Lucian Kim

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Poland is about to host the largest multinational military exercises on its territory in more than a decade. The “Anakonda-16” exercises, involving 31,000 troops from more than 20 countries, are intended to showcase the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s unity and speed one month before the alliance’s summit in Warsaw. The U.S. Army will play a key role, with a mechanized regiment based in Germany simulating a mission to rescue the Baltic states from a Russian attack.

The exercises come just weeks after the United States inaugurated the first of two controversial missile-defense installations in Eastern Europe. Next year, the Pentagon plans to quadruple military spending in Europe to $3.4 billion and begin rotating an armored brigade through Eastern Europe — in addition to extra NATO forces to be deployed to Poland and the Baltics.…  Seguir leyendo »

“Peace, joy and pancakes” could have been the European Union’s motto. That silly German expression -- Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen -- refers to glossing over problems. It can also describe the blithe optimism with which most Europeans marched into the glorious future of a unified Europe. Today that promise seems to have evaporated.

As the European Union grew over the past 20 years, it looked like a party that was never going to end. Practically all the continent’s nations were invited. Those left out got rain checks.

The euphoria didn’t last. The 2008 financial crash and ensuing Greek debt crisis were the first harbingers of doom.…  Seguir leyendo »

If a Der Spiegel cover is any indication of the mood in Germany, then Europe’s largest country is on the verge of an explosion. Two weeks ago, the newsmagazine highlighted the country’s growing income inequality in a cover story on “the divided nation.” The cover photo showed a couple in a gilded room with a dozen other people stooped in a claustrophobic cellar below them.

Last week, the magazine featured the “uprising of the ‘Wutbuerger’” — a new German term combining the words for “rage” and “citizen” — to describe people mad as hell about the political status quo.…  Seguir leyendo »

Many Europeans immediately took the Brussels bombings on Tuesday as an assault on Europe itself. After all, the Belgian capital has long been synonymous with the European Union, and one bombing target was a metro station just steps from major EU institutions.

French President François Hollande declared, “The whole of Europe has been hit.” Germany’s Der Spiegel titled its lead story “Terror hits EU power center.” Declarations of solidarity clogged the Internet from across Europe.

Assuming that the collective Europe has been attacked, can it respond as one?

“No,” said John Kornblum, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany still based in Berlin.…  Seguir leyendo »

“It’s the refugees, stupid.”

That might as well have been the catchphrase in Sunday’s regional elections in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition suffered a crushing defeat. A budget surplus of 19 billion euros and the lowest unemployment rate in 25 years weren’t enough to keep the loyalty of voters in three states.

The 1 million asylum seekers who reached Germany in 2015 — and the prospect of a similar number arriving this year — turned these elections into a referendum on Merkel’s refugee policy.

The right-wing populist party, Alternative for Germany (AfD) burst into all three regional legislatures, winning not only a quarter of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt, a rustbelt state in the former East Germany, but also 15 percent in wealthy Baden-Wuerttemberg, according to preliminary results.…  Seguir leyendo »

If Russian officials are to be believed, the reason people worry about what Russia might do next is because they suffer from Russophobia, an irrational fear of all things Russian.

In February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assailed the “fashion of Russophobia in certain capitals” during a visit to Germany. Then Russia’s defense ministry accused General Philip Breedlove of Russophobia. The commander of U.S. forces in Europe had testified that the United States and its allies were “deterring Russia now and preparing to fight and win if necessary” following the Kremlin’s military adventures in Ukraine and Syria.

“Russophobe” has become a convenient label for anyone who disagrees with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behavior at home and abroad.…  Seguir leyendo »

Behind the scenes, U.S. diplomats are rediscovering Ukraine as a foreign-policy priority.

On Jan. 15, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met with a key Kremlin adviser at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s beachfront residence on the Baltic Sea. Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat responsible for European affairs, had traveled to Russia’s heavily militarized Kaliningrad region to sit down with Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s lieutenant overseeing the rebel regions in eastern Ukraine. Their six-hour “brainstorming” session, Surkov later told Russian journalists, touched on the thorniest issues of Ukraine’s tenuous peace process and proved both “constructive and useful”.

To call the meeting unusual would be an understatement.…  Seguir leyendo »

John Herbst, a former U.S. diplomat, wasn’t trying to flatter his German hosts when he took a dig at Washington late last month — he was just describing a new reality.

“Berlin is the critical capital in the West for settling a just solution to the crisis in Ukraine,” he said while introducing a think-tank panel discussion on human rights in Crimea.

Outside, the traffic was backed up through the Tiergarten, the central park that merges into Berlin’s glass-and-steel government quarter. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was making his way to a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The next day, U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Fireworks explode above St. Basil’s cathedral during the “Spasskaya Tower” international military music festival at Moscow’s Red Square, Russia, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Vladimir Putin is back. After spending more than a year in the doghouse for slicing off pieces of Ukraine, the Russian president has stepped back on center stage by appointing himself the indispensable arbiter in Syria’s civil war.

For Putin, the first quarter of 2014 began with the euphoria of hosting the world’s most expensive Winter Olympics and annexing Crimea before anybody noticed. But then things started going bad when the West sanctioned his cronies and their companies, kicked Russia out of the G8, and turned Putin into an international pariah. Australia’s then prime minister, Tony Abbott, threatened to tackle Putin according to Australian rules football at the G20 summit in Brisbane in November.…  Seguir leyendo »

Estonian President Toomas Ilves paused when I asked him if the annual Estonia’s Friends meeting he hosts is a copy of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Club, which gathers Russia experts from around the world every year. “Uhhhhh … no,” Ilves finally said, peering at me through his frameless eyeglasses.

Of course my question was meant to be provocative because Estonia and Russia have taken radically different paths since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, is the smallest of the former Soviet republics; Russia is 100 times more populous. Estonia implemented bold reforms to achieve membership in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman with a boy looks at a tank as it drives through the settlement Khutor Chkalova on its way to the Russian military training ground ‘Kuzminsky’ on the Russians side of the border with Ukraine, May 26, 2015. REUTERS/Maria Tsvetkova

Karl-Georg Wellmann, a representative in the German parliament, flew to Moscow Sunday night on a behind-the-scenes mission to help break the deadlock in eastern Ukraine. But when Wellmann landed at Sheremetyevo Airport, border officials denied him entry, without any explanation, until 2019. Wellmann, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, had to spend the night in a transit lounge and was escorted onto the first flight home the next morning.

Wellmann raised a storm in German and Russian media, and Merkel’s government lodged an official complaint with the Kremlin. Although he was known as a critic of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict, Wellmann said he had been invited by Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s committee on foreign affairs, and Sergei Glazyev, an adviser to President Vladimir Putin.…  Seguir leyendo »

Moscow uses tanks, Berlin words in World War Two commemorations

Three months ago, Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna suggested that Berlin or London would be more appropriate locations than Moscow to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe. In Russia, where the May 9 Victory Day holiday is celebrated by gigantic military parades on Red Square, Schetyna’s remarks were met with scorn. Channel Five, based in President Vladimir Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, hit back in a weekly news show by proposing a “grand European tour” by the Russian military.

“We have a big army. There’s enough for everybody,” an off-screen male voice said mockingly as red arrows on a map shot out from Moscow to Warsaw, Berlin, Helsinki and Prague.…  Seguir leyendo »

Newly mobilized Ukrainian paratroopers fire a machine gun during a military drill near Zhytomyr, March 6, 2015. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

When Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Berlin on Thursday, he heaped praise on his hosts: “At no time in my experience has the relationship with Germany and the United States covered more issues around the world, covered them in a deeper fashion and in a more collaborative fashion than we’re doing today. It is truly extraordinary.” President Barack Obama is especially grateful for his partnership with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Blinken added.

Blinken’s effusiveness went beyond diplomatic protocol. Ready or not, Merkel has become the unlikely leader of the pro-Ukrainian cause. The war in Ukraine followed a long chain of unintended consequences, of which Germany’s new role may be the most surprising.…  Seguir leyendo »

A portrait of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead on Friday night, is seen during a march to commemorate him in central Moscow March 1, 2015. The words under the portrait reads “These bullets are meant for each of us.” REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Feb. 27 has become a dark day for both Ukraine and Russia. A year ago on that day, heavily armed men seized the Crimean parliament, and Russian soldiers fanned out across the peninsula, making its annexation a fait accompli within hours. This year, liberal Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, a fierce critic of the Kremlin’s policy toward Ukraine, was gunned down in cold blood in central Moscow.

Just a day earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a decree designating Feb. 27 “Special Forces Day.” The Russian government’s official newspaper explained the choice of date obliquely: “Remember what happened where a year ago, and how it all ended.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian servicemen who fought in Debaltseve are seen in a bus before leaving for home, near Artemivsk, Feb. 19, 2015. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has suffered another crushing defeat. Less than a week after negotiating the renewal of the so-called Minsk ceasefire agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his soldiers have come limping out of Debaltseve, a road and rail hub in eastern Ukraine that pro-Russian rebels were besieging even as the talks dragged through the night.

Not only does the fierce fighting cast doubt on the chance for a lasting truce, but it puts the Ukrainian president in an increasingly difficult position domestically. As Ukrainians mark the first anniversary of the bloody Maidan protest and former President Viktor Yanukovych’s disgraceful flight from power, many are asking themselves what has been achieved.…  Seguir leyendo »

Participants hold a banner during a demonstration called by PEGIDA, in Dresden, Germany, Dec. 22, 2014. The text reads: “No more lies to us anymore! We are the people!” REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Last week, when I attended my first rally in Dresden organized by PEGIDA, Germany’s mysterious “anti-Islamization” movement, I was reminded of the aggressive pro-Russian protests that tore apart eastern Ukraine a year ago. Thousands of demonstrators, who mostly refused to talk to the “lying press,” listened to fiery speeches railing against the country’s political class. Among the German flags present, I also spotted a few Russian ones, including a banner that was split diagonally, one half Russia’s tricolor, the other half Germany’s. A reporter and cameraman from the Gazprom-owned NTV channel were greeted with welcoming calls of “Vladimir! Vladimir!”

Based on a few shreds of evidence, it would have been easy enough to weave together a conspiracy theory that the Kremlin is behind the demonstrations that were initiated by a secretive organizing committee in October and swelled to a record 25,000 participants on Monday.…  Seguir leyendo »

Speculation is rife whether President Dmitri Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will end up running next year in Russia’s presidential election. The supposed rivalry between a youthful reformer and his conservative mentor makes for welcome intrigue in a country where competing political views have long gone missing from the public discourse.

Putin, Russia’s president from 2000 to 2008, handpicked Medvedev from his Kremlin entourage because of a constitutional ban on three consecutive presidential terms. Now Putin could legally return to the presidency two more times — conceivably holding office until 2024, since one of Medvedev’s first legislative initiatives was to extend presidential terms from four years to six.…  Seguir leyendo »

The suicide bombing at Moscow’s busiest airport last Monday exposed more than a failure by security services to man metal detectors or extinguish potential threats. The terrorist attack, which killed 35 people and injured more than 100, revealed cracks in the rigid political system that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin built over the last decade. It was those weaknesses that made last week’s tragedy possible — and provide the conditions for new attacks.

Terrorist acts by definition prey on the vulnerabilities of governments and their security agencies. No country, no matter how well-prepared, can consider itself immune to such strikes. Terrorists have targeted metropolises like New York, London, Madrid and Stockholm in recent years.…  Seguir leyendo »