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MAIN FOCUS | 23/04/2014

Valls' austerity package under fire

France wants to cut its public spending by around 50 billion euros by 2017. Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls will present a corresponding austerity programme today, Wednesday, which has been heavily criticised by members of his party. But fears of a voter backlash have watered down the package, commentators fear, and urge Valls to hold his course.

With articles from the following publications:
Handelsblatt - Germany, Le Figaro - France, La Vanguardia - Spain

Handelsblatt - Germany

Many MPs from Prime Minister Manuel Valls' own party are protesting against the austerity package. The liberal business daily Handelsblatt fears that this will translate into a half-hearted implementation of the programme: "Whenever it comes to cost-cutting at the expense of the French population's accustomed privileges, and above all those of the ruling party's voter base, France's governments have often backtracked in the last decades. This is precisely why France's reliability is doubted abroad. ... The argument against the numerous austerity measures: they reduce purchasing power. But as so often in France's past, the real issue is the assets of the civil servants and the fear of reductions in social benefits. Opinions are divided on whether the targeted 50 billion euros in spending cuts should be reduced or not. This debate alone fuels doubts about whether Hollande really has the political leeway to get serious on austerity." (23/04/2014)

Le Figaro - France

Socialist Party colleagues have criticised Manuel Valls' austerity plans as too harsh. But the prime minister should hold his course, also in the interests of France's European neighbours, the conservative daily Le Figaro urges: "If Manuel Valls must say no to all opponents in his own camp, it's also because he's being closely watched. By Brussels, by our European neighbours, by the rating agencies, who have legitimate doubts about France's capacity to pursue a serious budget policy. Any weakness on the part of the executive and any ambiguous remarks will be interpreted as back-pedalling and seen as a confirmation that Paris definitively refuses to subject itself to the same rules as its neighbours. Fifty billion is not enough, but for the Socialist critics it's already too much. There's no point listening to them. The term 'financial rigour' simply isn't part of their vocabulary." (23/04/2014)

La Vanguardia - Spain

The austerity policy announced by the new French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is dividing the ruling Socialists, the conservative daily La Vanguardia comments, and points out how badly the Spanish Socialists fared after they pushed through their austerity programme: "The shadow of the Spanish Socialists' election debacle - after then prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero launched a 15 billion euro austerity programme in May 2010 - now looms over French socialism. ... Clearly it would be too great a risk to put the programme to vote in plenary session with the Socialist Party in its current divided state. For this reason it's likely that Valls will have to make a few more small concessions by the day of the vote. If he manages to get the policy approved this will help the prime minister's image. Whether it will really work is another matter entirely." (23/04/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 22/04/2014

Conflict over Geneva peace plan

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday accused Kiev of violating the Geneva agreement on de-escalation in Ukraine. US Vice President Joe Biden wants to up the pressure on Moscow today, Tuesday, in Kiev. Some commentators accuse the US of taking half-hearted measures. Others call on the West to help Ukraine implement the roadmap for peace.

With articles from the following publications:
Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany, Hospodářské noviny - Czech Republic, Eesti Päevaleht - Estonia

Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany

After renewed violent clashes in eastern Ukraine on the weekend the EU and the US must prevent the further destabilisation of the country, the left-liberal daily Süddeutsche Zeitung demands. They must "quickly answer the question of how much they are willing to invest economically and politically to protect an independent European state from total mutilation. The main priority now is to deprive Moscow of any excuse for aggressive actions and show that Russia's justified interests are being taken seriously. The Ukrainian government has already announced a constitutional reform that gives the regions more power and takes the Russian language more into account. This must be quickly implemented. And in addition the government must make a serious attempt to combat right-wing extremist groups in the country. The West will offer Kiev financial and organisational support for this. At the same time it should finally make up its mind to impose tougher economic sanctions if Putin continues to destabilise Ukraine." (22/04/2014)

Hospodářské noviny - Czech Republic

US Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Kiev and the Pentagon's announcement that it will take part in military exercises in Poland and Estonia may give the impression that America is once again playing a stronger role in Europe's defence, but this is far from the case, the liberal business daily Hospodářské noviny comments: "Clearly Washington has revised its view of Russia. Washington is also aware of how vulnerable Europe is, and is showing willingness to help safeguard its security. But this help will be limited to cooperation, not a full guarantee. Obama has already pointed out to European politicians during his visit to Brussels that Washington is serious about the defence of Europe being first and foremost Europe's responsibility. So the Americans are not making a comeback, they are simply stopping their withdrawal. Once Biden's two-day visit to Ukraine ends, Obama will fly to his allies in Asia for a whole week." (22/04/2014)

Eesti Päevaleht - Estonia

The seizure of many administrative buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian forces has provoked much speculation about Russia's role in the conflict. Ukrainian sociologist Volodymir Ishchenko analyses the pro-Russian movement in the liberal daily Eesti Päevaleht: "The anti-Maidans in the east are no more irrational than Maidan protesters who were hoping for the European dream but gained (quite expectedly) a neoliberal government, IMF-required austerity measures and increasing prices. … It will sound paradoxical for those who celebrated grassroots self-organisation in the Maidan, but the anti-Maidan protests in eastern Ukraine are even more grassroots, decentralised, network-type and leaderless at the moment. … The social base of the protest seems to be more plebeian, poorer and less educated than on Maidan. … This is precisely why these protests can be so easily influenced from the outside. It is not difficult to intervene, provoke and manipulate a decentralised revolt of scared people to serve Russian interests." (22/04/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 17/04/2014

Nato boosts its presence in Eastern Europe

Nato on Wednesday announced plans to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile the foreign ministers of Russia, the US and Ukraine are meeting with the EU foreign affairs chief in Geneva today, Thursday, for crisis talks. This dual strategy is the right way to deal with Russia, some commentators write approvingly. Others see little hope for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

With articles from the following publications:
Blog EUROPP - United Kingdom, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany, De Standaard - Belgium, Večernji List - Croatia

Blog EUROPP - United Kingdom

Only by adopting a double strategy vis-à-vis Moscow can the West help de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, political analyst Borja Guijarro Usobiaga writes in the London School of Economics' EUROPP blog: "First, the US and the EU need to get Russia to the negotiation table and make sure that it is part of the solution, not the problem ... . At the same time, the West needs to tell Putin that not playing along will have severe economic and political costs for Russia. Finally, de-escalation will entail a huge diplomatic effort to make sure that Russia takes part and actively supports the Ukrainian elections of 25 May. After all, only a newly elected government can claim the legitimacy that the acting Ukrainian government lacks." (16/04/2014)

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany

Nato announced plans to boost its presence in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday. This is the least it must do before the talks in Geneva, the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung comments: "Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic and Poland are Nato territory. The deployment of a few aircraft, ships and soldiers doesn't do much more than send this signal. This is the least the alliance must do to retain its credibility internally and externally. Anything less would be interpreted by the Kremlin as a sign of weakness and the lack of resolve for which it already despises the West. But Nato doesn't want to do anything more right now, because it doesn't want to give Moscow an excuse to cancel the painstakingly agreed talks. Because not just the EU but also Nato prefers talking a thousand times to shooting. The only problem is that Putin knows that too." (17/04/2014)

De Standaard - Belgium

Not much can be expected of today's talks on the Ukraine crisis in Geneva, the liberal daily De Standaard suspects: "The Russian proposals for federalisation don't really stand a chance. The Western leaders want to focus on the threatening Russian military presence on the border and the uncontrollable behaviour of the pro-Russian militia - both subjects that are taboo for the Russians. In short, there is little chance that the groundwork for a solution will be laid in Geneva. So what happens next? The European Union is threatening with the third stage of sanctions. ... But Europe is too divided for this. ... It's pretty much out of the question that Nato troops will intervene in Ukraine. After all, Ukraine is not a Nato member. ... Nothing will be done and the chaos will continue. This seems to be the most realistic scenario. Certainly until the presidential election on May 25." (17/04/2014)

Večernji List - Croatia

CIA chief John Brennan paid a secret visit to Ukraine on the weekend. For the conservative daily Večernji List this is a sign that the country has become a plaything for the Americans and Russia, and in this game there is a clear loser: "Obama and Putin are up to their necks in the Ukrainian quicksand. The divided and impoverished country has become a playing field on which they are locking horns and battling for influence. The Americans have direct influence over the new Ukrainian government but the Russians have an effective agent network that spans the entire country. The two major powers can trigger a civil war whenever they choose to, but they can just as well set a peace process in motion any time. ... But if it comes to serious confrontations and tougher sanctions, the EU will suffer the most economic damage. Perhaps certain centres of power have deliberately brought the situation to a head in order to put a halt to the full political recognition of the EU - and its most important member Germany?" (17/04/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 16/04/2014

Kiev deploys military against separatists

The Ukrainian army on Tuesday commenced its announced offensive against separatists in the east of the country. The Russian leadership responded by warning of a civil war in Ukraine, and threatened to torpedo the planned talks in Geneva. But Moscow is speaking with a forked tongue and taking advantage of the escalation, commentators write.

With articles from the following publications:
Lidové noviny - Czech Republic, Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland, Turun Sanomat - Finland, Financial Times - United Kingdom

Lidové noviny - Czech Republic

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned on Tuesday of a breakdown of the talks in Geneva if the Ukrainian government uses violence against the separatists in the east of the country. He is speaking with a forked tongue, the conservative daily Lidové noviny comments: "Lavrov says the use of violence in Ukraine's domestic conflict is unacceptable. In plain language that means: when pro-Russian militias use violence it's entirely logical, because Kiev is incapable of and unwilling to protect the interests of the Russian-speaking population. But when the Ukrainians react to their violence with violence, it is unacceptable and in violation of international norms. ... At the same time, Russia rejects Ukraine's invitation to UN observers, who embody the international norms to the highest degree. Why is Moscow against the proposal? Because the Russians are the ones who are violating international norms, and Minister Lavrov is nothing but a liar." (16/04/2014)

Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland

The more tense the situation becomes in eastern Ukraine, the more this plays into Moscow's hands, the liberal-conservative daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung believes: "The escalation of the situation in eastern Ukraine suits the Kremlin to a T because it faces the Ukrainian government with a dilemma. If it lets the separatists get their way it will increasingly lose control of the areas in the east of the country. ... But if Kiev takes resolute action against the pro-Russian activists, bloodshed will be inevitable and Moscow will have diverse excuses to officially intervene to protect ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. The troops are positioned near the border ready for action. Both scenarios would make the orderly execution of presidential elections on May 25 more complicated, if not impossible, which will enable Moscow to continue claiming that Ukraine lacks a legitimate leadership." (16/04/2014)

Turun Sanomat - Finland

The foreign ministers of Russia, the US and Ukraine as well as the EU foreign policy chief will meet in Geneva on Thursday to discuss the Ukraine crisis. The West must make it clear that a limit has now been overstepped, the liberal daily Turun Sanomat demands: "Russia would be taking a huge political risk if it were to march into eastern Ukraine. Militarily the risk would be smaller because the West is hardly likely to give a military response. Russia must also think of its economy. A shrinking and isolated economy would destabilise the Kremlin from within. The international community has looked on helplessly while Russia divided a European state and put it under pressure. In Geneva it must be made unmistakably clear that further military operations will force the West to be tougher than it has been so far." (16/04/2014)

Financial Times - United Kingdom

The Kremlin is trying to help enforce the rights of the Russian-language minority in eastern Ukraine, Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes in the conservative daily Financial Times: "The Kremlin is often accused of fomenting instability in Ukraine as a pretext for invasion. In reality, Russia's main objective is to help the country's Russophile southeast to assert itself and create a new political balance within Ukraine.... Ukraine is a large and complex country. Ukrainians are not Russians, as Mr Putin will have to admit. They are not 'one people', even among themselves. But equally, not all those who reject a narrow version of Ukrainian nationalism are Russian agents." (15/04/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 15/04/2014

Ukraine ponders referendum

To defuse the tensions in eastern Ukraine, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on Monday proposed a referendum on the federalisation of the country. At the same time he asked the UN to send in peacekeeping forces. Commentators doubt Kiev will be able to bring the situation under control and see help from abroad as the only solution to the crisis.

With articles from the following publications:
Pravda - Slovakia, taz - Germany, Milliyet - Turkey, Wiener Zeitung - Austria, Libération - France

Pravda - Slovakia

Kiev's offer of a referendum will hardly change the chaotic situation in Ukraine for which the current leadership is also partly to blame, the left-leaning daily Pravda writes: "The government in Kiev is in a fatal downward spiral where every step can have catastrophic consequences. If the authorities allow anarchy to reign in eastern Ukraine, with armed 'pro-Russian' and 'pro-Western' groups settling scores, it will only confirm that the state cannot even accomplish its most basic tasks. And of course 40,000 Russian troops are stationed on the nearby border and ready to intervene at the drop of a hat. ... If acting president Oleksandr Turchynov offers to hold a referendum on Ukraine together with the presidential elections on May 25, he might fulfil the expectations of some dissatisfied people. But the risk of a division of the country, be it with the direct or the indirect participation of Vladimir Putin, runs high." (15/04/2014)

taz - Germany

Turchynov's proposal to hold a nationwide referendum on the federalisation of Ukraine is not likely to meet with the approval of many separatists in the east of the country, the left-leaning daily taz believes: "Because nothing about the actions of the uniformed and armed occupiers leads one to believe that they are ready to give in. On the contrary, they act according to the motto: continue to destabilise the eastern parts of the country at all cost. ... And if that means people will be killed and wounded, so be it. If these forces - whoever they are - are interested in a referendum, it would have to be according to their concept of 'democracy' and with only one possible outcome: separation from Ukraine and annexation by the Russian Federation. The most recent statements from neighbouring Russia aren't aimed at making the situation any less tense. They are limited to levelling threats at Kiev and denying that Moscow has anything at all to do with the occupations in Eastern Ukraine." (15/04/2014)

Milliyet - Turkey

Federalisation can only prevent the division of Ukraine if both sides renounce the use of violence, the conservative daily Milliyet believes: "The leadership in Kiev must understand that it cannot overcome the crisis by suppressing the movement in the eastern part of the country with violence. On the contrary, that would only exacerbate the tensions and the nascent civil war. Defending Ukraine's territorial unity and finding a solution to the polarisation among the population can only be done with a new political order. That means adopting a federal and representative system. To achieve this, however, both sides must first put an end to the violence and demonstrations of strength. Unfortunately current events do not point in this direction." (15/04/2014)

Wiener Zeitung - Austria

Peacekeeping troops in Ukraine could be a key component of the urgently needed help from abroad, the state-owned liberal Wiener Zeitung believes: "The summit meetings were one of the rituals of controllability of the Cold War: the US president and the Supreme Soviet would meet to discuss the worldwide political situation. The threatening aspect about the current situation is the refusal of all leaders to meet with each other. There are bilateral telephone calls which - in view of the current developments in Ukraine - have come to nothing. Such a meeting is however urgently needed because none of Ukraine's politicians has the stature to master the current crisis. The proposal to send UN peacekeeping troops to Ukraine is an expression of this helplessness. Precisely for this reason the proposal is a good one. Ukraine urgently needs help from abroad and as we know help doesn't take the form of saboteurs or suppliers of arms." (15/04/2014)

Libération - France

The EU announced on Monday that it would step up sanctions on Russia to a small degree. An embarrassing resolution, the left-liberal daily Libération criticises: "Will Ukraine become the European Union's historic botch-up? The symbol of a diplomatic, political and military fiasco? Wealthy Europe leaves a people who believed in its values and wanted to be part of it to Russia. Betraying everything that Europe is supposed to symbolise. All the European leaders can come up with is the threat of ineffective sanctions. In other words, Putin can continue to act with impunity faced with the bluffs of Merkel, Hollande and Cameron. The carving up of Ukraine is bad news for Europe, but also for all countries that now find themselves at the mercy of a predator who knows that the community of states will let him do what he pleases." (15/04/2014)

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