Putin's Ace In The Hole: A Divided West

The Russian President is again one step ahead of the U.S. and Europe, and many have begun to wonder if sanctions are even worth it. And then there is the question: where to after Ukraine?

Vladimir Putin facing journalists about Ukraine in March
Vladimir Putin facing journalists about Ukraine in March
Christoph B. Schiltz


BERLIN — Moscow’s troops have now crossed over the border and invaded Ukraine, with reports of direct fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces. And so, after this massive breach of international law, why does the West need another whole week to decide on further sanctions?

Very simple: The more aggressively Putin acts, the deeper go the cracks within the European Union on the subject of sanctions. Some member states are beginning to doubt that new, harder sanctions, for example in the energy sector, could ever move the Russian president to back off.

This faction, to which German Chancellor Angela Merkel belongs, wants to prevent — as much as possible — irritating Putin by piling on extra pressure. But at the same time, the Eastern Europeans are pushing ever more strongly for sharper sanctions against Russia that would possibly also affect arms deliveries. The perception of the eastern EU countries is that Putin only responds to pressure.

Putin’s aggressiveness and intransigence have taken Europeans by surprise; he’s pushed them into a corner. The EU is clueless, exasperated, trapped. The search for a compromise within the Union is actually getting harder as time passes. On the other hand, everybody knows that something must be done, if only to save face. Military force is not an option, talks don’t help, so only sanctions remain.

The next objective?

But what purpose do they serve? It is becoming ever clearer that Moscow is prepared to pay any price to bring eastern Ukraine into its sphere of influence. Sanctions are probably not going to change that. In addition, the more the West’s punitive measures affect ordinary Russians, the greater the potential for Putin to spin the myth that the Ukraine conflict is a decisive battle for the sake of the nation.

New sanctions of some sort against Russia are inevitable — they are a minimum in any compromise. But especially in southern European countries there is the worry that hard economic sanctions against Moscow could affect their own faltering economies, causing job loss and driving energy costs up.

Putin is betting on that. So far he’s always been one step ahead, and all signs point to his presence on the global stage for the foreseeable future.

The battle over eastern Ukraine has all the makings of a very long, drawn-out conflict. Examples abound in the region. Putin’s goal is over time to wear Ukraine out so that he can better push through his vision for “sovereignty” in the eastern regions.

The West, by all accounts, is ultimately powerless against this scenario in Ukraine. The more relevant question now may be whether Putin is also ready to run the risk of pursuing his ominous way into NATO countries, like Estonia and Latvia.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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