Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister, once commented, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” From the Tsarist to the Communist and post-Communist eras, understanding the riddle of Russian social, economic, and political history is a multifaceted, complex endeavor. Adding a new perspective to the discussion on the history of Russian statecraft, Mark Lawrence Schrad, in his book Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State, addresses a prominent stereotype associated with Russian society: vodka induced inebriety. “Does that mean vodka is everything in Russia?” Schrad writes. “Certainly not…but it is a lot of things.” Far from offering a monocausal explanation of Russian history, Schrad presents “vodka politics as an alternative lens through which we can view and understand Russia’s complex political development.”
It may be difficult for an American to admit, but the confrontation between Russia and the West will not be solved by the power and influence of the U.S. The contestant on behalf of the West is Europe, led by a Germany that steadily sees itself as the guardian of European values. Much depends on Berlin in how this confrontation plays out, because it has become the unifying factor in Europe’s stand against Russian actions in Ukraine. Europe’s success is far from certain, because Russia has a clear vision for how the use of force can achieve its desired political ends. Russia has the means and the political will to execute it. Germany, however, has not presented a vision for how Europe’s use of economic and diplomatic power will result in a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine or in the broader confrontation with Russia. Almost a year into the crisis, this is a problem.
The European Parliament elections in May brought worldwide attention to trends that had been taking root across the continent since the financial collapse: the rise of Euroscepticism, extremism on both the right and left, and an ongoing frustration with how the crisis has been managed. For Europe’s youth, however, the institutions of the European Union offer jobs, freedom of movement, and possibilities, even in the face of difficulties and bureaucracy.
Europe and Asia have never had the easiest of partnerships, but recently the European Union has been trying to enhance its ties with the continent via its own “Pivot to Asia.” Though distractions have somewhat diminished Europe’s high-profile engagement with Asia, the EU is making progress with its less visible diplomatic endeavors. They are not making headlines, but these efforts can only be beneficial for EU-Asia relations.
Although the Arctic remains an unfamiliar area—almost a terra incognita to many southerners—it is on track to come to the forefront of world politics. In this context, it seems that, while everyone in Brussels is perfused with news streams from the Middle East, Africa, or Ukraine, the EU is starting to lag behind other non-Arctic competitors such as China, South Korea, or Japan, in the race for Arctic influence; the one geographical area that may truly rule Northern hemisphere geostrategic dynamics in the 21st century.
Since its first elections in 1979, the European Parliament has seen a gradual decrease in voter turnout. The results of polls from May 22 to 25 showed the second lowest civic engagement of its history, only 43.09 percent. This is a serious issue, taking into account the competencies of the Parliament such as electing the President of the EU Commission, approving laws, budgets, and treaties. In addition, many right wing parties were elected for the Parliament. For instance, in France, the National Front (FN), led by Marine Le Pen, received 24.8 percent of the vote to become the country’s largest party in the European Parliament (24 out of 75 French members of the European Parliament). Her party is known for its willingness to reduce the powers of EU. Thus, the labeled “Europtimists” will have to work together to balance the new “Eurosceptics”.
In Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Strategic Vision, he describes the nature of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy: “a backward-looking combination of assertive nationalism, thinly veiled hostility toward America for its victory in the Cold War, and nostalgia for both modernity and superpower status.”
Spain, in the first decade of the new millennium, was the land of opportunity for many Latin Americans. At one point during the early 2000s, Spain was considered one of the top ten largest economies of the world, thus it became a logical and hopeful alternative for Spanish-speaking workers throughout the Americas. Droves of people immigrated from Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. For many, the dream did become a reality, and Spain was basking in its novel place of economic stability and might. But the construction boom in Spain popped in 2008 to 2009, bringing Spanish banks to their knees and spurring a deep recession that is to this date still dragging the Spanish economy to subzero growth.
The sudden change of mind on the European Association by Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in late November had unexpected and devastating impacts on his administration. Instead of the usual rallies in the thousands, which the government expected, the protests against his decision grew to hundreds of thousands of people—in some cases, over a million people attended. The government took an arrogant stand of ignoring and trying to suppress the protests, but this made things even worse for Yanukovych. The festive celebration of the European future of the country turned into politically charged movement after police brutality against the small pro-European student's camp at the center of Kyiv 4 AM on November 30th. Similarly brutal suppression of the fairly meaningless protest in Belarus in December 2010 made the country freeze in fear, and the following Western sanctions forced Lukashenko into a close alliance with Russia. It was different in Ukraine.
The negotiations of the Partnership Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union started in 2007, was re-defined as the Association Agreement in September 2008, and was practically ready for signing by the end of 2009. Following the election of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, the process slowed down, and since 2011 the issue has gradually become a hot contest between Russia and the West. Finally, in a dramatic eleventh hour move, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov suspended the preparation for signing of the Agreement on November 22nd, demanding outrageous financial aid from the European Union.
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