Archive for September, 2008

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World’s Bi-Weekly Blue Streak

September 17, 2008
Muslim women watch the funeral of a pro-independence leader killed in Kashmir

Quote of the Week:

“Agreement with two people, lamentation with three”

-Kashmiri proverb

 The Tiger’s Cub Grows Up

September 16, 2008: INDIA—It’s always risky to partition a hefty chunk of fertile land to three vastly different countries, and when those competitors happen to be India, Pakistan, and China—well, it’s no wonder Kashmir is a hotbed of insurgency. Recently renewed violence due to Muslim-Hindu clashes and a harsh Indian crackdown has led experts to fear that Pakistani militants could gain power in tribal areas. The key issue appears to be who exactly will be running Kashmir in the long run—India, the Pakistani military, or as many pro-independence protestors advocate, Kashmir itself. The United States may be turning a blind eye for now, but it will only hurt counterterrorism efforts in the long run. Kashmir has just given us a wake up call, and it’s too dangerous to sleep in. 

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 Where Have All the Ambassadors Gone?

September 16, 2008: BOLIVIA—The crisis in Bolivia that has spurred tensions between Venezuela and the United States escalated further this week. President Evo Morales has declared martial law, the opposition governor Leopoldo Fernandez was arrested, and deaths related to civil unrest increased to 30 over the weekend. The country is split over support for Mr. Morales’s socialist attempts to redistribute petrol royalties. A minority of lowlanders in the oil-rich east, led by governor Mario Cossio, is accusing him of pulling a Fidel Castro, while the majority of the country supports Mr. Morales. Last week, Bolivia expelled the American ambassador for allegedly supporting rebel groups, as has Hugo Chavez in defense of Mr. Morales. This less-than-cozy love triangle reflects a growing divide in Bolivian interests. Diplomatic hope currently rests on Brazil’s shoulders, but even that is far from sunny. 

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 Sanctions S’il Vous Plait? 

September 16, 2008: FRANCE—France has gone ahead this week and pushed for a fourth round sanctions against Iran. The move was spurred by a recently released report that stated Iran has continued to block an investigation into its nuclear program. New sanctions however, are unlikely to go through the UN Security Council without China and Russia’s support. And although China “hopes” Iran will cooperate, they have also stated that they “don’t think sanctions are the way out.”  It’s a nice gesture from France from the United State’s point of view, but not a particularly effective one.

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By Dana Liebelson

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Editorial: Russian-Georgian Conflict Proves Machiavelli Wrong

September 16, 2008

By Jacinda Chan, Eurasia Contributor

 

Machiavelli believes states only comply through coercion, but is he right? Should Machiavelli’s principles be applied to the crisis between Georgia and Russia?

 

The EU has decided to suspend talks with Russia on the PCA, but is this enough to make Russia comply, or should NATO intervene with military strength?  NATO should not attack because Russia seems to defend South Ossetian self-determination, but if Russia is aggressive, NATO should attack. NATO should only attack to protect the oppressed.

If NATO waged a full scale attack, Russia has unhesitatingly said that they would react. Now, “react” is vague, but the Russian ambassador said, “Russia is not seeking a cold war. Russia is interested in continuing co-operation, business-to-business relations…. But, if our partners would prefer to choose another option, of course Russia will reply, will react.”  In this sense, Russia seems to use “reply” and “react” to define each other giving the sense that any actions that are not business-like will provoke Russia to retaliate. Raging a full scale attack would be more catastrophic than leaving the situation as is. According to Machiavelli, the West could not get Russia to comply with their demands of giving South Ossetia back. In this sense Machiavelli is actually correct because as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, “…the decision to recognize Georgia’s breakaway regions as independent is irrevocable.”

 

Russia seems willing to work with the West as long as South Ossetia retains their self-determination but, the West continues to argue they cannot let Russia get away with attacking Georgia because they need to respect Georgia’s territorial integrity. On August 7, 2008, BBC reported that Georgia attacked South Ossetia, and Russia defended South Ossetia and launched a counter attack. Der Spiegel claims Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili swore Russian armor vehicles crossed into South Ossetia. Russia then recognized South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence.

If Georgia attacked first to “restore constitutional order,” then NATO should not attack at all, and the EU should not even complain. Russia went too far in crossing into Georgia and was clearly wrong in violating international humanitarian law by using cluster bombs, in which case the commanders should be tried and held responsible.

 

But the international community should not condemn a state for protecting another state that is not terrorist and clearly just wants independence. For example, when India helped Bangladesh gain independence from Pakistan, the international community did not condemn it. The international community should not condemn it now either because self-determination—a core principle of NATO—is a human right. If NATO were to attack under these circumstances, they would completely undermine their organization. South Ossetia should hold another referendum on independence and let it be legally binding and internationally recognized.

 

If Russia began the aggression, then NATO should attack because the international community needs to protect the oppressed and not let big, powerful countries bully them. Even with an attack, NATO should only take back the Russian occupied territories of Georgia and South Ossetia in hopes that the war does not escalate to other regions.

 

If Russia is confident enough to allow elections in South Ossetia, which they probably will do because they intend to withdraw as soon as more peacekeeping troops arrive, which the EU has promised, or absorb South Ossetia to be united with their kin, Russia will show they truly only want the best for South Ossetia. 

 

Some MEPs of the EU claim Russia’s relief of not imposing sanctions shows they think they can get away with aggression. Russia could not want to start a war for an act they believe never happened. Russia thinks they abided by the ceasefire brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which means the Russians obviously want peace because otherwise they would not have signed the peace agreement if they really wanted to expand.

 

After Europe’s troika visit to Moscow, Russia has agreed to withdraw its troops from the Georgian port of Poti, dismantle other checkpoints erected close to Abkhazia within seven days, and pull its forces out of a self-declared buffer zone around Abkhazia—but still recognize Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence. Was the EU too lenient in complying with some of Russia’s demands such as allowing them to continue recognizing South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence? No, because Russia’s true intentions seem to be advocates for self-determination not to “forcibly change borders.” South Ossetia and Abkhazia should be allowed self-determination, and all parties involved should be held responsible if human rights abuses are occurring.

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World’s Weekly Blue Streak

September 12, 2008

Quote of the Week: 

“What else could we do [about Georgia]? Brandish a pen knife?        

-Vladimir Putin on the Russian incursion 

 Is Kim Jong Il Ill?

 September 11, 2008: NORTH KOREA – After Kim Jong Il failed to make an appearance at North Korea’s 60th Anniversary Parade—a particularly auspicious date in Korean culture—there was suspicion that Kim had suffered a stroke and was in grave condition. Amidst rumors of conspiracy plots and nuclear rearmament, the Korean intelligence chief has stepped up today and vouched that Kim is both “conscious” and able to “control the situation.” Nevertheless, with North Korea’s true intentions concerning disarmament recently thrown into question, it isn’t the most opportune moment for Kim Jong Il to fall off the map. No one has summed up the situation better than Brad Glosserman, director of the Pacific Forum: “The starting point on all this should be that we don’t know diddly about what is going on inside that closed country.”

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  Sundaravej Voted Off the Island

 September 12, 2008: THAILAND – Following Thai politics this week was like watching reality TV; between the Foreign Minister blaming his resignation on his wife, and the Prime Minister’s power questioned due to a stint on a cooking show (called “Tasting and Complaining,” no less)—it was only a matter of time before Samak Sundaravej got voted off the island. However, Mr. Samak was poised to return to power just days after being ousted, a decision that many feared would reignite anti-government protests. On Friday, the PPP (People Power Party) decided not to endorse Mr. Samak, which should soothe political turmoil. Looks like Samak Sundaravej got more complaining than he bargained for.

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  It’s Not the End of the World, Yet

 September 11, 2008: SWITZERLAND – For everyone on Wednesday who hunkered down in a bunker and kissed the kids goodbye, you can come out now. The debut of the atom smasher in Switzerland was met with nothing more than some champagne toasts and the thrill of scientific discovery–not a hungry black hole vying for earth. 

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  Living Happily Ever After?

September 12, 2008: ZIMBABWE – After a six-month stalemate, President Robert Mugabe has forged a deal that is intended to share power with bitter opposition rival, Morgan Tsvangirai. The accord still gives Mugabe the primary executive role, but Tsvangirai will be able to fill cabinet posts and head a council of ministers. Only problem? Both leaders appear to be in charge of the same group of ministers. Whether the deal will lead to progress in the economically ravaged country depends on cooperative power sharing—something that has historically been difficult in Zimbabwe. Although Tsvangirai received more votes in the March election, controversy over the run-off election and subsequent violence has allowed Mugabe to continue his 28-year rule. South African president Thabo Mbeki stated, “We hope the rest of the world will respect the decision of the leadership of Zimbabwe.” But if the new agreement fails to alleviate social and economic grievances, the rest of the world might lose its patience. 

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 Chavez Ousts the Yanks

 September 12, 2008: VENEZUELA – After giving the American ambassador 72 hours to leave the country, Hugo Chavez is beginning to feel the repercussions of heightened political tension with the U.S. The United States has imposed sanctions on Venezuela, and today named two of the country’s top intelligence officials as drug traffickers. Conflict has centered over Chavez’s support for Bolivia, cocaine trafficking, and Chavez’s threats to cease selling oil to the United States. Relations have plummeted to a new low, and according to Chavez, “When there is a new government in the United States, we’ll send an ambassador.”

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By Dana Liebelson

 

 


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International Relations and Security Network Unveils New Web Site

September 5, 2008

By Diplomatic Courier Staff

 

If you are a student, scholar, or professional perhaps you already have a number of Web sites and materials that you consult for your research, papers, or simply to get your information. The International Relations and Security Network (ISN)—together with an ever expanding global network of organizations, publications, institutions, and others—has gathered the best and most comprehensive information in one place: the New ISN Web site.

 

“The ISN believes that knowledge sharing is critical to the security and well being of our planet and its people. We hope our new website will make our mission a little easier to realize and return even greater value to our partners and users,” said Chris Pallaris, Executive Editor of ISN’s Security Watch.

 

The ISN offers a number of services and features that you will not find anywhere else on the web. Here are the most recent ones offered:

 

Policy Briefs: Briefings and recommendations from the world’s foremost policy experts
IR Directory: A full listing of public and private sector organizations active in IR and security
Podcasts: Interviews with leading voices in the international arena
Special Reports: In-depth reports on the issues driving the international agenda

 

Make sure to visit the new ISN for all things global at: http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/

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Understanding Russia’s Anniversaries

September 1, 2008

By Jason Vaughn, Guest Contributor

 

Those who know something about Russia know that Russians like to celebrate their military anniversaries with a due level of remembrance and a touch of sadness, not so far removed from their American, French, and British counterparts. For Russians however, these occasions entail a fair amount of drinking and reminiscing about the times of the past that speak of a more glorious and powerful Russia. It is telling when the best Russian vodkas such as “Putinka” are often named for leaders.

 

The biggest of these holidays usually include Victory Day (May 9, celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany), but also every May Day (May 1, what is now called ‘The Day of Spring and Labor’ to dampen its communist roots), and Russia Day (June 12). Survivors of great Russian victories such as the battles of Kursk, Berlin, and Smolensk gather together  in their own time to talk about who’s still alive, about the Great Patriotic War, and to comment (usually quite negatively) on the current state of Russian affairs.

 

The contemporary, hardened present-day military men—the Russian Colonels and Generals of today—reminisce with an air of resentment; something that might be of interest to outsiders, if they wish to see intimately Russia’s political path since the collapse of communism and where Russia might be going in the future.

 

This year, on October 4 is the 15th anniversary of the shelling of the Russian White House (then the seat of the Russian Parliament) by the army acting under the orders of the then-President Boris Yeltsin. In 1993, Russia was on the brink of chaos and under the threat of civil war. October 4, 1993 marked the culmination of a great crisis for post-Soviet Russia in which the parliament and the President jockeyed for power.

 

The result of that battle for power: the President won. The resulting constitution of Russia, which was installed and ratified by the Russian people in the aftermath of that crisis, is still in force today.

 

However, much like the various holidays related to Afghanistan (December 24 for the Soviet invasion), such an occasion is not publicly remembered today. While those who were involved will remember the storming of the White House in private—some vodka will no doubt be drunk in honor of lives lost in that bloody affair—few in public will mention the day.

 

Another occasion is December 11, which marks the 14th anniversary of the first invasion of Chechnya by Russian forces. From that December of 1994, Russia has fought its way through two Chechen wars, with a nearly four-year pause in between (1996-1999), managing during this period to lose the first one while turning the second into a low-level guerilla movement.

 

For the most part only officers and soldiers who were there come together, usually in their own homes, to talk about their experiences and to complain about the present state of Russia.

 

But, Russia today is much different since those tanks fired on their own parliament building. The Russia of 1993 was in a frightful state, still recovering from the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of most of its empire, and having experimented with a number of Western-supported economic policies, which failed to improve the living standards of the Russian people in any significant way.

 

Russia is generally more uninhibited these days. The country has been making some significant gains towards regaining the strength of its lost Soviet empire. It is now flying military flights over the Pacific again and it is trying to plant its flag as far north as possible to claim distant possible strategic oil reserves.

 

Looking now at their recently strong military adventure in supporting South Ossetia and Abkhazia in breaking away from Georgia, Russia is again “flying the flag.” While acknowledging that Georgia might have started it, the hardened soldiers of Russia will vow to finish it.

 

Russia, they will say, cannot be surrounded by a foreign military alliance—namely NATO—no matter how “defensive” it may be. Russia can do without friends, looking at the hesitations of China and their other usual allies of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement. They will be looking back to times of WWII when Russia also felt that they were fighting, and winning, the war alone. Having lost millions of people in that past war, of which was a fight to the death both figuratively and literally—the Soviet Union lost over 20 million people, compared to around 400,000 on the U.S. side—for them the protestations of the West mean nothing.

 

Russia will do what they must do, as the toast will go. Quietly, to the military men—who still reminisce during the anniversaries of Russia’s past glory and the heady days when the ‘Volzhd’ (‘Chief’) Stalin as their great leader—Russia’s rising power is what they have been longing for.

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Russia’s Struggle with Capitalism

September 1, 2008

By Michelle Blanter, Guest Contributor

 

In 1979, the “Central House of Artists” was built in Moscow, Russia. The building housed the Soviet Artist’s Guild, known today as the “International Federation of Artist Unions.” The building is large and gray with sharp angles—edgy and modern for the late 70s and early 80s. It now houses mostly 20th century Russian art and constantly runs exhibits of international modern art.

 

In 2004, the completion of “The Gherkin” in London became one of the most admired architectural projects in the world. The building is modern, energy saving, and stunning. The architect, Lord Norman Robert Foster was awarded his second Stirling Prize for it.

 

Driving through Moscow today, I can’t help but reminisce about the how much the city has changed in the past five to ten years. Moscow is one of the richest cities in the world, has the most billionaires, and is the most expensive—quite the transition from Soviet times when people had to stand in line for hours in the cold only to find out there was no bread left in the store.

 

BMWs, Range Rovers, and Porsche’s are parked everywhere—including the sidewalks—and gas prices are much lower than in Europe—roughly equivalent to U.S. prices. An ad for Rolex stands over the Red Square.

 

Russia is forever looking for a way to incorporate the benefits of western lifestyles without losing sight of the “Russian Soul.” Peter the Great cut Russian beards and brought in western industries but, left the culture of the countryside untouched. Lenin brought Marxism with his own twist. Now, former President Putin seems to have done the same with capitalism and globalization. Moscow may be rich and flashy but the Russian temper is omnipresent and Russian historical sites and culture are celebrated more than ever with a surge in Russian nationalism (it didn’t hurt to beat the Netherlands in the Euro Cup.)

 

But, recent surges in Russian nationalism did not prevent the Mayor of Moscow, Lushkov, from giving lucrative construction contracts to his wife’s company INTEKO. Recently, Russia’s “Central House of Artists,” a building of the twentieth century is now under threat of demolition. Ownership of the building is split between the Tretyakov Gallery—a government owned museum of classical Russian painting—and the “International Federation of Artist Unions.” INTEKO has submitted to replace the building with “Orange,” without even notifying the Director of the “Central House of Artists.”

 

The “Orange,” will be designed by architect Lord Norman Robert Foster and once built will be the largest building in Europe to date. It is going to have condominiums, a hotel, shops, and a small gallery in the center.

 

As I sat in the basement of the “Central House of Artists,” with their attorney she explained to me that there was little they could do if the government decided to take down the building and “oh, that evil capitalism; they are calling this art gallery a barn.”

 

That sums up my experience in Russia: the ever present struggle of Old Russia and New Russia; the Russia that looks to the East and the Russia that looks to the West. The Russia that celebrates capitalism and the one that resents it. The Russia that is nostalgic of the past glory represented in the beautiful artwork of the “Central House of Artists” that may now easily turn into an “Orange.”

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Bosom Friends or Bitter Enemies?

September 1, 2008

By Michelle Blanter, Guest Contributor

 

On the 27 of May, 1944 Latvian born Vassili Makarovich Kononov battled German Collaborators in the Latvian territories of the Soviet Union. The territory was a village known by the name “Mazie Bati.” The Soviet Union annexed Latvia in 1940. And, in 1941, the Soviet Army drafted Kononov, a Latvian citizen—the same year that German forces occupied Latvia. In February 1944 members of the Latvian village “Mazie Bati,” welcomed Red Partisans to hide into the village. While the women of the village assured the Red Partisans that they were safe and kept watch, the men ran to a German Garrison to inform them of the Partisans’ arrival. The Germans arrived and massacred the Partisans including two women and an infant and the villagers received compensation from the Germans for their collaboration in the form of weapons, firewood, sugar, alcohol, and money. Kononov was asked to investigate the incident and to bring those that were responsible to trial. On May 27, 1944, Kononov and his troops searched the homes of the suspected villagers. The soldiers found weapons, and evidence of collaboration with the Nazis against Red Partisans and realized that the villagers were not civilians. Violence broke out.

 

Liberated post-war countries viewed Russia as heroic for fighting off Nazi Germany in the years following World War II. Soviet generals and soldiers received honors for their brave actions in the fight against the German occupiers. Partisans who died on German occupied territories were regarded as martyrs. Kononov himself was decorated with the Order of Lenin, the highest distinction in the Soviet Army.

 

On May 4 1990, Latvia became the Latvian SSR and by 1994, Russia had completely withdrawn from the territories. In 1996, Latvia declared that the Soviet Union had in fact occupied Latvia during the years of World War II. 

 

Kononov went on to become educated and work as a policeman in the Soviet Union. In 1993, a new addition to the Criminal Code by the Latvian Supreme Council criminalized genocide and war crimes. Under these laws, Kononov was tried for the attack on the village “Mazie Bati,” in 1944. The case against Kononov regarded the villagers of “Mazie Bati” as innocent civilians and victims of the Soviet occupation. These trials began in 1998.  Kononov was detained during the trials. He was the only partisan on trial; all others died before 1993.  Fifty four years after the attack on “Mazie Bati” Kononov was tried and found guilty. As a result, he lost freedom, property, and honor. He could not attend the funerals of his son and two brothers.

 

In the context of World War II, the idea of a “war criminal” is significantly broadened. Clean-cut men in suits and soldiers from the “good side,” can just as easily be war criminals as the “bad guys,” who rape and pillage civilians. But, outside of what is broadly reported in the media, a war crimes trial such as this one does not have clearly defined “good” and “bad” sides.

 

On July 24 2008, the imprisonment of Vassili Makarovich Kononov was considered an injustice. How could Kononov be a Soviet Occupier in Latvia if he had Latvian citizenship and was, if anything, a victim of the Soviet Union when he was enlisted in the army? How could his actions—an order carried out from a commanding officer—be seen as war crimes when the people with whom they were fighting were not civilians, but soldiers, armed and fighting for the German army on Soviet territories?

 

With the fall of the Soviet Union came the independence of many nations, now bitter from the years of “forced,” rule. Now, members of the European Union—Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are fighting back, altering laws and criminal codes according to the standards of the newly-independent nations. New laws are invoked in order to bring justice, and cases like the one involving Kononov, become proxies of much larger power struggles between bitter enemies.