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Guest Host: Susan Page
A deal is reached to defuse the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The agreement calls for armed pro-Russian separatists to leave government buildings, but they are refusing to surrender. China’s economic growth slows to an eighteen-month low. U.S. officials analyze a new video that appears to show a large al Qaida meeting in Yemen. Negotiations resume in Venezuela between the government and opposition leaders. And more than one hundred people were killed in a series of attacks in Nigeria by suspected Islamic extremists. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Geoff Dyer foreign policy correspondent, Financial Times; author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China--and How America Can Win."
- Anne Gearan diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Post.
- Moises Naim senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and chief international columnist, El Pais; author of "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be," now available in paperback.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Tuesday. The U.S., E.U., Russia, and Ukraine agreed to a framework to deescalate the crisis in eastern Ukraine. But pro-Russian separatists say they are not ready to disarm. China's economy slows in the first quarter to an 18-month low. And the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez died at age 87.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Round-up, Moises Naim of El Pais, Anne Gaeran of the Washington Post and Geoff Dyer of the Financial Times. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. ANNE GEARANThank you.
MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning.
MR. GEOFF DYERGood morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation a little later in the hour. Our toll free number is 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email at email@example.com or find us in Facebook or Twitter. Well, Anne, we didn't have very high expectation on these negotiations on Ukraine in Geneva. To the surprise of many, a deal emerged. Tell us what happened.
GEARANWell, after seven hours of more or less of talks yesterday, the United States, Russia, the European Union and Ukraine, representatives from each, agreed on what would be a codification of a number of proposals that have been out there for several weeks to give Russia some of what it wants in eastern Ukraine, which is a more loosely federated governance system or at least the beginnings of that.
GEARANWhich Russia says is needed because of the number of Russian speakers and Russian-oriented people living in eastern and southern Ukraine who do not want, according to Moscow, to be under the complete leadership of Kiev and its more Western orientation. And then in return, there would be a pause in sanctions -- there would be on Russia. There would be a de-escalation of the violence and the armed groups, which the U.S. claims are backed by Russia, would take off their uniforms.
GEARANGive up the buildings they have seized and sort of roll back from the barricades, so to speak. Today, we do not see much progress toward that. And after this deal was announced yesterday, President Obama was among the first to sort of pour cold water on it and say, you know, well, if past is prologue, we don't really have very high hopes for this and we better see some progress within a few days or we will go back to the sanctions route.
NAIMYes. And, in fact, Secretary Kerry said that was a good day's work, but it doesn't mean anything unless these words are translated into actions. And we are going to watch very carefully how thing evolve from the ground. And if that doesn't happen, we are ready to impose more costs. He called it on Russia. And more costs in this conflict are for an expansion of the sanctions and new sanctions on Russia.
PAGEBut I wonder, can -- is Moscow in control of these pro-Russian separatists? Can Moscow deliver on the deal that was negotiated, Geoff?
DYERWell, that's a very interesting question. I mean, so far, there seems to be very little happening. You know, they police pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and other places are still in the buildings that they've holding. The U.S. government and the European governments believe that ultimately these groups are being, you know, organized and given assistance and given help by Moscow, and therefore Moscow does have leverage over them.
DYERBut the quotes so far coming from this groups have been quite defiant, not just towards the West but also towards Moscow, saying we're not being pushed around. So it's still a very open question as to whether, even if it wanted it, Moscow could completely get its people to stand down.
NAIMAnd, in fact, there is a quote by Vasili Domashev who is a pro-Russian militant occupying a garment building in Donetsk in the Ukraine, he says, "Lavrov and Kerry decided, but who are they to us? We are the Donetsk Republic. We have people who make their own decisions." And that gives you a sense of the kind of dynamics that are going to happen.
PAGEBut the U.S. government has portrayed these separatists as really being Russian operatives practically.
GEARANYeah. In fact, the -- it isn't the U.S. government making the specific allegation, U.S. Air Force general who is the NATO commander yesterday said it completely explicitly. He said, we believe what is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well-planned, well-organized and is being carried out by Russia.
PAGEAnd that includes all these 40,000 Russian troops now amassed on the border. This -- their diplomatic agreement that was reached doesn't deal with that.
GEARANNo, it doesn't mention the troops at all. Kerry alluded to the troops during his press conference afterward. But they are not addressed specifically in the agreement yesterday, nor is any particular, specific remedy for Crimea. And although Crimea sort of covered broadly in the U.S. and European Union condemnation of Russian activity generally, there's no particular thing that Russia is expected to do about Crimea.
PAGEWell, the impression you get is that Crimea is a done deal, that Crimea -- that that is not going to be undone. Is that your sense, Moises?
NAIMI think that's a general consensus. No one is going to go to war with Russia over Crimea. And that is essentially taken for granted that it's going to be under Russian control. The question here is the expansion of that initiative. You know, is -- are these troops amassed in the border with Ukraine and the Russian troops are going to act or are they just going to continue to destabilize the region with this takeovers of government buildings and military bases and clashes between the militants and the Ukrainian armed forces?
PAGEIf this is a carefully orchestrated military operation as the U.S. general said that Anne just told us about, Geoff, what is the goal? What is Russia's goal here?
DYERWell, the immediate-term goal is just to try and destabilize, muddy the waters around the election, which is coming up in May. And it would be a very, you know, important event to the West if there was able to be a coherent, credible election that produced a strong or at least a legitimate Ukrainian government. That would be -- that will make life a lot more difficult for Putin. So he's trying to muddy the water around the elections.
DYERWhat he's also done in the last couple of weeks is he's shown that he can completely destabilize the eastern side of Ukraine without even putting his troops. And he's shown that he's able to do that. So maybe by pausing now with this diplomatic deal yesterday, it's his way of saying, well, let's see if we can get a deal that suits our purposes. And we shown that if we need to, we can make things a lot worse. So let's see what we can get from some sort of bargaining.
NAIMIt's very important to understand that Putin also faces not just a political unrest at home, but also a very, very weak economy. The World Bank just issued a report saying that because of these conditions and the situation in Ukraine and everything else, Russia is about to enter into a recession. More money left Russia in the first quarter of this year than it left all last year.
NAIMSo Russians are taking the money, the ruble is devaluing. The stock market is going down. The economy is about to enter a recession. And so, fueling and stirring nationalist angers and all of that dynamic, it's very good for Putin. And let's note that at the same time that those -- that the deal was being hammered in Geneva with Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia and the other powers, Putin was giving a very extensive press and television event in which he sounded very belligerent and very aggressive.
NAIMHe even invited Edward Snowden to ask him and participate. So we have this contradictory signals. But the story here is a very -- is a weakened Russia. A Russia with a very weak economy and a very restive middle class that is not completely happy with what's happening in the Kremlin.
GEARANYeah. And two things to follow on that. It's absolutely the case, as John Kerry said yesterday after this deal was struck, that what's happening in Ukraine, period, is not economically good for Russia. However, that has proved so far to be a weak argument because Putin knows, must know that this isn't helping economically. But as Moises said, he's really got larger aims here, which is -- part of which is to distract attention at home from the economy and put it more on to nationalistic -- well, rally the flag basically.
GEARANBut the other thing, I think, which is just fascinating is this -- the television interview yesterday in which -- this is, by the way, is an annual set piece in Russia. Putin gives a press conference at the end of the year, which often goes on for like four hours. And then he gives this call-in show at some other point in the year. And if you could sort of imagine the president of the United States going on Oprah and taking questions and doing video chats…
PAGEI can imagine that, by the way.
GEARAN...for like -- I can, too. But it goes on for, like, two hours and people, you know, calling from -- anyway, it's really is sort of -- it's kind of an amazing thing. But the Snowden appearance was clearly orchestrated. And although it was introduced as something of a surprise, it was -- it cannot possibly have been other than an orchestrated event.
PAGEOrchestrated and bizarre. I mean, you had Edward Snowden asking a question and it wasn't clear to me whether this was calculated to make Russia look good or whether he actually wanted to raise a serious question. Goeff, tell us about that exchange.
DYERSo Snowden has written an article today saying that what he was trying to do was sort of put Putin on record about the Russian equivalent of the NSA and about Russian, you know, mass surveillance of its own citizens. And what -- his argument was that what he's trying to do is similar to the famous question that Senator Ron Wyden ask James Clapper, the director of national intelligence before the whole NSA scandal broke.
DYERHow much Clapper effectively misled Congress about what the NSA was up to. And so his argument is that's what he was doing with Putin yesterday. But the way it played out was the complete opposite. I mean, you had the -- there's a hostess for this call-in and she sort of got very excited and said, oh, we have Edward Snowden on the line, isn't this wonderful. And then Snowden asked his question.
DYERAnd Putin just played with it, toyed with it and swatted it away. And used it as another chance to have a very easy take of the U.S. So Snowden might think that he's, you know, starting this debate about surveillance in Russia. It is possible that some people in Russia will pick up that signal. But by and large, he ended up being used in a sort of broader Russian propaganda exercise.
PAGEAnd this KGB guy -- this former ex-KGB guy lecturing on, you know, rights and privacy and respect for privacy.
NAIMAnd as Anne said, it's unimaginable that this was not orchestrated, that the question was not vetted before it was asked by the Russians. And then on -- this is what, you know, Putin -- the first thing he stated was that you and I, Mr. Snowden, are former spies. And we know what we're talking about. And then he says, of course, we don't do this. We don't have the resources or the kind of lax laws that exist in the United States. So we would never think of doing something like that.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll go to the phones. Out phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio for the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup, Anne Gearan. She's diplomatic correspondent with the Washington Post. Geoff Dyer, he's foreign policy correspondent for the Financial Times. He's the author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China and How America Can Win."
PAGEAnd Moises Naim, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and chief international columnist for El Pais. He's author of "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What it Used to Be, just recently out in paperback. Well, Geoff, let's talk about China. It reported that its economy is growing at the slowest pace in 18 months. Tell us about this.
DYERSo Chinese first quarter GDP figures came out this week. And the headline number was a growth of 7.4 percent which was down from 7.7 percent the previous quarter. Now for most of the world would die for a 7.4 percent growth rate, but in the Chinese context that is a relatively low number. And it is an economy that does seem to be slowing down very quickly or quite quickly.
DYERAnd so the question then becomes how does a government react to this? There are kind of two things the Chinese government can do to try and respond to this slowing in the economy. One is to push ahead with a quite ambitious agenda that can only reform so they have -- which are designed to get them to a slightly different growth model that's more about private sector investment as about services and less about building more roads and more houses and more infrastructure.
DYERThe risk of that is that you end up having quite a big drop in GDP growth for a short period of time. You have sort of a short term big X in your economy which might be politically uncomfortable for them. So the other possible option for them is just to throw more money at the problem just to land more money.
DYERChina has been on a huge credit binge since the financial crisis in 2008, which is part of the reason it's getting to problems now. But the temptation for the government would be to sort of double down, just throw more money at the problem and avoid the tough political problems -- tough political decisions that they're eventually going to have to take.
PAGEAnd which option do you think they're likely to pursue?
DYERWell, they'll probably do -- they are pushing ahead with some reforms but, you know, it's not yet entirely clear but the temptation is definitely going to be for them to start ramping up lending again. And there are a couple of signs in the last few weeks that some of that might be happening too. Signs of steel production's going up which is a sign that there's going to be more construction down the line.
PAGESo what are the implications and consequences for the United States' economy, Moises?
NAIMWell, they're huge and not just for the United States economy. China has become an engine for the world economy and a lot of countries depend on it. Countries that export raw materials to China and depend on those imports are very sensitive to growth in China. The world financial system is very dependent on China. China is now facing a $6 trillion shadow banking system. That is a banking system that is not well-regulated, not unlike the -- something like we have here during the onset of the financial crisis in 2007.
NAIMSo it has this shadow financial system. It has a bubble in the housing sector in construction. There's overheated and a slowing down and complicated situation with construction and real estate. And it has huge debts in the state and local governments. These three things together can create a perfect storm that may end up slowing down China beyond what the leaders there want.
PAGEAnd the impact would be for the rest of the world as well.
NAIMAbsolutely. Whatever happens in China will be felt everywhere else.
PAGEWe heard complaints from the Obama Administration this week on manipulation or the value of China's currency. This is a complicated issue. Explain to us what's at stake.
GEARANWell, this is a perennial complaint of the United States against China, which actually the Obama Administration had laid off making for some time. But the essential complain is that China floats its currency, makes its currency roughly less valuable against the dollar than -- and even some other currencies than it might otherwise be because that's beneficial in trade. And that China has the power to change this and deliberately chooses not to is the crux of the allegation.
GEARANAs they have before, the Chinese sort of laughed, you know, shrugged this off this week. And I think it's also important to note though that world markets also appeared to shrug off the GDP announcement this week. This was not unexpected. The precise number was more or less predicted. And China has been on a slow roll slowdown. I mean, yes, the rest of the world is addicted to that more than 7 percent growth rate, just as China is. But it was bound to slow and there's certainly some accommodation being made for it around the world.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let our listeners join our conversation. We'll start with Stephanie. She's calling us from Raleigh, N.C. Stephanie, hi, you're on the air.
STEPHANIEHi. I was wondering, since the pipeline from Russia to Europe goes through the Ukraine, what would happen if the Ukrainians threaten to blow the pipeline up if the Russians didn't back it up?
PAGEAll right. Stephanie, thanks very much for your call. Anne.
GEARANWell, I mean, that would presumably be an act of war against Russia. It would also be illegal. This is -- and it would also be dumb for Ukraine. I mean, they simply can't afford to either make a huge official enemy of Russia, give them a reason to do things that frankly Russia hasn't overtly done so far. I mean, we do not see giant waves of tanks and troops rolling over the border, which you could conceive might happen if there were things happening like the seizure or destruction of pipelines. But also Ukraine depends on that gas and they depend on the transit revenue as well.
PAGEStephanie's question made though to the point of kind of limited options whatever your concern is about Russia's actions, limited options for the Ukrainian government, limited options for the United States government as well, Geoff.
DYERLimited options in the short term but the big long term issue of this crisis is going to generate for Russia is that you'll probably see a very decisive effort by Europe over the next five, ten years to reduce its dependency on Russian oil and gas. And that will leave Russia eventually in a much weaker position. So in the short term, you can't use that as a tool in any sense in this kind of tactic in this crisis at the moment. But in the long term, that's a real vulnerability for Russia.
NAIMAnd in order to put sanctions on Russia, the United States would need the support of Europe. And a lot of European countries depend on the energy and the gas that comes to them from Russia via the Ukraine. And the numbers are staggering. On average Europe depends on 30 percent of the energy needs in Europe come -- are supplied by Russia.
NAIMBut if you look at the specifics of each country, you know, you have -- in Hungry it's 50 percent, in Belgium it's 43 percent, Austria is 52 percent. So these are countries that are not going to jump immediately in support of sanctions that will have a retaliation that will put them at risk in their energy needs.
PAGEBut could the United States impose much stricter sanctions if things go bad in Ukraine, Anne?
GEARANYes. What's on the table now if this agreement struck yesterday doesn't work or things go south again, is short of those very severe sanctions. What's on the table initially would be sort of more of the same sanctions against individuals, sanctions against -- that target the assets abroad and the travel abroad of people alleged to have done bad things.
GEARANWhat would really potentially make a much, much bigger difference is what's called sector sanctions which would be U.S. and presumably European Union for the reasons just outlined that sanctions on Russian oil and gas. Again the European Union is much more reluctant to do that than the United States might be simply because they -- Europe by virtue of proximity gets so much more of its energy from Russia.
PAGEOne thing that the (sic) President Obama has made clear is that military options are not one of the things being considered. No chance of that, Geoff.
DYERWell, there are different aspects of that. I mean, one suggestion is that U.S. should be giving small arms or other arms to the Ukrainian government to allow them to have a greater deterrent effect against Russia. That's been ruled out. And the argument for the administration is that that would be a very provocative thing that might actually encourage the Russians to invade or to intervene more forcefully in Ukraine. And would also involve -- eventually it would put, you know, the U.S. and Russia in a kind of proxy war in Ukraine.
DYERBut the second stage of that is different ways to boost NATO and other bits of Eastern Europe and that is much more possible. So it is possible to imagine you would have NATO troops in countries like Poland or Romania, some of the Baltic states to give those countries a sense of assurance that, you know, NATO is going to defend them. It's not going to let Russia go even further beyond Ukraine and intervene in their affairs.
PAGEHere's an email we got from Beth who's writing us from Pittsburgh. She writes, "I read that Jews in Ukraine are being asked by the government to register. Is this the Russian government, the Ukrainian government or a hoax?"
NAIMAs it has become normal now in that region, you don't know what happened. There were some leaflets given out in Jewish synagogues and in places of -- in synagogue asking the members and the Jews to register. And then no one took credit for that. No one claimed responsibility and everybody denied that they had anything to do with it. So we don't really know what happened.
PAGEIs it credible that this could be a development there?
DYERIt does seem to be a hoax. I mean, one of the synagogues essentially asked one of the Jewish families in the synagogue to go along to his office and try to register to see what happened. And the people at this office had no idea what was going on. So it was a hoax but the question is, you know, who made this hoax, you know, who issued it? And that's a much murkier story.
PAGEWe had a video service this week that appears to show a large al-Qaida meeting in Yemen. And a leader who vows to attack the United States. What do we know about this video, Moises?
NAIMWell, it shows a large meeting, as you said, of al-Qaida with -- in which we can see Nasser al-Wuhaishi, the leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. And, you know, essentially all saying that they need to attack the United States. The meeting is thought to have taken place in March. Nassar al-Wuhaishi is the leader for al-Qaida wing in Yemen and was Osama bin Laden's personal aid.
NAIMHe's thought to be the number two for al-Qaida worldwide, so he's higher up there. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is considered by intelligence services as the most dangerous affiliate of al-Qaida and the most capable of intervening.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And how did this video surface? How did we come to see it?
GEARANIt's not clear exactly who posted it online but as often happens several different versions actually of videos of this gathering up to 400 people -- estimated 400 people surfaced online. And then there are groups that analyze these for -- to try to identify faces, to try to, you know, figure out who posted it and what it means and so forth.
GEARANAnd that -- sort of the sum total of the analysis suggests that this is about the -- well, it's the largest known gathering of al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen -- or one of the largest gatherings of anyone associated with al-Qaida in several years. And it suggests -- not -- a resurgence in Yemen and potentially a resurgence elsewhere. It just sort of gives a little body to the sort of general sense that a lot of terrorist mentalists have had over the last couple of years that these gatherings are becoming more frequent. They are better attended and there's a little bit more musculature behind al-Qaida, the organization itself and their franchises than we've seen.
PAGEWe know how close the United States tries to monitor al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Do we have a sense, Geoff, if whether U.S. officials knew about this meeting before the video surfaced or even before it took place?
DYERSo the impression is that they didn't know about it but, you know, we can never say for sure, because obviously they don't talk too openly about it. But, you know, it does seem a little bit surprising to onlookers in the sense that everything we know about drone strikes and NSA surveillance of these groups that you could have 3 or 400 of these people, you know, congregating in one place and the U.S. wouldn't know anything about it. That -- if they didn't then that is quite a worrying -- that's a very worrying development.
PAGELet's go back to the phones and get some questions from our listeners. Let's go to Dennis. He's calling us from Laurel, Md. Dennis, you're on the air.
DENNISCan you actually hear my call, Susan?
PAGEYes, go ahead.
DENNISI was wondering what your panel think about this. I believe that Putin is trying to protect himself, like if Ukraine goes NATO -- goes pro-America, it believes that they could -- America could come over there and set up a military base over there. Or unless if Crimea -- if they let Crimea go into the hands of EU, he's afraid that the U.S. could come in and set up a military base over there.
DENNISSo he's thinking ahead, that if I don't do something, the next thing I'm going to see is the United States being at my backdoor and it's not going to be good for him. Because I don't think the United States is going to sit back for China or Russia to come as close as Cuba or Mexico right here without doing anything.
PAGEYeah, Dennis raises a great question. Is Putin really trying to roll back the trend that we've seen since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and establish, you know, a new Russian Empire?
GEARANYes. (word?) is a term that's being tossed around a lot and it really appears to be true. Putin has felt very viscerally and for a very long time that Russia is unfairly -- has been -- was unfairly marginalized. And he's even said that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. And he feels that. He feels that Russia deserves better and that sort of in a very specific way Russia deserves to have the same kind of sense of protection and influence at its borders that the United States has.
GEARANAnd he thinks that this will play out in the missile defense context over the last ten years, that things that the United States says are not a threat that are happening on Russia's doorstep he sees as a threat. And everything that's happened in Ukraine can be put into that context.
PAGEThat makes it -- complicates the efforts to respond to him, doesn't it Moises?
NAIMExactly. And not only because of that but also because of the very stealthy different ways in which he has been using his military powers. You know, the notion that first Crimea and now in the Ukraine we have people that obviously are very well trained and equipped, but don't bear any insignia. You don't know who they are. You don't know which country they represent. And everybody suspects that these are Russian-trained and organized forces.
NAIMIt adds to the complexity because it creates a very difficult kind of conversation. But, as Anne said, there's no doubt that Putin feels that he is the big rebuilder of the nation, of the state in Russia. And he needs to bring back some of the grand country that it used to be.
PAGEThat's Moises Naim and we're also joined this hour by Anne Gearan and Geoff Dyer. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about meetings in Venezuela this week aimed at resolving the crisis there. And we'll take your calls. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEBefore the break, we were talking about Vladimir Putin's motivations and his big goals. Here's an email from Tim, who's writing us from Houston. He writes, "At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy nut, here's my take on Putin. I don't think he spent the last 14 years in office trying to make Russia part of the world community and is now risking it. I think he spent the last 14 years in office trying to make the European economy more dependent on Russia, so he's able now to do what he wants." Geoff, what do you think?
DYERI mean, there is clearly something to that. I mean he is, one of the reasons he tactically, in the short term, is in this strong position where he has a lot of the -- able to make these moves, is that he knows that the Europeans are very, very reluctant to stand up to him. All of these countries, Moises was mentioning, put a lot of gas, the German's who have extensive business interests as well. You can see that the German business community is very, very worried about sanctions.
DYERBut he does face this long-term risk that if he pushes too hard, in five or ten years' time, he's going to wake up and find that Europe is buying a lot of gas from the U.S. and all sorts of other places, and isn't so dependent on him.
PAGEAnd here's an email from John who writes, "Russia's population is only 140 million, yet they seem to be ruling the world. When are they going to be removed from the U.N. Security Council?" Moises, what do you think? Is there -- is there a risk for Putin that Russia's position, the world does not become more -- stronger, as he wishes, but in fact weaker?
NAIMMany analysts have interpreted these recent events as a signal of weakness rather than strength on the part of Putin. Weakness because, as I mentioned before, the economy is very weak. Russia has become essentially a petrol state -- a country that essentially has a lot of the traits of an oil-exporting country. And he has a very restive middle class. And that is also -- once, a different kind of a country. And it's not clear that the actions he has undertaken, as Geoff said, are not going to backfire him with Europe developing different sources of energy and becoming more independent, with more isolation of Russia from the world.
NAIMVery deep links that Russia had with Germany -- historic links with Germany -- essentially acted as the mediator, an intermediary in the meetings between the West and Russia has now -- have now been broken. And Angela Merkel essentially stating publically that Putin lives in a different world. So all of these things don't bode well in terms of the long-term consequences of Putin's actions, even if he keeps Crimea, even if he destabilizes parts of the Ukraine. This is not going to be, I think, seen in the long term as a very, very positive move for Russia and the Russian people.
PAGEAnd here's one last email on this topic, Anne. Ed writes, "Is Russia's goal to destabilize and ultimately render impotent the power of NATO?" Do you think that's so, and is there any possibility that he creates problems for NATO?
GEARANWell, sure. I mean, the longer term wider goal would be to counter NATO, to undermine NATO, to answer NATO. And Ukraine is one potential canvas for that. It's a conflict -- confrontation that's wider and larger than Ukraine though. And it -- I mean, Russia has had a really awkward relationship with modern NATO, because, of course, NATO was formed in opposition to the Soviet Union. And so nobody's quite entirely known what to do with themselves in the context of having Russia be, certainly not a member, but a kind of invited friend.
GEARANThey -- there's a Russian-NATO council and Russia gets to come from time to time, and they all talk about ways that they can cooperate and they fight about missile defense. And then sometimes Russia doesn't come to the next meeting and then they have another one. And over the last few months, you've seen NATO get, you know, kind of all up in itself again and say, oh, wow, we really have a reason again. We are the organization -- the alliance dedicated to preserving and protecting Europe against Russian influence. We forgot that.
GEARANAnd the obvious other side of that is that Russia never forgot it. And Putin never forgot it. And he's never, ever trusted NATO. He's never trusted NATO expansion. It just irritates him to no end. He sees it as a deliberate provocation. He sees it as a way for Europe to pick away at the edge of Russia and destabilize him. And so, yeah. I mean, that absolutely is part of this.
DYERAnd so this is another one of these issues where it's a short-term gain for Putin, but a long-term loss. Think about what NATO is facing this year. The campaign in Afghanistan is coming to an end at the end of this year. NATO was basically due to have a massive identity crisis this year, for all of us. And all the countries suddenly said, what is this alliance for? Why are we still in this alliance? The Cold War ended 25 years ago. Putin has made NATO legitimate and given an identity for another generation by what he's done in the last three months.
PAGELet's go talk to Tom. He's joining us from Boynton Beach, Fla. Hi, Tom.
TOMHello. How are you?
TOMGreat. Okay, well, I have family in Ukraine. I'm married to a Ukrainian woman from Donetsk. My son married a girl from that part of the world. I've been there numerous times. And I will tell you that my feeling -- and believe me I'm a patriot and love this country -- but the amount of propaganda and misinformation that's being put out there by people in our government and the one-sided coverage of this is unbelievable. You know, everybody's talking about Russia and the United States.
TOMBut the fact of the matter is that Ukrainian people, particularly the ones in the East, feel completely left out of this entire process. These poor people have been living for the last 25 or whatever years on the equivalent of $200 a month. Every 10 years, their economy collapses. They have constant fighting between the western part of Ukraine and the eastern part of Ukraine. And they weren't even invited to this thing in Geneva. I give you an example. There was a man in the Rada from eastern part of Ukraine. He was in -- and this was last week, and you can look at it on video.
TOMHe was speaking in the Rada. He was beaten up in the Rada. He went outside and was stripped naked by the crowd. And this is the kind of stuff that's going on in the western part of Ukraine to the easterners. So -- and none of this was covered. But meanwhile, somebody posts a notice that we don't know where it came from, on a synagogue door and that gets incredible amount of news. But the amount of abuse that these people in the East are experiencing right now is not being covered at all.
PAGETom, thanks so much for your call. Very interesting to hear your perspective. Moises, what do you think?
NAIMThere is no doubt that there is a segment of the population in Ukraine that feels Russian, that speaks Russian, that is -- has general affinities for Russian. There's also no doubt that Ukraine, in the last 20 years or so, has been badly mismanaged. It's economy has not been doing well for many reasons. Corruption is very high. People in government, and that being the big oligarchs in the country, and the big oligarchs in the country end up being in government and running the nation. So there is a long list of grievances that are very valid and that apply, by the way, both to the Russian speaking, Russian-oriented population of the Ukraine and the others.
PAGEAnd it must be difficult, as it was during the Cold War, to be a people that feels that your economy's bad, that you've got a lot of complaints, and they become kind of overshadowed by a battle between powers much larger than yours.
GEARANYeah, I mean, and there's absolutely some truth to the Russian complaint of instigation and incitement within Ukraine. And it all goes both ways. And some of that is borne of a sense that the government -- the former government of Ukraine stole from the populous and stole from the eastern part of the country and the western part of the country.
PAGEYou know, one of the great things about "The Diane Rehm Show," in particular, and the United States, in general, is the ability to almost always talk to someone who is either from a part of the world that we're talking about that's in turmoil or, as Tom is, related to someone in the part of the world. Well, here's an email. "How can we help to make the world aware of how human rights are being violated in Venezuela?
PAGEWhat else can we Venezuelans abroad do to help reestablish democratic principles in the country, as stated in the country's constitution? And why has Venezuela's situation not been covered by the news in the United States?" Well, Moises, you were once in the Venezuelan government, as minister of industry and trade, developments are this week in the conflict between the opposition and the government?
NAIMSince February there have been violent clashes in the streets of many cities in the country, between mostly students and the riot police. Those clashes have become increasingly violent. They have now claimed 41 lives. We have -- Amnesty International has come up with a report about torture. We have people detained and disappeared. And last week there was an attempt at talks to try to bring some stability and to start negotiations between the opposition and the government. This was the first time in 15 years that this government has been in power, that recognizes the right of the opposition to speak, to exist even.
NAIMThe problem, of course, is that the opposition is divided. It's divided between those that are in the streets and say, the only reason why the government is talking to us is because we are in the streets. And we need to stay in the streets. And there are others that says, well, you know, this is -- we have people that are suffering. We have people killing -- being killed. And therefore we need to have these negotiations. They agreed to establish a truth commission that was going to look into the events and try to understand what's going on.
NAIMThe opposition really wants -- their political leader, there are opposition leaders that have been detained, mayors of cities that are the positions that have been jailed without really any reason. And so the opposition is asking for the freeing of the political prisoners in the -- and an inquiry into the violence. But the government has not given that. And one of the observers -- this has been brokered by the foreign ministers of four Latin American countries. And one of those countries is Brazil. And Brazil has been a very supportive friend of Hugo Chavez and his government, and continues to be.
NAIMAnd the minister of foreign affairs of Brazil, who was there, says we are not here to talk about amnesty or about political prisoners. That's not the issue. So immediately one of the brokers -- one of the honest, independent brokers, immediately took sides. And that gives you a sense of the complexity of the situation and how difficult it is going to be to move forward, unless we have confidence-building measures. Someone has to do something, especially the government has to do something to show that it's going to these talks in good faith.
GEARANWell, I'll take a stab at the way that the Venezuela crisis is portrayed or not in primarily American news media. And, I mean, certainly, big newspapers like my own, do cover it. We do not cover it day-in and day-out. There's neither the space in the physical paper nor, sadly, you know, sort of the news attention span for that. However, I think one of the reasons that the very real developments in Venezuela over the last several weeks have -- the news -- protests go back to February -- haven't garnered as much attention outside of Latin America is sort of that Hugo Chavez is gone. He was a rather -- very convenient bogeyman.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, and talking about parts of the world that often don't quite make the headlines in the United States is Nigeria. More than 150 people have been killed in a series of attacks in Nigeria this week by Islamic extremists. What exactly -- who's behind these attacks, Geoff?
DYERSo there's this group called Boko Haram. They're an Islamist group in the north of the country. Nigeria's one of these countries where it's -- has a quite a sharp religious cleavage -- generally, Christians in the south, Muslims in the north. And a particularly dramatic incident this week was over 100 school girls were effectively kidnapped from a school in northern Nigeria. I think that last report I saw was that most of them had been freed, but there were still a number who were still missing. And that, you know, this is just one of a number of outrageous and shocking attacks that have been conducted by this group in recent months and years.
PAGENow the military in Nigeria announced that most of these girls had been freed, but the principal at the school denied it. She said that only 14 of the 129 girls and young women who had been kidnapped had been freed. And what is -- what will they -- if they still have these girls, what will they do with them? What's the point?
GEARANNothing good. I mean, it's a very frightening and sad prospect of what may be happening or may have already happened to these girls. This is not -- Boko Haram is a religiously based militia, basically. And one of the things they want is a -- it sort of goes beyond Sharia law. It's a very, very -- from Western perspective -- brutal and sort of one-dimensional view of right and wrong. And certainly women going to school is something that they would consider wrong.
PAGEWell, let's hope that we see these girls come home soon. Well, Moises, the world lost a literary giant this week. You knew him.
NAIMI did. I did know Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He was larger than life in many ways. He, in fact, with his writings, he helped Latin Americans understand something that we all felt, but he masterfully explained what we felt about this magic realism, about these things that could never happen and in our countries happened every day. And he also helped non-Latin Americans discover a continent. And whenever people that have read Garcia Marquez go to Latin America, you will hear them say, well, this looks like something out of a Garcia Marquez novel.
NAIMAnd he also was very good at explaining and describing not just the external environment, but also the interior of the human soul. He was great at describing love, describing power, describing ice. You know, one of the first lines of his masterpiece, "One Hundred Years of Solitude," is when a little boy was taken by his grandfather to see ice and to meet ice for the first time. And it was with this kind of very detailed descriptions of feelings, of sentiments and experiences that he became the author that has sold more books in the Spanish language, other than the Bible.
PAGEYou know, it's one thing that's great, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. Often the authors who win the Nobel Prize for literature are authors I've never heard of, never read, if I tried to read, I'd be lost. He was an author who not only got the critical acclaim from critics and literary experts, but he was somebody who really reached a mass audience. We'll miss him. Moises Naim, thanks for joining us this hour. Anne Gearan, Geoff Dyer, thank you so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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