Friday, April 30, 2010

Russia is on a roll, feeling truly imperial with the "little Russians" next door in Ukraine.  The new president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, has acted more like Ded Moroz, handing out gift after gift to the Kremlin.  First and foremost, there was the quarter century extension to the lease for the Russian Black Sea fleet at the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.  Ukraine's opposition accused Yanukovich of selling out the country's sovereignty for cheap Russian gas.  While maybe not as explosive but more symbolic, Yanukovich assuaged Russian sensibilities again, opining that the 1930s famine was not a genocide as most Ukrainians feel and the country's parliament has ruled.  And now it's Moscow's turn to add to Ukraine's humiliation.  Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants the Russian gas giant Gazprom to swallow up Ukraine's gas transit system.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yanukovych Says Ukrainian Famine Not Genocide

It's been a good week for Moscow vis-a-vis ties with their Slavic brethren in Ukraine.  First, the Kremlin secured a 25-year extension to the lease for its Black Sea fleet.  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin smirked smugly as Ukrainian lawmakers rocked and socked amid the a haze from smoke bombs to ratify the extension, which opposition gadflies blasted as a sellout of Ukraine's sovereignty.  For Russia, Yanukovich was paying immediate dividends.  But he wasn't finished.  Now, Yanukovich has had a rethink on the Holodomor, the Stalin-era 1930s famine that Ukrainian patriots, as well as more than a dozen countries, have classified as a genocide.Yanukovich said that Holodomor was “a consequence of Stalin’s totalitarian regime,” but cannot be called genocide against any particular nation, since mass famine was a tragedy for all countries in the Soviet Union.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chernobyl Sarcophagus Cracking Up?

Twenty four years after a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the nightmare is far from over.  As another anniversary ticks by, attention for a moment turned to the former power plant and the threat it still poses.  In particular, the huge concrete sarcophagus that entombed the destroyed the reactor.  The concrete was plastered together pell mell after the accident and the work was roughshod.  Not surprisingly, the concrete tomb hasn't held up well, and needs to be replaced, or else it could all come crumbling down, unleashing radiation still trapped inside.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ukraine On the Brink?

Fisticuffs, smoke bombs, and a legislator hiding behind an umbrella to avoid the barrage of eggs hurled his way.  Such was the scene Tuesday in Kiev, where Ukraine's law givers convened to ponder whether to allow Russia's Black Sea fleet to stay moored at Ukraine's port of Sevastopol for an addition 25 years.  The decision by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was a Faustian bargain.  Ukraine, tipped to the economic edge by the global financial crisis, is desperate to save money any way it can.  In return for the Black Sea fleet lease extension, Moscow is dropping gas prices to Ukraine about a third.  However, many Ukrainians, the more patriotic in the Western parts, see the pact as nothing more than a loss of sovereignty and act of treason. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bosnia Gets NATO Roadmap

The NATO leviathan wants more prey, and the elites in Bosnia are offering their fractured, internationally supervised state, on the military tray.  At a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Tallinn, Bosnia had the honor of being issued the dazzlingly named Membership Action Plan, or MAP, which spells out the dos and don'ts to joining the globe's preeminent war machine.  Amid a period of warming relations with Russia, NATO is doing its darnedest to piqued Russian paranoia.  Croatia and Albania were lassoed into NATO last year.  Montenegro got its own MAP back in December.  If the statelet of Montenegro and the basket case of Bosnia join, NATO jumps to 30 members. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Russian Black Sea Fleet To Remain In Ukraine Till 2042

The election of Viktor Yanukovich as president of Ukraine is starting to pay big time benefits to Russia.  In a bit of horse trading to secure lower prices for Russian gas deliveries, Yanukovich has agreed to allow the Russian Black Sea fleet to remain anchored at Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Sevastopol until 2042, tacking on a 25-year extension to a lease that was due to expire in 2017.  Yanukovych made the deal with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the eastern city of Kharkiv on April 22.  Brimming with glee over the deal, Medvedev said it would bring better European security to the Black Sea basin.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Poland Emerges From European Economic Meltdown

The financial tsunami has knocked down one European economy after another.  Greece is one heart beat away from economic ruin, an EU cash catheter keeping it alive.  Greece is part of a new acronym of the economic down-and-outers, including Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain, all mired in high unemployment and low growth.   In Hungary, frustrations over the economy catapulted into power a far-right party equipped with its own Nazi-like guard.  All is not gloom and doom, however.  But the good news can't be found among the sophisticated, and seasoned economies of western Europe.  Rather it is the former East Bloc, Poland, to be exact, that has weathered the storm the best.  Remember the fears of the Polish plumber?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pentagon Plans To 'Cover' Europe With Missile Shield By 2018

Thought U.S. anti-missile shield mumbo jumbo was jettisoned under the Nobel laureate, Barrack Obama?  Think again.  Far from trashed, U.S. missile plans are stronger than ever under the left-wing Obama.  A Pentagon official has said the U.S. anti-missile shield system will 'cover' the entire of Europe by 2018.  And another Pentagon official says the new START treaty on reducing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear missiles actually "reduces the constraints" on building such a system.  That is a huge sticking point between the Russians and Americans.  The Russians insist a link between START and anti-missile defense.  U.S. officials, not surprisingly, don't see it that way.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Where To Bury Poland's First Couple Causes Rifts

Maybe the shock is starting to wear off.  Losing many of their elites in a freak plane crash in fog in western Russia united Poles in grief and even had some rethinking views of Russia, so taken have they been by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 'embrace" of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk at the crash site in Smolensk.  While still numbed from the shock, Poles are pulling into separate camp over where President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, will be buried.  Many are upset the two will be interned at royal palace in Krakow, a site they say should remain only for Polish kings and truly outstanding Poles.  These people don't think Kaczynski and his wife rate for Wawel Castle.2,000 people protested Wednesday evening in Krakow against the decision.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nord Stream Construction Starts

In Europe's great pipeline sweepstakes, the Russians have taken a crucial step.  The Russians have moved beyond talk to construction.  Amid much pomp and circumstance, construction has started on the Nord Stream pipeline.  When completed, the 1,220-kilometer-long pipeline will be the world's longest to snake under the waves of a sea.  If all goes to plan, the pipeline will transport 27.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The 11-billion dollar project has been championed as a way of bypassing the political troubles surrounding the current Ukrainian supply route.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hungary's Far-Right Jobbik Wins Big At Polls

The people have spoken in Hungary in weekend elections.  And their message is sending chills through Europe.  The far-right Jobbik party won a very impressive 16.7 at the polls.  That's just a few points below the lame duck Socialists, who were kicked out of power by the center-right Fidesz.  Bubbly with success, Jobbik leader, Gabor Vona, vows “very distinct and very spectacular politics”. He said that Jobbik would work on “a solution to the problems around Gypsy-Hungarian coexistence. That means eradicating Gypsy crime”.   The Gyspies, or Roma, were a major plank in Jobbik's "patriotic" platform.  A message that strikes a cord with not only Hungarians, but many in Europe where Roma live.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Could Polish Air Tragedy Lead To Better Russian Polish Ties?

In the fog and trees of western Russia, Poland lost many of those who moved and shook that eastern European country.  The Saturday crash in Smolensk took the lives of President Lech Kaczynski, and dozens of other Polish political, military and religious leaders.  Poles are shocked and numbed, noting the bitter irony of the disaster.  Poland's who's who were on their way to commemorate victims of the Katyn massacre.  In 1940, Soviet secret police gunned down more than 20,000 Polish officers and other elites, effectively decapitating the ruling class.  And while completely at different ends of the scale spectrum, the target was the same: Polish elite.  And although one appears to be an accident, the other coldblooded mass murder, the two tragedies took place a stone's throw from the other.  But there is one other big difference.  Katyn painted the Russians as murderers and liars, just another seed of distrust, fear and hatred in these countries' stormy 500 years of ties.  However, the Smolensk plane tragedy has brought the two countries together if briefly, to share their grief and condolences.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Ukraine Officially Ends NATO Bid

The flag of the North Atlantic Treaty Organiza...Image via Wikipedia
You can stick a fork in Ukraine's bid to join the world's most powerful military pact, NATO, dashing Washington's dream, at least for now, of transforming the Black Sea into one big American lake. Viktor Yanukovich, the newly elected president, who has stated clearly he will steer a more easterly course than his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovich,abolished a few committee's working toward NATO membership.    Although these groups were insignificant, the symbolism of shutting them down is powerful: Moscow can breathe a bit easier, NATO will not deploy in this country of 46 million any time soon.  Yanukovich speaks of Ukraine being a 'bridge' between Europe and Russia, and NATO is not a building block in pursuit of that goal.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Russia And Slovakia Energy Pact Partners

Before he whisks into the locked-down Czech capital of Prague to sign a nuclear arms reduction treaty with U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has made a mostly overlooked, but important visit to neighboring Slovakia.  In Bratislava, Medvedev will attend ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the Slovak's capital's liberation from Nazi rule. He will also sign eight bilateral political and trade deals, including ones in the nuclear energy field where Russia has established profitable ties with Slovakia.  Medvedev has also used his visit to Bratislava to call for a new European security equation which factors in Moscow more. 

Monday, April 05, 2010

Obama To Meet East European Leaders In Prague

All attention in Prague later this week will laser in on the scripted signing ceremony by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev of a much buzzed about strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty.  It was in Prague a year ago when Obama set out his vision for a world with no such weapons for the weak, fewer for the strong, like Washington and Moscow.  So, the selection of Prague for the signing of the treaty to replace the 1991 START makes sense.  It makes sense on another level too.  The Czech Republic is one of Eastern Europe's Russophobe nations, which see any thawing of relations between Washington and Moscow as a potential softening of U.S. commitment to protect them from the Kremlin.  To allay those, many would say, unfound fears, Obama will also hold a summit with Eastern Europe leaders.  heads of state from eastern and central Europe in the city of spires.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Rising Rightwing Extremism In Eastern Europe?

Is eastern Europe threatened by a rising wave of rightwing extremism?  Human rights activists in the region think so, and point to violent attacks on Roma namely in Hungary, but the Czech Republic and Slovakia as well to back up their point.  A disturbing poll in Hungary shows more and more Hungarians turning to extremist solutions to solve society's problems, compounded now by the global financial mess.  In the Czech Republic, a rightwing extremist party has been banned for propagating hate.  But is eastern Europe any worse than the richer West?  Holland, the land of tulips, wooden clogs and windmills, also has a newfound affinity for rightwing extremism, as does Switzerland which has banned the building of mosques.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Belgian Protest Puts Spotlight On US Tactical Nukes In Europe

Amid all the hullabaloo over the signing by Russia and the United States of a new strategic nuclear arms treaty, scant attention has been paid to Europe's other weapon problem: tactical nuclear weapons, a Cold War-era relic.  On April 3, anti-nuke protesters in countries where U.S. nukes are based staged protests.  The biggest demo rocked Belgium, where police detained hundreds of protesters who tried to break into a military base where missiles are believed to be stored.