Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Albania and the EU

I'm shocked....shocked

So, a small Moslem country is ok. A large one, well......

Turkish Nationalism

Prime Minister Erdogan seems to be going over the edge recently.  I admit I am a strong supporter of Turkish accession to the EU (although the economic utility of membership is highly questionable) as well as a supporter of its newly found self-awareness and confidence of Turkish foreign policy. But...

The PM's recent remarks, after the Armenian Genocide Resolution that recently passed a US Congressonal Committee vote, which threatened to expel 100,000 of the approximately 170,000 Armenians from Turkey because only 70,000 are citizens is, to be diplomatic, not helpful.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt, the upcoming elections may have something to do with his growing, excessive nationalistic positions.  They are, nevertheless, unhealthy in a country that has come so far politically and economically.  Turkey has made this mistake in the past. It has not been to its benefit.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Moscow Metro Murders

The appalling terrorist attacks in Moscow yesterday morning need to be loudly condemned. However, if indeed these murders were committed by Chechen insurgents, as appears very likely, the Russian response should not be more violence against Chechnya of which there has been more than enough since 1994. A different approach is needed to isolate the extremists.

In 1995 while living in Moscow, a close friend, extremely Westernized and who eventually went on to be a reporter for a major Western newspaper, admitted that her feelings about Chechnya were to put fence around it and its people and let it suffocate. That feeling is likely to intensify now. It would be a mistake to translate such an emotion, arising from the first Chechen War launched by Yeltsin, into policy.

Perhaps a first step would be for Moscow - and especially PM Putin - to take another look at the criminal, murdering thug that was put in charge in Grozny. Ramzan Kadyrov is, quite simply, a lunatic who has showered his own people with terror, advocated a second Russian invasion of Georgia, a new invasion of Ukraine and otherwise calls on Russia to "liquidate" the threats that Ukraine and Georgia represent to Russia.

Prime Minister Putin put him in charge. A change of leadership in Chechnya might be a place to start to isolate the murderers on the metro and eventually destroy their ability to function. It's not as if Putin doesn't call the shots.
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Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Daylight In-Between

Perhaps it is no secret that I consider the Netanyahu government to be the worst in Israel's history. But, recent events in Israel and Washington have moved the meter into a dangerous red zone - and for Israel.

The foreign policy gaffs of the current Israeli government, from an absurdly handled assassination in Dubai, insulting the Turkish ambassador, embarrassing the US Vice President during a visit to Israel, to continued refusal to even marginally stop seizing land for settlements, can only be described as self-destructive.

The meeting in Washington, by all accounts, did not go well. Netanyahu was basically treated to the same courtesy as the leader of Fiji. Possibly less. Did he miss the point? Does he care? Is his failure of judgement so great that he thinks that the stream of daylight now pouring through the gap will simply vanish?

His judgement, clearly from his first encounters with the Obama administration, is that with two wars and serious domestic issues, his government could withstand pressure from a preoccupied White House. Well, Mr Prime Minister, the preoccupation with domestic affairs has cleared one big hurdle with the passage of the insurance reform (incorrectly referred to as a health care bill)law. Iraq is still a problem, but hopefully will not be so very shortly. Afghanistan appears to be going well in the short term - at least enough to withdraw. Israeli government wiggle room is rapidly narrowing.

This Israeli government is sowing a toxic field in which the two state solution will be buried if for no other reason than by inserting religious zealots into potential Palestinian territory any chance of delimiting boundaries will be gone. The demographics in that situation are not favourable to Israel. To that extent, the current government is a security risk to Israel itself. Saying last week that Jews have been building in Jerusalem, its unrecognized capital, for 3,000 years invites some unfortunate historical recollections - none of which are good for Israel

In foreign policy, Israel is pushing away its strongest - and only - ally in the region. Turkey is waking up and Israel needs to read the history of the region. Turkey is the heavy-weight and the only nation able to face down a belligerent Iran, control Syria and balance an unstable Iraq. Refusing to listen to an economic, political and military power - indeed finding childish ways of irritating it - is not a viable long-term plan.

The Netanyahu government needs to take a deep breath and consider its actions to please its leadership and a conservative religious minority that cannot hope, historically, to win what it wants. Either that, or in the next election, the Netanyahu group must be removed from power. Israel's security depends on it.

Germany's Prejudice

Following up on the last post, it has now become extremely clear that while Merkel is in power in Germany there will be no movement on EU accession by Turkey.

The Chancellor has again reiterated her opposition to Turkish membership based on the prejudices of a broad group supporters who are unwilling to accept any non-Christian country into the club. Similar sentiments are prevalent in France and most strongly in Austria, although to be frank, the latter country doesn't really count for much.

What the Chancellor is attempting to ignore - so far successfully - are the provisions of the EU acquis regarding Turkish membership. This document - all 110,000 pages - does not contain the words "privileged partnership". Anywhere. In the words of an iconic New York Yankee baseball player - "You can look it up".

The misguided, prejudiced position of a country that has assumed control of the EU, if not its leadership, cannot be characterized any longer under the rubric of foreign policy choices. There are over 3 million Turks living in Germany. Germany originally "invited" many of their parents and grandparents to immigrate to perform the jobs Germans considered too menial for themselves. Over 4,000 German companies operate in Turkey and bilateral trade exceeds 20 million euro. There cannot be any other reason other than good, old fashioned bigotry to suddenly attempt to breach the terms of the acquis.

Merkel needs to rethink German opposition to Turkish membership. Her ally in this quest, President Sarkozy, is likely to be hammered in the next French election if the latest regional election results are any indication. Spain, England and Eastern Europe members do not oppose Turkish membership and are also likely to become increasingly wary of German control of the EU. The Tories in England may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but if they win another crack will appear in the EU further endangering the viability of the euro. Merkel and her ever shrinking circle of friends may then find that Germany is again viewed with deep suspicion.

Germany needs to decide whether changing the rules toward the end of the game is good for overall perceptions of its potential honesty in other matters. Mitteleuropa is still a not so distant memory.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Merkel Goes to Turkey

Andrea Merkel is off to Turkey and will, again, break the word of the EU regarding eventual membership for Turkey by offering, also yet again, a privileged partnership.

Turkey will not accept this latest offer; but, the issue is not really up to Germany. Is it any longer in Turkey's political and economic interest to join an organization which is increasingly run by Germany both politically and economically? I don't believe it is.

The current German government is largely in the driver's seat in the EU. It has said that it has no interest in bailing out Greece from its self-inflicted financial woes and has also stated, through its Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble that if Greece, or any other eurozone member, could not right their finances, they should be ejected from the eurozone. Although there is no mechanism to toss the financially challenged out of the zone, the attitude - so long suppressed - is telling. Does Turkey really want to be a part of an organization run by Germany? Does it want to be tied into a group where the high labour cost and low efficiency economies are dictated to by one power?

I believe what will happen is that the process will be so attenuated that the idea of Turkish membership eventually vaporizes. This is an opportunity for Turkey. It will allow Turkey to firmly establish an independent foreign policy and further strengthen its new found self-esteem. It is also a huge opportunity for the United States, if it acts carefully, to forge a very strong relationship with an economically strong, cosmopolitan and educated democratic Muslim country to balance a German dominated EU tied to Russia by energy and to counter Iranian foreign policy designs in the region.

Of course, changes in governments in France (likely) and Germany (possible, but not soon) could lead to a different dynamic. The continued denial of membership to Turkey will, in the end, be Europe's loss. It may also be Turkey's gain.

Armenia Offers Non-Aggression Pact

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian has offered a non-aggression pact to Azerbaijan in order to establish a basis for further negotiation to settle the Ngorno Kharabakh issue. ─░lham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, should accept the offer.

A non-aggression pact is essentially meaningless except for the optics. Azerbaijan is not going to war with Armenia over the NK for the simple reason that Russia, Turkey and Europe would not permit it. So, the optics are good for Azerbaijan since it loses nothing and the media would tout it.

Armenia's position that the NK should determine its own fate through a referendum is a nice idea except that it would be necessary to allow all the Azeris who fled back in - unlikely at the moment as that powerful nation of Glendale, California would erupt in anger and frustration at the prospect that a peaceful settlement, satisfactory to all parties would come a step closer.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting offer that Aliyev should not dismiss out of hand, meaningless or not. Perceptions often count more than facts.

Lesotho View

Over 2600 meters. Not what I anticipated.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lesotho Landing - Ukraine and the Death of Democracy

Finally I've arrived in Maseru and getting my briefings. Photo's of beautifull countryside follow soon.

As for Ukraine, the Kremlin poodle has changed the rules in the Rada and implemented an unconstitutional change permitting individual members to change their vote rather than, as constitutionally required, remain with their bloc. Yanukovych, the criminal fraud of 2004 and new president, has his own PM. The election process worked allowing someone to come to power who will change enough rules to model himself on Russia, China, Iran and Venezualy. Europe - on their knees to the Kremlin - applauds, stability over democracy has won again. Putin has his empire back.

Hopefully, the opposition and the Constitutional Court will come to the rescue. But I doubt it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Comments in other languages

Just a quick note - I can't publish (read - have not figured out how)comments in Japanese, Cyrillic or other similar alphabets. If anyone knows how to do that, please let me know.

Friday, March 5, 2010

International Relations Stupidity

Some examples today of total stupidity in international affairs:

1. The Armenia Genocide Resolution passes by one vote in the US. A grand victory for those comfortable Armenians in California who want to alienate the most powerful, democratic ally of the US in the region and destroy the reconciliation process between Turkey and Armenia in order to recognize an atrocity that happened under a completely different political structure almost a century ago and has nothing to do with Turkey. Maybe the US should now demand that Armenia break its alliance with the Russian Federation and expel its army.

The next resolution should be one that condemns Syria for the genocidal atrocities committed by Ashurbanipal, king of the Assyrian Empire against anyone he cared to roast alive including, in no particular order, Egypt, Iraq (then known as the Babylonian Empire) and Jordan(then part of the Elam Empire right next door that was essentially wiped out).

While we are at it, it was not so long ago that Italy burned Jerusalem and beseiged Masada. Apologies and reperations to Israel are required.

Last, but certainly not least, the US Congress should admit to its genocide of Native Americans. Oh, wait - they don't have a massive lobby or donate hugely to campaigns. Sorry.

2. Germany, that past paragon of virtue and peace, has suggested that Greece sell off its assets - particularly its uninhabited islands - to settle its debts. Let's see - this from a country that killed 400,000 Greeks between 1940 and 1944 and stole most of the money from the Greek banks. I guess Merkel needs a warm place to retire and will buy low, sell high.

3. Hillary Clinton, whom I otherwise support, delivered a remarkable statement in a news conference with Argentine President De Kirchner. The remarks from both to questions are as follows:

QUESTION: (In Spanish.)

And for the Secretary, it’s about the Falklands. The – President Fernandez talked about possible friendly mediation. Would the U.S. be considered – would the U.S. (inaudible) consider some kind of mediation role between the UK and Argentina over the Falklands? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: ...we want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. Now, we cannot make either one do so, but we think it is the right way to proceed. So we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place.

Um. Well, no. The UK has said very clearly that they do not intend to discuss the status of the Falklands so there is no possibility of sitting around a table to discuss that. Furthermore, no one living on the islands is interested in becoming Argentinian. There is no reason for the US to become involved and this statement is not helpful in the least and makes it look like a) the US can negotiate a settlement of territorial dispute that one side - a strong ally - has no intention of discussing and b) the US supports the Argentine position. Next time just say the US has no position.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Off to Africa Again

Starting Saturday I will post very little for at least a week or more. Work, as usual, has stuck its needful nose into my numerous non-profitable undertakings. I'll be in Kyiv and then back in Istanbul and then on to Lesotho.

From Lesotho, hopefully on March 13th or so, I'll be on line again. In the meantime, no revolutions without prior written notice please.

Oh, and like Cato the Elder: Watch out for Russia. (Not quite as energetic as "Cartago delenda est", but hey, its more politic...)

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Win for Yanukovych and Russia - Europe is Next

KievImage via Wikipedia

The government of Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko was dismissed today after a no-confidence vote passed with 243 of the 450-member parliament. The work now begins for Victor to form a new majority coalition. It needs to be remembered that individuals don't count in coalitions - only the parties as a group.

Party of Regions is the largest party in the parliament with 172 seats. To form a majority, PoR needs another 55 seats and Yanukovych has 30 days to do it. If he can -and that will not be easy - he will have another 60 days to create a new government for approval by the parliament. Yanukovych’s 172 seats, in addition to the Communist Party (27 seats) and Lytvyn (20 seats) are not enough to provide the required 226 seat majority - only 219. Close but no cigar. A minority is not permittd to nominate a PM.

The other blocs are the former Prime Minister's BYuT and the former President's Our Ukraine. It is very unlikely that these blocs will enter any coalition with Yanukovych, although not impossible.

If Yanukovych can't pull of a new majority, he will have to call a snap election. A new election is probably not what the MPs want because it is likely that Lytvn's bloc and Our Ukraine will be wiped out. What to do? What to do?

At this point, however, this is yet another win for Russia, and the changes have begun. Today as well, the head of the energy firm Naftogaz, Oleh Dubyna, was dismissed. Dubyna was a close ally of Yulia Timoshenko and of Viktor Yushchenko. Naftogaz management has been a target for Russia. This is the beginning of a purge to oust key people of whom the Kremlin doesn't approve or are connected to either Tymoshenko or Yushchenko. The metals industry will be on that list.

Aside from consolidating its gains in the Caucuses, Central Asia and Ukraine, Russia is now turning its attention to the dismantling of NATO, beginning with France and Germany.

Germany is already in thrall to Russia, both economically and to leverage its power within the EU. Almost completely dependent on the Kremlin for energy, the German government will show no willingness to challenge Russian actions in the Caucuses, including the overthrow of the Georgian government, or in Eastern Europe.

France, apparantly, is eager to sell modern, non-defensive weapons systems, like the Mistral, to Russia and threw a party for Medvedev in Paris this week. Surely noted in Tbilisi, Warsaw and the Baltic States was Medvedev's and Sarkozy's comments as reported here.

Russia and France took their courtship to a new level in Paris on Monday, entering talks about the sale of four French warships to Moscow, standing together against nuclear-minded Iran and urging a new global financial order.

A key business deal signed during Medvedev's pomp-filled visit Monday - giving France's GDF Suez a 9-percent stake in the Nord Stream gas pipeline project run by Russia's Gazprom - runs counter to efforts by U.S. and other European countries to lessen Europe's dependence on Russian pipelines and gas.

Medvedev, noting that French investment in Russia last year surpassed that of the U.S. for the first time, said, "That means we are on the right track." He urged French investors to help modernize the Russian economy Tuesday as the two countries' build major new energy, transport and even military partnerships. Addressing an audience of powerful business leaders from Russia and France on the second day of a visit to Paris, the Kremlin chief hailed what he said was an "unprecedented" economic partnership. "It is impossible to imagine relations between Russia and France without economic ties," he said at the French employers' association MEDEF, calling for Russian and French firms to buy stakes in one another.

"This truly strengthens relations," he said, inviting French investors to a economic forum in St Petersburg in June, where he hopes their expertise will "give the Russian economy an opportunity to adapt to modern life."

Medvedev hailed Sarkozy's "courage and will" when he sought to negotiate an end to Russia's war with neighboring Georgia in 2008. He said NATO - an alliance that Russia views as a U.S.-driven vestige of the Cold War - was no help in ending that war, but that European partners were. "What does this show? This shows that we ourselves should solve European issues," Medvedev said. Sarkozy said, "France defended the interests of Europe. ... We did it without using our army, we did it without threats."

Sarkozy seems to think that he defended European interests in mediating the war between Russia and Georgia. He defended France's interests, not Europe's. And, he has conveniently forgotten that Russia has not complied with key requirments that it agreed to in the settlement document, such as removal of forces. It is, in fact, building new bases.

Again, the free hand being delivered to Moscow is a direct result of the Iraq adventure, the continuing Afghan war, the economic recession in the US and its obsession with Iran. Regarding the latter, it is time to start assessing the options.

Attacking Iran is, to be blunt, stupid. There are simply too many variables and the inevitable instability in Iraq, disruption of oil from the Gulf and asymetrical attacks from Iran's allies in the Middle East, make that decision - however much the worst.Israeli.government.in.history wants it - impossible. The other option is accepting a nuclear Iran. The third option is something else. It involves looking at overlapping and more important interests.

Nixon to China.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Trial of Radovan Karadzic

Srebrenica Potocari MemorialImage via Wikipedia

Today, Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, obtained an adjournment of his genocide and war crimes trial in The Hague. This is not a surprise, as during the first day of the hearings, which he had earlier boycotted due to insufficient time to prepare, he again stated that he had a credible and strong defence to offer if he were given a little more time.

I've listened to portions of the hearings yesterday and from what I can discern he will need more than a little time if his defense rests on the claim that "they did it first". Unfortunately for him, 'they hit me first' is not a legal defense to murder, particularly in the case of of the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces killed some 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys.

He told judges he would use "marble-solid evidence" to prove that "there was never a plan nor an idea to expel Muslims from the Republic Srpska,".

A note to Karadzic - marble is porous. Stains always remain in place.

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