Germany’s strongman fires a shot across the bow of Vladimir Putin — and doesn’t hold back. What makes this article sting even more is that he teamed up with Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess master, who is also one of Putin’s most outspoken critics. In addition, another strongly made point when reading between the lines, is that he hinted that America has wimped out and no longer has the stomach to stand up for itself and face up to Putin’s political strong-arm tactics. Lastly, this article hints out that Russia has provoked Europe into filling the vacuum the United States has left behind in its retreat.
Although previously forced to step down due to a plagiarism scandal a few years ago, don’t count him out of politics of just yet. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is brilliantly skilled in politics and boasts a family background that could propel him as Germany’s next leader on bloodline alone, or even the EUs. Whether or not he’ll ascend to either of these, only time will tell. Here’s a quick quote to summarize this background:
“Beyond all this, Guttenberg and his wife have an intriguing and captivating family heritage. Karl-Theodor, as we’ve noted before, belongs to a wealthy aristocratic family whose bloodlines have been traced as far back as 1158. In 1700, Guttenberg’s forefathers were conferred the title Baron of the Holy Roman Empire. Guttenberg is also related to the Hapsburgs, another prominent royal dynasty that has a rich history with the Holy Roman Empire. Even today, KT owns an impressive castle that sits high on a hill overlooking the village of Guttenberg, Bavaria. The lineage of Stephanie Gräfin von Bismarck-Schönhausen is equally as impressive. Guttenberg’s wife is the great-great-granddaughter of Otto von Bismarck, the father of the modern German state and the first chancellor in the history of modern Germany.” — Source: The Trumpet
Since Vladimir Putin’s official return to power in 2012, the Russian President seems to have set his mind on teaching the rest of the world a few simple lessons. First, that he shall not be underestimated on the international stage; second, that Moscow will keep reasserting control over what it considers to be its legitimate sphere of influence for Russia; and finally, that he shall do whatever he pleases at home. To convey his message, Putin has supported a murderous dictator, lectured the U.S. about multilateralism, blackmailed his neighbors into accepting Moscow’s ironfisted embrace, inflamed anti-American and anti-gay sentiments, and brutally cracked down on dissidents.
From Syria and the Snowden saga to blatant human-rights violations and, most recently, pressuring Ukraine’s leadership into a sudden change of heart on its association with the E.U., Putin has managed to bedevil the West all year long. His latest clemency decision for some prominent critics of the regime, only two months before the Olympics in Sochi, lacks credibility; it is an arbitrary reflection of being at an autocrat’s mercy, not an act of mercy under the rule of law.
When it comes to the honorable title of Bully of the Year, the Russian President surely triumphed in 2013. But all too often bullies fail with their homework. Russia’s economy is crumbling. Moscow revised downward its economic outlook in December, the fourth time it did so last year. Growth, investment and industrial output are all below previously set targets, while inflation has risen to above 6%. This is not a short-term disturbance only, but the sign of the chronic shortfalls of a centralized and corrupt state. Russia seems to have completely misread the scale and pace of the energy revolution, and its overdependence on natural resources has now become an imminent threat to its economy.
And what is really happening to Russia’s standing in the world? It might be impossible to ignore Putin, but his behavior has hardly earned him any new friends — quite the contrary. A somewhat overlooked aspect of the contest over Ukraine is the role Berlin has played in it. Germany is the country that has often emphasized the importance of building bridges to Russia, and has come up with policies like “change through rapprochement.” But by now, Putin’s zero-sum game mentality and hard power push have provoked even the otherwise not-so-confrontational German Chancellor to take action. Germany has embraced the cause of Ukraine’s association with the E.U., it has offered to provide medical treatment for the imprisoned politician Yulia Tymoshenko, and its Foreign Minister traveled to Kiev to meet with demonstrators. While scoring a probably Pyrrhic victory, Putin has alienated an important partner. Ironically, he also achieved what no pleas from the U.S. President or fellow European leaders could do: Germany finally assumed leadership on a difficult foreign policy issue.
Whether they are real successes or not for Putin, recent events should serve as a wake-up call for leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. The U.S. should return to long-term and extensive foreign policy planning. The primary reason for Putin’s self-aggrandizing behavior is the astonishing leadership vacuum in the world. Washington’s recent preference to let other nations, including Russia, lead on international affairs has eroded the U.S.’s authority. However, the U.S. seems to slowly realize now that to influence Putin it must speak his language, that of power. Still, it has to use the right tools. The Magnitsky Act, designed to punish Russian officials for human-rights abuses, is one of the available tools, but so far Washington seems to lack the will to use it.
As for Europe, it finally seems to recognize that it needs to be capable of taking care of its own neighborhood. The frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space have been ignored for far too long. Why did it take a war in Georgia to realize that Tbilisi required more assistance from Europe? Why did it come as a surprise that Armenia, a country on the brink of an open confrontation with Azerbaijan, could be ruthlessly pressured into anything by Russia as long as Moscow is the one providing for its security? Will it now be spurred by another country retreating from the Eastern Partnership program, or will the E.U. face the problem of how vulnerable the Transnistria conflict makes Moldova?
Russia’s behavior toward Ukraine might hand Europe an opportunity to become more united and effective in its foreign policy. This would not be the first time Putin’s aggressive policies backfired. One of the most remarkable achievements of the E.U. recently is how it has learned to stand up against Gazprom’s monopolistic practices. A few years ago, the E.U.-Russia energy relations were all about the former’s defenselessness. Today, the news is about raids in Gazprom’s European offices, the European Commission’s plans to try the energy giant in an antitrust case and most recently, Brussels’ calls for the renegotiation of Gazprom’s bilateral agreements. As a result, it is now Gazprom that has started working toward a settlement with the E.U.
Full article: Putin Is Basking in an ‘Astonishing Leadership Vacuum’ (Time)