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After Minsk: Can The French-German Alliance Heal A Sick Europe?

The Ukraine ceasefire reached in Minsk represents a major diplomatic success for Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel, hopefully the first of many.

Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande in Moscow on Feb. 6.
Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande in Moscow on Feb. 6.
Pascal Riché

-OpEd-

PARIS — As French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, looking a bit like co-conspirators, prepare to negotiate for peace in Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hollande whispers into Merkel's ear, "OK, Angela, I’ll play it firm, and you flexible, alright?"

As Putin waits for them at the other end of the room, Merkel answers, "François, let's maybe do the opposite!"

Excellent (In "Le Canard enchaîné") pic.twitter.com/24A9qvk8Mg

— Cyril Petit (@cyrilpetit99) February 11, 2015

This cartoon by Mougey, published in the French weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, is amusing. But in ongoing negotiations that finally resulted in a Ukraine ceasefire earlier this week, the two leaders actually chose not to play the good cop/bad cop routine. Still, the duo's approach is working: They speak with a single voice. It's the first time in a long while that Europe has led a large-scale diplomatic operation from start to finish and got the kind of comforting result the two leaders reached with Putin in Minsk. We have to be careful, of course, but after these 16 difficult hours of talks, the specter of a total war in Europe seems much less threatening.

Tension is still high between Kiev and Moscow, and there are still major points to negotiate: the degree of autonomy Ukraine's eastern regions will be granted, the fate of the city of Debaltseve, and the restitution to Ukraine of its international borders. But what does seem decided is a ceasefire that will take effect at midnight on Feb. 15, together with the withdrawal of heavy weaponry and the release of prisoners.

American "bad cops" step aside

Meanwhile the real "bad cop" in the affair was becoming agitated, in a badly organized and vain way, across the Atlantic. President Barack Obama was beating the drums of war, talking about arming Ukraine, raising the prospect of cold war before an economically weak Russia. Europe took a different approach. Without lowering its guard regarding sanctions, it chose to focus on dialogue. Hollande and Merkel accepted the assumption that Russia isn't necessarily strategizing to annex Ukraine, but that it simply refuses to see it under NATO's thumb.

In early December, the situation seemed particularly dire, with errors made on all sides: lies and brutality from Russia, nationalistic tension on part of Ukraine, European diplomatic autism, bellicose American nonsense. Putin was pushed into a corner — exactly the kind of situation that can make such a man become dangerous. Tension in Donbass was only rising, with more and more civilians killed and hospitals bombed. It was high time to break what François Miterrand called this "logic of war." Only the French and German leaders managed to do that, by finally conducting a serious negotiation.

[rebelmouse-image 27088633 alt="""" original_size="940x628" expand=1]

Putin, Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko on Feb. 11 — Photo: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

The French president first went to Moscow to meet Putin on Dec. 6, breaking the isolation in which the Russian leader had found himself since the crisis began. Then he went back with Merkel in February, engaging four-way discussions. As history has shown several times, Germany and France carry a lot of weight when they work together. In their case, 1+1 equals much more than 2.

Another cartoon published in Le Canard Enchaîné this week, signed by Pétillon, depicts the Hollande-Merkel duo in Moscow walking out of the room and saying, "Why don't we go and see the Greeks while we're at it?"

It's funny, but it's actually not such a bad idea. France and Germany know they can't let Greece slide towards chaos, toward a nationalistic withdrawal, or fall into Russia's arms. After a long breakdown, the French-German alliance is back, and that's a good thing. May they now work resolutely for the European people, starting with the most afflicted.

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Geopolitics

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

Jair Bolsonaro bogus claims perform well online

Cris Faga/ZUMA
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

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