Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

Republicans angered as Trump congratulates Putin

March 21, 2018

AFP and The Associated Press

© Yuri Kadobnov / Pool / AFP | Russian President Vladimir Putin meets at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 19, 2018.


Latest update : 2018-03-21

President Donald Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to congratulate him on his re-election, drawing bruising criticism from members of his own party, including a leading senator who scorned the election as a “sham.”

Trump also said he and Putin might meet “in the not too distant future” to discuss the arms race and other matters.

What they didn’t discuss on Tuesday was noteworthy as well: Trump did not raise Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections or its suspected involvement in the recent poisoning of a former spy in England.

“An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and has pressed the Trump administration to respond aggressively to Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, called the president’s call “odd.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump “can call whomever he chooses” but noted that calling Putin “wouldn’t have been high on my list.”

At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it was “no surprise” that Putin was re-elected, commenting that some people were paid to turn out to vote and opposition leaders were intimidated or jailed. She also cited a preliminary report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that said Russia’s election took place in an overly controlled environment that lacked an even playing field for all contenders.

Her comments were notably tougher on Russia than those coming from the White House.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s call, and noted that President Barack Obama made a similar call at the time of Putin’s last electoral victory.

“We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Sanders said.

The action and reaction fit a Trump White House pattern of declining to chide authoritarian regimes for undemocratic practices.

Trump himself has long been reluctant to publicly criticize Putin. He said that during their hoped-for meeting the two men would likely discuss Ukraine, Syria and North Korea, among other things.

“I suspect that we’ll probably be meeting in the not too distant future to discuss the arms race, to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control, but we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have,” Trump said.

Russia has received global condemnation after Britain blamed Moscow for the recent nerve agent attack that sickened Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Russia has denied the accusation.

Trump’s call came at a period of heightened tensions between the two nations after the White House imposed sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election and other “malicious cyberattacks.” Sanders insisted that the administration has scolded Putin at the appropriate times.

“We’ve been very clear in the actions that we’ve taken that we’re going to be tough on Russia, particularly when it comes to areas that we feel where they’ve stepped out of place.”

The Kremlin said in a statement that Trump and Putin spoke about a need to “coordinate efforts to limit the arms race” and for closer cooperation on strategic stability and counterterrorism.

“Special attention was given to considering the issue of a possible bilateral summit,” the Kremlin statement said.

In addition, the two presidents expressed satisfaction with the apparent easing of tensions over North Korea’s weapons program, according to the Kremlin.

No details were released about the timing or location of a possible meeting, which would be their third since Trump took office in January 2017. They met on the sidelines of an international summit in Germany last summer and again more informally at another gathering of world leaders in Vietnam in November.

The presidents “agreed to develop further bilateral contacts, taking into account changes in the U.S. State Department,” the Kremlin statement said in a reference to Trump’s decision to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Russia has repeatedly said it hoped for better ties with the U.S. under Trump.

Putin received calls from a number of other foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many others, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, sent congratulatory telegrams.

The White House had said Monday that it was “not surprised by the outcome” of Sunday’s presidential election in Russia and that no congratulatory call was planned.

Trump continues to grapple with the shadow of the ongoing investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 election that sent him to the White House.

Last month, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three organizations on charges of interfering in the election. Three of Trump’s associates   former national security adviser Michael Flynn, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and campaign aide George Papadopoulos   have pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has pleaded not guilty to a variety of money laundering and other criminal charges.



EU’s Juncker under fire for ‘nauseating’ Putin letter

March 20, 2018


© AFP/File / by Damon WAKE | EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker is under fire over a “nauseating” letter congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election even as Britain blames Moscow for a deadly toxin attack

BRUSSELS (AFP) – EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker came under fire Tuesday over a “nauseating” letter congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election even as Britain blames Moscow for a deadly toxin attack.Juncker wrote to Putin, returned for another six years in power on Sunday with a record vote share, pledging to “always be a partner” in improving security cooperation with the Kremlin.

Russia is currently under a punishing regime of sanctions for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and is accused of running a sustained campaign of disinformation and cyber attacks against several EU members.

“I have always argued that positive relations between the European Union and Russian Federation are crucial to security of our continent,” Juncker said in the letter, which he shared on Twitter.

“Our common objective should be to re-establish a cooperative pan-European security order.”

Juncker added: “I hope that you will use your fourth term in office to pursue this goal. I will always be a partner in this endeavour.”

Juncker’s letter came just a day after EU foreign ministers offered Britain “unqualified solidarity” in a dispute with Russia and despite the EU’s own diplomatic service voicing concern about “violations and shortcomings” in the election.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said her government believes that Moscow was behind the March 4 poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury using a Soviet-designed nerve agent.

– ‘Disgraceful’ –

The head of May’s Conservative Party group in the European Parliament said that with his letter Juncker was effectively “appeasing a man who poses a clear threat to western security”.

“This is a disgraceful letter from Jean-Claude Juncker,” MEP Ashley Fox said in a statement.

“His failure to mention Russia’s responsibility for a military nerve agent attack on innocent people in my constituency is nauseating.”

The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt joined the criticism, saying on Twitter “this is no time for congratulations”.

The former Belgian premier insisted that ties with Russia “must be conditional on respect for the rules based international order”.

European Council President Donald Tusk — a former Polish premier who often takes a tough stance on Russia — had not congratulated Putin, an EU official said.

“President Tusk has not sent such a letter and I would not be surprised if he doesn’t send it at all,” the official added.

May will brief fellow EU leaders on the Salisbury investigation at a summit in Brussels starting on Thursday, where they are to issue a joint statement pledging to “coordinate on the consequences” for Russia.

The 28 leaders will wait to see what answers Moscow provides on the nerve agent attack on Skripal and his daughter, according to a draft text seen by AFP.

A senior EU official said leaders would debate “attribution of the attack” and see if there was “room for improvement” in the wording of the statement.

“Until now, nobody is talking about additional sanctions,” the source said,

EU sources say some states, including Greece, have been reluctant to put pressure on Moscow over the incident.

The Kremlin has denied London’s charge over the poisoning — the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II — demanding London either come up with proof of Russia’s involvement or apologise.

The EU has been increasingly concerned with a more assertive Russia in the past few years, especially after Moscow annexed Ukraine in 2014, triggering the first in a series of European sanctions.

by Damon WAKE

Ukraine: Russia no longer has “red lines” — Urges boycott of World Cup in Russia — Worried by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

March 20, 2018

The UK nerve agent attack shows Russia has no “red lines” anymore, says Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin. In an interview with DW, he contends that Moscow’s aggression against Kyiv could happen anywhere now.

Brüssel Nato-Hauptquartier Pawlo Klimkin, Außenminister Ukraine (NATO)

DW: After Vladimir Putin’s easy re-election as Russian president, you are warning that he no longer has any “red lines” and, with another mandate, will stop at nothing to get what he wants. What are you worried about? Ukraine? The rest of the world?

Pavlo Klimkin: It involves the whole democratic community because five years ago many people did not believe Putin could ever invade Ukraine. One year ago many people did not believe at all that [Russia] could organize, using nerve agents, on British soil. So, fundamentally, there are no red lines here. It’s about a comprehensive and coordinated answer. Without such [an] answer, without a kind of platform for the whole trans-Atlantic community — and I understand Ukraine is an important part of the trans-Atlantic community — Russia will try to meddle in the democratic institutions.

So what you must be saying is that the response so far  sanctions, freezing, no “business as usual”  has not been enough.

But there are other measures; there could be more targeted sanctions. There could be more political pressure. There could be attempts to counter Russian unconventional threats. It could be about energy, it could be about cyber, it could be about many issues.

You’ve suggested nobody should go to the upcoming football World Cup in Russia.

Definitely! Look, how can you say that Russia deserves such a football championship now after what basically has happened: us in Ukraine, Crimea, Donbass, so many cases of meddling into elections in Europe and all around the democratic world. But using nerve agents on British soil, endangering British citizens and doing it — raising the stakes intentionally just one week before the presidential elections in Russia. So we need a tough coordinated answer to the Russian threat.

There has been some criticism of Ukraine for not letting the Russians in Ukraine vote in the Russian election on Sunday. Why did you do that?

Firstly we said very clearly the whole elections are not legitimate on the territory of occupied Crimea because the Russians have one single constituency. The issue of legitimacy for this election is definitely under question. But there is another point about security and safety around Russian diplomatic representations in a very emotional way. How should I explain to people who lost their brothers in arms or their relatives or their loved ones because of the Russian aggression that Russian elections should go just this way? So we have to care also about people and I believe it was good in the sense of safety and security yesterday in Ukraine.

You are saying that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and people like him who are voluntarily representing Russian interests abroad should be put under EU sanctions.

No no no, I am not saying that. But what I did say and it’s very important, is that the EU — both nationally and at the EU level — should act against such persons because they keep driving projects, Russian projects, which are supported by Russian companies, which are under EU sanctions and which are used now as a tool in the sense of Russian meddling into the European Union.

“The EU [..] should act against such persons.” – Ukrainian Foreign Minister @PavloKlimkin urges sanctions on former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder over pro- lobbying.

via our reporter @terischultz

So on lobbyists like Gerhard Schröder, there should be a clear understanding, what is their role, and there should be a clear understanding, what is the way forward. It’s not about sanctioning them tomorrow and after tomorrow. Let’s be fair. But in a political sense, I believe people like Gerhard Schröder totally lost their credibility. And in this sense there should be a political drive enacted against them.

German member of the European Parliament David McAllister said he agreed that it’s a shame Schröder is doing that. Do you think sanctions are something that could happen as people try to drill down harder on Moscow?

Of course, because it’s the only way forward. Otherwise Moscow will come and simply try to meddle in the whole way democratic institutions here in the European Union, in the whole civilized world, [operate] and Russia has been already doing that. Tolerating that would mean Putin could do something else any other day.  And remember what has been tested in Ukraine — Russian propaganda, May 17 invasion, cyber, terrorist attacks, everything — now could be tested here. And the same pattern of propaganda and fake news after May 17 now come back with the Russian denial of what happened in Salisbury. So everyone should be acutely aware of it.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin & EU High Representative Federica MogheriniMogherini visited Ukraine in early March, both giving support to Kyiv and urging further reforms.

You’ve just seen the EU foreign ministers. Does it seem like Europe is going to mount such a response?

I believe the mood is good for shaping up such a response. What kind of measures will be taken I can’t say — you should ask [EU foreign policy chief] Federica Mogherini on that —  but the mood is definitely different from before.

It sounds like this is sort of a zero-sum game for Russia and Ukraine  the worse Russia behaves, the more the EU understands what you’ve been telling them for years … the more NATO sees they need to protect you.

Unfortunately, the understanding of Russian behavior and Russian intention had not come from the very beginning and some people needed time to understand what is Russia about … what this Kremlin regime is about. But it’s coming, it’s coming definitely into this sense of clear understanding what Russia is able to deliver or how Russia is able to meddle in the sense of democratic institutions.

Pavlo Klimkin is the foreign minister of Ukraine. He previously served as his country’s ambassador to Germany from 2012 to 2014. Klimkin spoke to DW at NATO Headquarters after meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and European Union foreign ministers.


Angela Merkel rejects sanctions on predecessor Schröder for Russia support — Many now view Schröder as “just another Russian oligarch”

March 19, 2018

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is unlikely to be punished for his Russian dealings, as Ukraine would like. But he’s still coming under fire across the political spectrum in Germany.

Gerhard Schröder (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul)

Spokesman Steffen Seibert didn’t waste many words at the German government’s Monday press conference when asked about calls by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin for sanctions on former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Angela Merkel, Seibert said, saw “no reasons” to punish Schröder, who has held a variety of top posts with Russia companies and was recently described by the Wall Street Journal as “Putin’s most important oligarch.”

Ukraine is outraged that people in Russian-annexed Crimea were allowed to vote in Sunday’s national election, which saw Vladimir Putin handed a fourth term as Russian president. After Seibert’s statement, Klimkin said he was widening his appeal for sanctions against the former chancellor.

Read moreVladimir Putin’s landslide re-election: Leaders react and look forward

“The EU – both nationally and at the EU level – should act against such persons because they keep driving projects, Russian projects, which are supported by Russian companies, which are under EU sanctions and which are used now as a tool in the sense of Russian meddling into the European Union,” Klimkin told Deutsche Welle in Brussels. “So on lobbyists like Gerhard Schroeder, there should be a clear understanding (of) what is their role, and there should be a clear understanding what is the way forward.”

Klimkin is in Brussels for consultations with EU foreign ministers as part of “Ukraine + Group of Friends of Ukraine in the EU” format.

“It’s the only way forward,” Klimkin added, referring to sanctions on lobbyists. “Otherwise Moscow will come and simply try to meddle in the whole way how the democratic institutions here in the European Union, in the whole civilized world, function. and Russia has been already doing that. Tolerating that would mean Putin could do something else any other day.”

Playing Putin’s game?

Protest against pipeline (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen)Critics say that pipeline deals with Russia will make Germany dependent on Putin

It is unclear what, if any, sanctions either Germany or the EU could impose on Schröder, who was German chancellor from 1998 to 2005 and has worked for a number of Russian energy companies. In particular, he has been blasted for joining Nord Stream, the company that runs a major gas pipeline between Russian and Germany, immediately after leaving office. As chancellor, Schröder worked closely with Putin to promote the pipeline. That’s earned him, in some quarters, a reputation as a Putin stooge.

“Personally, I regret his decision because he’s lost his credibility on foreign policy,” conservative Member of the European Parliament David McAllister said in Brussels. “If you’re on a payroll from the one side, it’s very difficult to be considered as 100 percent neutral. It’s his personal decision. He’s now retired. I just personally hope that other chancellors, once they have retired in many years to come, won’t do the same mistake. And I’m pretty sure the current chancellor won’t.”

Read moreVladimir Putin: How a spy rose to power and held on to it

Schröder has also been taken to task by a prominent member of the Green Party, Schröder’s junior coalition partners during his time as chancellor.

“I would agree with what the Wall Street Journal has written recently,” Green Bundestag deputy Omid Nouripour told DW in Berlin. “We don’t need sanctions against Schröder. He didn’t violate any laws. But we need to create awareness of what’s going on. There are a lot of people who are very well-known, like former Chancellor Schröder, who are playing Putin’s game in this country. This is dangerous.”

A blast from a Ukrainian lobbyist

Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin (Reuters/. P. Bernstein)Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin is trying to rally support against Russia in the EU

Another figure to blast Schröder was former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

“It’s his decision, but politically it’s a disaster,” said Rasmussen in Brussels. “I think the best way to proceed will be to really block the Nord Stream 2 project.”

Rasmussen is an adviser to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and a vocal supporter of Ukrainian causes, so his words should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt.

Despite a request for a statement, Germany’s Social Democratic Party has thus far not taken an official position on the calls to sanction the former SPD chancellor. Schröder himself has insisted on numerous occasions that there is nothing illegal about his work for Russian companies.

‘Cooling off’ ex-politicians

Gerhard Schröder (r) and Vladimir Putin (picture-alliance/dpa)Schröder’s friendship with Putin while in office has served him well in his post-political career

The anti-influence-peddling NGO Lobby Control in Berlin said that it could not comment on a foreign-policy issue such as whether Schröder should be punished. But a spokesman added that the former chancellor should not be given special treatment because of his past.

“We do view Schröder’s activities very critically,” Lobby Control’s Timo Lange told DW. “From our perspective, it’s important that the German government and the SPD show that Schröder doesn’t enjoy any special privileges or access because he was once the chancellor and the head of the party.”

Lange echoed Nouripour’s call for greater awareness in Germany of former politicians’ lobbying activities and said that a 2015 law prohibiting the highest-level politicians from immediately accepting lobbying jobs after they leave office should be beefed up.

“We would favor extending the so-called ‘cooling-off period’ from the current maximum of 18 months,” Lange said. “It remains to be seen how this rule will be enforced now since it’s the first time we’ve had a change of government.”

Lange added that Germany should institute a registry for all lobbyists. Legislation to create one was put forward by the Greens and the Left Party during the last legislative period but was shot down by the conservative-SPD government.

Reporting from Brussels by Teri Schultz.


Vladimir Putin’s great deceit

March 19, 2018

It’s no surprise that Vladimir Putin was re-elected as Russian president. The outcome of this bogus election was preordained. DW’s Ingo Mannteufel comments on the consequences for Russia and the West.

Vladimir Putin (Getty Images/AFP/Y. Kadobnov)

The Kremlin controls every aspect of the political process in Russia and it didn’t leave anything to chance during this electoral spectacle. That makes it very difficult to judge the more than 70 percent of votes in favor of Vladimir Putin. Many Russians undoubtedly voted for him; he is clearly popular with the public.

But he is popular because the Kremlin has for years blocked other politicians from developing their own public profiles in the centrally controlled media. That applies not only to prominent opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny. It also applies to opposition politicians who remain committed to the Russian political system and political allies, such as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who have stayed loyal to Putin. The president’s power rests not only on state repression, but also to the media’s portrayal of him as Russia’s only conceivable leader.

Read more: Khodorkovsky: Nobody knows where Putin will drag Russia

No political competition in Russia

The results of elections like today’s pseudo vote will remain meaningless so long as there is no real political competition. Competition has so far been simulated and imitated. Other candidates were allowed to take part in this ballot, but they had no chance of winning. They were token candidates and have fulfilled their task.

The Kremlin was aware of this weakness and wanted the result to be more than a mere formal confirmation of Putin’s presidency. A vote share of 70 percent or more for Putin combined with high voter turnout — preferably around 70 percent — would dispel doubts about his legitimacy. But only naïve voters are really impressed by such numbers. Political strategists in the Kremlin know this best — it is there that the many tricks, manipulations and forgeries were devised to ensure the desired result.

Read more: Vladimir Putin: How a spy rose to power and held on to it

Putin’s dangerous courseWhere will Putin lead Russia in the next few years? Many in the West fear Russia’s unpredictable and aggressive stance on the international stage, as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg most recently put it. The poisoning of the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in the UK with a military-grade nerve agent made it clear that Putin is prepared to further escalate confrontation with the West.

Ingo Mannteufel


Ingo Mannteufel leads DW’s Russian department

The Kremlin also wants to distract the Russian public from the country’s own plight with an expansionist and aggressive foreign policy. The last six years were in every aspect lost years — economic growth only increased slightly. Russia has fallen behind economically and technologically, particularly compared to China, but also compared to the US, Japan and the EU. Russians sense their incomes are falling. But the Kremlin-controlled propaganda machine drowned out the homemade causes for the economic and social stagnation with anti-Western rhetoric and messages of bogus military strength.

Read more: Is it time for Germany to revisit its Russia relationship?

Putin will not change his course during his next term. Real reforms to the Russian economy and state would inevitably undermine the foundations of his power. For that reason, only imitations of reform, if any at all, can be expected. He is much more likely to pursue his present policies, as he announced in his last state of the nation address, and speak about armaments programs and new types of weapons. The era of illusions and delusions about Putin’s Russia is long gone.

Vladimir Putin: From mean streets to power

March 17, 2018

Times of Israel

The ex-KGB agent turned president has made himself indistinguishable from the Kremlin, all but guaranteeing his reelection for a 4th term


Journalists watch as Russian President Vladimir Putin gives his annual state of the nation address in Manezh in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Journalists watch as Russian President Vladimir Putin gives his annual state of the nation address in Manezh in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW (AP) — As a kid in a dismal Soviet communal apartment, Vladimir Putin was a scrapper who dreamed of being an operator — diligently training in martial arts and boldly walking into a KGB office to inquire about how to become a spy.

As Russia’s leader in the 21st century, he’s been the epitome of both traits — fighting Chechen rebels, directing the annexation of Crimea and, allegedly, approving an extensive and devious campaign to undermine American democracy.

It’s hardly a surprise that he’s expected to easily win election to a fourth term Sunday. The man and the office are indistinguishable.

As Russia’s leader since New Year’s Eve 1999 (he switched to prime minister from 2008-12 but was still seen as being in command) Putin clearly relishes the spotlight. Now 65, his displays of physical prowess such as bare-chested horseback riding have mostly faded away, but the hours-long annual news conferences and call-in shows testify to vigor and discipline. He still enjoys mixing it up in ice hockey games, though he once likened his skating to “a cow on ice.”

Few, if any, politicians have stepped more quickly from the shadows into rapt attention at home and abroad. Before being named President Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister in August 1999, he had been head of the Federal Security Service, one of the KGB’s successor agencies, which inherently is not a high-visibility position.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly at Moscow’s Manezh exhibition center on March 01, 2018. (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)

Many observers pegged him as a gray mediocrity at the time, laughingly suggesting that his service with the KGB on the friendly turf of East Germany suggested he had not been very adroit as an intelligence agent. Yeltsin shuffled prime ministers at an alarming rate, and Putin might have been just the latest through the revolving door.

But the next month, he showed himself when commenting on the early days of the second war against Chechen rebels, saying “if we capture them in the toilet then we will waste them in the outhouse.” Adamant, macho, and a touch of crude language — the remark seemed to reveal the essence of Putin that was formed in his youth.

When he became acting president upon Yeltsin’s resignation, his language was more refined but his mien just as tough. “I want to warn that any attempts to go beyond Russian law … will be decisively repressed,” he said.

Putin was born Oct. 7, 1952, to factory-worker parents in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, a city pervaded by memories of the horrific suffering of the nearly 900-day Nazi siege in World War II. One of Putin’s elder brothers died of diphtheria during the siege and the other died a few months after birth. According to “First Person,” interviews published after he became acting president, Putin and his parents lived in a dismal communal apartment with a wretched toilet down the hall.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin (right) leaves the Kremlin after announcing his early resignation as head of state and the temporary transfer of his powers to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (left), December 31, 1999. (Photograph: ITAR-TASS/Wikipedia)

Putin said he responded to these rough circumstances by becoming a childhood “hooligan,” one of the few in his school not allowed into the Communist Young Pioneers. In his early adolescence, Putin channeled his aggressive tendencies into the martial arts, a sport he practiced avidly into late middle-age.

As a teen, Putin aspired to join the KGB — apparently more for adventure than out of ideology — and succeeded after graduating from Leningrad University’s law faculty in 1975.

Putin worked in counterintelligence, monitored foreigners in Leningrad and in 1985 started his post in Dresden. He returned to Leningrad in 1990 and started work for the city’s reformist mayor. Putin resigned from the KGB a year later, on the second day of the abortive coup attempt against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which was backed by the KGB.

In 1983 Putin married Lyudmila Skrebneva, an Aeroflot flight attendant who later became a university lecturer in German. Thirty years later, the couple appeared on state TV in a faux-casual interview to announce their marriage was ending; Putin was reportedly too devoted to his job to be an attentive husband.

An activist distributes election leaflets in support of presidential candidate, President Vladimir Putin on a street in downtown Moscow on March 16, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Yuri KADOBNOV)

Despite rumors of a dalliance with a female gymnastics star, Putin publicly presents himself as upright and abstemious. He is only rarely seen with a glass of vodka and almost never actually drinking.

Although reports have suggested that Putin has accumulated vast wealth, he shows little taste for real ostentation outside the gilded halls of the Kremlin. His public face is an older, better-fed version of the tough teen from a bad part of town, determined to dominate.


Putin’s Key Oligarch Escapes Sanctions

March 17, 2018

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder aids Russia’s ambitions in Eastern Europe, but has dodged Western attention. 

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2017.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2017. PHOTO: FELIPE TRUEBA/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Hitting upon a potent response to Vladimir Putin were Obama sanctions targeted at his top cronies, later adopted and extended in last year’s bipartisan legislation signed by Donald Trump.

Sanctions aimed at key individuals can be surprisingly effective, it turns out. They help to undermine internal support for the regime or at least its most unattractive policies.

One oligarch, though, remains overlooked. Arguably he is the most important of all. That’s former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Mr. Putin has worked with astonishing success to reorganize energy logistics in Europe to isolate, threaten and intimidate strategic countries, especially Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic nations. Mr. Schroeder has been his vital helpmate at every step.

One of Mr. Schroeder’s last acts before being turned out of office in 2005 was authorizing Nord Stream, a pipeline bypassing key territories and controlled by Russia’s Gazprom .Weeks later, at Mr. Putin’s arrangement, he took up Nord Stream’s lucrative chairmanship.

He has since added the chairmanship of Nord Stream 2, a second proposed pipeline that Germany’s now-resurrected coalition government previously approved, though with great reluctance, at the urging of Mr. Schroeder’s former party, the Social Democrats. He added a third, impressive title in September, chairman of Rosneft, the state-owned Russian oil giant at the heart of the Putin kleptocracy.

Mr. Schroeder has been a one-man Trojan horse against every European Union commitment to curb Russian energy leverage and improve the competitiveness of its gas market. Notice that the alternative was never to shut Russian gas out of Germany. It was simply for Germany, at every step, to stop lending itself to the enhancement of Russia’s energy power, with Mr. Schroeder leading the influence brigades.

He has also been the most reliable, quotable excuser of Kremlin misbehavior. Days after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea, he rushed off to St. Petersburg to be conspicuously photographed hugging Mr. Putin. Last year’s revelation of the Rosneft job, six weeks before September’s German national elections, was an equally calculated gesture.

His bright young successor as head of the Social Democrats let it be known that he viewed the decision as “wrong” and counseled Mr. Schroeder: “You don’t have to take every job that comes along.”

Germany’s recently retired president, not known for seeking out the press, sought out the press to express disapproval of Mr. Schroeder’s promotion.

Angela Merkel publicly called the decision “not acceptable” (and then accepted it).

Thus Mr. Schroeder makes himself merely debatable, rather than intolerable. This is how “normalization” really works.

Mr. Schroeder is everything Donald Trump was supposed to be in the fevered dreams of Rep. Adam Schiff —a luxury-loving, paid-up, swaggering instrument of Vladimir Putin. Except there’s no secret about it. He can even boast of being two wives ahead of Mr. Trump. Mr. Schroeder has been down the aisle so many times that the German press dwells on his reputation as the “lord of the rings” more than it does his Putin captivity.

By now, too many Germans have apologized for him for too long to think about reversing themselves, even when Mr. Putin’s missiles shot down a Malaysian airliner. Germany’s allies and its European Union partners, including the quietly frantic Poles and Balts, can’t quite refer to Mr. Schroeder as a Putin agent nestled in the heart of Germany’s political and business elite. His name doesn’t appear on any U.S. government list. Section 241 of last summer’s sanctions law required the U.S. Treasury to identify the “most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs” behind the Putin regime. These descriptors would seem to apply to Mr. Schroeder but it remains diplomatically impermissible to say so.

A term has even been coined by students of European geopolitics: “Schroederization.” Witness the Robert Mueller indictment of Paul Manafort, with its allusions to the recruitment of retired heads of state as paid lobbyists for Russia, understood to include former prime ministers of Italy, Finland and Austria.

As a general matter, can targeting sanctions at a few well-placed individuals really help with a problem like Mr. Putin, last seen using a banned nerve agent to kill an inconvenient person on British soil?

Yes. “While Europe’s economic sanctions are having little effect on Russia, those applied by the United States dramatically affect the country and its dealings with Europe,” Germany’s prestigious Handelsblatt newspaper reported in January, referring to U.S. sanctions against Putin cronies.

By making it hard for Putin associates to do business or travel in the West, or use its financial system to protect their wealth, the West can seize up the machine that sustains Mr. Putin’s power.

A kleptocracy can’t function if its beneficiaries can’t secure and enjoy their wealth. Among those currently unimpinged in their enjoyment is former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Appeared in the March 17, 2018, print edition.

What Schroeder Says…

The US is pushing for a weaker Russia while Europe is betting on a resurgent neighbour to the east to boost trade, Germany’s former chancellor has said.

Gerhard Schroeder suggested a fault line had emerged among Western allies, with Washington seeking to “isolate Russia” while its allies on the continent, including Germany, hoped to see the country prosper.

Mr Schroeder, who served as chancellor between 1998 and 2005, called for an end to sanctions and warned against attempts to “destabilise Russia”.

Speaking at the Eurasian Economic Forum in Verona, the former head of state said: “The US believes that it is possible to isolate Russia from the political point of view, and this is dangerous from the economic point of view.”

Mr Schroeder, who was appointed chairman of Russia’s state-controlled oil company Rosneft last month, added: “I see that the United Statesis interested in a weaker Russia, and the interest of Europe and Germany is that Russia will prosper, two reasons: we need a market, especially Germany, we need resources for our industry.”

Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said it had been the policy of every US administration since the end of the Cold War to seek Russia’s integration into the world economy and global political affairs, “precisely because the idea of an isolated Russia is impossible and the idea of an impoverish Russia is undesirable”.

“The heart of the dispute between the West and Russia is not over Russia’s isolation or integration; it is over the terms of Russia’s integration,” Mr Shapiro, an expert in transatlantic relations, toldThe Independent.

Putin watches Russia’s military might on display in war games

“Both the US and Germany seek a Russia that plays by the political and economic rules, largely determined by the United States and its partners; Russia seeks a special status for its integration that recognises it as a great power with special rights.”

Mr Schroeder faced a backlash – including from the incumbent German Chancellor, Angela Merkel – after he accepted the job at Rosneft, which is subject to Western sanctions.

Some claimed he was “cashing in” on his former role as chancellor. But Mr Schroeder dismissed the criticism, saying his opponents wanted a “new Cold War”.

“Imagine if I had been proposed not for a Rosneft board position but for Exxon in America,” he said. “Nobody would ask my true motives.”

He added: “It is the largest oil company in the world, with important links to Germany. It is not the long arm of the Kremlin. They are the majority shareholder, but BP is a shareholder – not a small shop. Qatar is a shareholder.”

Rosneft also has informal ties to the Kremlin via its CEO, Igor Sechin, who is a close associate of the Russian President and who has earned the title “grey cardinal” on account of the influence he enjoys in Moscow.

Gerhard Schroeder greets Vladimir Putin in 2005 in Berlin (Getty)

As chancellor, Mr Schroeder backed plans for a pipeline between Germany and Russia. He has maintained links to another Russian energy giant, Gazprom, since leaving office and is a vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin, having once called the Russian President a “flawless democrat”.

“Compared to Mr Trump, Mr Putin is a very rational man, you have to admit,” he said.

First Skripal, Then NATO — How Putin’s Poison Works — The Putin challenge had only worsened on Mr. Trump’s watch

March 14, 2018

Security at home for Putin means showing that the West lacks the will to act.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Lukyanenko National Grain Center in Krasnodar, Russia, March 12.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Lukyanenko National Grain Center in Krasnodar, Russia, March 12. PHOTO: ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY/SHUTTERSTOCK

One theory you can put aside is that last week’s attempted nerve-gas murder of a retired Russian spy in Britain was planned by someone looking to discredit and undermine Vladimir Putin.

Since the original sin of the Putin era—the apartment-block bombings in 1999 that killed hundreds of Russians in their beds and were unconvincingly blamed on foreign terrorists—the question has always come up: Did Putin order it? Or was it orchestrated by “friends” trying to control his path?

The cases include: Who allowed a highly sophisticated missile system into Ukraine to shoot down a Malaysian airliner? Who arranged the 2006 fatal poisoning in London, using another exotic weapon, of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko ?

Who authorized the murder of Boris Nemtsov, Mr. Putin’s most credible domestic political opponent? Who exactly was responsible for the style and content of Russia’s meddling in Western elections? (Arrests and an unexplained death in Moscow since November 2016 suggest to some that Mr. Putin was not entirely happy with the result.)

These questions are always apt in one sense. The picture of a masterly Putin calling every shot is apocryphal. He intervenes in the projects of his intelligence and criminal confreres only when he has to—when he perceives danger to himself by failing to exercise control.

At the same time, by now there is an apparatus of billionaires and security officials who depend on his remaining in power and seek to signal to rivals and the broader public at home that he is invulnerable. And a big part of invulnerability, in their minds, means being immune to imagined or real Western efforts to weaken his position.

London has long been a favorite place for Putin allies to stash their stolen wealth and conduct their rivalries. Since the attack last week on Sergei Skripal, a former head of Scotland Yard is now calling for investigation of 14 other mysterious, Russia-related deaths.

No longer is it possible for the government of Prime Minister Theresa May to soft-pedal this mess and retain the respect of its public. Let’s hope another consideration is also at play: a growing understanding that worse may be coming unless Western allies start drawing lines Mr. Putin is bound to respect.

His biggest roll of the dice, with the biggest upside if he wins, would be a campaign of aggression against a nearby NATO member that would be aimed at proving the alliance to be an empty bag. There is reason to worry such a campaign is in the cards.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. He made a non-insane point before becoming president: Mr. Putin walks all over the West because we let him. Relations, Mr. Trump suggested, would improve when Mr. Putin is met by somebody equally tough.

Assuming Mr. Trump understood his own words, he should also understand that he has failed so far to achieve the desired result. Though his differences with Rex Tillerson were numerous, it hardly helps that Mr. Tillerson was fired Tuesday after he spoke strongly and plainly about how the Putin challenge had only worsened on Mr. Trump’s watch.

Britain is one of America’s closest allies. So far, the president has reportedly said the right things on the phone to Mrs. May but will the U.S. under Mr. Trump be up for a prolonged and costly effort to alter Russia’s path?

Mr. Putin’s career, alas, has become a funnel down which there is unlikely to be any return for Russia while he lives. And he plans to live. Aside from his speech this month outlining miracle weapons on Moscow’s drawing board, he has, in recent years, created a private army for his personal protection. His regime is currently resurrecting a Soviet commissariat (or a new Gestapo) to police the political reliability of the regular army. Meanwhile, his billionaire cronies seem to have reconciled themselves to eternal dependence on him.

Three levers are available and yet have been hardly tried against the Kremlin: More-capable weapons, supplied overtly or covertly, to those resisting Russian-backed forces in Ukraine and Syria. Freezing the assets of Putin-friendly Russians in the West. Spilling the intelligence beans linking Mr. Putin to various matters that would discredit him in the eyes of his saner countrymen.

Sen. Marco Rubio, during a confirmation hearing last year, elicited from the now-ousted Mr. Tillerson an acknowledgment of the considerable evidence linking Russia’s secret police (formerly headed by Mr. Putin) to the 1999 apartment bombings. This was a breakthrough. The U.S. government has been decisively silent on the subject for nearly 20 years.

OK, don’t hold your breath. Democrats who’ve discovered Mr. Putin only because he’s a club to use against Donald Trump should especially not kid themselves. Even less pushback was likely to come from previous administrations. The West’s risk-aversion in dealing with Mr. Putin is understandable. It’s also the reason we may be sailing into increasingly dangerous straits in our relations with Russia.

Appeared in the March 14, 2018, print edition.

Russia’s conflict-laden foreign policy

March 12, 2018

Russian foreign policy has hardened under President Vladimir Putin. Although Russia is looking for cooperation, it is not afraid of confrontation, which has often led to difficult foreign relations. DW has the lowdown.

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United States

Russia has an ambivalent relationship to the US. During the US presidential elections in the fall of 2016, Russia apparently tried subtly to influence public opinion to benefit the future president Donald Trump. At least, that is the gist of special investigator Robert Mueller’s work to date.

But since Trump’s inauguration, the relationship between the two heads of state has been strained. At the beginning of March, Putin announced in his speech on the state of the nation that he wanted to turn new, and what he described as impossible to attack, nuclear missiles against the West.

This was also a reaction to the US’ withdrawal from the treaty with Russia on missile defense in 2002. In any case, the US did not seem surprised by this move. Trump announced the construction of new nuclear missiles with reduced explosive force. Political scientist Susanne Spahn told DW that she suspects it is important to Putin to strengthen his country’s position of power specifically in relation to the US.

“The main enemy is the United States. Putin has used very threatening rhetoric towards the West along the lines of, ‘in the past you did not want to listen to us, then at least listen to us now’.”

Middle East

Russia’s ambition to become an international political heavyweight again is most evident in the Middle East. Russia strongly supports the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is at war with sections of his own population. Russia has set up a substantial military contingent to protect Assad and his established political order.

Read moreWhat foreign powers want from the war in Syria

There are several reasons for Moscow’s involvement: Firstly, it is about having a military foothold in the Mediterranean region. Above all, however, Russia has become an actor in the region that no one can avoid. Together with Assad’s other key ally, Iran, Russia now has considerable influence in the region between Iran and Israel.

Russia’s authority holds significantly more weight than at the beginning of the Syrian war, in Iraq, Syria and in areas of Lebanon controlled by Iran-backed Hezbollah. Russian authority also counts in Turkey, which intervened in northern Syria in January. The US had largely withdrawn from the Middle East under the Obama administration. They left behind a gap that Russia is increasingly filling.

Central and Eastern Europe

Russia has rather difficult relations with the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. Lithuania has barely had any political contact with Russia since the Ukraine crisis. Around 65 percent of Lithuanians regard Russia as an “unfriendly” neighbor, while around 18 percent do not rule out the possibility that Russia could invade their country. This has made them all the happier about the 1,000 NATO soldiers who have been deployed to Lithuania.

Lithuania has also distanced itself economically. For a long time, the Baltic country was heavily dependent on Russian energy exports. It has systematically reduced this dependence.

Russian relations with Poland are also at a low point. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose role as chairman of the right-wing conservative ruling PiS party makes him a kind of eminence grise of Polish politics, is a staunch anti-communist. He has also distanced himself from Putin’s Russia. For example, he is a strong supporter of the EU’s sanctions against Poland’s neighbor to the east. Neither country has any discernible interest in rapprochement.

On the other hand, Russia enjoys good relations with Serbia, which is in large part due to the good personal relationship between Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Serbia also gets a substantial part of its arms and energy imports from Russia.


Russia has had a difficult relationship with Germany since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis. Germany supports the EU’s decision to impose trade sanctions on Russia, despite the fact that German firms have suffered heavily as a result; around 40 percent of trade losses affect Germany.

Nevertheless, Germany is maintaining its critical stance on the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, SPD foreign policymaker Rolf Mützenich told DW. The breach of international law in Crimea is unacceptable, he said. However, he explained that the relationship with Ukraine and Russia generally remains a focal point of German foreign policy. “We must not put ourselves at the mercy of domestic political actors in either country,” said Mützenich.

Russia’s President Putin has an unclear relationship with Germany. On the one hand, Moscow maintains a close dialogue with Berlin. On the other hand, Putin questioned Germany’s sovereignty in June 2017. “There are not that many countries in the world that enjoy the privilege of having sovereignty. I don’t want to offend anyone, but what Mrs. Merkel said [in a previous speech – Ed] is an expression of the resentment of a limited authority that has accumulated over a long period of time.” The relationship is also strained by alleged Russian hacker attacks on German government computers.


Since relations with the EU have cooled as a result of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has increasingly turned its attention to China. Both countries want to expand their trade relations. Russia also wants to participate in the expansion of the “New Silk Road” — the dynamism of this primarily Chinese-European trade route should also benefit the Russian economy.

Read moreAre China and Russia challenging US military dominance?

In political terms, both states maintain a similar style, in particular, authoritarian dealings with critics and opponents within the country and a robust representation of their own interests to the outside world. Both states have repeatedly spoken out against Syria’s condemnation in the UN Security Council. They argue that interference in the country’s internal affairs is not admissible.

The two states have also come closer to each other militarily. They conducted several joint maneuvers — not only in central Asia, but also in the East China Sea. As a result, Russia has moved away in part from its previously cultivated neutrality in the dispute between China and Japan over islands in the South China Sea — a state of affairs that weighs heavily on Russian-Japanese relations, but that has further strengthened those with China.

Putin says he will ‘never’ give Crimea back to Ukraine

March 11, 2018


© AFP/File | A campaign billboard for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Crimean city of Simferopol ahead of next week’s election

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that under no circumstances would he give Crimea back to Ukraine, speaking in a new documentary released Sunday ahead of his expected re-election in next week’s poll.”What, have you gone mad?” he told a journalist who asked him if there were any circumstances under which the Russian leader would be ready to give up Crimea.

“There are no such circumstances and never will be,” he said in the new two-hour documentary “Putin”.

It was published on the social media accounts of notorious pro-Kremlin TV host Dmitry Kiselev ahead of a presidential election on March 18.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and supported Russian-speaking insurgents in the east of the ex-Soviet country after a Western-backed popular uprising ousted a Kremlin-backed regime from power in Kiev.

The peninsula’s annexation led to European and US sanctions against Moscow amid the most serious crisis in ties with the West since the end of the Cold War.

The documentary — produced by journalist Andrei Kondrashov, who is a spokesman for Putin’s campaign — features interviews with a number of the Russian leader’s allies including former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and childhood friend cellist Sergei Roldugin.

The secretive chief executive of oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, said he had served under Putin in various capacities for nearly 30 years and that the president was “a very careful person”.

“Honestly speaking, I don’t know a single mistake he has made over these years,” Sechin said in rare public comments.

“He is very careful at making decisions.”

Speaking on everything from his family to childhood to love and happiness, Putin said he was capable of forgiving.

“But not everything,” he quickly added, noting he could not forgive a betrayal.

“Generally speaking, I cannot complain that I’ve come across any serious events that could be called a betrayal,” Putin said.

Running against a motley crew of seven challengers, Putin is expected to take nearly 70 percent of the vote with a turnout of more than 60 percent, according to state-run pollsters.