Thursday, July 27, 2017
Photo of George Soros

The fact is that Putin’s Russia and the EU are engaged in a race against time: The question is which one will collapse first.

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Putin is No Ally Against ISIS

MUNICH – The leaders of the United States and the European Union are making a grievous error in thinking that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a potential ally in the fight against the Islamic State. The evidence contradicts them. Putin’s current aim is to foster the EU’s disintegration, and the best way to do so is to flood the EU with Syrian refugees.

Russian planes have been bombing the civilian population in southern Syria forcing them to flee to Jordan and Lebanon. There are now 20,000 Syrian refugees camped out in the desert awaiting admission to Jordan. A smaller number are waiting to enter Lebanon. Both groups are growing.

Russia has also launched a large-scale air attack against civilians in northern Syria. This was followed by a ground assault by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army against Aleppo, a city that used to have 2 million inhabitants. The barrel bombs caused 70,000 civilians to flee to Turkey; the ground offensive could uproot many more.

The families on the move may not stop in Turkey. German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to Ankara on February 9 to make last-minute arrangements with the Turkish government to induce the refugees already in Turkey to prolong their stay there. She offered to airlift 200,000-300,000 Syrian refugees annually directly to Europe on the condition that Turkey prevent them from going to Greece and will accept them back if they do so.

Putin is a gifted tactician, but not a strategic thinker. There is no reason to believe that he intervened in Syria in order to aggravate the European refugee crisis. Indeed, his intervention was a strategic blunder, because it embroiled him in a conflict with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that has hurt the interests of both.

But once Putin saw the opportunity to hasten the EU’s disintegration, he seized it. He has obfuscated his actions by talking of cooperating against a common enemy, ISIS. He has followed a similar approach in Ukraine, signing the Minsk Agreement but failing to carry out its provisions.

It is hard to understand why the leaders of both the US and the EU take Putin at his word rather than judging him by his behavior. The only explanation I can find is that democratic politicians seek to reassure their publics by painting a more favorable picture than reality justifies. The fact is that Putin’s Russia and the EU are engaged in a race against time: The question is which one will collapse first.

The Putin regime faces bankruptcy in 2017, when a large part of its foreign debt matures, and political turmoil may erupt sooner than that. Putin’s popularity, which remains high, rests on a social compact requiring the government to deliver financial stability and a slowly but steadily rising standard of living. Western sanctions, coupled with the sharp decline in the price of oil, will force the regime to fail on both counts.

Russia’s budget deficit is running at 7% of GDP, and the government will have to cut it to 3% in order to prevent inflation from spiraling out of control. Russia’s social security fund is running out of money and has to be merged with the government’s infrastructure fund in order to be replenished. These and other developments will have a negative effect on living standards and opinions of the electorate before the parliamentary election in the fall.

The most effective way that Putin’s regime can avoid collapse is by causing the EU to collapse sooner. An EU that is coming apart at the seams will not be able to maintain the sanctions it imposed on Russia following its incursion into Ukraine. On the contrary, Putin will be able to gain considerable economic benefits from dividing Europe and exploiting the connections with commercial interests and anti-European parties that he has carefully cultivated.

As matters stand, the EU is set to disintegrate. Ever since the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent rescue packages for Greece, the EU has learned how to muddle through one crisis after another. But today it is confronted by five or six crises at the same time, which may prove to be too much. As Merkel correctly foresaw, the migration crisis has the potential to destroy the EU.

When a state or association of states is in mortal danger, it is better for its leaders to confront harsh reality than to ignore it. The race for survival pits the EU against Putin’s Russia. ISIS poses a threat to both, but it should not be over-estimated. Attacks mounted by jihadi terrorists, however terrifying, do not compare with the threat emanating from Russia.

ISIS (and Al Qaeda before it) has recognized the Achilles’ heel of Western civilization – the fear of death – and learned how to exploit it. By arousing latent Islamophobia in the West and inducing both publics and governments to treat Muslims with suspicion, they hope to convince young Muslims that there is no alternative to terrorism. Once this strategy is understood, there is a simple antidote: Refuse to behave the way your enemies want you to.

The threat emanating from Putin’s Russia will be difficult to counter. Failure to recognize it will make the task even more difficult.


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Photo of Guy Verhofstadt

It is time for Europe to assert itself, harness its economic might, and use it to put Putin in his place.

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Putting Putin in his Place

BRUSSELS – At least six crises are testing Europe’s stability: regional chaos caused primarily by the war in Syria, a potential British exit from the European Union, an influx of refugees on a scale not seen since World War II, unresolved financial challenges, Russian expansionism, and the return of nationalism to mainstream politics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has intentionally exacerbated at least four of these crises. In addition to his adventurism in Ukraine, he has injected obstructionism into European politics through his support of populist and euroskeptic parties, escalated the conflict in the Middle East by his military intervention in Syria and, as a consequence, aggravated the refugee crisis. The EU must wake up to the threat Putin poses and begin to counter his aggression.

The nationalism sweeping Europe, indeed, has been partly fueled by Russian funding of far-right political parties, the rise of which has prevented Europe from crafting a collective response to the refugee crisis. In the United Kingdom, the pro-Putin UK Independence Party is nipping at Prime Minister David Cameron’s heels, so the government refuses to commit to taking Britain’s fair share of refugees. Similarly, Sweden has closed its borders, in response to the far-right Sweden Democrats’ rapidly rising poll numbers. This sorry calculus is being carried out across the continent.

Meanwhile, Putin has derailed the international community’s efforts to negotiate a political solution to the conflict in Syria, the root cause of the refugee crisis. Russia’s support of the Syrian government’s assault on Aleppo has stymied the peace process, which depends on the cooperation of global players, regional powers, and the moderate opposition forces that Putin is bombing.

On February 15, at least 50 people, including women and children, were killed by missile attacks on schools and hospitals in northern Syria, according to the United Nations. The French government called the attacks “war crimes” – and rightly so. Russia denied involvement, but fragments of Russian-built missiles were found at the scene. The aid group Médecins Sans Frontières has said that only Russia or the Syrian government could possibly be responsible for the attacks.

Moreover, the fighting around Aleppo has displaced about 50,000 people, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Many of these desperate Syrians – consisting primarily of those who could not afford to flee sooner – will head toward Turkey and onward to Europe.

Russia is dropping bombs even as Putin claims to be supporting a ceasefire. Clearly, he cannot be taken at his word, as the Kremlin’s record in Ukraine also shows. With the United States distracted by its presidential election campaign, Europe’s leaders find themselves huddled alone, with the Russian bear gnawing at the door. It is time for immediate action.

First, European governments must put a swift halt to Russian financing of political parties within Europe. If necessary, the US Central Intelligence Agency should be asked to assist in identifying how these funds are transferred. The effort must be sustained until the pipelines funneling Russian cash to European parties are shut down for good.

Second, the EU must prepare to impose enhanced economic sanctions on Russia. UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which provides a road map for the Syrian peace process, obliges all actors, including Russia, to stop indiscriminate attacks against civilians. If Russia fails to abide by its commitments, these sanctions should be triggered.

Third, the EU must work with Turkey and other regional actors to establish safe havens on the Turkish-Syrian border, where refugees from Aleppo and elsewhere are headed. While this would entail some risk, there are no credible alternatives.

Finally, Europe must stop making Putin’s job easier for him and implement a collective approach to the influx of refugees. As part of an emergency response, a European frontier force and coast guard must be established and charged with helping Greece manage its border, as well as saving lives and processing new arrivals.

At the same time, EU funds must be used to improve conditions in the refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and elsewhere, to provide their residents with at least some hope of being able to meet their basic needs. And, yes, European leaders must agree to take a fair share of those in need, by allowing refugees to apply for asylum in the EU directly from the countries in which they are currently residing.

George Soros was right when he recently argued that the biggest long-term threat to the stability of the EU is Russia. But he was wrong to suggest that the EU is set to buckle and collapse under the weight of the multiple crises it faces. It is time for Europe to assert itself, harness its economic might, and use it to put Putin in his place.


Putin, Enemy of Europe?

Read Comments (17)
  1. Comment Commented

    Putin's russia is an enemy today since the powers that installed him in kremlin lost control over his doings.
    So they expect to propagandise a war against him to Europeans and it will work miracles!!!!You go and fight Putin if you so wish.I wouldnt.I d rather boycott western(only in name) greedy vultures .
    As for putin,he didnt hurt me at any point or my country.Only some Nazis in Ukrane have problem with Putin and NATO s generals who want to sell guns on behalf of their respective corporations/nations.All to maintain their respective political status quo,where they have all the wealth in their hands (and thus the power) and we are mercenaries dying for their profits.You go fight your wars investors.We can survive without you.
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  2. Comment Commented

    'EU must work with Turkey and other regional actors to establish safe havens on the Turkish-Syrian border'

    As soon as I read this I think oh so you wish to co-operate with the dictator of Turkey rather than the dictator of Russia. You want to help Turkey wipe out the Syrian Kurds on its' border to create a no-fly zone controlled by Turkey and it's allies. Then to set up refugee camps that will become supply and recruitment points for the Sunni jihadists.

    The quid pro quo for this being that Turkey keeps refugees from crossing into Europe. Utterly cynical.

    This article isn't about Putin, it is about releasing the twin pressures of refugees and right wing populist parties building up on the neoliberal European elite's project. That project - to turn Europe back into a feudal state with the pincers of austerity and centralisation of policy control under unelected EU officials.
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  3. Comment Commented

    Rather than waste your time (though an education in sophomoric sophistry) reading this spew, I recommend ...

    ISIS: The jihadist movement stamped “Made in America”

    USA, Turkey and Israel Act As Air Force for ISIS

    The US arming of ISIS
    While claiming to be committed to a war against ISIS, Washington and its regional allies have time and again proven themselves to be its principal sources of strength.

    Poll shows 81 percent of Syrians believe US created ISIS Read more

  4. Comment Commented

    You're appearing like a desperate person. Blame the outside for spontaneous internal reactions. Don't you know that's so 20th century? Don't you know people are better informed than that? Don't you know how pitiful you look? Read more

  5. Comment Commented

    Hmmm, let's see. All but the Russia thing look to be your own making. So, therefore, why don't you pack your bags and get a real job cleaning up your own messes? Or better yet, man up to your EU dictatorship failures and let sovereignty resume. What's that? Then you cannot play power games against large countries? Too bad. Get a life, and let the masses live theirs. Read more

  6. Comment Commented

    Syria is an utter catastrophe due to an IS largely created by Western incompetence and warmongering, to such a degree that only increased misery and death must occur before its end. That's what the West helped cause. The changes to effectively fight it started when Putin actually did something. The author appears to assume that readers of his articles are very informed (why else would they spend time at this site?) ... and yet so stupid. It's stunning. Read more

  7. Comment Commented

    I know you believe that we believe that you KNOW what the leaders of the West are thinking. But, sir, I believe that you don't know that a growing cohort of people with a brain KNOW that you're full of it. And that really _is_ what I think. I hope you believe it. Read more

  8. Comment Commented

    Putin saw that we created IS by our incompetence, and it's in Russia's interest to prevent its spread. Instead, you claim it's a plot against the EU. You need a psychiatrist, not a .org silly enough to pay for your delusions. Read more

  9. Comment Commented

    Bankruptcy... you first. We insist. You admit here the goal to use sanctions and oil to force a sovereign state to fail. You deserve what you get. Read more

  10. Comment Commented

    Yes, sir. Hope springs eternal for you. I understand. But, kind sir, cast a glance inside your own house. Difficult, eh? Read more

  11. Comment Commented

    The rantings of a sociopath. Blame the "other". Misdirection. And comedy at the same time, thinking we all "out here" are still susceptible. Read more

  12. Comment Commented

    "When a state or association of states is in mortal danger, it is better for its leaders to confront harsh reality than to ignore it." Something the EU dictatorship is incapable of, since it would require the use of a mirror. Read more

  13. Comment Commented

    "As matters stand, the EU is set to disintegrate." As well it should. A most felicitous statement. I feel much better. Read more

  14. Comment Commented

    I hear the banter & spew of warmongers. Everywhere. None more shrill and simultaneously empty as here. The facts are 180 deg. opposite to what these globalist elites try to pawn off as fact. No backup. Just lies. Read more

  15. Comment Commented

    This is quite a simplistic view. Indeed Putin poses a great thread for Europe, but it has been the US of A with their imperial foreign policy who created this mess in the first place. To name two examples, the invasion of Afghanistan and the support of the local warlords and obviously the second Iraq war and the following disastrous policy.
    The rise of right-wing parties is also the fallout of the financial and economic meltdown of 2007 also engineered in the US.

    It is OK to vilify Putin, but Russia benefits from opportunities created from the West Read more

  16. Comment Commented

    In early 2012, President Barrack Obama was caught unexpectedly chatting next to an open microphone to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the ongoing discussions regarding the European missile defense system. At that precise point in time the American president told his Russian counterpart to give him the opportunity to get reelected first so he could have a better chance of making the signing of a treaty a reality. Obama added: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense…this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” The "him" was none other than a veiled reference to the incoming Russian president — and outgoing prime minister — Vladimir Putin.

    This feeble appeal sent by the top leader of the liberal world order must have been received with utter derision at the Kremlin as the political-military events that unfolded afterwards demonstrated the lack of respect that the former apparatchik of the Russian Federal Security Services has for the Obama administration and the West. Whether in granting asylum to the American subcontractor traitor Edward Snowden, to the annexation of Crimea, to the military interventions in Ukraine and Syria, among other aggressive moves, Putin has showed unmitigated disdain toward America and the EU. But can one blame him when he rightfully perceives how weak our Western leadership is? Compared to Neville Chamberlain in the 1930's, today's coterie of elected officials make the latter appear more of a Talleyrand than a warmonger appeaser.

    In a certain manner Mr. Verhofstadt’s observations are right when he expresses that: "It is time for Europe to assert itself, harness its economic might, and use it to put Putin in his place". Unfortunately, within the contemporary crop of statesmen there is none that can stand up to Moscow. Vladimir Putin knows this and therefore takes advantage of the fact. Hopefully the next caucus of governmental CEO's will react differently and put a halt to Mr. Putin's adventurism but don't hold your breath for in the near horizon there seems to be a batch of mollifiers rather than Churchill's or Truman's.

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