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Method to Putin's Madness

10:12 AM, May 26, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Jeffrey Gedmin, writing for the Huffington Post:

There's a surreal quality to the conversations you have traveling through Central and Eastern Europe these days. A young Czech journalist eagerly tells me over breakfast in Prague of conversations his grandmother had with him when he was a young boy. "Never trust Russian rulers," she said, "always have a valid passport, know to bury your jewellery in the forest, and if have you have family and potatoes you can get by." Prior to the Olympics in Sochi, a senior East European official told me three things keep him awake at night: the Russians, the Russians, and the Russians. From wiki leaks we know that some U.S. officials had thought some East European leaders paranoid. That was pre-Crimea.

If you live in Russia's neighbourhood, no wonder you're concerned. Russia invaded Georgia a half dozen years ago. Estonia was massively cyber attacked in 2007, with the pro-Putin youth group Nashi taking credit for an assault that plunged Estonia's parliament, media, and banks into disarray. Through black money and political and media pressure and manipulation, Bulgaria -- a member of NATO and the European Union -- has become in effect a wholly owned Kremlin subsidiary. Then there was the case earlier this month when Russia's deputy prime minister threatened to bomb another EU and NATO member, Romania. That was the taunt in any case of Dimitry Rogozin, one of the Russian officials sanctioned by the EU and U.S. after Moscow's annexation of Crimea. Angry over being barred from entering Romanian airspace -- Rogozin's plane was returning to Moscow from Moldova's breakaway Transdniestria region, an area widely believed to be next in line for Russian take over -- the deputy PM tweeted he'd be back, in a TU-160 strategic bomber.

Russian belligerence has been turning Central and Eastern Europe into an anxious and confused mess. In Bratislava, I attended a recent gathering of leaders and sundry pundits from the region. On the subject of Ukraine, the temporising was striking. It's starts with Crimea. Did the Russians perhaps not have a point in this instance about cultural and historical links?

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