< SWITCH ME >
Vladimir Putin is celebrating a decisive victory in the 2012 Presidential elections in Russia. After four years as Prime Minister, he returns to the highest position of power in Moscow. What can Europe expect from the return of a man who has never minced words?
Putin received more than 60% of the overall votes, although international observers such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have made several charges of fraud. No matter how (un)fair and (un)free these recent elections may have been, Europe has to deal with the return of a well-known political veteran.
It seems that Putin has managed to appease his political counterparts in Europe. While there have been statements from German chancellor Angela Merkel and from the EU's high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, praising the rise of civic movements in Russia and highlighting the need for political reforms, European leaders are mostly relieved that Russian politics look as if they'll remain stable. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé frames it in a pragmatic way: "The election has not been exemplary. That is the least you can say. Putin has been re-elected by a large majority, so France and her European partners will pursue its partnership with Russia." German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed the hope that Germany would "continue and deepen the strategic partnership with Russia."
Whilst you read this, there will be British and French planes flying over and bombing Libya. Last night alone 112 Tomahawk missiles were fired into Tripoli and surrounding targets. The UN has endorsed "all necessary measures short of an occupation force" to prevent Gaddafi's forces attacking civilian and rebel groups and this was officially supported by the EU's foreign affairs representative. Germany's abstention in the UN security council therefore represents a division in Europe's response and raises serious questions about how each of the three main states understand the Libyan case and what underlying domestic interests they have brought to their respective decisions.
The tyranny of definition
There is a small but significant distinction between Germany's understanding of Libya at the moment and that of France and Britain. The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said in a telephone interview with a radio station on Thursday, "I do not want Germany to be part of a war in Libya, a permanent civil war in Libya." This civil war is a very different image to the one invoked by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who has described the conflict in terms of "the people" versus the regime and argued that the "people's will" resides in the rebels and by implication that there is no "legitimate" Gaddafi supporter, aside from regime "apparatchiks." This can be seen in Britain and France's highly symbolic and questionable recognition of the Libyan national council (the major opposition) as legitimate leaders in Libya.