The debilitating economic crisis in Venezuela has an unlikely benefactor who stands to profit from it. Poland is turning back time and slipping into autocratic rule, while China seems to be scrambling to stop neighbours from forming an anti-China coalition. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s Jerusalem decision has not raised hell as it had been expected to— but that doesn’t mean it won’t have nasty repercussions.
Counterrevolution in Poland
The Polish government is cracking down on private media, using “fake news” as a reason why. It is also changing institutions integral to upholding democracy in the country, encouraging speculation that the country is indeed going through a counterrevolution, editorializes the Washington Post.
“In the past few days, its right-wing nationalist government has struck major blows against judicial independence and independent media. It appears to believe that neither the European Union nor the United States has the means or will to hold it accountable — and it may be right.”
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has passed a law that will radically change the composition of the Supreme Court. On Monday, a government-controlled media authority leveled a massive fine on a huge independent Polish news broadcaster.
“Poland’s actions clearly violate the democratic norms of the European Union, and its ruling commission has begun a disciplinary process that could, in theory, lead to fines or the loss of voting rights. But both E.U. and Polish leaders know those actions are likely to be stymied; they must be taken by a consensus of the bloc’s 28 members, and Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, who is guilty of the same offenses, will object. Some European officials have talked about trimming E.U. budget funds for Poland. That might get the attention of Mr. Kaczynski, who has long been hostile toward the union but wants to keep its cash coming.”
Some Chinese Charm
Beijing is softening its diplomatic approaches to stave off the formation of an anti-China coalition, writes Douglas H. Paal in the South China Morning Post.
“Now, it appears Xi wants to start his charm offensive again. The strategic goal of preventing a coalition of anti-China neighbours remains unchanged. His motivation has probably been enhanced by Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia”, now largely judged to have been an unsuccessful challenge to China’s rise, and by Trump’s new “Indo-Pacific strategy”, which is clearly intended to compete with China, though it remains mostly unarticulated. The Trump administration’s national security strategy is expected to be unveiled in the coming days.”
The early evidence for this Chinese charm offensive is rather compelling, writes Paal. He goes back to the start of Xi’s diplomatic efforts in 2013, and traces the rise and fall of Chinese hubris. However, the present charm offensive could work or could fail.
“Being the self-referential behemoth that it is, China could fail again with the latest charm offensive. The issues that have infected China’s relations with its neighbours for decades will not disappear. It will behove observers to watch how China manages those issues and disputes, as well as how Washington, Tokyo, and perhaps New Delhi provide leadership and resources to counter or exploit Beijing’s blandishments,” he writes.
Peace in the wake of Trump’s Jerusalem move?
The relatively muted reaction to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital shouldn’t fool anybody, writes Aaron David Miller in Politico. “If ever there were a triumph of domestic politics and presidential ego over sound policy calculation, Trump’s Jerusalem decision was it,” he writes.
“Trump’s Jerusalem gambit isn’t a world-ender—it’s just ill-timed, ill-conceived, ill-considered and unmoored from any real strategy that would advance U.S. national interests, peace or security.”
“Yes, it’s perfectly clear: Trump has no strategy to achieve his “ultimate deal.” If he were to put on the table a credible plan, including an outcome that would support a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, things could change.”
Miller asks a poignant question: “The peace process was already dead. Did Trump’s statement bury it?”
How bad could the situation get now? “Rather than any explosion of anger, what we’re more likely to witness is the continuation of a long, grim and nasty grind. Their proximity guarantees that Palestinians and Israelis are inextricably bound up together; and even in a frozen conflict, they will continue both to confront and accommodate one another,” writes Miller.
“Like rock and roll, the peace process will never die, because nobody has any better ideas. Actual peace, of course, is another matter.
Right now, it seems that Trump’s Jerusalem move was a bone-headed move that has made a bad situation worse, and is very much in keeping with an administration that loves to come up with solutions to problems we don’t have.”
How Russia will benefit from Venezuela’s crisis
Russia is now the only hope for the economic crisis in Venezuela, write Francisco Toro and Moises Naim in the Moscow Times. The announcement by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that some of the main opposition parties could be barred from next year’s presidential election could leave the country even more isolated than it already is. The Maduro government’s list of friends, they write, include just two countries— Cuba and Russia.
“Today, Russia is Venezuela’s lender of last resort, the last and only place the government can turn in search of a financial lifeline.
In November, Presidents Nicolás Maduro and Vladimir Putin agreed to a refinancing package of $3.15 billion in bilateral loans to Venezuela, putting off almost all payments until after 2023.
This was not generosity but pragmatism. With the Venezuelan treasury increasingly bare, Putin realized that Venezuela simply could not repay its debts. While official statements brim with the language of generosity, flexibility and friendship, the reality is more threadbare — Venezuela has no other option.
What Moscow expects in return is clear: Preferential access to Venezuela’s enormous oil reserves. At 300 billion barrels, Venezuela is virtually floating on top of a lake of oil.”
Venezuela has more oil than Kuwait, Russia, Qatar, Mexico and the United States combined. Even if the country begins to produce oil at ten times the rate it currently is, it will have more oil for the next 40 years.
“From the Kremlin’s point of view, there’s no downside here. Keeping in power a regime militantly opposed to American hegemony in the Western Hemisphere advances a longstanding Russian strategic priority.
But, even better, rather than costing the Kremlin large sums, its support for the Venezuelan regime will likely make money, and substantial amounts too.
The reason is simple: Venezuela is desperate. Its fiscal management is chaotic, its people hungry, its government perennially crisis-struck,” write Toro and Naim.