The Brief, powered by FACEBOOK – Putin’s gamble

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, 17 February 2021. [EPA-EFE/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN]

Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is taking a dangerous gamble, internally and externally. On the one hand, he is slowly killing his political opponent Alexei Navalny in a Gulag-type establishment. On the other, he is creating conditions for a spark to ignite a military conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Kremlinology has always been a very difficult and inexact science. It is not easy to figure out the real aims, the real motivations, the real power balance, formerly in the Soviet Union, and now in Putin’s Russia. Moscow’s interest should be in fixing its economy and in having decent relations with the rest of the world, precisely for that purpose. But Putin is doing exactly the opposite.

Does Russia need more territory? It already has more than it can control. Is Ukraine a threat for Russia? Hardly. Ukraine doesn’t want Russian territory, it wants control of its own, and there is (or was) an international diplomatic format, the Normandy talks, which should, in principle, achieve this goal.

What, then, is Putin’s gain in killing Navalny? Can he realistically expect that after his opponent’s death he would squash all internal opposition? What if the opposite happens? And can he imagine the international outcry?

There is only one possible explanation for Putin toughening his stance.

In the face of an openly hostile administration in Washington, where President Joe Biden publicly called him a killer and rejected the invitation for bilateral talks, Putin doesn’t want to appear intimidated.

It’s also significant that in his stand-off with Biden, Putin has burned the bridges with the EU, as if he didn’t need a broker.

And what could the EU do, and what would be the EU reaction if Navalny dies in prison following treatment that amounts to torture, or if Russian troops invade into Eastern Ukraine?

Unfortunately, navel-gazing as usual, the EU is currently too busy chewing over ‘sofa-gate’. It simply has no stomach to prepare for more hostilities. And it has already amply proved that it has no diplomatic clout, tools or muscle to prevent military interventions in its own backyard.

Since Biden took over in Washington the EU looks diminished on the global stage, and quite useless in toning down the Cold War-type tensions. It’s a pity because Europe will be impacted the most if the situation worsens.

Europe is also the place where Russia’s upper class spends (and keeps) their wealth. Impounding Russian property in the EU would be the best response for affronts to come. Putin’s gamble, of course, is that the EU won’t have the guts to do that.


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The Roundup

After Kyiv and Moscow traded blame over the worsening situation in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine was able to mobilise its Western allies at political level, with several high-level meetings planned this week.

Development aid from the EU increased by more than 25% last year as funding for programmes to combat COVID-19 and support poorer countries surged, according to data published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Airlines could check new EU COVID-19 certificates before allowing onboard passengers going on summer holidays, a senior official said as the bloc seeks to restart a travel sector ravaged by the pandemic.

EU lawmakers from the Renew group have submitted a request to the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee to hold off on adopting a position on the UK’s adequacy for EU personal data transfers until the EU’s data protection watchdog has weighed in on the plans.

Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová has backed the researchers that examined doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine after Russia criticised them for having “damaged the reputation” of the shot with their assessment.

The Slovenian ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been summoned to the country’s foreign ministry to explain recent rumours about alleged plans by Ljubljana for the dissolution of the country hosting her and a redrawing of borders across the Western Balkans.

After criticism from regional leaders, the Czech government overturned its decision to support local sports clubs with money from the REACT-EU emergency instrument. Instead, a large majority of the funds will go to the healthcare system.

Austria’s Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) is resigning from office for health reasons and his successor is expected to be named later.

The head of the group advising the EU on its green finance rules has urged Brussels to resist political pressure to weaken them, saying the credibility of the regulation is at stake.

Look out for…

  • Commissioner College will discuss the communication on EU Agenda to tackle organised crime (2021-2025) and the communication on a new EU strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings
  • Commissioner Johannes Hahn will present the financing strategy for the European development instrument NextGenerationEU
  • European Parliament’s INTA, ECON, IMCO, AGRI, DROI and SEDE Committees
  • NATO holds joint meeting of foreign and defence minister together with top US officials on Afghanistan, Ukraine

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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