US, Russia maneuver to influence Ukraine’s political future

(By Deutsche Welle) With the US Congress reportedly preparing sanctions against Ukrainian leaders, Moscow has warned Washington to get out of the crisis in Kyiv. Has Ukraine become a proxy battleground between Russia and the West?

As the political crisis in Ukraine has escalated, EU and US efforts to support the opposition have gathered momentum. Washington is reportedly putting together a package of diplomatic carrots and sticks. US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has said that Kyiv could receive US aid money, but only after it has implemented political reforms.

Meanwhile, the US Congress and the White House are reportedly discussing targeted financial sanctions against the Ukrainian public figures allegedly responsible for violence. In a resolution which passed in a 381-2 vote, the House of Representatives on Monday expressed support for the “democratic wishes of the people” in Ukraine.

According to Steven Pifer, former US ambassador to Ukraine, sanctions should also target President Viktor Yanukovych’s inner-circle, which includes government officials and business people.

“Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest oligarch, has been fairly close to Mr. Yanukovych,” Pifer told DW. “I think it would be useful if Mr. Akhmetov was using his influence with the president to encourage him to negotiate in a serious way to find a solution.

“If there was some threat that there might be financial or travel sanctions on Mr. Akhmetov, that could be a useful lever,” he said.

So far, the EU has been reluctant to impose sanctions out of concern that punitive measures will only push Yanukovych further toward Moscow. In neighboring Belarus, for example, Western sanctions have done little to persuade strongman Alexander Lukashenko to reform his authoritarian regime.

But Andrew Wilson, an expert on Ukraine with the European Council on Foreign Relations, disagrees with the analogy.

“There aren’t oligarchs in the same sense. You have a much more personal presidential system [in Belarus],” Wilson said. “Whereas in Ukraine you do have oligarchs, and you can hurt their interests.”

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China urges ‘de-Americanized’ new world order

(By Deutsche Welle) In the response to the debt ceiling battle in the US, Beijing has called for the world to become more independent of Washington. But the emerging global powers have no vision for what a post-American order should be.

In an editorial published by China’s state news agency Xinhua, Beijing has lambasted US global leadership, calling for emerging economies to forge a new world order that is less dependent on the volatilities of American domestic politics.

China, the largest single-holder of American Treasury securities, has a particularly strong national interest in how the US reacts in the wake of the resolution of the shutdown and the decision to raise the debt ceiling, albeit temporarily. A US default could have devalued the billions of Treasuries that Beijing holds.

The Chinese government has used the opportunity to question the legitimacy of US global leadership, saying that “it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.”

“Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated, and a new world order should be put in place, according to which all nations, big or small, poor or rich, can have their key interests respected and protected on an equal footing,” Xinhua author Liu Chang wrote.

But according to foreign policy expert Charles Kupchan, China’s response to the political crisis in Washington is largely a rhetorical one.

“China is taking advantage of the troubles in Washington to advance its desire to create an international order that diminishes the influence of the United States,” Kupchan, with the Council on Foreign Relations, told DW.

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Despite protests, Turkey remains ‘indispensable’ to West

(By Deutsche Welle) Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on protests in Turkey has sparked condemnation in the EU and US. But as the West moves to up its involvement in Syria, it’s unlikely to risk a break with Ankara.

Long heralded in the West as a democratic example to the broader Muslim world, Turkey has elicited harsh condemnations from its allies in the European Union and the United States in recent weeks. Reacting to Erdogan’s crackdown on protests, both powers have called on Ankara to respect the rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

In Washington, the Obama administration has – at least rhetorically – positioned itself on the side of the protesters. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney has said that the White House believes most of the demonstrators are law-abiding citizens. Prime Minister Erdogan had labeled the protesters as “looters” and “extremists.”

“We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and a free and independent media,” Carney told reporters over the weekend.

But the protests in Turkey come during a critical juncture in Middle East, with the Western powers moving to become more deeply involved in Syria’s civil war. Last week, the Obama administration announced that it would begin supplying the Syrian rebels with weapons, saying that the Assad government had crossed a “red line” by allegedly deploying sarin gas.

Turkey – which shares a 822-kilometer border with Syria – has played a critical role in the conflict in Syria, hosting more than 380,000 Syrian refugees and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on its territory. Western arms shipments are likely to be delivered to the FSA, which is considered to be more liberal and secular than Islamist rebel groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus.

“For the US to be able to implement that policy, it needs to work closely with the Turkish government as a conduit for those weapons,” Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkish foreign policy and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels, told DW.

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Berlin steadfast in Libya abstention despite political fallout

(By Deutsche Welle) For the first time in post-war history, Germany has publicly taken a position contrary to virtually all of its major allies. The fallout of Berlin’s abstention from coalition operations in Libya could be far reaching.

By abstaining from the UN Security Council vote to intervene in Libya, Germany has managed to position itself against both the United States and Europe for the first time, said former NATO General Klaus Naumann in an interview with the daily Stuttgarter Zeitung.

Berlin’s abstention has sparked controversy domestically with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right government coming under bi-partisan political fire. Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, member of the Green Party, wrote in the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that he was “ashamed” of the German government’s “failure.” And Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Merkel’s party and chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, expressed concern that Berlin had isolated itself.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Merkel has declared Berlin’s “unreserved support for the goals of the resolution” despite its opposition to military intervention. And Merkel has sought to demonstrate this ambiguous support by offering humanitarian aid for refugees and pushing for an oil embargo against Gadhafi. However, Berlin’s attempts at damage control are unlikely to contain the negative political fallout from its abstention.

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