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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)

MAIN FOCUS | 14/04/2014

Kiev takes action against separatists

Pro-Russian separatists occupied police and administration buildings in several Eastern Ukrainian cities on the weekend. The government in Kiev reacted by launching an anti-terror operation in which at least one person was killed. Such responses will plunge the country into civil war, commentators write,  and call on the West to support the moderate centrists in Ukrainian society.

With articles from the following publications:
La Repubblica - Italy, Público - Portugal, Der Standard - Austria, The Guardian - United Kingdom, Journal 21 - Switzerland

La Repubblica - Italy

The Ukrainian government's anti-terrorist operation against the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine will only fatally aggravate the situation, the left-liberal daily La Repubblica criticises: "The Russians in Ukraine want a referendum that would change the country into a federation of states. They want it now, before the presidential elections on May 25, so that the new president will have to respect the outcome. ... The government in Kiev, however, is threatening to take drastic measures. But it remains a mystery how this can happen without sparking a civil war. ... While Moscow is warning Kiev against dangerous and 'irreversible steps', the Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov is pouring oil on the fire by announcing that he wants to arm and empower a group of 'young patriots' who have not been identified further. In other words, representatives of the right-wing extremists who participated in the Maidan revolution." (14/04/2014)

Público - Portugal

The deployment of Ukrainian security forces against pro-Russian activists in Eastern Ukraine could plunge the country into a civil war, the liberal daily Público warns: "With each day that passes the scenario of a civil war in Ukraine becomes more real. And the announcement of the government in Kiev that it plans to extend its offensive against pro-Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine has escalated the situation. ... The rebellious armed militia members shown no sign of withdrawing and have occupied police stations and administration buildings in more than a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine. ... Moscow talks of Kiev's 'criminal' order to withdraw and the occupiers call on their 'comrade' Putin for help. Dangerous games that have already claimed victims and now threaten to cause even greater damage." (14/04/2014)

Der Standard - Austria

After the most recent events in Eastern Ukraine no one can seriously claim that Russia isn't behind the developments, the left-liberal daily Der Standard believes: "In Ukraine, after Crimea it's now the east of the country's turn. It's difficult, very difficult, to see the occupation actions of pro-Russian activists as anything other than a centrally organised destabilisation operation. The fact is: the government in Kiev did nothing to provoke this. On the contrary: Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk had indicated the first substantial concessions towards more autonomy. So the Russians can hardly talk of 'fascists' in Kiev, as they did before Crimea's annexation. Instead Moscow has increasingly concentrated its verbal attacks on Nato since the latter started documenting the deployment of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border more and more precisely." (14/04/2014)

The Guardian - United Kingdom

The majority of Ukrainians do not feel represented either by the nationalists in the Western Ukraine or by the pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, the left-liberal daily The Guardian writes: "The truth is that between the minority of archaic radical nationalists in Ukraine's far west, whose role in the revolution won them a few posts in Kiev's otherwise moderate government, and the minority of neo-Soviet extremists in the east, there is a larger group of Ukrainians for whom the difference between the two cultures and languages is trivial. What they want is for their country to be an east Slav space that is fairer and less corrupt than either Putin's Russia, Yanukovych's Ukraine or Lukashenko's Belarus. Whichever way Europe and the US act, it must be with the interests of that group in mind." (13/04/2014)

Journal 21 - Switzerland

The West has paved the way for Russia's actions in Ukraine by misjudging it, the web magazine Journal 21 comments: "Our outrage is suppressing self-criticism. That is more important than criticism of Putin! It must teach us to judge Russia more accurately in future: no longer as a weakling but as a power in Eastern Europe with its own political values and traditions which contradict ours. Perhaps even as a power that wants to play on the same level as the US and China, not to mention the internationally lame Europe, in global politics. This doesn't mean a new edition of the Cold War that people talked about at the beginning in the heat of the moment, but as the former US ambassador to Moscow and Obama's special assistant on security issues McFaul put it, an 'intellectual and normative struggle' between the West and Putin's autocratic system." (13/04/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 11/04/2014

Huge demand for Greek bonds

Greece issued government bonds on capital markets on Thursday for the first time in four years. The bonds sold like hotcakes, netting Athens a total of three billion euros. For some commentators it's the end of the euro crisis. Others warn that neither Greece nor Europe are out of the woods yet.

With articles from the following publications:
Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy, Der Standard - Austria, Pravda - Slovakia, Turun Sanomat - Finland, To Vima Online - Greece

Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy

Greece's return to the capital markets is the final proof that the EU has passed its acid test, the liberal business daily Il Sole 24 Ore writes jubilantly: "With Greece's return, all the countries that needed bailouts from the EU and IMF are now back on the market. An impressive result if we recall all the dark prophesies of those who predicted Greece's exit from the monetary union, the collapse of the Eurozone and the end of the single currency. The doomsayers either didn't understand the political capital that has been invested in the euro or underestimated it. The euro was never just a monetary policy project. It was and is a key component of European integration. ... Despite all the huge difficulties, contradictions, arguments and about-turns, the institutional structure of the European Union is now more robust than before the crisis. And the euro that even allowed itself the luxury of adding new members to the monetary union remains an incentive to continue campaigning for a more united Europe." (11/04/2014)

Der Standard - Austria

It's not surprising that investors are even buying Greek government bonds considering the current low interest rates - but the country won't benefit at all from this speculation, the left-liberal daily Der Standard warns: "Because the benchmark interest rate is low, many classic investment products are barely generating any profit. Investors are therefore desperately seeking lucrative financial products even if they are high-risk. ... However the Greeks have little to gain from this dream world. One in three of them is out of work. That's a horrendous figure, more reminiscent of the 1930s Depression than the 21st century. The country is stuck in a deflation spiral, the economy has gone through a dreadful recession and is now stagnating. And at some point the financial markets will no doubt suffer a rude awakening. At 175 percent of its GDP, Greece's debts are higher than ever before. Europe is not even close to being out of the woods yet." (11/04/2014)

Pravda - Slovakia

Greece's return to the capital markets after years of crisis is good news but should be taken with a pinch of salt, the left-leaning daily Pravda writes: "Greece is far from stable. When parliament voted recently on another austerity package demanded by international creditors, the measure only scraped through with a majority of one vote. This week the country was struck by yet another mass strike. Nevertheless, the foray onto the financial markets makes sense. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras needs a positive political signal. He must prevent a complete rout in the upcoming European elections. ... And the conditions are good for such a step. The international investors trust the ECB's promise that it won't leave Athens in the lurch. But the good news can create a false sense of security. Because it won't mean a thing once unexpected events in the Eurozone, the US, China or Russia spark a new panic. So we must beware of exaggerated optimism." (11/04/2014)

Turun Sanomat - Finland

Greece may have done a lot to get back on its feet but it was too hesitant in implementing the necessary structural reforms, the liberal daily Turun Sanomat believes: "Greece has drastically reduced its budget. It has cut salaries and pensions, axed jobs in the public sector, introduced new and more effective taxes. ... But it has made slow progress on structural reforms. Privatisations are such a minefield politically that governments have avoided them for the most part. Greece still can't exit the credit programme, and instead will require a third bailout package - considerably smaller than the two previous ones. ... The troika must now make sure that Greece doesn't go back to its old ways. The country needs lasting structural reforms and clearly regulated financial auditing procedures. And it will do best if it sorts out its affairs on its own." (11/04/2014)

To Vima Online - Greece

German Chancellor Angela Merkel travels to Athens today, one day after Greece's return to the capital markets. She must announce a clear plan for reducing Greece's debts so that Europe can leave the crisis behind it, the left-liberal online daily To Vima urges: "Greece is no longer the black sheep of Europe, as the populist German media have so often written. The progress made by the country will allow all of Europe to emerge from the crisis. For that reason Merkel should state publicly that she will find a solution for Greece's debts. If she doesn't, Samaras should remind her to. Greece is not demanding anything absurd. The country has the right to make such a demand, just as our partners are entitled to insist on the fulfilment of our commitments. It is the only - and also the fairest - way to finally restore the lost trust in a common European vision." (11/04/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 10/04/2014

Kiev threatens separatists in the east

Ukraine's Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday that if necessary it will react with brute force to the protests of pro-Russian activists in the east of the country. Some commentators accuse the government of dilettantism because it hasn't managed to establish a dialogue with Eastern Ukraine. Others hope that the resumption of international negotiations will put an end to the crisis.

With articles from the following publications:
Jyllands-Posten - Denmark, The Daily Telegraph - United Kingdom, Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy, Newsweek Polska - Poland

Jyllands-Posten - Denmark

In the Ukraine crisis it's tempting to cast Vladimir in the role of the eternal villain but the political elites in Ukraine must also be subject to a critical eye, the liberal daily Jyllands-Posten writes: "Even if Russia and the West can influence developments in a positive or a negative way, the responsibility for the future of Ukraine ultimately lies with the Ukrainians themselves. Unfortunately the political class there is behaving like a pack of amateurs who clearly have no idea as to what should be done to hold their fragmented country together. Since the change of power in Kiev a good two months ago, no one in the new government has even thought it necessary to pop over to Eastern Ukraine, where people are concerned that they will be completely ignored. For the last 25 years, Ukraine has been marked by a lack of public spirit and the corruption of its political class." (10/04/2014)

The Daily Telegraph - United Kingdom

Pro-Russian activists and Ukrainian nationalists are both striving to destabilise Eastern Ukraine, the historian Mark Almond writes in the conservative paper The Daily Telegraph: "Russian separatists have an interest in sabotaging the central government's authority, especially the presidential elections on May 25, so [Ukrainian] nationalists will press Kiev to be assertive and not repeat the humiliation in the Crimea. … The seven weeks until the presidential election offer extremists on both sides plenty of opportunity to make the running. Pro-Russians have no interest in a successful election; Ukrainian nationalists will stoke up tension as their best chance to rally voters. Such polarisation makes the chances of the Kremlin or Kiev achieving its aims peacefully virtually nil." (09/04/2014)

Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy

The international community will quite rightly resume negotiations with Putin and it would be good if this time round it finally knew what Putin wants, the liberal business daily Il Sole 24 Ore comments: "If there is the will to compromise, diverging interests can be reconciled: the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the desire of its Russian-speaking population not to have to deny its roots, Russia's ambitions to be a regional power and the contradictory mixture of militarism and reluctance to take action which the Americans and Europeans have displayed. The hopes are fuelled by realism and will have the chance to be fulfilled as soon as the crucial question of what Vladimir Putin wants has been clarified: will he be content just to have annexed Crimea? Does he want more autonomy for the other Russians in Ukraine, a federal system, independence or another annexation? Do his ambitions for power extend beyond Ukraine? Is he willing to make compromises for the sake of his hitherto amorphous creation of a Eurasian community or will he make it the legitimation for his political survival?" (10/04/2014)

Newsweek Polska - Poland

The Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko invited his new Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksandr Turchynov, for unofficial talks last week. Although the Belarusian dictator is considered a devoted follower of Russia the meeting comes as no surprise, the news magazine Newsweek Polska comments: "In the broader context, the Belarusian leader's political motives are entirely understandable. He feels threatened by the policies of President Putin, who wants to annex former Soviet territory. The Belarusian president has repeatedly stressed that his domestic power is absolute and that he's not willing to share it with anyone else. For him the independence and sovereignty of Belarus are its highest asset, and of course he's got to be king of the castle. If Russia attempts to infringe on the sovereignty of the former Soviet states, Lukashenko will have to show that he can withstand the pressure from Moscow." (10/04/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 09/04/2014

ECJ: Data retention goes too far

The European Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled that the EU Data Retention Directive is invalid. According to the judges it entails a disproportionate interference with the right to privacy. In a democracy the minutiae of people's daily lives is no concern of the state, many commentators concur. Others see data gathering by companies as posing a far greater threat.

With articles from the following publications:
De Telegraaf - Netherlands, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany, Die Presse - Austria, Dagens Nyheter - Sweden

De Telegraaf - Netherlands

Finally the large-scale invasion of privacy has been stopped, the conservative daily De Telegraaf writes in praise of the ruling by the European Court of Justice on data retention. "The retention of metadata is not as innocent as the governments - including the Dutch - have been claiming for years. This data can give a very clear insight into people's private lives. The storage of data leads to a society in which people continually have the feeling they're under surveillance. In a democracy, people's daily lives are none of the state's business. But that has been changing bit by bit, and the motto 'Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear' has become the norm. The fight against crime and terror does not justify the monstrous encroachment on the private sphere of so many innocent citizens." (09/04/2014)

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany

The storage of communications data is unavoidable if it is to be available for use in cases where serious crimes are suspected, the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung stresses: "The core issue of data retention is the for the most part already automatic storage of non-personal communications data by private companies. The state obliges them to store this data for a certain amount of time. ... The well-intended 'liberal' proposal to freeze only the data of suspects is inappropriate because it would also require the data to be stored first. ... But are we seriously considering giving telecommunications companies the last say on the extent to which crimes are prosecuted or prevented? The 'diffusely threatening feeling of being under surveillance' could then give way to a very real threat. Luxembourg's (provisional?) end to the debate should should finally sensitise people to the true threat to individual freedom and state sovereignty - namely the global data gathering octopuses that are not acting on behalf of Germany or Europe." (09/04/2014)

Die Presse - Austria

The judges in Luxembourg made their decision carefully and objectively, and this is also thanks to Austria's handling of the directive, the liberal-conservative daily Die Presse writes approvingly: "The threats that were used to justify spying on everyone do not exist. This insight is among other things the result of Austria's implementation of the directive, which provides for a detailed assessment of the use of stored data. Thanks to this assessment, the EU judges also know that of 438 inquiries within one year, only one was based on suspicions that a 'terrorist organisation' existed. ... The evaluation of communications data remains a necessary instrument for criminal prosecution. The EU and its member states will find solutions for making it possible while at the same time respecting fundamental rights." (09/04/2014)

Dagens Nyheter - Sweden

Sweden was a key player on the data retention initiative under social democratic leadership, however the directive was only introduced in the country six years after it was first adopted, in 2012. Instead of delaying implementation Sweden should have filed a complaint against the directive, but the government didn't do so because didn't want to hurt its image, the liberals daily Dagens Nyheter suspects: "If the [current conservative] government - apparently for good reasons - is opposed to data retention, why did Sweden not demand an examination of the directive from the ECJ? Certainly political considerations played a role. How would it have looked if Sweden, as the driving force behind the directive, had demanded a revision later on? Well, at least you can say it wouldn't have looked bad. It would have shown it can put questions of content over questions of prestige." (09/04/2014)

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