that symbolises the French Revolution for many of his comrades. In many respects, this represents a more significant reference point in Lenin’s writing than the history of tsarist Russia. Doing as well as the Jacobins — ‘the best models of a democratic revolution and of resistance to a coalition of monarchs against a republic’ (1) — and lasting longer than the Paris Commune are his obsessions. Nationalism has no part in it.
When Paul Meulenbroek climbs into the water, it’s a good idea to stay behind on the riverbank. He carries a small motor on his back, as loud as a leaf blower, but it isn’t for blowing air. The biologist from Vienna uses it to produce a 400-volt electrical field that can temporarily paralyze fish, making them easier to scoop up with a net.Meulenbroek stands waist-deep in the shimmering blue water of the Vjosa, a wild river that runs through southern Albania, his rubber waders protect him from the electrical surges. “There are a lot of young ones here,” the biologist says, before handing his colleague on the bank a brightly shimmering fish just under 10 centimeters long.