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Posts tagged ‘German Chancellor Angela Merkel’

The Cold War Was Only on Vacation.


The Crimea is lost. The challenge now is to avoid a wider conflict with a Russia bent on absorbing more territory and further extending its influence into Eastern Europe.

To avoid an eventual choice between feeding Russia’s appetite for its lost empire and a hot war, European and U.S. leaders must embrace expensive and politically tough economic and defense choices.

Save petroleum, aluminum and a few less significant products, the Russian economy is broadly uncompetitive in global markets. Oil and gas account for 75 percent of exports and 50 percent of Moscow’s revenues, and Russia depends on imports from the European Union for technology and many consumer goods. It even buys ships to modernize its navy from France.

U.S. and European economic sanctions on Russian political and military leaders responsible for the Crimean invasion would make a statement, but are unlikely to have any tangible impact on Vladimir Putin’s behavior. However, if the Europeans phase out purchases of Russia’s gas, it has few options to sell it elsewhere. Putin would be starved for cash to finance his military and spread benefits to political cronies.

Replacing Russian gas — which accounts for 30 percent of European supplies — won’t be cheap or pleasant. They must frack to develop shale gas, re-embrace nuclear power and accelerate solar and other alternatives.

For French shipbuilders, German equipment manufacturers and technology and consumer goods producers throughout Europe, cutting off Russia’s most important source of hard currency to buy what they make would be wrenching. Still, it would impose far more systemically destabilizing penalties on Russia.

More than Russian guns won the referendum in the Crimea for Putin. The sad state of the economy and political corruption in the Ukraine made the former Russian possession vulnerable to reacquisition.

To halt Russian expansion, the European Union must do much more to assimilate the Ukraine and other former Soviet states into the Western economy by building infrastructure and moving significantly more industry into these regions, buying a lot more of their exports and imposing aggressive conditions for economic and political reforms in exchange for those benefits.

All of this would be provocative to Moscow and require rebuilding NATO forces, and moving those further east into Romania, the Baltic and aggressively courting cooperation with Belarus.

The Germans and the Americans have the economic resources, but have demonstrated inadequate commitments to giving real meaning to the economic and security commitments the West made to Eastern Europe, for example, through the 1994 Ukrainian security agreement, at the end of the Cold War.

Now, Putin and his political allies, chastened by the loss of an empire and emboldened by Russia’s petroleum wealth, are exploiting western neglect of former Soviet states.

In America, President Obama’s economic policies have boiled down to raising taxes, cutting defense spending and building out a European-style welfare state — universal healthcare and broadening the earned income tax credit. And he has ducked pension and benefits reform that greatly limit the punch of the U.S. military.

Stiffening NATO commitments to Eastern Europe would require German and U.S. governments to step up and pay for stronger militaries, and for the Americans to reform a bloated Pentagon.

In Germany and the United States, taxes are already quite high, even by Cold War standards, and the obvious tradeoff between guns and butter would hit the Obama and Merkel governments where it hurts most — their standing with voters who have come to expect wider and wider welfare benefits.

The greatest courage will be required from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, or each will bequeath to their successors a much more dangerous world.

Russia will enjoy a stranglehold over European energy supplies and boast a modernized military to gradually coop and reclaim former Soviet states and expand its influence throughout Europe.

The Cold War never really ended, it just took a Black Sea vacation.

© 2014 Moneynews. All rights reserved.

 

Kasparov: Appease Putin and He’ll Come Back for More.


Image: Kasparov: Appease Putin and He'll Come Back for More

 

By Elliot Jager

Vladimir Putin is neither a modern-day Hitler nor a master strategist. He is best understood as a bellicose poker player up against a bunch of docile opponents, Garry Kasparov writes in Politico.

Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation in New York, who was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet Union, writes that he has dedicated himself “to opposing Vladimir Putin’s campaign to destroy democracy and civil liberties in Russia.”

What Putin has going for him that his Soviet precursors did not is unhindered entrée to international markets and institutions, Kasparov says. “Putin’s oligarchs bank in London, party in the Alps, and buy penthouses in New York and Miami, all while looting Russia under the auspices of a reborn KGB police state.”

European authorities have enabled Putin by facilitating his regime’s access to Western capital. Western banks helped underwrite the Kremlin takeover of dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos oil empire, Kasparov writes.

Putin rules like an authoritarian communist dictator but acts like a Western mogul. He is no Hitler, but “turning the other cheek” to him “just gets you slapped again,” Kasparov writes.

President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are mistaken to worry about possible “instability” and “high costs” in confronting Putin. What “could be worse than the instability caused by the partial annexation of a European country by a nuclear dictatorship, carried out with impunity?”  Kasparov asks.

Merkel seems to now appreciate the urgency of standing up to Putin, he notes.

Kasparov’s conclusion is that “Putin is no master strategist. He’s an aggressive poker player facing weak opposition from a Western world that has become so risk-averse that it would rather fold than call any bluff, no matter how good its cards are.”

He’s no Hitler, but Kasparov writes the instructive analogy is that “appeasing a dictator” and “greedily grabbing at an ephemeral peace” in the face of aggression is a recipe for war in the long run.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Crimeans Overwhelmingly Vote for Secession.


SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — The head of the referendum committee in Ukraine’s Crimea region says more than 95 percent of voters have approved splitting off and joining Russia.

Mikhail Malishev said the initial result came after more than 50 percent of the ballots had been counted.

Speaking two hours after polls closed, Malishev said turnout was 83 percent — a high figure given that many who opposed the move had said they would boycott the vote.

Western powers and leaders in Kiev denounced it as a sham.

Underlining how Moscow’s military takeover of the peninsula two weeks ago has driven Russia and the West into a crisis with echoes of the Cold War, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama spoke by telephone and, according to the Kremlin, the Russian and U.S. presidents agreed on a need to cooperate to stabilise Ukraine.

“This referendum is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution,” a White House spokesman said. “The international community will not recognise the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.”

The Kremlin said Putin told Obama the referendum was legitimate and he expressed concern about the Ukrainian government’s failure to stamp out violence against Russian speakers in the country.

“Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin drew attention to the inability and unwillingness of the present authorities in Kiev to curb rampant violence by ultra-nationalist and radical groups that destabilise the situation and terrorise civilians, including the Russian-speaking population,” the Kremlin said.

It said Putin suggested European monitors should be sent to all parts of Ukraine because of the violence.

Kiev said Moscow’s build-up of forces in the Black Sea peninsula was in “crude violation” of an international treaty, and announced plans to arm and train 20,000 members of a newly-created National Guard.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Moscow that Washington would not accept the outcome of the vote in the region, which has an ethnic Russian majority and was transferred to Ukraine by Soviet rulers only 60 years ago.

The White House also warned Moscow to expect sanctions while foreign ministers from the European Union, which has major trade ties with Russia, will decide on possible similar action in Brussels on Monday.

But Putin rejected Western accusations that the referendum was illegal, saying it respected the will of the Crimean people, while his foreign ministry said it had agreed with the United States to seek a solution to the crisis through constitutional reform.

 

In Kiev, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk threatened dire consequences for the Crimean politicians who had called the vote, saying separatist “ringleaders” wanted to destroy Ukrainian independence “under the cover of Russian troops”.

“We will find all of them – if it takes one year, two years – and bring them to justice and try them in Ukrainian and international courts. The ground will burn under their feet,” he told a cabinet meeting.

Yatseniuk had just returned from a U.S. trip where he won expressions of moral support but no offers of weapons. Kiev’s pro-European rulers, who took power after last month’s fall of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich to popular unrest, have been as powerless as Western governments to prevent the referendum or buildup of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory.

At a polling booth at a school in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, dozens of people lined up outside to cast their ballots early.

“I have voted for Russia,” said Svetlana Vasilyeva, 27, a veterinary nurse. “This is what we have been waiting for. We are one family and we want to live with our brothers.”

Vasilyeva voiced fears common among some of Ukraine’s native Russian-speakers about the consequences of Yanukovich’s exit after protests in which over 100 people were killed. “We want to leave Ukraine because Ukrainians told us that we are people of a lower kind. How can you stay in such a country?” she said.

But ethnic Tatars – Sunni Muslims who make up 12 percent of Crimea’s population – said they would boycott the vote despite promises by the regional authorities to give them financial aid and proper land rights.

“This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not? Who asked me?” said Shevkaye Assanova, a Crimean Tatar in her 40s. “For the rest of my life I will be cursing those who brought these people here. I don’t recognise this at all. I curse all of them.”

 

Crimea’s 1.5 million voters had two options: union with Russia or giving their region, which is controlled by pro-Kremlin politicians, the broad right to determine its own path and choose relations with whom it wants – including Moscow.

A local Tatar television channel broadcast the count at one small polling station. It took just a few minutes for officials to stack up the papers, virtually in a single pile. One gave the result as: “166 for, 2 against, 1 spoiled”. By “for” she clearly meant the first option on the paper, for union with Russia.

Russia has the right to keep forces on the Black Sea peninsula, including at its naval base in the port of Sevastopol, under a treaty signed after Ukraine gained independence from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But Ukrainian acting defence minister Ihor Tenyukh accused Moscow of going far beyond an agreed limit on servicemen – which he said was 12,500 for 2014.

“Unfortunately, in a very short period of time, this 12,500 has grown to 22,000. This is a crude violation of the bilateral agreements and is proof that Russia has unlawfully brought its troops onto the territory of Crimea,” he said.

This figure had risen from 18,400 on Friday. “Let me say once again that this is our land and we will not be leaving it,” he told Interfax news agency.

Tenyukh later said that the defence ministries in Kiev and Moscow had declared a truce until March 21 during which Russian forces, who have been arriving by boat and helicopter, would leave Ukrainian military facilities untouched.

Many Crimeans hope union with Russia will bring better pay and make them citizens of a country capable of asserting itself on the world stage. But others saw the referendum as a land grab by the Kremlin from Ukraine, whose new rulers want to move the country towards the European Union and away from Russia’s sway.

Putin defended the vote in a phone call on Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying it complied with international law, including Article 1 of the U.N. Charter which states the principle of self-determination of peoples. “It was emphasized that Russia will respect the choice of the Crimean people,” a Kremlin statement said.

Putin has said he must protect the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine from “fascists” in Kiev who ousted Yanukovich. Western powers largely dismiss his characterisation of the new authorities as successors of Nazi-allied Ukrainian forces which fought the Red Army in World War Two.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Kerry on Sunday to encourage authorities in Kiev to stop what he called “massive lawlessness” against the Russian-speaking population.

In their second phone conversation in two days, Lavrov and Kerry agreed to seek a solution to the crisis by pushing for constitutional reforms in Ukraine, Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

However, Kerry told Lavrov that the United States would not accept the referendum result and said Russia must pull back its forces to their bases, a senior State Department official said.

The White House also warned Putin that he faces international isolation that will hurt Russia’s economy. “You can expect sanctions designations in the coming days,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told NBC’s Meet the Press.

The administration is preparing to identify Russians whom the United States will seek to punish with visa bans and asset freezes that President Obama authorised last week.

At the United Nations, 13 Security Council members voted for a draft resolution on Saturday saying the Crimea result should not be recognised internationally, but Moscow exercised its veto while China abstained.

Tensions over Crimea appear also to be spreading in cyberspace. Unidentified hackers brought down several public NATO websites with attacks on Saturday, the alliance said.

Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Twitter that the attacks, which began on Saturday evening, continued on Sunday, although most services had now been restored.

“It doesn’t impede our ability to command and control our forces. At no time was there any risk to our classified networks,” another NATO official said.

A group calling itself “cyber berkut” – named after riot police formally disbanded by the central powers in Kiev – said the attack had been carried out by patriotic Ukrainians angry over what they saw as NATO interference in their country.

Apart from Crimea, tension is also running high in parts of the Russian-speaking industrialised east of Ukraine near the border with Russia, with clashes between rival demonstrators that Moscow has seized on to support its case that ethnic Russians are being victimised.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: Newsmax.com

Merkel Gets Tough as Russian Troops Hold War Games.


Russia launched new military exercises near its border with Ukraine on Thursday, showing no sign of backing down on plans to annex its neighbour’s Crimea region despite a stronger than expected drive for sanctions from the EU and United States.

In an unusually robust and emotional speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of “catastrophe” unless Russia changes course, while a man was killed in Ukraine in fighting between rival protesters in a mainly Russian-speaking city.

At the U.N. Security Council, the United States circulated a draft resolution that would declare illegal Sunday’s planned referendum on independence for Ukraine’s Crimea region.

But Russia, one of the Security Council’s five veto-wielding permanent members, made clear it opposed the draft.

“Russia announced they will kill it,” a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.

In Berlin, Merkel removed any suspicion she might try to avoid a confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We would not only see it, also as neighbors of Russia, as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union’s relationship with Russia,” she told parliament. “No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said serious steps would be imposed on Monday by the United States and Europe if the referendum on Crimea joining Russia takes place on Sunday as planned.

Merkel, a fluent Russian speaker who grew up in communist East Germany, has emerged in recent days as a leading figure in threatening tough measures against Moscow.

Her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said that over the weekend, European states would draw up a list of Russians who will face visa restrictions and asset freezes.

Putin declared Russia’s right to invade its neighbor on March 1, as Russian troops were already seizing control of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula with a narrow ethnic Russian majority and a Russian naval base.

Events have moved rapidly, perhaps signalling an effort by Moscow to turn the annexation into a fait accompli before the West can coordinate a response.

In the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, a young man was stabbed to death and more than a dozen people were in hospital after pro-Russian and pro-European demonstrators clashed. The violence was the worst since last month’s overthrow of the Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich.

But in an apparently conciliatory move, Russia backed deployment of an OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, including Crimea, the Swiss chairman of the European rights watchdog said.

The leader of pro-Moscow separatist politicians in Crimea, who took power there after armed men seized the regional parliament on Feb. 27, predicted a strong vote in favor of union with Russia in Sunday’s referendum.

“We have a survey by renowned Ukrainian and Crimean polling experts showing clearly and plainly that more than 80 percent of people in Crimea are ready to join the Russian Federation,” Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov told Reuters.

Aksyonov, whose election in a closed session of the regional parliament is not recognized by Kiev, dismissed opponents’ accusations he will fix the referendum on Moscow’s orders. “We guarantee that all aspects of European law will be followed, including security for voters,” he said in an interview.

Western countries dismiss the vote as illegal. “The referendum on Sunday will have no legitimacy, no legal effect, it can have no moral effect. It is a piece of political theater that is being perpetrated at the barrel of a gun,” Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, told reporters in Vienna.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said time was running out for a peaceful solution. She urged Russia to listen to the “remarkably unified” voices of its 14 fellow members of the Security Council and the Ukrainian people.

Diplomats said the one-page resolution would urge countries not to recognize the results of the vote in Crimea. A vote on the draft was postponed until Saturday at the latest to allow time for more negotiations.

Russia has taken territory from its former Soviet neighbors in the past with no serious consequences — in 2008 it invaded Georgia and seized two breakaway regions. But if Putin was hoping for a similarly tepid response this time, he may have misjudged.

In particular, he seems to have alienated Merkel, the Western leader with whom Putin, a German speaker who was once a KGB spy in East Germany, has had the closest relationship.

Merkel was initially more cautious than other Western leaders on the Crimean crisis, but in recent days she has pushed the European Union to match U.S. sanctions. EU action is critical because Europe does 10 times as much trade with Russia as the United States, buying most of its gas and oil exports.

The prospect that EU measures could be implemented as soon as Monday has weighed down the Russian economy.

Goldman Sachs revised its prediction for Russian economic growth this year down to 1 percent from 3 percent, blaming the tension over Ukraine for capital flight that would cripple investment. It said $45 billion had already left Russia this year, mostly Russians stashing money abroad.

The Russian stock market hit a 4-1/2-year low on Thursday and is down 20 percent since mid-February. The cost of insuring Moscow’s debt against default rose to its highest level in nearly two years.

The crisis has already forced several Russian firms to put plans on hold for public offerings to raise cash abroad.

Yet none of that appears to have slowed down Putin, who told officials of the Winter Paralympic Games he is hosting in Sochi that Russia was “not the initiator” of the crisis.

The Russian Defense Ministry said 8,500 troops were taking part in new military exercises near the Ukrainian border, testing artillery and rocket launchers.

It was the second big exercise Moscow has ordered since the crisis began; the first, involving 150,000 troops, started a few days before Russian forces seized Crimea.

In a gesture of support for NATO’s eastern members, U.S. F-16 fighter jets landed at Poland’s Lask air base on Thursday.

Among efforts by the West to isolate Russia politically, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a 34-member rich nations’ club, announced it was suspending membership talks with Russia, under way since 2007.

Moscow has pledged to respond in kind to any Western sanctions. The prime minister of Lithuania, a former Soviet republic that is now an EU member state, said Russia had suspended food product imports through its port of Klaipeda.

But European leaders appear to be calculating that the damage to Russia would be far worse than to Europe. EU-Russian trade makes up 15 percent of Russia’s economy and just 1 percent of Europe’s. Although EU countries depend on Russian gas imports, storage tanks are full after a mild winter.

Diplomatic lines have been open between Russia and the West throughout the crisis: Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke on Thursday, as they have nearly every day. They are due to meet in London on Friday.

Russia’s top general discussed Ukraine with the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee by telephone on Thursday, the Interfax news agency said.

The crisis over Crimea began after Yanukovich fled Kiev and pro-European politicians took charge, following three months of demonstrations.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

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