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MAIN FOCUS | 22/12/2014

Sony hack: North Korea provokes US

In the dispute over the cyberattack against US film studio Sony Pictures, North Korea has threatened strikes against the US. Washington had accused the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang of being behind the attacks. Commentators call for rules for cyberwar too and the founding of a global authority to investigate such attacks.

With articles from the following publications:
Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany, Tages-Anzeiger - Switzerland, Le Monde - France, La Repubblica - Italy

Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany

Tackling cyber criminality means trying to track down invisible criminals who can't be caught, the left-liberal daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes on the Sony hack: "The battlefield for cyberwars has not been yet been staked out and the possibilities for escalation are unlimited. Hackers can destroy just like soldiers: reputations, assets, the sense of security. ... Because hackers are faceless they can do almost anything they like. The public can hardly tell who is the mastermind, what enemy has commissioned their services, which sanctions would be appropriate. The US is accusing North Korea but no one can assess whether it's true. There is no global authority to investigate the hacker attacks and bring the perpetrators to book. ... The case of North Korea is serious and sets a precedent. An international committee should investigate it, even if it's difficult to impose sanctions because the country is already totally isolated. At the very least the US government should buy The Interview and broadcast it for free on the Internet." (22/12/2014)

Tages-Anzeiger - Switzerland

More than just an act of vandalism, the hack attack against Sony is the first step towards an act of war, the daily Tages-Anzeiger believes: "The case of North Korea is grave and set a precedent. It should be the subject of an international inquiry, even if it's hard to impose sanctions because the country is so isolated. What is needed are rules for cyber war, just like there are rules for conventional war. True, the big powers like the US and China have no interest in such rules because they believe their own hacking abilities give them a competitive advantage. But the risks of impunity are clear: if hackers can destroy things or kill people and then disappear into the endless expanses of cyberspace it will encourage some to make unlimited use of their unlimited possibilities." (22/12/2014)

Le Monde - France

If the US is right about its accusations against North Korea, freedom of opinion is in danger, the left-liberal daily Le Monde writes: "The hackers have chalked up a unique victory in the history of the cyberwar. Sony wanted to recoup investments of 80 million dollars by releasing the film before Christmas, but it's been forced to capitulate. If the US theory is correct - Pyongyang denies any involvement - this would mean that a state can blackmail newspapers, publishing houses, theatres and film producers to stop the production of any article, critical report or work it doesn't like. It means that almost anything is allowed on the Internet - this space of virtual exchange located at the very heart of our daily lives. And it confirms that a form of war is already raging in this huge digital space where nothing is protected anymore." (22/12/2014)

La Repubblica - Italy

The fact that Sony Pictures has cancelled the cinema debut of its movie The Interview after the cyber-attack is a show of weakness, the left-liberal daily La Repubblica writes: "The ghost of cyber attacks is fanning fears that these days not just terrorist attacks but also the Internet represent a constant threat. Just because of a satirical film the US is now suddenly confronted with concrete historical fears it thought it had overcome. ... By pulling the film out of circulation Sony has enhanced these fears because this is an admission of powerlessness: we prefer censorship to threats. Even if the film is aired, halting its release in theatres is a capitulation and sets a dangerous precedent: will a hacker attack and apocalyptic threats be enough in future to take a product out of circulation?" (22/12/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 19/12/2014

Putin denies responsibility for rouble crisis

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday blamed the fall in oil prices and the West's sanctions for his country's economic problems. Putin is distorting reality like a Soviet-style leader, commentators write, and pin the blame for the current crisis on his misguided economic and foreign policy.

With articles from the following publications:
Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany, Rzeczpospolita - Poland, La Stampa - Italy, The New York Times - U.S.

Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany

Putin hasn't presented a new concept for getting his country out of the economic crisis, the left-liberal daily Süddeutsche Zeitung comments: "That's not his priority, because patriotic pathos and the tale of the Russian bear that can't be tamed have always done the job and united the Russians with their president. And Putin could well survive quite a few hard years with such rhetoric. Granted, those years won't see the urgently needed diversification of the economy any more than the years of plenty did. ... The question for Russia's neighbours and for the West is whether Putin will also react to the current problems by stepping up aggression against the outside world. Or whether he can accept the compromises offered to him to secure improvements at home. But here too it seems the decision has yet to be taken." (19/12/2014)

Rzeczpospolita - Poland

President Putin's denial of Russia's economic problems at the press conference was like a satire of Soviet leadership, the conservative daily Rzeczpospolita comments: "The USSR has risen from the ashes. Its leader is considerably younger than his predecessor, true, and his suit looks a lot better. But as far as content goes the message is the same. This press conference was like travelling through time: less a meeting between journalists and the president than a sort of homage to the czar. ... Yes, he talked about the economy, but his message was simple: the West and its sanctions are entirely to blame for the problems. But Russia won't give in, he said, because it cherishes its independence. And, he added: crisis? What crisis? Putin's continued faith in his country's economic power is like a satire. And we had no shortage of satires like that in the past." (19/12/2014)

La Stampa - Italy

Russian President Putin announced that in view of the "unfavourable world conditions" the crisis could last for two years. Even that won't bring him down, the liberal daily La Stampa comments: "Part last czar, part last general secretary of the communist party, Vladimir Putin admitted yesterday - at times with a crimson face and at times with a note of sarcasm - that the rouble and the homeland are in crisis. This is new. Like a 'good father' who cares about his son he promised that everything would be fine. The West was to blame and wanted to 'put the Russian bear in chains', he said. But that doesn't change the situation: the crisis exists and will last two years. ... Now is the time for a rival to emerge in Russia who could run against Putin in 2018. For now, however, Vladimir Vladimirovich's post-democratic regime has eliminated all competition. The ex-oligarch Khodorkovsky has lost all his sparkle after ten years in Siberia. The Moscovite blogger Navalny is under house arrest." (19/12/2014)

The New York Times - U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a press conference on Thursday that the fall in oil prices was mainly responsible for his country's financial crisis. The left-liberal daily The New York Times contradicts this view and urges him to radically change his course in economic and foreign policy: "The blame for this [crisis] rests largely with the disastrous policies of President Vladimir Putin, who has consistently put his ego, his territorial ambitions and the financial interests of his cronies ahead of the needs of his country. ... The sensible thing for Mr. Putin to do would be to withdraw from Ukraine. This would bring immediate relief from sanctions, and that would ease the current crisis and give officials room to start fixing the country's economic problems. The question is whether this reckless leader has been sufficiently chastened to change course." (18/12/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 18/12/2014

Thaw in US-Cuba relations

President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday plans to ease restrictions on the circulation of persons, money and goods between the US and Cuba. Diplomatic ties between the two countries are also to be resumed. Finally Washington is ending its failed policy of isolation, some commentators write. Others doubt this will make Cuba more democratic.

With articles from the following publications:
Le Soir - Belgium, Corriere della Sera - Italy, De Volkskrant - Netherlands, El País - Spain

Le Soir - Belgium

Obama is right to improve relations with Cuba because the course steered up to now has led to a dead end, the liberal daily Le Soir observes: "The policy with which the US tried to isolate Cuba for the past 50 years has proved inefficient because a Castro is still in power there. As relations between Washington and Moscow increasingly take on the unpleasant odour of the Cold War, the US president has decided to have done with this bothersome legacy from the 1960s in the country's own backyard. Opening the door to Cuba will allow the free movement of politicians, people and ideas. A salutary wind of change that has already led to the release of political prisoners. Cuba has also changed and opened up, at least in economic terms. Obama has caught the pass that was aimed his way. It was about time too." (17/12/2014)

Corriere della Sera - Italy

Cuba is not going to become more democratic just like that, the liberal-conservative daily Corriere della Sera writes in view of the rapprochement between Washington and Havana: "'I am under no illusions,' Obama said. He has done what should have been done long ago. But - like Obama himself - we're sceptical about whether the rapprochement will also be beneficial for the Cuban government. Economically and financially certainly, because Cuba is only just keeping its head above water. But what about travel and banking restrictions? And above all, how do things stand with the opening of the market for communication technology and Internet access? Raúl Castro has shown the courage to introduce reforms, but they have never been of a political nature. He may have to pull the handbrake to stay in the saddle and to prevent his brother Fidel from dying of a broken heart." (18/12/2014)

De Volkskrant - Netherlands

The US and Cuba have taken a historical step, the left-liberal daily De Volkskrant comments approvingly: "Both countries have an interest in improved relations. The trade embargo is a millstone around Cuba's neck and renders the country completely dependent on the good will of its allies. ... The fall of the Berlin Wall left Cuba facing serious problems until Venezuela came to its rescue [with its pro-Cuba policy]. ... The question is how long Venezuela will be able to afford to keep on supporting Cuba. For the US there are now geopolitical advantages. ... The US is also sending a signal to Russia, which since the conflict in Ukraine has desperately been trying to improve relations with Latin America. The normalisation of relations with Cuba will earn the US much applause from Latin American leaders and take the wind out of Russia's sails." (18/12/2014)

El País - Spain

Since it became clear that without a majority in both houses of Congress US President Barack Obama must govern as a "lame duck", he has taken some important decisions, the left-liberal daily El País comments: "The thaw in relations between Washington und Havanna marks the end of one of Democrat Barack Obama's most productive months since he moved into the White House in 2009. ... The three decisions - climate change, immigration reform and Cuba policy - have something in common: they are unilateral actions, presidential decisions without a majority in Congress. Obama has made the most of the little leeway an oppositional Congress leaves him to make policies and to prove what another Democrat before him, Lyndon B. Johnson, said shortly before passing the civil rights laws: the presidency can sometimes be useful." (17/12/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 17/12/2014

Russia's currency crisis escalates

In the battle against the dramatic decline in the value of the rouble the Russian central bank raised its key interest rate from 10.5 to 17 percent on Monday night. Plunging oil prices and the West's sanctions are seen as the reasons for the country's currency crisis. A collapse of the Russian economy could trigger an international financial crisis, some commentators fear, and call on President Vladimir Putin to finally give up his superpower ambitions.

With articles from the following publications:
Financial Times - United Kingdom, Pravda - Slovakia, Les Echos - France, El País - Spain, Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy

Financial Times - United Kingdom

Russian President Vladimir Putin should seize the opportunity to stop the fall of the rouble by adopting a less aggressive foreign policy, the conservative daily Financial Times urges: "The depth of the currency's slide also reflects the growing belief in financial markets that Mr Putin no longer runs Russia in its economic interests and is instead bent on pursuing illusory geopolitical goals. ... The west should leave him in no doubt that de-escalation in Ukraine will reduce international pressure on the Russian economy. The hope must be that, even now, Mr Putin is in a mood to change course. The fear is that his response to Russia's deepening economic crisis will be to take revanchism to a new and more dangerous level." (16/12/2014)

Pravda - Slovakia

Russia is on its last legs and President Vladimir Putin's self-praise in his recent state of the nation address was miles away from the reality of the situation, the left-leaning daily Pravda writes on the rouble's freefall: "Putin's popularity is based on three cornerstones: stability, relative growth and in the last two years on patriotism. The Russians are a proud people. But patriotism has its limits. Their pride at regaining Crimea will fade; after all it costs them 4.5 billion dollars a year. ... When Putin took over power from Boris Yeltsin in December 1999 he managed to stabilise the economy after a period of absolute chaos. But back then the situation was different: oil prices were rising. ... The president must now change his course. He must trim down his superpower ambitions and his defence programme. He must begin restructuring the economy - and hope that the oil price rises once more." (17/12/2014)

Les Echos - France

Only by improving its relations with the EU can Russia emerge from its current crisis, the liberal daily Les Echos comments: "Vladimir Putin has made sure to let everyone he's met recently know that Russia doesn't need Europe, or the rest of the world for that matter. Of course this is pure self-deception, the bravado of a wounded autocrat. It's important to prevent the crisis from spreading and to make Moscow understand that its future lies in Europe and necessitates the modernisation of its economy. Not the building of gas or oil pipelines to China. Russia's destiny is intimately bound up with Europe's. And the first step towards renewing a relationship of trust is a compromise on Ukraine. That's the precondition for the country's economic stabilisation, the lifting of the sanctions and the return of capital. It's not forbidden to be an optimist: time is not on Moscow's side." (17/12/2014)

El País - Spain

If the Russian economy collapses it could trigger another global financial crisis, the left-liberal daily El País warns: "The rouble's fall is a symptom of a deep lack of confidence in the immediate future of the economy, and a warning that Russia may face disastrous inflation and a major reduction in production in the coming months. And not just Russia. The same factors causing the rouble's fall and Russia's high debt are also menacing the foreign exchange rates of emerging nations. If the forecasts for countries like Russia, Venezuela and Nigeria don't improve it could lead to another bout of general turbulence. ... As long as the oil price isn't corrected upwards through short-term measures (increasing demand, cutting production) and the impact of the dollar's new trend isn't cushioned, there is a great danger of a new financial crisis." (17/12/2014)

Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy

Russia's stock exchange dived by almost 20 percent on Tuesday, the biggest drop ever. The Russian currency has lost 37 percent of its value in the past three months. The liberal business daily Il Sole 24 Ore warns the financial crisis could spread: "The economy doesn't care about big words. The Russian crisis could lead to renewed tensions and repressive measures. ... Moreover there is the danger of infection: the fall of the rouble, the potential introduction of capital reserve controls, the distrust that is spreading like an oil spill, 'retaliatory strikes' from a Russia battered by sanctions - all these things could trigger a new financial crisis and another wave of capital flight." (17/12/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 16/12/2014

Terror in Sydney

On Monday night security forces stormed a café in Sydney where a presumed Islamist terrorist was holding more than a dozen customers hostage. According to police reports, three people were killed, including the hostage-taker. Islamist terror is unfortunately a possible anywhere, commentators write, but warn against adopting an exclusionist attitude and fuelling fears of Islamisation.

With articles from the following publications:
The Independent - United Kingdom, Kurier - Austria, Frankfurter Rundschau - Germany, Jutarnji List - Croatia

The Independent - United Kingdom

Through its participation in the war on terror Australia became a direct target of the terrorists, the left-liberal daily The Independent explains: "For the past 10 years or so, Australian governments - and the public - have kidded themselves that they could have it both ways. They could join US-led adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, earning themselves kudos with Western allies. And they could feel more or less safe from any kind of terrorist backlash, convinced that Australia was too small and too distant to become a target. Sure, there were bombs in Bali and elsewhere which claimed Australian lives - far too many lives. But those were targeted at Westerners generally, not specifically at Australians. ... Now, here in Australia, that sense of invulnerability has been shattered." (15/12/2014)

Kurier - Austria

The calls for an open society are the only way to prevent terrorist attacks like that in Sydney, the liberal daily Kurier writes: "Australia was prepared and had already foiled attacks on its soil in the past, it was on alarm level three (out of four), but still attacks like that in the Lindt Café can't be prevented. Not by massive security measures, even if more intense monitoring of Islamists is needed. And not by education in schools or awkward propaganda to counter the efforts to recruit potential jihadists in the West through the web, because that comes too late. And certainly not by barricading off a country and fomenting Islamisation fears in Europe, as the Pegida movement in Germany is doing. That only plays into terrorists hands, whose goal is to spread fear. 'Australia is an open, friendly society. Nothing should ever change that and that is why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual,' Australian's prime minister said on Monday during the siege. And this is indeed the only right response." (16/12/2014)

Frankfurter Rundschau - Germany

During the siege the hostage-taker held a black flag bearing Islamic symbols against a window. The events in Sydney highlight once again the urban world's sensitivity to Islamist terror, the left-liberal daily Frankfurter Rundschau comments: "The siege shows once again that radical islamist terror is a system of madness and a crime that is easy to copy, against which no country can protect itself 100 percent. A presumed lone terrorist can have an entire city holding its breath while the social networks keep the whole world tuned in to his bizarre actions. And in the end it doesn't really matter whether the attack was perpetrated by a lone madman or emerged from organised structures. It is to be feared that many more evil deeds will be perpetrated in the name of the black flag, whose most dangerous aspect is its irrationality." (16/12/2014)

Jutarnji List - Croatia

Muslims all over the world must live with the stigma of being suspected of Islamist terror, the liberal daily Jutarnji List observes with concern: "If the Iranian Man Haron Monis, the self-appointed sheik, was able to carry out a terrorist attack on a café on his own and leave dead and wounded in his wake, then any other member of the Muslim community around the world can do the same. Now every Muslim automatically becomes a suspect and is considered a potential terrorist. That could turn the lives of many completely innocent Muslims into sheer hell. ... There's only one way to counter terrorism: to fight Islamist terrorists. But above all to fight those who would impose their own political and civilisational standards on the Islamic world without taking account of historical and cultural differences." (16/12/2014)

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