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 na├»ve 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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Trade ties expose EU, US rift over Russia sanctions

(By Deutsche Welle) The EU and the US have threatened Russia with punitive measures if Moscow does not reduce tensions in Ukraine. But some European countries are reluctant to impose sanctions due to close trade ties with Russia.

Scrambling to react to the crisis in Crimea, the Obama administration has threatened Russian officials with visa bans and asset freezes, if the Kremlin refuses to roll back its military intervention in the Black Sea peninsula. But the European Union has proven reluctant to follow suit, holding out hope that diplomacy can resolve the Cold War-style crisis on its doorstep.

The White House has already suspended military ties and trade talks with Moscow, while the entire Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations have agreed to not participate in preparations for their summit in Sochi this June. Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday, where they strongly condemned “the clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity by acts of aggression by the Russian Federation.”

Although the EU threatened to suspend bilateral talks with Moscow on trade and visa liberalization and “consider further targeted measures,” the bloc did not explicitly place the threat of economic sanctions on the table. The EU’s 28 leaders are scheduled to meet for an emergency summit on Thursday, where they will consider whether or not to impose punitive measures.

“It’s clear that everybody would like to see this crisis solved politically without imposing sanctions, because those would severely damage bilateral relations,” Paul Ivan, an expert on EU sanctions with the European Policy Center, told DW.

“Sanctions are the most serious measure you can take before going to war,” he said.

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EU, US unlikely to intervene on Ukraine’s behalf in Crimea

(By Deutsche Welle) With the immediate threat of a civil conflict in Kyiv averted, Ukraine’s crisis has now shifted to the Russian-majority region of Crimea. The region could become a flashpoint between Moscow and the West.

President Vladimir Putin placed combat troops in western Russia on alert Wednesday (26.02.2014), amid rising tensions between pro- and anti-Kremlin protesters in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, where Moscow stations its Black Sea naval fleet.

Meanwhile, NATO defense ministers have reiterated their commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.

“NATO allies will continue to support Ukrainian sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, democratic development, and the principle of inviolability of frontiers, as key factors of stability and security in central and eastern Europe and on the continent as a whole,” the defense ministers said in a joint statement after their meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US did not view the volatile political situation in Ukraine as a Cold War-style confrontation with Russia.

“This is not a zero-sum game, it is not a West versus East…,” Kerry said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in Washington. “This is about the people of Ukraine and Ukrainians making their choice about their future,” Kerry added.

But there’s very little that the US and EU can actually do to help maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity, according to Joerg Forbrig, an Eastern Europe expert with the German Marshall Fund. He cites the war between Georgia and Russia in 2008, in which Moscow’s military intervention led to the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Tbilisi’s control. While the West engaged diplomatically, it was unable to prevent the division of Georgia.

“The West has very limited means of enforcing this message,” Forbrig told DW. “What we can clearly rule out is that the West would rush to the help of the Ukrainian government to safeguard this integrity.”

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Former US ambassador to Ukraine: ‘The EU and the US have leverage’

(By Deutsche Welle) Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer tells DW that the West should target Ukrainian oligarchs with sanctions. But he also believes only Ukrainians can solve the country’s political crisis.

An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Glazyev, accused the United States last week of not only financing the Ukrainian opposition, but went so far as to say that Washington was arming “rebels.” Is there truth to these claims or is this hyperbole?

The idea that the US government is financing the protests is utter nonsense. There’s no evidence that I have seen of it. And the idea that Mr. Glazyev says it’s providing weapons is also nonsense. If you go back and look at what Mr. Glazyev has said, he’s been the point person in Russia to try and do everything he can to undermine Ukraine’s effort to do the association agreement with the European Union. And he’s said some things in the past that have had very little credibility.

How would you characterize the US relationship with the Ukrainian opposition and the protest movement?

The US government has reached out and has contacts with the opposition, which I think is appropriate for the embassy and for visiting officials to do. I think the US government would like to find a way to encourage the opposition and President Yanukovych to get a meaningful political dialogue underway. That would be the best way out of the current political situation.

In January, Arizona Senator John McCain met with several Ukrainian opposition leaders, including Svoboda party leader Oleh Tyahnybok, who’s made anti-Semitic remarks in the past. What’s Washington’s relationship with the right-wing groups that are participating in the protests?

I think there actually have been conversations with Tyahnybok since his party became a political force. And I know for a fact that the American embassy has been pretty direct with Mr. Tyahnybok and the Svoboda party about some concerns about some things they have said, including handing over several pages of quotes of things that were seen as anti-Semitic and such.

There’s been growing discussion in the EU and US about imposing sanctions against Ukraine. What kind of sanctions are we talking about? Are sanctions really an effective instrument to push Ukraine toward reform?

I do favor targeted sanctions by the United States and the European Union with two objectives. One is to make clear to those who might be involved in the use of force that there will be penalties. But I also believe that sanctions can be used in a positive way and that is to prod people in the inner circle around Yanukovych to encourage him to engage in a real dialogue and attempt to find a solution.

When we talk about Yanukovych’s inner circle are we talking about people in government or people in the business sector?

The people who have the control of levers of force are in government. You want them to know this. But I think also when you’re talking about the inner circle, you’re talking about business people. Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest oligarch, has been fairly close to Mr. Yanukovych. I think it would be useful if Mr. Akhmetov was using his influence with President Yanukovych to encourage him to negotiate in a serious way to find a solution. And if there was some threat that there might be financial or travel sanctions on Mr. Akhmetov, that could be a useful lever.

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Russia juggles its developing partnerships with the West and China

(By Deutsche Welle)Russia has reset its relationship with the US and the EU while consolidating its partnership with China. In order to secure its national interests, Moscow must manage a tricky balancing act between the West and the East.

Flush with cash from booming oil and gas exports, Moscow unilaterally pursued Russian national interests during Vladimir Putin’s tenure as president. In the process, Russia’s relationship with the West deteriorated to a historic low point.

But then the economic crisis hit. Energy prices collapsed and Russia’s rapid growth ground to a halt.

After Dmitry Medvedev assumed the presidency in 2008, Moscow sought to jump start the slumping Russian economy through so-called “modernization alliances” with the US and the EU. Yet at the same time, the oil-rich country began consolidating its “strategic partnership” with an oil-hungry China. Russia wanted to pursue its national interests in economic modernization and growth and knew that it needed both the West and China in these endeavors.

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