Sunday, February 28, 2010

Revised Prediction

Way back on January 1 I listed my predictions for the next decade. The first was the following:

Prediction 1 - The last free and fair election in Ukraine will be in January if Yanukovich wins so he can fulfill his threat to end "democracy".

OK. As I stated in that post, predictions would be subject to change as the inevitable chaos theory took hold. I'm modifying the prediction in three ways:

1. This is the next to last free election since Yanukovich won the election, but the margin was insufficient to let him have free rein with his policies.

2. Yulia Tymoshenko will prove to be a bigger problem for him than anticipated because of point 1 and the fact that she is rumoured to have Putin's support. Additionally, he can't afford to dissolve the Rada and does not yet have enough MPs to form a majority.

3. In light of point 2, Moscow will have to rethink its frequently aggressive positions regarding some of its neighbors, particularly Ukraine, as Ukrainians in the west and the region around Kyiv will not take kindly to their continued interference, especially if it becomes more visible on the ground.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

US Embassy - UK

I really don't have a point of view on the design of the new US embassy in South London except that it's the typical, fortress type of design despite all the glass and blast proof plastic, which is hardly welcoming. But welcoming is not what the US is all about any longer, is it? It's saving grace, I guess, is that it is not surrounded by the usual cement and steel tank traps or ladder proof walls that are the hallmark of other US facilities or set back so far that one needs a taxi to get to the first guard hut.

The other conclusion that leaps to mind is that terrorists have succeeded in making the architectural decisions for the US based on fear.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tymoshenko Throws Down the Gauntlet

Flag of Ukraine (Presidential Standard)Image via Wikipedia

...on her website, her televised speech that 1) refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Yanukovych presidency, 2) a call to form a coalition to oppose Yanukovych in the Rada and 3) was an amazing show, in and of itself.

As I've said previously, if she succeeds in forming a majority coalition Yanukovych is in deep trouble. Rumour has it that Putin actually favoured Yulia while Medvedev supported Yanukovych. That split, if true, is not good news for Victor.

The money line:

I also want to state that under no circumstances will I form a coalition with Yanukovych. I won’t be signing universals and memorandums with him because I do not recognize him as the president of Ukraine and do not accept his anti-Ukrainian and anti-European policies.

Enjoy the ride.

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The Falklands - Issues in International Law

The growing tension in the South Atlantic over the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands between the UK and Argentina are unlikely to lead to a second Falklands war for many reasons, not the least of which is that Argentina could not successfully deploy its now depleted forces to the islands without significant bloodshed. Stationed on and around the Falklands are about 1,000 British troops, four fighter/bomber aircraft, a frigate and a local population that is unlikely to be surprised a second time. For all practical purposes a military confrontation is not going to happen. Argentina is indulging in diplomatic tactics coupled with questionable international legal claims that will not change the status of the islands nor stop the current oil drilling. If oil is discovered in the volumes suspected, it would not be surprising to discover revenue sharing as part of the settlement.

From a legal standpoint, Argentina is also on thin ice.

The Guardian reports that the Argentine government has issued a decree which will require all ships bound for the islands or travelling through waters claimed (emphasis mine) by Argentina to secure a permit. The clear purpose is to prevent ships carrying oil exploration equipment from Argentina to the Islands. The Telegraph reports as well that the Argentine authorities have already prevented a ship, the Thor Leader, from leaving port carrying pipeline equipment which it was suspected was destined for the Islands. A claim of territorial waters is not equivalent to a legal right. The dispute raises a number of international law issues.

Under international law, Argentina can limit access by ships to and from its ports provided it has not entered into any treaty obligations which would require it to allow unconditional access to its ports. To my knowledge, there is no provision for unconditional access. However, Argentina has extended its rights to ships passing through its territorial waters of Argentina. Regardless of the extent of territorial waters, Article 17 of the Law of the Sea Convention provides that ships have a right of innocent passage, as defined, thereby making the enforcement of the Argentinian act legally problematic, even if one accepted its territorial water claims.

Argentina has not been successful in establishing its claim to the Falklands in law or in fact. The last attempt in the latter choice ended in military disaster and collapse of the government. It is in the process of drumming up support in South and Central America for its claims, but this is really only smoke and mirrors and costs the supporting countries nothing. However, from a political standpoint, the political position of sovereignty is double edged. Venezuela, for example, in an attempt to be relevant or simply annoying, recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - both legally recognized as part of Georgia. The same argument could theoretically be applied to the Falkland Islands - not a trend, I suspect, that Argentina or its supporters would like to see continued. Therefore, from a practical standpoint, this position is not only weak but very dangerous. Furthermore, the UN Charter contains broad language supporting the right of self-determination which makes the legal claim over the islands - virtually totally populated by British subjects - unsupportable.

Argentina announced that it will take the dispute that has arisen because of oil to the UN. Assuming that Argentina will not raise the issue of sovereignty and only addresses the sea bed issue, it would still be necessary for their representative to set forth the legal reasons why Argentina's jurisdiction applies under the appropriate provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention.

The Law of the Sea Convention applies only to the sea bed outside of territorial limits. Therefore, the position of both the UK and Argentina claiming 200 nautical miles would need to be decided first. The Convention sets forth a detailed definition of continental shelves which may extend the area subject to national control. This limit is, at a maximum, 200 nautical miles from the baseline of the territorial sea. The baseline is further defined to include consideration of the extent of the continental shelf and can be up to 350 nautical miles. It is unlikely that either claim of more than 200 nautical miles, which would otherwise be subject to additional rules should they overlap, is legally supportable. However, Argentina claims sovereignty over the islands on, at least, the extension of its continental shelf as well as the 350 nautical mile limit.

Any dispute under the Convention must be brought to the Commission on the Limits to the Continental Shelf, which, in fact, Argentina has done. That case has not been decided in favour of Argentina as an answer to its claims were filed by the UK in August 2009. Further, a position claiming 350 nautical miles would necessarily bring up the issue of sovereignty of the islands - something that won't be touched by the ICJ or the Commission.

In any case, Argentina, if it chooses to push the matter forward to conclusion, will ultimately need to litigate this matter in the ICJ - a very long process.

Legally, its position regarding the issue of drilling in what Argentina claims as territorial waters will not be easily resolved. Which is why a diplomatic and economic solution will likely be the route both nations will follow.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Iranian Sensitivities

Vue satellite du Golfe PersiqueImage via Wikipedia

Iran finally noticed that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Emirates etc., refer to that body of water dividing them from Iran as the Arabian Gulf. Now they are retaliating.

The BBC reports that the Iranian Transport Minister, Hamid Behbahani, has given foreign airlines 15 days to change the name to Persian Gulf on their in flight monitors.

BBC also reports the the good minister is under threat of impeachment for incompetence. Timing is everything.

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Tymoshenko Re-groups

Yulia TymoshenkoImage via Wikipedia

So there is no deal. Yulia Tymoshenko is not resigning and is going to fight in the Rada. The maneuvering has already begun.

Victor Yanukovych has said that by the end of the week he will form a new parliamentary majority. This would allow him to dismiss the PM and anoint her successor. If he cannot form a majority then he is in trouble. Meanwhile, ByUT - Yulia's party - has called for an early session of the Rada on the 24th. Can Victor put together his majority by March 2 - the last day for forming a government - if Yulia starts organizing first? That will be hard, particularly if Yulia can bring together 226 members of the 450 person Rada under her wing - which would prevent a vote of no-confidence and her dismissal. If she cannot then ByUT will go into opposition. Neither alternative is going to be helpful to the new president. And he is showing signs of intense worry.

We are holding coalition talks with absolutely all parliamentary groups...
Yanukovych said this yesterday in an interview on channel 1+1.

On March 2 either Yulia will be dismissed or Yanukovich is going to have to consider a coalition with ByUT, a very, very unpalatable option for him. Or - he can order a snap parliamentary election.

Tymoshenko is going to be repairing all her burnt bridges to hold together her coalition and the government - where the real power rests. Holding on to that will mean control of the budget, economic policies, the corporate sector and even most of the security forces.

It's easy to see, therefore, why Yanukovych is pressing hard because if he loses this battle a PM, who despises him and his party and who never, ever forgets, will doom his presidency. Stay tuned.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Election Notes

Ukraine - Yulia Tymoschenko has withdrawn her law suit challenging the election of the incoming Victor; Yulia is not resigning as PM; Yulia is really, really angry and will boycott the inauguration. The next question is what will Victor do with an angry and powerful PM. I suspect that Tymoschenko withdrew the court action for two reasons: she'd lose (but the ensuing instability would be unacceptable to the new president) and (therefore) a deal has been cut. What was the deal? As an aside - Russia has not decided yet if they will send someone to attend the inauguration ceremony. Considering their man won, the reticence is odd.

Egypt - I readily admit to a lack of knowledge about Egyptian politics following the Ptolemy era and my recent experience with modern Egypt was decidedly unpleasant. However, the beginnings of a campaign to get Mohammed ElBaradei to run for president of Egypt are strange. Egypt is not noted for its democratic system but regardless of the seemingly insurmountable barrier of a Mubarak dynasty, what is behind the decision to run? Does he have a base of support? Does his experience as head of the IAEA give him some experience for running Egypt? I simply don't know and if anyone does, let me know.

CPAC - OK. I know - no US politics. Get over it. Congratulations to Ron Paul for his enormous and meaningless victory over Sarah and Mitt. Run with it Paul. According to the Very Serious Pundits in Washington (that's you Mr. Broder) this is good news for McCain.

and, last but not least...

Niger - Anyone remember yellow cake? No? There is a lot of it in Niger. In a Niger version of elections, the army took over the reins of power on Thursday from the 71 year old president Mamadou Tandja who is now supposedly in Chad. Tandja was allegedly planning to extend, again, his rule without resort to a messy vote. In what may be one of the best understatements of the year so far, a French diplomat said "All I can say is that it would appear that Tandja is not in a good position". Salou Djibo, a squadron chief, has assumed the leadership role.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Quick Hit on Dubai and Israel

The pun is entirely intended with profuse apologies.

But...what are Israel and its security service thinking? I've followed with astonishment the increasingly pointed and detailed reports on the alleged Israeli assassination of a Hamas operative in a Dubai hotel and at the Israeli miscalculation of the blow back from such a poorly constructed plan that used stolen identities of Israeli citizens to provide cover. Sloppy trade craft. Oh, and saying that the involvement of Israeli intelligence services is 'not proven' is an absurd statement amounting to an admission. Pathetic. The identity theft should be a gold-mine for attorney's because the damage to these innocent people is immense.

The Netanyahu government is off the international rails and, no, I am not a fan of Hamas - so stow your comments in that regard.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Slow Blogging except Greece

There will be little blogging for a few more days as my day job is taking up a good deal of my time.

Except, of course - Greece. Not making many friends in the remainder of the EU. Probably time to get it's act together and stop being the anarchic mess it has degenerated into over the past 30 years. It also needs to remember it is part of Europe and NATO. Not rump Serbia. Not the Russian Federation. Time to grow up and stop falling back to its default position of the homeland for "democracy" and therefore immune to criticism.

More later.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bombing Iran

Why does anyone listen to the foreign policy ramblings of John Bolton? This is a guy who, prior to becoming the mouthpiece for the neocon underground and the worst US ambassador to the UN ever was once seen running around the halls Ukraine Hotel in Moscow shouting at his assistant about some missing papers - allegedly in his briefs. His continuing desire to bomb Iran - and the media's fascination with the former half-term governor of Alaska who incorrectly (as usual) attributes his statements to poor old Pat Buchanan - is counterproductive and tiresome.

Let's reiterate a couple of not so unimportant points. The enrichment of uranium to a percentage that can be used for reactor and medical purposes is permitted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Period. Iran has not been as open to inspectors as the International Atomic Energy Agency would like, but there still remains no credible evidence that Iran is anywhere near creating weapon's grade nuclear material.

Furthermore, President Ahmadinejad's order last week that created such hand wringing in the West directing the engineers at Natanz to begin attempting to enrich uranium to 19.75% for fuel at its only reactor which also produces medical isotopes that are fully consumed is not a directive to create atomic weapons. And - by the way - the government also provided notice to the International Atomic Energy Agency, also as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Incidentally, why is the US so terrified of a country whose economy is in shambles and has a military budget smaller than Finland's? The US faced down the Soviet Union - but neocons and their ilk behave like craven cowards when faced with fourth rate military powers which can be obliterated in a nano-second or incompetent terrorists.

Sanctions of one sort of another will follow merely because everyone has lost trust in the Iranian regime. Fair enough. But let's stop listening to the pronouncements of advocates of failed military policies and especially giving any attention to the remarks of Sarah Palin who might be the least intelligent former government official on the planet and who is considered - aside from that Very Important Pundit David Broder in the Washington Post - by the vast majority of Americans unqualified to be POTUS.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ukraine. What now?

Yulia TymoshenkoImage via Wikipedia

For those who said that a Yanukovich victory would produce stability - a more important commodity than, say, democracy for many - well, how's that going?

The OSCE has pronounced the election
free and fair
for the most part. They should stop there and not take up (as they have done) the additional position that Yulia Tymoshenko should shut up and go away so that the government can be formed and Ukraine can move forward. The OSCE should know better since this is likely the last election of its sort that will take place as Yanukovich is very likely to do what Putin did to Russia and Yukoshenko did to Belarus. And with Russian assistance. Just sayin...

One of the options that is open to Tymoshenko is refusing to resign as PM and forcing a snap parliamentary election. I can't see her doing that unless negotiations fail utterly. Ukrainian politics is typically strident on the outside and negotiable on the inside. All the rhetoric from both sides - admittedly a little more from BYUT - is the cover for the internal negotiations.

Today, the situation became a little more complex with Our Ukraine saying it does not support her resignation. That gives her more leverage for a deal as she continues to demand a recount because Yanukovich has to negotiate in such a case - he can't form a government under the current split between Regions/Communist Parties and BYUT/OU-PSD and their respective allies. So much for stability.

Tymoshenko, under these circumstances, probably won't call new elections because it is likely that Our Ukraine - not her ally but who loath Regions in general and Yanukovich in particular - would lose all their seats (although most would go to her party - but not all).

The noise - studiously reported as fact by the Western media - hides the underlying maneuvering. I give it another week to sort itself out. As Radar O'Reilly used to say -
wait for it

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Close but no cigar in Ukraine

Quick note from the airport in Dar es Salaam.

I admit I was surprised by the closeness of the election victory for Yanukovich in Ukraine. Tymoshenko has a couple of options, none of them very good, including acceding to the winner's demand that she resign as PM. That.Won't.Happen. Ignore the rhetoric coming out of the two camps. Negotiations have begun and Yulia still holds a number of cards, including denying Yanukovich a working government.

She won't call for demonstrations. No one would come. But she does have a big chunk of the Rada still. That could prove decisive for her future and for the future of a Yanukovich government - if he can form one.

And Moscow is silent.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Ukraine Election 2010

A map showing European membership of the EU an...Image via Wikipedia

The loss of Ukraine to Russia following the election of Yanukovich on Sunday will significantly change the geo-political map in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses.

Assuming that the recent election process change by the Party of Regions in the Rada repealing the requirement that representatives of both candidates be present to supervise vote counting at polling stations is exactly what it seems - an effort to forestall any challenges to the vote due to fraud and the final destruction of the Orange Revolution forces - then the game is over.

In Eastern Europe, Poland and the Baltic States have good reason to become alarmed as Russia regains its historical base in Ukraine. A new line will be drawn and without support from their EU counterparts in Western Europe - particularly Germany -these NATO countries will be looking toward a virtually bankrupt Britain and the overstretched United States for bilateral support. Other than words, the US has committed to major military games in the Baltics during 2010 - a not so subtle hint to Moscow that the annexation of territory from Georgia is significantly different from similar attempts in the Baltics - all of which are NATO members.

The role of non-EU members will need to be ramped up in Eastern Europe to fill the compromised economic positions of Germany - dependent on Russia for energy - and France - whose President is more than easily persuaded to follow purely economic interests (e.g. potential sale of a Mistral class ship to Russia). After Sunday, Europe will be looking at a resurgent Russian Empire in the east - and not a democratic one.

In the Caucuses Georgia now stands alone following the loss of Ukraine to Russia. Previously an important ally, the two countries worked in tandem in opposing Russian expansionism. The relationship now could turn confrontational. Yanukovich was fiercely pro-Russian regarding the invasion of Georgia. When Yanukovich is elected it is likely that he will follow through on a promise to recognize Georgia's rebel regions as independent states. Moscow recognized South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent after the war, a move that has so far been followed by only Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Pacific island state of Nauru. This would be an easy foreign policy decision for Ukraine and would be an immediate sign that Ukraine will cooperate with Russia's foreign policies. Even Belarus has refused to take this step, to the annoyance of Moscow.

Turkey will also need take a deep breath as it is Russia's only strong regional competitor. Russia has been calling the shots in the Armenia/Azerbaijan talks. Armenia is already a client state of Russia and Azerbaijan is furious with its cultural brother, Turkey, for attempting to normalize relations with Armenia without resolution of the Ngorno Kharabach dispute. Turkey will need to balance its economic interests with its now much more powerful neighbor in the north against US hopes that Turkey would be a powerful buffer. Also, the Armenia normalization issue will be put on the back burner simply because of Russian control of the negotiations will push Turkey to expand its considerable influence in the Middle East. The continuing opposition to EU membership by France and Germany will add to a Turkish foreign policy emphasis away from Europe and a geo-political settlement in the Caucuses with Russia.

Distant from the borders of Russia and Ukraine, expect the acceleration of NATO membership of Montenegro which will leave Russia's sole ally in the region, Serbia, completely surrounded by NATO members. Additionally, as a move to protect the Baltic States, Sweden will likely move closer to NATO and increase its influence in the Baltic region while the US Defence Department has announced a realignment of forces in Europe to account for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s changing role and security issues such as events of the last couple of years in Georgia.

Following Sunday the map changes, which will mean a realignment of foreign policy objectives by Europe and the United States.

Aside from that it is a very sad day for Ukraine as under Yanukovich, a man with a criminal record who was unfortunately allowed to remain free after 2004 by the now disgraced Yushchenko, expect the media to be suppressed to please Moscow and for future elections to model themselves after the political structure of Russia.

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Out of Africa

Coat of arms of TanzaniaImage via Wikipedia

Done. In a few days I'll be leaving Tanzania, hoping to return to run the project we have proposed and which the Ministry with which I've been working appears to be very eager to implement. If they - and particularly the normally snail paced World Bank decision process - move quickly enough then in six months I could be back for several years. Would be fun.

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