Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Putin's legacy: a massacre

The Independent's Shaun Walker, from Beslan, North Ossetia:
As Mr Putin prepares to hand over power, Beslan is still suffocating in a pall of tears and anger. For Mr Nazarov, as for many in this town of 35,000 people, voting for Mr Medvedev on Sunday is unthinkable. "I would not vote for anyone who was recommended by Putin," he says. Hanging the picture of Mr Putin and his heir among the photographs of victims is his way of saying what he believes the political course of Mr Putin and his heir-apparent leads to.

Nur-Pashi Kulayev, the sole surviving hostage-taker, was jailed for life in 2006 but, for Mr Nazarov and other victims' relatives, many questions about the events of 2004 remain unanswered. How were the terrorists able to take School No 1 hostage without any resistance, who ordered the special forces to storm the building, and was the blaze which engulfed the gymnasium and killed so many started by rockets fired by the Russian troops?

Monday, February 25, 2008

NY Philharmonic Arrives in North Korea

CNN reports the arrival of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in North Korea:
The visit comes as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended Monday's inauguration of South Korea's new president, Lee Myung-bak. She said before leaving Washington that she had no plans to stop in Pyongyang during a trip that also takes her to China and Japan.

"I don't think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea," Rice, a classical pianist herself, said Friday, while also conceding the benefit of the event in giving North Koreans a window to the outside world.

The concert will feature Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 and "An American in Paris" by George Gershwin. Among the encores planned is the Korean folk song "Arirang," beloved in both the North and South.

The performance will begin with the orchestra playing the national anthems of both countries and the U.S. and North Korean flags will stand together on stage, said the Philharmonic's president and executive director, Zarin Mehta.

Ahead of their arrival, North Korea was even tearing down the anti-U.S. posters that line the streets of Pyongyang, Mehta said Sunday. He cited a diplomat based there who briefed the orchestra before its departure from Beijing, the last stop on a tour of the greater China region.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Full Hearts - 2

It looks as though Friday Night Lights, which because of the Writers' Strike came to a standstill with episode 15 of Season 2, may survive and flourish after all, with the possibility of a Season 3. San Diego media blogger Kristin Dos Santos writes that
Inside sources confirm to me that NBC Universal (the studio that makes FNL) is currently talking to various networks about the idea of sharing the show's third season among more than one channel in an effort to save the series from cancellation and broaden its audience.

Those channels in discussion include the CW, TNT, DirecTV and a place called Comcast Entertainment Group, which, hmmm, sounds familiar because, oh yeah, they sign my checks. Both E! and G4 fall under the Comcast umbrella.
This would be good news, as FNL is probably one of the most inventive American TV series to have aired in the past decade, and has the potential to become a hit worldwide. It certainly deserves to.

See also: Full Hearts

Friday, February 22, 2008

Watching Russia

Via AP:
...U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns called on Serbia's main ally Russia to repudiate a suggestion by one of its officials [Dmitry Rogozin] that it may need to use military force to earn respect after the U.S. and other countries recognized the independence of Kosovo, which is mainly ethnic Albanian, over strong Serb and Russian protests.

"We strongly advise Russia to be more responsible in its public comments toward Kosovo," Burns said, responding to questions in an online written discussion. "Russia is isolated this week — very few countries are supporting its position."

Serbs Attack US Embassy - 3

Via CNN:
Richard Holbrooke, a former negotiator in the Balkans under President Clinton, said: "The fact that (independence has) not happened as peacefully as people had hoped is the direct result of the incitement to violence by extremist elements in Belgrade, implicitly and privately supported by the Russians."

Serbs Attack US Embassy - 2

From RFE/RL:

As night fell, parts of the crowd broke away and marched to the U.S. Embassy. Black smoke and flames were soon billowing out a front window.

The same group also vandalized the neighboring Croatian Embassy, a McDonald’s restaurant, and several other stores. Elsewhere in the city, police beat back crowds who tried to attack the Turkish and British embassies.

Television images showed hundreds of people surging through the streets as anti-riot police arrived and fired tear gas canisters as crowd control.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns had telephoned Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic to convey the message that they had not adequately protected the U.S. Embassy.

------

On February 17 and 18, crowds threw stones at the U.S. and Turkish embassies in Belgrade and damaged the mission of Slovenia, which currently heads the rotating EU Presidency.

Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic, who heads the New Serbia party, said on February 20 that the action was "just Serbian youth expressing their protest" over the "dismembering of Serbia," adding that such incidents are part of "democracy."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Serbs Attack US Embassy

Via the BBC:
Several hundred protesters have attacked and broken into the US embassy in the Serbian capital Belgrade, setting fire to part of it.

The embassy was closed and unprotected at the time. Reports say the Croatian and UK embassies were also attacked.

Russophone Reactions

At Global Voices Online, Veronica Khokhlova has posted a translation of Russophone reactions to Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Politics of Precedent - 3

In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum reminds her readers that the wars of Yugoslavia actually began in Kosovo - in the late 1980s, when Milosevic deprived the province of its autonomy, installed a new police force, and by 1990 had more or less destroyed Kosovo's civic, cultural and political life. Then, by backing Serbian minorities across the former Yugoslavia, Milosevic inspired the creation of similiar campaigns of terror, intimidation and murder by local Serb militias:
...the result of this activity -- discrimination, ethnic cleansing, warfare -- was a complete disaster for Serbia. The Serbian economy went down the tubes; the Serb dominance of ex-Yugoslavia evaporated; Belgrade, the Serb capital, was bombed. Now Serbia looks set to be dismembered as well: Some European countries and the United States have recognized Kosovo's independence, something that wouldn't have happened two decades ago. Milosevic the super-nationalist -- the would-be leader of a revived, powerful, successful Serbia -- damaged no country nearly so much as he damaged Serbia itself.

Keep that lesson in mind over the next few months as others in Europe -- and possibly elsewhere -- attempt to use the Kosovo example as a precedent. After all, if the Albanians can be independent from Serbia, the Abkhazians and South Ossetians would like to be independent from Georgia, the Basques and the Catalonians don't see why they shouldn't be independent from Spain, and who knows what could happen in Cyprus.

In some of these cases, there are other, larger neighbors that might be interested in facilitating the split, just as Serbia was keen to encourage ethnic Serbs in Bosnia or Croatia. Most notably, and most notoriously, the Russians have made ominous noises and dropped dark hints about those Georgian separatist groups, and one can certainly see their logic. What a perfect way to take revenge on those difficult, NATO-loving Georgians: Encourage Georgia's ethnic minorities to launch civil war. Besides, the timing could hardly be better. In the waning days of the Bush administration, is Abkhazia anybody's central concern? During the most interesting U.S. presidential campaign in decades, is anyone going to spare a thought for South Ossetia?

Except that if Abkhazia and South Ossetia were to secede, and civil war in Georgia were to follow, the Russians would then have a failed state on their borders. And, as we know from Yugoslavia, the Middle East and Africa, ethnic and religious civil wars have a nasty way of spreading to their neighbors. Chaos in Georgia might be in the short-term interest of a small group of Putinites, desperate to raise the specter of warfare, annoy the West, and cling to power (much like Milosevic, once upon a time), but it is most definitely not in the long-term interest of Russia.

Russia's policy toward these would-be separatists over the next few weeks will therefore reveal a great deal about the mentality of Russia's ruling clan. If the denizens of the Kremlin have a shred of concern about their compatriots' future well-being, they'll shut up and try to calm everyone down. If not -- well, I hope they remember that the risks of the law of unintended consequences apply to them, too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Politics of Precedent - 2

Vladimir Socor takes a more skeptical view of Russia's reaction to Kosovar independence, and considers that Russia's bluff has been called on the issue:
Moscow’s threat to use Kosova’s secession as a “precedent” or “model” for resolving post-Soviet conflicts was never a credible threat, unless the Kremlin was bent on incurring severe damage and no gain to its policies on a wide range of interests: Relations with the West, with members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (far beyond those immediately affected by secessions) and with international organizations, as well as Russia’s own security situation in the North Caucasus would have been jeopardized.

Those concerned about Russian exploitation of a Kosova “precedent” overlooked the fact that Moscow remains more than content to exploit the existing, “frozen” situation in the unresolved conflicts. This it can continue doing effectively and at low cost to itself, as long as the West does not prioritize the resolution of the post-Soviet conflicts.

Indications are now multiplying that Moscow has blinked on its most specific threat: that to “recognize the independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia had singled out these two Georgian territories as prime candidates for “recognition.” This line of attack contradicted Moscow’s own claim that resolution of all secessionist conflicts in Europe and the world must follow a common “model” or “single standard.” Such selectivity about Abkhazia and South Ossetia reflected Moscow’s special enmity toward Georgia, the immediate territorial proximity (whereas Karabakh and Transnistria are not contiguous to Russia), and the Russian policy of allowing Armenia de facto a free hand in Karabakh, while Moscow claims de facto a free hand in the two Georgian territories.

Largely for those reasons, Moscow handed out Russian citizenship en masse in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so as to claim a right of intrusive protection there, including military presence. At the same time it left the issues of citizenship and security protection in Karabakh up to Armenia. And it has been negotiating with Moldova since 2006 regarding a settlement that would leave Transnistria within Moldova, in return for a certain measure of Russian political and military oversight over a Moldovan state “reunified” in that way.

These highly differentiated, expediency-based approaches nullified from the outset Russia’s argument about a “Kosovo precedent” with general applicability. Had it applied such a “precedent” unilaterally in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Kremlin would have been exposed as singularizing Georgia and targeting it for a wanton act of aggression. With Russian troops and Russian-appointed local leaders already deployed in those two enclaves, any Russian “recognition” would have been seen worldwide as open military occupation and annexation. Moscow did not need to risk such a scenario, since the existing situation suits Russian purposes well.

As Kosova’s declaration of independence and Western recognition drew near, Moscow must have concluded that its threats against Georgia were unusable threats. Consequently, Moscow seems to be seeking a face-saving exit from a political impasse into which it has driven itself. Suddenly the Kremlin is downplaying its all-too-recent, dire warnings.

The Exception

Commenting on the news of Fidel Castro's resignation, Carl Bildt points out:

I dag är Kuba det enda landet i den västra hemisfären som saknar en folkvald regering. I stället tyngs det av ett föråldrat och förstelnat kommunistiskt styre.

Today Cuba is the only country in the western hemisphere which lacks a popularly elected government. Instead it is weighed down by an obsolete and fossilized Communist regime.

The Politics of Precedent

RFE/RL's Brian Whitmore, on the wider repercussions of Kosovo's declaration of independence:
The Chechen situation places Moscow uncomfortably between two contradictory sentiments. While it has done little to dampen separatist sentiments in territories affecting its neighbors, it has staunchly rejected the Kosovo model for its own breakaway conflicts like that in Chechnya.

Indeed, analysts have pointed out, the Kremlin is entering perilous and unpredictable territory by raising the issue of a Kosovo precedent. For this reason, [Sabine]Freizer says she does not expect Moscow to press the issue very hard.

"Russia is taking a risk by saying that Kosovo is now a case that is going to set a precedent in other parts of the former Soviet space," Freizer says. "They risk having this go beyond Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester -- and perhaps even Nagorno-Karabakh -- to their own territory of the Russian Federation, to Chechnya or other parts of the North Caucasus."

Officials of other CIS states with breakaway conflicts are, not surprisingly, far from enthusiastic about the Kosovo declaration.

In Georgia, authorities have rejected any comparison between its breakaway enclaves and Kosovo, adding that they have no plans to recognize the former Serbian territory.

"Georgia is not planning to assume any position in relation to Kosovo, nor is it going to recognize it," Temur Iakobashvili, Georgia's state minister for reintegration, tells RFE/RL's Georgian Service.

"This process has evolved independently from us, and it's important that we stop looking for parallels between Kosovo and conflicts that exist in Georgia. Such parallels don't exist, and the sooner we forget the word 'Kosovo' the better it will be for us, as well as for the Abkhaz and the Russians," Iakobashvili adds. "Georgia is not going to recognize Kosovo -- this is not in our interests -- just like I think Russia is not going to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia."

Then there is Azerbaijan, which has spent a decade-and-a-half engaged in a protracted conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave located within Azerbaijani territory that functions as a de facto independent republic with its own provisional government.

Baku fears Yerevan may use the Kosovo precedent during talks on Karabakh to upset the ongoing peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. To that end, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Khazar Ibrahim said Baku will not recognize Kosovo, calling Pristina's move "against the principles of international law and illegal."

Monday, February 18, 2008

To the Caucasus via Kosovo

A Chechenpress op-ed article says that
The Russian authorities have openly stated that they will annex the occupied Georgian territories following the recognition of Kosovo’s independence. The Kremlin has not managed to restrain itself until the recognition of Kosovo’ s independence has been completed and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced his country’s plans after the meeting with his puppets nicknamed ‘the President of Abkhazia’ and ‘the President of South Ossetia’.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kosovo declares independence

CNN notes that
Russia -- Serbia's historic ally -- has remained opposed to Kosovo's independence. Russia, which has fought two wars against separatist rebels in its southwestern republic of Chechnya, has said that U.S. and European support for Kosovo's independence could lead to an "uncontrollable crisis" in the Balkans.

Friday, February 15, 2008

NATO Plans

United States Ambassador to Georgia John Tefft is interviewed by RFE/RL [excerpt]:
Another critical April engagement is the NATO summit in Bucharest. Georgia,like Ukraine, had been hoping to earn a boost in its admission bid with a Membership Action Plan -- a goal that may have been derailed by the November crisis.

Tefft says there has been "no change" in U.S. support for Georgia getting a plan.

"I don't know as we speak what will happen at the Bucharest summit in April. There are lots of discussions going on, many of them took place this weekend in Munich at the [February 9-10] security conference there. We'll just have to see," he says. "But getting back and firmly on the democratic path is really a critical part of Georgia's establishing that it is in fact a good candidate to be a member of NATO and to contribute to NATO."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

All over for Rowan - II

Anne Applebaum, writing in the Washington Post:
Many explanations for the archbishop's statements have already been proffered: the weakness of the Church of England, the paganism of the British, the feebleness of Williams's intellect, the decline of the West. At base, though, his beliefs are merely an elaborate, intellectualized version of a commonly held, and deeply offensive, Western prejudice: Alone among all of the world's many religious groups, Muslims living in Western countries cannot be expected to conform to Western law -- or perhaps do not deserve to be treated as legal equals of their non-Muslim neighbors.

Every time police shrug their shoulders when a Muslim woman complains that she has been forced to marry against her will, every time a Western doctor tries not to notice the female circumcisions being carried out in his hospital, they are acting in the spirit of the archbishop of Canterbury. So is the social worker who dismisses the plight of an illiterate, house-bound woman, removed from her village and sent across the world to marry a man she has never met, on the grounds that her religion prohibits interference. That's why -- if there is to be war between the British tabloids and the archbishop -- I'm on the side of the Sun.

Patarkatsishvili Dead

Russian media are reporting that Badri Patarkatsishvili has died suddenly in London, and that British police are investigating the incident - though most sources indicate the cause of death as a heart attack. The Georgian's death has been confirmed by Boris Berezovsky.

The BBC has a report here.

From the Guardian:
His death has prompted speculation about whether or not a force more sinister than nature played a part in his heart attack.

In December, Patarkatsishvili claimed he had obtained a 45-minute audiotape recording of an official in the Georgian interior ministry asking a Chechen warlord to murder him while he was in Britain or Israel, where he also had a home. Transcripts were published in the Sunday Times.

"I believe they want to kill me," he said. Patarkatsishvili hired Lord Goldsmith - who said he took the threat "very seriously" - to represent him.

A top Georgian analyst said it was highly unlikely Georgia's government would have murdered Patarkatsishvili, despite the fact he was an outspoken critic of the regime.

The government led by Mikhail Saakashvili did not have the capability to pull off an assassination in Britain, Zaza Gachechiladze, editor in chief of the Georgian Messenger, told the Guardian.

"I don't think he was killed by anybody in Georgia. Technically, we don't have that much possibilities. We don't have a very much sophisticated intelligence service," Gachechiladze said.
And the Telegraph notes that
While the investigation into the death of Mr Patarkatsishvili - a sworn enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin - remains at an early stage, even speculation that the Russia state could be involved will fan diplomatic flames.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Russian bomber buzzes US carrier

CNN reports on how a Russian bomber twice flew about 2,000 feet over the deck of the USS Nimitz in the Western Pacific at the weekend.
Four turboprop Tupolev-95 Bear bombers took off from Ukrainka air base, in Russia's Far East, in the middle of the night, Japanese officials told The Associated Press, adding that one of the jets violated Japanese airspace.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Medical Blackmail

Robert Amsterdam writes about the fate of the former Executive Vice President of Yukos, who is dying from HIV AIDS in a Russian jail cell:
Vasily Alexanyan (Aleksanyan, Alexanian) is dying. This is a fact. He is dying because he has refused the offers for medical treatment from the prosecutors in exchange for false testimony against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Yukos. I cannot overstate the importance of this tragedy, which explains more about the injustice, lack of rule of law, and ruthless persecution of these political prisoners than any argument I can put forth. What other government uses medical blackmail to create legal cover for their crimes?

Friday, February 08, 2008

All over for Rowan

Damian Thompson, in the Telegraph:
Anglicans in parts of Nigeria live under what is, in effect, totalitarian Sharia. It goes without saying Williams does not defend the stoning of adulterous women and other charming Islamic practices. But, in his interview with the BBC, his condemnation of "bad" Sharia is deeply buried in acres of Vichyite waffle about the need to see Sharia "case by case within an overall framework of the principles laid down in the Koran and the Hadith".

For the Archbishop of Canterbury to propose an extension of British Sharia in the same week that we learned of the extent to which the Sharia authorities cover up "honour crimes" reveals a degree of ineptitude that even George Carey never managed.

And, talking of George, watch this space. Lord Carey of Clifton is no fan of his successor, but a very big fan of African Anglicans persecuted by Sharia. I would be very surprised if he can resist intervening in this dispute.

Anyway, I reckon it's all over for Rowan.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Archbishop's Public Blunder

Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury has finally put his foot in it in a momentous way - with a truly outrageous statement. Via the BBC:
The Archbishop of Canterbury says the adoption of certain aspects of Sharia law in the UK "seems unavoidable".

Dr Rowan Williams told Radio 4's World at One that the UK has to "face up to the fact" that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.
Hat tip: Leopoldo

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Currency of Violence

In the Washington Post, Nora Boustany writes about the growing spread of Islamist ideology in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, profiling the Chechen researcher, journalist and sociologist Ousam Baysaev:
In his lecture, Baysaev showed a slide of a wall to illustrate the shift from secular to Islamic influence within the separatist movement. One slogan that had been sprayed on the wall graffiti-style read: "Freedom or Death." Beneath it was a more recent one declaring: "Chechnya is the Province of Allah."

"They perceive themselves as having no outlet," Baysaev said of the rebels, adding that they would probably "take the fight to a broader area" that would include Ingushetia, Dagestan and other nearby republics.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Bang, Not A Whimper

Jeff Nyquist, on how The Cold War Never Ended (excerpt):
By some counts, Russia has the best intelligence service in the world. A cheap trick of latter-day prognostication is to watch Russian moves with an eye to what they know. Prior to 9/11 the Russian parliament staged hearings in which testimony was presented about an imminent attack on America by “shadow forces.” The dollar was expected to crash. The Russian people were encouraged to trade their dollars for gold. To this end, gold was made legal tender in Russia. Anyone watching these hearings, knowing the prescience of Russian intelligence, would conclude that something “very nasty” was coming against America. And sure enough, 9/11 proved the point. Russian spies go everywhere. They look into everything.

It is worth noting that Russian economic moves have been telltale since 1998. At the time, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, Russia was cooperating with the West. But there were disturbing cracks in the friendly façade. A defector warned that Russia had a secret intelligence “alliance” with China. Even more disturbing, Russia was still working on a super-plague biological weapon, planning to build new missiles, cheating on other arms agreements. Russia was refurbishing underground nuclear bunkers and nuclear-proof cities. Why were these preparations taking place in the midst of peace, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin?

Long ago Russian strategists predicted the West would suffer a severe economic crisis. As far back as the 1950s Russian strategists talked of a “forty-year” strategy and more, with strategic preparations in the clandestine, criminal, economic and political spheres. Though Communist ideology is supposed to be dead, Western analysts shouldn’t underestimate the ongoing influence of Marxist ideas. Having seen the world through the lens of Marxism-Leninism, Russian and Chinese leaders didn’t become overnight disciples of John Locke or Adam Smith. The old battle line remains between rich nations and poor nations, between capitalism and socialism. As a self-conceived champion of the poor nations, the Marxist always anticipates a global capitalist meltdown that will bring about a new balance of power (in favor of a Marxist bloc of countries). This is part wishful thinking, part realistic thinking. History teaches that financial crashes periodically occur. If you are plotting to overthrow a global social system, it is logical to strike when that system has suffered an upset. In terms of playing to this expectation, the Chinese have concentrated on trade while the Russians have concentrated on monopolizing raw materials (oil, natural gas and minerals).
Hat tip: Marko

Enemy Street

Prague Watchdog's Umalt Chadayev, on Grozny's Moscow-backed city administration's plan to rename a Grozny street.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

King: Putin masterminded 1999 apartment bombings

From the Sunday Telegraph:
...Sir David King, who as the Government's Chief Scientist played a key role in the investigation into Litvinenko's murder, has accused the Russian president of masterminding the murder of nearly 300 of his own people in the Moscow apartment bombings in 1999, which Putin blamed on Chechen terrorists.

"I can tell you that Putin was responsible for the bombings," Sir David claimed to Mandrake at the Morgan Stanley Great Britons Awards. "I've seen the evidence. There is no way that Putin would have won the election if it wasn't for the bombings. Before them he was getting 10 per cent approval ratings. After, they shot up to 80 per cent."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Russia granted refugee status to Milosevices

Via the BBC:
Russia granted refugee status to the wife and son of the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, the country's immigration service has admitted.

The two were given the status in March 2005, Russian officials said.