Commentary Magazine


Topic: European Union

Twitter and Turkey’s Slide Into Dictatorship

The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been gradually chipping away at every vestige of democracy in that country for years. Independent press outlets have been suppressed and more journalists are in prison in Turkey than in any other place on earth. Political opponents of his AKP and much of the secular leadership of the military have been jailed, and demonstrators have been brutalized. Despite this terrible record the West, and in particular the Obama administration, have largely turned a blind eye to Turkey’s excesses. But by trying to ban the use of Twitter, Erdoğan may have finally picked a fight that he can’t win in the long run.

The Turkish government is standing by an order issued by a judge who is friendly to the prime minister to block the use of Twitter in Turkey. The reason for the effort is that social media, such as Twitter and YouTube, is the vehicle for spreading evidence of corruption by Erdoğan’s son and other prominent scions of the country’s Islamist elite. While social media plays an increasingly critical role in the spread of news throughout the free world, it is especially critical now in a country like Turkey because the mainstream press in that country has been effectively silenced by the dictatorial policies of the AKP and its leader. That forced the flow of information elsewhere and Erdoğan’s courts have responded with demands that Twitter and other venues remove the embarrassing content from their sites.

But by adopting a stand that undermines the notion that Turkey is a modern state that is ready to be integrated into the international economy and the European Union, Erdoğan may have worsened his problems rather than solve them. After 11 years in power during which he has ruthlessly wielded influence, the Turkish leader may have finally crossed the line that separates a feared dictator from a laughingstock. By banning Twitter, Erdoğan has begun to resemble a parody of a despot rather than the strongman who has transformed Turkey from a secular state to an Islamist tyranny.

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The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been gradually chipping away at every vestige of democracy in that country for years. Independent press outlets have been suppressed and more journalists are in prison in Turkey than in any other place on earth. Political opponents of his AKP and much of the secular leadership of the military have been jailed, and demonstrators have been brutalized. Despite this terrible record the West, and in particular the Obama administration, have largely turned a blind eye to Turkey’s excesses. But by trying to ban the use of Twitter, Erdoğan may have finally picked a fight that he can’t win in the long run.

The Turkish government is standing by an order issued by a judge who is friendly to the prime minister to block the use of Twitter in Turkey. The reason for the effort is that social media, such as Twitter and YouTube, is the vehicle for spreading evidence of corruption by Erdoğan’s son and other prominent scions of the country’s Islamist elite. While social media plays an increasingly critical role in the spread of news throughout the free world, it is especially critical now in a country like Turkey because the mainstream press in that country has been effectively silenced by the dictatorial policies of the AKP and its leader. That forced the flow of information elsewhere and Erdoğan’s courts have responded with demands that Twitter and other venues remove the embarrassing content from their sites.

But by adopting a stand that undermines the notion that Turkey is a modern state that is ready to be integrated into the international economy and the European Union, Erdoğan may have worsened his problems rather than solve them. After 11 years in power during which he has ruthlessly wielded influence, the Turkish leader may have finally crossed the line that separates a feared dictator from a laughingstock. By banning Twitter, Erdoğan has begun to resemble a parody of a despot rather than the strongman who has transformed Turkey from a secular state to an Islamist tyranny.

As the New York Times reports, his inability to suppress the incriminating information about his son and his regime has sent Erdoğan over the edge:

The shutdown, which Turks began to notice around midnight, occurred 10 days before local elections and came after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out at Twitter in an election rally in Bursa, a western town, on Thursday, saying that he did not care about international reactions if national security was at stake.

“Twitter, mwitter! We will wipe out roots of all,” Mr. Erdoğan declared in a campaign speech before the pivotal elections on March 30. “They say, ‘Sir, the international community can say this, can say that.’ I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the state of the Republic of Turkey is.”

Mr. Erdoğan had faced perhaps the biggest challenge in his 11 years in office when unidentified critics began using Twitter and YouTube to leak dozens of phone calls and documents that seemed to tie government officials and business circles close to the government to a graft inquiry that began last December.

One of the recordings purports to be of the prime minister himself telling his son to get rid of large sums of cash on the morning of Dec. 17, when the homes of three former ministers’ sons were raided. Mr. Erdoğan has repeatedly — and angrily — insisted that the recording was fake.

This is far from the first instance of Erdoğan’s dictatorial manner. He has run roughshod over all legal opposition and shut down journalistic outlets that were not in his pocket. But perhaps by taking on the popular social media in such an absurd and transparently self-interested manner, a turning point may be reached on international opinion of his regime.

This is, after all, the same man President Obama described as his best friend among foreign leaders. While other Western heads of state were not quite so fulsome in their praise for Erdoğan, the result was the same, as the AKP’s excesses at home and its support for Hamas in Gaza were ignored because of Turkey’s membership in NATO and its role in supporting opposition to the Assad regime.

While the United States has slowly started to edge away from Erdoğan, Washington needs to do more now than merely state its displeasure with the antics of the president’s friend. The same applies to Turkey’s bid for EU membership. Relations with this increasingly despotic Islamist state need to be put on hold until the country and its dictator come to their senses.

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How Rational Is Putin’s Threat Perception?

During the Ukrainian election of 2004, Angus Roxburgh sat down with Sergei Markov, who was helping the pro-Putin candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, at the behest of the Kremlin. Roxburgh, who describes the encounter in his book on Vladimir Putin, asked Markov what he thought of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. He could hardly believe the answer. Markov told him that he believed Yushchenko was completely controlled by his wife, who was a radical Ukrainian nationalist in league with Nazis and with Polish instigators who, through his wife, were installing Yushchenko in order to most likely start a war with Russia.

This is, to put it mildly, not the most rational assessment. Roxburgh continues: “These are quite astonishing claims, but they are important, for it is highly likely that Markov’s apocalyptic view was shared by his masters in the Kremlin.” That is, Vladimir Putin probably believed this nonsense. Putin is nothing if not paranoid–that chapter of Roxburgh’s book is called “Enemies Everywhere”–and his policies are often based on these kinds of ludicrous conspiracy theories. It’s worth recalling at this point that Yushchenko was poisoned during the election.

This is a recurring problem for the West in trying to predict Putin’s behavior. I noted yesterday that the idea that NATO expansion can or should be blamed for Putin’s behavior is not only amoral–those nations should have a say in their own affairs independent of the Kremlin–but nonsensical. And yet, after Russia invaded Ukraine in order to seize the Crimean peninsula and destabilize Ukrainian politics, we heard this canard again from various quarters. Today’s New York Times contains an important response to that claim in what is one of the best articles on the Ukraine crisis yet. The Times writes about European self-delusion toward both Russia and Ukraine, and adds with regard to the expansion of the European Union:

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During the Ukrainian election of 2004, Angus Roxburgh sat down with Sergei Markov, who was helping the pro-Putin candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, at the behest of the Kremlin. Roxburgh, who describes the encounter in his book on Vladimir Putin, asked Markov what he thought of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. He could hardly believe the answer. Markov told him that he believed Yushchenko was completely controlled by his wife, who was a radical Ukrainian nationalist in league with Nazis and with Polish instigators who, through his wife, were installing Yushchenko in order to most likely start a war with Russia.

This is, to put it mildly, not the most rational assessment. Roxburgh continues: “These are quite astonishing claims, but they are important, for it is highly likely that Markov’s apocalyptic view was shared by his masters in the Kremlin.” That is, Vladimir Putin probably believed this nonsense. Putin is nothing if not paranoid–that chapter of Roxburgh’s book is called “Enemies Everywhere”–and his policies are often based on these kinds of ludicrous conspiracy theories. It’s worth recalling at this point that Yushchenko was poisoned during the election.

This is a recurring problem for the West in trying to predict Putin’s behavior. I noted yesterday that the idea that NATO expansion can or should be blamed for Putin’s behavior is not only amoral–those nations should have a say in their own affairs independent of the Kremlin–but nonsensical. And yet, after Russia invaded Ukraine in order to seize the Crimean peninsula and destabilize Ukrainian politics, we heard this canard again from various quarters. Today’s New York Times contains an important response to that claim in what is one of the best articles on the Ukraine crisis yet. The Times writes about European self-delusion toward both Russia and Ukraine, and adds with regard to the expansion of the European Union:

“But once a country signs up, it is in Weight Watchers and, if they follow the regimen, they change,” she said. “Russia realized this and did not like it.” Indeed, she added, Russia had already been deeply alarmed by the transformation of countries like Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after they entered the European Union in 2004.

Their joining the European Union was followed swiftly by their admission to NATO, a sequence that strengthened Moscow’s view that Brussels served as a stalking horse for the American-led military alliance.

In the case of Ukraine, Europe never offered even the possibility of it one day joining the European Union, and NATO dropped Ukraine as a potential future member back in 2008. This raised hopes in Brussels that Moscow might not object too strongly. Russia initially expressed little unease about Europe’s Eastern Partnership plans, lulling Europe into a false sense of clear sailing ahead.

After Mr. Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012, after a four-year stint as prime minister, previous talk of shared interests in free trade and close cooperation gave way to increasingly forceful calls for the establishment of a Moscow-dominated rival to the European Union called the Eurasian Union.

By last summer, Moscow embarked on a sustained campaign of pressure to dissuade former Soviet lands, including Ukraine, from siding with Europe.

The whole article is worth reading, especially for its portrayal of Brussels as hopelessly naïve to the point of negligence in its conduct of foreign affairs. But the point about economic ties throwing up red flags in the Kremlin is an important one. Russia had been “deeply alarmed” by the financial success of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. It proved, it seemed, that breaking away from Moscow in favor of the West was the way to improve life for your citizens.

Latvia, no matter when it was admitted to NATO, has no plans to invade Russia. And anyway the argument that Putin’s Russia reacts to perceived threats to its security is not one that should govern the West’s conduct, for two main reasons: first, Putin’s perception of risk is not rational, and second, Putin includes economic integration and improvement in his overall assessment of foreign security threats. Hence the Eurasian Union proposal. Putin sees countries as either collaborators or competitors. There is no such thing as neutrality, there is only loyalty and disloyalty.

If Putin sees economic cooperation as a prelude to military cooperation, should the West also cease expanding economic ties with countries Putin wants to control? Ukraine is in Europe; should Europe not be permitted to trade freely with a European country if that’s what both want? What this saga (and the Times piece) makes clear is that Putin does not want to see his neighbors thrive economically or their living standard improved independent from Moscow’s direction.

In other words, what Putin wants is not a multipolar world but a bipolar world; he simply exploits the West’s desire for a multipolar world in order to draw the line as far from Moscow as he can. The Times suggests this whole incident is a wake-up call for Brussels. It should also be one for Washington, which has not been free of its own wishful thinking toward Putin’s Russia.

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EU Report Demonizes Israel as Threatening Regional Security

The European Union has released a breathtaking and spurious report on the present situation in Gaza, one that is disproportionately malicious even by European standards. The report attempts to give the impression of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which it quite predictably blames on Israel, and claims that this crisis has implications for destabilizing the security of the entire region. Once again, Europeans are attempting to blame Jews and their state for the wider problems of the world. Perhaps most shocking of all are the numerous ways in which this report seeks to legitimate the Hamas narrative.

The underlying thesis appears to be that Israel is implementing a blockade on Gaza, which must be lifted, or else there will be terrible consequences for all of us. Even if Europe’s allegations about the blockade were accurate, which they are not, what is particularly noteworthy about the report is the shameless way it seeks to frame Israel as the guilty party. Apparently allotting little or no responsibility to Hamas–which only governs the place after all–the report accuses that, “Israel bears the prime responsibility for the situation in Gaza.” Yet this cannot possibly be the case. Gaza has a border with Egypt, one that the Egyptians have policed more stringently at some times than others, depending on who has been governing there. Even if the most severe siege was being inflicted against Gaza, it could not be maintained without the participation of both countries. One cannot be more to blame than the other. Yet, the European report tarnishes Israel nonetheless.

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The European Union has released a breathtaking and spurious report on the present situation in Gaza, one that is disproportionately malicious even by European standards. The report attempts to give the impression of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which it quite predictably blames on Israel, and claims that this crisis has implications for destabilizing the security of the entire region. Once again, Europeans are attempting to blame Jews and their state for the wider problems of the world. Perhaps most shocking of all are the numerous ways in which this report seeks to legitimate the Hamas narrative.

The underlying thesis appears to be that Israel is implementing a blockade on Gaza, which must be lifted, or else there will be terrible consequences for all of us. Even if Europe’s allegations about the blockade were accurate, which they are not, what is particularly noteworthy about the report is the shameless way it seeks to frame Israel as the guilty party. Apparently allotting little or no responsibility to Hamas–which only governs the place after all–the report accuses that, “Israel bears the prime responsibility for the situation in Gaza.” Yet this cannot possibly be the case. Gaza has a border with Egypt, one that the Egyptians have policed more stringently at some times than others, depending on who has been governing there. Even if the most severe siege was being inflicted against Gaza, it could not be maintained without the participation of both countries. One cannot be more to blame than the other. Yet, the European report tarnishes Israel nonetheless.

That said, the report does also seek to criticize Egypt, yet it does so on the most extraordinary account. In recent months Egyptian authorities have gone to great lengths to shut down vast networks of illegal smuggling tunnels that exist beneath the Rafah border. These are the tunnels used to bring lethal weapons into the Islamist-run enclave. The Iranian-supplied arms aboard the ship seized by Israel in recent days were intended to enter Gaza via these very tunnels. This report, however, alleges that these tunnels provided 80 percent of Gaza’s food and medical supplies. By presenting the closure of the terror tunnels as a lamentable move, the EU report seeks to legitimize the means by which terrorists arm themselves against Israeli civilians.

More to the point, the report’s underlying claim about the blockade of such essential items is simply untrue. Not only have the restrictions on goods allowed into Gaza been greatly relaxed in recent years, there was never any blockade on such humanitarian items as medical supplies in the first place. Even during the intensity of the fighting of the 2009 war in Gaza, Israel held daily ceasefires for bringing such supplies into Gaza.

When flowers and fruits grown in Gaza are on sale in Europe, it is the height of European hypocrisy to claim that there is a “pressing humanitarian situation” and “increased food insecurity” in the Gaza Strip. Goods and people are allowed to cross between Israel and Gaza all the time. Weapons are not permitted into Gaza, nor are dual-use items that could be used for military purposes, which includes certain building materials—although Israel does permit building materials for internationally approved projects. But with little else to focus on, the report makes misleading claims about fuel supplies and bemoans Gaza’s ailing construction industry.

Given that this report attempts to argue that Israel is instigating a crisis that could have dire consequences for the entire region, it seems to essentially be making the bizarre claim that if construction workers in Gaza remain idle much longer then there will be some kind of security catastrophe. As is so typical of European policy toward the region, the positions taken in this report are a moral and logical inversion. The report insists that if Israel does not ease it restrictions on the Gaza border still further then there could be serious consequences for stability and security. Quite the opposite is the case. Israel’s restrictions are entirely necessitated by security concerns; easing them or not cracking down on smuggling tunnels would allow for a flow of weapons and related materials to militants that would only facilitate more terrorist violence, more insecurity, and more instability.

Yet, the report also calls for reconciliation between the listed terrorist organization Hamas and the only marginally more moderate Fatah, which currently runs the Palestinian Authority and is engaged in U.S.-sponsored talks with Israel. If Hamas were to join the already intransigent Fatah, then what remains of the peace process would likely disintegrate altogether.   

This EU report attempts to cast Israel as irresponsibly enforcing a blockade that jeopardizes the security of the entire region. In fact, emboldening Islamists by legitimizing their demands and narrative, or challenging security arrangements that keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists, is what really threatens stability in the area. Yet, given the Europeans’ ever more warped view of Israel, we should have expected nothing less.  

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There’s Plenty the U.S. Can Do About Putin

Vladimir Putin doesn’t seem to be terribly impressed by the State Department’s decision to ban visas for all those involved in undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity–nor by the EU’s decision to freeze the assets of deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and 17 of his closest aides and family members.

The Kremlin is pushing ahead with a referendum, now scheduled for March 17. That vote is almost certain to result in the people of Crimea voting to join the Russian Federation. That is the way of votes held at gunpoint, although even without a Russian troop occupation the Crimeans, most of whom are Russian speakers, might have voted to join Russia anyway.

There is, it seems, little the West can do to evict the Russian troops—pardon me, “local self defense forces” that just happen to be wearing Russian army uniforms–from the territory they have seized in recent days. But there is much more that the West could be doing to make Russia pay a higher cost for its brazen aggression.

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Vladimir Putin doesn’t seem to be terribly impressed by the State Department’s decision to ban visas for all those involved in undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity–nor by the EU’s decision to freeze the assets of deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and 17 of his closest aides and family members.

The Kremlin is pushing ahead with a referendum, now scheduled for March 17. That vote is almost certain to result in the people of Crimea voting to join the Russian Federation. That is the way of votes held at gunpoint, although even without a Russian troop occupation the Crimeans, most of whom are Russian speakers, might have voted to join Russia anyway.

There is, it seems, little the West can do to evict the Russian troops—pardon me, “local self defense forces” that just happen to be wearing Russian army uniforms–from the territory they have seized in recent days. But there is much more that the West could be doing to make Russia pay a higher cost for its brazen aggression.

The Treasury Department, for a start, could ban all Russian financial institutions from interacting with the U.S. banking system and force other countries to comply on threat of being denied access to the American market as well. Britain, whose capital is home to a vast amount of Russian money (just think of how many oligarchs own fancy apartments and sports teams in Britain), could freeze the assets of many of Putin’s cronies. France could stop building two amphibious assault carriers for the Russian Navy that will allow Putin to project power more easily into places like Ukraine. NATO could announce that it is beefing up its forces in Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic Republics, including stationing US troops there for the first time, to make clear that Russia cannot invade NATO members as it invaded Ukraine. The U.S. could announce a total suspension of all diplomatic contacts with Russia and refuse to send an ambassador to Moscow to replace the recently departed Michael McFaul.

And those are just actions (with the partial exception of the NATO troop move) that could be taken by countries that are not as heavily reliant as Germany on Russian shipments of natural gas. (Although if Putin were to stop shipping the gas he would face a crippling loss of revenue, so he’s not likely to do that.) But none of this is being done, at least not yet. Instead the Europeans, who have most of the leverage here because of their greater business dealings with Russia, are as usual trying to find a way to keep talking rather than acting. At least the EU has decided to cough up $15 billion in a rescue package for the new pro-Western government in Ukraine. Washington is kicking in another $1 billion. That’s a significant step to help steer Ukraine toward the West.

But the Europeans, along with the Obama administration, are missing the imperative to inflict significant harm–economic, political, and diplomatic–on Moscow in retaliation for its aggression. This is necessary whether or not such pressure forces Russia to disgorge Crimea. It is necessary to send a signal to other countries that aggression does not pay.

That signal was sent clearly in 1990-1991 when the George HW Bush administration organized an international coalition to evict Saddam Hussein’s troops from Kuwait. But the signal is being attenuated as Putin continues to use salami-slicing tactics to take one bit of territory after another–first a chunk of Georgia, now a chunk of Ukraine, whatever next? Nobody is suggesting, of course, using military force: Russia is not Iraq. It is a nuclear-armed state with a large military and war would be unthinkable. But there are plenty of options between appeasement and launching World War III that could be usefully implemented, and they should be, whether Russia decides to advance beyond Crimea or not.

Putin is no Hitler but remember how in the 1930s World War II became inevitable because Hitler was not stopped in time. Every time he tried a fresh provocation–rearming in violation of the Versailles Treaty, reoccupying the Rhineland, Anschluss with Austria, seizing the Sudetenland–he received no pushback from the West so he decided he could keep going. Today we should be worried about sending such a permissive message not only to Russia but also to other states such as Iran, North Korea, and China that are carefully watching this drama unfold. As Eliot Cohen notes: “If Russia can rip off a limb with impunity, why can’t China do the same with the Senkaku Islands?”

 The West needs to stop its rush to reestablish cordial relations with Russia. However discomfiting it might be to ratchet up tensions in the short term, the long-term result is likely to make peace more, not less, likely.

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A Turning Point in Ukraine?

The horrific bloodshed in Kiev on Thursday, which left at least 70 people dead, was followed on Friday by a tentative accord between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders which mandates “early presidential elections, a coalition government and reduction of presidential power through constitutional reforms.”

It would be good if the accord sticks, in order to prevent further fighting, but at this point it is far from clear that it will do so. It was only on Wednesday, after all, that a previous truce had been announced, and then just as promptly broken. It is clear, however, that at least for now Yanukovych has temporarily disappointed his backers in the Kremlin by refusing to declare “emergency powers” and call in the army to clear out demonstrators from central Kiev after his police force failed to get the job done. Indeed, the rebellion has spread beyond the capital, with demonstrators seizing control of government buildings, including police stations, across western Ukraine–i.e., the mostly Ukrainian-speaking and Western-leaning portion of the country.

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The horrific bloodshed in Kiev on Thursday, which left at least 70 people dead, was followed on Friday by a tentative accord between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders which mandates “early presidential elections, a coalition government and reduction of presidential power through constitutional reforms.”

It would be good if the accord sticks, in order to prevent further fighting, but at this point it is far from clear that it will do so. It was only on Wednesday, after all, that a previous truce had been announced, and then just as promptly broken. It is clear, however, that at least for now Yanukovych has temporarily disappointed his backers in the Kremlin by refusing to declare “emergency powers” and call in the army to clear out demonstrators from central Kiev after his police force failed to get the job done. Indeed, the rebellion has spread beyond the capital, with demonstrators seizing control of government buildings, including police stations, across western Ukraine–i.e., the mostly Ukrainian-speaking and Western-leaning portion of the country.

Not only has Yanukovych lost control of the streets, he has lost, at least for now, control of parliament too, where opposition leaders and defectors from the pro-government party got together on Thursday to pass a resolution calling on interior Ministry troops and police officers to return to their posts and telling Yanukovych he did not have the power to declare a state of emergency without lawmakers’ approval.

It is far from clear that this crisis will have a good outcome–the best outcome being a negotiated transfer of power to a more pro-Western, democratic government committed to rooting out corruption, instituting the rule of law, and moving Ukraine into closer association with the European Union. But already it is clear that Yanukovych and his No. 1 supporter, Vladimir Putin, have suffered an embarrassing rebuke, which clearly demonstrates that Ukraine is no Russia. It is, in other words, not a place where people will gladly trade all hope of freedom for the false allure of “stability” and temporary prosperity. It is, instead, a land of heroes where many are willing, like America’s own Founding Fathers or like freedom fighters in lands from Egypt to Burma, to risk their lives and their liberty in order to make their country free.

The example of Egypt shows how easily such aspirations can be perverted and undermined. But sometimes, just sometimes, the wishes of the people for freedom and opportunity do result in the kind of government which can make those aspirations into reality. Let us hope Ukraine will be one of those places where revolutionary ferment produces lasting and positive change, but if it is to happen, the people of Ukraine will need outside assistance, if only to counterbalance the assistance that the forces of repression receive from Russia.

In recent days the EU and the U.S. have taken a positive step by instituting travel bans and other limited sanctions on those responsible for the violence in Kiev. But more must be done. As I have argued before, the U.S. and the EU need to present a financial package to Ukraine to make up some of the losses if it winds up rejecting Russia’s $15 billion bribe, er, subsidy. Of course the West cannot blindly shower euros or dollars on Kiev, but it should make clear that if Ukraine does the right things–if it sticks to the current accord for peaceful political change and if it moves into closer alignment with the EU–there will be more than good wishes delivered in return.

The failure of the U.S., the EU, and associated institutions, such as the IMF, to make good on such a pledge–to offer a conditional financial aid package to help rescue Ukraine from its immediate economic woes–is puzzling and shameful especially when you recall how the EU was willing to pump so much money into Greece, a much smaller and less important nation. The battle for Ukraine remains at a tipping point and it is up to Western leaders to show resolve and vision in helping the people of this impoverished and embattled country to achieve their highest aspirations.

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Losing Ukraine

The battle for Ukraine has resumed, more violently than ever. Riot police, assisted by “young men in jeans wearing medical masks and carrying pipes and baseball bats,” have broken through barricades in Kiev’s Independence Square. Demonstrators armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails are fighting back and preliminary reports are that at least nine people (seven demonstrators, two police officers) have been killed. Clouds of black smoke are said to be rising over the parliament building, the result of tires set alight by anti-government protesters.

So much for attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the two-month showdown. President Viktor F. Yanukovych, after wavering a bit, appears to have been emboldened to take violent action, no doubt encouraged by Moscow’s decision to resume its subsidies to his government, worth a total of $15 billion, by buying another $2 billion in Ukrainian bonds.

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The battle for Ukraine has resumed, more violently than ever. Riot police, assisted by “young men in jeans wearing medical masks and carrying pipes and baseball bats,” have broken through barricades in Kiev’s Independence Square. Demonstrators armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails are fighting back and preliminary reports are that at least nine people (seven demonstrators, two police officers) have been killed. Clouds of black smoke are said to be rising over the parliament building, the result of tires set alight by anti-government protesters.

So much for attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the two-month showdown. President Viktor F. Yanukovych, after wavering a bit, appears to have been emboldened to take violent action, no doubt encouraged by Moscow’s decision to resume its subsidies to his government, worth a total of $15 billion, by buying another $2 billion in Ukrainian bonds.

And where is the West in all this? While all this was going on in Kiev, two opposition leaders, Arseny P. Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko, were meeting in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The reception they received is nice, but it’s no substitute for an economic aid package to convince Ukrainians that they can get a better deal out of the EU than out of Russia. Both the EU and the U.S. are said to have been working on such a package but behind-the scenes negotiations have produced scant results–which is perhaps why Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was heard cursing on an illicitly taped conversation, “F— the EU.”

But it is not just the EU that is failing to show leadership. So too with the U.S., with a president distracted by numerous crises at home and abroad, ranging from the birthing pangs of his health-care plan to the latest slaughter in Syria. Amid all these other problems, it is hard for Ukraine to get the attention it deserves. But don’t forget, this is a country of almost 45 million people, which was once the second-largest republic in the Soviet Union and today remains the biggest prize on the borderland between Russia and the West–between Putinism and freedom. The U.S. and its European allies have a major stake in making sure that Ukraine does not once again revert to de facto Russian control, but to avert that fate will require more political leadership starting in Washington.

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Answering Casual Anti-Israel Libels

Amid the avalanche of anti-Israel incitement from European sources on a daily basis, Martin Schulz’s comments about Israeli water usage and Gaza might not have drawn much attention if he had not uttered them in German when speaking before a session of the Knesset. Schulz, the president of the European Union parliament, was in Israel for a goodwill visit and most of his address to Israel’s lawmakers yesterday was fairly innocuous. He praised Israel’s democracy, decried terrorism, opposed Iran’s attempt to gain nuclear weapons and called for a two-state solution that would end the conflict with the Palestinians. So far, so good. But then, almost as a throwaway line, the German politician, who is a candidate for president of the far more powerful European Commission that runs the EU, claimed that Israel was not only stealing Palestinian water but restricting the supply used by Arabs. He also lamented what he said was Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza, an implicit accusation that it was causing a humanitarian crisis there.

As it turns out, Schultz’s accusation that Israelis use 70 liters of water a day and the Palestinians only 17 was not fact-checked before he uttered it. While there are various estimates of water use, even the lowest figures for the Palestinians are more than four times that number and others as high as six times. Talk about a blockade of Gaza, which is supplied with electricity by Israel as well as daily shipments of food and medicine, is similarly misleading. Why would a high-ranking EU official casually toss of such phrases and then express surprise and anger when some of the Knesset members present responded by angrily walking out? The answer goes deeper than a discussion of the admittedly difficult subject of water allocation or the facts about Gaza. What Schulz’s speech shows is how pervasive anti-Israel invective has become. If even a politician looking to mend fences thinks there’s nothing offensive about saying such things, this should serve as a wake-up call to Israel’s friends that they must redouble their efforts to tell the truth about the Jewish state and the Middle East conflict.

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Amid the avalanche of anti-Israel incitement from European sources on a daily basis, Martin Schulz’s comments about Israeli water usage and Gaza might not have drawn much attention if he had not uttered them in German when speaking before a session of the Knesset. Schulz, the president of the European Union parliament, was in Israel for a goodwill visit and most of his address to Israel’s lawmakers yesterday was fairly innocuous. He praised Israel’s democracy, decried terrorism, opposed Iran’s attempt to gain nuclear weapons and called for a two-state solution that would end the conflict with the Palestinians. So far, so good. But then, almost as a throwaway line, the German politician, who is a candidate for president of the far more powerful European Commission that runs the EU, claimed that Israel was not only stealing Palestinian water but restricting the supply used by Arabs. He also lamented what he said was Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza, an implicit accusation that it was causing a humanitarian crisis there.

As it turns out, Schultz’s accusation that Israelis use 70 liters of water a day and the Palestinians only 17 was not fact-checked before he uttered it. While there are various estimates of water use, even the lowest figures for the Palestinians are more than four times that number and others as high as six times. Talk about a blockade of Gaza, which is supplied with electricity by Israel as well as daily shipments of food and medicine, is similarly misleading. Why would a high-ranking EU official casually toss of such phrases and then express surprise and anger when some of the Knesset members present responded by angrily walking out? The answer goes deeper than a discussion of the admittedly difficult subject of water allocation or the facts about Gaza. What Schulz’s speech shows is how pervasive anti-Israel invective has become. If even a politician looking to mend fences thinks there’s nothing offensive about saying such things, this should serve as a wake-up call to Israel’s friends that they must redouble their efforts to tell the truth about the Jewish state and the Middle East conflict.

As the Times of Israel reported today, Schulz’s comments about water allocation were completely false. While Palestinians have access to far more water than he claimed, it’s true that Israeli consumers are served better because of the country’s vast desalinization efforts. Palestinians are also handicapped by the corruption and incompetence of governments in the West Bank and Gaza that prize confrontation with Israel over development. The situation would be rectified by peace, but this aspect of life in the region, like so many others, has been held hostage by Palestinian intransigence that makes a solution to the conflict impossible.

Nevertheless, many Israelis were embarrassed by the Knesset walkout as well as by the intemperate response of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who didn’t hesitate to invoke Germany’s past when be blasted Schulz:

I will not accept a false moralizing narrative against Israel in our parliament, in our Knesset. Certainly not in German.

Bennett’s words probably didn’t win the Jewish state any new friends in Germany. But rather than focus on his lack of diplomatic finesse, the lesson here has to do with a failure of information rather than of good manners.

Many Israelis and their friends abroad have focused in recent years on efforts to “rebrand” their country as an attractive tourist destination or a source of high-tech innovation. Others have insisted that Israel’s image will never be improved until peace with the Palestinians has been reached. These strategies have helped instill a certain degree of complacency, if not apathy in a pro-Israel community that has come to accept slanders and false information about the Jewish state as something that is bad but about which nothing can be done.

It is true that much of the anti-Israeli invective coming out of Europe has its roots in anti-Semitism, whether imported from the Middle East by immigrants or the product of anti-Zionist incitement from intellectual and academic elites. But the offhand nature of Schulz’s utterances should tell us that there is no substitute for an energetic effort on the part of Israelis and their foreign friends to answer any and all such libels. By assuming that intelligent people won’t believe slanders, they let lies like the water statistics become a form of conventional wisdom that is difficult to correct once accepted by the public.

It is not enough to get mad about speeches such as the one given by Schulz. The lies must be actively refuted. That won’t stop the deluge of hate speech directed at the Jewish state but it will make it harder for politicians like Schulz to create diplomatic incidents by passing along widely-held beliefs that are not true. 

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EU Shows Contempt for National Sovereignty, Democracy

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

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Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

As punishment for daring to express an opinion out of line with reigning federalist doctrine, Eurocrats have been threatening all kinds of retaliation. Most prominently, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, has warned that Switzerland’s economic ties with the EU could be jeopardized if it decides to implement the will of its voters. Part of the reaction is no doubt out of fear that the Swiss vote could exacerbate existing sentiments in other European countries who would like a pause in the policy of unrestricted immigration. In Britain in particular, public pressure led government ministers to broach the idea of setting a cap on the number immigrants who could come to Britain–or at least claim welfare there–when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU at the beginning of this year. Naturally, no such allowance was permitted by Brussels, which is curious, given that when Poland joined in 2004, Germany (usually such a staunch advocate of having a maximalist European superstate) defended its national interest and had immigration from Poland restricted.

The Swiss vote touches on two particularly sensitive issues for European federalists. First is the ardent belief in the abolition of nation-states through open-border policies, which by promoting mass migration ultimately deconstruct any sense of distinctive national identity between member countries. Second, and attached to this first program, comes the deep dislike of the democratic process for Europe in general and nation-states in particular. Democracy at the national level reinforces the idea that the elected parliaments of individual countries have a legitimate right to govern and claim sovereignty. More broadly, Eurocrats have a latent distrust of populism. They believe that they have divined the correct path for Europe’s shining future, a future that cannot be put at risk by the prejudices, petty interests, and backwardness of the public.

Switzerland’s citizens may think they know what immigration policy is best for their country. They’re wrong. This is another matter Brussels thinks it can decide for them.  

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Eavesdropping and Troublemaking

The European political class seems to have interrupted their bout of indignation at NSA eavesdropping to express indignation over a phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt in which Nuland is heard saying: “[It] would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it, and you know f*** the EU!”

And how is it that we have come to listen to Nuland’s private phone call on YouTube? No one is exactly sure but all the signs point to the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, since the audio was first highlighted in public by a Russian official and posted with Russian subtitles. As Nuland herself noted, “It was pretty impressive tradecraft. [The] audio quality was very good.”

The supposition of Russian responsibility was heightened by the fact that another telephone call has also surfaced on YouTube, this one featuring an EU foreign-policy official named Helga Schmid complaining about the U.S. to the EU ambassador to Kiev, Jan Tombinski. As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty notes: “The recording appears to show Schmid expressing annoyance at the United States for criticizing the EU for being ‘too soft’ to impose sanctions and other pressure tactics against Ukraine. ‘It’s very annoying,’ she adds.”

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The European political class seems to have interrupted their bout of indignation at NSA eavesdropping to express indignation over a phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt in which Nuland is heard saying: “[It] would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it, and you know f*** the EU!”

And how is it that we have come to listen to Nuland’s private phone call on YouTube? No one is exactly sure but all the signs point to the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, since the audio was first highlighted in public by a Russian official and posted with Russian subtitles. As Nuland herself noted, “It was pretty impressive tradecraft. [The] audio quality was very good.”

The supposition of Russian responsibility was heightened by the fact that another telephone call has also surfaced on YouTube, this one featuring an EU foreign-policy official named Helga Schmid complaining about the U.S. to the EU ambassador to Kiev, Jan Tombinski. As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty notes: “The recording appears to show Schmid expressing annoyance at the United States for criticizing the EU for being ‘too soft’ to impose sanctions and other pressure tactics against Ukraine. ‘It’s very annoying,’ she adds.”

This is the kind of harmless expression of frustration which is common in private conversations–and which is very different from the way anyone, much less a diplomat, speaks in public. Which is why there is widespread speculation the FSB leaked the calls so as to embarrass both Americans and Europeans and to drive a wedge between them, making it more difficult for them to counter the Russian power play in Ukraine.

Yet somehow much of the European outrage over the Nuland call has focused on the content of her conversation rather than the violation of her privacy. Europeans seem to be ignoring the obvious lesson here that the NSA is hardly alone in intercepting communications–and indeed other countries use such capabilities far more obnoxiously than the NSA does. But then it’s so much more fun to beat up on the big bad Americans rather than on the Russian, Chinese, or European intelligence services, all of which are very much in the eavesdropping business too. Don’t expect to hear a peep, of course, from that noted privacy champion Edward Snowden who happens to be living in Russia thanks to the hospitality of the Putin regime.

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Boycotts Driven By Hate, Not Settlements

Last week Secretary of State John Kerry raised the hackles of Israelis when he warned that if the Jewish state didn’t make enough concessions to allow him to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians it would be targeted for boycotts. The stark threat was partially walked back later by the State Department when it claimed Kerry was merely taking note of a development he opposes. But he made his point. Israelis are acutely aware that they are particularly vulnerable to economic pressure from their European trading partners. Nor has it failed to come their attention that the BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—movement in Europe has been recently gaining ground. Though the administration must oppose such boycotts, Kerry’s remarks conferred a spurious legitimacy to the BDSers who will push to isolate Israel no matter who is to blame for the failure of Kerry’s initiative.

Lest anyone miss Kerry’s point, it was repeated yesterday by the European Union’s ambassador to Israel. As the European Jewish Press reports, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson said the boycotts represented the will of the European people who already blame Israel and its settlement policy for the lack of peace rather than the intransigent Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In recent months, a Dutch pension fund severed relations with Israeli banks and the country’s largest water supply company also ended ties with Mekorot, Israel’s principal water company. But whether this is, as Faaborg-Anderson claimed, a spontaneous outburst of ill will from the citizens of EU countries or, as Kerry’s remarks implied, a more coordinated effort designed to bludgeon the Israelis into submission, the reality the Jewish state confronts is that it must be prepared for such boycotts no matter what happens in the negotiations. That’s because the driving force behind the support for these measures isn’t principled disagreement with Israeli policies but rather the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Last week Secretary of State John Kerry raised the hackles of Israelis when he warned that if the Jewish state didn’t make enough concessions to allow him to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians it would be targeted for boycotts. The stark threat was partially walked back later by the State Department when it claimed Kerry was merely taking note of a development he opposes. But he made his point. Israelis are acutely aware that they are particularly vulnerable to economic pressure from their European trading partners. Nor has it failed to come their attention that the BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—movement in Europe has been recently gaining ground. Though the administration must oppose such boycotts, Kerry’s remarks conferred a spurious legitimacy to the BDSers who will push to isolate Israel no matter who is to blame for the failure of Kerry’s initiative.

Lest anyone miss Kerry’s point, it was repeated yesterday by the European Union’s ambassador to Israel. As the European Jewish Press reports, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson said the boycotts represented the will of the European people who already blame Israel and its settlement policy for the lack of peace rather than the intransigent Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In recent months, a Dutch pension fund severed relations with Israeli banks and the country’s largest water supply company also ended ties with Mekorot, Israel’s principal water company. But whether this is, as Faaborg-Anderson claimed, a spontaneous outburst of ill will from the citizens of EU countries or, as Kerry’s remarks implied, a more coordinated effort designed to bludgeon the Israelis into submission, the reality the Jewish state confronts is that it must be prepared for such boycotts no matter what happens in the negotiations. That’s because the driving force behind the support for these measures isn’t principled disagreement with Israeli policies but rather the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Rumors floated by the Palestinians about such coordination between the U.S. and the EU are already making their way through the Middle East. But what Kerry left out of his warning is the plain fact that the impetus for such threats and the growing support for the boycott movement aren’t based on anything the Israelis are doing. While those warning Israel of the consequences of its settlement policy claim they are only responding to popular sentiment, the recent explosion of European anger over the settlements is, as it happens, strangely timed. Since Israel has just agreed to Kerry’s framework for negotiations—the ultimate goal of which is a peace deal with the Palestinians that will grant them a state in much of the West Bank—the existence of the settlements can’t logically be represented as an obstacle to peace. That’s a point that should have been made clear to the Europeans when the Palestinians rejected offers of statehood including a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Nor need one support the existence of all the settlements to understand that most of them—located in blocs near the 1967 lines—will remain within Israel in the event of a peace treaty.

So if the existence of the settlements doesn’t explain the recent upsurge in support for boycotting Israel, what does? The simple answer was supplied by the State Department when it described in its report on religious persecution a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” that was sweeping the continent. Since the publication of that report in 2012, evidence of even more violence against European Jews, widespread support in Europe for new laws that restrict Jewish religious practices, as well as efforts to smear Israel and its supporters have all increased and have grown ever more virulent. While Israel’s detractors have falsely attempted to blame Israel for the spread of Jew-hatred, that is a familiar tactic to anyone who knows the long and horrific history of European anti-Semitism, which has always found an aspect of alleged Jewish misbehavior to justify their own bigotry and crimes.

European anti-Semitism is currently being promoted by a noxious combination of traditional Jew-hatred at both ends of the social spectrum—from Muslim immigrant communities to elites, academics, and intellectuals who similarly delegitimize all Jews who speak up for Israel. That ought to make it all the more important that those who purport to oppose such hatred and profess friendship for Israel denounce the BDS movement. That Kerry missed an opportunity to do so and instead fed the simmering hatred on the continent was shameful. Whether his failure to speak out was deliberate or a negligent lost chance to put the U.S. clearly on record as adamantly against the BDS movement is not important. As long as the U.S. and the EU are working in tandem to taunt and threaten Israel in this fashion, they are both serving as the enablers of a highly dangerous and hate-driven movement.

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Holocaust Day Isn’t What it Used to Be

Across Europe, Holocaust Memorial Day just isn’t what it used to be. There are still the same sobering gatherings and television broadcasts reflecting on the horrors of a historical event, taking the opportunity to reaffirm the mantra of “Never Again.” Yet, at the same time there is a growing sense of a counter-movement to Holocaust Memorial Day. At times this takes the form of outright displays of Jew-hatred intentionally scheduled to coincide with the commemorations, as if in protest that murdered Jews should be mourned. More subtly there have also been concerted efforts to hijack and manipulate the message of the day.

Most sickening of all were the scenes from France. On the day prior to Holocaust Memorial Day Paris witnessed shocking scenes of open anti-Semitism during anti-government protests which police estimate to have been attended by some 17,000 people. The protest, titled by organizers the Day of Rage, witnessed crowds chanting “Jews out of France” and “The story of the gas chambers is bull****.” At around the same time social media sites were being flooded with pictures of individuals performing the quenelle, the modified Nazi salute, in front of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites. The quenelle was even performed in the Belgium Parliament, shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, by MP Laurent Louis who also took the opportunity to state that the Holocaust had been setup and financed by Zionists.

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Across Europe, Holocaust Memorial Day just isn’t what it used to be. There are still the same sobering gatherings and television broadcasts reflecting on the horrors of a historical event, taking the opportunity to reaffirm the mantra of “Never Again.” Yet, at the same time there is a growing sense of a counter-movement to Holocaust Memorial Day. At times this takes the form of outright displays of Jew-hatred intentionally scheduled to coincide with the commemorations, as if in protest that murdered Jews should be mourned. More subtly there have also been concerted efforts to hijack and manipulate the message of the day.

Most sickening of all were the scenes from France. On the day prior to Holocaust Memorial Day Paris witnessed shocking scenes of open anti-Semitism during anti-government protests which police estimate to have been attended by some 17,000 people. The protest, titled by organizers the Day of Rage, witnessed crowds chanting “Jews out of France” and “The story of the gas chambers is bull****.” At around the same time social media sites were being flooded with pictures of individuals performing the quenelle, the modified Nazi salute, in front of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites. The quenelle was even performed in the Belgium Parliament, shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, by MP Laurent Louis who also took the opportunity to state that the Holocaust had been setup and financed by Zionists.

Other efforts to challenge Holocaust Memorial Day have at least attempted to pass themselves off under the seemingly legitimate guise of political correctness. One of the most concerted campaigns has been that of Muslim groups to have Holocaust Memorial Day replaced with Genocide Memorial Day, which uncannily falls just days before Holocaust commemorations. Mehdi Hasan has written about his shame at his own community’s efforts to belittle the Holocaust, highlighting how in past years the Muslim Council of Britain has boycotted the memorial day. This year the Islamic Human Rights Commission has held Genocide Day events in London, Paris, and Amsterdam. But as became apparent at one such previous event organized by the IHRC, the focus was not other genocides, but primarily the crimes of Zionism. During the Q&A it was asserted that the “real” Holocaust had been the wartime bombing of German cities and that Anne Frank had not been murdered, but had merely died of typhus.

Another increasingly popular Holocaust Memorial Day activity is using the day to highlight the cause of the Palestinians and lambast Jews and Israel. Days before commemorations, British MP David Ward was once again doing just that. Last year he accused “the Jews” of not having learned “the lessons of the Holocaust.” This year, speaking in Parliament, Ward asked if we should not use the day to remember “the millions of displaced Palestinians, still denied their right, to return to their homes.” This effort to sublimate the memory of murdered Jews beneath the political cause of the Palestinians was most overtly manifested in 2009 when a Swedish city canceled its Holocaust commemorations, with one organizer explaining, “We have been preoccupied and grief-stricken by the war in Gaza.”

There has also been the bizarre phenomenon of selecting what would seem to be the most unsuitable people for participation in the commemorations. At this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day it was announced that Prime Minister Cameron has established a new Holocaust Commission, but on that commission will sit Labour’s Ed Balls, who was exposed for dressing as a Nazi in his spare time. Meanwhile, London’s 2013 Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, attended by Mayor Boris Johnson and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, featured as a speaker Muslim activist Hassan Farooq–a curious choice given that Farooq is on record praising Hitler and calling for the murder and gassing of Jews.

This year, however, the person who perhaps did the most for subtly perverting the meaning and spirit of Holocaust Memorial Day was the EU’s foreign-affairs representative Baroness Ashton. Ashton’s Holocaust Memorial Day statement took the opportunity to condemn racism, to praise those who had protected “their fellow citizens” and to declare that “respect of human rights and diversity lies at the heart of what the European Union stands for.” Yet, Jews and anti-Semitism were not mentioned once. Chilling to see the Jews erased from a statement that supposedly commemorates the event that attempted to erase them altogether.

Perhaps many Europeans have gotten tired of feeling guilty about the Holocaust, being reminded of their own societies’ participation, collaboration, or indifferent inaction to the murder of not just any people, but specifically the Jews. And remembering the Jews of World War Two only serves to remind them of the Jews still around today, and to remind them that they don’t much like these Jews either.  

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The EU’s Double Threat to Israel

Speaking to reporters yesterday, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, issued a remarkable statement about the EU’s position on the current peace negotiations taking place between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That statement, and indeed the EU’s position, amounts to little more than an open threat, one that is ostensibly directed at both parties, but which would in practice hurt Israel first and foremost, even while purporting to punish the Palestinians. 

The EU ambassador explained that should the current round of peace talks fail to yield results, “there will be a price to pay.” Specifically, that price for Israel would come in the form of a pulling back on trade relations between Europe and Israel, with the additional implication that the EU would move ahead with plans to label or boycott those products produced by Jewish businesses and communities in the disputed territories. For the Palestinians, the repercussions would amount to a cutback in EU funding for the Palestinian Authority. Admittedly, this is no empty threat given the PA’s dire financial predicament and the fact that the Europeans, not the Arab states, act as the Palestinians’ primary funders. Yet with even President Obama (in a break from his usual unworldly optimism) having said that he believes the current peace talks have less than a 50 percent chance of success, the Europeans are putting both sides in an incredibly unenviable, and indeed inadvisable, position.

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Speaking to reporters yesterday, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, issued a remarkable statement about the EU’s position on the current peace negotiations taking place between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That statement, and indeed the EU’s position, amounts to little more than an open threat, one that is ostensibly directed at both parties, but which would in practice hurt Israel first and foremost, even while purporting to punish the Palestinians. 

The EU ambassador explained that should the current round of peace talks fail to yield results, “there will be a price to pay.” Specifically, that price for Israel would come in the form of a pulling back on trade relations between Europe and Israel, with the additional implication that the EU would move ahead with plans to label or boycott those products produced by Jewish businesses and communities in the disputed territories. For the Palestinians, the repercussions would amount to a cutback in EU funding for the Palestinian Authority. Admittedly, this is no empty threat given the PA’s dire financial predicament and the fact that the Europeans, not the Arab states, act as the Palestinians’ primary funders. Yet with even President Obama (in a break from his usual unworldly optimism) having said that he believes the current peace talks have less than a 50 percent chance of success, the Europeans are putting both sides in an incredibly unenviable, and indeed inadvisable, position.

There is a legitimate question to be asked here about whether this stance is really reasonable or fair to either side. If we for a moment assume the most charitable possible view of both parties, working on the basis that both Israel and the Palestinians are negotiating in good faith, is it so inconceivable that these talks, given their narrow time frame, might not be successful this time around? As has often been suggested, it may be the case that right now the most that Israel is able to offer is less than the Palestinians are willing to accept. Then, if we take the less charitable, although probably more realistic view, that sees PA head Mahmoud Abbas as not being interested in reaching an agreement, it becomes apparent that the EU threat seeks to still punish Israel even if Abbas walks away from a deal.

In any case, on closer inspection, the threat to the Palestinians actually turns out to be just another way of punishing Israel. In the event that the EU withdraws significant amounts of funding from Abbas, thus destabilizing the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and allowing for a strengthening of Hamas and Islamic Jihad there, the price from the growing terror threat would be paid by Israel. It would be paid in the currency of lost Israeli lives. It may be true that there are serious problems with the way the EU funds the PA; as Douglas Murray has written about recently, much of the funding goes toward supporting Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel. Yet, the threatened funding cuts would most likely harm Israel even more, and the Europeans know it. For as Faasborg-Andersen remarked, “I think it is realized in Israel that this money is key to the stability of the West Bank and in Gaza.”

This attitude, which seeks to make life unpleasant for Israelis even while claiming to be evenhanded in also punishing the Palestinians, stems from a perspective that really views Israel as uniquely responsible for the impasse and as such is frankly disinterested in Israel’s requirements. The ambassador betrayed as much in his remarks. With the EU having failed to support Israel’s basic request to be recognized as a Jewish state, Faasborg-Andersen dismissed, “I don’t think we have any clear position on that because we’re not 100% sure what is meant by this concept of a Jewish state.”

When it came to Palestinian demands about settlements, however, then the European ambassador adopted quite another tone. “If the talks are wrecked as a result of an Israeli settlement announcement, then the blame will be put squarely on Israel’s doorstep,” the ambassador declared, “naturally and logically [Israel] will be to blame.” And when he was then asked about the European Union’s double standards in its approach to the settlement issue, Faasborg-Andersen responded, “I don’t see any basis for the allegation that we’re being one-sided and not being even-handed on this issue,” claiming that the EU had also criticized rocket fire from Gaza.

In making this parallel, the ambassador expressed a common yet unfathomable notion that draws a moral equivalence between rockets fired by terrorists with the objective of murdering Israeli civilians and the building of homes for Jewish families in Jerusalem and its suburbs. This itself exposes the very one-sidedness that the ambassador sought to deny by mentioning the rockets. The EU position on settlements is hypocritical for several reasons, not least because of the way in which Brussels has openly adopted one policy on disputed settlements in cases such as Morocco and western Sahara, and quite another on Jewish communities in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

The European Union’s stance on Israel has become so one-sided that European diplomats expose themselves even while attempting to demonstrate how evenhanded they are. So hypocritical are they that the EU devises measures to punish Israel even while claiming to be punishing the Palestinians.

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Europe Should Say No to Turkey for Good

Not only does Turkey dream about being a member of the European Union, but the future of Europe depends on it. At least that is the narrative put forward by both American officials and many European diplomats for quite some time. In 2009, for example, President Obama said that European Union membership would “firmly anchor” Turkey in Europe.

Whether out of conviction or a desire for access, some U.S.-based Turkey analysts also push the line, and suggest that EU membership will further Turkey’s reform and bolster Europe’s economy.

Such sentiments may be politically correct, but they are nonsense. Rather than become more democratic or truly reform, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has transformed Turkey into a banana republic. In recent days, he has not only fired police chiefs across the country to ensure that his own personal cronies take their place, but has moved to punish Zekeriya Öz, the prosecutor once embraced for targeting Turkey’s generals, but who now is a pariah for questioning those in the prime minister’s inner circle. On Tuesday, Öz released a statement detailing the threats he received. “Soon after the first wave of warrants,” he wrote, “I was called to a meeting by two people from the high judiciary. We met in a hotel in Bursa. They told me that Erdoğan was very angry with me. They asked me to write an apology letter to Erdoğan and stop the investigations. Otherwise I would have to suffer the consequences ….” Despite the constant threats he now receives, Erdoğan has stripped him of security. He is, effectively, a dead man walking.

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Not only does Turkey dream about being a member of the European Union, but the future of Europe depends on it. At least that is the narrative put forward by both American officials and many European diplomats for quite some time. In 2009, for example, President Obama said that European Union membership would “firmly anchor” Turkey in Europe.

Whether out of conviction or a desire for access, some U.S.-based Turkey analysts also push the line, and suggest that EU membership will further Turkey’s reform and bolster Europe’s economy.

Such sentiments may be politically correct, but they are nonsense. Rather than become more democratic or truly reform, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has transformed Turkey into a banana republic. In recent days, he has not only fired police chiefs across the country to ensure that his own personal cronies take their place, but has moved to punish Zekeriya Öz, the prosecutor once embraced for targeting Turkey’s generals, but who now is a pariah for questioning those in the prime minister’s inner circle. On Tuesday, Öz released a statement detailing the threats he received. “Soon after the first wave of warrants,” he wrote, “I was called to a meeting by two people from the high judiciary. We met in a hotel in Bursa. They told me that Erdoğan was very angry with me. They asked me to write an apology letter to Erdoğan and stop the investigations. Otherwise I would have to suffer the consequences ….” Despite the constant threats he now receives, Erdoğan has stripped him of security. He is, effectively, a dead man walking.

At its root, the reason for the corruption scandal targeting Erdoğan’s inner circle was the prime minister’s targeting of a network of lucrative test-prep centers run by adherent of Fethullah Gülen. That many Western-leaning Turks, diplomats, and journalists now place their hopes in Gülen, a shadowy religious cult leader whose about-face has been motivated not by democratic enlightenment but personal spite and greed, reinforces the notion that not only is Turkey not ready for Europe, but it never will be. Within Turkey, demography favors the conservative, Islamist-leaning followers of Erdoğan. Both Erdoğan and Gülen’s recent behavior show that real democratic culture has not accompanied the much-heralded reforms implemented by Erdoğan.

No matter who comes out in Turkey’s political struggle, it is time once and for all to put to rest the idea that Turkey will ever join Europe, nor should it. Enabling Turkish membership into the European Union would at this point be little different in effect than allowing Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, or Libyan accession. Policy must be based on reality, not wishful thinking. Erdoğan should go down in history as the man that ruined Turkey’s decade-long dream.

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Did Putin Outsmart Ukraine’s Protesters?

Der Spiegel opens its piece on how Vladimir Putin “outfoxed” Western powers in 2013 with a seemingly curious but in fact quite revealing scene. Putin and Patriarch Kirill are at a ceremony celebrating Russian nationalism when the country’s religious leader honors Putin with a certificate and the following praise: “We know that you, more than anyone else since the end of the 20th century, are helping Russia become more powerful and regain its old positions, as a country that respects itself and enjoys the respect of all others.”

National self-respect may or may not be as important to the Russian people as the patriarch suggested, but he certainly knew just what Putin wanted to hear. Yet because of the role Putin’s ego plays in formulating policy, it’s just as important at times to know what he doesn’t want to hear. It may have come across as petty when President Obama added insult to injury by avoiding a conference in Russia and dismissing Putin as having “that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” But the president was speaking Putin’s language. Case in point: the New York Times reported on Putin’s reaction to the comment, which he seemed to take far more personally than Obama’s decision to cancel his trip to St. Petersburg.

The more Russia struggles domestically the more effort Putin appears to expend to burnish Russia’s image as a great power. The bored schoolboy taunt threatened to turn Putin’s carefully crafted image against him: the stoic, detached leader with a casual air of superiority and boredom suddenly looks like the lonely misfit. And Obama has now done it again. Following the French and German presidents’ announcements that they will not attend the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Obama was widely expected to abstain from joining the American delegation as well. But the president’s choice for the delegation’s roster is somewhat inspired:

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Der Spiegel opens its piece on how Vladimir Putin “outfoxed” Western powers in 2013 with a seemingly curious but in fact quite revealing scene. Putin and Patriarch Kirill are at a ceremony celebrating Russian nationalism when the country’s religious leader honors Putin with a certificate and the following praise: “We know that you, more than anyone else since the end of the 20th century, are helping Russia become more powerful and regain its old positions, as a country that respects itself and enjoys the respect of all others.”

National self-respect may or may not be as important to the Russian people as the patriarch suggested, but he certainly knew just what Putin wanted to hear. Yet because of the role Putin’s ego plays in formulating policy, it’s just as important at times to know what he doesn’t want to hear. It may have come across as petty when President Obama added insult to injury by avoiding a conference in Russia and dismissing Putin as having “that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” But the president was speaking Putin’s language. Case in point: the New York Times reported on Putin’s reaction to the comment, which he seemed to take far more personally than Obama’s decision to cancel his trip to St. Petersburg.

The more Russia struggles domestically the more effort Putin appears to expend to burnish Russia’s image as a great power. The bored schoolboy taunt threatened to turn Putin’s carefully crafted image against him: the stoic, detached leader with a casual air of superiority and boredom suddenly looks like the lonely misfit. And Obama has now done it again. Following the French and German presidents’ announcements that they will not attend the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Obama was widely expected to abstain from joining the American delegation as well. But the president’s choice for the delegation’s roster is somewhat inspired:

The United States’ delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia won’t include a member of President Barack Obama’s family or an active cabinet secretary, but it will include openly gay athletes – a clear jab at Russia’s recent anti-gay laws.

Billie Jean King, the tennis legend, will join figure skater Brian Boitano at the games’ opening ceremonies on February 7, the White House said Tuesday.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House aide Rob Nabors and the U.S. ambassador to Russia will round out the delegation to the Sochi games.

King was one of the first professional athletes to come out as gay in the 1980s.

Two weeks later, a group led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will attend the closing ceremony. Speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, as well as openly gay hockey player Caitlin Cahow, will also attend.

Of course, it shouldn’t be insulting to send gay athletes to the Olympics, but Putin has created a situation in which it makes a statement. Not only has the Russian government made it dangerous to be openly gay in Russia, but the Duma’s anti-gay-propaganda law was explicitly designed to equate homosexuality with pedophilia in spirit and, to a certain extent, in law.

Yet Putin seems to have outmaneuvered the pro-Western elements in his neighborhood once again. Kiev has been swamped with a vigorous protest movement ever since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych spurned a trade deal with the European Union a week before the two sides were expected to seal the deal. It was widely understood that Yanukovych had buckled to pressure from Moscow.

Yanukovych appeared to have misplayed his hand, because the EU deal gave Ukrainians an opening to protest against the government itself. Yanukovych was backed into a corner, caught between East and West and with the protesters demanding far more than a trade deal; they wanted resignations and they wanted justice for police violence against them. Putin, however, saw this as an instance in which the protesters themselves overreached. And he may be right:

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said that Russia would come to the rescue of its financially troubled neighbor, providing $15 billion in loans and a steep discount on natural gas prices.

The announcement seemed to have a deflating effect on the protesters, a tired and haggard group after spending more than three weeks encamped on Independence Square. A church choir sang. Protest leaders asked for patience as they scrambled to devise a new strategy.

The protests were ignited by the government’s last-minute failure to sign political and free trade accords with Europe, which had been seen as an alternative to the Russian deal. Their demands, though, had expanded to seeking punishment for the police, accused of violently attacking demonstrators, and the resignation of Mr. Azarov, the prime minister.

It’s easy to see why Putin saw the expansion of the protesters’ demands as an opportunity. What Putin wants is for Ukraine to stick with Russia and keep itself separate from the West. When the protesters brought Ukrainian politics to a standstill over the EU deal, it revealed that Putin and Yanukovych’s interests had diverged. Yanukovych could, possibly, keep his job by shifting back in Europe’s direction.

But once the protesters moved beyond the trade deal, Putin understood that the issue–which was all he really cared about–had lost its resonance as a rallying cry for the public. The protesters made it clear that they hated Yanukovych, not that they were dedicated to the free flow of commerce in a globalized trading system. That is a more fundamentally troubling situation for Yanukovych, but it means Putin could bail Ukraine out without sparking any wider outrage.

He may have also been betting that if Ukraine actually inked a deal with Russia, it would weaken the protesters somewhat since the original issue would be off the table and thus they might lose their center of gravity, if not their dissatisfaction with Yanukovych. That appears to be the case. If it is, Putin will indeed have “outfoxed” the West again, and the American Olympic delegation will seem a futile consolation prize for Washington.

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The EU Offers Israel a Raw Deal

“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

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“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

In a 2012 presentation, Mr. Johnson, then still Penney’s CEO, said the company was selling fewer than one out of every 500 items at full price. Customers were receiving an average discount of 60%, up from 38% a decade earlier. The twist is they weren’t saving more. In fact, the average price paid by customers stayed about the same over that period. What changed was the initial price, which increased by 33%.

And so it is with the EU’s latest fit of magnanimity, at least with regard to Israel. That’s because the EU has been slowly, but unmistakably, seeking to punish Israel financially for the EU’s policy disagreements with the Israeli government. I wrote about this over the summer, when the EU released new guidelines intended to restrict grant access to Jews who lived in the West Bank or a large part of Jerusalem, the Jews’ eternal capital. The EU had not instituted a full-fledged trade boycott, to be sure. But it’s not clear if that was because EU officials oppose such a morally repugnant policy or because the denial of grants was a way to hurt Jewish Israelis without also damaging European economies. It was no less discriminatory, in other words; just unprincipled.

The EU’s behavior also gives tacit approval to more bigoted forms of boycotts on a continent with rising anti-Semitism. So when the EU says it can offer a major infusion of financial aid to Israel if it signs on the dotted line, it is not only proclaiming its belief that Israel can be bought but also to some degree offsetting the damage it is already trying to do to Israel’s economy. Perhaps in Brussels an offer of unprecedented financial aid is indistinguishable from a shakedown, but Israeli officials can tell the difference.

With regard to aid to the Palestinians, it might end up being more expensive for the EU than officials expect. The Oslo era saw Yitzhak Rabin sign a deal with Yasser Arafat, followed by Benjamin Netanyahu doing the same, followed by Ehud Barak making a generous offer to Arafat, followed by Ariel Sharon unilaterally disengaging from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, followed by Ehud Olmert offering Mahmoud Abbas the store, followed by Netanyahu accepting in principle the two-state solution and suggesting even that dividing Jerusalem would be on the table, and then willing to release terrorist murderers just to begin negotiations.

In other words, if you want a peace deal, talk to Ramallah; Jerusalem’s door is always open. So financial aid to the Palestinian Authority is a start–or, rather, a continuation, since they already receive such aid (which Israel fully supports). But all those years of rejection and/or violence in return for Israeli offers of peace should tell the Eurocrats something about the ability to induce the Palestinians to make peace. Each Palestinian rejection was followed by an eventual Israeli offer more generous than the last. The Palestinians have learned that all they have to do is keep saying no and eventually they’ll get whatever they want.

So the EU can offer generous financial aid. The Palestinians in all likelihood will reject the terms, but they won’t forget the EU offered them in the first place. The next time the EU wants to get involved, the offer will be sweeter, and after the Palestinians reject that one the next offer will be sweeter still. By that time, the EU’s financial action against Israel will have increased as well. The EU has begun rolling a snowball downhill. Good luck stopping it.

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Did Yanukovych Relent? Does it Matter?

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton made news today by declaring that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “intends” to finally sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union after weeks of protests. It’s unclear, however, if Yanukovych can end the standoff.

If the message was intended to get the protesters to back off, it might not be nearly enough. As the Washington Post reports, “protesters weren’t buying it and spent the day bolstering the five formidable snow and ice barricades that protect their long-running encampment.” No surprise there: Yanukovych has been too fickle to be trusted, having spent years gesturing toward Europe and working toward an agreement only to bail at the eleventh hour. Yet that’s exactly what his government is asking for: trust. As the Post reports:

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EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton made news today by declaring that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “intends” to finally sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union after weeks of protests. It’s unclear, however, if Yanukovych can end the standoff.

If the message was intended to get the protesters to back off, it might not be nearly enough. As the Washington Post reports, “protesters weren’t buying it and spent the day bolstering the five formidable snow and ice barricades that protect their long-running encampment.” No surprise there: Yanukovych has been too fickle to be trusted, having spent years gesturing toward Europe and working toward an agreement only to bail at the eleventh hour. Yet that’s exactly what his government is asking for: trust. As the Post reports:

“This is real, this is absolutely real,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara, told the Interfax news agency Thursday, adding that Ukraine might sign on with Europe as early as next spring.

That suggests a long winter ahead for the opposition, which has shown no signs of flagging. “Both sides are playing on time and trying to wear the other side down,” Jan Techau, an analyst with the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels, said during a conference call Thursday.

In fact, the climb-down from Yanukovych shows just how much trouble he found himself in when he spurned Europe seemingly for Putin’s Eurasian customs union. To wit: if his agreement to sign with the EU some time next year was intended for Putin as a hardball negotiating tactic, he’s probably not scaring anyone in the Kremlin. Ukraine is heading into the winter now without a deal with either side and in debt, still dependent on Russian gas. Where’s Yanukovych’s leverage with Russia?

If, on the other hand, the pronouncement that he’s ready to deal with Europe was intended for the West in general and the United States in particular to ward off American sanctions, it won’t matter much either. The U.S. raised the issue of sanctions (with the State Department’s Victoria Nuland conspicuously on the ground in Kiev) in response to Yanukovych’s heavyhanded deployment of riot police to attempt to clear the protests. If he wants to avoid sanctions, he should resist the use of force against the opposition. If he doesn’t, vague promises to one day sign a deal with the EU won’t change anybody’s mind.

Similarly, if he was trying to get Ukraine a better deal from the EU, his sudden determination to reopen negotiations reeks of desperation and will most likely be greeted with the reminder that beggars cannot be choosers. One suspects that Yanukovych knows all this, and that the prevailing explanations for Yanukovych’s behavior are just a bit too pat. Maybe it’s not really about Russia, or Europe, or the U.S., or even Ukraine; maybe it’s about Viktor Yanukovych.

Now you’re getting somewhere, says the Kiev-based Andrey Slivka:

With Yanukovych, it’s always best to assume the worst. Ukraine has always been a kleptocracy, but “the family,” as it is known, has raised the thievery to new heights. The President’s older son, Oleksandr, a dentist, has become one of Ukraine’s richest men since the start of his father’s Presidency. Yanukovych himself—an actual ex-con, who did jail time in his youth for robbery and assault—has built himself an estate the size of Monaco on the outskirts of Kiev; access to the area is now restricted. “Raider” attacks, in which regime-connected businessmen deploy extortion to literally steal other people’s businesses, are notorious. Leery of mixing with the population, Yanukovych has taken to helicoptering into work from his estate, landing at a helipad he built in one of Kiev’s lovely riverside parks.

None of independent Ukraine’s earlier Presidents were prizewinners, but Yanukovych has been particularly brazen in his provocations. In addition to the theft, he’s centralized power according to a system that one political scientist has termed “sultanism,” and he has harassed the media. So when the beatings on the Maidan gave Ukrainians an excuse to come out on the streets, the protests turned from a cry against the loss of the “European choice” into something far more visceral: an expression of hatred for Yanukovych and everything he represents—basically, the mean reality of life in a post-Soviet strongman state.

Yanukovych’s decision to spurn Europe wasn’t a betrayal so much as a confirmation. Ukrainians did not think they were being governed by European-style democrat. Yanukovych’s reversal was simply a product of what Ukrainians who didn’t like him already didn’t like about him.

In that light, a new turn back to the EU won’t change much. It may help the country–though if a deal doesn’t happen until mid-2014 at the earliest it will first come at great cost. Yanukovych has misread his country’s mood–as Slivka notes, Kiev’s statue of Lenin survived the Orange Revolution, but didn’t survive this populist outburst. Perhaps Yanukovych will have better luck, but he increasingly can’t count on being thrown a lifeline from abroad.

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Ukraine Between East and West

Thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets over the weekend to protest Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovich’s decision to turn his back on a European Union Association Agreement and instead consider a Russian-led customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukrainians have struggled for years to win a European Union Association Agreement which, if signed, would eliminate most trade barriers between Ukraine and Europe and provide a big boost to Ukraine’s economy. The European Foundation for Democracy’s Anna Borshchevskaya (full disclosure: my wife) outlined Russia’s strategic objectives for CNN ahead of last month’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius:

Of all post-Soviet countries, Ukraine is perhaps most significant to Russia. Historically, Russia draws its very creation as a state to Ukraine. The two countries share deep historic and cultural ties. For Russian President Vladimir Putin – who once famously declared that Ukraine is not even a state – losing Ukraine would be akin to losing a crucial part of Russia. And Ukraine may simply be the tip of the iceberg. Moldova could also initial an association agreement this month. During a trip to Moldova in September, Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, warned that it would be “a grave mistake” for Moldova to seek European integration. Upon concluding his visit, Rogozin threatened to cut Moldova’s gas, on which the landlocked country is entirely dependent. “We hope that you will not freeze,” he reportedly said. The same month, Russia banned Moldovan wine, and for good measure suspended Lithuania’s dairy imports in October, even though Lithuania is already a European Union member. One country has already fallen victim to Putin’s bullying. Armenia, which appeared set to be on a European integration course after concluding in comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union in July, made an abrupt reversal in September and instead joined the Customs Union after a meeting between Putin and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan.

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Thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets over the weekend to protest Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovich’s decision to turn his back on a European Union Association Agreement and instead consider a Russian-led customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukrainians have struggled for years to win a European Union Association Agreement which, if signed, would eliminate most trade barriers between Ukraine and Europe and provide a big boost to Ukraine’s economy. The European Foundation for Democracy’s Anna Borshchevskaya (full disclosure: my wife) outlined Russia’s strategic objectives for CNN ahead of last month’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius:

Of all post-Soviet countries, Ukraine is perhaps most significant to Russia. Historically, Russia draws its very creation as a state to Ukraine. The two countries share deep historic and cultural ties. For Russian President Vladimir Putin – who once famously declared that Ukraine is not even a state – losing Ukraine would be akin to losing a crucial part of Russia. And Ukraine may simply be the tip of the iceberg. Moldova could also initial an association agreement this month. During a trip to Moldova in September, Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, warned that it would be “a grave mistake” for Moldova to seek European integration. Upon concluding his visit, Rogozin threatened to cut Moldova’s gas, on which the landlocked country is entirely dependent. “We hope that you will not freeze,” he reportedly said. The same month, Russia banned Moldovan wine, and for good measure suspended Lithuania’s dairy imports in October, even though Lithuania is already a European Union member. One country has already fallen victim to Putin’s bullying. Armenia, which appeared set to be on a European integration course after concluding in comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union in July, made an abrupt reversal in September and instead joined the Customs Union after a meeting between Putin and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan.

What did Yanukovich get for his unpopular about-face? About $10 billion, although such funds are more of an accounting issue and a legacy of Ukraine’s decision to allow the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimea.

It’s been a holiday weekend in Washington, but the White House and State Department’s relative silence on Ukraine’s ultimate direction matters. Whether the Obama administration recognizes it or not, the Kremlin is playing a zero-sum game for influence. Putin sees the borders of the former Soviet Union (if not Eastern Europe) as Russia’s “near abroad” and is willing to do anything—political threats, economic leverage or, in the case of Georgia, military force—to ensure that Moscow remains the paramount influence.

In the case of the Ukraine, however, the people clearly see their future more with Europe than tied solely to Russia. It is in the United States’s interests to see European-style liberalism triumph over retrograde Russian-led rejectionism. When the United States does not stand up rhetorically for liberal principles, it only strengthens Russia’s hand and demoralizes those who want something more. There is nothing sophisticated about dictatorships, and the last thing Ukrainians need is the continuance of Chicken Kiev attitudes among our senior statesmen. Ukraine has a choice between East and West. Under tremendous pressure from Vladimir Putin, Yanukovich has chosen East. Ukrainians have taken to the streets to demand West. It’s time to stand up for the rightful demands of the Ukrainian people.

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The Proliferating Spheres of Influence

American political commentary was consumed on Thursday with the deployment by Senate Democrats of the so-called “nuclear option” to end the filibuster for their immediate agenda items. Two days later, that was easily outdone by the attention drawn to a more literal nuclear issue: the temporary deal over Iran’s nuclear program. So it was understandable that another piece of news that could prove to be of considerable historical import was overshadowed on Thursday, and its codicil overshadowed on Saturday.

On Thursday, the Guardian reported that Ukraine “abruptly” walked away from its efforts to sign a trade pact with the European Union. “Abruptly” is a good word for it: the two sides were widely expected to sign the deal at a summit in Vilnius on Friday. Throughout trade discussions, Russia has put pressure on Ukraine to convince it that it belongs not with Europe, but with its old friends in Moscow. This would be a symbolic twofer: losing Ukraine back into Russia’s “orbit,” and Moscow’s implicit declaration that Russia is not only not part of Europe but that the two belong to mutually exclusive geographic families.

But the story is far from over. The Ukrainian government is now trying to tamp down days of protests over the decision. Perhaps unavoidably, the conflict is discussed in Cold War terminology, though as Reuters reports, the post-Cold War language of some of the protesters can’t be reassuring to the Ukrainian government either:

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American political commentary was consumed on Thursday with the deployment by Senate Democrats of the so-called “nuclear option” to end the filibuster for their immediate agenda items. Two days later, that was easily outdone by the attention drawn to a more literal nuclear issue: the temporary deal over Iran’s nuclear program. So it was understandable that another piece of news that could prove to be of considerable historical import was overshadowed on Thursday, and its codicil overshadowed on Saturday.

On Thursday, the Guardian reported that Ukraine “abruptly” walked away from its efforts to sign a trade pact with the European Union. “Abruptly” is a good word for it: the two sides were widely expected to sign the deal at a summit in Vilnius on Friday. Throughout trade discussions, Russia has put pressure on Ukraine to convince it that it belongs not with Europe, but with its old friends in Moscow. This would be a symbolic twofer: losing Ukraine back into Russia’s “orbit,” and Moscow’s implicit declaration that Russia is not only not part of Europe but that the two belong to mutually exclusive geographic families.

But the story is far from over. The Ukrainian government is now trying to tamp down days of protests over the decision. Perhaps unavoidably, the conflict is discussed in Cold War terminology, though as Reuters reports, the post-Cold War language of some of the protesters can’t be reassuring to the Ukrainian government either:

“I have turned out for revolution because I have understood that the promises of Yanukovich to go into Europe were just pure comedy,” said Anatoly Gurkalyuk, 33, a builder.

That the Putin regime thinks the West has more or less left the playing field on these geopolitical tussles is no secret. In fact, the Russian government likes to emphasize the competition they’ve just “won” to maximize the propaganda value. And so after the major powers signed the accord with Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that as the U.S. recedes from the Middle East, it should take its European missile defense system with it: “If the Iran deal is put into practice, the stated reason for the construction of the defense shield will no longer apply,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov was clearly enjoying the moment, but he actually raises a point of which the Obama administration, as it contemplates America’s new role in the world, would do well to be reminded: the illogic and foolhardy nature of the Obama administration’s compartmentalization of world affairs. It’s this mindset that has convinced the administration they can leave the Middle East behind and “pivot” to Asia. But on the day the deal with Iran was struck, China sent its own message on that score:

China established the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone on Saturday, and its Defense Ministry said it would take “defensive emergency measures” against unidentified aircraft that enter the zone.

A map and coordinates published Saturday showed the zone covers most of the East China Sea and includes a group of uninhabited islets whose ownership is disputed by China and Japan.

Secretary of State Kerry raised immediate objections to China following Russia’s lead in marking off its own sphere of influence. The Chinese response to Kerry involved a long walk and a short pier:

But Chinese officials dismissed the U.S. comments as unjustified interference.

American criticism of the air zone announcement is “completely unreasonable,” Col. Yang Yujun, a Ministry of National Defense spokesman, said Sunday.

The United States should stop taking sides on the issue, cease making “inappropriate remarks” and not send any more “wrong signals” that could lead to a “risky move by Japan,” he said.

The “pivot” to Asia always rested on a shaky foundation. As the Economist explained in 2011 when the pivot was gearing up, Obama saw the Pacific as a refuge from “inherited” troubles (mainly in the Middle East) and a way to chart his own path. He could never fully own the twin fates of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he couldn’t bank on striking an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

So the turn to Asia was perfect. He wouldn’t have to accomplish anything outstanding, just be able to take credit for a new strategic posture. His successors would undoubtedly visit the region often enough, but few would have been pompous enough to pretend that this was some sort of innovation. Obama and his foreign-policy team learned early on that all they had to do was come up with a bumper-sticker phrase or slogan and the media would credulously repeat it as if he had just discovered electricity. (This didn’t always work to the administration’s advantage, as it found out with the “leading from behind” debacle.)

The problem is that Obama looked at the pivot as an escape from conflicts that, in the age of the Internet and transnational political and terrorist networks, don’t stay in their box. More importantly, retreat from the major issues of the day sends the wrong message for any power looking to be respected in the far corners of the globe. So as the U.S. starts backing away from the Middle East, Lavrov reminds them to take their presence in Europe with them, and China practically laughs at the idea that they aren’t entitled to their own sphere of influence, as Russia and Iran seem to be. And then where will the president pivot?

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Euros Don’t Care PA Steals Their Money

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Berlin this week and received the usual reception that he gets in European capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned Israeli settlement building and then vowed to continue funneling cash to the PA. The latter point is especially crucial because the PA dependent on European aid. But nowhere in Merkel’s remarks did the question of what exactly the PA does with all the funds poured into its coffers by Germany and the rest of the EU community.

Had she done so, she could have referred to an article in Britain’s Sunday Times that said the European Court of Auditors, the official European Union body monitoring the group’s funds, found that the PA has misspent nearly $3 billion in EU donations during the period covering 2008 to 2012. The audit body said the money was not being used for the purpose for which it was intended and that there were “significant shortcomings” in the PA’s accounts of what it did with the money. In other words, they are now well aware that Abbas and his cronies are robbing them blind just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did when he ran things in Ramallah.

The question is, why does a nation like Germany, that was rightly prepared to pull the plug on a debt-ridden fellow EU member state like Greece unless they got their fiscal house in order, not care that the Palestinians are stealing their money?

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Berlin this week and received the usual reception that he gets in European capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned Israeli settlement building and then vowed to continue funneling cash to the PA. The latter point is especially crucial because the PA dependent on European aid. But nowhere in Merkel’s remarks did the question of what exactly the PA does with all the funds poured into its coffers by Germany and the rest of the EU community.

Had she done so, she could have referred to an article in Britain’s Sunday Times that said the European Court of Auditors, the official European Union body monitoring the group’s funds, found that the PA has misspent nearly $3 billion in EU donations during the period covering 2008 to 2012. The audit body said the money was not being used for the purpose for which it was intended and that there were “significant shortcomings” in the PA’s accounts of what it did with the money. In other words, they are now well aware that Abbas and his cronies are robbing them blind just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did when he ran things in Ramallah.

The question is, why does a nation like Germany, that was rightly prepared to pull the plug on a debt-ridden fellow EU member state like Greece unless they got their fiscal house in order, not care that the Palestinians are stealing their money?

Merkel, who in many ways functions as the financier of the continent, is not as hostile to Israel as many of her European colleagues. But like everyone else in the EU, she thinks nothing of pouring her people’s money down the rat hole of the PA. The reasons for this are not hard to figure out.

The primary reason is the bigotry of low expectations. Like many of those who form the Palestinians’ foreign cheerleaders, the Europeans tend to act as if the PA and its people are not capable of responsible behavior. They believe, perhaps not entirely wrongly, that the only way to persuade the Palestinian people to keep Abbas and the corrupt Fatah in power rather than choosing the Islamists of Hamas is to bribe them. They seem to think them incapable of choosing democracy and good government over violence and terrorism.

It may well be that Abbas and Fatah are better than Hamas but the only way to force them to start using the billions that come into their hands from foreign donors on the Palestinian people is to make them accountable. Abbas, who is in the ninth year of the four-year-term as president to which the Palestinians elected him, depends on the European Union for the money that keeps the PA afloat via no show and no work jobs that spread that portion of the wealth that isn’t pocketed by the Fatah elite around the territories. While former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tried to reform the Ramallah government, he never stood a chance against Fatah.

But instead of trying to stop the PA from abusing their people, Germany and the rest of the EU continues to enable them to go on stealing. That’s something they’d never do the Greeks, who were driven hard to cut back on their profligate government in order to be bailed out of bankruptcy by the Germans.

The Palestinian government will never act in a responsible manner until they are forced to. That’s something that probably most ordinary Palestinians would like to see. But because pressure on the PA would be seen as somehow betraying the Palestinian cause or favorable to Israel (which also needs the PA to function), it never happens in a meaningful way.

In the meantime, Germans who care very much how the Greeks spend their money, continue to act as if the Palestinians can do what they like with it. Blaming the Israelis for all of the Palestinians’ woes is popular but it doesn’t come close to diagnosing the real problem. Until that changes, the PA will continue to be not only corrupt, but also a hotbed of potential violence ready to bubble over.

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EU: What’s Fine for Spain Is Unacceptable for Israel

Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

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Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

But unlike the Spanish checkpoints–which blatantly violate the EU’s open-border rules–Israeli checkpoints are perfectly legal under international law, even if you accept the EU’s definition of the West Bank as “occupied territory” (which Israel doesn’t; it considers the area disputed territory). Under the laws of belligerent occupation, an occupying army is entitled to take reasonable military measures within the occupied territory to ensure its country’s security; it isn’t restricted to operating along the border. And Israel’s checkpoints were established to stop Palestinian suicide bombers.

Spain’s checkpoints, in contrast, are officially there to stop cigarette smuggling, though Gibraltar claims they are pure retaliation for its efforts to curb Spanish overfishing in its waters. By any standard, stopping suicide bombers is a stronger justification. Yet the same European officials who vociferously condemn Israel’s checkpoints have nothing to say about the Spanish ones.

Then there are the hundreds of thousands of Catalonians who formed a 250-mile human chain this month to demand independence from Spain. Catalonians also gave an absolute majority to pro-independence parties in last year’s provincial elections. Yet Spain adamantly refuses to let the province hold a referendum on secession.

By any standard, Israel has more justification for caution about Palestinian statehood than Spain does about Catalonian statehood. Catalonia has never threatened Spain in any way, nor is there any Catalonian terrorism. In contrast, large swathes of Palestinian society still call for Israel’s destruction, and every previous Israeli cession of land to the Palestinians has produced a security nightmare: nonstop rocket fire from Gaza, and endless suicide bombings and shooting attacks from the West Bank (until Israel reoccupied it). Indeed, of the roughly 1,800 Israelis killed by terrorists since Israel’s founding in 1948, fully two-thirds–about 1,200–were killed after Israel began ceding land to the Palestinians under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Yet the European officials who repeatedly demand Israel’s immediate withdrawal from the West Bank haven’t said a word to support Catalonia. Apparently, Catalonians have no right to self-determination.

Then there are the Basques, whose oft-proclaimed desire for independence can’t be tested in a vote because Spain repeatedly bars pro-independence parties from running on the grounds of alleged ties to the Basque terror group ETA. That also doesn’t bother anyone in Europe, even though Europe objects vociferously when Israel refuses to talk to Palestinian parties that actively support terror, like Yasser Arafat’s PLO during the second intifada. Nor was Europe troubled when Spain severed peace talks with ETA at the very first terror attack, which killed exactly two people, though it condemned Israel viciously for halting talks with Arafat over repeated terror attacks that killed more than 1,000 people.

In short, Europe denounces Israeli actions as unacceptable even as it deems the exact same actions by Spain unexceptionable. There’s a name for such double standards, and it isn’t “human rights.” It’s known as hypocrisy.

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