Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What's going on in Ukraine?

Is Ukraine close to jump into chaos? What are the possible outcomes of the situation? What can be done to stop more death? Who are the main strategists behind the protests?

Here are a couple of possible ideas:

The last evolutions

Ukraine won its theoretical independence from Russia 22 years ago, but Moscow's influence never ceased to make most of the games in the country. Especially the Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine, where most of the resources and heavy industry are concentrated, is under the influence of people with strong connections to Moscow, both in terms of business and politics. With a young generation aspiring to be part of Europe, and a political elite tributary to the old Soviet practices, the gap between reality and aspirations is huge and explains the current clashes.
The latest in the series of protests, the clashes from the last night are the last stage of 3-month protests. Organized around the main center - and according to many independent observers, the most corrupt - of power, the Parliament, the protests escalated into violences that lead to the dead of 25 people, among which policemen and possibly a journalist, and 241 injured. Vyacheslav Veremyi, the local correspondent of the pro-governmental Vesti was shot by masked men while returning home in a taxi. As in the case of many 'revolutionary movements' - such as Romania in 1989, Tunisia, Egypt - the 'whos' and 'whys' are less important right now. According to a late release by the OSCE, since the unrest started, around 165 journalists were targeted by the violences, 27 of them only in the last night.  
The outcome from Kiev created new centers of protests in the country, with demonstrations expected in the next hours in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil.
The main leaders of the opposition, Vitaly Klitschko and Arseny Yatsenyuk, had a discussion with the contested president, Viktor Yanukovich, without a truce on sight. This morning, the protesters, were ready for a new day of fights, while many European and international leaders called the leadership in Kiev warning with possible sanctions.

The story

There is a long historical complicated background that explains the current divisions. On December 8, a huge statue of Lenin in Kiev was toppled, but many don't know probably that there are plenty of many others Lenins all over the country, especially in the East. One of the most impressive - and frightening at the same time - is the one in the main square in Kharkiv, also considered one of the biggest squares in Europe. As everywhere, Lenin means more than an ideology - that most probably many aren't acquainted with at all, it is a clear symbol of allegiance to Moscow.
Russia never lost influence in Ukraine after the independence, mostly because it needs its resources and the strategical positioning of the country to keep away both NATO and EU. 
Since 2008, Ukraine is a candidate to NATO, despite the desperate protests of Russia, and is receiving through dedicated programs a significant support to implement civil and military reforms. 
Ukraine is included as part of the European Neighbourhood Policy and in the last years several deals for free trade and political associations were signed. The signature of an Association Agreement with the EU was delayed, probably following a discussion Yanukovitch had with Putin at Sochi recently, who also probably promised him a membership into the Eurasian Customs Union, with Belarus, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Viewed from Europe, this union may look as ridiculous as it is, but from Moscow, it is an important tool to create regional bodies to counter the EU influence. The spirit of CSI/USSR is not dead and when Russian-faithfully spin doctors are accusing the European Union of being a kind of Soviet Union, they know what they wish for.


Mid-November 2013, the Euromaidan was created, using the tools of the social media and gathering mostly young educated people having enough of the confused politics and corruption. After the 'Orange Revolution', who was anything but not a revolution as the former actors, among which, the then resigned prime minister Yanukovich, in 2004, those protests are the most significant and pro-European.
As for Europe, personified by the EU, it did not too much to help, probably afraid that the complicated corruption network will channel all the energies and help to Moscow. Generously, Putin offered a $15 billion bailout to Kiev and most probably is ready to offer even more. 
Brussels played the confused card of the European Partnership, often considered as an instrument created to temper both Russia and the pro-European elites, a sine die antechamber to full membership.
It is also possible that Brussels and Euromaidan are talking a different language: when some are generously speaking about trade and negotiations, the others are covering themselves in the EU flag and talking democracy and freedom. The same misunderstanding seems to characterize the dialogue between Moscow and Brussels, the EU bureaucrats never fully understanding that Putin's Russia is hardly involved in geopolitical games that in the West Europe have been abandoned for decades. 
As for the social society, since the 'Orange revolution', it changed and developed a lot, and learnt how to wisely use social media and the Internet. 


As many other local leaders born in the former Soviet Union, Yanukovitch has an adventurous biography. With a Russian mother and a Polish-Belarusian father, and Polish-Lithuanian family background, he spent some months in prison, for robbery and assault. His first language was Russian, and often he mentioned that Russian should be offered equal status with the Ukrainian language. Former governor of Donetsk Oblast and a protege of the not less controversial Leonid Kucima from whom probably he leaned how to eliminate his enemies. Shortly after winning the elections, he sent to prison the charismatic opponent Yulia Tymoshenko, for corruption (as she was connected with Russian oligarchs outside Yanukovich's own circle of 'friends').
Too much politics and deals can make you sick and at the end of January, Yanukovich took a leave due to acute respiratory illness and high fever.

The outcome

The protests continued and the future is unclear right now. Most of the online communication is blocked, and Yanukovich continues to claim that the protesters over passed a dangerous line. EU's indefatigable negotiator Catherine Ashton is hoping to obtain a peace truce, but Ukraine, and Russia in general, is not Iran. 
There are divisions and different interests, as well as more or less sympathy towards Russia in the EU; there are also divisions between NATO allies; there are equally divisions between various layers of oligarchs, political leaderships and regional centers of powers. And Russia pretends to know it all. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shirley Temple, the diplomat

The child actor, Shirley Temple, who died today at 85, has a lesser known diplomatic and politic activity behind the glamorous lights of Hollywood.
After starting to act at the age of 4, she stopped making movies in 1949. At 21, she remarried his second husband, Charles Black, a Californian businessman she met on Hawaii, who introduced her in the world of politics and with whom she shared 55 of her life.
In 1950s, together with her husband, she campaigned on behalf of Dwight D. Eisenhower-Richard M. Nixon. She ran for the Congress in 1967, but was not elected.

UN appointments

In 1969, she was appointed by Richard Nixon delegate to the UN. Already involved in several international cooperation on behalf of the Foundation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, she acquired not only a better network of relations, but also a certain knowledge of the international vocabulary of world affairs. She held various representation positions for the US, as deputy chair of the US Delegation to the UN conference on Human Environment in Stockholm (1970-1972), part of the US Delegation part of the Joint Commission of the USSR-USA Cooperative Treaty on the Environment, in 1972 and between 1972-1974 special assistant to the chairman of the US Council on Environmental Quality. From 1974-1976 she was the US ambassador to Ghana, getting involved in the development of economic relations with the US as well as regional cooperation in the region.
In 1976, Gerald Ford, for whom she campaigned, named her White House chief of protocol, the first such position ever held by a woman. 

Diplomat in Czechoslovakia

Between 1981-1988, during the mandate of Ronald Reagan, her co-star in That Hagen Girl (1947), she held various seminars and workshops for the first time diplomats and their wives. At the end of the public career, she was named by George W. Bush the US ambassador to Czechoslovakia, a country that she visited in 1968, during the Prague Spring, as a volunteer for her Foundation. She witnessed the tremendous changed this country went through, during the democratic transition and the split of the country. 
In an interview in 1999, she declared that even though 'initially', her mission was 'human rights, trying to keep people like future president Vaclav Havel out of jail', 'almost overnight, my concern become economics'.
In the Clinton era she ended her diplomatic active career, remaining a member of the symbolic American Academy of Diplomacy. 

Water makes the regional cooperation easier in the Middle East

At the end of the last year, at the beginning of December, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding at the headquarters of the World Bank in Washington DC aimed to improve the regional cooperation in terms of sharing water resources in the area. Even though at the first sight it looks technical and it has a lot of aspects that should be implemented in order to become operational, it is an important aspect of the dialogue in the area, that don't get usually too much attention. Even though many international media called it a 'rare display of regional cooperation', such a cooperation is a necessary part of the daily regional collaboration. 
The document was signed by the Regional Cooperation and Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom on behalf of Israel, the Jordanian Water and Irrigation Minister Hazem El-Nasser and the Palestinian Water Authority Minister, Shaddad Attilli. 
The idea of this project is discussed for about 20 years. 
It answers two main issues regarding the water resources in the region: the rapid contraction of the Dead Sea and the acute shortage of clear fresh water faced on a daily basis in Jordan. Due to the concerns outlined by many environmental organizations in the region, the added brine effects on the Dead Sea will be carefully monitored. 

The main terms

In its main terms, the agreement offers significant advantages to all parts, even though the practical strategy needs to be established over the next months. Particularly, it helps both Israel and Jordan to answer their immediate needs in terms of water supplies in the South (for Israel), respectively in the north of Jordan.
The most important provisions of the Memorandum is the development of a salination plan near Aqaba, that will contribute to sharing the potable water between Jordan and Israel. The salty brines will be pipelined to the Dead Sea.
Israel, on her side, will increase the annual releases of water from Lake Kineret to Jordan. Also, it will increase its sales of water to the Palestinian Authority, following the main lines of the Oslo Agreements.
The desalination plant will produce around 175 million cubic meters of water from the Red Sea, out of which 80 million cubic meter pro year of potable water. Around 50-60% of this quantity will be piped a few kilometres over to Israel. The price will probably be the subject of further discussions, as the Jordanian government needs to issue a tender for the location.
The water from Kinneret still needs an additional treatment in order to be turned into potable water. Nowadays, Israel releases around 50 million cubic meters of water from Lake Kinneret the year. 
As part of the seawater desalination process, 100 million cubic meters of resultant salty brines will be annually pipped into the Dead Sea. 
The precise costs for the construction are not known for the moment. The brine pipeline to the Dead Sea is evaluated at around $240 million and most probably will be financed by donor countries and organizations. World Bank would provide a bridge loan whose value is not known as for now.

Willy Brandt, a different politician

A couple of weeks ago I visited in the center of Berlin, close to the Brandenburg Gate, an interesting photo and audio exhibition dedicated to Willy Brandt. Among many other new and old politicians of the post WWII Germany, Brandt makes a special figure, being one of the few who were fully engaged against Nazi Germany and who constantly fought for a reinstatement of an united Germany on the world scene. The exhibition was extremely interesting, with many audio and video materials, besides documents and photos.

The political CV

Willy Brandt was born in 1913 in the rich and bourgeois city of Luebeck, in the North of Germany. Between 1933 and 1945 he went in exile in Sweden and Norway. Due to his anti-Nazi activities, he lost his citizenship, that he will receive back only at the end of the war. He returned incognito in Berlin at a certain moment, under the cover name of Herbert Frahm, trying to organize some resistance movement. 
While in exile, he tried to create an unified front of the left movement in Europe. He returned in Germany 1945 as a journalist to report about the Nuremberg process, and in 1947, he moved to Berlin where he worked for the Norwegian military mission. One year later, he received back his German citizenship.
Between 1957 and 1966 he was the mayor of Berlin. During his mandate he restored the Reichstag and Schloss Charlottenburg, among other urban projects aimed to rebuilt the city seriously affected by the intensive bombings. JFK appreciated his political influence and predicted that he will be the one to succeed chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Due to his good relations with the Americans, the political propaganda frequently accused him of being a 'marionette' of the Americans.
In 1971, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to prevent a nuclear war and launch bridges of dialogue with the East. He was the first social-democrat chancellor since 1930, a position he held from 1969 till 1974, when one of his closest aides were involved in an espionage scandal. 

'I work in order to regain 2 homelands'

Acknowledging the crimes made by Germany during WWII, Brandt outlined that being German means accepting political responsibility for the genocide of the Nazi era, but was against branding all the Germans as criminals. There are 'criminals and other Germans', he said.
Brandt played an important role in setting the main pillars of the nascent European community, successfully convincing France to accept the idea of the European community and expanding the dialogue not only with the Western allies, but also with the Eastern relatives such as Poland and Hungary. 
His personal life and frequent affairs were often used as a political weapon by his Christian Democrat counterparts. On the other side, he reacted by using the mean techniques of the American style that he embraced frequently for branding his political communication.
The policy towards East and its position towards East Germany particularly, was not always clearly understood. 'I work in order to regain 2 homelands', he used to say, but his recognition of the Oder-Neisse border brought him the accusations of treason. In 1972, he signed the treatise of good relations with the DDR. 
He pledged the cause of Ostpolitik to Nixon and Kissinger and was particularly appreciated at Moscow for his efforts to open doors of dialogue with the former foe. Years later, together with Gyula Horn and Alois Mock, he removed the borders of the Iron Curtain. 

The end of the affair

The end of his mandate of chancellor intervened in the middle of the Cold War tensions and was provoked by the discovery that Guenther Guillaume, a close aid and in charge with the relations with the trade unions was in fact a diligent spy of the DDR. Following the public scandal, Brandt - who said in his memoirs published later that he didn't 'sympathized' Guillaume whose ascension was considered rather the result of party dynamics- resigned as chancellor in 1974, but remained the chief of the party for almost another decade. 
Guillaume was an intelligent agent of Stasi, and a former member of the NSDAP. In 1956, together with his wife, he was sent under his real name in Germany and joined the Social Democratic Party in Frankfurt having a fast political ascension. Condemned to 13 years of prison, he spent only seven and half years without freedom, being subject to an exchange of prisoners. Back in the DDR, he was received with honours and awarded by Erich Honecker the order Karl Marx. In the reunited Germany, he was granted immunity to any further prosecutions and was a supportive witness in Markus Wolf trial in 1993. 
Markus Wolf, Guillaume's direct chef, considered later that the demission of Brandt was a mistake, and regretted in a letter sent to Brandt that 'the intelligence service of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) which was under my command, contributed to the extremely negative political events that led to your resignation in 1974'.

East German fears

According to archives made public in the last years, the KGB and Moscow in general weren't very keen of the change of Brandt with the more 'right' social-democrat Helmut Schmidt. Brandt opened many dialogue doors with Moscow and especially at certain levels within the KGB, he was considered a good partner for improving not only the political ties, but for an eventual economic and even military support for the old techniques used by the Soviets. 
On the other hand, the East Germans were afraid his policies will be made without them, while the West Germany will be the only 'German' voice in Europe. Very often, according to recent documents, Stasi used its 'intelligence' to project a bad image of the Ostpolitik to the Russians. Besides bugging the office of one of the authors of the Ostpolitik, Egon Bahr, who accompanied Brandt since he was the mayor of Berlin, they spent around $1 million to bribe German politicians to vote against the social-democratic policies in the Parliament. 
Most probably, the archives both in Germany and Moscow, still hide many interesting details about those even more interesting times. However, Brandt's role in the post-WWII Germany policies remains unchallenged. 

Hans-Joachim Noack, Willy Brandt, ein Leben, ein Jahrhundert
Willy Brandt, Erinnerungen