Enjoyable Series on Europe

Have a look at the British journalist Matthew Engel’s current series of travelogues in The New Statesman

The most recent is Slovenia – the happy country that should be even happier. The previous two in the series are
Travels in Belgium, the dysfunctional, fractured state at the heart of the EU and The slow train to Tallinn, about Estonia.

(Photo is Tallinn, capital of Estonia. Click to enlarge.)

Post Soviet Politics Never Stops


A rift has opened up across post Soviet Europe in the wake of the Riga Summit, (that’s Riga across the Daugava River, above) with all the former Soviet states lining up according to their perceived interests. Armenia and Belarus resist the final declaration in Riga, each beholden to Moscow for various protections, while Georgia, the Baltics and Ukraine clamor to camp under the EU umbrella.

The best way to decide what you think is to listen to respected scholars, but they line up equally on both sides. Andrew Michta and Judy Dempsey call the EU feckless while Stratfor and Brian Whitmore put President Putin on the back foot.

Who’s right? And with the injection of the US instigated FIFA controversy and the opportunity it affords the US to scold Russia and vice versa, what’s next? 

There’s News Beyond Scotland Today


It’s the first court date for Eston Kohver, the Estonian officer kidnapped by Russia, who has been held at Lefortovo prison since his arrest. His attorney, who was hired by the Estonian government, is Mark Feygin, who is also representing Ukrainian air force pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who has been held without bail by the Russians since at least early July. The way the Russian judicial system works, it’s hard to tell if hiring Feygin to represent Kohver helps or hurts.

To George Will: Anytime. Happy to Help.

George Will is starting to follow me around. He wrote Wednesday that

“The Islamic State is a nasty problem that can be remedied if its neighbors, assisted by the United States, decide to do so. Vladimir Putin’s fascist revival is a crisis that tests the West’s capacity to decide.”

He’s right. I wrote here on CS&W on August 13th that

“at bottom ISIS is a band of thugs with an archaic worldview that a willful president and his or her allies, if they had a mind to, could clobber using Colin Powell’s overwhelming force commensurate with ISIS’s brutality. The challenge to Ukraine, on the other hand, is an assault on the world’s organizing principles, with the potential to collaterally undermine both NATO and the Obama administration.”

I had no idea, George, that you were a Common Sense and Whiskey fan, but I welcome you to follow me on Twitter @BMurrayWriter. Would have saved you three weeks on Wednesday’s column. I’ll help you with today’s huge Baltic news in a couple of days.


Happy to help, George. Cheers!

Other Views on Estonia and NATO


A couple of others have elaborated on the theme of my recent article about NATO, Estonia and Russia. Financial Times Baltic correspondent Richard Milne has filed this video report from Narva, on the Estonia/Russia border (above, from the video). Talking about Narva’s large Russian speaking population in the video, Katri Raik, the Director of Narva College, gets pithy: “What is the reason the Russian speaking people are in Estonia, have not left Estonia? And maybe the best answer is you must go once from Ivangorod to Narva and you can understand life in Estonia is really better than Russia.”

Also for your consideration, here is a piece titled Is Estonia Worth a War?. The author is the director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, an organization which is, but doesn’t take kindly to being labelled, isolationist.

Peril May Not Come from Crimea or Ukraine


trident Moscow’s chiseling off a bit of Ukraine was a needless, nervous overreaction to the fall of the Yanukovych regime in Kyiv. The Russian Federation already had effective control of Crimea.

The Kremlin’s ham-handed land grab illuminates its defensive crouch, revealing Vladimir Putin as cornered animal. Russia really is acting from weakness. Its buffer states are long lost, NATO has pushed to its border and now that its crony in fraternal Ukraine has fled, the danger of democracy has drawn right up to Mr. Putin’s door.

Weakness doesn’t imply impotence. Animals fearing mortal peril are more likely to lash out, and one immediate and obvious potential target is the NATO alliance, whose expansion into the Baltics, however good it may have looked at the time, has left it recklessly exposed.

In 1994, as Russia lay shambolic after the Soviet collapse, NATO welcomed former Soviet republics and satellites into its Partnership for Peace. Five years later the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland became full NATO members. Five years after that, ten years ago this week, NATO took in seven more countries, three of which, the Baltic states, border Russia (Poland also has a border with the Russian exclave Kaliningrad).

Proponents of expansion at the Brookings Institution wrote that “… fears that enlargement would provoke a new cold war were always greatly exaggerated.” Until now. They argued that “… enlargement will be most successful if it can be accomplished without driving a wedge between Russia and the West.” To the contrary, pushing a military alliance that was founded to oppose Russia right up to Russia’s border has done precisely that, giving an embattled Russian leader an opening to upset the entire Allied apple cart.


When the Russians made their move in Crimea, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called upon them not to “violate the Budapest Memorandum,” a 1994 document in which signatories Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States pledged to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and refrain from the use of force against it.

Ukraine saw the memorandum as protection from invasion. Russia violated it explicitly and the U.S. and U.K. brushed it aside, calling it a “diplomatic document,” not a treaty. So much for diplomatic documents. So now Yatsenyuk is on to Plan B, signing deals with the EU, inveighing against Russia, pleading for Western support.

It may be, as Gideon Rachman has written, that a Ukraine war would spell disaster for Russia. But there are more clever ways for the Russian leader to wreak calamity than a military assault on the Donbass.

Consider NATO’s northeasternmost outpost, the Estonian border town of Narva, along the main highway from Tallinn to St. Petersburg, which is 82% ethnic Russian (2011). Suppose Mr. Putin were to move, let’s say, 200 un-uniformed men just over the border to protect the ethnic Russians there against intolerable harassment at the hands of the evil, brutish Estonians.

Neither the U.S. nor the Europeans ever meant to commit troops to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO. Do you think they would go to war in Estonia, which is? Sent to buck up the allies last week, Vice President Biden strongly implied that they would. In Lithuania and Poland he declared the U.S. “absolutely committed” to defending its allies.

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