How Justin Trudeau caved to Putin

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the West was certain that its sanctions were worth the pain. But there always was a question as to whether this resolve would last once the domestic difficulties actually started. This week, western countries moved closer to admitting it might be too much to bear. At the time of the invasion in February, a massive Russian turbine was being repaired in Montreal. It was one of many turbines used to send gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia to Germany. When the Russians moved into Ukraine, it was kept in Canada as punishment. Over the next few weeks and months Russia replied, cutting off

Susanne Mundschenk

The problem with euro-dollar parity

The euro is nearly level with the dollar. It should not matter in theory, because of the relatively low share of the US in EU trade. But it does in practice. Some predict that the euro will fall below parity. There is a straightforward explanation for this: the war in Ukraine and unpredictable Russian gas supplies to Europe make the dollar a safe haven for investors. On top of this, US interest rates offer a higher return on investment. But it is not only the dollar. Looking at the broader picture, the European Central Bank’s measure of the euro’s real effective exchange rate against 42 partner countries confirms this trend

The recapturing of Snake Island shows what Ukraine can do

After days of missile strikes, Ukrainian forces have forced Russia off Snake Island in the Black Sea. ‘The enemy hastily evacuated the remnants of the garrison in two speedboats and left the island’, according to the Ukrainian Operational South Command. Russia’s defence ministry appeared to concede defeat, saying that ‘Russian forces have completed the assigned tasks and withdrew as a step of goodwill’. The retreat is huge news in Ukraine, as Snake Island is not only important strategic territory, but has acquired a cult status as a representation of Ukraine’s resistance. Snake Island became world famous on the first day of the war when Ukrainian troops broadcast a message saying:

Is Russian Orthodoxy dying in Ukraine?

Ivano-Frankivsk has just become the first city in Ukraine to have no Russian Orthodox Church, amid a mass defection of churches away from the Moscow patriarchate and towards the breakaway Orthodox Church of Ukraine.  At the start of the invasion in February, almost two-thirds of Orthodox churches were still formally aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church whose leader – Patriarch Kirill – is a close ally of Putin. Until recently, the Russian Orthodox Church claimed dominion over Ukraine for centuries. The 2014 invasion of Crimea dampened its appeal. In 2019 a new Orthodox Church of Ukraine was recognised by Patriarch Bartholomew – the archbishop of Constantinople and the de facto leader

Macron vs the deep state

French diplomats are on strike today. But will anyone notice? Not to be immodest, I am especially well qualified to comment on French diplomacy. Some time ago, between gigs in Washington DC, I was employed as a consultant by the French embassy there. The embassy is a modern building in Georgetown, conveniently near all the best restaurants, although the food at the embassy itself was both fabulous and cheaper than McDonalds. The wine list was, obviously, exceptional. I was not allowed to see deeply into the embassy’s most sensitive operations (there was a mysterious wing that seemed to be entirely occupied by spooks) but must admit that in the scientific

How Russia wins

It is still too early to predict the outcome of the war in Ukraine. Russia has certainly solidified its position in the east and is making small military gains. What’s become clear over the last few days is that Russia may, after all, be able to achieve at least some of its military goals. Here is an interesting, albeit disturbing, political scenario by Sabine Fischer, a senior fellow at a German foreign policy tank. She notes that the mood in Moscow itself has shifted. It is the Kremlin’s political calculation that the western nations will not sustain their massive financial and military support for Ukraine.  The German government is prioritising its commercial relations with Russia – as it

EU: normal disservice resumes

In the past few months, relations between the UK and the EU have been the best they have been since Brexit. Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine reminded the two sides of the need for the world’s democracies to co-operate. Disputes over fishing rights could wait. It is tempting to hope that relations could continue to improve, especially now that the French presidential election is out of the way. But this is unlikely to happen. This week Bruno Le Maire, France’s economy minister, dismissed the suggestion that fixing relations with Britain will be a priority for Emmanuel Macron’s second term. In Whitehall there is a recognition that there won’t be a

Europe’s finest grand hotels

Most of life’s guilty pleasures eventually lose their lustre, but one decadent delight that never fades is spending a long weekend with a significant other in one of Europe’s grand hotels. For a few days you’re living a different life, a more glamorous existence, like characters in a Continental film noir. You’re bound to have your own favourites, places you love to revisit, but if you’re looking for somewhere new to stay, here’s my top ten. They’re not the most opulent hotels, or even the most expensive. What sets them apart is their understated elegance. Naturally they’re not cheap, but if your travel dates are flexible you can often find

Michel Houellebecq may be honoured by the French establishment, but he’s no fan of Europe

For many years, Michel Houellebecq was patronised by the French literary establishment as an upstart, what with his background in agronomy rather than literature, his miserable demeanour, his predilection for science fiction and his gift for unyieldingly saying the unsayable, especially about relations between the sexes. That’s all changed now. He won the Prix Goncourt in 2010 for The Map and the Territory and in 2019 was elevated to the Légion d’Honneur. The Nobel cannot be long delayed, the committee after all having honoured the equally ornery V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee. Houellebecq’s new novel Anéantir, published in January in a luxury edition of 300,000 copies, was a quasi-official event

Boris and Scholz parade the new Europe

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed Europe forever. That was the argument that Boris Johnson made on Friday when he held a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. One of the changes Johnson was keen to emphasise was that European leaders are united in their support of Ukraine and against Putin. This, he argued, was one of the ways in which the Russian President had failed: he had sought to create divisions in Europe, but had ‘demonstrably failed’. ‘The Europe we knew just six weeks ago no longer exists: Putin’s invasion strikes at the very foundations of the security of our continent,’ he said, adding: ‘Putin has steeled

Putin’s war is a disaster for Russia

Strasbourg Europhobes will never have a better argument against European integration than the seat of the European parliament in Strasbourg. It’s not just the €200 million per year it costs to move MEPs to and from Brussels once a month at great inconvenience to everyone; the building itself is a disgrace. It feels like a prison: identical glass corridors look out over a useless inner courtyard, so you can go on walks without the danger of escape. The former president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso once suggested turning the building into the headquarters of the European Institute of Technology, which was an excellent offer both for the country

Why Hungary’s opposition failed

Viktor Orbán has now spent a total of 16 years as Hungary’s Prime Minister but he has not lost his hunger for power. Energetically campaigning across the country, exploiting every advantage of incumbency, and excoriating the incompetent opposition, on Sunday he notched up his fourth landslide victory in a row. Crucially, he maintains the two-thirds majority in parliament that he has held since 2010, allowing him him to amend the constitution whenever he chooses. Predictably, the opposition challenged the legitimacy of the election process even before the votes had been counted. They note that the lion’s share of the media supports Orbán. But this is an excuse, not an explanation. It was not

Germany’s progressives have a Putin problem

Eighty-nine years ago this week, the German Social Democrats in the Reichstag cast the only votes opposing Adolf Hitler’s dictatorial power grab, the Enabling Act. Today’s SPD members often cite that moment as the proudest in their party’s 146-year history. With a memory like that, there is something awkward about the current SPD Chancellor’s position. Olaf Scholz is now having to come to terms with decades of SPD appeasement towards the dictator in Moscow. Before Putin’s invasion, Russian doves could be found across the German political spectrum, but Scholz’s now-ruling SPD has an especially long and developed history of Kremlin cosiness. The party has been at the centre of German

David Frost’s solution to cool UK-EU relations

Since David Frost quit the government in December over its political direction, he has not said that much about the future of UK-EU affairs. But in the Churchill lecture at the University of Zurich tonight, he sets out a potential new basis for relations. His tone is warm and marks a deliberate attempt to move on from the scratchy relations of the last few years: he argues that there is a ‘need to recognise that the EU is a natural ally of the United Kingdom, and that we should seek – as sovereign equals – ways to cooperate and work together more.’ Frost’s speech is a sign of a reminder that there is

Chernobyl Two?

The electricity supply to the ruined nuclear plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine has been cut off. According to one knowledgeable source I spoke to, this is a serious problem as power is needed to pump water around spent nuclear fuel rods stored there. There is a back-up diesel generator, but it has just one day’s supply of fuel left and once that runs out, the temperature could start to climb. If the water evaporates, the zirconium metal ‘fuel assemblies’ could start to melt – with radioactive material released into the atmosphere. This would not be anywhere near as bad as the original Chernobyl disaster, in 1986, when a reactor had

‘Staying Switzerland’ on Ukraine is impossible

The striking thing about the financial sanctions on Russia is not their severity, but just how many countries are joining in the effort. Switzerland has today announced that it will adopt the EU sanctions on Russia, particularly significant because it has been the biggest recipient of private transfers by Russians in recent years. The fact that such a traditionally neutral country is imposing sanctions will deepen the wedge between Putin and the rest of the ruling elite. Meanwhile in Asia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore have signed on to the economic measures on Russia. Their willingness to do this is as much about Taiwan as Ukraine; they know that China is

Viktor Orbán has played a perfect game with Putin

On 3 April Hungarians will have their ninth set of free parliamentary elections since the collapse of the communist dictatorship in 1989. The winner is likely to be Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz-KDNP coalition, which is leading in five of the six major polls. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will not change that dynamic even though the opposition leader, Péter Márki-Zay has called Orbán a ‘traitor’ for his long-standing friendship with Vladimir Putin. Ever since Viktor Orbán began his second stint as Hungary’s prime minister in 2010, he has repeatedly played the provocateur within the EU, tweaking the eurocrats’ noses with his cultural conservatism and hostility to mass immigration. His alliance

A new Europe is emerging from this crisis

With every hour that Kiev holds out, the geopolitics of Europe changes more. Germany, which so values its prohibition on sending weapons into warzones, has just announced that it is sending 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to support the Ukrainian forces. I expect that defence spending will rise considerably in the coming years Germany is also allowing other Nato members to export arms with German-made parts to Ukraine — which will make a material difference to the supplies that the Ukrainian government receives. Yesterday evening, it was announced that Russian banks are going to be cut off from Swift. The EU seems to have realised how unsustainable their position was when

It’s time for Germany to stand up to Russia

In his novel The Loyal Subject, which appeared on the eve of the first world war, Heinrich Mann, the brother of Thomas, satirised Wilhelmine Germany as a hotbed of chauvinistic nationalism. The servile nationalism that Mann mocked could not be further from the ethos of the Federal Republic of Germany today. So pervasive is Germany’s eirenic disposition that on Thursday, as Russian president Vladimir Putin ravaged Ukraine, Lieutenant General Alfons Mais, the head of the German army, took the unusual step of turning to LinkedIn to ventilate his exasperation at the impotence of his own fighting forces. ‘In my 41st year of peace-time service, I would not have thought that

Putin’s invasion has exposed the frailty of Europe’s armies

Putin’s forces are currently steamrolling Ukraine’s defences, with Russian troops circling the capital and invading from the south and east of the country. Meanwhile European leaders, neutered by their military weakness, have been unable to do little more than offer pointless sanctions and statements of solidarity. As Russian troops streamed across the border, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the ‘unprecedented military aggression.’ When the Kremlin moved to recognise the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as independent states, the response in Brussels was to pass a fresh package of sanctions. This was repeated in London, with Boris Johnson telling our ‘Ukrainian friends’ that ‘we are with you and we