Putin’s Next Ambition: Calling The Shots In A Post-Merkel Europe

There’s nothing the man in Kremlin wishes for more than Angela Merkel’s fall, which could give him plenty of leverage to play with and mould Europe.

Merkel and Putin in November
Merkel and Putin in November
Richard Herzinger

MOSCOW â€" Russian President Vladimir Putin has a vision for how Europe could collapse â€" quickly. If German Chancellor Angela Merkel should fall from power, the singular leader who has shaped Europe’s attitude towards Moscow would be out of the way.

In recent weeks, Putin has seen several prominent German politicians question Merkel"s maintenance of punitive measures against Russia for its infringement of international law.

Horst Seehofer, a conservative Merkel ally and president of the state of Bavaria, has even paid his respect to the court of the new tsar on a recent trip to Moscow. With the German Chancellor struggling in the face of the refugee crisis, Russian officials increasingly believe the post-Merkel-era is within their grasp, which they see as a chance to exert their influence over all of Europe.

Seehofer’s visit came just as the Kremlin had decided to step up its war of disinformation against the liberal democracy of Germany. Russian media has been spreading a false story of a Russian girl raped by a horde of refugees in Germany, presenting a warped view of a country turned into a diabolic place of laxity and lawlessness.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov topped this with brazen accusations that German authorities publicly apologize for the way ethnic Russians living in Germany are treated.

It’s pretty clear: The Kremlin no longer hesitates when it comes to expressing its expansionist ambitions for Western Europe â€" and Moscow is continuously testing how far it can go.

What is Putin's ultimate aim? Though military conquest of Europe is not an option, his growing public threats could be laying the groundwork for political hegemony. That would follow his dream of breaking up the tight bonds written into the European Union, leaving in its wake various countries that would look for Moscow’s approval on any important political moves.

Putin’s vision of a Europe dominated by Russia is based on a neo-imperial ideology that melds Russian visions of superiority from its tsarist epoch with the heritage of Soviet despotism.

This world view is well tailored to the leader-and-redeemer personality that is Putin. His sense of mission and a cynically pragmatic instinct of authority merged into one inseparable unit a long time ago.

Sugarcoating in Syria

Considering the dimension of this European challenge, it looks like nothing but wishful thinking when the West assumes that Russia's struggling economy will force Putin toward moderation and cooperation.

Indeed Putin has already begun preparing his society to take on the responsibility of the unique metaphysical role of the controlling "Russian world" in saving the Christian West from its liberal decomposition traced to the weak-willed "American universalism." Disrespect of international law in the name of this higher mission is at the core of the Russian regime.

Putin has spent years building himself as the savior and renovator of "Russian-ness," and his regime is likely to answer to any challenges with an even more aggressive anti-Western line of action, in order to drive his own population’s resentment towards an exterior enemy.

But even today, Putin’s geopolitical push is of course not limited to Europe. In Syria, he proudly demonstrates how easy it is to expose a demoralized West by accomplished facts on the ground.

As a matter of fact, the West â€" including Washington â€" sugarcoats the Russian intervention in Syria in favor of Bashar al-Assad’s regime by calling it a good step in the fight against international terrorism. Meanwhile, this fiction serves as a justification to put pressure on Ukraine to make more concessions to the Russian aggressor.

The U.S. is still hopeful it can come to an agreement with Moscow in Ukraine. But even if Putin should be ready to make tactical compromise due to the tremendous cost of his double operation in Syria and Ukraine, he will never cede on territorial claims in his own neighborhood.

Of course, even in the face of Putin's aggressiveness, agreements with the Kremlin are not out of the question. But as European unity dissipates, the West will find it increasingly difficult to impose clear boundaries on Putin’s hegemonic ambitions.

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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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