Eastern Roots For Western Duo Staring Down Moscow

The path of the EU and the U.S. on Ukraine is defining not only the West's long-term interests but also the key geopolitical players involved. A Russian look at two key diplomatic players.

Fule (left) speaking with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
Fule (left) speaking with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
Alexander Gabuyev

When U.S. President Barack Obama held a series of consultations with his advisers about Ukraine in early December, some of them convinced the president that Washington should pursue a much more active policy.

“The president then said bluntly that the situation in Ukraine is not a top priority, quarrelling with Russia over this is not necessary,” a source close to the U.S. State Department tells Kommersant.Syria and the Middle East are much more important.”

In fact, he was right. At the time, Ukraine was a concern to about five people in Washington, while the rest of the lobbyists and experts were relatively indifferent, and were more focused on China and Iran.

But the situation has changed considerably over the course of just a few weeks. Clashes in Kiev between the Berkut police and protesters were beamed around the world, and now the media is reporting about the developments in Ukraine every day.

“We call this the CNN factor,” a White House source says. “Ukraine is now interesting to a great many people.”

At the forefront of Ukraine policy is ...

It’s clear which senior official in Washington is rooting hardest for Ukraine. “Of course, it’s Tori Nuland. Ukraine is her cause,” a source tells Kommersant.

It is no accident that Victoria "Tori" Nuland, who will turn 53 this year, has emerged at the forefront of U.S. policy on Ukraine. For almost two years, under Hillary Clinton, she was the press secretary for the State Department. When John Kerry took over in September 2013, she became Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, making her a key official responsible for operational work in the region.

Nuland has longstanding ties in this region. She is the granddaughter of Meyer Nudelman, a Jewish emigrant who moved to New York from Tsarist Russia. The Nuland ancestors, whose parents Americanized their name, would presumably have lived within the boundaries of modern-day Ukraine.

After graduating from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree, Nuland began a diplomatic career at the U.S. Consulate in China. The start of her ties with the USSR and then the post-Soviet Union began in 1988.

Nuland has worked for both Democrats and Republicans

Nuland worked as a Sovietologist in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and then between 1991 and 1993, she worked at the embassy in Moscow. She emerged as a specialist in Russian philology under the tutelage of Strobe Talbott.

Sovietology and the State Department

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Nuland worked in the central office of the State Department, the Council on Foreign Relations, and then in the U.S. permanent mission to NATO.

In July 2003, she was admitted to the apparatus of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who led the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party and helped define the ideology of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

Although Nuland was a career diplomat who could work with both Democrats and Republicans, her friends say that she still speaks of her time with Cheney warmly. Her ideological proximity with Cheney may stem in part from her marriage to the historian and political scientist Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution, who is often dubbed the most prominent representative of modern neoconservative thought on U.S. foreign policy.

Kagan himself rejects this label, but actively works with many conservative figures in Washington and was an adviser to John McCain during his presidential campaign in 2008. Kagan’s book The World America Made disputes the theory that the U.S has declined as a global superpower. Barack Obama quoted from it several times during his address to the nation in 2012.

Victoria Nuland was closely involved with Ukraine during the Orange Revolution.

“For her, it was a very important event — the transition from a post-Soviet model towards democracy — so if you talk about U.S. participation, Nuland in particular was one of the main actors behind the scenes on our side,” one U.S. expert close to Nuland says.

A second chance

But events in Ukraine after the Orange Revolution were a terrible disappointment to Nuland, especially after the now-fallen President Viktor Yanukovych came to power.

So the current events are a second chance of sorts. What helps her in the State Department is her reputation as an undisputed authorities on Ukraine, the same sort of esteem enjoyed by Stefan Fule, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy.

Within the European Union, Fule, from the Czech Republic, is considered a leading expert on Russia and has positioned himself as such. It is not just because Fule is a native of the Eastern bloc. He graduated in 1986 from the Soviet diplomatic Corps at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and is fluent in Russian.

Many MGIMO graduates from the former Soviet bloc or the Baltic republics are working in Fule’s office in Brussels.

“Only recently, the Germans and the French have begun to gently raise the issue that the European Commission’s expertise can be engaged by Russia,” a source in the German foreign ministry tells Kommersant.

Strategic moves

It was the experts from Fule’s European Commissioner team who wrote the text of Ukraine’s EU association agreement. To Fule, getting the agreement signed was one of the most important challenges of his career, sources say, because without it the whole eastern partnership program would have been a failure.

If the document is not accepted, the entire program of the European Commission leaders will be considered a waste of money. Fule himself is hoping to pursue a career within the new structure. He is considered a contender for the post of EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, the job currently held by Catherine Ashton.

One of the participants in consultations about Ukraine has said that Brussels is anticipating that an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU will be signed in the coming days.

But the European Commission has apparently rejected any search for common ground between Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union, which was agreed at an EU-Russia summit in January.

EU officials emphasised that the transfer of sovereignty from former Soviet states “into a supra-national organ, controlled by Moscow, is unacceptable. We have spent too much time and energy strengthening their independence from Russia to recognise this union and this commission.”

crunched by Brendan Cole

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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