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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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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"

Misreading Ostpolitik and the Cuban Missile Crisis Screwed up German and US Foreign Policy

As usual, American pundits and politicians expect too much from demonstrations of power, sanctions against and isolation of Russia, while their German counterparts exaggerate the benefits of talking to Putin by establishing a contact group and attending the G8. Personally, I favor a mix of both approaches, of course. Though, I don't have much hope here and agree with Julia Ioffe's pessimism.

I do, however, would like to make a general comment beyond the current Ukraine crisis:

One reason for these different policies on Russia (and China by the way) is that many influential Germans and Americans drew the wrong lessons from important foreign policy successes in the Cold War: Respectively Ostpolitik and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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Brainstorming about Russia and Ukraine

A few good reads on how to respond to Russia regarding Ukraine:

Admiral Stavridis (ret) makes the case for a vigorous NATO response in Foreign Policy: "NATO Needs to Move Now on Crimea. Action may provoke -- but so does doing nothing."

Steve Saideman: Let's Play the NATO Game 

Ingo Manteufel for DW: Crimea is Putin's bargaining chip. Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy for the Ukrainian conflict is clear. As a result, Ukraine's new government and the West are in a dangerous jam.

Peter Baker in NY Times: Russia to Pay? Not So Simple

Not so good was this prediction:

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Russia as a Real Partner?

Putin and Obama have a fundamental choice to make in their new terms: Continue "their transactional approach to relations" or "put relations in a broader, longer-term strategic framework, which could foster more enduring constructive relations." Thomas E. Graham of Kissinger Associates and Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, write in the New York Times "Why the Reset Should Be Reset"

While I would not hold my breath that it will happen in 2013, the authors make some good arguments about common long term interests:

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Celebrating Freedom

Today is a great day for Freedom.

Today thousands of Russian protesters have demonstrated in Moscow against Vladimir Putin and demanded fresh elections and a new president. That's a bold demand, but I wish they will succeed.

25 years ago today, President Reagan made a bold demand as well, which became reality two years later. He stood in front of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War's frontline, and said: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" A big moment in transatlantic relations that deserves more appreciation. The plea sounds simple today, but was controversial back then. Former US Diplomat John Kornblum wrote a great background article. I include Reagan in the Top Five: Americans who rocked Berlin

The Russians deserve the same kind of freedom that East Germans got, when the wall fell.

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NATO has a New Strategic Concept

The Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation adopted by Heads of State and Government in Lisbon today is very concise. Just eleven pages. Let's see how substantial it is. And how it will be implemented.

At the Open Think Tank atlantic-community.org, my day job, we have created some policy recommendations for the New Strategic Concept over the summer and are currently running a Policy Workshop on Russian-Western Relations, another big issue at the Lisbon summit.

NATO features a summary of my survey of Russian experts in a special Lisbon summit edition of NATO Review, which is layouted in Portugal's national colors. Lovely!