Allegations of Russian Meddling Resurface in Catalonia

Barcelona Spain
Aerial view of the the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Carles Rabada)

Allegations of Russian interference have swirled around the Catalan independence movement for the last three years.

I cautioned against exaggerating Russia’s role in 2017, when two million Catalans voted in a referendum that had been deemed illegal by the Spanish state to break away.

I still believe what I did then: that Russia is a convenient scapegoat for Spaniards who don’t want to understand why nearly one in two Catalans prefer their own republic.

“Easier to blame foreign manipulation than examine the root causes of Catalan separatism and the events which led to the current crisis,” I wrote — from the 2010 Constitutional Court ruling that overturned parts of Catalonia’s autonomy statute to former prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s years-long refusal to negotiate a revision of the charter to current prime minister Pedro Sánchez slow-walking his promise to do just that. Read more “Allegations of Russian Meddling Resurface in Catalonia”

Pressure Mounts on Merkel to Cancel Nord Stream 2

Vladimir Putin Angela Merkel
Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow, May 10, 2015 (Kremlin)

Pressure is mounting on Chancellor Angela Merkel to cancel the almost-completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which could double Russian gas exports to Germany.

Merkel has accused the Russian government of poisoning opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is recuperating in a Berlin hospital.

The obvious response, her critics say, would be to withdraw from a €10 billion project that makes Germany — Europe’s largest gas importer — more dependent on Russia. Read more “Pressure Mounts on Merkel to Cancel Nord Stream 2”

What Biden Would Mean for Russia

Joe Biden
American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech on board the USS Freedom in Singapore, July 27, 2013 (USN/Karolina A. Oseguera)

With Joe Biden favored to win the American presidential election in November, Vladimir Putin’s days of comfort may be coming to an end.

Unlike Donald Trump, who has coddled the Russian leader, accepted his denials of 2016 election interference and lifted sanctions on Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch who funded pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine (which were advised by later Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort), the Democrat considers Putin a “thug”, a “dictator” and a threat to “the foundations of Western democracy.”

Unlike Trump, who has given up America’s power to shame, Biden insists America should lead “not just by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” Read more “What Biden Would Mean for Russia”

Lukashenko Shouldn’t Expect Russia’s Help

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Voronezh, August 5, 2014 (Kremlin)

Alexander Lukashenko could have gone down in history as the father of the Belarusian state. Now “Europe’s last dictator” is on his last leg. A rigged election has unleashed unprecedented protests.

Desperate, Lukashenko has turned to his ally, Vladimir Putin, for help. Belarusian state media report that Russia has promised to provide military assistance if Lukashenko asks for it. This has sparked speculation that Russia might intervene in Belarus much as it did in Ukraine when its Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted in 2014.

That doesn’t seem likely. In fact, Russia may be better off with Lukashenko gone. Read more “Lukashenko Shouldn’t Expect Russia’s Help”

Pulling American Troops Out of Germany Is Another Gift to Putin

Donald Trump Vladimir Putin
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia meet in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (Kremlin)

Donald Trump has done his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, another favor by withdrawing almost 12,000 American troops from Germany, a third of the current deployment.

Fewer than half — 5,600 — are sent to other NATO countries, including Poland. Most will be pulled out of Europe altogether. An F-16 fighter squadron will be rebased in Italy.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper claims the decision is the outcome of long-term strategic planning and will somehow enhance “deterrence of Russia”.

President Trump revealed the real reason on Twitter:

Germany pays Russia billions of dollars a year for Energy, and we are supposed to protect Germany from Russia. What’s that all about? Also, Germany is very delinquent in their 2% fee to NATO. We are therefore moving some troops out of Germany!

This is nonsense. There is no NATO “fee”. Germany has for decades underinvested in its defense, relying on American protection, but until recently neither the United States nor Germany’s neighbors objected to the lack of German remilitarization. In 1990, the Western Allies and Russia conditioned their support for German reunification on the country keeping its defense force under 370,000 men. That ceiling remains in place. Read more “Pulling American Troops Out of Germany Is Another Gift to Putin”

Sino-American Rift Gives Russia an Opening

Vladimir Putin Xi Jinping
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China meet on the sidelines of a summit in Benaulim, India, October 15, 2016 (Kremlin)

Aside from causing a global humanitarian crisis, COVID-19 has deepened the rift between China and the United States. President Donald Trump has politicized the pandemic, calling it the “Chinese virus” and ordering the federal government’s main pension fund to stop investing in China.

Military conflict remains unlikely. Escalation is more likely to be economic and political — which is still costly, and gives America’s other nuclear-powered adversary, Russia, a chance to strengthen its ties with Beijing. Read more “Sino-American Rift Gives Russia an Opening”

Macron’s Idealistic Russia Pragmatism

Vladimir Putin Emmanuel Macron
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Emmanuel Macron of France meet outside the Palace of Versailles, May 29, 2017 (Elysée)

The 2020 Munich Security Conference saw French president Emmanuel Macron reaffirm his eagerness to turn Russia into a security partner, suggesting that “we have to restart a strategic dialogue.”

But Russia hasn’t been a part of Europe for a while and doesn’t belong in a conversation about European autonomy. The only thing that ties it to Europe is geography. Read more “Macron’s Idealistic Russia Pragmatism”

Who Is Russia’s New Prime Minister?

Moscow Russia
The sun rises over the Red Gate Building in Moscow, Russia (Unsplash/Jean Colet)

Mikhail Mishustin was largely unknown both in- and outside Russia until two weeks ago. The head of the Federal Tax Service since 2010, he was unexpectedly promoted to prime minister, replacing Vladimir Putin’s longtime deputy, Dmitri Medvedev.

Yet it was probably because, not in spite of, this political inexperience that Mishustin was chosen. Read more “Who Is Russia’s New Prime Minister?”

Why Putin Wants to Change Russia’s Constitution

Vladimir Putin Dmitri Medvedev
Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks with his prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, at his country residence outside Moscow, January 25, 2016 (Kremlin)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has called for a referendum to approve constitutional changes that would nominally hand more power to parliament.

The changes, if approved, might improve Russia’s rating in the Freedom House index, but democracy is probably not on his mind.

Only hours after his yearly address to the combined Federal Assembly, in which he made his proposals, Putin accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and replaced him with the little-known head of the Federal Tax Service, Mikhail Mishustin.

The moves have left both Russians and Russia experts wondering: what’s happening? And what’s next? Read more “Why Putin Wants to Change Russia’s Constitution”