Putin’s power play jeopardizes Eurasian Union plans

(By Deutsche Welle) President Vladimir Putin aims to create an Eurasian Union where the Soviet Union once reigned. But Moscow’s intervention in Crimea could make former Soviet republics think twice about deeper integration with Russia.

During his annual address to the Russian parliament back in 2005, President Putin publicly lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union, calling it “a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” The former KGB man laid out his solution to this “disaster” in a 2011 newspaper editorial, in which he called for the creation of an Eurasian Union.

“First, none of this entails any kind of revival of the Soviet Union,” Putin wrote in the daily Izvestia. “It would be naïve to revive or emulate something that has been consigned to history. But these times call for a close integration based on new values and a new political and economic foundation.”

“We suggest a powerful supranational association capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world and serving as an efficient bridge between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region,” he continued.

Neighboring Belarus and Kazakhstan have signed up to join Russia in this integration project. In 2010, the three ex-Soviet republics formed a common customs union. Meanwhile, they have agreed to make the Eurasian Economic Union a reality by January 1, 2015.

“According to Putin, it has to be a political alliance, not only the customs union, with supranational institutions that will be hosted by Moscow and apparently dominated by Russia,” Lilia Shevtsova, a Russia expert with Carnegie Moscow, told DW.

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Dealing with dictators: Why the West sanctions some and rewards others

(By Deutsche Welle) The US and EU have long condemned the dictatorship in Belarus. Yet Arab strongmen like Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gadhafi received military support from the West. How should Washington and Brussels deal with dictators?

Grassroots uprisings have gripped not just the Arab World as of late. Last December, around 15,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Minsk to challenge the manipulated presidential election that awarded long-time Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko another term in office with 80 percent of the vote.

The Belarusian security apparatus struck back and effectively decapitated the opposition. Around 600 protesters were arrested as well as eight of the nine candidates who ran against Lukashenko. In a little over a month, the EU and the US had imposed travel restrictions and asset freezes on more than 150 members of the country’s political elite.

But as uprisings spread across North Africa and the Mideast, both the EU and the US responded tepidly as friendly dictators like Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gadhafi used violence against peaceful protesters to maintain their grip on power. In the case of Mubarak, sanctions were not imposed at all. And although the US and EU condemned the recent violence in Libya, imposed sanctions and have now launched military action, they have a history of cooperating with Gadhafi’s now embattled dictatorship.

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NATO allies warn US on too much defense scrimping

(By Deutsche Welle) While the Pentagon tightens its financial belt, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has hinted at reducing American troop levels in Europe. However, Washington must reconcile a smaller force with traditional NATO obligations.

With US engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the Obama administration is promising to cut spending. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced cuts to the tune of  $78 billion (57 billion euros). And these cuts may impact what Gates has called an “excess force structure in Europe.”

Once meant to hold the Soviet Union at bay, the Atlantic alliance is redefining its mission on a continent now largely united and at peace. In the future, a smaller US military presence in Europe will focus on rapidly deploying elsewhere in the world. However, Washington must balance this smaller, more cost-effective force with its traditional security obligations as a NATO member.

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