Saturday, January 31, 2009

Signpost to Munich

At the BBC, William Horsley writes that some kind of turning-point or watershed in Russia's relations with the West appears to be approaching, and points to the upcoming 45th Munich Security Conference as the next arena where some new moves will be made.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A letter from Stalin

In the aftermath of the killing of the journalists Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova,  Gasan Guseinov has published at a Letter of Advice from Stalin to Russia's Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev. An excerpt in my tr.:

...One might have thought that a sensational political assassination would free your hands for a mass purge of the bureaucratic organs. But what do we hear from your representatives? That the responsibility for it all is borne by a certain Boris Abramovich Berezovsky, who resides in London. The question arises that if he is such an influential comrade, why is he working not for you but against you? And why are the comrades, who should have complied with your instructions for comrade Berezovsky long ago, not even able to catch his hirelings from your own, Comrade Putin, reserve of cadres?

Comrade Putin, today you do not have a dialectical answer to my questions. Nor do you have a metaphysical one. The other day Comrade Churchill invited Comrade Molotov and myself to visit him – simply for a smoke and a chat. An out-and-out imperialist, but he supports the interests of post-Soviet Russia, and even said that in the lands of bourgeois democracy the politicians, unable to cope with their work, are resigning, declaring general elections and waiting for the voters to decide.

You and I understand that the people now entrusted to you do not yet have the legal means to prevent them seeing any more of the mournful members of your cabinet on their screens. We like you, but we, I am afraid, are dead. And the populace expects from you, if not humanity – we have given up such expectations for three generations into the future – then at least the expression of a careful compassion – either for the victims of the murder which your employees are unable to solve, or for the heroic Chekists who deserve a sheriff’s star, so to speak, for precisely fulfilling the leadership’s cherished dream. There is no third way, comrades: if it is humanity you want, then learn to leave, as Churchill did, or if it is only power you want, then cut off the decomposing cadres, as we did the comrades by using the bared sword of the working class.

A few words about television. Do not forget, please, to tell the masters of the television camera that your joint press conferences with Comrade Timoshenko are not to be broadcast live any more. Semyon Mikhailovich [Budyonny] here says she is a good-looking woman whose words have logic and whose mind has skill. "But our Pan sportsman,” says Comrade Budyonny, “ just sweats and looks nervous all the time." The whole Politburo advises you, even urges you, to go to Tskhaltubo [a spa resort in west-central Georgia] for medical treatment. Demyan Bedny was recently sent there. He returned like a man alive. Transfer the discharge of your obligations for a while to Comrade Sechin, who is glowing with health and the subdued charm of the steppes, take the other political mountain skier – Comrade Medvedev – with you, and go to Tskhaltubo.

Hat tip: Jeremy Putley

Georgia: Moscow's detente trade-off

Commenting on Moscow's recent announcements concerning plans for military bases in Abkhazia, Pavel Felgenhauer has noted that these official statements appear to indicate a hardening of policy which may have consequences both for Georgia and for other countries that neighbour Russia:

It seems that Russia is building up a case and capabilities for a possible new armed conflict to finally overrun Georgia. At the same time, Moscow is seeking a tacit understanding from Washington to allow it a free hand in the Caucasus in exchange for detente on other contentious issues.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Russia planning air force base in Abkhazia


Deployment of unit of the Russian air forces on Bombora airdrome [in Gudauta] is being considered in consultations with the Abkhaz side, along with creation of a naval base in Ochamchire,” Interfax reported quoting the source.

According to this report, Russia wants to deploy up to 20 planes on the Abkhaz airfield, including Su-27 Flanker fighter jets; Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft and military cargo planes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moscow plans to annexe part of Georgia

At Window on Eurasia, Paul Goble writes about Moscow's plans to take formal control of the tunnel that runs from Russian territory into South Ossetia, thus effectively annexing a part of Georgian territory:

Because of Russian power and its control of the situation on the ground, Moscow almost certainly will not only get away with this action but will be spared criticism by countries which in their desire to move forward in their relations with the Russian government want to put the Georgia affair behind them.

But Tbilisi has international law on its side. In 1931, in response to the Japanese invasion of China and Tokyo’s establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria, the United States articulated the Stimson Doctrine, which holds that the world must not recognize territorial changes achieved by force alone but insist that any change be by negotiations.

That principle, which was the basis for the US-led non-recognition policy with respect to the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, is the legal foundation of the unwillingness of the entire international community -- except for the Russian Federation, Nicaragua and Hamas -- to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Via Haaretz:

In her speech to the assembly,[Professor Gabriela] Shalev [Israel's Ambassador to the UN] said the world has the "responsibility not to remain silent" to the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II.

"To remain silent and indifferent to the horrors of the Holocaust is probably the greatest sin of all, let alone denying it," she said. "We have a responsibility to act against the forces of anti-Semitism, bigotry and racism in any form."

Haaretz notes that UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann skipped the ceremony

after American Jewish leaders threatened to demonstratively exit Tuesday's if he used the podium to attack Israel.

D'Escoto, who has repeatedly made virulently anti-Israel statements, was to be the event's host by virtue of his official position and was scheduled give the opening speech.

Red-Green coalition in Iceland

It looks as though Iceland's troubles may be about to take a turn for the worse: in the aftermath of the resignation of the country's prime minister and government yesterday, a minority Red-Green coalition is in the process of being formed, and is likely to govern after the elections scheduled for May. The FT has some comment here.

Russian soldier defects to Georgia


The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) said on January 27, that a Russian soldier, serving in the South Ossetia-based military unit, had defected from the Russian army and sought shelter in Georgia because of “unbearable conditions” in his military unit.

The Georgian television stations aired footage, disseminated by the Georgian Interior Ministry, showing a young man in the Russian military uniform named as Alexandr Glukhov and identified as a Russian soldier who served in the unit deployed in Akhalgori.

“There are bad conditions, no bath; lack of food,” he says in footage. “I request the President of Georgia to let me stay in Tbilisi.”

The Georgian Interior Ministry said in a statement that efforts were underway to arrange his stay in Georgia.

Russia to build naval base in Abkhazia

Abkhazia's Sergei Bagapsh has confirmed that Russia is to begin work this year on the construction of a naval base at Obamchire, on the Black Sea.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gaza and Basra

In the Spectator, a British soldier who served with the army's Intelligence Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan gives his perspective on Israel's Gaza operation. In the problems faced by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead he sees direct parallels with the difficulties that were encountered by British forces in Iraq, including the public relations dimension opened up urban warfare and the methods needed to combat an enemy such as Hamas, which "is willing to dress in civilian clothing, attack from legally protected sites and use civilians as human shields". He also addresses the issue of so-called "disproportionate" firepower:

A fact often unappreciated by those with no military experience is that the selective use of overwhelming force, aimed at key targets, actually shortens conflict and saves lives. In Basra in 2003 the USA and the UK chose to use extreme force against locations that had been fortified by the Ba’ath Party, in order to spare our troops and the people of Basra the horror of a drawn-out street battle. It appears that the IDF made the same choice in Gaza.

Via Z-Word Blog

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Understanding the Russian-Georgian War

The Hudson Institute has published an analysis (pdf) by Andrei Illarionov of the Russian-Georgian War of 2008. Among points raised in the document:

- Russia began to get ready for the war at the latest in the middle of 2001, when the preparations for mass distribution of the Russian passports for South Ossetians and Abkhaz started. But preparatory moves may even have been underway as early as 2000.

- The purpose of the war was political and economic regime change, and the division of Georgia into 7-9 smaller states, "that would eventually come under pressure and protection from the mighty neighbor. It would be the recreation to some extent of the situation in which Georgian kingdoms and principalities spent most of the 17th and 18th centuries."

- The correct name of the war is "The Russian-Georgian War", and not "The August War" or "The 5-Day War". The conflict lasted much longer than Russian media and government sources claimed.

(via Marko Mikhkelson,who also cites an Estonian study of the war published by the International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn)

Why the BBC is right this time

In the Observer, a graphic demonstration - if any further proof were needed - that the internal anti-Israel bias among BBC staff and correspondents is so strong that the corporation's decision to reject the broadcasting of a one-sided "charity appeal" is the only one possible if the BBC's charter is to be saved from ridicule and contempt. A former BBC Middle East correspondent expresses his antipathy to Israel in terms that are truly disturbing:

The big question that remains is this: what are the suits scared of? Why do BBC managers try to second-guess our government and even outreach it in grovelling to the United States and Israel?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Markelov/Baburova murders: theories

The Other Russia has published an article by Olga Malysh which examines the various theories concerning the theories that surround the murders of Stanisalv Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. Essentially, Malysh sees the killings as a further stage in the eclipse of civil society in Russia, and as a terrible warning. Excerpt:

Guessing at why Stanislav Markelov was killed is pointless and fruitless.  He was involved in a multitude of high-profile cases.  He could have had enemies from practically every one of them.  Stanislav was a lawyer for the Kungayeva family, which means he was connected with the scandalous case of [Yury] Budanov.  In his time, Markelov represented the interests of the Chechen family in the case of Sergei Lapin (radio call sign “Cadet”), who was accused of torturing Grozny resident Zelimkhan Murdalov.  He was the attorney for Anna Politkovskaya, the victims in Blagoveshchensk (Rus), and “Nord-Ost”.  He fought for the right of amnesty for a Chechen resident, Musikhanov, who refused to serve under [Chechen President Ramzan] Kadyrov.  One can’t list everything.

Recently, Markelov had spoken as a lawyer for Mikhail Beketov, the editor-in-chief of the Khimkinskaya Pravda newspaper who was all but killed in the fall of last year.  Incidentally, they were friends.  The deceased lawyer wasn’t afraid of directly implicating the Khimki city administration in the attack on the journalist.  They say Stanislav was even conducting his own investigation.

Another critical detail – Markelov defended many activists in the Antifa [anti-fascist] movement.   Specifically, he took part in the murder cases of 19-year-old Alexander Ryukhin, teenager and skateboard enthusiast Stas Korepanov, and ecologist and anti-fascist Ilya Borodaenko by right wing [nationalist] radicals.  He was the attorney for the family of anti-fascist Alexei Krylov, and represented Alexei Olesinov, the Moscow leader of Antifa accused of hooliganism, in court.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More responses to murders of Markelov and Baburova

Excerpt from Caucasian Knot:
A rally is now on in the Peoples' Friendship Square in the capital of Chechnya in connection with the murder in Moscow of well-known advocate Stanislav Markelov.

Many people in Chechnya are shocked by Markelov's murder.Representatives of political parties, public and human rights organizations,youth movements and higher school students have held a broad-scale protest action in Grozny.

The action was also attended by several dozens of women who held photos of their killed and missing friends and relatives in their hands.

One of participants of meeting, a woman named Zara, 48, who had lost her daughter and niece in the course of a "counterterrorist operation", related the advocate's murder with Budanov's release.

Usam Baisaev, another participant of the rally and employee of the Human Rights Centre "Memorial", was of a similar opinion, having stated that Budanov had not killed Markelov himself, "but it was done for him and for his sake."

This opinion was also supported by Aslambek Apaev, another human rights activist and expert of the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) for Northern Caucasus,who also took part in the action. "I've already said and now repeat: Stanislav's murder is directly linked with Budanov. Yuri Budanov was released not in order to be put back to prison, while Stanislav's execution is a warning to everybody who will further dare investigating the crimes accomplished by militaries in Chechnya and trying punish them," said Mr Apaev.
See also: Chechen responses to murders of Markelov and Baburova

Terror continues to increase in Russian Federation

At Maidan, Halya Coynash writes about the mounting terror in the Russian Federation. Excerpt:

Those who ordered and who carried out the murder of Anna Politkovskaya remain at large, as do those guilty of many similar crimes against Russian journalists, human rights defenders and civic activists. There have been calls for a thorough investigation into the killing of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. This is quite correct and to be wholeheartedly endorsed.

Only nobody expects them to find the killers. A young Chechen refugee, Umar Israilov, was gunned down a week ago in Vienna. There were equally correct calls for the Austrian authorities to investigate given the allegations the young man had made against the current Kremlin-supported President of the Chechen Republic. However, if their investigations hit another dead end as did the British investigation into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, what then?

How many more people need to die in Russia before others are fully terrified into meek submission? How many more killings will the world tolerate on other countries’ territory?

20 January marked a very special day for the USA and the world. It was a day many of us who grew up knowing Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech never imagined we would live to see.

It is almost 20 years since the events which culminated in the freeing of Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet empire. The latter also seemed impossible to dream of in our lifetime. The world hailed the victory of democratic values in the new republics. Everybody knows that momentous change comes hard and we all knew that stumbling steps, not strides, were to be expected.

However what is happening in Russia, still ruled to a large extent by Vladimir Putin who openly called the breakdown of the USSR the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century, is about the systematic destruction of the fragile buds of democracy, and in many aspects a return to methods not seen for decades. We are seeing the State using aggression, terror and repression against its own people and against any whom it regards as its enemies.

A Soviet syndrome, not an imperial one

In the recent pages of the Ukrainian news and current affairs analysis service UNIAN there's an interesting interview with the Russian philosopher Igor Chubais in which he discusses the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as a clash of two incompatible systems: Ukraine's, which is based on a painful but liberating movement towards Western Europe, and Russia's, which is essentially a revisiting of the totalitarian past. While the political and social change in Ukraine is accompanied by special problems that have not been encountered by its citizens before, the crisis in Russia is leading to a revival and reinforcement of "old" psychology. This was evidenced in the recent poll of "great Russian names", in which that of Stalin proved to be near the top of the list. "Perhaps," the interviewer suggests, "the Russians are guilty of being unable to abandon the idea of their 'elite status' and Messianism, and it's easier to revive the idea of rebuilding the empire on such sentiments." Chubais disagrees:

One can't put the blame on Russian culture, Russian history and the Russian mentality. Because we're not actually in Russia any more. It's called the Russian Federation now. After 1917, a break occurred ... It was Rozanov who said in 1918 that an Iron Curtain [my link] had descended on Russian history. We were torn up from our own roots. And everything that happens in our country is Soviet and post-Soviet history: for us it's still 1917.

We made no attempt to break free from the shackles of totalitarianism until 1991 - but we failed, and since 2000 the Soviet symbols and Soviet values are once again being inculcated in us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama on America in the world

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations.

From President Barack H. Obama's inaugural address, January 20 2009

Watching the inauguration

watching the inauguration

Jussi is watching the inauguration, too.

Chechen responses to murders of Markelov and Baburova

Chechnya's human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, who is officially appointed by President Ramzan Kadyrov, has said in a public statement that he suspects Yuri Budanov, the Russian army colonel who was found guilty of murdering a young Chechen woman, Elza Kungayeva, but recently released on parole, of complicity in the murders of the lawyer Stanislav Markelov and the journalist Anastasia Baburova in central Moscow yesterday, UNIAN reports. Kadyrov's press spokesman Lyoma Gudayev has also issued a statement carried by RIA Novosti in which he says that Markelov's murder will lead to a worsening of tension in inter-ethnic relations in the republic.

However, Michael Schwirtz, writing in the IHT, reports that

Lela Khamzayeva, another lawyer for Kungayeva's family, was adamant... that the killing of Markelov could not be linked to his connection with Budanov, because his role during the actual proceedings against the former colonel was, as she put it, "insignificant."

"If someone is trying to link this murder with Markelov's participation in the Budanov case, well, that's just ridiculous," she said

The article points out that the list of potential suspects is very long, and may include extremist groups that seek revenge for Markelov's role in pursuing cases that were not specifically Chechnya-related, such as those that concerned the racist killings and attacks that have been carried out in Russia by neo-fascist and xenophobic thugs with increasing frequency in recent years.

Monday, January 19, 2009

von Sydow: "Sweden must arm against Russia"

From BarentsObserver:

“I believe it is time for the Swedish Armed Forces to adjust to a situation with higher level of threats”, former Swedish Minister of Defence Björn von Sydow writes in a newspaper comment. He believes Russia constitutes a growing threat to all of its neighbouring countries.

In his comment in newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the former defence minister gives a remarkably clear picture of his perception of today’s Russia.

“It is around today’s and tomorrow’s Russia that the question about a threat picture must be discussed”, Mr. von Sydow writes. The distinguished former politician in the comment gives a strong signal to current legislators that it is time for the Swedish Armed Forces for step up investments in domestic defence.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Readings of the gas dispute

A number of observers have now pointed out that Russia's main aim in its gas conflict with Ukraine appears to be the division of Ukraine, and ultimately the destruction of its national sovereignty. Jamestown's Roman Kupchinsky, for example, says that

If Gazprom is successful in stopping the flow of gas to southeastern Ukraine by insisting that gas to Europe go via Sudzha, the Kremlin’s strategy of provoking mass disturbances in these regions in order to precipitate a “popular” anti-Tymoshenko-Yushchenko uprising would intensify calls in these critical regions to join the Russian Federation. With the Ukrainian Party of Regions seemingly more loyal to Moscow than to Kyiv, Putin and Medvedev apparently feel confident that such a strategy would transform Ukraine into a second, pro-Russian, Belarus-like puppet state in the CIS and give Russia control over the Ukrainian gas pipeline to Europe. The consequences of this for the EU would be disastrous. For Gazprom, however, it would be a major coup, allowing it to abandon the costly South Stream pipeline project and, at long last, to destroy the Nabucco pipeline scheme.

Other commentators agree with this assessment, but some offer a less pessimistic analysis of the current situation. On Thursday, Marcin Wojciechowski wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza that

The gas conflict is uniting the divided Ukrainian elite. The Russians reckoned that it would be enough to cut off the gas to pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, and Moscow's supporters would descend upon Kiev in fury. There is none of that. Even Ukraine's pro-Russian politicians balk at the thought of a disintegration of the country inspired by Moscow. Ukraine has prepared itself for the gas cut-off much better than one might have expected, and will not submit to brutal pressure.

[my tr.]

In a recent discussion of Russia's use of gas as a political weapon, Norway's Aftenposten quotes Jakub M. Godzimirski at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs as saying that Russia may be prepared to take financial losses in order to gain political capital.

Update (Jan. 18): a deal has now reportedly been struck.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Turning a blind eye to Hamas

In the Irish Times, David Adams asks why the West turned a blind eye until Israel hit back. Excerpt:

After not having informed the public of thousands of Hamas terrorist attacks over the previous years, television news simply continued in the same vein, content from December 27th to present the Israeli offensive as though it had come entirely out of the blue.

It was only towards the end of the first week that the rocket attacks finally did begin to get a mention, but only in the context of a comparative headcount of the dead and injured on either side to stress how “disproportionate” was the Israeli response.

By then it hardly mattered: the damage was done, the Israelis had already been painted as the bloodthirsty villains of the piece.

Via Z-Word

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The News of the Past

The process of de-Nazification that was begun and continued in Germany after World War II may have stalled a bit, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the arrival of generations of Germans who never experienced the de-Nazification programme, as they were confined to East Germany under a repressive regime which forbade discussion of the Nazi era. Now. the Times reports, a British publisher is releasing facsimiles of Nazi-era newspapers - these may even eventually include the rabidly anti-Semitic Der Stürmer -  so that contemporary Germans can become acquainted with this dark era from their country's past. With the current rise of anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe as a whole, the project looks as though it may be distinctly double-edged - but it also marks a watershed:

The appeal of the facsimiles in the first instance is to Germans fascinated by the breach of a taboo that has been intact for more than 60 years. In Germany books are removed from the shelves if they bear a swastika, and the Hitler salute is forbidden. Mr McGee has been given special dispensation to reproduce the Nazi propaganda with all its insignia for its historical value.

Landmark Year

Today is the 200th anniversary of the separation of Sweden and Finland - for 600 years before 1809 they had been part of the same kingdom.

In Dagens Nyheter, Maria Wetterstrand writes about the "class contempt" that is felt for migrant Finns by many Swedes - the disrespect that is shown in Sweden to the Finnish language, the ignorance of Finnish history and of Finland's Swedish-speaking minority which led one Finland-Swedish migrant to Sweden to experience the Kafkaesque situation of being sent on a Swedish-language course for foreigners, even though it was the only language he knew. Wetterstrand believes that Sweden should make a formal apology to Finland for the suffering Finland endured at its hands - rather like the one made to Ireland by Tony Blair in 1999. But no such apology will be forthcoming - instead, the day is being marked by official speeches in Stockholm and a general stifling of awkward resonances from the past.

Russia's political gas tariffs

An extensive but still only partial English translation of Yushchenko's press conference remarks is available here. Andrei Illarionov has published lists of gas and transit prices, based on Yushchenko's data, here. The lists clearly demonstrate that Russia's pricing system is based on political, not market, considerations. For example, this year Belarus will pay $160 per cubic metre, and Armenia will pay only $154. From Ukraine - geographically much closer than Armenia - Gazprom is asking $450 for the first quarter of 2009. Where transit fees are concerned, the situation is equally unbalanced: while the European going rate fluctuates between $4 and $13 per 1,000 cubic metres / 100 kilometres, Russia is offering Ukraine an average payment of $1.7.

(via Marko Mihkelson)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yushchenko: Russia trying to grab Ukraine's gas transit network

Speaking in Poland, Ukraine's President Yushchenko has said that Russia is exploiting the present gas dispute in order to seize control of Ukraine's has transit network, AP reports.

Chechen exile shot dead in Vienna

In another sign that Russia's special services are prepared to assassinate on foreign soil those whom they perceive to be enemies of the Russian state, Umar Israilov, a Chechen dissident and ex-bodyguard of President Ramzan Kadyrov who exposed Kadyrov's systematic use of torture and abductions, has been shot dead in the street of a Viennese suburb by two attackers. In the IHT, C.J. Chivers writes:

Israilov had been granted asylum by Austria, but his life there had been filled with worries about his safety. In the interview last fall, he said he limited his movements and contacts with strangers after an emissary from Kadyrov visited Austria and tried to dupe him into returning home.

"Ramzan is a very powerful man," Israilov said, "and he can have anyone killed."

Retaking the Philadelphi route

In Haaretz, the paper's military correspondent Amos Harel and and Arab affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff discuss the current state of Israel's Gaza operation, drawing attention to two particular features: one, the possibility that Hamas may be playing for time in the expectation that President Obama may offer a more conciliatory approach, and two, the real threat to Israel's security posed by the smuggling of arms along the so-called "Philadelphi route" - Israel's 7-mile-long southern border. Excerpt:

Israel's concern that the smuggling of arms will continue along the route running parallel to Sinai centers on the possibility that in the future, missiles capable of striking Tel Aviv will be brought in by Hamas.

If the gap in southern Gaza is not blocked, Iran will be able to, indirectly, threaten central Israel in months, if not weeks.

Only at this stage is the sophistication and extent of the smuggling mechanism in place being understood in Israel, and the role played in that smuggling by officers in Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Since the success of the naval commandos in intercepting the Karin A, a ship carrying weapons to the Palestinians in January 2002, the Iranians have changed their methods. Instead of smuggling large quantities, the arms are brought in small amounts through an intricate network of mediators.

But these small shipments included Katyusha rockets, and there is a possibility that Fajr missiles will follow - reaching targets 70 kilometers from Gaza.


A Czech sculptor with a sense of humour. David Cerny's vision of Europe has raised some hackles in Brussels and elsewhere. From

Austria, well-known for its strict anti-nuclear stance, is presented as a country full of nuclear power plant towers, Germany is shown as a paradise for highway fans, the Netherlands is flooded by the sea of which only tops of minarets stick out, the British author cut out the UK from the European map to hint at the Britons´ dubious relations to the EU, the map of France is covered with the inscription "Strike!," and Sweden looks like an IKEA box with the Gripen fighters.

"It is great, I think that it represents (particular countries) very well," Silvio, an Italian employee of the EU Council, commented on the artifact.

"You have a sense of humour," said a Bulgarian employee of a European institution with a smile, while looking at the map of Bulgaria with a big Turkish toilet.

The BBC's Mark Mardell has more here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Loving Stalin

At OpenDemocracy, Arseny Roginsky writes about The Embrace of Stalinism in contemporary Russia. Excerpt:

In the new history textbooks, Stalinism is presented as an institutional phenomenon, even an achievement. But the terror is portrayed as a historically determined and unavoidable tool for solving state tasks. This concept does not rule out sympathy for the victims of history. But it makes it absolutely impossible to consider the criminal nature of the terror, and the perpetrator of this crime.

The intention is not to idealise Stalin. This is the natural side-effect of resolving a completely different task - that of confirming the idea of the indubitable correctness of state power. The government is higher than any moral or legal assessments. It is above the law, as it is guided by state interests that are higher than the interests of the person and society, higher than morality and law. The state is always right - at least as long as it can deal with its enemies. This idea runs through the new textbooks from beginning to end, and not only where repressions are discussed.

A conflict mismanaged

Pavel K. Baev, on Vladimir Putin's mishandling of the latest gas conflict. Excerpt:

Putin never admits mistakes and will certainly insist that the tough line taken against Ukraine’s cheating and bluffing has given Russia a “victory.” Public opinion, however, would hardly be much impressed with this seasonal brawl, particularly as the end of the long holidays marks the start of layoffs and bankruptcies (Ezhednevny zhurnal, January 11). Nor would Europe relax about its energy supplies, as Gazprom has further built on its reputation as an irresponsible bully whose favorite business methods are arm-twisting and hostage-taking. Waging a “gas war” against the background of a deepening crisis, Russia has pushed itself further into international isolation and has fooled itself, maybe for the last time, that it can make the neighbors respect it. Putin has delivered unsteady and blundering leadership, Medvedev was demonstratively irrelevant in conducting this war, and the notion of “stability-of-prosperity” that remains the core value of their regime has evaporated.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Four ethnic Russians cleared by Estonian court

Four ethnic Russians have been acquitted of plotting the riots which shook Tallinn in April 2007 after the Estonian government authorised the moving of a World War II memorial and statue from the centre of the capital to a war cemetery. The case has caused much public controversy, and the Estonian prosecutor will appeal the decision to a district court.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hating Hamas

At the Gloria Center website, Barry Rubin writes that If you love the Palestinians, you should hate Hamas. Excerpt:

if you want to march for a ceasefire, campaign for a Palestinian state, and criticize Israel, just remember this: don't struggle to support those who will do more harm to the people you purport to care for--even if you blame Israel for it, the cause will be Hamas's policies--than anything else.

If you want to help in real terms, let's work together for a peaceful diplomatic resolution, a two-state solution, in which Palestinians have their own country, receive massive international aid, children can live in security, and there is real peace. For that goal, you will find the overwhelming majority of Israelis will agree with you. But remember, too, Hamas doesn't.

Peaceful pro-Israel rallies across Europe

Rallies have been held in European cities including Berlin, Antwerp, Paris, London and Manchester in support of Israel, and to counter yesterday's street protests, which were frequently anti-Semitic in nature and characterized by violence.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Anti-Semitism and the Gaza crisis - 2

Harry's Place has a report, with a selection of images and photographs, from today's anti-Israel demonstration in London, which has ended in violence.

See also: Anti-Semitism and the Gaza crisis

Double standards in the Gaza conflict

In his blog, Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt takes a critical view of Israel's Gaza operation, and writes (excerpt):

A swift Israeli decision to accept the UN resolution, suspend its military operations and open Gaza's borders would lead to enormous pressure on Hamas - in all likelihood, not least from Gaza's population - to stop its terrorist shelling of Israel. And for rapid international action to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.

And was that not Israel's goal?

Statesmanship does not mean starting wars. History shows that this is often too easy. True statesmanship is the ability to  recognize when it is time to end them.

And that is what is now required.

That we in this respect make higher demands on Israel lies in the nature of things.

[Ett snabbt israeliskt beslut att acceptera FN:s resolution, avbryta de militära operationerna och öppna Gazas gränser skulle leda till ett enormt tryck på Hamas - med all sannolikhet inte minst från Gazas befolkning - att sluta med sin terrorbeskjutning av Israel. Och till snabba internationella insatser för att förhindra smuggling av vapen till Gaza.

Och var det inte det som var Israels mål?

Statsmannaskap är inte att starta krig. Historien visar att det ofta är alldeles för enkelt. Sant statsmannaskap är att inse när det är dags att avsluta dem.

Och det är det som nu krävs.

Att vi i det avseendet ställer högre krav på Israel ligger i sakens natur.]

A reader takes exception to the last paragraph, and responds (excerpt):

In this post you make yourself guilty of the same failure of thinking that has led so many others to go completely wrong on the Middle East question - i.e. in the name of  some kind of morally "higher" logic to make greater demands on Israel to comply with the laws of humanity, as opposed to Hamas (since Hamas, as everyone knows but few will admit, is a terrorist organization). But please consider this approach a little more closely, particularly as it may have consequences in the longer term.

Is it really true that, as a basis for relations between human beings, we should content ourselves with lower requirements for those who have explicitly stated that they do not subscribe to the rights and obligations expressed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, including Israel's right to exist?

Is it really true that higher demands should be made on those states which have explicitly committed themselves to thse who stay outside?

From what unfathomable wisdom do you derive the notion that the bad guys should be able to do what they want without accountability, while those who try to follow the rules should have a higher responsibility?

If you will reflect for a moment on what such a principle leads to by extension, you will soon realize the following: responsibility is something that many consider they exercise as a kind of lip service. Responsibility is easier to demand from others than to bear oneself.

[Du gör dig i detta inlägg skyldig till den tankekollaps som fått så många andra att hamna helt fel i MÖ-frågan, nämligen den att man av någon slags moraliskt ”högstående” logik ställer högre krav på Israel att följa mänsklighetens lagar, till skillnad från Hamas (eftersom Hamas, som ju alla vet utan att mer än få vill kännas vid det, är en terrororganisation). Men var snäll och fundera lite mer över detta synsätt och särskilt vad det får för konsekvenser i det längre perspektivet.

Är det verkligen så, att vi som en principiell utgångspunkt i samvaron människor emellan ska nöja oss med att ställa lägre krav på dem som uttryckligen uttalat att de inte ställer upp på de rättigheter och skyldigheter som kommit till uttryck i FN-stadgan om de mänskliga rättigheterna, bl.a. innefattande Israels innevånares rätt att ö.h.t. existera?

Är det verkligen så, att det på de stater som uttryckligen förbundit sig att följa denna stadga ska ställas högre krav än på dem som ställer sig utanför?

Från vilken outgrundlig visdom framkallar du tankegången att skurkar ska kunna göra som de vill utan ansvar, medan de som försöker följa reglerna ska ha ett högre ansvar?

Om du för en stund tänker på vad en sådan princip leder till i förlängningen ska du snart inse följande. Ansvar är något som många anser sig utöva som en slags läpparnas bekännelse. Ansvar är lättare att utkräva av andra än att själv stå för.]

Remembering Anne Frank

Watching the remarkable documentary Remembering Anne Frank on BBC4 prompted the reflection that history has stories which demonstrate why later events develop in the way that they do. The Nazi persecution of the Jews was a brutally conceived policy so uniquely vile and directed against humanity itself that later responses to it, and to its reincarnations, operate within a special historical and existential framework. Resistance to a total genocide ultimately needs to be total, for as Hannah Arendt showed, the alternatives usually prove to bring about the triumph of totalitarian ideologies and mindsets, and the denial of the human. The calls for the destruction of the state of Israel now current in much of the world give Israel the right to resist, not only to defend its own citizens, but also the aspirations of mankind in general. 

Russia's goal in the gas dispute

If there were any lingering doubts about the real nature of the gas "dispute" between Russia and Ukraine, they will now have been dispelled by President Medvedev's latest statement on the matter. "Our goal is to show who is to blame for stealing gas," the Russian President is reported to have said. Thus, by repeatedly making this false accusation, the Russian government intends to publicly humiliate Ukraine, and to force the countries of the European Union to acquiesce in the humiliation. As observers have pointed out, the whole episode can serve as a warning to Europe that it needs urgently to formulate a united energy policy, to develop and cultivate alternative energy sources in order to reduce its dependency on Russia, which has now proved itself to be an unreliable supplier, and to reject illusory solutions like the Nord Stream gas project.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Anti-Semitism and the Gaza crisis

In Europe's response to the Gaza crisis, disturbing echoes of an intolerant past are coming from several points, not least from Norway, where violent riots took place in Oslo last night, when pro-Palestinian demonstrators smashed store windows along the city's main thoroughfare Karl Johans Gate, firing rockets, throwing eggs and stones, fighting with police and threatening the members of a small pro-Israeli demonstration. Meanwhile in Rome, leftist Italian labour unions have launched a campaign to "identify and boycott" Jewish-owned shops in a move which has been likened to the anti-Semitic laws of the Mussolini era. In the Wall Street Journal, Rabbi Marvin Hier has claimed that a double standard is being applied to the Gaza conflict because of "an insidious bias against the Jewish state", and has expressed the fear that

There are a great many people in the world who, even after Auschwitz, just can't bear the Jewish state having the same rights they so readily grant to other nations. These voices insist Israel must take risks they would never dare ask of any other nation-state -- risks that threaten its very survival -- because they don't believe Israel should exist in the first place.

Just look at the spate of attacks this week on Jews and Jewish institutions around the world: a car ramming into a synagogue in France; a Chabad menorah and Jewish-owned shops sprayed with swastikas in Belgium; a banner at an Australian rally demanding "clean the earth from dirty Zionists!"; demonstrators in the Netherlands chanting "Gas the Jews"; and in Florida, protestors demanding Jews "Go back to the ovens!"

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A veiled threat

In the Guardian newspaper, 14 of "the [UK] government's leading Muslim counter-extremism advisers" have signed a joint letter to Gordon Brown warning that "Israeli actions in Gaza are damaging the British government's efforts to tackle religious extremism at home."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Russia's militarised energy doctrine

IISS defence and security analyst Roger McDermott has recently published two versions (here and here) of an article on Russia's new draft security strategy through 2020, in which one thing becomes patently clear: Russia envisages possible military conflict over energy resources. However, the global economic crisis has overtaken the strategy document, rendering part but not all of its contents currently obsolete. The military aspects, in particular, remain topical:

Strident in its tone, once again portraying an “image” of a resurgent Russia, the new security strategy was conceived and written during a period when the Russian political elites were in denial about the economic downturn that the country is currently experiencing. The devaluation of the ruble four times within one month and the lower price of oil on the world market give reason to doubt whether the tone will be matched in practical terms. Much of that depends on how successfully the Russian government handles its economic challenges. The Kremlin, however, is sending out a powerful signal that it will, if necessary, protect its energy interests with the use of military force; a contentious issue as Russia “pushes” its energy interests in the Arctic Circle.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


International crises involving Israel invariably seem to call forth responses among otherwise fair-minded and reasonable media editors which run directly counter to the values and principles they profess to espouse. Recently the Guardian newspaper has published an obituary of a senior Hamas leader, characterizing him as "a man of the street" a "big, bearded man" who was "something of a hero". It has also published a diatribe by another Hamas leader, which contains phrases that read like self-mockery: "Our modest, home-made rockets are our cry of protest to the world." And the Open Democracy website, which advertises itself as "free thinking for the world", leads with a piece by a former legal counsel to the Arab League which repeats an old and timeworn false analogy, of which Bradley Burston, writing in Haaretz, has the best analysis:

It denies and diminishes and exploits the Holocaust, does disrespect to Holocaust victims and survivors alike, alleviates European guilt over complicity with the Nazis, alleviates American guilt over inaction in the face of the annihilation machine, misrepresents both the cruel reality of the Gaza Strip and the cruel reality of the ghetto, dismisses the humanity and the vulnerability of the million Israeli Jews and Arabs within rocket range, and ignores completely the role of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, in having sent thousands and thousands and thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel.
As a bonus, pro-Palestinian demonstrators in San Francisco [where else?], referencing the the Warsaw Ghetto analogy, recently beat up a small number of pro-Israel demonstrators, reportedly shouting "Slaughter the Jew" at them in Arabic.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Estonian MEP and head of Estonia's parliamentary European Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson writes in his blog that the real cause of the gas war between Russia and Ukraine is not merely economic:

This is not about Gazprom or Ukraine's debts, it is about the Russian government's desire to put pressure on the the Ukrainian government and, in the true sense of the word, pay Kiev back for supporting Tbilisi.

Moscow has repeatedly accused Ukraine of providing military support to Georgia during the August war - accusations denied by Kiev - and in his New Year's address on December 31, President Medvedev said that Russia "would never forget" this.

Mihkelson also says that Ukraine's present and ongoing internal power struggle between President Yushchenko and prime minister Tymoshenko is "water to the mill" for Russia's foreign policy ambitions.

Mihkelson believes that Russia's real aim is to thwart Ukraine's efforts to join NATO. He says that the European Union needs to define its interests in relation to Ukraine and Russia, and also overcome its fear that "tougher statements or actions may have a negative influence on the ultimate goal".

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Israel rejects Russia's Hamas contact offer

Unsurprisingly, Israel's foreign minister Tzipi Livni has rejected an offer from the Medvedev/Putin government to contact Hamas via Russia in order to arrange a ceasefire, Haaretz reports.

The genocidal goal of Hamas

On the GLORIA Center website, Barry Rubin continues to provide insightful analysis of the Gaza conflict, focusing not only on current developments, but also on the historical context. From his latest article:

Hamas invoked the radical Islamist policy of "one man, one vote, one time. " It staged a coup and kicked out its PA and Fatah rivals. Rather than focusing on economic development or even maintaining peace to build up its own power, Hamas pursued its strategy of permanent war against Israel. Children's programs taught the kiddies that they should grow up to be suicide bombers and kill Jews. Hamas soldiers, or their junior allies, fired rockets and mortars at Israel. And of course Hamas staged a cross-border raid and kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

In spite of this, many in the West think Israel has some kind of choice in this matter, that diplomacy was an option, that Hamas could be reasoned with. Those people have clearly never heard a Hamas leader speak or read anything on the group's Arabic-language websites. In a real sense, Hamas is more extreme than Usama bin Ladin, who periodically offers his enemy the chance to repent. Hamas's goal is genocidal.

This has nothing to do with being dovish or hawkish, left or right. For those who are the biggest peaceniks--and this is true in Israel--know that Hamas must be defeated if Israel is ever to make peace with the PA. Even the PA knows it, and that's what they say in private, no matter what they say in public

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Moscow continues to encroach on Europe

The Russian government continues to do all it can to make inroads on Europe's security. In the latest move, Russian warplanes are scheduled to take part in exercises held within the airspace of a NATO country, Greece. The Telegraph notes that

Greek defence officials said that Russian Sukhoi 25 and Sukhoi 33 fighter aircraft would take part in the operations, as well as Kamov helicopters.

They are the first such war games to take place in the Nato member's territory.

The decision could prove controversial with Greece's European Union partners following a series of provocative sorties by Russian aircraft in Western Europe. Moscow has also sent its warships to conduct exercises off Venezuela and Cuba, in moves designed to irritate Washington.

Chechnya and Gaza

Those critics of Israel who like to accuse the country's leadership of using the threat from Islamist radicals of the Hamas type as an excuse for "disproportionate" military responses need to take some lessons from Russia's treatment of its North Caucasus populations. At Z-Word, Ben Cohen shows what a disproportionate response really looks like - in the hands of the Russian government and military:

Oleg goes on to explain in his broken Hebrew that if Russian soldiers were sent into Gaza they would take care of things in three or four days. “They know what war is.” (My emphasis - BC)

Igor is slightly taken aback by his friend’s comments and explains that Oleg is still hung-over from New Year’s Eve.

Whether or not he was suffering from the after effects of too much partying, Oleg - notwithstanding his repellent racist comments - is right about Russian military strategy. When they invaded Chechnya, in 1994 and 1999, the Russians deployed a scorched earth policy. Grozny was burned to a cinder, with complete disregard for the lives of civilians and for the laws of war.

The BBC's anti-Israel bias

In the JC, Stephen Pollard examines the continuing problem of the licence-payer funded BBC's ingrained hostility to the state of Israel, exemplified by its recent reports from Gaza:

As Anshel Pfeffer points out, if you’ve been relying on British media for your information about the ongoing Gaza “siege”, you’d not have a clue that there is a second border, with Egypt — a pretty critical piece of information. But it detracts from the idea of Israel as villain.

There’s one big problem with all of this. If you don’t like the Guardian’s approach, you can stop buying it. If you don’t like commercial TV, it will lose ratings and income and eventually go bust. But we are all forced, under threat of imprisonment, to pay for the BBC’s coverage. Not just its TV reports, but its hopelessly biased website, which has a worldwide audience. And that is plain wrong.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A bullied nation

At Think-Israel, psychologist Babs Barron considers the effects of bullying on nations - in particular, the results of local and worldwide "pressure" on Israel - in terms of Jungian psychoanalysis. Excerpt:

I have been told that Israel is desperate to be liked, but, if that is the case, her government appears to believe that this will happen by magic and without its having to do anything to help the process along. It ignores the importance of the work done by the army of volunteer hasbara advocates throughout the world and seems to assume that the "nice guys really" message will somehow get out even when the government itself does not offer formal support for hasbara/advocacy. Similarly, the Israeli government appears to believe (equally magically) that if it apologises for imagined as well as real mistakes the world will once again accept it on equal terms. Israel's alleged involvement in the Gaza beach bombing is a case in point, where it apologised and took all the blame for having caused the deaths by shelling of eight Palestinians before the full circumstances which absolved it became known.

This last is, in fact, a typical response of the emotionally bullied (and Israel is increasingly aware of the reaction of her shadow self to emotional bullying over which she has no control). Indeed, I would argue that, far from being the bully in the Middle East as she is so often represented in the media, Israel seems more and more to take on the characteristics of the emotionally bullied. 

Although the focus of the article is on Israel, the conclusions it draws are equally applicable to other victims of inter-state bullying around the world.

The threat to liberal civilization

Another significant guest post at Harry's Place. Michelle Sieff of Zword discusses two recent media contributions to the assessment of Israel's Gaza operation -- articles by Yossi Klein Halevi in the New Republic and Benny Morris in the New York Times, both focused on Israel's increasing sense of isolation and encirclement: a feeling, as Morris puts it, that "the walls are closing in on it". As Sieff points out,

Halevi suggests that the future of the civilized world - and not just Israel’s future - is at stake in Gaza. Gaza, Mumbai, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Iran. These are all fronts in what is, fundamentally, one long war against variations of radical Islamism, a threat to liberal civilization that resembles the Fascist and Stalinist threats of the mid-twentieth century. Liberal democracies are sometimes faced with threats that can no longer be ignored. Halevi and Morris tell us why, for Israel - and for the rest of the civilized world - that moment is now.