I have always admired the expressiveness of the Russian language. Popular turns of phrase that have become enshrined in everyday language reveal quite colourfully Russians' attitudes towards themselves and ongoing events. In particular I am struck by the way Russians reflect on failure with easy humour, as captured in the phrase 'they hoped for better, but it turned out as usual'.
Not before time, it appears, the West is reining in its clients in Kiev and urging them to refrain from using the Ukrainian army to put down opposition in the east of the country. Good sense has prevailed at last in Western capitals and further bloodshed will hopefully be avoided in Donetsk and Lugansk.
It's my second time in Tallinn in just four months. The weather in the Estonian capital in summer seems nearly as cold and rainy as late February. Tourists are out in ample numbers this time, wrapped in raincoats and scarves for strolls through the medieval old town. There's a sense of normalcy on the streets and in the tour groups. In the political class, though, there's angst-ridden chattering. ..
I have always been fascinated by history because I believe that if we know the past then we better understand the present, prevent painful history to be repeated and eventually anticipate the future. For a diplomat, understanding and respecting the history and culture of the host country is a prerequisite for any correct professional judgement.
Afghanistan is entering a new phase after the Afghan people went to the polls with so much enthusiasm a few days ago. Whatever the result of the election, with NATO troops continuing their withdrawal, it is clear that the burden of responsibility for the country now rests with the Afghans themselves. However, it is vital that the international community do not lose interest, and that western governments in particular do not now consider their responsibility to the Afghan people to be over.
There has been a lot of rhetoric by politicians and commentators claiming that what we are seeing today is Cold War behavior and a resurgence of Soviet Russia. Not only is this view wrong, it completely misunderstands Vladimir Putin's intentions. What we see Russia doing in Crimea today is not Cold War Russia, it is Imperial Russia.
It's a case of making your bed and sleeping in it. Why is anyone really surprised that Russia is intervening in Ukraine? The dully predictable outburst of anti-Russian sentiment in the media would suggest plenty of people are. Yet it would take only ten minutes on Wikipedia to be aware of the historical complexity of this region.