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Putin’s power plays

September 27th, 2015

It is always tempting, when writing about the Russian president, to lapse into geopolitical waffle. Though the Cold War ended a quarter century ago, we are still accustomed to thinking of Vladimir Putin as a global actor, a representative of eternal Russian interests, the inheritor of czarism/Lenin/Stalin, a man who inhabits a Kissingerian world of state actors who compete against other state actors for control over territory, all of them playing a gigantic game of Risk. Read on »

Jeremy Corbyn’s dangerous appeal

September 16th, 2015


We went back and forth, all through dinner. Yes, my acquaintance admitted, Jeremy Corbyn’s economic plans — the renationalization of industry, the imposition of a “maximum wage” — were fantastical. Yes, it’s true, Corbyn’s fondness for the people he has referred to as “our friends in Hezbollah” hardly seemed sane or rational. And yes, of course, the new leader of the British Labour Party might well be unelectable. Then he sighed. “But at least we’ll be having fun again!” Read on »

Europe’s multi-layered hypocrisy on refugees

September 4th, 2015


Picking apart the layers of irony and hypocrisy that surround the European refugee crisis is like peeling an onion without a knife. At a train station in southern Moravia, Czech police pulled 200 refugees off a train and marked numbers on their arms. On its eastern border, Hungary is building a barbed-wire fence to keep out refugees, remarkably like the barbed wire “iron curtain” that once marked its western border. Choose whatever image you want — ships full of Jews being sent back to Nazi Europe, refugees furtively negotiating with smugglers at a bar in Casablanca — and it now has a modern twist. Read on »

Donald Trump: Spokesman for birthers, truthers, and Internet trolls

August 21st, 2015

“It’s probably the same person, writing 16 different comments under 15 different names.” That’s how a friend’s son recently shrugged off a social media spat he’d been involved in at his university. There had been some nasty name-calling and a few violent threats, but he wasn’t bothered: He reckoned the anger, racism and vitriol he had encountered on Twitter and Facebook weren’t “real.” They didn’t affect real politics, or real life. Read on »

Robert Conquest and the need for the courage to illuminate the truth

August 6th, 2015

At least 40 years ago, back when the Soviet Union still existed and the Berlin Wall still stood, the KGB searched the apartment of a Russian friend of mine. Inevitably, the agents found what they were looking for: his large collection of samizdat, illegally printed magazines and books. They pounced on them, rifled through them — and then one held up my friend’s contraband copy of Robert Conquest’s most famous book, “The Great Terror.” “Excellent, we’ve been wanting to read this for a long time,” he declared. Or words to that effect. Read on »

Helping Russia’s sidelined and exiled journalists tell their stories

July 24th, 2015

When I first met Yevgenia Albats, it was the 1990s, the Soviet Union had just ceased to exist and she was a rising star in the new Russian journalism — one of many. The explosion of creativity in Russian media in that era is one of the post-Soviet miracles that no one has ever quite explained. The gray and mendacious Soviet press suddenly collapsed beneath the weight of its own tedium. Into the vacuum stepped witty writers, serious columnists and dedicated journalists such as Albats, one of the first real investigative reporters in Russia. Where did they all come from? Read on »

Greece is a turning point for the E.U.

July 9th, 2015

On July 20, the government of Greece is supposed to pay 3.5 billion euros to the European Central Bank. Writing now, more than a week before that debt is due, I am loath to predict what will happen. Clearly, the government of Greece doesn’t have 3.5 billion euros. An emergency meeting of European leaders Sunday might come up with a solution, but it might not. The consequences of a failure could include the collapse of the Greek banking system and a disorderly Greek exit from the euro currency, with knock-on effects on dozens of institutions that are exposed to Greek debt. Read on »

It’s the Greek politics, stupid

June 23rd, 2015

Default, bankruptcy, Grexit, crash: If you feel you’ve read before that these things were about to happen in Greece, that’s because you have. Every debate about Greece’s financial crisis deteriorates rapidly into a discussion of deadlines: repayments, refinancings, meetings of the International Monetary Fund or the European Central Bank. Until now, these deadlines have always resulted in further delay. Another one is coming on June 30. That’s when Greece owes another $1.7 billion it doesn’t have. Read on »

America’s foreign policy recovery

June 12th, 2015


Several times lately — often enough for it to have become a distinct pattern — I’ve found myself part of a heated discussion, somewhere in Europe. Maybe it’s at a dinner or a conference; maybe the topic is Russia, Libya or the economic crisis in Greece. But at some point, someone looks up in wonder. “Isn’t it odd: We haven’t mentioned the United States once!” Yes, everyone agrees, it’s odd! And then the subject changes again. Read on »

The end of Britain as we know it

May 10th, 2015


This election will be remembered as the one that rescued the career of David Cameron, the British prime minister, who was publicly contemplating his own exit from politics only two months ago. It will also be remembered as the election that abruptly ended the career of the Labor Party leader, Ed Miliband, who had confidently carved his electoral promises onto a large piece of limestone only last week. Above all, it will be remembered as the election that every single major pollster got wrong: All the dire talk of hung parliaments, minority coalitions and the intervention, even, of the queen has vanished with the emergence of a solid Conservative majority. But long after these various dramas are forgotten, it might also be remembered as the election that marked the beginning of the end of Great Britain, at least in the form that we now know it. Read on »

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