"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
Guest Host: Katty Kay
A fledgling Ukrainian government accused Russia’s military of blockading two Crimean airports in an “armed invasion.” Meanwhile, ousted President Viktor Yanukovich turned up in southern Russia describing the new Ukrainian authorities as “pro-fascist thugs.” Pope Francis and former President Jimmy Carter call for calm as violent protests continue in Venezuela. President Obama orders the Pentagon to prepare the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by year’s end if President Karzai fails to sign a stalled security deal. And Egypt’s cabinet resigns. A panel of journalists joins guest host Katty Kay for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Indira Lakshmanan diplomatic correspondent, Bloomberg News.
- Jay Solomon foreign affairs correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
- Scott Wilson chief White House correspondent and former foreign editor, The Washington Post.
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She is out, having a voice treatment. Armed men take control of two airports in Ukraine's Crimea region. Ongoing political violence in Venezuela leads to more deaths, and President Obama warns the Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he will pull US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year if there isn't a security agreement. Joining me for the international hour of the "Friday News Roundup," Scott Wilson, who's with the Washington Post.
MS. KATTY KAYIndira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg, Jay Solomon's on his way. He's with the Wall Street Journal, caught in traffic just for the moment, but he will be with us. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. firstname.lastname@example.org is the email address. @drshow is our Twitter handle. Please get in touch. We'll be taking your calls, questions and comments later on in the program. But we are going to start with Ukraine, Scott and Indira, and actually, frankly, we could do a whole hour on this and the events are moving so fast, but there is a lot, as well, that's been happening around the world we want to get to.
MS. KATTY KAYBut let's start with Ukraine. I almost hesitate to say, Scott, what's the latest, because probably, by the time you start speaking, it will have actually changed from the end of my question, cause things are moving that rapidly in the country. Give us a quick synopsis of what's happened just today.
MR. SCOTT WILSONYeah. Absolutely. I mean, the bulletin this morning is that the ousted President, Viktor Yanukovych, did appear before the press in southern Russia, defended himself and his government's crackdown on demonstrators in Kiev, and said he does want Russian help in resolving this crisis and reinstating him as President, but would not specifically say he wants Russian military help. And as you noted, it's moving very quickly. It's unclear what Vladamir Putin wants to do, if he wants to do anything. We saw yesterday, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Hagel, warning Putin not to get involved militarily.
MR. SCOTT WILSONAnd, but, you know, as you said, this is happening very, very quickly, and by the end of the day, it's hard to say what it's going to look like.
KAYOkay, Indira, meanwhile, update us on what's been happening in the Ukraine, because during the course of the day and overnight, there have also been quite dramatic developments in that region of Ukraine as well.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThat's right. Are we talking -- we're talking about Crimea.
KAYSorry. Crimea. Sorry. I said Ukraine. I meant Crimea.
LAKSHMANANSo, of course, in the Crimea section of Ukraine, we've seen incredible protests coming up and what seems to be an emergence of some kind of an ethnic divide. Now, as many of our listeners know, Crimea didn't actually become part of the Ukraine until 1954, and so we have people who are ethnically Russian, people who are Tatars. We have Muslims, and what's been interesting about this region, which is on the Black Sea, and so it's been very, very important to Russia for centuries, basically since the time of Peter the Great, they've wanted to control this area.
LAKSHMANANAnd have a warm water port. What's interesting is that the Muslims in this area have not responded to extremism and to sort of the global jihad call. And so this is -- even though there have been efforts to recruit them into activities in Afghanistan and Weeger activities, activities in the north caucuses. We haven't seen that happen. And so to see the Muslims, you know, crying Allahu Akbar, God is great, and protesting and saying, we don't wanna become part of Russia, we don't want Russia to invade is very interesting.
LAKSHMANANAnd so that raises the whole question of could this become a pawn, particularly when we saw Putin ordering military drills in the last couple of days. There are concerns that this is kind of echoing what happened in 2008 with the Russian invasion of Georgia. And with Putin and Medvedev, at the time, calling for -- you know, saying this is about Russia's national interests.
KAYJay Solomon, the events in Crimea have also, of course, been moving fast. We're getting reports this morning. Two airports taken over, and it's not exactly clear by who, but by people who seem to be affiliated with Russia or are from Russia in some way. Daniel Sanford, the BBC's correspondent in Crimea at the moment, reporting that he has seen Russian trucks moving in the region. Physically, what's going on in Crimea as we're speaking?
MR. JAY SOLOMONI mean, it just really feels like they're creating a rump state, like they kind of did in the two breakaway republics in Georgia, back in 2008. You've seen it in the Parliament, the government house and some of the debate of -- you know, there's talk of passports flooding into Crimea with Russian passports. So it feels a lot like a repeat, like she was saying earlier, of the situation in 2008, that they're basically creating a de facto rump state.
KAYBut Scott, I mean, there's no love lost between President Yanukovych and Vladamir Putin. Putin, my understanding is, would actually prefer not to get involved, territorially, in Ukraine at the moment, so who are these people that are taking over airports and driving their trucks through Russia at the moment? And on whose command are they doing it?
WILSONYou know, it's hard to say, and obviously, that's their intention. I mean, the people that took the two airports are wearing that sort of signature paramilitary look of no insignia, camouflage. Are they Russian? Are they not? There's reports of Russian officers being seen consulting these guys. I think that there's an interest, that Putin has an interest to not get involved in a public way, as he did in Georgia. Then Prime Minister and now President, he and Medvedev have just flipped jobs.
WILSONAnd at the same time, as Indira said, there's interests there to protect. And there's Russian ethnicity there that is fond of being part of Russia. So I think there's probably a ready pool of people, young men, who would stand up and try to break off, as Jay's saying, into some kind of rump state aligned with Russia. But I think Putin would like to keep it as under the radar as possible but protect the warm water port, for sure.
KAYOK, meanwhile, let's talk about what's happening, Indira, in Kiev, where we now have this fledgling government that has come into power. Who's in that government and what are the challenges that they face, pretty much immediately?
LAKSHMANANRight. Well, we have the acting head of government, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who people will remember who listened to that incredible phone call that we all heard on YouTube between two American diplomats who referred to him as Yats. So, Yats, who we know is US backed, from hearing that call, is the one who's in power now. He has really talked about trying to get the economy back in order. And remember, this is sort of job numbers one, two and three for the Ukrainian government right now.
LAKSHMANANAt the time, and let's not forget what was the reason for all this chaos in the first place. It was that Yanukovych turned his back, last November, on what was supposed to be an association agreement with the EU, that would have allowed them to eventually get EU membership. And instead, favored a deal with Russia, in which they would give a 15 billion dollar package of loans and energy subsidies. So, we had the rising up of more liberals and Democrats who wanted to be more affiliated with the EU.
LAKSHMANANWhat we see now is we don't have the 15 billion dollar package from Russia. The IMF has been called upon now. Now, the IMF, you could say, has been twice burned, third time shy, because since 2008, they've had Ukraine, twice, not live up -- two different governments -- Yanukovych and his predecessor, Timoshenko, not live up to the requirements of the IMF. And yet, the US has come out with John Kerry saying the US wants to give one billion dollars in loan guarantees. They're gonna go to Congress to ask for that. The EU and the US have both backed some sort of an IMF package.
LAKSHMANANAnd essentially, it seems as if the government needs 35 billion dollars, at this point, to avert a default. So what Yatsenyuk has talked about is a kamikaze mission, that he's going to have to incur austerity measures, cut the energy subsidies and bring the budget deficit under control. That's gonna be hard.
KAYIt's the kind of reality, Jay, of governing, meeting up against the romance of revolution. And now you have -- there's a great story in the New York Times, I'd recommend everyone reading it, this morning, about the characters who are in the -- there's the doctor who was organizing the field hospital for the protestors who were wounded, who's now the Minister of Health. They guy who was organizing the transport who's going to be the Minister of Sports and Youth. These are people who are protestors, who are now going to have to do very hard things in a country, that are not gonna be popular, necessarily, with the people who they've been protesting with.
KAYThe task facing this new government. Meanwhile, they have Russia breathing down their neck, saying listen, if EU doesn't bail you out, we offered to bail you out earlier.
SOLOMONRight. Well, they're lucky. They've already had a devaluation. That was one of the toughest parts of the IMF program, so that's out of the way.
KAYThat happened by default.
SOLOMONRight. Exactly. But yeah, it's gonna be brutal until like a lot of these countries that we've seen, kind of come into existence on the -- whether it's in Afghanistan or East Timor or some of these places over the last couple of decades -- they bring back people who have very little experience, and they're thrust into extremely difficult situation. The Egyptians never -- they basically turned their back on the IMF after Mubarak's overthrow, and never implemented any of the reforms that they were required to do, largely because of what you were talking about.
SOLOMONHow much instability or social unrest that could put into place. And the Egyptians were lucky. They turned to the Gulf states. They got 15 billion from the UAE and they've basically been able to stabilize themselves, but I don't think the Ukrainians are gonna have that option.
KAYScott, the acting Prime Minister, in an interview this week, said to one correspondent, a colleague of mine from the BBC, welcome to hell. Because the country is on the brink of financial disaster. Not perhaps the most ringing endorsement for the new acting Prime Minister. I mean, perhaps a better sales pitch might have been welcome. But they are up against these financial difficulties, and they have the threat that Russia could turn around and put a financial squeeze on this new government and make life even harder.
WILSONYeah, it's the dilemma of so called revolutionary government. The you bought it -- you know, you broke it, you bought it scenario. Right. Exactly. And Russia could squeeze, you know, as Indira said, the United States and Europe are thinking about ways to support this new government. If it remains, largely, an economic battle between the Russia and the EU, Russia's trying to get momentum behind a Eurasian Union, which is one of the things that are sort of shadowing this unrest, then, you know, it could avoid military intervention.
WILSONBut I think that's a shadow also. It's very new. We're still very new in this latest chapter in Ukraine, and it also underscores just how long it takes to work these things out. One thing we hear over and over from the American administration, about the Arab Spring for example, is these are generational changes that have to take place. And we see it in Ukraine now. Again, the Orange Revolution, so called, was in 2004. We see it in Venezuela. The start of Chavez in the late 90s. Again, unresolved. Thailand, the same.
WILSONSo, this takes a long time, and this latest chapter is still very fresh.
KAYAnd you've touched on all the topics that we are going to get to during the course of this hour. Scott Wilson, Indira Lakshmanan and Jay Solomon, all with me here for the second hour of the "Friday News Roundup." Do stay with us.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm for the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup. We have got a lot to get to. But there's just a couple more things I want to ask about Ukraine, which is, what, Indira, can the United States and the West do now that would be -- beyond ponying up $35 billion that they might happen to have lying around -- that would be useful for Ukraine's future and that would damp down tensions potentially with Russia.
LAKSHMANANRight, that's a tough one because they don't want to be over involved and be seen as having supported the revolution. And then they could be easily accused, as they are being accused by Yanukovych and his allies, of having essentially fomented a revolution. Remember, Yanukovych, as he said at his press conference this morning, still claims to be the duly elected leader of Ukraine and claims that he's going to come back as soon as his own personal safety is insured.
KAYAnd it's worth reminding people that there are millions of Ukrainians who support Yanukovych...
KAY...and who feel close to Russia.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. And so I think it's a delicate line the U.S. has to walk. It can't be seen as trying to put its own puppet government in. And that's why I referred to that phone call, which was embarrassing because it, you know, describes the background of diplomats talking about what they see as the U.S. national interests. Of course, they do that. But showing it in the public light is difficult. I think, at this point, it's John Kerry doing things like saying, we want to support the $1 billion in loan guarantees. It's trying to shore up the IMF board to give another package despite the two failures and the stoppings of the loans since 2008.
LAKSHMANANAnd it's also things like trying to bring together a coalition. One really promising thing that happened yesterday was that Russia, for the first time, said, okay, well we can look at this. We can look at some cooperation of working with the IMF on some sort of package. And so if it were something that were an East/West deal, if it were IMF, E.U., U.S. and Russia all working together, that gives it a lot more credibility. And, you know, remember, we already talked about the acting prime minister, Yatsenyuk, talking about a Kamikaze mission, writing his own political death sentence.
LAKSHMANANFour months from now, when parliamentary elections come, if there's too much austerity, the government's probably going to lose. So all of it is a delicate balancing act.
KAYThat Washington and Moscow and London and Paris and Berlin are watching very closely indeed. Let's move on to Venezuela. Jay, there have been dramatic scenes over the past couple of weeks in Venezuela. What's happening?
SOLOMONWell, basically it started kind of because of the economic situation being so bad. You had student protests a couple -- two, three weeks ago; some students killed by the security forces. Although the security forces are saying it was kind of incitement by the opposition. But basically it's just kind of spiraled and has moved across the country. And the government does not seem able to contain it. They've done, similar to what the Russians are doing, saying it's a western conspiracy. They expelled three American diplomats in kind of an attempt to blame it -- blame elsewhere.
SOLOMONBut the situation continues to be beyond the control of the Maduro government. And the economy is really what's driving it. And the government has only inflamed it worse by arresting opposition leaders and basically really polarizing the situation. So there really isn't -- I think there's a Mardi Gras coming up and some people are hoping that might kind of cause things to be -- to calm down a bit. But that's not how the students and the opposition are calculating.
KAYI love the idea that you pause protests for Carnival. You know that's very civilized.
SOLOMONI like a party.
KAYOkay. But look, let's be realistic. Thirteen people have died. These are the most violent protests, Scott, in a decade. And yet Maduro was popularly elected the president of Venezuela. He has a large rump of support in the country. There were local elections back in December, which reinforced the idea that he is supported by the people. At what point then does this become more than just an opposition protest. I mean presumably you'd need a much broader group of Venezuelan society out on the streets if this government is actually going to be threatened.
WILSONAnd this has always been the problem with the Venezuelan opposition. I mean it's important to keep in mind, this is still about Hugo Chavez and what Hugo Chavez was trying to do. He died last year. He came to power. It was a class-based revolution in an oil-rich country where wealth had not reached the poor for decades and decades. He was an extremely talented, populous politician. The opposition was largely elite.
WILSONAs you note, that's still their problem, of expanding their base into some of the poorest parts of the country that still believe that the populism and direct government support that Chavez, fed by vast oil revenue, amounted to. Maduro is not Chavez. He's not nearly the politician that Chavez was. I remember, you know, that there is history to the accusation of western intervention there, and American intervention in particular.
KAYWhich is why Maduro keeps whipping up the notion...
WILSONKeeps whipping it up.
KAY...the notion that this is American backed.
WILSONChavez was temporarily overthrown in 2002, at the very start of his project. And so it is an easy crutch to fall back on. And, but, you know, Caracas is now the most dangerous city in Latin America. Really the country has -- you know, it is -- revolution gets thrown around a lot. Venezuela went through one and it's still very much unfinished. And the terms of the debate are still very much the same as they were a decade ago. And you are seeing divisions within the leadership of the opposition that has plagued it consistently over the years.
KAYI guess, Indira, it's no secret that the United States would like to see a change of government in Venezuela. What are the chances of that actually happening though?
LAKSHMANANI think it's fair to say they'd like to have a friendlier government. On the other hand, I would say that over the last 15 years, the U.S. government has become on some level resigned to the Chavez government and Chavismo. And there have back-and-forth, you know, the withdrawal of ambassadors and the expulsion of other diplomats, and then the restoration of ambassadors. And keep in mind that Venezuela just recently, as all of this is happening, named a new ambassador to the United States. And they haven't had one in place for several years now.
LAKSHMANANSo that shows an effort to, you know, help the relationship. There have been various times when the U.S. diplomats have had a high-level talk to Venezuelan diplomats -- Maduro, himself, before he was vice president and then became president. And also, let's not forget that despite all of this -- all of the difficulties, the economic relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela, has never gone to pot. It's always been there. There's a major oil relationship between the two sides. The U.S. is, you know, essentially Venezuela's biggest oil buyer.
LAKSHMANANAnd they're, I think, our fourth or fifth largest oil supplier to the United States, and that has always remained. So, you know, while the U.S. might think, gee, wouldn't it be nicer to have a friendlier government, I think maybe they've learned enough to know not to interfere and let things play out. At this point, the opposition is saying, very clearly, too much water under the bridge. As of now, 14 people confirmed dead through the protests -- too much violence.
LAKSHMANANAnd I think they think it's gone a step so far that, at this point, they're banking that the government is going to have to give the private sector some say in the economic policy of the country. I think that remains to be seen. As we said, this Chavizmo project has a lot of support within the country, within the poor in the barrios. And they stood behind Chavez. Maduro, you know, is not the same. But, you know, we've still got the economic backdrop to all of this, which is the shortages on everything from chicken and cooking oil, to paper, rice, everything. So I -- we have not seen the last of this, despite the holiday.
KAYI went down to Venezuela for Hugo Chavez' funeral and I was really struck by how genuine that support for him was. It wasn't -- this was not North Korea by any stretch of the imagination. These were not people being shipped in unwillingly to take part in the funeral processions. This was absolutely genuine and fervent and emotional. And I think Maduro, whilst he might not be the same politician, has inherited a good part of that legacy. Let's move on to Afghanistan.
KAYJay, President Obama this week suggested that, if Hamid Karzai doesn't sign the security agreement, the United States should start planning to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. What do you think the chances are that that could happen?
SOLOMONI don't know. This is the so-called zero option, and it's been discussed now for a few months. I think most officials, including Secretary Kerry, still say they think that once Karzai leaves power, that whoever replaces him -- one of the six -- there's six candidates who have all said they would sign this security agreement. So I still think the U.S. government believes in its heart the thing will get signed, once Karzai leaves the scene.
KAYSo was this just the president trying to put pressure on Karzai -- to say we're actually going to start planning for the zero option if you don't come up with a security agreement?
SOLOMONI think that's part of it. But I also think that the security guys, they have to plan these things in advance. Like, I think, almost every Afghan election runs into a runoff. And these things drag on for months. And the military and our allies in NATO can't sort of do this at the drop of the hat. So they have to -- they do have to plan for it. And the zero option would be pretty -- I think most people think would be incredibly destabilizing for that region. But I still think, at the end of the day, most U.S. officials do think the next guy will sign it.
KAYScott, you're also White House correspondent as well as being the former foreign editor of The Washington Post, so you're steeped in the White House at the moment. To what extent do you think President Obama's call this week reflected really the ambivalence of this White House when it comes to this war and to the prospect of leaving any troops at all in Afghanistan?
WILSONYou know, I think that Obama wants the first line of his foreign policy legacy to be the man that ended the wars. And so I think there is real ambivalence to leave any troops at all in Afghanistan, although I do believe Obama sees a much more important strategic interest in Afghanistan than he did in Iraq. And that, of course is coloring this as well. He took a lot of criticism for leaving Iraq without any -- and we've seen an uptick in violence recently -- whether or not U.S. troops would have prevented it or not is an open question.
WILSONBut I think that -- I think there is real ambivalence. I mean, I think the other thing to keep in mind is that the most -- under the options being considered -- the most number of troops the U.S. keep there after this year is 5,000, with another 5,000 NATO troops; 3,000 American soldiers, alone, is the middle option; and then the zero option. So you can plan -- you can begin to plan for a maximum of 5,000. So this was, in some ways, a way to say publically what they've been saying privately; which is, sign the agreement or we'll leave. We have no real choice in the matter.
KAYAnd, of course, he's up against as well U.S. public opinion, which at this stage is overwhelmingly in favor of withdrawing and withdrawing in total effectively from Afghanistan. But the military and the intelligence establishment, which is saying, you know what, there is a value here in keeping a (word?) force.
LAKSHMANANWell, not just the military and the intelligence establishment, also the diplomatic establishment, the aid establishment, so it's not just Pentagon and the CIA saying this. It's also the State Department, USAID and, frankly speaking, every U.S. official who I know. I spent a year and a half in Afghanistan right after the fall of the Taliban, and every senior official I know who has been involved since then, thinks that the zero option is a terrible idea -- that it would be completely destabilizing for this country.
LAKSHMANANAnd one senior U.S. official said to me that there are only two people in Afghanistan who don't want to sign this bilateral security agreement allowing troops to stay; and they are Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, and Hamid Karzai, for his own political reasons. So I think it's logical that the U.S. government should look past Karzai. And, you know, we were talking about, there are actually 11 candidates in the field right now. And every single one of them has pledged that he would sign the BSA.
KAYSo why not just wait? Why not wait until after...
KAY...the April elections and say, okay, we'll sign it with whoever comes next.
LAKSHMANANWell, in one -- on one frame, I think it might have been posturing by the White House to try to put some pressure on Karzai so that, at home, he comes under pressure from his own people in Afghanistan and say, wait a second. We don't want troops pulled out. Do something. So maybe he'll come under some pressure to sign sooner. On the other hand, as Jay pointed out, military planners have to plan. And so they have to allow for the possibility that that might happen. At the same time, as you say, the White House, they're judging it based on public opinion in the United States.
LAKSHMANANWell, then they might think, not such a great idea to keep forces. On the other hand, if they're thinking more broadly about U.S. national security interests, then I think there are a lot of arguments for keeping a force.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to call us, the number is 1 (800) 433-8850. We are going to go to the phones now. To Tina, who joins us from Emmetsburg in Maryland. Tina, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show," and you have a question for my panel.
TINAYes, I do. First, I think we're being a little too hard on the Yanukovych government for having tried to disperse the protestors. The reason I say that is not because Yanukovych deserves to be in power in the Ukraine, but because we have to have some sort of form of government in place in any country. And Yanukovych stole money from his people and he was corrupt, but in our own country, we have a lot of corrupt politicians. But if we allow a large group to remove them this way, what we're doing, I think, is endangering all of our citizens.
TINAAnd we're -- the loss of those 70 lives is not worth getting Yanukovych out before his year or so was up. And I think that this is a dangerous thing to condone. And if it -- if people stormed Washington, the gates by the president's White House or Congress, they would be put down. And that's because you have to have -- you have to have some sort of organization in society. And I would say that the solution to this would be for Yanukovych's assets to be returned immediately to the Ukraine. Anybody who has his money should return it to the Ukraine.
TINAAnd I think Putin should buy Yalta with a lot of money, to get Ukraine out of debt. Because it's ridiculous to think that Russia does not have an interest in Yalta. Khrushchev never should have gave that region to the Ukraine. It really was a part of Russia for a very long time.
KAYOkay, Tina, that's interesting about the money, because I know that at the moment, the Swiss are looking at precisely what you have suggested, which is trying to get some of Yanukovych and Yanukovych's family's money out of bank accounts where it might have been silted away, Jay.
SOLOMONWell, the Treasury actually put out -- our U.S. Treasury put out kind of a warning two days ago saying, you know, any of these assets from Yanukovych, if you're an international bank, you know, we think these monies are...
KAYDo we know how much money we're talking about?
SOLOMONI don't think we do. I mean, I assume it would be billions. But it's not like -- after Gaddafi was, kind of, the uprising, they put out a similar dragnet and found over $100 billion. But that was massive amounts of oil money. I don't think we're talking about anything...
KAYAnd he'd been in power for a lot longer than Yanukovych, of course. But even if we're talking hundreds of millions, Scott, that's a lot of money to have silted away in a relatively short time in absolute power, anyway, in Ukraine.
WILSONYeah, absolutely. It is a lot of money, but it's also -- it's also one element of the broader problem of the Yanukovych government and why there is an uprising. And I think Tina makes an interesting point: you can't have mob rule. But people turn to revolution in places like Ukraine because there are no other options. There are no institutions that people trust enough to go after corrupt politicians. And it's one of the reasons why, in our conversation in Washington now is about being careful with the institutions we do have.
WILSONAnd don't undermine them so much that people lose faith and have to turn to protest and demonstration and the kinds of things we're seeing in other countries. But there are very few other avenues to express dissent in a place like Ukraine. And that's why public squares become a place for that.
KAYAnd it's interesting the degree to which the protests in the country, in Ukraine, have been driven by corruption. I think it's easy to start thinking that this is a Cold War struggle between East and West. But actually a lot of the protestors are saying, and they were saying yesterday when the government was being introduced -- the new government was being introduced to the protestors, it was about corruption.
WILSONAbsolutely. And it's easy to forget that a lot of the unrest that we're seeing in different parts of the world have a common thread of just wanting good government and real institutions. Ukraine is certainly one of them. Yes, there are other elements. There's some -- there's Russia/U.S. interests. There's an element of fascism in the opposition that's alarming and clouds these protests in that way. And there's a larger tension between a Eurasian project and a European project. But ultimately these people want good government.
KAYScott Wilson of The Washington Post; Indira Lakshmanan is here; Jay Solomon's also here. We'll be taking more of your calls with your questions and comments right after this short break. Do stay with us.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. You've joined the Friday News Hour and this is the International News Roundup. The phone number here is 1 (800) 433-8850. The email address is DRShow@WAMU.org. Of course you can send us a Tweet at DRShow. We would love to get your questions and comments. We are going to go back to the phones now, to Jim who joins us from Pittsburgh, Pa. Jim, you have a question for my panel.
JIMYeah, well I just -- it's not exactly a question. I wanted to say, I think that the Ukraine should be part of greater Russia. And I say that for a number of reasons. It's a distinctive region. In the western Ukraine, you have, I think some ethnic polls and so on. But they, first of all, they were the cradle of the Russian Orthodox Church, I believe. One thousand years ago, in Kiev, I believe, you know, was the start of Christianity in Russia. I met a woman here in Pittsburgh who lived all her life under the Soviet system. She was a Russian.
JIMAnd we were talking about the situation in not only Ukraine, but Belorussia, and she said they never should have broke off. It made it harder for both. It made it harder for the Russians. It made it harder for them. You know, they had a border there now. And I just think that -- I mean I don't think the Russians should invade and, you know, force them to be part of Russia, but I think overall speaking, and I think it's going to happen sooner or later. I think that, say, 100 years from now, they will be -- they'll go back to being part of, you know, greater Russia. But anyway, that's my...
KAYJim, you're -- I mean, there are certainly people who are demonstrating as we speak, in the Crimea region of Ukraine, who would absolutely agree with you, that Ukraine should be part of greater Russia. Indira.
LAKSHMANANWell, it's true that at the time that Ukraine essentially became separate from Russia, it didn't exactly matter, because they were both part of the larger Soviet Union and associated states. So it -- really they were under the same leadership in any case. I think the question -- it's hard for me to comment on whether it should be independent or not. There are certainly opinions in both camps. But right now we've got 46 million people -- it's not a small country -- struggling to stay together. We've got the ethnic issues with the Tatars and the Muslims and the ethnic Russians.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, I think more or less the Kremlin has basically spent the last 10 years trying to extinguish separatist sentiments in the North Caucasus and beyond. And so this, in a way, plays into all of that. I think it was interesting though, how different commentators have seen it through their own lens. And some people have been seeing it as a return to a Cold War struggle. And, you know, you saw John Kerry trying to diffuse that in an interview earlier this week when he said, this isn't the return to the Cold War. This isn't Rocky IV.
KAYAnd Susan Rice did exactly the same thing last week.
KAYActually we have an email that's come in from Jonathan in Washington D.C., Scott. Is American now finding out that we've been in a Cold War that's now kicking into overdrive? How much of a potential flashpoint is Ukraine? And how good are the chances that it splits? What about that Cold War comment?
WILSONYou know, I mean I think that there's an interest for the Obama administration to downplay the tensions with Russia over this. It's a bit of, you know, me thinks they do protest a bit too much on this. That's clearly part of this. This is -- it sits on the seam between Europe and Russia. And they and Obama and Putin have a number of different issues, many of which they don't agree on. You know, Syria has been an outstanding issue; Iran there's a bit more cooperation. But this is another point in that contest.
WILSONAnd I do think that without Russia's interest in Ukraine, we would not be nearly as concerned as we would be about what's happening there. I also think that there is a bit of a false choice between being part of Russia or being independent. You can be independent and have a range of relationships with Russia.
WILSONTrade ties. You know, a parliamentary system that does in fact reflect a, you know, this split that we've been discussing. And that's been part of the problem, is that in a lot of these sort of newly revolutionary types of situations, you get kind of a winner-take-all mentality. Once you begin to really work with the split and reflect it in government, you can have an independent country that has relationships with both sides. I mean, I'm being, you know, wishful. But there isn't a split.
KAYWhich is actually what Western leaders have been saying this week, that they want to see a Ukraine that does still have ties with Russia and trade relationships with Russia.
KAYJust, they don't want the country to split apart. Let's talk about Uganda, Jay, where at least three European countries, and I think now as well the World Bank this morning, have cut aid proposals for Uganda after the president signed a fairly draconian antigay law. Explain what's going on in Uganda.
SOLOMONYeah, I mean, Museveni, the president, has -- they've passed this legislation that makes it -- basically makes it illegal to be gay. I think you can get almost life if you're caught, you know, more than once engaging in something that they find untoward. So it's kind of put this marker where -- particularly with the United States -- it's interesting, when president -- sorry, Secretary Kerry, yesterday announced kind of the new human rights report, a lot of it was focused on the rights of gays and homosexuals.
SOLOMONSo it has become almost the civil rights movement of this new era. And it's something I didn't pay that much attention to a year ago in covering foreign policy. But Secretary Clinton and, now, Secretary Kerry, really have made gay rights kind of a fundamental issue. And the reaction against what Museveni and the Ugandans has done, I think, is a really vivid example of this.
KAYBut, Indira, President Museveni seems unfazed by the threats from Western nations. He's also saying that the West can keep their aid, is what he Tweeted out. I mean, the chances of him reversing this law actually seemed to be pretty minimum.
LAKSHMANANRight. I mean, part of that is because he doesn't have such close ties to begin with. So if you're a government that isn't entirely dependent on or tied to countries who are trying to punish you for this, you know, ultimately a lot of these leaders just shrug their shoulders. They don't care. I mean, remember there were a lot of protests around Sochi related to Putin's, also not quite as draconian, but, you know, certainly discriminatory laws about gays and lesbians in Russia. And ultimately it's hard to change that from the outside. It's hard to change those things in a sovereign nation.
KAYLet's talk about Thailand, Scott, because it's been a week -- I mean, it seems like we have -- sometimes I feel like we're doing protest week, because we've looked at Ukraine, we've looked at Venezuela, and Thailand, of course, these protests, a bit like Ukraine, have been rumbling on. And actually, you know, similar allegations of corruption at the top that are driving people out on to the streets of Thailand. And the New York Times editorial this week, -- I think it was the New York Times -- said that the country is on the brink.
WILSONThat's right. It -- similarities to Ukraine, similarities to Venezuela as well. It's -- there's a lot of class tension involved. It's the legacy of a coup that took place eight years ago, when a billionaire telecom prime minister, Thaksin -- forgive me, here -- Shinawatra...
WILSON...okay, and was ousted. He's now in exile. His sister is the prime minister. They went about building a new power base away from the Bangkok elite, the Southern elite of the country, and really kind of turned the country upside down and alienated a lot of the traditional political power brokers and wealthy people in the capital. That's still playing out. New elections earlier this month were inconclusive, called off. There's talk of giving Thaksin a -- amnesty to come back. And so it is -- it's this slow burn that continues and, after years of when it first sort of erupted.
KAYDoes it take the Shinawatra family to leave power in Thailand, do you think, Jay, for this to be resolved?
SOLOMONNo. I don't think they can leave. I mean, I think the Thai situation is stuck. Basically you have a monarchy with a monarch who used to be kind of the person who could broker any situation. And he's pretty much incapacitated. The members of his family, none of them seem to have any leadership. And I think anyone would agree, if there was another free election in Thailand, the Shinawatra family would win easily. But the Bangkok elite won't accept it. And the dynamic has not shifted, almost now for 10 years.
SOLOMONAnd it's sad, because I know Indira and I used to be based in Southeast Asia in the late '90s, and Thailand was the most advanced and the most vibrant...
SOLOMON...of all the Southeast Asian countries. And now you see Indonesia...
LAKSHMANANAlthough it's where the financial crisis began -- it was the Baht's collapse...
LAKSHMANAN...that, you know, set off the Asian monetary crisis in the late '90s as well.
SOLOMONBut it -- they all have rebounded. But that, politically, most countries use that -- the economic crisis of the late '80s -- to get their political system at least manageable. The Thai situation, with the monarchy, has been unable to resolve it.
KAYOkay. Let's go to Bill, who joins us from Virginia. Bill, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show." You're on the air.
BILLOh, thank you very much.
BILLMy question, brief question, is this: Why isn't U.S. and Russian forces, actually, going after Mullah Omar, because I believe he was the president of Afghanistan when the 9/11 attacks were being planned in Afghanistan and when they were executed. We went after Osama Bin Laden and got him. Why aren't we going after Omar? Thank you.
LAKSHMANANI think if he were gettable, they would get him. They certainly have been trying to go after him. I mean, one concern of the U.S. military is they believe that he has taken refuge in Quetta in Balochistan, in Pakistan. And Pakistan is a separate sovereign nation in which we don't actually have the capacity to move our forces and take people out. Although it's well known now that the United States government has conducted drone strikes over Pakistan's tribal areas for many years now, although those have been reduced significantly under extreme pressure from the Pakistani government.
LAKSHMANANBut if he's in an urban area, then it's a lot harder to get him. And certainly the United States has pressured the Pakistani government to get access to Mullah Omar and other leaders of the Afghan Taliban. And, so far, the Pakistanis have claimed that they don't have him -- they don't have access to him. So it remains one of the big mysteries and a dispute between the U.S. and its ally, Pakistan.
KAYJay, does anyone know where he might be?
SOLOMONI think most people think he's in Quetta. But I think the interesting situation now with the U.S. is showing signs of backing out of Afghanistan, the Pakistanis who have, you know, played a double game, the Taliban are going to feel emboldened. And the chances of us, you know, getting him will recede even further. But we've certainly tried. I think we do know where he is. He's inside Quetta and the situation -- we're handcuffed because of our alliance with Pakistan.
LAKSHMANANI think the caller was probably making the point that we did act by going into Abbottabad in Pakistan and get...
KAYRight, exactly. And I'm wondering if we know -- he is in this compound, in this town, and we could take him out if we had a bit more scope in Pakistan. Is that the situation?
LAKSHMANANI wish -- if I knew the answer to that, I'd probably be running the CIA, which I'm not. But, you know, it's a good question. I think there's no question Osama Bin Laden was a much higher value target. He was really the one who planned the attacks. So if the U.S. was going to take the risk of going into Pakistan, into a sovereign nation, they were doing it for Osama. If they know exactly the compound where Mullah Omar is, are they willing to take that risk? You know, that would, again, really upset relations with Pakistan.
LAKSHMANANWe saw what happened after the Abbottabad raid and what a lull -- oh, worse than a lull, an (word?) in U.S.-Pakistani relations. They actually cut off our supply routes to Afghanistan.
SOLOMONYeah. I'd also say I think that there's real unintended consequences when you go after the head of a movement like the Taliban. And with the Americans backing out, you have to begin to figure who has the political power in -- with the Taliban to make some sort of reconciliation with whatever Afghan government is left behind. Al-Qaida and the Taliban are not the same thing. Al-Qaida is a global, very loose-knit, led by this, you know, sort of the spiritual founder of it, Osama Bin Laden. Mullah Omar has an indigenous, armed political movement in Afghanistan.
SOLOMONAnd it's -- to cut that off can lead to all kinds of consequences.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's pick up on that point about Pakistan, since we're in that neighborhood. The Pakistani government bombed a militant area this week. And does this suggest to you, Scott, perhaps that we are -- it was in response to Pakistani soldiers being killed -- but is it -- are officials now in Pakistan weighing the option of a wider military offensive against militants in the country?
WILSONWe reported this week that they were weighing one and that one was, in fact, imminent. You know, we've sort of seen this movie before though. They've -- they move in, they move out. They respond to political pressure. The, you know, killings in Karachi of security forces is a dramatic moment. It requires some kind of response. Whether this is some kind of decisive move, I, you know, I would doubt it. But there is some kind of military activity that they want to take on in the tribal areas.
KAYTo what extent are they watching in Islamabad what's being said here about the troop withdrawal and making calculations about their own struggle against extremism in the Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, based on what Washington is doing, Jay?
SOLOMONNo, they're watching it extremely closely. I mean the problem with Pakistan was always you had a -- civilian leaders who were telling us, you know, we're worried about these extremist groups and the intelligence service funding them and arming them and sending them into Afghanistan. So I think the concern or the likelihood is, if we draw back, you're going to see very much kind of a replay of what was there before we were there, which is Pakistan and maybe some of the Arab states backing the Taliban.
SOLOMONYou'll see the Iranians and the Indians backing Karzai or the Northern Alliance or whatever remains there. So everyone is watching very closely. And, you know, you don't hear huge talk yet of sort of people getting ready -- getting to the starting line, thinking we're pulling out. But you definitely hear talk of that -- murmurings of that.
KAYMeanwhile, Indira, this week Pakistan's opposition party said that it's going to end its blockade of those NATO supply routes into Afghanistan. This is Imran Khan's party. Is that significant?
LAKSHMANANSure. I mean it -- I think what it overall shows is a warming in U.S.-Pakistani relations overall since Nawaz Sharif, the new prime minister, took officer. There's been a really concerted effort on the part of the Pakistanis to improve relations. I mean, that said, I talked to a senior Pakistani official this week who said, front and center, the main issue for them is worries about the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan. And he said that, at the highest levels, Pakistan has made its views clear, that the U.S. should not do this because it would be destabilizing for Afghanistan and for the whole region.
LAKSHMANANAnd to the point Scott was making earlier, I totally agree, that although, now with Waziristan as the last tribal area in which they haven't done a major operation yet, they've been telegraphing for so long now that they're going to do it, that the cynical view is they're giving extremists the chance to get out, get over the border into Afghanistan. Now, you know, hopefully that's not true. They're saying that they are trying to give everyone a chance to come in from the cold, have reconciliation talks. But that they're not so optimistic that those talks are going to work and that they're going to in there and clean everyone out.
LAKSHMANANAnd they want American and NATO troops on the other side ready to receive them when those militants come over the border, is what they're saying.
KAYScott, what are the -- what's the latest calculation on how well, by the Taliban's standards, how the Taliban will fare after there is a major withdrawal of foreign troops? Because the Taliban have been expressing extreme confidence about their ability to take back the country. Is that the general consensus as we face this year of troop withdrawals?
WILSONYou know, I'd be curious to hear what Jay and Indira think of it all. So let -- you know, it seems to me that, yes, in fact, they're speaking confidently for good reason -- that a lot of the problem in Afghanistan for more than a decade now, with the military strategy and military achievements, is that, you know, they rarely extend beyond the capital. They have very loose, tenuous ties to rural parts. And that's where the Taliban thrives and has grown and has strengthened and is ready for what comes next.
KAYOkay. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, still a very unstable situation in that country. Scott Wilson from The Washington Post, Indira Lakshmanan from Bloomberg News, Jay Solomon from The Wall Street Journal, thank you all so much for joining me.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thank you so much for listening. And do, everybody, have a great weekend.
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