Russia debate

Peter Hitchens makes a compelling argument that British diplomacy towards Russia is leading to a new Cold War. The opening statement by his debate opponent Rupert Wieloch is also worth listening to. Unfortunately it seems that the rest of the debate is not available on YouTube.

Here’s the first clip:

I’ve transcribed some of the highlights:

People say that Asia begins at the Ural Mountains. Well, technically it does, but really it begins at Moscow. It is a frontier city. This is a country which has been invaded by Tartars, by Mongols, by Poles, by Swedes, by Poles again, by the Germans, by the Germans, by the Germans again, by us, by the French, repeatedly, over and over again. It has no natural defenses… The Ural Mountains… are not particularly impressive. There is no real barrier. They live in constant, realistic fear of invasion. Their second city, now Saint Petersburg, was within living memory besieged by an invading army to such an extent that a large number of its population died of starvation. And you can go there and visit the enormous graves, and these are the people who are the grandfathers and great uncles and great aunts and grandmothers of people now living.

Understand this, and you begin to understand perhaps why Russians have a rather different attitude towards the world than we do, being surrounded conveniently by large stretches of deep salt water; or than the Americans do, who have the Pacific on one side, and the Atlantic on the other, and Mexico at the bottom, and Canada at the top. How nice, in comparison to having China on one side, and Germany on the other, and the Middle East at the bottom, which is what the Russians have to put up with. So please bear this in mind when discussing attitudes towards Russia. […]

This country [Britain] has no borders with Russia. We barely trade with them. We have no actual interests which clash with theirs. They don’t pay us much attention. We have no particular reason to be at war with them. And yet, here we are, at the moment, in a country where the government and its military leaders and its secretary of state and of defense and many of its journalists constantly, to my mind almost obsessively, go on and on and on about the Russian danger. […]

Since the collapse of the Soviet regime, which I witnessed, the Moscow government, under whatever name you care to give it, has relinquished control, without any significant bloodshed, of 800,000 square miles of territory — 700,000 square miles of territory in Europe, and another who knows how many in Central Asia — and it has lost control of something like 180 million people in the same period.

During the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the European Union and its military wing, NATO, has gained control over 400,000 square miles and over 120 million people. How is it, under those circumstances, that Russia can conceivably be classified as an aggressive power? Which one is the expanding power, which one is the diminishing one? The forces of NATO are 10 times the size of those of Russia. Russia’s gross domestic product is approximately the size of that of Italy. This is not a major country. […]

Anti-government protests in Romania

Large protests in Bucharest, calling for the resignation of the Romanian government, end in violence:

For three days in a row, throngs of protesters took to the streets in Romania’s capital city, Bucharest, to protest what they see as a corrupt government and to call for new elections.

Tens of thousands of people rallied Friday on the first day of demonstrations, which were largely organized by Romanian expatriates who came home to demonstrate en masse; some estimates put the crowd at 100,000.

It ended in violence. Romania Insider reports that on Friday night, some aggressive protesters, possibly football hooligans, began clashing with police. (Football hooligans frequently appear at political protests in Romania.) In response, riot police reportedly fired tear gas, smoke grenades and a water cannon into the crowd at Victoriei Square in Bucharest, which also included many peaceful protesters.

The police used “unprecedented violence” to clear the square, Romania Insider writes. Hundreds of people were said to have been injured.

But the protesters were undeterred, returning on Saturday and again on Sunday.

Rallies in Bucharest and other major Romanian cities were peaceful on Sunday, Reuters reports.

The Social Democratic Party has governed Romania since 2016.

Get the popcorn

They actually did it:

The Catalan regional parliament has voted to declare independence from Spain, just as the Spanish government appears set to impose direct rule.

The move was backed 70-10 in a ballot boycotted by opposition MPs. […]

In all, the motion declaring independence was approved with 70 in favour, 10 against and two abstentions in the 135-seat chamber.

Immediately afterwards, Mr Rajoy called for all Spaniards to remain calm, promising to “restore legality” to Catalonia.

Spain’s Senate is still to vote on whether for the first time to enact Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which empowers the government to take “all measures necessary to compel” a region in case of a crisis.

It would enable Madrid to fire Catalan leaders, and take control of the region’s finances, police and public media.

The absolute mad(wo)men. This should prove to be interesting.

UPDATE: Who said that government is inefficient?

Madrid imposes direct rule on Catalonia just 40 minutes after the region FINALLY declared independence as Spanish Prime Minister calls for ‘calm’ amid fears of violence on streets

Spain is on the brink of descending into violence as Catalonia faces being imminently taken over by direct rule after the region’s parliament declared independence.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy began a meeting with his cabinet at 5pm (BST) to discuss exactly how the national government will take control of the region.

During that meeting, article 155 of the country’s constitution will be enacted – meaning the entire Catalan government will be dismissed and replaced by Spanish nominees, the regional police force will come under national control and public broadcasters will start taking their orders from Madrid.

Spain will also take control of the pro-independence Catalan parliament, preventing it from adopting motions that ‘run counter’ to Madrid’s wishes.

He’s fired

Spain drops the hammer on Catalonia:

Regional leader of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont will lose all powers and will stop receiving a salary once the Senate approves article 155 which imposes direct central government rule on the region, the Deputy Prime Minister said on Monday.

A single representative may be temporarily instated by Madrid to govern the region after the Senate approves direct rule, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said in a radio interview. The Senate is expected to approve the measures on Friday.

I don’t see how this ends well.

LJBF

Via the BBC, a bite-size primer on Catalonia:

The area first emerged as a distinct entity with the rise of the County of Barcelona to pre-eminence in the 11th century. In the 12th century, the county was brought under the same royal rule as the neighbouring kingdom of Aragon, going on to become a major medieval sea power.

Catalonia has been part of Spain since its genesis in the 15th century, when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile married and united their realms.

Initially retaining its own institutions, the region was ever more tightly integrated into the Spanish state, until the 19th century ushered in a renewed sense of Catalan identity, which flowed into a campaign for political autonomy and even separatism. The period also saw an effort to revive Catalan, long in decline by then, as a language of literature.

More at the link. And here’s a Bloomberg piece about the triumph of identity over money:

As recently as July, secessionists in Catalonia seemed to be in retreat. Spain was the fastest-growing of continental Europe’s big four economies, creating jobs at a rapid clip. A poll that month by the Catalan government showed that support for independence had fallen to 35 percent, its lowest level since 2012. It appeared that Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, might have been right when he predicted in 2012 that once removed from the flame of financial crisis, “separatism would sink like a soufflé.” […]

The groundswell of separatist sentiment in Catalonia has shown Spain and the world that money isn’t everything.

“Follow the money” is actually a pretty terrible rule of thumb for understanding most human affairs.

A strengthening economy may have quelled Catalan nationalism a bit, but the desire many have for independence had deeper sources and never went away. Then Rajoy, playing to his conservative base, badly miscalculated. He thought a show of force would keep voters at home. But his attempt to stop the vote just pushed more Catalans into the separatist camp. “In the longer term, the divisions in Spain become more entrenched,” says Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London.

Violent “shows of force” tend to have that effect.

Many economists think Catalonia would be worse off economically on its own. The outcome hinges on whether it would assume a share of Spain’s national debt, whether it would be permitted to join the European Union and adopt the euro, and how much it would cost to replicate services—such as defense—it gets from Madrid. Further complicating matters, Spain could throw up legal obstacles to secession. One reason many Catalans have shied from independence in the past is that they weren’t ready to take a leap into the unknown.

But the violence that marred the Oct. 1 vote has focused Catalans’ minds on issues other than euros. “At some point the economic considerations start to be irrelevant and identity becomes paramount,” says Ghemawat. On Oct. 1, he says, “we took a giant step in that direction.”

Incidentally:

When you’re in a hole

Spain, being in a hole, decides to fire up the excavator and start moving some serious dirt:

Spain’s government defiantly rejected calls for mediation Wednesday over Catalonia’s push for independence, which the country’s king warned was endangering national stability.

As the European Union urged dialogue to ease the standoff between separatists in the northeastern region and Madrid, Catalan leaders said they could unilaterally declare independence as early as Monday.

The tone of the crisis sharpened with Catalonia’s president denouncing the king’s intervention and Spain’s government rejecting any possible talks.

“The government will not negotiate over anything illegal and will not accept blackmail,” said a statement from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s office.

The military has reportedly been sent in:

SPAIN has sent two convoys of troops into Catalonia in a move that is likely to anger the regional parliament.

Troops from the Logistic Support Group 41 (AALOG 41) who are based in Aragon were told of their move at about 7pm last night.

The exact number of soldiers is not known but according to the newspaper El Confidencial, two contingents of troops are being sent in 20 trucks.

It is understood their orders are to provide logistical support to the Guardia Civil and national police still stationed in the region.

The appearance of troops is likely to be seen as highly controversial as the President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont has previously referred to the presence of the Guardia Civil and national police as “occupying forces” and had said they should leave all four of the Catalan provinces immediately.

You’d think the Spanish government would be trying to de-escalate the situation, rather than the reverse. There is no way that using force against the separatists will end well. Isn’t that obvious?

The End of History fails to arrive in Spain

It seems we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the End of History:

Spain’s King Felipe intervened dramatically Tuesday in the crisis over Catalan leaders’ bid for independence, accusing them of threatening the country’s stability and urging the state to defend “constitutional order.”

The 49-year-old king abandoned his previously measured tone over tensions with Catalonia as the standoff dragged the country into its deepest political crisis in decades.

He spoke after hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied in fury at violence by police against voters during a banned referendum on independence for their region on Sunday.

Catalan regional leaders held the vote in defiance of the national government which brands it illegal — as did Felipe on Tuesday.

“With their irresponsible conduct they could put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain,” he said of the Catalan leadership.

“They have placed themselves totally outside the law and democracy,” he said.

“It is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order.”

[…]

Pictures of police beating unarmed Catalan voters with batons and dragging some by the hair during Sunday’s ballots drew international criticism.

Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont said nearly 900 people had received medical attention on Sunday, though local authorities confirmed a total of 92 injured. Four were hospitalised, two in serious condition.

The national government said more than 400 police officers were hurt.

A king intervenes in a standoff between separatists and a nominally democratic government that is trying, and failing, to bring them to heel… in Western Europe. Not quite what universal liberal democracy was supposed to look like.

Speaking of which, I somehow doubt this is what the inventors of the World Wide Web had in mind:

The world’s first internet war has begun, in Catalonia, as the people and government use it to organize an independence referendum on Sunday and Spanish intelligence attacks, freezing telecommunications links, occupying telecoms buildings, censors 100s of sites, protocols etc.

Spanish police raided the offices of the .cat domain registry in Barcelona, seizing all computers

The .cat domain was used for sharing information about last week’s Catalan independence referendum

More.