The US presidential election is coming up soon, less than two weeks away. That means, among other things, that it’s endorsement season now, and lately those have taken somewhat of an international flavor. You might have already heard about al-Qaeda’s “endorsement” of McCain – perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to write more about that soon. As such, that nod of terroristic approval goes counter to pretty much the whole rest of the world, which prefers Obama as next US president by about a four-to-one margin. (But you’d sort of expect that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen would be inclined to go against the grain, now, wouldn’t you?) More conventional is Russia’s choice, or at least Russia’s seeming choice, as reported by Per Dalgård in the Danish opinion weekly Information (McCain asks Russia for help). (more…)
“Thank God for the crises. They have brought America’s presidential candidates closer to us than they would like.” That is the verdict of former Die Zeit US correspondent Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff on how the latest US financial crisis has let us all see Messrs. Obama and McCain, namely under pressure and with their hair down. That evaluation comes at the very end of his recent article (In the headlights of the crises), and the conclusions he draws, at least, rather differ from what one would ordinarily have been led to expect. (more…)
Why are Russian forces presently still occupying big swathes of vital Georgian territory, seemingly in defiance of the cease-fire brokered by EU president Nicolas Sarkozy and signed by both the Russian and Georgian governments? (I say “seemingly,” because I’ve read reports that, in the negotiations leading up to that cease-fire agreement, the Russian side managed to have language inserted that gave them some leeway to keep hold of some of that territory if in their judgment it was necessary for use as a buffer for their defense of South Ossetia.) One possible reason, that Gazeta Wyborcza raises today (Russian Army not completely subordinate?), is that the Red Army might not have been completely under the control of its political masters during its incursion into Georgia.
This specter of a renegade Red Army is a scary one, particularly for Poles, although the Polish daily does not claim any original research here. Rather, the article is devoted to recasting into Polish a report on this subject from yesterday’s Financial Times – to which, if you’re interested, I’ll just let you switch over here since it’s written in good Queen’s (business) English. Highlights are the way the Russian troops kept going even after the cease-fire was signed (with the military brass ticked off that their leaders in the Kremlin would not let them finish the job, i.e. destroy the Georgian army), and how they even set about establishing a police force for the occupied Georgian city of Gori – not really a military force’s task, quite apart from it’s being a clear sign of intent to stay there for a while – before that political yank-on-the-leash finally came down and they were ordered to evacuate Gori (but only to positions just outside).
“Georgia – again?” Well, yes. What else would there be? The Republican National Convention? Coming up (we think). Sarah Palin? Not today, but definitely stay tuned on that one, it could turn spectacular. Hurricane Gustav? The European viewpoint there is probably not too interesting, even if we might be somewhat honored by the choice of that quintessentially (Central) European given name for bestowal on the storm. My best sense of the EU’s official position on Gustav – gathered from that extensive trawling through the various national presses that I do for you on a continual basis – is that it’s taken to be a bad thing, definitely.
Actually, developments on the Georgia story do keep on coming, especially if you take the unpleasantness there of last month (not at all unreasonably) as a proxy for the new Eurasian balance-of-power that conflict suddenly revealed to the world. Today is when the EU heads of government are due in Paris to meet on a European response (if any) to Russia’s recent behavior. Looking ahead last Friday, the Berlin correspondent for Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, Bartosz T. Wielinski, put forth a mostly pessimistic outlook on what could be accomplished (What the Union can do to Russia on Monday). (more…)
Today’s Washington Post passes along word from US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Daniel Fried, characterizing Russia’s recent intervention into Georgia as reflecting Russia “being angry and seeking revanchist victory” – “the sign of a weak [nation].” Putin, Medvedev & Co. seem to have gotten about all they wanted there, so is this just happy talk? Whistling past the graveyard? Maybe not; it’s a view also supported – and expanded upon – by Prof. Herfried Münkler of Berlin’s renowned Humboldt University writing in today’s Frankfurter Rundschau (The Russian Power). (more…)
Much ink has been spilled lately – or, if you like, billions of computer-screen pixels have been illuminated – in the wake of the Russian military incursion into Georgia over the new aggressiveness this signals in Russia’s outlook towards the outside world, particularly in situations enabling that country’s leaders to manufacture a pretext to invade based around “protecting” Russian nationals residing in some neighboring country. Which one of those neighbors is likely as the next candidate for Moscow’s attentions? You can bet that any remaining summer leave has been revoked as officials in both the ministries of foreign affairs and defense scramble to update their position statements and contingency plans in Kiev, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Baku, Yerevan – and in Chisinau.
Chisinau? You might recall that as the capital of the Republic of Moldova. It may not share any border with Russia, but in fact it is one country that has more to worry about in the face of the new Russian assertiveness than most, as André Tibold of the Nederlands Dagblad reminds us today (Moldova is also worried about provocations). (more…)
The hostilities in Georgia seem to be dying down now. Russian forces are withdrawing – or at least they are supposed to withdraw, under the terms of the cease-fire they signed, but there is considerable doubt as to whether they are actually fulfilling that obligation.
In the meantime, the countries of the NATO alliance struggle to come to terms with the new ruthless military face Russia has shown in this crisis. Germany now stands central in that military alliance, in the same way it has stood central for some time now within the European Union, again because of its sheer weight of population and economic power (and, who knows, maybe also its reputation for military ability in the past), which makes German commentary on these recent developments particularly interesting.
Hmm . . . maybe all this fuss about Georgia is really ultimately about oil! The French international affairs monthly Le Monde Diplomatique has contributed to its website the detailed map (in English) you see below of all existing and planned pipelines – for oil and for gas – in the Caucasus. Click on it to go to the original webpage and the full-size map.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday, speaking of the recent Russian actions in Georgia, that “This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed.” Examining her words carefully, one could conclude that her point is essentially that Russia is attempting a repeat of what it accomplished with its Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia – exactly forty years ago this month, as it happens – but should not be able or allowed to succeed this time.
But are the two military undertakings, separated by four decades, really comparable? You could ask the Czechs themselves about that. (more…)
The Dutch daily Het Parool has word of the current military struggle between Russia and Georgia spreading beyond land conflict (Russian Fleet Sinks Georgian Boat). Quoting Russian press bureaus, who in turn gained their information from the Ministry of Defense in Moscow, the paper reports that yesterday (Sunday) two Georgian patrol boats in the Black Sea fired rockets at Russian warships, who returned fire and sunk one of the boats. Spokesmen for the Georgian government were not available for comment. (more…)