Author Topic: Russia/US-- Europe  (Read 82836 times)

Crafty_Dog

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Walter Russell MeadL Euros try to have it both ways
« Reply #200 on: February 18, 2020, 02:53:22 PM »
Europeans Try to Have It Both Ways
They expect American protection but aren’t prepared to defend their own countries.

By Walter Russell Mead
Feb. 17, 2020 4:20 pm ET

How solid is the West? At last weekend’s Munich Security Conference, the world’s largest gathering of security policy makers and officials, the theme was “Westlessness,” referring to the sense of disorientation that many Europeans feel in this age of America First.

Since the 1940s, U.S. leadership in the service of a united and secure Europe has been the one unchanging feature in the Continental landscape. For generations, the U.S. committed to protect Europe from Russia, maintain bases in Germany to prevent it from threatening its neighbors, and promote European integration. Now Europeans don’t know where they stand, and a mixture of bafflement, anger, disappointment and fear fills the atmosphere at conferences like the one in Munich.

There’s little doubt that Trump administration policies, ranging from trade wars to toughness on Iran, have tested trans-Atlantic relations to the breaking point. But to understand the growing weakness of the Western alliance, Europeans need to spend less time deploring Donald Trump and more time looking in the mirror. A good place to begin is with a Pew poll released earlier this month on the state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Superficially, the poll looks like good news. In 14 European countries plus Canada and the U.S., a median 53% of respondents said they had a favorable view of NATO, while only 27% saw the alliance unfavorably. Despite double-digit declines in NATO’s favorability among the French and the Germans, these numbers aren’t bad. Mr. Trump, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are all less popular in their home countries than NATO is.

So far, so good—but that support is thin. When asked if their country should go to war with Russia if it attacked a NATO ally, 50% of respondents said no, and only 38% supported honoring their commitment to NATO allies.

Let those numbers sink in. Only 34% of Germans, 25% of Greeks and Italians, 36% of Czechs, 33% of Hungarians and 41% of the French believe their country should fulfill its treaty obligation if another European country is attacked. Only the U.S., Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands and Lithuania had a majority in favor of honoring the NATO commitment to mutual defense.

Europeans often contrast the “nationalism” of backward political cultures like Russia, China and the U.S. with their own supposedly enlightened attitude of cosmopolitan solidarity. Yet if these numbers are accurate, Europeans haven’t replaced nationalism with European solidarity. They have replaced nationalism with fantasy: the belief that one can have security and prosperity without a strong defense.

That vision leaves Europe vulnerable, and it is threatening to let the West unravel. European leaders believe they are trading parochial loyalties for higher and broader commitments, when in truth their countries lack the solidarity that makes international order possible. Those who dream that they can have security without the willingness to fight for it are slowly turning NATO into the paper tiger that its enemies hope it will become.

Meanwhile, Europeans still, mostly, trust America. Seventy-five percent of Italians believe the U.S. would rally to NATO’s defense if Russia attacks, as do 63% of Germans and 57% of French. Despite European ambivalence about fulfilling NATO obligations, the alliance is held together by their confidence that America—Mr. Trump’s America—will fulfill its obligations.

Europe’s problem isn’t Mr. Trump. It isn’t nationalism. It isn’t that others aren’t wise or enlightened enough to share Europe’s ideals. It is that too few Europeans stand ready to defend the ideals they claim to embrace. That young Germans no longer dream of fighting and dying to conquer Poland is an excellent thing, but it is a bad and even a dangerous thing that so few young Germans think Europe is important enough to defend and, if necessary, to risk their lives for.

This problem won’t be easy to solve. For many Europeans, the essential purpose of European integration was to end war. For centuries, the restless nationalisms of European peoples plunged the Continent into one wretched war after another. The European Union was meant to bury those national antagonisms and end the cycle of war. To love Europe was to enter a posthistorical age of perpetual peace. For voters who grew up in the European cocoon, the military defense of European ideas sounds like a contradiction in terms. How can you build peace by making war?

In contrast, Americans continue to believe that Europe is worth defending. We must hope that over the next few years more Europeans will come around to that position; otherwise, the prospects for “Westlessness” will only grow.



Crafty_Dog

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WSJ disagrees
« Reply #203 on: July 30, 2020, 09:05:06 AM »
Trump’s Spite-Germany Plan
He’ll weaken America’s military posture and get nothing in return.
By The Editorial Board
Updated July 29, 2020 9:02 pm ET
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Soldiers of the U.S. Army disembark from an airplane upon their arrival at Poznan Airport in Poznan, Poland, July 16.
PHOTO: SEAN GALLUP/GETTY IMAGES
Beneath the din of media condemnation, it can be hard to sort the good from the bad in President Trump’s unorthodox foreign policy. Some initiatives scorned by foreign-policy elites have been wise, like pulling out of failing arms accords. Yet the Pentagon’s plan to withdraw almost 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany is far from a stroke of populist genius. It’s a blow to U.S. interests that won’t fulfill the cost-saving objective Mr. Trump claims to be concerned with.

Amid souring relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Trump in June ordered thousands of U.S. troops withdrawn from the country. On Wednesday Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sketched out the plan. He said the U.S. will cut its troop presence in Germany to 24,000 from 36,000, with some 5,600 moved elsewhere in Europe, including Belgium and Italy, and 6,400 stationed back in the U.S.


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The Pentagon is presenting the move as improving its flexibility. Yet the U.S. presence in Germany—along with infrastructure and knowledge built over decades—is strategically located in the geopolitical and economic heart of Europe. Moving forces south or west in the Continent is a retreat that reduces U.S. ability to surge into the theater if Russia makes a military move. Indebted countries like Italy or Spain are unlikely to pay more than wealthy Germany for the U.S. presence.

The Obama Administration in 2012 and 2013 withdrew U.S. combat brigades from Germany, and Vladimir Putin responded by invading Ukraine in 2014. Expect the Kremlin to get similar signals from President Trump’s move. Mr. Esper said some forces will move to Poland, but there is no agreement yet to do so. One reasonable suggestion is moving the U.S. Africa Command, now based in Germany, to southern Europe so it is closer to the Mediterranean.

As for the troops coming home, Mr. Esper says many will return on rotations “in the Black Sea region.” This will be costly. The Journal reports that the retreat from Germany may cost $6 billion to $8 billion.

Mr. Trump is legitimately impatient about Germany’s failure to meet its Nato defense commitments, its support for Russia’s gas pipeline, and its naivete about China. He might have emphasized the last point by announcing that the Indo-Pacific is now a more important theater than Europe and moving a few thousand U.S. troops to Asia to pressure Berlin.

Instead he appears to be undermining America’s military position out of pique—moving U.S. forces to punish Germany, though many will go to countries that also aren’t pulling their weight. Oh, and in the middle of an election campaign he’s undermining the case, which he supported with action over three years, that he is tougher than Democrats on Mr. Putin. Mr. Trump’s erratic foreign-policy impulses remain the greatest risk of a second term.

Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: Belarus and the fight for Russia's borderlands
« Reply #204 on: August 04, 2020, 11:16:01 AM »
In Belarus, an Election Fuels the Fight for Russia's Borderlands
Sim Tack
Sim Tack
Senior Global Analyst , Stratfor
6 MINS READ
Aug 4, 2020 | 10:00 GMT
Plainclothed Belarus' security forces and riot police officers detain a protester at an opposition demonstration in Minsk, Belarus, on July 14, 2020.
Plainclothed Belarus' security forces and riot police officers detain a protester at an opposition demonstration in Minsk, Belarus, on July 14, 2020.

(SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images)

The likely tumultuous aftermath of Belarus's upcoming presidential election could significantly shake up the balance of power in the strategic borderland region between Russia and Western Europe. Amid the growing popularity of opposition movements in Belarus, the outcome of the country's Aug. 9 presidential election is widely expected to be heavily contested. The likely emergence of post-election protests will cast doubt over President Alexander Lukashenko's grasp on power and could open the door to a potential regime change. Belarus's importance to Russia's external security strategy will make Moscow extremely invested in the outcome of any power struggle in the country, which could prompt Russia to intervene directly.

A Heated Political Battle

Lukashenko's heavy-handed crackdowns against political activism have consolidated support for increasingly popular opposition candidates. The Belarusian government's repression of opposition activities, in particular — including detainments and refusal to register candidates — has concentrated opposition backing behind Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko's primary challenger in the upcoming election. His government's perceived poor handling of the country's COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent economic crisis, as well as ongoing concerns over Lukashenko's moves to limit political freedoms, has also helped propel her bid for the presidency. In response to EU demands and sanctions, Lukashenko scaled back pressure on opposition activities during the 2010 and 2015 presidential elections. But the current rise of opposition support and anti-government sentiment has resulted in a renewed culture of repression and crackdowns ahead of this year's election.

The opposition is unlikely to win the election given Belarus's history of electoral interference, which will almost certainly fuel intense protests rejecting the outcome. Lukashenko's regime depends on the active repression of political opposition and has been suspected of rigging elections to secure its grasp on power. There is no reason to believe this year's vote will be any different, especially given the particularly heated opposition campaign. Opposition candidates are calling for a high turnout to make any falsification of votes obvious. They are also already priming the Belarusian population to defend their vote after the election, though opposition leaders have yet to outright call for post-election protest action for fear of prosecution. The outcome of the 2006 election in Belarus resulted in protests that were eventually quelched by security forces. A repeat of those 2006 events, later dubbed the "Denim Revolution," is likely following the Aug. 9 presidential ballot. This time, however, post-election protests have the potential to escalate into larger or more violent persistent demonstrations given the current levels of opposition activity and large turnout at rallies.

President Lukashenko's ability to weather the coming round of post-election unrest is uncertain and may largely depend on his ability to maintain the loyalty of security forces. In many cases where governments have fallen to similar protests in the past, such as Ukraine's Euromaidan protests in 2013-2014, the alignment of security forces was decisive in shaping the outcome. Lukashenko maintains an active policy of frequently reassigning government officials and leaders of security branches to keep any individual position from amassing too much power. But while this practice avoids the rise of internal competitors, it also leads to weaker patronage structures that Lukashenko may come to depend upon to remain in control throughout intense protests. The position of security forces, and their behavior in response to post-election protests, will thus be critical in establishing the strength of Lukashenko's continued ability to repress dissent.

Gauging the Russian Response

A regime change in Belarus would intensify the geopolitical competition between Russia and the West by upending the current balance of power in Moscow's borderlands. The Belarusian opposition led by Tikhanovskaya has demonstrated a clear pro-Western orientation, meaning her rise to power could reorient the country toward the European Union and the United States. Such a geopolitical shift would present a clear existential threat to Russia, which depends on Belarus as it's last real buffer between it and NATO. Losing influence with Belarus would deny Russia of the strategic depth the country provides, and would leave Russia's core dangerously exposed to potential expansions of Western influence to its borders, which are located less than 400 kilometers (or roughly 250 miles) away from Moscow.

Russia's Slipping Grasp On Its Borderlands

Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing conflict against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have decisively pivoted Kyiv toward the West in recent years. This shift, which itself followed over 20 years of gradual NATO expansion into Eastern Europe toward Russia's borders, has drastically remapped the balance of power between Russia and the West in the borderlands that lie between them. In trying to balance between its powerful neighbors, Belarus has also flirted frequently with the West, as evidenced by Lukashenko's government agreeing to host NATO forces for military exercises earlier this year. But a complete pivot to a clearly pro-Western administration would solidify Russia's losing battle against the eastward encroachment of NATO's influence.

The potential for a significant upheaval of Belarus governance will force Russia to choose between either throwing its weight behind Lukashenko, or finding other means to guarantee its influence over the country. Russia will take whatever actions necessary to try and guarantee an election outcome that doesn't shift Belarus even closer to the West. But while Russia actively supported Lukashenko in the past, his government's oil diversification efforts over the past year, as well as Minsk's resistance to Moscow's push for deeper political and economic integration, has recently driven a wedge between the two countries. Russia would still prefer Lukashenko over the pro-Western opposition. Though if his position becomes untenable, Moscow may go to great lengths — including the deployment of covert military actions — to try and gain control over the political transition process in Belarus. Indeed, the recent arrest of 30 suspected Russian mercenaries in Belarus could indicate that Moscow is already preparing such plans. This approach, however, would be prone to strategic risk or miscalculations, as was the case in Ukraine. But Moscow is unlikely to stand idly by if there is a real risk of losing Belarus entirely to the West.

A complete pivot to a pro-Western administration in Minsk would solidify Moscow’s losing battle against the encroachment of NATO’s influence.

If Lukashenko manages to hold on to power, he will find himself strengthened in countering both Russian integration efforts and Western demands for political liberalization. Lukashenko's ability to survive heavily contested elections, whether through Russian support or by his own means, would grant him a greater degree of maneuverability. Lukashenko would be in an even better position to negotiate beneficial energy trade terms with Moscow, as well as resist Russian demands for greater economic and political integration. His firm grasp on power would also enable him to ward off European demands for political liberalization, though the oppression of opposition activity during the presidential election and possible violent crackdowns against protests thereafter could raise the risk of EU sanctions. Such sanctions would most likely target individuals engaged in violence against civilians as opposed to having a broader economic impact, thus representing only a temporary rollback in the warming of Minsk-EU relations.

Crafty_Dog

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WSJ: Trump-Merkel clash thirty years in the making.
« Reply #205 on: August 04, 2020, 11:27:18 AM »
second

The German press is running heavy with last Wednesday’s Pentagon press conference, in which Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed the U.S. will withdraw 11,900 troops from Germany. Markus Söder, minister president of the state of Bavaria, called the decision “inexplicable,” while Angela Merkel’s trans-Atlantic coordinator, Peter Beyer, said it “makes no sense geopolitically for the United States.” For its part, Germany’s anti-American Left Party welcomed the decision. Its Bundestag leader proclaimed on prime-time television: “I can’t get enough of this punishment,” referring to Donald Trump’s seeming insistence that the move is more retaliatory than strategic.

Strains on the U.S.-German alliance have been attributed to everything from Mr. Trump’s bullying and ignorance and Ms. Merkel’s excessive circumspection to Vladimir Putin’s talent for sowing chaos abroad. But even if all these assumptions are accurate, none are root causes. The trans-Atlantic fissures predate Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel and will outlast them, with potentially tectonic consequences for Germany’s role in Europe.

The core problem with trans-Atlantic relations is that they never evolved after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the original bargain struck after 1945, the U.S. provided security to its European allies and supported their struggling economies. In return, those allies backed the U.S. on most major issues related to the Soviet Union in Europe. This model of trans-Atlantic relations was founded on the reality of a near-hegemonic America, and a Europe that was economically poor, politically fragile, and militarily vulnerable to the Soviet threat.

Challenges to this model date to at least the Nixon administration, and no U.S. president has been entirely satisfied with Europe’s contribution to the Western alliance. But once the Soviet Union collapsed, and the European Union emerged as one of the world’s largest economies, many Americans began to think it unwise to keep bearing more than 70% of defense expenditures for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Even President Obama, whose personal relations with Ms. Merkel were famously warm, left office frustrated about the trans-Atlantic imbalance. In March 2016 he affirmed an “anti-free-rider campaign,” meant to dissuade the Europeans “from holding our coats while we did all the fighting.” “We expect others to carry their weight,” he explained.

While Mr. Trump hasn’t cultivated the personal touch exhibited by his predecessor, he has sustained Mr. Obama’s parting challenge to the trans-Atlantic model. If Joe Biden succeeds in November, he too will struggle to justify the viability of pre-1989 security and trade imbalances in a world in which Europe is no longer poor and the U.S. is no longer hegemonic.

It remains too early to judge the efficacy of U.S. sanctions on German gas pipelines, demands on German telecommunications infrastructure, pressure on German military spending, and general shaming of Germany’s international diplomacy. But critics aghast at the Trump administration’s continued preoccupation with alleged German delinquency would do well to consider how far a Biden administration would get in the opposite direction.

Would a President Biden find it easy to uphold unconditional security guarantees to Germany and its neighbors, even if Berlin buys more gas from Moscow, expands trade links with Beijing, and declines to help address U.S. trade concerns in Brussels?

These are not mere questions of “fairness,” but of the foundations of contemporary Germany. Consider the precarious circumstances which underwrite Germany’s position as both the wealthiest country in Europe and one of the most pacifist members of NATO.

While the Russian threat looms over Poland, Sweden, Finland and the Baltics, the Kremlin is hardly considered a menace in Italy, Spain or Portugal. France is attempting to revive a full-fledged Franco-Russian partnership, while Britain is no longer shackled to the consensus demands of Brussels. Given the wild asymmetry of European threat perceptions, a lopsided U.S. presence truly is the glue that keeps the continent’s security architecture together, and Germany’s postwar identity intact.

But if the U.S. ever withdraws from Europe in a significant way—as Mr. Trump’s troop plan suggests it could, and as events in the South China Sea seem almost designed to achieve—Germany will find itself in a kind of straitjacket.

As the seat of political and economic power in Europe, Berlin would become the main target of Nordic, Baltic and Visegrád pleas to do and spend more on defense, of French appeals to de-Americanize European security, and of Russian fears of German remilitarization. German leaders would also face a whirlwind of competing domestic passions, from advocacy for a renewed era of German military confidence to sheer terror at the notion of reopening the darkest box in Germany’s psychological attic.

Ms. Merkel has spent 15 years betting that steady growth, full employment and high wages can keep that box shut, and that U.S. forces can keep Germany’s nightmare scenario forever at bay. It is the tragic irony of her final year in office that these two strategies have collided, and that trans-Atlantic ties have frayed so much under her watch.

Mr. Stern was chief of staff and a senior adviser at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, 2019-20.

ccp

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Merks is pissed
« Reply #206 on: August 19, 2020, 05:46:59 PM »

that us should are ask them to pay up to their promises:

https://www.westernjournal.com/victor-davis-hanson-germanys-furious-trump-pulling-thousands-troops-berlin-refuses-pay-nato-dues/

and of course the left will stamp and stomp there feet and say this is an example of we are mean to our enemies

(and of course add the obligatory "Trump cozies up to despots like Putin - another phony Russiagate angle)

Crafty_Dog

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D1: Potentially deadly blow to NATO
« Reply #207 on: September 29, 2020, 10:34:20 AM »
D1 is definitely Trump hostile.  FWIW here is their POV:

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/09/potentially-deadly-blow-nato/168853/

ccp

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Re: Russia/US-- Europe
« Reply #208 on: September 29, 2020, 11:16:31 AM »
R.D. Hooker, Jr. served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council from April 2017 to July 2018
wonder what he thinks if Joe Biden , or better yet Kamala Harris  could lead the free world

or nato etc.

Crafty_Dog

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Re: Russia/US-- Europe
« Reply #209 on: September 29, 2020, 11:27:43 AM »
What President Trump is doing here IS a major change in long standing American geopolitical strategy.  It is normal and understandable that people sincerely dedicated to the previous strategy would be concerned.

ccp

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Re: Russia/US-- Europe
« Reply #210 on: October 21, 2020, 06:13:04 AM »
https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/trump-russia-intelligence-explode-220746995.html

we keep hearing how Russia ran campaign to get Trump elected

can ANYONE  please tell exactly what they did and if it mattered?

not a peep about China doing the same with bribing everyone in US
   and infiltrating academics industry etc

This comment is curious:

"According to Ioffe, the scope of the attacks is actually much larger than previously known to the public ― CIA agents all over the globe have suffered its effects, which include lasting brain damage ― and, under the Trump administration, the United States is not doing much to stop them."

This suggests that Russian knows who the CIA agents are - how is this
  explained



Crafty_Dog

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Manchurian Joe pusses out in the Black Sea
« Reply #212 on: April 15, 2021, 10:51:56 AM »
Say it ain't so Manchurian Joe!

GPF:  Black Sea deployment canceled. The United States canceled the deployment of two warships to the Black Sea, according to Turkish officials. Washington had expressed concern about the military buildup along Ukraine's border with Russia, but Moscow criticized the deployment, calling it provocative.

ccp

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Russia " massive " cyber attack
« Reply #213 on: April 16, 2021, 01:49:13 PM »
https://www.npr.org/2021/04/16/985439655/a-worst-nightmare-cyberattack-the-untold-story-of-the-solarwinds-hack

Glad we have responded with sanctions - whatever that means

Unhappy Biden uses some false pretenses ("stealing the 2020 election ) "  "bribing AFghans to kill US troops"

Unhappy as noted above he makes a threat and changes his mind looking more stupid then if he did not make the threat


Crafty_Dog

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Was US involved in assassination plot in Belarus?
« Reply #214 on: April 19, 2021, 07:49:35 PM »
   
Brief: Assassination Plot in Belarus
One suspect allegedly engaged in discussions in the U.S. and Poland.
By: Geopolitical Futures
Background: Despite massive protests against his reelection last August, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his regime clung to power and continue to suppress critics. The regime’s opponents have not gone away, however, and they continue to challenge Belarus’ stability. This concerns not just Minsk but also Moscow, for which Belarus is a key ally and important buffer between Russia and the West.

What Happened: On Saturday, the Russian Federal Security Service said it had detained two Belarusians: Yuras Zyankovich, who also holds American citizenship, and Aleksandr Feduta. The two men were accused of planning to kill Lukashenko and carry out an armed coup in Belarus, with the help of locals as well as unnamed Ukrainians. The suspects were caught in Moscow and were delivered to Belarus’ State Security Committee. Discussing the case, Lukashenko said his sons were also targeted for assassination, and he accused foreign secret services of being involved.

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said Monday that President Vladimir Putin had discussed the case with U.S. President Joe Biden during their phone call on April 13. When asked if the U.S. had been involved in the alleged assassination plot, however, Peskov declined to comment.

Bottom Line: This may be little more than the continuation of the power struggle between Lukashenko’s regime and its opponents, but it looks bigger than that. Importantly, Russia alleges that one of the suspects traveled to the United States and Poland for consultations before meeting in Moscow, where they were detained. It’s also significant that Putin and Biden discussed an assassination plot against Lukashenko before the Russian security service had publicized the case. The U.S. role, if any, is unclear, but we need to keep a close eye on happenings in Belarus.

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: Belarus
« Reply #215 on: May 26, 2021, 07:13:21 AM »
May 26, 2021
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Paying the Price for Belarus’ Plane Diversion
The incident has drawn strong condemnation from the rest of Europe.
By: Ekaterina Zolotova
The fallout from Belarus’ diversion of a commercial plane over the weekend is still unfolding. The incident happened on Sunday, when Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair plane en route to Lithuania to land in Minsk, supposedly because of a bomb threat. Once the plane landed, they arrested opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, the founder of a channel called Nexta on the Telegram messaging app. Nexta had covered the mass protests last year against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who personally ordered the plane’s grounding. Details about what precipitated the incident are sketchy, but what matters more is how this will affect Europe’s relationship with Belarus and Belarus’ top ally, Russia.

Ryanair's Unexpected Flight Path
(click to enlarge)

What Happened

A number of theories have been floated about what exactly happened and why. In the absence of an investigation, we can posit two possible explanations. First, Lukashenko may have wanted the journalist arrested to try to put the squeeze on the opposition, which has enjoyed growing support among both the Belarusian public and foreign powers. If this was what motived the move, it would indicate that Lukashenko believes his position and that of his government is getting weaker, especially since the protests following the disputed elections last August. The threat posed by Protasevich must have been serious enough for Lukashenko to risk angering the West by scrambling a fighter jet to force the landing of a commercial plane midflight. This explanation doesn’t seem sufficient, however. The threat to the president after the protests last year seems to have been tamed enough not to warrant such a drastic move. Lukashenko stayed in power, and recent demonstrations have been smaller than those that followed the election. Tough new media restrictions were also imposed, and many opposition figures either left the country or were detained.

A second possible explanation is that Minsk really did believe that there was a bomb on board the plane. The head of the aviation department at Belarus’ Transport Ministry said unidentified individuals who called themselves Hamas soldiers had threatened to blow up the plane the day before, demanding an end to Israeli aggression in Gaza. The CEO of Ryanair said the bags of the passengers were searched after the plane landed, although one passenger said authorities made no effort to rush passengers off the plane and demonstrated no concern while searching passengers and their bags that an explosion might be imminent.

Either way, the incident has placed significant pressure on Minsk, which could now see fresh protests and calls for Lukashenko’s removal and new elections. All of these possibilities would only further isolate the president.

What Now

Many countries in Europe and beyond have condemned Protasevich’s arrest and the forced landing of the plane. Britain banned flights from Belarusian state-owned carrier Belavia. And Lithuania blocked all planes from Belarus from landing at its airports. EU members decided during a summit on Monday to ban Belarusian planes from flying to the bloc and called on European carriers not to transit through Belarusian airspace. Germany’s Lufthansa, Latvia’s Air Baltic, Hungary’s Wizz Air, Poland’s LOT, the Netherlands’ KLM and Sweden’s SAS all announced that their planes would not fly over Belarus.

Belarus' Nearly Empty Skies
(click to enlarge)

These measures are particularly punitive during a pandemic that has placed the airline industry under serious strain. Now that lockdown measures are beginning to ease, having flights to and from Europe severely restricted could affect the recovery of Belarusian airlines and the Belarusian economy in general. Belavia is planning to cut its staff – by up to 50 percent, according to some sources – due to the European backlash.

As for Moscow, it has said that it doesn’t want to intervene in an issue that’s mostly between Belarus and Europe, likely trying to bide its time until it sees what the full fallout will be. It has used this wait-and-see strategy before, including during the protests against Lukashenko last year, though it could still react if it deems doing so necessary.

Rumor has it that Lukashenko will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Friday. The two leaders will likely discuss how the Ryanair incident could affect transport between the two countries, especially considering that Belarus was an important corridor for travel between Russia and Europe. Russia might now become a corridor for travel between Belarus and Europe, especially as the summer tourist season heats up. So far, Russian airlines have made no changes to flights, but if they were to stop flying over Belarusian territory, under the threat of sanctions, they could find other routes to Europe – as they have done since the 2014 plane crash in Donbass that led to that region’s airspace being declared unsafe. Moscow also recently introduced a new train route that reaches Minsk in seven hours for the ridiculously low price of $20-$30.

The Kremlin is also likely concerned about Western retaliation directed at Russia. The European Council already agreed to impose new sanctions on Belarusian individuals, companies and sectors. Moscow can only hope that European leaders will find these measures sufficient punishment and not seek retribution against Lukashenko’s biggest foreign supporter. However, the U.K. said it was considering sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 and the Yamal-Europe pipelines, both of which carry – or, in Nord Stream 2's case, will eventually carry – Russian energy supplies to Europe, and the latter of which passes through Belarus. The dilemma for Moscow, which is eager to avoid any additional pressure on its economy, is that it needs to balance between pacifying Belarus and not further aggravating Europe.

Despite the intrigue over what led to the grounding of the Ryanair plane, the key issue here is how the European response could impact Russia as well as the Belarusian government and opposition. Moscow views any threat to the Belarusian leader as a threat to itself. Belarus is Russia’s last remaining ally on its western border, which explains why Moscow works so hard to keep Lukashenko in power and to keep him loyal to the Kremlin. But doing so is getting harder.


Crafty_Dog

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George Friedman/GPF: A Russian Move in Europe
« Reply #217 on: June 01, 2021, 06:32:45 AM »
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June 1, 2021
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A Russian Move in Europe
By: George Friedman
Russia and the European Union held a conference last week, during which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a speech: “The situation remains rather alarming. Our common European continent is experiencing an unprecedented crisis of trust. Division lines are emerging in Europe again. They are moving eastward and getting deeper as if they were frontline trenches.” These are not trivial points, nor are they the usual verbal jousting of international conferences. They reflect the Russian reality, and as before in history, it differs from the European and American views of things.

The organizing principle of the Russian perspective can best be understood by what President Vladimir Putin said years ago: that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a catastrophe for Russia – not the collapse of communism, mind you, but the fragmentation of the Soviet Union, the core of which had been forged during the time of the czars and which protected Russia from invasion.

The Soviet Union’s collapse shattered the westernmost reaches that face Europe. Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova all became independent, and Russia’s border moved dramatically eastward. In one sense, there was little Russia could do about it. In another sense, Russia could live with the loss so long as the Europeans and Americans didn’t control the region. A buffer zone could suffice, one that required genuinely Russia-leaning or at least neutral governments. Governments dominated by the West were dangerous.

Russia's European Buffer Zone
(click to enlarge)

The Ukrainian revolution of 2014 upset the balance by replacing a pro-Russia president with a solidly pro-West government. Putin regarded this as a U.S.-engineered coup, and he sought to retain control of the eastern portion of Ukraine that borders Russia. Three perspectives emerged. The U.S. perspective was that Ukraine had the right to self-determination. The Russian perspective was that this was a result of covert action. The European perspective was classically European in that there were just about as many opinions as there are countries in Europe. Countries on the former Russian border such as Poland saw Russian moves in Ukraine as a return of Russian aggression. Germany’s perspective was that whatever happened should not be permitted to affect Germany’s relations with Russia. The opinion of a country like Portugal was that all this was far away and did not necessarily affect Europe.

Even so, it was a watershed moment. Russia believed that the West had violated an implicit agreement on the neutrality of the buffer region. The U.S. believed it was witnessing a new Russian attempt to return to great power status. Europe was alternatively alarmed or indifferent.

But the recent events in Belarus have shifted this. A Ryanair aircraft flying from one EU country to another was forced to land in Belarus, where two of its passengers were arrested. Russia had been supporting Belarus and its embattled, pro-Russia president following the chaotic Belarusian election last year, so if it hadn’t been clear before, it was now: Belarus was a partner if not an outright satellite. The event confirmed to Europe that Russian power had moved westward and had now arrived on the border of the Baltics and Poland. But to Russia, the opposite – that European power was advancing steadily eastward – had long been true. And that is at least partly what Lavrov was referring to in his speech at the EU conference.

And yet he never raised the key issues. What is Europe’s relationship with the United States, and what exactly is Europe? You cannot answer the first question without first answering the second. The Russians need to know the answer now. If Europe is a united entity with a singular foreign policy that operates under the auspice of NATO, then Russia stands against not just Europe but also the United States. If it doesn’t, then Russia is in a much stronger position. Moscow can’t expect to change America’s mind on the matter, but it might be able to split Europe’s view of Russia. And since NATO operates on many issues based on unanimity, that essentially blocks the U.S.

In this context, Lavrov's speech makes sense. He was speaking directly to Europe, telling its leaders that Russia will respond if they continue to press east. He was speaking to those who hoped that the situation in Belarus would simply go away. His audience – the EU – is not Europe but a treaty on economic cooperation among most but not all European countries. The EU does not have a foreign policy beyond its trade policy, nor does it have a military. The EU is institutionally averse to national security issues intruding on economic issues. Lavrov’s speech was alarming to this group, and it was this group that he hoped to alarm. They might have been upset by the Ryanair incident but not so much that they want to confront Russia militarily or even economically.

For Russia, a fragmented Europe is the best defense because it freezes NATO and makes increased U.S. involvement more difficult. Without NATO, U.S. involvement will have to be done nation to nation, and thus without unquestioned support by European countries. That makes power projection from North America to Poland a difficult logistical matter.

In other words, Russia wants to preempt a joint American-European reaction to a hypothetical Ukrainian action. But there is a truth here: The Russians are weak and frightened. They are frightened by the full meaning of the fall of the Soviet Union, and despite massing troops here and there, they are not confident in their ability to prevail. They are unsure of their own strength. They believe they have a window of opportunity with Belarus, but to fully capitalize on it they must create cracks in Europe. It’s the move to make, and we can expect many attractive offers to various European countries. The problem Russia has is finding attractive offers.

Crafty_Dog

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George Friedman: Russia/US-- Europe and Germany
« Reply #218 on: July 13, 2021, 06:27:20 AM »
July 13, 2021
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Biden and Merkel to Meet
By: George Friedman

U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are scheduled to meet Thursday in Washington, where they are expected to discuss issues such as cybersecurity, Nordstream 2 and Afghanistan. But as is often the case, the official agenda items are secondary to the more important aspect of the meeting. After all, Berlin has never been especially decisive in Afghanistan, cybersecurity is a threat that affects all countries, and Nordstream 2 is nearly completed.

The latter two issues necessarily implicate Russia, which goes to the heart of the meeting. The actual point of discussions between Biden and Merkel will be what the U.S. relationship with Germany is, and what Germany’s relationship with Russia and Poland will be. Implicit in these questions is what Germany’s relationship with Europe will be, a subject that will be touched on gingerly, if at all, but matters more than all other questions.

The European Union was created for two purposes, according the founding treaty: peace and prosperity in Europe. The memory of the two world wars haunted Europe, so if the Continent could figure out a way to shed national distinctions of their importance, peace would be possible, or so the theory went. The path to transcending nationalism was in constructing a union in which universal prosperity was achieved, and with it a common European interest. Along with this would come a common European identity, in which nation-states would decline in importance.

From the American point of view, the European Union would be a logical epilogue to the Marshall Plan. The U.S. had included within the principles of the plan the integration of Europe’s national economies. It was a rocky trip, as European nationalism and mutual suspicion were inevitably high. The French in particular distrusted integration. But it was important to the United States, which was responsible for protecting Western Europe from a Soviet attack. To successfully do so, there had to be a restoration of European military power and integration into what would become NATO. Economic integration and military integration were, from the American point of view, inseparable. The European free trade zone emerged from the Marshall Plan, was redefined by the Europeans, and finally became the EU.

The legacy of the Marshall Plan was the principle of European integration. But Europe has become an entity in which military strategy, economic policy and foreign policy are uncoordinated. In terms of military policy, there are wide differences in Europe. Poland, always wary of Russia, is obsessed with protecting itself from potential Russian aggression. For, say, Portugal, Poland’s concerns are far from its own. From the German point of view, creating a military force equal to its economic power would both undermine its economy and revive historical fears of German power, both reasonable concerns with the first one dominant. NATO, which is the framework of both European defense policy and the trans-Atlantic relationship, has no common strategy, making NATO itself dysfunctional and rendering a strong trans-Atlantic relationship impossible.

A similar problem exists within the EU. The EU has created prosperity, but the prosperity is not equally enjoyed. Unlike regional disparities within a nation, these are regional disparities between nations, which ultimately retain their right to self-determination.

The EU has had three significant crises: the global financial crisis of 2008, the migration crisis in 2015, and the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic costs. In all cases, the interests of particular nations clashed with the strategy laid down by the EU. At the moment, the economic conditions of various countries within the eurozone have competing needs required to stimulate a recovery – and some members of the EU are not in the eurozone to complicate matters further. Germany, the leading economy in Europe and the fourth-largest in the world, wants to maintain an economy that does not run deficits, and it wants the European Central Bank to follow this course. Germany fears inflation. Italy and other countries are facing a profound economic crisis that requires, according to John Maynard Keynes, massive stimuli and deficits to create a framework for recovery. Germany’s economic problem is not Italy’s, but whereas there are many nations in the eurozone, there is one central bank and therefore one monetary policy. In all three of these crises, there was a wide diversion of interests and needs, and the EU sought to use its power to punish the countries that were unwilling to follow its policy.

This then leads to a difference in strategy. As one example, consider Nordstream 2, which will deliver Russian natural gas to Europe and which the U.S. believes will make Europe far too dependent on Russian energy. In the past, the Russians have cut off the flow of energy to Eastern European countries. It had few long-term consequences beyond inflicting fear. But under other circumstances, the Russians might use this power to bring about changes in behavior or even capitulations to its demands. The Poles are terrified of excessive dependence on Russian fuel, not only because of their position but also because they fear that other EU members might cooperate with Russian strategy to keep the fuel flowing.

Germany and Poland are neighbors with a long history. To Poland, Nordstream 2 is an existential threat. To Germany, it is a useful source of energy. The Germans think they can form a mutually beneficial relationship with Russia based on German technology transfers and the like and avoid the threat of having energy cut off. The Poles see in this attitude that Germany has no interest in Polish needs, and so neither do NATO and the central bureaucracy of the EU.

The United States is inevitably drawn into this issue through its NATO membership. The U.S. has some forces in Poland but needs greater NATO involvement if it hopes to successfully deter Russia. There is no common NATO view in practice.

Similarly, there is no single view on the current economic crisis. The intention of the EU was to integrate Europe. What it has done is try to reconcile the diverse interests of European countries and, failing that, follow the interest of the more prosperous and powerful countries.

Germany is the most powerful country in Europe, and the problem Biden will have is discerning what European policy on various matters is and whether to link Nordstream to German pressure on Russia and German warfare, and make the U.S. dependent on Germany for that security area. But then Germany must also lead the EU, which is different from leading NATO or defining an immigration strategy. The production of a European strategy under these circumstances is complex in the extreme. The ability to understand that strategy is beyond the capability of putative allies.

The Europeans like to argue that the U.S. has turned away from the trans-Atlantic relationship. The fact is that trying to understand Europe’s defense policy, economic policy, and grand strategy verges on the impossible. The only option is bypassing these institutions and dealing with individual states. Of course, these states are constrained by the reality of being part of this chaos. Zbigniew Brzezinski once said that the problem in dealing with Europe is finding Europe’s telephone number. I would argue not that the U.S. has turned its back on Europe but that Europe has adopted a decision-making process designed to avoid clarity in what decision it has made.

DougMacG

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Re: George Friedman: Biden and Merkel to Meet
« Reply #219 on: July 13, 2021, 08:46:31 AM »
"Biden and Merkel to Meet"

The greatest minds and powers of western civilization in our time.

God help us.

ccp

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Re: Russia/US-- Europe
« Reply #220 on: July 13, 2021, 02:28:46 PM »
"Biden and Merkel to Meet"

When  former is not acting as a warrior for
  defense of "democracy" at home

fighting racial repression suppression and depression

just another reparations con.

I am not paying.


Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: Nord Stream 2 (Ukraine)
« Reply #221 on: July 20, 2021, 06:14:41 PM »
What the U.S.-Germany Deal on Nord Stream 2 Means for Ukraine

Continued U.S. and German discord over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, along with the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, reflect Ukraine’s struggles to convince Western policymakers to fully support its foreign policy. Domestic tensions in Ukraine due to perceived meager support from the West could further weaken President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. The United States and Germany are planning to announce a deal on the disputed Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the coming days, according to unnamed sources cited in a July 19 Reuters report. This follows the July 16 meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Joe Biden in which both leaders declared their unity against Russian aggression and agreed to collaborate on mobilizing investment aimed at helping emerging economies in Central and Eastern Europe transition to cleaner energy, but failed to resolve their countries’ differences on the natural gas pipeline between Germany and Russia. As part of the to-be-announced deal with Germany, the United States has reportedly agreed not to resume its currently waived sanctions against the company behind the $11 billion project, Nord Stream 2 AG, and its chief executive following assurances and yet unspecified investments supporting Ukraine’s energy transformation from Russian hydrocarbon imports to domestic green energy production. U.S. and German investments in the transformation, efficiency and security of Ukraine’s energy sector, however, are unlikely to be enough to prevent the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from reducing Ukraine’s crucial transit revenues in the coming years.

In May, the White House decided to waive sanctions against the corporate entity and CEO in charge of the Nord Stream 2 project to protect its relationship with Germany and buy more time for negotiations. The move alienated partners in Central and Eastern Europe keen to oppose Russian influence and incited bipartisan backlash from U.S. lawmakers, both of which will resume in similar force.

The still hazy details of a possible U.S.-Germany deal on Nord Stream 2 are likely to entail continued challenges for Ukraine. Both Biden and Zelensky had insisted on concrete investments as compensation or gas volume transit guarantees through Ukraine to offset or limit the pipeline’s potential use as a tool of Russian geopolitical coercion against Kyiv. Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom is already preparing for an attempt to use high gas prices as a way to pressure German and EU regulators to allow the pipeline to quickly begin operations. The United States and Germany appear to have agreed on eventually investing in Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, but the continued lack of details could be an indication that the compensation will be underwhelming and most likely too late to seriously improve Ukraine’s energy security in the near term. According to the five-year transit deal that Russia and Ukraine signed in 2019, Ukraine’s minimum transport volumes can decrease from the minimum of 65 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas in 2020 (which is already down from the 87 bcm Ukraine received in 2018) to 40 bcm in 2021-24. This means Ukraine could receive transit fees over the next three years on just half the volume of gas it did three years ago. After 2024, Gazprom could be in a position to demand a further decrease in its minimum transport volumes through Ukraine, and it is unclear if U.S. and German investments in Ukraine’s energy security will significantly improve the situation even by then.

Gazprom has reduced bookings through the Ukrainian transit network by 20% this summer compared with previous norms. European states have, in turn, been unable to refill their gas storage prior to the fall, which is already low due to an unusually long winter across the Continent. This will lead to higher prices in the winter when Nord Stream 2 could near physical completion, which the pipeline’s backers will claim underscore its necessity.

While Nord Stream 2 is likely to be physically completed, there are still legal and political obstacles to the pipeline becoming operational. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Nord Stream 2 a “fait accompli” at a congressional hearing on June 7, suggesting that the White House believes it will be completed. Additionally, earlier concerns of faltering German support for the project amid indignation over Russian conduct have largely faded. And while the Green Party, which calls for the abolishment of Nord Stream 2, could enter the German government after the federal election in September, it may do so only as a junior partner of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which supports the project. But physical completion, possibly as soon as the fall, doesn’t mean that the pipeline will enter operation in short order — particularly if the lingering risk of U.S. sanctions targeting the third-party service companies and insurance firms needed to operate the pipeline is not fully removed, which the reported U.S-German deal appears unlikely to achieve.

While Russian vessels can complete construction of the project while under U.S. sanctions, certification and insurance will have to be done by large, non-Russian entities, and it isn’t clear which will be willing to do so. Indeed, the threat of U.S. sanctions already prompted at least 16 third-party companies to pull out of the project in February.

Additionally, Nord Stream 2 must be fully compliant with German and EU regulations, and is likely to face a steady onslaught of legal challenges in both jurisdictions that could delay its opening and/or reduce its capacity once in operation.

Russia has downplayed and tried to draw the international community away from risks related to certification and insurance. On June 3, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said the country sees no risks for the certification.

Domestic support for Zelensky’s government could fall as the perception builds that Ukraine is not receiving sufficient Western support against Russian aggression. Zelensky will seek political support from the United States during an upcoming meeting with Biden at the White House, which was previously scheduled for July but has been pushed into August. Domestic political tensions in Ukraine, meanwhile, have reached a high amid renewed national security concerns related to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent statements on reasserting Russia’s historical control over Ukraine and denial of legitimate Ukrainian sovereignty prior to the 2021 Russia-Belarus Zapad military exercise scheduled for September. Those security concerns have since only been augmented by the resignation of the country’s influential Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avavok on July 12.

The Zelensky administration is worried that some members of the U.S. government believe Kyiv should cave to Russian and Franco-German pressure by following through with the so-called Steinmeier Formula, which is an interpretation of the Minsk agreements that would grant the Donbas breakaway regions constitutionally-enshrined autonomy and the ability to hold local elections prior to Ukraine receiving control of its border with Russia. Since it was proposed by Germany in 2016, the Steinmeier Formula has sparked protests in Ukraine for being a capitulation and a dangerous trap unfavorable to Ukraine’s interests.

Some U.S. officials believe the Steinmeier Formula could open the door for a de-escalation of the eastern Ukraine conflict, and could also enable the United States and Europe to more effectively focus on their true strategic priority of rallying an international coalition against China. But other members of the Biden administration are more willing to continue supporting Ukraine’s position that it should receive full control of its border with Russia before recognizing any local elections.

Against this backdrop, individuals close to Zelensky have speculated that Ukraine’s frustration with the West could prompt Kyiv to explore increased investment from China and other Asian countries. To that end, Zelensky held his first phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 13 — the day before Merkel’s trip to Washington and the day after Zelensky’s meeting with Merkel in Berlin.