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Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Russian Crisis With No End In Sight, Thanks To Low Oil Prices And Sanctions

Former Russian prime minister Evgeny Primakov warned that, if Vladimir Putin continues his Ukraine policies, Russia will become a pariah third-world petro state. The fundamentals of the Russian economy, as it enters 2015, suggest that Russia is fulfilling Primakov’s prophesy. Russia’s fate depends on economic factors beyond its control (energy prices and gas markets) and on Putin’s continued international adventurism, which he is loath to abandon for fear of regime change. Putin can no longer keep his promise to the Russian people of prosperity and stability. No wonder his propagandists are fighting full time to convince the West to drop its sanctions. Unlike the 2008/9 financial crisis, Russia faces a long and deep recession because the underlying causes are unlikely to go away in the near term. 

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Europe Gives $260 Billion For Anti-EU Greece But Balks At $65 Billion For Pro-Europe Ukraine

Greece’s election of an anti-Europe government showed it wants out. Ukraine’s EuroMaidan revolution shows it was willing to risk its existence to become a part of Europe. Europe has showered recalcitrant Greece with hundreds of billions of bailout funds while begrudgingly giving Ukraine tens of billions just to keep it alive, even though Ukraine is fighting Europe’s war against Russian expansionism.

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

More Putin Funnies: Watch Him Steal A Chair at Minsk 2

A hilarious You Tube from the Minsk 2 negotiations of world leaders over the Ukraine crisis shows Putin stealing a chair from host Alexander Lukashenko.

The You Tube shows Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Petro Poroshenko, and Vladimir Putin entering the negotiating hall with Lukashenko solicitously directing his guests to their seats. All of a sudden, Putin rushes towards Lukashenko and grabs the chair he is holding (either for himself or Merkel) and forcefully pushes it forwards out of Lukashenko’s grasp as Lukashenko speaks to Merkel. Putin tries to sit down but is caught in a quandary. Merkel is standing and even he knows not to sit while a lady is standing. He pops up and down a couple of times on his chair, glaring at Merkel as if to say: “Take a seat Frau Merkel so I can sit down.”

Apparently Putin is a stickler about the height of the chair in which he sits in meetings with other world leaders. Putin’s chair should be high enough that he does not look short relative to others. Simultaneously, the chair should not be so high that the Russian president's legs dangle in the air like a diminutive school boy. Preparation of the chair in advance for Putin is the most important tasks for his entourage before each of his public appearances, and here was Lukashenko unknowingly offering Putin's chair to someone else.

Maybe the negotiations would have stopped at that point if Merkel got Putin’s chair.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Ultimate Putin Sympathizer: Germany’s Ex-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt

Former German Chancellor (“Alt Kanzler”) Helmut Schmidt appeared on the Sandra Maischberger interview show on Germany’s Channel 1 (ARD) to express his views of the world at age 96. Schmidt served as German chancellor from 1974 to 1982 under his social democratic (SPD) administration. Chain-smoking Schmidt remains Germany’s most popular (living) former chancellor and still has enormous influence over German political thought. 

The first half of the interview Maischberger devoted to Schmidt’s defense of Vladimir Putin, citing his open show of support after the Crimean annexation. Maischberger tried hard to extract criticism of Putin from Schmidt. She did not succeed. Schmidt agreed that Russia is expansionist, but so are the United States and China, all of which are “dangerous,” although the United States has become “less dangerous” under Obama. But, Schmidt warns, the United States could become “dangerous” again.

According to Schmidt, Putin is not a war monger. He is just the leader of a nation “in a bad situation.” He is not troubled by the fact that Putin says one thing and does another. This, after all, is what politicians do. Schmidt does not believe that Putin “wants something bigger” (such as an expansion of hostilities beyond Ukraine), but things can happen that he does not want. The tension in east Ukraine, according to Schmidt, does not depend on Putin. If Russia had another leader, we would be confronting the same problems today.

Schmidt allowed that if he were in Putin’s shoes, he’d be inclined to act in the same way.
Putin is simply the leader of a powerful nation that is currently “not successful.” He faces the difficult task of holding the world’s largest nation, by land mass, together. For this reason, Schmidt blames the putative expansion of the European Union into Putin’s backyard (Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia) as the root cause of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The European Union’s actions have been “idotic…child’s play.” The “nonsense” (“Unfug”) began when Yanukovich was overthrown for rejecting Ukraine’s westward move. If the European Union had minded its business and not interfered in Russia’s back yard, all would be OK today.

Schmidt divides the world into spheres of influence, which are not to be tampered with. Schmidt is an extreme moral relativist. All politics is based on lies and self interest. There is no real difference between Putin’s repression of political opposition and the United States’ involvement in the Middle East. Politicians do what they must do, and they have been doing so for centuries. Putin defends the periphery of the Russian empire just as the Czar’s armies did two centuries earlier. Germany under Merkel (or Schmidt) must deal with the fact that it borders on seven countries, just as Bismarck did 150 years earlier.

Schmidt, as Germany’s ultimate Putin Versteher (literally “Understander”) illustrates the tight rope that Chancellor Angela Merkel must navigate between her Social Democrat coalition partners and her own party’s (CDU) business interests. She seems to be the only one standing in Putin’s way in Germany. If any Ukraine supporter is dissatisfied with Merkel, they should imagine what it would be like under a Schmidt.

Monday, April 27, 2015

German Television’s Investigation of Death-Flight MH17

Germany’s channel 1 (ARD) is running its investigative report of the downing of  “Death Flight” (Todesflug) MH 17. Although it lets Russian separatist leaders and Russian propagandists present their narrative, ARD does conclude that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile system operating in rebel territory, most likely by a Russian crew.

The German program brings forth little that is new. Like other reports, it relies heavily on videos of the BUK entering from Russian, traveling to Snizhnoe, and then skeedadling back to Russia. It interviews locals who confirm the firing of the missile. It carries extensive interviews with the Bellingcat group, whose findings have been widely distributed.

The only real news is that the ambassadors to Ukraine has been told about the downing of Ukrainian military aircraft at high elevations. The ARD program asks why the various countries operating flights over east Ukraine, including Germany, did not close these skies. The program speculates that Ukraine did not want to close its air space because of the loss of ATC revenues.

Strangely, ARD did not release the results of forensic investigations of the wreckage. It claims that the participating countries are bound by secrecy, but the evidence has been widely cited as confirming that MH17 was shot down by a missile, not by a trailing jet as Russia claims.

The most intriguing rumor was that German intelligence has reported that the missile system did not come from Russia. ARD speculates that Europe does not want Russia to be held responsible for diplomatic reasons.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

EU's Antitrust Charge Against Gazprom: Another Putin Disaster

The trashing of Russia’s most valuable economic asset adds to Putin’s growing list of major policy disasters. By attacking Ukraine, he has alienated the Ukrainian people for generations to come. By saber rattling beyond the borders of Ukraine, he has rejuvenated NATO and given it new purpose. Putin has succeeded in pushing traditional sympathizers in the European community, such as Germany’s foreign minister; they’ve decided that the danger he poses trumps their business interests. Instead of raising Russia’s prestige and national pride, he has turned the country into a pariah state with a tottering economy and declining living standards.
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