Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Europe at Sea *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd December, 2017

Federica Mogherini 1The year 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the launching of the European project, but never since its foundation has the European Union (formerly the EEC) been under such pressure from its immediate neighbourhood. Russia has been interfering in the Baltic states in particular — and maybe in Britain’s EU Referendum, too — but most serious has been the flood of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in Syria or poverty in Africa. Italy alone took in more than half a million Mediterranean boat people between 2014 and 2017. More than 17,000 such boat people have perished at sea since 2011. Both Italy and Greece were put under huge strain by the sheer scale of the humanitarian demand and shamefully not all of the other 26 EU member states rallied round to help, notably several in central and eastern Europe. Meanwhile, much of the responsibility for dealing with the influx and with security matters (such as the threat of terrorism) has fallen on the shouders of the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. She is the prime focus of Annalisa Piras’s new hour-long documentary, Europe at Sea, now available on Amazon VOD. Though she had served briefly as Italy’s Foreign Minister, Ms Mogherini was considered a light-weight when she was first appointed, and therefore not a danger to the vested interests of some of the EU’s more powerful member states, but she has more than proved her mettle, both in dealing with the migration crisis and in building on the complementarity between the EU and NATO. She comes over in the film as compassionate (“You can be both strong and human”) but also hard-headed. She put together a Global Strategy for the EU”s response to the mulltifareous external challenges facing the Union, launched the day after Britain’s Brexit vote.

Merkel Macron Since the election of French President Emmanuel Macron, there is new impetus in the Franco-German relationship that will help steer the EU through its choppy waters at a time when Donald Trump is largely withdrawing the United States from the European scene. The great tragedy is that Britain should be in pole position too, but instead is tied up in its own Brexit navel-gazing prior to exiting the EU in 2019. The core message of this film is that the EU member states need to pull together if they are not to sink under the weight of the external challenges; the implication naturally is that Britain is once again missing the boat. Unlike Pisar’s earlier film, The Great European Disaster MovieEurope at Sea does not use any gimmicks of fantasy; rather, it is a straight-down-the-line, powerful,  factual documentary, with an eclectic range of top-rank interviewees and some occasionally harrowing footage. It is a tribute to Federica Mogherini’s work and determination, as well as to the potential for good that rests in European collective action. Brexiteers will hate it, but they should watch it, as they will learn something, as will everyone else. The film is a fine exposition of a noble cause.

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The AEJ and “Dark Power”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 18th November, 2017

2A98F1CF-39A9-47FE-9C77-5A3CA5DEE397Soft power has become an important concept in international relations since the end of the Second World War — namely, the way states use cultural diplomacy and other forms of non-military action to spread their influence. But recently a new phenomenon has been identified: “dark power” — the way some countries, especially Russia, use broadcasting and social media, in particular, to influence or interfere in the affairs of other states. This is something that particularly concerns the three Baltic States and other former parts of the Soviet Union, such as Ukraine and Georgia. The latter two have of course also experienced military interventions by Russia, but all have seen their communications and democracy come under various forms of dark power assault, from cyber-War against Estonia to Russian bots engaging in election and referendum campaigns, including the 2016 EU Referendum in Britain and the US presidential election. No wonder both NATO and the EU are concerned and have been looking at ways of countering this hostile intervention, including running facilities in the Baltic States.

Lithuania, located between Belarus and the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, is particularly concerned and the theme naturally dominated much of the Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), which has been taking place in Vilnius over the past couple of days. For many Western journalists present it was quite shocking to learn about some of the methods being used to distort the narratives of a Post-Truth world, as well of examples of harassment of journalists and broadcasters through twitter and other platforms.

54C3857F-D37D-4E0D-AD4B-3A61F398D92CBut it is not only Russians who are involved. President Trump has shown himself to be a master of the dark arts of disinformation and the dissemination of fake news. One of the strongest presentations at the AEJ Congress was from Mikko Salo of Faktabaari, Finland, who outlined the escalation of Post-Truth in the region and how this can be countered by rigorous fact-checking and counter-assertions. This is an issue of which all media professionals need to be aware, as well as students and others who are operating in a world in which language is being twisted, alternative “facts” published and negative ideologies propagated by forces hostile to the nature of open and tolerant European democratic societies.

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Donald Trump out on a Limb

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd June, 2017

Trump climate changeLast night the US President confirmed Europe’s worst fears, by announcing that he is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change. He is on record as saying that he doesn’t really believe in global warming, and although his pledge to give coal-mining a boost went down well in certain areas of the country during his election campaign the potential impact on the global climate is serious. It is encouraging that not only the European Union but also Russia and China have reaffirmed their support for the Paris Agreement, though sadly Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May — keen to enhance her status as Mr Trump’s best foreign friend as Brexit looms — reportedly commented that the US President is free to do as he likes. Whereas that is factually correct, it is politically inept. Britain should not be seen to be aligning itself with a climate change denier at this crucial moment in history. Many world leaders, including former President Barack Obama, have cited climate change as possibly the biggest threat facing humankind, which is why it is so important that countries around the world limit their emissions and take other measures to slow and ideally reverse the trend of global warming. It was a great victory for common sense when China came on board. Now Donald Trump has taken the United States in the opposite direction. I suspect he rather enjoys being out on a limb, such is his monstrous ego. But those who go out on a limb run the risk of someone cutting off the branch on which they are sitting, and for the planet’s sake, I hope that is what will happen before too long.

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Angela Merkel Nails It

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th May, 2017

Angela Merkel 2In a campaign speech in Bavaria, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, today declared bluntly that Europe can no longer rely on the United States as a core ally, now that Donald Trump is in charge — and that Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has put the United Kingdom beyond the pale, too. Although Frau Merkel emphasized the need for friendly relations with the USA, Britain and Russia, she declared, “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.” The Chancellor is recently back from the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily, and what happened there clearly made her realise that America under Trump and the UK under May cannot be fully trusted as allies. “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days,” she said.

Trump May 1 The Trump administration, of course, leaked sensitive security information following the Manchester bombing, which must make even Mrs May regret that she cuddled up so closely to the Donald following his election victory. Even more uncomfortable is the reality that in the minds of the leader of Germany and of several of her continental counterparts, Trump, May and Putin (albeit not in equal measure) are now a triumvirate of the unreliable. How shaming for Britain, and it’s all the fault of the UK Conservatives embracing the hard Brexit narrative with all the fervour of new converts to the religion of UKIP. For an ardent European and Liberal Democrat such as myself this is painful in the extreme. Mrs May declared some weeks ago that the nation is behind her, 100%, but that is not true, Mrs May. It’s not just many among the 48% who voted Remain in last June’s EU Referendum who can see that you are in danger of leading Britain over the white cliffs of Dover without a parachute. Many who for various reasons voted Leave now also see the folly of your strategy. Actually, strategy is the wrong word, as it is all too clear that when it comes to Brexit you have no strategy, and your three idiotic Brexit Ministers have no plan. There are just 10 days for this message to get across to the general public before the general election voting. But the conclusion is clear: if you care about Britain’s future and its place in the world, Don’t Vote Tory!

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Trump, NATO and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th December, 2016

img_1788Earlier this week I was one of the speakers at a Global Diplomatic Forum event in London on the foreign policy consequences of Donald Trump becoming US President. The other members of the panel were the new Latvian Amnassador to the Court of St James’s and the Conservative MP, Daniek Kawczynzki. By chance, the Ambassador and I were seated on a sofa on one side of the Chair, Andrew Wilson, while Dan Kawczynski was alone on another the other side, and that was exactly how our alignment went when it came to the discussion. Mr Kawczynski set the tone by focusing his opening remarks on why a Trump presidency is welcome and how we should engage more with Russia. It is disconcerting how pro Putin so many right wing Conservative as well as UKIP politicians are. The Ambassador countered with a resume of how Latvia suffered under Soviet Occupation and I spoke of what I had seen of Russian encroachment in Georgia this summer, as well as the assassination of journalists and liberal politicians in Moscow. But I also spoke of my wider concerns of what promises to be greater US isolationism under Trump, regarding international trade, climate change and so on. The appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State does not bode well, either. I would have liked to discuss things further with Daniel Kawczynski in the coffee break, but he shot out of the event like a bat out of hell.

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Brexit and the Baltic States

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th September, 2016

Baltic States flags.jpgA few days before June’s EU Referendum invited to Riga to give a lecture on Brexit at the University of Latvia. The mood among the audience (and other speakers) was one of total mystification: why would Britain want to leave the EU after more than 40 years, when other countries are knocking on the door to get in? Three months later, the attitude of the Baltic States to the Brexit vote is one of sorrow and dismay, partly because they believe Britain’s departure (if it happens) will weaken the EU but also because they feel it will affect them. The possible return home of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonia migrants currently working in the UK is one outcome, but as the Lithuanian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Asta Skaisgiryte, said at a Political and Economic Circle Forum at the National Liberal Club this evening, a major concern is about security, in particular the way that the EU will or will not continue to stand up to Russia. All the Baltic states are nervous about Vladimir Putin, following the Russian encroachment into Georgia and Ukraine, not to mention the dreadful decades of Soviet occupation, human rights abuses and deportations. But the Ambassador also highlighted a specific potential threat from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, arguing where would its growing naval and military might be focused if not westwards to Europe? Baroness Judith Jolly, a LibDem spokesperson on defence in the House of Lords. also concentrated on security matters in her comments from this evening’s panel. Although Britain will remain a member of NATO, pulling out of EU cooperation could weaken the North Atlantic Alliance. Moreover, Brexit could be a prelude to other political events that would have been unthinkable only months ago, such as a possible Donald Trump victory in the US presidential election in November or the triumph of the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in next year’s French elections. It was interesting that an unusually large turnout had registered for the seminar, which also heard from Tom Brake MP, LibDem Foreign Affairs spokesman in the Commons, Vytis Jurkonis from the Freedom Association office in Vilnius, and the Chairman, Lord Chidgey.

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A Time for Diplomacy to Triumph

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th November, 2015

Turkey Russia SyriaThe downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey earlier today is potentially a dangerous escalation of the febrile situation in the Middle East, though it need not be, if handled correctly. I agreed with the former Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, when he tweeted that normally one might fire a warning shot at a plane allegedly violating one’s airspace, not shoot it down. The situation has been made worse by the fact that the Russian pilot and co-pilot have, according to some reports, been either killed or captured by anti-government rebels in Syria, who are vehemently opposed to Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Anyway, one cannot undo the shooting down, now that it has happened, and NATO will be having an emergency meeting in Brussels tonight — at the request of Turkey — to discuss the situation.

Russian jetThe Turkish government meanwhile is being rather macho about it all, saying that it reserves the right to take any measures necessary to preserve its national sovereignty, but this rather obscures the fact that the last thing the Middle East needs is a head-on conflict between NATO and Russia, which could conceivably happen if Turkey were to press ahead with its invocation of Articles 4 & 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, according to which all NATO members are obliged to come to the assistance of a member state that has come under attack. Instead, what is needed is some rapid but determined international diplomacy, to take some of the tension out of the situation. It was Churchill who famously said that jaw-jaw is better than war-war, and that is certainly the case in this instance. It is to be hoped that Britain and other senior members of NATO will work with the Turks to find some face-saving measures that could take off some of the heat. Otherwise what some observers are already seeing as a proxy war in Syria by outside powers could all too easily disintegrate into the real thing.

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Timmermans’ Convincing Case

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th March, 2015

Frans TimmermansIt is frustrating that so much of the discussion about Britain’s relationship with the European Union is about the question “should we be in, or should we be out?” The Prime Minister, David Cameron, must shoulder some of the blame for this, for constantly trying to dance to UKIP’s tune, instead of standing up firmly on the side of most of British business (a natural constituency for him, one would have thought) to stress how important EU membership is for the UK’s economy and how risky leaving to “go it alone” would be. I wish Mr Cameron, and indeed other Tory government Ministers, could have been present yesterday at Thomson Reuters in Canary Wharf to listen to the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, give a masterly exposition of how the EU can steer itself through the next four or five years, by doing less better. The event was organised by the social democratic think tank Policy Network, focussing especially on EU reform as well as UK membership, but Mr Timmermans also highlighted the need for a more concerted European response to challenges such as Russia’s adventurism, Mediterranean migration and ISIS and related matters. I asked him if that meant that a recalaibration of the EU’s priorities might therefore be towards a stronger Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), at the expense of internal market regulation, but he responded by quoting Harold Macmillan’s classic remark about “events, dear boy” — in other words, the EU must be able to respond pro-actively as necessary. Meanwhile, Britain marginalises itself from EU action to the detriment of both London and Brussels; I have already blogged about my dismay that Mr Cameron stood aloof from the Merkel-Hollande mission re Ukraine. On that specific issue, Mr Timmermans said that even if the Minsk Agreement has not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion, Minsk must be the basis for taking things forward.

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The New Cold War

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th February, 2015

Vladimir PutinBoris NemtsovThe murder in Moscow yesterday of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was a cruel reminder of just how far the values of Vladimir Putin’s Russia differ from the European mainstream. Many other critics of the Kremlin — not least journalists — have been killed, beaten up or imprisoned since Vlad the Bad came to power. I suppose it was natural for the West to imagine when Communism collapsed a quarter of a century ago that Russia would modernise politically as well as economically, in short to become more like us, but this assumption failed to take into account the fact that Russia is unlike Europe in many ways — including the high regard many Russians have for strong leaders and their rejection of contemporary European liberal views on everything from the right to peaceful protest to same sex marriage. Moreover, even if Putin is out-of-step with European and North American values, he has many admirers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. So as a new Cold War seems to be shaping up in the wake of the Russian intervention in Ukraine Moscow is unlikely to find itself alone out in the cold. In the meantime, it is natural for us to feel compassion for the small band of brave liberal voices inside Russia itself who dare to speak out. They deserve our support, as well as sanctuary in Europe if they feel their only means of survival is to get out.

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UK Misses the EU Boat — Again!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2015

Angela MerkelFrancois HollandeAngela Merkel and Francois Hollande are in Kiev today and tomorrow will move on to Moscow — all in aid of trying to mediate a peace deal between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels on Eastern Ukraine. They are to be congratulated for confronting head-on the most serious threat to security in the European Union’s neighbourhood since the Cold War. They are right to believe that the European Union should be pro-active in its commitment to peace and stability, not only within and between EU member states but in the neighbourhood as well. But where is Britain in all this, or more precisely David Cameron? The UK is a major player in NATO operations, but under Mr Cameron it has increasingly side-lined itself from EU activity. The Ukraine peace initiative would have been stronger with the involvement of the three most powerful member states: Britain, France and Germany. But once again, as so often over the past half century and more, the British government has left it up to a Franco-German alliance. David Cameron might claim to be too busy to drop everything to go to Ukraine and Russia, though Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande cleared their diaries for the trip. Besides, Mr Cameron had no problem dropping everything recently to go cap in hand to Riyadh, to pay his respects to the Saudi Royal family. No, what I fear is all to obvious is that the Prime Minister didn’t want to be seen as doing anything too ‘European’ out of fear of UKIP and his own Tory backbench MPs. So once again The UK has missed the boat at a crucial moment in the EU’s evolution. And Mr Cameron should hang his head in shame.

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