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Germany Must Lead in Europe

Nothing could be more unlike the Russo-Ukrainian war in the Donbas than Munich’s remarkably well-ordered condition. The desperate desire of Germans to look away from the death and destruction beyond their eastern border makes sense: War is too disruptive of their near-perfect orderliness to be thinkable, least of all real. Unfortunately for them, Germany has no choice but to play the role of Europe’s “well-meaning hegemon.” The European Union needs leadership, and, as distasteful as seizing the initiative may be to most Germans, who associate hegemony with the disaster of Nazism and World War II, only Germany has the geopolitical resources to be a consistent leader.

Was Vladimir Putin Born in Georgia?

The answer, according to a recent article in Germany’s highly respected Die Zeit, is maybe. “It seems,” writes correspondent Steffen Dobbert, that “there is an unspoken, and unproven, secret that is part of [Vladimir Putin’s] biography”:

There are those who are convinced that the Russian president spent the first nine years of his life with a family whose existence he continues to dispute to this day. They also believe he spent the first half of his childhood in Georgia, and not in Russia. They believe that later, as the head of the domestic intelligence agency, Putin changed his life story and denied the existence of his biological mother in order to speed his path to power—and to avoid being seen, during his first Russian election campaign, as an illegitimate child who had grown up in Georgia.

Putin’s possible biological mother is the 89-year-old Vera Putina, “a small, delicate woman, who always wears a headscarf when she leaves the house” in the Georgian village of Metekhi.

The State of Ukraine

The following is an interview with Taras Kuzio, a leading expert on Ukraine and post-communist politics.

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MOTYL: You’ve just completed a tour of the Ukrainian territories adjoining the Donbas enclave controlled by Russia and its proxies. What are some of your key conclusions?

KUZIO: Since the Euromaidan Revolution I’ve made six visits to southeastern Ukraine for research on a book on the Donbas (supported by the US-based Ukrainian Studies Fund). My just-completed visit was to Mariupol and Volnovakha, which is on the road to Donetsk and 20 kilometers from the front line. I have also visited Donetsk (during the Euromaidan) as well as Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, both of which have been controlled by Ukrainian forces since summer 2014. The visit to Mariupol was with four journalists (two from Kharkiv, one from Kyiv, and one from Lutsk). It was funded by the EU through the Association of Polish Journalists and the TeleKrytyka Ukrainian media monitor and coordinated by Yuri Lukanov, president of the Trade Union of Independent Journalists of Ukraine.

Soviet-Nazi Collaboration and World War II

As May 9th, Victory Day in many post-Soviet states, approaches, decency demands that we celebrate the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and honor the millions of soldiers and civilians who gave their lives to rid the world of the scourge of Nazism.

At the same time, if we truly want to honor the dead, we must take heed of the historical lies that the Kremlin, both in its Soviet and post-Soviet hypostases, promotes about the USSR’s relationship with Nazi Germany.

For starters, the Moscow-controlled Communist International, and its sidekick, the Communist Party of Germany, made Hitler’s rise to power possible, if not indeed inevitable, by tarring the German Social Democrats as “social fascists” who threatened to split the proletariat and were, thus, a greater evil than the Nazis. Had the German left remained united against the real threat—Nazism—Hitler might not have come to power. (Many leftists make a similar mistake today, preferring Vladimir Putin’s fascism to American capitalism and thereby promoting war in Europe.)

Funding Ukraine's Recovery

Ukraine needs 60–100 billion euros in investment in the next 10 years in order to rebuild its economy and reach the GDP level it had in 2013, according to Gunter Deuber, an analyst at Vienna’s Raiffeisen Bank International. One half will have to come from the European Union and the United States; the other half from private investors.

Ukraine’s Chess Champion—and Putin

You may not be aware of the fact that the women’s world chess champion is now a 22-year-old Ukrainian, Mariya Muzychuk. A native of Stryi, in the western province of Lviv, Muzychuk won the title on April 5th, after defeating Russia’s Natalia Pogonina in a four-game match. The victory garnered Muzychuk the title of Grandmaster, the highest designation in the world of chess. 

Meet Motorola, Self-Confessed War Criminal of the Donbas

The latest entry into the Donbas enclave’s Pantheon of heroes is one Arsenii Sergeevich Pavlov, a slight 32 year-old Russian from Russia who sports the nom de guerre, Motorola. 

Why Pavlov chose this ridiculous moniker is unclear. Was his first cell phone a Motorola? Is he even aware that Motorola was a telecommunications firm founded in a country he detests almost as much as Ukraine—America? 

Russia Expected to Escalate War in Ukraine Soon

That’s what a number of prominent experts think. Andrii Parubii, the vice speaker of Ukraine’s Parliament and former national security adviser, stated on March 27th that there is a “high risk” of a “full-scale military operation” in the next few weeks. An expert team led by Wesley Clark, a retired US Army general and former NATO supreme allied commander, informed the Atlantic Council in Washington on March 30th that “Ukrainian forces expect [an] attack within the next 60 days.

Ukraine as a Vital Security Interest for Europe

An American official in Brussels recently informed me of a meeting he had with a highly placed European Union diplomat during which the latter “stressed that Ukraine is an ‘almost existential’ issue for Europe.”

The phrase “almost existential” is worth looking at more closely. Existential issues concern the life or death of the subject concerned. A Russian attack on Germany would be an existential issue for Germany. A Russian attack on Tajikistan would be an existential issue for Tajikistan, but a non-existential issue for Germany. An almost existential issue for some country is thus something that almost concerns—or is almost equivalent to—the life and death of that country. Seen in this light, the claim that Ukraine is almost existential for Europe amounts to saying that Ukraine’s life or death is almost equivalent to the life or death of Europe.

Is There Economic Reform in Ukraine?

If you listen to Ukrainians tell it, there’s been absolutely no reform within the last year. Their frustration is understandable—they want the positive effects of major change now—but their perception just doesn’t correspond to the facts.

The much awaited reform process is actually under way—though quietly and unobtrusively. The Education Ministry and the Ministry of Internal Affairs have led the way with restructuring universities and the police force, probably because they don’t deal directly with high-stakes corruption and the power of the oligarchs. Some personnel cuts have been introduced in the presidential administration and the government bureaucracy; more are forecast. A law (albeit flawed) on lustration has been adopted and has already led to some high-level resignations and prosecutions. An Anti-Corruption Bureau has been approved, and a head is currently being sought.

The Decline of the Russian Empire

The following is an interview with Rein Taagepera, professor emeritus of the University of Tartu, in Estonia, and the University of California, Irvine.

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MOTYL: Professor Taagepera, you were the first social scientist to have studied the rise and fall of empires in a rigorous social-scientific manner. So let’s start with a big-picture question. Why do empires decay?

TAAGEPERA: Empires rarely stand still. They initially outrun their internal flaws through external expansion. Once they stop growing, these flaws accumulate. Expansion is self-reinforcing, and so is decay. To change course, one must give up on past glory and start anew.

MOTYL: How do empires react to decay?

TAAGEPERA: It is psychologically easier to give up on overseas holdings than on territorially contiguous ones, however disparate these may be ethnically. While losing vigor, Poland-Lithuania and Austria-Hungary largely maintained their territory, until their final collapse. In contrast, the Ottoman Empire began to lose ground slowly already in the 1700s.

Ukrainian Jewish Leader on Russian Aggression

Josef Zissels is the chairman of the General Council of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. He is sitting in the middle of a long table in the Ukrainian Restaurant in downtown New York. Before him is a bowl of borscht. As he eats, he shares his views of the current crisis in Ukraine with nine specialists and activists.

Zissels does not mince words. “There is no civil war in Ukraine,” he says. “There is a Russian aggression supported by local collaborators.” The war with Russia will be “long,” and Ukraine needs to construct a “militarist economy” like Israel’s. The Maidan Revolution had nothing to do with ethnicity, language, or religion. It was a “civilizational conflict” between those Ukrainians who supported Europe and those who supported Russia.

Has Putin Lost Germany?

A recently released German documentary about Vladimir Putin—Mensch Putin!—paints a decidedly unflattering picture of Russia’s leader. He is, according to the film, a disturbingly insecure man with a deeply rooted need to compensate for his inadequacies with manifestations of physical prowess and the exercise of power.

“So what else is new?” Putin’s many critics might ask.  The answer is: the film is German, produced by none other than the venerable ZDF, or Germany’s equivalent of BBC or PBS. That makes the film a touchstone of changing German attitudes toward Putin. The film updates former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s characterization of Putin as a “lupenreiner Demokrat” (“flawless democrat”) to something closer to Russia’s version of Hitler lite. What other German leader was a disturbingly insecure man with a deeply rooted need to compensate for his inadequacies with manifestations of physical prowess and the exercise of power? Germans will get the implied comparison, even if it remains unarticulated in the documentary.

Why Russia Will Lose in Ukraine

So who’s winning the war in eastern Ukraine—Russia or Ukraine? The answer is not as simple as it might seem, because victory means different things for each side.

A Russian victory could take one of two forms: territorial expansion into large parts of southeastern Ukraine or the imposition on Ukraine of disadvantageous peace terms. Or it could take both forms. But neither has happened, and neither is likely to happen.

Anything short of such a victory amounts to a defeat for Russia. Having destroyed the Russian economy, transformed Russia into a rogue state, and alienated Russia’s allies in the “near abroad,” Vladimir Putin loses if he doesn’t win big.

In contrast, Ukraine wins as long as it does not lose big. If Ukraine can contain the aggression, it will demonstrate that it possesses the will and the military capacity to deter the Kremlin, stop Putin and his proxies, and survive as an independent democratic state.

Trusting or Containing Putin?

Now that the first step toward a negotiated settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war may have been reached in Minsk, the question of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reliability as a negotiating partner should be on everyone’s mind.

In a word, can he be trusted with anything? The answer, unfortunately, is no—for several important reasons.

First, by invading and annexing the Crimea, Putin violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, in which Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom agreed to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for Ukraine’s adherence to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Putin’s subsequent justification—that the Maidan Revolution ushered in a new Ukrainian state that was not a signatory of the memorandum—was a preposterous claim that, if generalized, would subvert every treaty ever signed. Subsequently, Putin also violated the April 17th Geneva accords and the September 5th Minsk Protocol, both of which outlined specific steps toward defusing the conflict.

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