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Not a Riddle: Reading Russia - and Responding Resolutely

Putin's strategy is to intimidate, confuse and divide the West. He wants us to worry about his next steps. He appears stronger than he is, if Western decision-makers and opinion leaders consider Russia "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Churchill's famous description from October 1939 has made a comeback in the last fifteen months, but unfortunately not as the full quote:

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. It cannot be in accordance with the interest of the safety of Russia that Germany should plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea, or that it should overrun the Balkan States and subjugate the Slavonic peoples of south eastern Europe.  That would be contrary to the historic life-interests of Russia.

Churchill's reference to the "riddle", I believe, was mainly about forecasting Russia's actions, which is similar to the weather forecast. The next few days can be forecasted with quite some authority, but not the next weeks. Yet, we all know the not too distant future: Winter is coming. (Only stupid bureaucrats in charge of our public transport systems get surprised by the first heavy snow fall.) Russia's future looks bleak as current policies are not sustainable.

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Standing the Test of Time

This blog has not been prolific in recent months, but I am glad that my past articles stand the test of time:

1. When Russia's green men seized Crimea in February 2014, US and German politicians and pundits suggested different responses. I explained the reasons for these transatlantic differences: Misreading Ostpolitik and the Cuban Missile Crisis Screwed up German and US Foreign Policy

This article from March 2014 is still relevant and will most likely explain gut reactions to future crises as well. The current German and US governments cannot ignore their pundits and public opinions, but so far Merkel's and Obama's Russia policy has not been too much negatively influenced by the popular, but shallow and wrong reading of past US or German policy successes. The EU and the US have been balancing sanctions and diplomacy quite well. They have successfully maintained transatlantic unity, which is more important than higher sanctions or more diplomacy.

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Majority of Germans in Favor of More Transatlantic Cooperation

The German media is full of NSA and TTIP criticism, but 56% of Germans still want more cooperation with the United States. That’s a surprisingly positive result of the Körber-Foundation poll “Involvement or Restraint” in support of the German Foreign Office’s “Review 2014”-process. And yet, several journalists manage to draw Anti-American conclusions from this poll.

I have explained it in German at Deutschlands Agenda, but including some tweets in English.

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Discussing Transatlantic Relations on Deutsche Welle TV

Ahead of Chancellor Merkel's US trip I had the pleasure to be on the TV talkshow "Agenda" at Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster.
I answered questions on Merkel's agenda, the NSA scandal, TTIP, and whether Germany is firmly in the West (at 34:55 min). I also participated in the discussion on Ukraine (3:37, 13:45 min) with Roman Goncharenko, DW Eastern Europe Correspondent, and moderated by Brent Goff. I conceded to panelist Fraya Frehse from Sao Paulo University that Brazil will win the World Cup.

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NATO's Tightrope Walk: Reassuring Frontline Allies without Provoking Russia

The German Council on Foreign Relations hosted the US and German ambassadors at NATO at the event "Old Threats and New Challenges: NATO 2014 Summit and Beyond".  I tweeted about their key arguments on Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, interoperability and deterrence: Continue reading "NATO's Tightrope Walk: Reassuring Frontline Allies without Provoking Russia"

Highlights from the Munich Security Conference 2014

The world's leading defense conference celebrated it's 50th anniversary this year and the debates were fascinating and met the expectations. I have curated tweets from participants and tweeted myself based on the livestream on Saturday. Here's a selection of what I think are the most interesting Tweets on Germany, China/Japan and general history lessons.

This is followed by some criticism about a lack of diversity as well as photos from a panel of 90+ year old statesmen, of four female defense ministers (less than half the age, I guess), an embarrassing selfie from a CEO, and of the demonstration outside.

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NATO Achievements and Challenges in 2013

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's latest Annual Report focuses on NATO's achievements in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Turkey and against piracy and the ways to ensure an efficient and capable NATO for 2014 and beyond. Here and on Storify are some of the main points as Tweets. Continue reading "NATO Achievements and Challenges in 2013"

Germany's Defense Spending: Fact-checking the NY Times

Yesterday, the New York Times published a short article by Professor Hendrickson with wrong claims about Germany’s defense spending:

“Germany’s cuts of 25 percent over the next four years are similarly appalling.”

Ryan C. Hendrickson’s only stated reference about such drastic defense cuts is a RAND study, which he describes as „recent“, although it was published in mid-2012 and relies on data mostly from 2011. The professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University took the phrase „the next four years“ from the first paragraph of the RAND summary. It seems that he has not read the next two pages, which state: “The German Ministry of Defense plans to cut $10 billion (or roughly €7.8 billion) from its defense budget by 2013. If these cuts are implemented as planned, the entire German Armed Forces will…” This means that the 25 percent cut was supposed to already have happened. Professor Hendrickson also missed RAND’s qualifier expressed with the big “If” and he has not bothered to check the numbers for 2013. Fact is that Germany’s defense spending has increased by 2 billion Euro between 2009 and 2013.

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