Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Islamism - the Moscow version?

Prague Watchdog has published the first part of an interview with "Caucasus Emirate" leader Movladi Udugov - an enigmatic figure whom some observers believe to be associated with Moscow and the Kremlin.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Seven Years on the Front Line

Via kasparov.ru, a remarkable and highly intelligent documentary film (with English subtitles) about the last few years in the life of Anna Politkovskaya. The director is Masha Novikova, and the film features many sequences in which Politkovskaya herself explains the nature of her work as a journalist who was really a soldier in the struggle for truth and civil society in Russia. Although it was the focus of her activity, Chechnya was only one of the elements in the central task she aspired to: the bringing of truth, reconciliation and justice to Russian society as a whole. As one participant in the film points out, it  was her willingness to name culprits that led to her death by assassination.

The film contains many harrowing scenes of violence and brutality, together with interviews with victims and their relatives, and documents some of the worst of the crimes committed by Russian federal forces and their commanders during the second Chechen war. What it underlines most of all, however, is the fact that in some ways Politkovskaya's aims have been fulfilled, at least in terms of international comprehension: for the evidence of the crimes that were sanctioned and authorized by Russia's leaders is now so detailed and so extensive that those leaders cannot present themselves to the civilized world and expect to be received as part of it. They are international pariahs. 

Friday, July 25, 2008

In Denial

In the wake of several crushing defeats at the polls, and a movement against Labour that's reminiscent of the turning of the electorate against the Conservatives in the years immediately before 1997, Britain's Prime Minister talks of "getting on with the job". His often-repeated promise to "listen and learn" sounds distinctly hollow, as his real purpose seems to be to ignore the growing chorus of voices urging him to call a general election.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Antidemocracy

Via RFE/RL (Robert Coalson):
Moscow has repeatedly defended its antidemocratic domestic policies by arguing Russia has its own "path to democracy," and that all nations must build democracies that are unique to their cultural heritages.

While some observers expected this sort of divisiveness to be toned down after Dmitry Medvedev -- who rarely misses a chance to point out that he is a lawyer by training -- became president, it has in fact been ramped up in recent weeks. Moscow has renewed its calls for phasing out The Hague war crimes tribunal, saying it is fatally "biased."

Perhaps most importantly, the quasi-official Russian Orthodox Church last month adopted its Basic Principles of the Russian Church on Human Dignity, Freedom, and Rights. The document, which was partially drafted by Kremlin insider and Eurasianist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin, called for a "reexamination" of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It says Western notions of human rights do not apply to Russia and should be replaced by Orthodox principles. It also asserts that civilizations "should not impose their lifestyle patterns on other civilizations." The document clearly prioritizes the rights of society over the rights of individuals.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A "Difficult" Situation

Radio Free Europe notes that after the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, Russia called for the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to cease its activities. An Academy of Sciences representative, Artyem Ulunyan, is interviewed on his view of the matter:
RFE/RL: What's the reasoning behind Russia calling for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to cease its activities?

Artyem Ulunyan: Russia doesn't want it to be possible for former high officials to be tried in foreign or international courts that are not under Russian control.

RFE/RL: But isn't the ICTY only concerned with crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia?

Ulunyan: What we seem to be talking about here is a precedent for the tribunal to be used by organizations not under its control. Russia most likely sees this as dangerous.

RFE/RL: What will Russia's position be regarding the trial of Radovan Karadzic?

Ulunyan: I think this will be multifaceted. On the official level, there won't be any actions or announcements. But at the semiofficial level, Russia's dissatisfaction will be made clear. Pro-Kremlin youth organizations will be mobilized. Sections of the public will be fed propaganda arguing that Karadzic himself was not right, but his ideas were.
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Disappearing Act

At Prague Watchdog, Memorial representative Usam Baysayev considers the question of the "vanished" grave.

Saint Stalin

Via the Telegraph:
The Communist party in St Petersburg has petitioned the Orthodox Church to canonise Josef Stalin if he wins a television poll to nominate the greatest Russian in history.

Stalin last week surrendered a narrow lead to Nicholas II in the contest, which is based on the BBC's Great Britons series.

But with a result not expected until the end of the year, the country's Communists are convinced that Stalin will still emerge the victor.

While the poll, conducted by the state run Rossiya channel, has been criticised for allowing multiple voting, there is little doubt that Stalin has undergone a remarkable renaissance in recent years.

Opinion polls regularly name him Russia's greatest post-revolution leader after Vladimir Putin, the prime minister.

Karadzic arrested

Radovan Karadzic has been arrested in Serbia.

Via BBC:
Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat who brokered the Dayton Peace Accord for Bosnia in 1995, told the BBC that "a major, major thug has been removed from the public scene".

"One of the worst men in the world, the Osama Bin Laden of Europe, has finally been captured," Mr Holbrooke told BBC World News America.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The End of the Post-Cold War Era

In the Washington Times, CSIS New European Democracies director Janusz Bugajski discusses Mr Medvedev's "big Europe". Excerpt:
In reality, it is not Atlanticism that is effectively over but the post-Cold War era as the West and Russia are embroiled in a new strategic confrontation. Russia is reasserting its global reach by opposing further expansion of the Euro-Atlantic zone and reversing the United States' global role. The Kremlin believes the U.S. has passed its zenith as a global power and Pax Americana is crumbling. This provides an invaluable opportunity for a resurgent Russia to extend its interests in nearby regions, particularly throughout the wider Europe.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Problem of Satire

This is not really satire, for it's likely to be interpreted literally. What it mostly does is raise more questions about a still-enigmatic presidential candidate.

EU Parliament's President will not attend Beijing opening

Via the International Campaign for Tibet:
In a new resolution on China and Tibet adopted on the 10 July, European Parliament remains concerned about human rights abuses in China and Tibet. Contrary to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, announced that he will not be attending the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing, due to the lack of progress in talks between Chinese authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama.

For the second time since the uprising of the Tibetan plateau on the 10 March, the European Parliament has adopted a resolution that 'deplores the fact that China's human rights record remains a matter for concern owing to widespread and systematic human rights abuses.'

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Russia supports Mugabe against people of Zimbabwe

Via Voice of America:
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said China and Russia stood with President Robert Mugabe and "against the people of Zimbabwe".

Friday, July 11, 2008

UK denounces Russia spy charge

Via CNN:
"It's wholly unacceptable to make such allegations against any named individuals and by definition we are not going to comment on the truth of them," said a UK Foreign Office spokeswoman, who declined to be named.

The spokeswoman declined to discuss the matter further but confirmed that [Christopher] Bowers heads UKTI, which works with British companies overseas and encourages international investment in Britain.

The Darkness

The Spectator has a disturbing lead article on what may lie behind the apparently respectable facade presented by those whose ostensible aim is to promote "British-Russian relations".

Srebrenica

Thirteen years on, Srebrenica relatives bury their dead.

Meanwhile, Russia says the Hague War Crimes Tribunal should be phased out.

Moscow "De-Recognizes" Georgia

Via EDM:
Routine references to Georgia’s territorial integrity have disappeared from official Russian policy statements since early this year. Those references used to be a fixture in Moscow’s statements, even if that integrity was always honored in the breach. Their disappearance is a further indication of Russia’s implicit “de-recognition” of Georgia’s territorial integrity at the level of official rhetoric, on top of the explicit non-recognition on the practical level.

Moscow now seeks to de-legitimize Georgia’s internationally recognized borders by attributing them to decisions by Soviet leaders. In continuation of this argument, the Duma’s International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev declared on July 10, “Georgia is a construction that emerged in the totalitarian Soviet Union, a construction whose authorship belongs to the then-dictator Iosif Stalin.” He went on to hint that Moscow was about to open some kind of representation offices in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Ekho Moskvy, July 10). Kosachev enjoys close relations with the Kremlin. His thesis should be chilling to Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, and other ex-Soviet ruled countries, inasmuch as Moscow can use the same argument in trying to de-legitimize their post-1991, internationally recognized borders. (Vladimir Socor)

Russia hostile to U.S. in Georgia mediation move

Via Reuters:
"We don't see any reason for anyone's mediation in settling relations," the agency quoted the unidentified diplomatic source as saying. "We have direct dialogue with Georgia and contacts are continuing," the source said.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Russia admits its air force entered Georgian airspace

Russia says its air force did enter Georgian airspace this week (RFE/RL).

Georgia has recalled its Moscow ambassador.

It's the first such admission by Moscow in at least a decade, as the Russians have always denied that their planes have flown into Georgian airspace in the past.

Iran's nuclear threat to Europe

General Henry A. Obering, who heads the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, says in an interview for Radio Free Europe that he expects Iranian missiles will soon have a range to target all of Europe:
“Iran is obviously investing a lot of money in developing and fielding more and more capable missiles of longer and longer range," Obering said. "It doesn’t make sense to me that they would be making those investments, unless they had a weapons-of-mass-destruction program to match up with that, because that would justify that investment. Without that, only flying a conventional warhead of even a thousand kilograms or whatever the payload size may be, would not make sense.”

Obering also questions why Iran, if it is only concerned about regional threats, is seeking missiles with ranges that would extend well beyond the region.

“When you reach 2,000 kilometers, that is well beyond a range that you would need for a regional conflict with Israel," he said. "Within even 1,300 kilometers, you could reach most of the U.S. bases in the region. So it doesn’t make any sense in a regional context for them to be developing longer and longer range weapons. So I think it adds to the urgency as to why it’s important that we signed the agreement with the Czech Republic ... and that we continue to make progress in the development of these capabilities.”

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Russia may block sanctions against Mugabe

Via BBC:
Russia has said it could veto proposed UN sanctions against Zimbabwe's president and his allies, despite agreeing a G8 statement backing them.

Russia has the power to veto any measures at the UN Security Council, which could take a vote this week.

U.S. criticizes Russia over "bellicose rhetoric"

Via BBC:
The United States has criticised what it calls "bellicose rhetoric" from Russia over US plans to develop a missile shield in Europe.

Russia said it would be forced to react with military means if the US went ahead with its plan for a shield based partly in the Czech Republic.

The reaction was "designed to make Europeans nervous about participating" said a Pentagon spokesman.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008

Georgian government condemns provocations

Via Civil Georgia:
The Georgian government has condemned recent series of explosions in breakaway Abkhazia, including the latest in the Gali district that killed four people.

“Those acts of violence are in the interests of those forces, which want to prolong presence of illegally deployed Russian military forces in Georgia; of those forces, which are resisting demilitarization and peace in the region and of those forces, which want to derail Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” the Georgian government’s statement released on July 7 reads.

“In order to prevent further escalation in the region, under the condition of withdrawal of the Russian military forces from the Ochamchire and Gali districts, the Georgian government reiterates its readiness to establish there joint [Georgian-Abkhaz] local police force under the international supervision, which will efficiently provide conditions for protection of fundamental rights of the Georgian citizens.”

MI5: Litvinenko murder had backing of Russian state

The BBC reports that a senior Whitehall source has told the BBC Newsnight programme that the murder of Alexander Litvinenko by radioactive poisoning in London was carried out with the backing of the Russian state.

The First Violins

At Russia Profile, Sergei Markedonov discusses the shortcomings of what he calls Russia's "outdated" Chechnya policy in the light of the increasing changes in the nature of the armed resistance to Russian rule there:
Terrorism as a political practice is being “reloaded” in North Caucasus. Now, the main terrorist opponent of the Russian state will be not a defender of “free Ichkeria,” but a participant of the “Caucasian Islamist terrorist international group.” In this sense, Russia’s North Caucasus is recreating the historical experience of the countries of the Islamic Orient. A similar stage of “change of generations” of terrorists and terrorism has already been passed by the states of the Middle East and Northern Africa. While, in the 1960s-1980s, the main subjects of the terrorist struggle were secular ethno-nationalists (Yasser Arafat and the PLO), who used religious values and slogans only as an instrument and for the sake of taking advantage of the religious infrastructure, in the early 1980s, the first violins started to be played by the supporters of “pure Islam” (“Muslim Brothers”, “Islamic Jihad”). Now, after a certain delay, the North Caucasus will go through a similar evolution process.

Of course, it was much longer ago that radical Islam started to be used by the Chechen separatist movement, which had originally started acting under the slogans of secular ethnic nationalism. By the way, the constitution of the first Ichkeria, written in 1991-1994, was copied from the Baltic examples. The leaning toward religion started after Khasavyurt. However, Aslan Maskhadov continued to count primarily on support from Europe and the US, for which (for Britain, in particular) Islamists were not “people that could be dealt with.” Today, the West as a whole is not esteemed by Umarov and his team (which makes anti-American and anti-European statements). The former separatists rest no hopes on the West. Now, they are looking to the East, for the support of their “brothers in faith.”

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Threat to the U.K. - 2

More from the Telegraph, quoting a source in MI5:
"MI5's resources have been stretched to the limit for the past few years. There have been times when there was nothing left in the locker, when all of our assets were being used on one operation.

"At the same time, we have to contend with the very real threat being posed by the Russians. Russia is a country which is under suspicion of committing murder on British streets and it must be assumed that having done it once they will do it again."

The source said MI5 was so stretched that some recent counter-terrorist operations against Muslim extremists had used up its entire surveillance resources, meaning other areas of security and intelligence work had inevitably suffered.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Threat to the U.K.

The Telegraph notes that Russia is now posing its biggest threat to the security of the United Kingdom since the end of the Cold War:
The revelations that Russia is distracting security services from more pressing threats comes at a sensitive time politically as Gordon Brown prepares to meet President Medvedev for the first time at the G8 summit in Japan.

High on the agenda will be the way Russia's domestic security arm, the FSB, has been raiding the offices of BP's joint venture in Moscow, TNK-BP.

Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, said last year that "since the end of the Cold War we have seen no decrease in the numbers of undeclared Russian intelligence officers in the UK - at the Russian Embassy and associated organisations conducting covert activity in this country.''

It is estimated there are at least 30 spies based at the Russian embassy in Kensington, west London, controlled by a spymaster known as ''the resident.''

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Cyber-attack

Via AP/CNN:
VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) -- Unidentified hackers broke into several hundred Lithuanian Web sites over the weekend, plastering them with communist symbols, government officials said Monday.

Lithuanian law prohibits the public display of the Soviet flag, military uniforms and the five-pointed Soviet star.

The hackers posted Soviet symbols -- the hammer and sickle, as well as the five-pointed star -- and scathing messages with profanities on Web sites based in the ex-Soviet nation, officials said.

"More than 300 private and official sites were attacked from so-called proxy servers located in territories east of Lithuania," said Sigitas Jurkevicius, a computer specialist at Lithuania's communications authority.