Russian propaganda video about Georgia (in Russian)
Monday, September 29, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Frontlines and backtracks
Sep 25th 2008
Laying down the law, or just laying down?
WHETHER you look at soft or hard power, Europe’s ability to defend itself appears wobbly. A poll in the Financial Times this week showed that German public opinion strongly opposes the use of force to defend the Baltic states, even if they come under military attack from Russia. True, that is not an imminent threat, and probably never will be. But it hardly sends a comforting signal to the hard men and hotheads in Russia who may think that such a stunt would have a chance of success.
Things are also looking pretty gloomy at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. As the custodian of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Council has perhaps the best claim to be the repository of the ideals of liberty and justice on which Europe likes to think its civilisation is based.
At issue are several upcoming debates in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). This body’s members are moonlighting—in wordy, worthy and well-deserved obscurity—from their main jobs as national lawmakers in the 47 member states. It is the sort of place that makes even the European Parliament look important.
Next week PACE will consider a report of a committee that has just visited Moscow and Tbilisi. The rapporteur, Luc van den Brande, is a centre-right member from Belgium and a possible candidate to become the next Secretary General of the Council of Europe. That requires Russian support. So expect no fireworks there. PACE will also debate the Georgia conflict and adopt a resolution. Nobody will notice that either.
More important is a debate on a motion presented by 24 PACE members challenging the credentials of the Russian delegation, on the implied grounds that the elections in December 2007 were not free and that Russia’s conduct in Georgia breaches its obligations as a member state. That could lead either to the temporary suspension of Russian members’ voting rights (as happened once before in 2000, at the height of the second Chechen war), or full suspension of Russian membership (similar to the punishment meted out to Belarus in 1997). Other measures under consideration include setting up special monitoring of Russia’s human-rights record. Since Georgia joined PACE, it has been monitored on rule-of-law issues, the functioning of democratic institutions and refugee rights. But there are no special measures for Russia.
What looked like a good way to highlight international criticism of Russia’s actions in Georgia may now backfire. The Kremlin is gearing up to attack its critics as an unrepresentative Russophobic minority. It says that if its credentials are removed—or indeed if it is “put in a corner”—it will pull out from the Council altogether. That risks blocking almost the only way in which Russian citizens can sue their government for human-rights abuses in an international court.
If the attempt to challenge the Russian delegation’s credentials flops badly, it will underline the support that the Kremlin enjoys, even post-Georgia, in big European countries and among the continent’s main political parties. Russia refused to meet Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister and the current chairman of the Council’s committee of ministers, when he wanted to visit Moscow. Nobody seems to have objected to this public snub. PACE may also discuss a motion challenging the Georgian deputies’ credentials, on the grounds of severe shortcomings identified in the parliamentary elections there in May. Preventing the issue of new credentials requires fewer votes than lifting existing ones.
PACE was never very important. But Russia is flouting the Council of Europe’s core principles. If the Council flinches now, its members might as well all stay at home.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Sep 18th 2008
From The Economist print edition
What Russia’s stockmarket collapse means for Russia and for its neighbours
EVER since Vladimir Putin and his ex-KGB friends came to power in Russia, they have had one big advantage: a booming economy, rising prices for oil and gas exports, and strong capital inflows from abroad. All of a sudden, that has changed.
Partly as a result of the storm hitting all emerging markets (see article) and partly because of jumpy nerves following the war with Georgia, the markets in Moscow have been crashing. On September 17th and 18th the authorities halted trading in shares and bonds after the benchmark RTS share index fell 21% earlier in the week. It is down nearly 60% since its peak in May. The finance ministry pledged $60 billion to prop up the banking system; much of it seems to have gone offshore.
As regulators and politicians in Moscow struggle to contain the damage, and firms worry about bonds due later this year, a big question is how the economic turmoil will affect Russian politics at home and its policies abroad. Optimists hope the market wobbles will mean a less abrasive anti-Western foreign policy and the restarting of reforms. Others fear that the Kremlin will respond with tighter controls at home and a still tougher stance abroad.
Modernising reforms largely stopped in the final years of Mr Putin’s presidency, as the Kremlin sought to control the country’s oil and gas industry, and to silence critics. His successor, Dmitry Medvedev, made promising speeches on corruption and legal reform, but has not acted on them. Andrei Piontkovsky, a sharp-tongued Russian commentator, says the struggle among Kremlin clans is between “global kleptocrats” who want to be part of the world economy and “national kleptocrats” with cruder domestic interests.
For now, Russia shows no sign of softening on Georgia. It has said international monitors cannot operate in South Ossetia (whose independence is recognised only by Russia and Nicaragua) without permission of authorities there. It insists that South Ossetia, and the other breakaway region, Abkhazia, must participate in upcoming talks in Geneva on settling the conflict. Georgia says it will not attend if the separatists are there.
Russia has also accused NATO of showing “cold war reflexes” after a visit to Georgia by the alliance’s secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. He said that Georgia’s “road to NATO remained wide open”, without giving specifics.
Ukraine, meanwhile, faces not only a financial crisis but also a political one exacerbated by the war in Georgia. The governing coalition has collapsed after a row between Viktor Yushchenko, the president, and his former ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister. Her party is moving towards an alliance with the grouping led by Viktor Yanukovich, once the Kremlin-backed candidate who was blocked from the presidency by the pro-democracy “orange revolution” of 2004.
Mr Yushchenko says Mrs Tymoshenko is selling out to Moscow; she says he has dangerously inflamed relations with Russia. Some fear that the Kremlin is exploiting Ukraine’s political weaknesses. But the country’s politicians seem to be doing enough damage without outside help.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Keep calm and carry on
Sep 18th 2008
Giant spiders will not attack Estonia—official
THE Baltic states are full members of NATO. In theory, that means they need worry about external threats no more than any other NATO member. If they come under threat from, say, Russia, they are entitled to exactly the same protection under Article IV (political support) and Article V (military support) as any other country in the alliance.
But viewed from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania it doesn’t quite feel that way. Baltic officials have been privately and semi-publicly urging NATO to increase its visible presence in the Baltic states, both in terms of planes, ships and soldiers, and through high-profile visits. If the response is cool, they question the alliance’s resolve.
It is true that the permanent NATO presence in the Baltic consists merely of a few warplanes, provided on a rota by NATO countries that, unlike the Baltics, have real air forces. NATO contingency-planning regards any military danger from Russia as a taboo (after all, Russia is a friend, isn’t it?). So formal threat-assessment gives no basis for the alliance to plan how to reinforce its north-eastern members.
All that is going to change, slowly. NATO’s “Military Committee 161,” which deals with threat assessment, will shortly consider how to rejig the bureaucratic basis for military planning. Other work is already under way.
But there is little to be gained, and much to be lost, by panicky talk in the Baltics about the need for more NATO support. It creates the potentially dangerous impression that the Baltic states are “lite” members of NATO. The alliance’s secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said rightly last week in Riga that there was no need to show “special solidarity” or create extra “NATO bases”: every Latvian military base was a NATO base, he noted.
The biggest threat to the Baltic states right now is not military, but psychological, as questions that should be ludicrous are treated seriously. Estonia’s media has been in a flap about a book to be published next week about the Bronze Soldier affair of 2007 (when the clumsy move of a war memorial from central Tallinn to a military cemetery prompted a night of rioting and splenetic Russian reaction). The book, by a Finnish author called Johan Bäckman, says that as a result of this, Estonia will be part of the Russian Federation within ten years. Perhaps. But perhaps Estonia will be swept away by a tsunami or colonised by giant spiders. Giving the book front-page treatment, albeit highly critical, suggests that the editors privately think its thesis is plausible.
Another flap illustrates the danger of over-reacting to such pokes. A smattering of Estonian farmers have supposedly (according to a dubious Russian news source) pledged loyalty to a restored “Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic” on the grounds that “bourgeois Estonia” is a country “where nobody cares about the common people . . . with raging unemployment and corruption, and everything depends on NATO and the Americans.”
That was picked up by the international media and appeared in sober news outlets such as the Denver Post. In a sense the story is just meaningless fluff. But it is worrying that anyone took it seriously at all: a similarly ludicrous story elsewhere—say a few South Tirolean farmers saying that they wanted to restore the Hapsburg empire—would have scarcely merited a line.
The best defence for the Baltic states is to steer their economies safely through the global downturn, to clean up corruption, and to make their fractious and sometimes opaque political systems work better. As far as Russia is concerned, impassive calm is, for now, the best approach.
Friday, September 12, 2008
The weakness of the West
Sep 11th 2008
Russia is on the front foot now—but not for ever
EVEN the most sanguine political observers would concede that dealing with a resurgent Russia may require a bit of a rethink. But George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor, a consultancy sometimes dubbed the “shadow CIA”, has floated a starker idea. In the latest New York Review of Books, he contends that the recent war between Russia and Georgia shows that the balance of power in Eurasia has already shifted—and sharply against the West.
His argument goes as follows. Vladimir Putin wanted both to re-establish the credibility of the Russian army as a fighting force and to show that Western security relationships mean nothing in the face of Russian power. The first was a close call (only hasty reinforcements allowed a victory over the Georgian army). But the second has been successful. Humiliating a close American ally has revealed the West’s weakness. The lesson of the war, writes Mr Friedman, is that “while the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value.”
Moreover, American denunciations of the attack on Georgia have played into Russia’s hands, by contrasting bombastic rhetoric with empty actions. Does America really want Russia to sell modern air-defence systems to Iran and Syria, endangering Israel’s ability to defend itself? If not, America had better forget Georgia. Europe barely rates a mention, with almost no military expeditionary capability and growing gas dependency on Russia.
In short, Mr Friedman concludes, Russia has “backed America into a corner”. Every country in the region is now re-evaluating its links with Moscow. Russia is using the window of opportunity created by Iraq and Afghanistan to assert a “new reality”.
Is that right? Mr Friedman’s argument is lucid, but incomplete. The West still sells one thing that is not made in Russia: respectability. That matters to the class that Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian commentator, calls “global kleptocrats”. They want their businesses audited, lawyered and banked by blue-chip Western respectability-merchants. Dubai, Mumbai and Shanghai may offer that eventually, but not yet. Restricting the sale of respectability while the West still has some in stock would be a powerful sanction.
The best route is to start off with sanctions against any business or individual doing business in South Ossetia or Abkhazia. That will establish scrutiny mechanisms (such as visa denials and financial blacklists) that can then be applied more broadly once they are running smoothly.
Secondly, the West still has soft power. The Russian consulate in New York is not besieged by Americans wanting to emigrate. Large numbers of Russians, especially middle-class ones, have that option under active consideration. The Kremlin propaganda machine may be doing a good job in persuading the public that Russia is in the right and even that living conditions are improving. But it has not succeeded in persuading the public that life in Russia is good. And how could it? Corruption is rampant, infrastructure crumbling, public services disgraceful. The West can do a better job of highlighting that.
Thirdly, Europe does count. Russia may be able to use its relationship with countries such as Italy and Germany to veto use of the sticks, but it cannot stop Europe offering some juicy carrots to the countries now being squeezed by Russia. Places like Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine are admittedly hard to help, but the task is not impossible.
In short, it is not (quite) as bad as Mr Friedman argues. The Russian geopolitical counterattack may falter because of internal divisions within the squabbling Kremlin elite. If not, it will prove self-limiting: the more it succeeds, the more opposition it arouses. But expect a nasty few months or years in the meantime.
Friday September 12 2008 18:00 BST
Wojciech Jaruzelski cuts a dignified, vulnerable figure these days, living in quiet retirement at the age of 84. At first sight the decision by Polish prosecutors to put him on trial for his role in declaring martial law in December 13, 1981 looks vindictive. True, it ended the intoxicating era of freedom created by the Solidarity trade union movement, which had jemmied open the communist party's grip on power. But it prevented (perhaps) a far more traumatic outcome: full-blown Soviet invasion. And it was also the Jaruzelski government that enabled Poland's lasting return to democracy in 1989, with the round table talks in which the communist regime negotiated its own peaceful demise.
Yet General Jaruzelski did not seem a dignified, vulnerable, altruistic figure in the terrifying days after 1981. Along with other activists in "Solidarity with Solidarity" I shivered outside the Polish embassy in London, chanting "Bez solidarnosci nie ma wolnosci" (No freedom without solidarity). We knew that many of our friends in Poland were on the run or among the thousands interned. Dozens of Polish patriots were beaten to death by riot police and other goons. In their search for informants, the secret police used their habitually nasty tactics to turn sister against brother, husband against wife, parent against child. The trauma and distrust of martial law and its aftermath still poisons public life in Poland today.
It would be quite wrong to portray Jaruzelski simply as a victim of events, let alone a patriotic altruist. Other Poles in high positions under communism faced tough choices too – and chose differently. Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, another Polish officer, chose to spy for the west – and gave warning of the plans for martial law. Whether he was a hero or a traitor is still a divisive question in Poland today.
It would also be wrong to see the round table talks as an unqualified success. From the point of view of many Poles today, the negotiations were unfair and the result a shameful fudge, in which weak-willed opposition leaders (some of them with a dodgy past and open to blackmail) allowed the communist usurpers to make a sham departure from power. Some 20 years later, it is remarkable how well the old regime has fared in Poland, particularly in business but also in politics.
Reasonable people can disagree about how harshly to judge the past. Writing off the whole of communist rule in Poland as illegitimate is not as tidy as it seems. Real people lived real lives and had real achievements. Even the most hawkish Poles do not say that the university degrees they gained under communism were valueless.
But a couple of things are clear. At least Poland is debating its past, and the difficult calculus between justice and mercy. That is a sharp contrast with modern Russia, where the regime is busily obfuscating history: producing a new textbook for example, which makes Stalin out to be a tough-minded leader who made difficult decisions for what he thought was the good of the country.
Secondly, prosecution is not guilt. Jaruzelski will have a chance to put his side of the argument. The prosecutors will put theirs. If he dislikes the verdict, he can appeal. If voters don't like the outcome, they can elect representatives who can change the law. That is how things are supposed to work – and that's just what didn't happen during the years Jaruzelski was in power.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
This article in the NYRB caught my attention and is strongly recommended
Georgia and the Balance of Power
The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It has simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted. The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery. This has opened an opportunity for the Russians to reassert their influence in the former Soviet sphere. Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public. They did that on August 8.
Russia and the West
A deal, for now
Sep 9th 2008
Europe shores up the Russian-Georgian ceasefire agreement
HUMILIATION avoided, but hardly a triumph: that is the upshot of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s talks in Moscow on Monday September 9th, where he tried to get the Kremlin to implement in full a French-brokered ceasefire that ended Russia’s war with Georgia.
After sometimes stormy talks, Mr Sarkozy, accompanied by the European Union’s nominal foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, and the EU commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, gained agreement on the withdrawal of Russian troops from a buffer zone established around the two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia (but so far almost nobody else) has recognised both places as independent states.
Russian forces will leave positions around the port of Poti within a week, and pull back from the rest of the buffer zone ten days after EU monitors are deployed, which must be by October 1st. Yet that is pretty much what Mr Sarkozy thought he had gained in the first ceasefire agreement, which envisaged (at least in Western eyes) troops from both sides moving back promptly to their pre-conflict positions.
Mr Sarkozy said that the deal, if honoured, would allow the resumption, presumably in October, of talks between the EU and Russia on a new partnership agreement. The decision of an emergency European summit was to suspend these talks amid unprecedented displeasure with Russia for its invasion of Georgia and recognition of the breakaway regions.
Yet the coming weeks offer plenty of scope for quibbling and foot-dragging. Russia has repeatedly accused Georgia of breaking the ceasefire agreement: that could be one pretext. Another could be any signs of American help to rebuild the shattered remnants of the Georgian army—which the Kremlin refers to hyperbolically as “Georgia’s military machine”. Russia also wants the Georgian leadership to sign a binding agreement renouncing the use of force to recover the lost territories. The EU says it will guarantee this. It also wants Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, to stand trial for war crimes. It is unclear whether a 200-strong EU force will be able to patrol inside the breakaway regions.
Blame for the muddle rests partly with France, currently in charge of the EU. Mr Sarkozy allowed two different versions of the vaguely worded ceasefire agreement to circulate, with ambiguous translations on a key issue: whether Russia is allowed to provide security “in” the breakaway regions, or “for” them.
The latest agreement also allows Russia to maintain many more troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia than before the conflict. Western diplomats say that insisting on a reduction to pre-war levels is unrealistic. None of that is much comfort for the Georgian leadership, which is coping with tens of thousands of refugees and a nose-diving economy. Russian pressure for his departure may have shored up Mr Saakashvili’s position for now, but behind the scenes Georgian politicians are manoeuvring to replace him.
The worst east-west row for more than two decades may have stopped hotting up, but it is not cooling off much. Russia is sending a flotilla headed by one of its largest warships, Peter the Great, a nuclear-powered cruiser, to the Caribbean for joint manoeuvres with Venezuela, America’s most pungent adversary in the region. That follows the deployment of a handful of American naval ships to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia. America has suspended a deal with Russia that would have allowed companies from both countries to invest in each other’s nuclear industry.
Russia may be betting that Europe and America cannot stay focused on Georgia for long. Russian help is needed on a range of other global issues, from Afghanistan to Iran. The EU and NATO are both deeply divided on Russia, with countries such as Italy loudly opposing sanctions of any kind, and others such as Germany highly mindful of Russia’s role as an energy supplier. A more hawkish camp, including Britain, Sweden, Poland and the Baltic states, want a fundamental rethink of relations with Russia. But even proponents of that admit that the costs will be high, and the benefits distant.
Monday, September 08, 2008
From The Times
September 8, 2008
How the West is losing the energy cold war
Russia's victory in Georgia is having far-reaching effects as its neighbours rethink the wisdom of selling gas and oil to Europe
Picture yourself as the autocratic leader of a small-ish former Soviet republic, bubbling with oil and gas and keen to sell it. But where? One route is old, cheap and easy. It leads north, to Russia. But memories of the Kremlin's imperial embrace are still fresh. The other is new, costly and tricky. It goes west, in both senses - via your neighbour, Georgia, and to supply Western customers direct.
Azerbaijan, a country of 8 million people on the Caspian Sea, plumped for the western route. After all, America was the strongest country in the world and Russia - back in the 1990s - was weak. So Azerbaijan supported the building of a $4 billion, 1,000-mile-long, million-barrels-a-day oil pipeline from Baku, its capital, via Tbilisi, in Georgia, to Ceyhan, a port on Turkey's southern coast. BTC, as it is known, is the only oil pipeline from the former Soviet Union not controlled by the Kremlin.
Azerbaijan also supported the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline into eastern Turkey. Europe, with US backing, wants to extend it all the way to Austria. That project is named Nabucco - an operatic touch that underlines its importance in saving Europe from energy slavery.
Now not only is that plan in tatters but much else besides. As the shock waves from Russia's dismemberment of Georgia echo across the region, Western interests are toppling like dominos. Almost unnoticed in Britain, Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, paid a near-disastrous visit to Azerbaijan last week. Its President, Ilham Aliyev, inflicted a series of public snubs, including phoning the Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev, the moment that a meeting with Mr Cheney finished. A disgruntled Mr Cheney apparently then failed to appear at an official banquet. Azerbaijan seems to be ruling out supplying gas to Nabucco.
The reason is simple - Mr Aliyev does not want his country to suffer Georgia's fate. It all too easily could. Like Georgia, Azerbaijan is not shielded by Nato. Talks on a US military presence have got nowhere. Relations with the EU are dormant, not helped by rigged elections and bullying of the opposition. Russia has been stirring up the Lezgin ethnic minority, whose homeland straddles the border between Russia and Azerbaijan. Mr Aliyev, an instinctive fence-sitter, has been talking nicely to Russia's energy giant Gazprom. It has offered to buy his country's entire gas exports - at world prices.
Just across the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have stitched up a deal to build a new gas export pipeline north to Russia. That further kiboshes Western hopes of finding gas from Central Asia to fill Nabucco, which is threatened by the rival South Stream project across the Black Sea, promoted by Russia.
It gets worse. Even Turkey, the linchpin of Western security planning in the region, is wobbling. It depends on a Russian pipeline across the Black Sea for most of its gas. The Kremlin has been assiduously cultivating Ankara, just as the EU has been giving it the cold shoulder. The sight of a semi-independent Kurdistan emerging as the result of the US invasion of Iraq has chilled relations further.
Iran is the other beneficiary of Georgia's defeat. If the westward route is blocked, the choice for Central Asia and the Caucasus is to deal either with the mullahs of Tehran or with the former KGB men in Moscow. Neither offers much comfort to the West. Iran has said that it will block a gas pipeline across the Caspian - a vital link in the Nabucco project.
It may seem hard to get worked up about this in Britain. But if energy supplies to the rest of Europe are under Russia's thumb, Britain's security is deeply compromised. The absurdity is that Europe should be laying down terms to Russia. Not only is the EU the Kremlin's largest customer, Europe's economy is more than ten times larger than Russia's, its population more than three times bigger. The magnet of European integration has brought peace to the western Balkans: if it is a choice between snuggling up to Russia or getting on track to join the EU, countries such as Serbia choose West over East. The same is happening, tantalisingly, in Belarus, where the autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko is desperately flirting with Europe in the hope of staving off the day when his country is swallowed up in a new Russian-run superstate. Belarus has released all its political prisoners and is hoping that the EU will now relax sanctions.
The West used to be deluded about the former KGB regime in Russia. Belatedly it has shed its illusions. But it is still fatally divided and distracted. Germany and Italy prize their economic ties with Russia far above the interests of nominal allies in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. British Eurosceptics react with garlic and silver bullets when a common European foreign policy is discussed. America is far away, bogged down in two other wars. It is not going to fight harder for Europe than Europe itself will do. Russia knows this, and believes it has a green light to push ahead. Turn down the heating: this is going to be a long winter.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Thursday, September 04, 2008
The assassination of Franz Ferdinand
One morning in Sarajevo
Sep 4th 2008
From The Economist print edition
One Morning in Sarajevo: 28 June 1914
By David James Smith
Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 336 pages; £18.99
THE rebellious Slav subjects of the sclerotic Habsburg monarchy called it the “graveyard of nations”. However, for most people in the east and south of the Austro-Hungarian empire the early years of the 20th century were, in retrospect, a golden age: peaceful and law-governed in a way that contrasts poignantly with the totalitarian decades that followed. The great pity is that Emperor Franz Josef II, who ruled the empire from 1848 to 1916, enjoyed robust good health, living to the overripe old age of 86 and blocking the changes that modernity required of his country. Under a different monarch with a more reformist bent, the empire might have survived for many happy decades more.
The shots that killed the heir-apparent to the imperial throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914 unleashed the destruction of the Habsburg empire, the most advanced multicultural and multi-ethnic state that Europe had ever seen. The imperial government in Vienna believed that the assassination was a Serb-backed plot; an ultimatum was followed by war; Russia came to Serbia’s defence, Germany to Austria’s, France to Russia’s and so on. A Balkan squabble about Bosnia-Herzegovina, a province grabbed by the Habsburgs from the declining Ottoman empire, caused the destruction of a whole world.
It is not only those who hanker for the Pax Habsburgiana who find the story of the assassination gripping. It also has echoes of present-day terrorism. Self-obsessed youngsters from middle-class families, convinced of the rightness of their muddled nihilistic creed, raging at the unfairness of the grown-ups’ world, and willing to murder those who represent it: the conspirators of 1914 had at least something in common with today’s Islamist terrorists. They also planned to commit suicide, in order that their plot’s secrets would die with them.
David James Smith tries to paint the story of the Sarajevo murders on a wide canvas. His book is the story not only of seedy, neurotic drifters, but also of the clash of civilisations: Russian revolutionary and anarchist ideas, mixed with the fervid myths of Serbian nationalism, against the stifling, snobbish autocracy of the dual monarchy. Poignant ironies abound. One of the main goals of the self-professed revolutionary socialists was to create a south-Slav state—under a Serbian monarch, no less. Nothing very left-wing about that. After the assassination, most Sarajevans were distraught, not ecstatic. Loyal Muslim and Catholic citizens rioted side-by-side against the treacherous Serbs. (Islam in those days was a private affair, not a political one.)
And the archduke, although foul-tempered, and bloodthirsty when it came to hunting, was a notable dove when it came to Serbia. He supported equal rights for the southern Slavs within the empire and raged against the protocol-ridden royal court. It is only a minor exaggeration to say that Gavrilo Princip and his pals shot the one man who could have brought prosperity and freedom to the people that the archduke cared most about. “If it hadn’t been for them we’d still be in Austria,” says a cross taxi-driver in modern-day Sarajevo, when asked about a memorial to the conspirators.
Sadly, the author seems to miss the point of that, and much else. The book uncritically recycles the Serbian romantic (and largely invented) version of history. It crams the complex politics of the time into a straitjacket of modern political correctness: empires are bad and freedom fighters good. The potted history is garbled in places, and the book is peppered with tiresome errors of fact and transcription. Rebecca West, a British author, published her epic book on Yugoslavia in 1941, so certainly did not research it in the “1940s”. Pijemont may be the Bosnian word for the Italian province of Piedmont, but is unlikely to mean much to the English-speaking reader. The book would have benefited from better editing and proofreading. The Croatian wartime fascists were “Ustashi” not “Utasa”. Flippant jokes about Freemasons, bizarre punctuation and leaden travelogue about the roast lamb that the author ate for lunch add to the reader’s feeling of frustration.
Most of the book, as Mr Smith acknowledges, is based on other people’s scholarly efforts. His own research, particularly in tracking down relatives of the assassins and those who knew them, is commendable. Yet even when Mr Smith finds the conspirators’ memorial in a neglected Sarajevo graveyard, he seems to miss the irony of the inscription on it: a line by a famous Montenegrin poet-prince that says, roughly, that being remembered makes you live for ever. Does living in infamy count?
The new cold what?
Sep 4th 2008
Naming the stand-off between Russia and the West
DEFINING the beginning and end of the old cold war—let alone is the issues at stake—is tricky. Did it start with Lenin? With Stalin? Or with the Iron Curtain’s erection in Europe at the end of the second world war? And when did it end? With the Helsinki Accords of 1973, or with Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika?
Historians can quibble indefinitely, but a rough definition might be that the cold war was an era of rivalry, both military and ideological, between two global superpowers. It started with the Berlin airlift of 1948, and petered out in the 1980s.
The phrase “the new cold war” has grown increasingly popular. In the past year it has appeared, along with a mention of Russia, fully 1861 times in major world publications, according to the Lexis-Nexis database. By contrast, it appeared only 1062 times in the five years between September 2001 and September 2006.
But does it make sense? Russia may flirt with Venezuela and Iran, and refuse to vote for sanctions against Zimbabwe at the UN, but the days of serious proxy wars in faraway countries are clearly over. The West’s disagreement with Russia is mostly a regional conflict about the future of the former Soviet empire in Europe, not a titanic fight about the future of the world.
The reason is simple: Russia is too weak for global struggle. The Soviet Union could at least pretend to be a superpower. Russia cannot. In alliance with China, it might perhaps be able to form a serious anti-western alliance. But that does not seem to be happening.
As Andrei Piontkovsky, a sapient Russian commentator, points out, an alliance between Russia and China would be like one between a rabbit and a boa constrictor, with Russia as the lapine element. Even in nuclear arms, Russia is no match for the West. As far as conventional weapons go, any adversary bigger than Georgia would present problems.
And the clear ideological division seems missing too. Russia does not preach a messianic ideology that attracts fervent believers all over the world. Westerners who sympathise with the modern Kremlin are a rum mixture of amoral financiers, America-haters, isolationist cranks and anti-capitalists. If they ever met each other, the dislike would be instant and apparent.
Finally, Russia is integrated into the West in business, financial and cultural terms to an extent that would have been inconceivable in Soviet days. Millions of Russians travel abroad. For all except a tiny number of determined oppositionists, Russia is an open society where people can live their lives as they like.
Yet for all that, talk of a “new cold war” is not necessarily absurd. Historical events never repeat themselves precisely. The current era of confrontation with Russia is new and different (and unsettling for those who believed fondly in a new era of perpetual peace).
But the similarities deserve mention too. The main theatre is the same: the countries of eastern and central Europe. In those days they were struggling to be free of the Soviet empire. Now they are struggling not be sucked back into a “lite” version of it based (mostly) on economic influence rather military occupation.
The ideological struggle between capitalism and communism has been replaced by a clash of values: are a free press and an opposition that can win elections necessary parts of a modern economy? The West says yes; Russia says no. Even in the old cold war, Russian imperialism played a big if submerged role in Soviet thinking. Now that seems back too. That’s nasty. And a nasty short-hand term for it, sadly, is needed.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Our mole at Yasenovo has uncovered another email from the policy-planning unit in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service HQ. To disguise the source it has been translated into rather elegant English. I should stress that--leaving aside questions of its authenticity--I am not the author--it was sent to me by a reader of the blog.
I agree that great success of Georgia experiment means a complete re-appraisal of ultimate aims. Yes, we can afford to be ambitous. But we must also be realistic.
The only achievable goals within the next ten years are in Europe.
Where will the frontier of the Near Abroad be? The Atlantic? The English Channel? The Rhine? The Elbe? The Oder-Neisse? The Vistula? If we rely on military force, it cannot be the Atlantic.
If we act now, we shall be in Riga in hours; Merkel (Angela Mbeki) will say fierce things for public consumption, but will continue to build the pipeline, Sarkozy will negotiate a cease-fire between us and the Latvians, Mr Obama will say that Russia must be taught a lesson, and the British public will ask where Latvia is. So far, so good. But then what? Logic suggests that we should take Estonia and Lithuania too. But Estonia has strong ties with Finland and Sweden. Estonia is not for them a “far away country of which they know little'”, and they might reckon our move to be a fundamental threat to their security. Victory could be delayed, and delay is dangerous. Even without the Americans, a British fleet in the Baltic, with overt support from Sweden, Finland and Poland, could deny us control of the sea and air, and enable some Estonian strongholds to hold out against us indefinitely.
Lithuania does not have natural allies, but it also does not have a sizable Russian minority to provide us with a justification for intervening; it also has a land frontier with Poland, which could prove inconvenient. Also it might frighten Germany into a less cooperative frame of mind. So, although I recognise that the military window of opportunity will be open for only a short time, I submit that it is not an opportunity of which we should avail ourselves, not only for the reasons given, but because Option II is likely to yield a much better result.
5. Option II Provided we are discreet, the desire for a quiet life in the West will prevent them from doing anything effective to thwart our plans. It will be largely a propaganda war, and we shall need to run several lines to prevent the issues becoming clear. There is a lot of ignorance and anti-Americanism, and we need to fuel both, the former by a steady stream of misinformatiion, the latter by trading on the Americans' ability to lose friends and antagonize people, and also by emphasizing their many defects. We should talk a lot about democracy, because that is a word which has little meaning: we can plausibly maintain that we are a democracy while claiming that our opponents are not, and any argument to the contrary will be too long for many people to listen to. We can play the ``What about Kossovo?'' and ``What about Guantanamo?'' cards again and again, and there will always be some takers. And while we should take a high moral line about the human rights of Russian minorities, we can at the same time find many hearers for a realpolitik argument ``How would you like it if there was a Russian naval base in Ireland, or missiles stationed in Mexico''. A bit of American history---the Monroe Doctrine, and the construction of the Panama Canal---should be available for every potential peacenik, while diplomats and businessmen should be encouraged to demand jaw-jaw rather than war-war.
In France the motives we have to play on are vanity and greed. We must treat Sarkozy as being always the real President of Europe, and contrive some agreements he can broker and we can keep. Our diplomats should insist on talking French, especially when there are Americans present who do not understand it, and we should foster the establishment of Lycees in Russia---and in South Ossetia---and keep on contrasting French civilisation with Anglo-American materialism. I have already mentioned the importance of existing French investments in Russia: we should encourage further ventures, and allow them to be very profitable.
Germany is different. It is both our greatest problem and potentially our greatest prize. It is a problem on account of memories of when the Elbe was the frontier of our Near Abroad. Germany now must never have the slightest reason to suspect that the Elbe is once again to be our frontier. But if we play our cards well, we may be back on the Vistula in one sense and the Rhine in another. What we can immediately offer Germany, pervasively and persuasively, is the opportunity to fulfill its historic Drang nach Osten. We need technical help and efficient business administration. They can provide it. As a favour to them we can shut the Anglo-Saxons out of the market, and offer Germans a business environment much more orderly and disciplined than the deeply un-Teutonic chaos of Britain and the United States. Whereas in time past Russia's need for German expertise was met by the emigration of whole communities of ethnic Germans, now there would be expatriate Germans working in Russia, but retaining their roots in Germany. This would be acceptable to Germany, which is concerned about its declining population, and would lead in time to strong persoanl links between citizens of both countries.
The opening up of Rusia to German enterprise, combined with Germany's appetite for oil and gas, will wean Germany away from Anglo-American interests, and will ensure that the European Union, what ever it says, will not actually do anythng contrary nto our interests. But if we look at a German-Russian alliance geopolitically, we can see further possibilities. The defeat of Hitler moved Germany's eastern frontier many miles westward. The loss of Silesia was traumatic. It could be rectifed. And should. The immediate objection will be ``What about Kaliningrad?''. If Riga came our way, we could do without Kaliningrad. Eastern Europe is a mess, and the realistic solution is to divide it between the powers that really matter and can keep it in order: that is, between Russia and Germany. Molotov saw that there must be some give if we were to have a lot of take; and the same principles apply now. Once we have Germany on board, we can digest the intervening countries gradually and quietly without the West noticing, or at any rate doing anything about it. Of course, we shall have to keep quiet about the pact, and shall allow, and indeed encourage, Germany to make loud sounds of disapproval if our absorption of formely hostile states in the Near Abroad is noticed. But it need not be: with suitable care circumstances can arise in which each statelet clamours for admission into the Russian Federation on account of the political stability and energy security we offer.
At present I am putting this plan forward only in obedience to your last injunction that we should think big. It will, of course, be criticized. Detailed criticisms will be very valuable. To those who would dismiss it out of hand as utterly unrealistic, I simply say ``Wait and See''. The wooing of Germany is obviously advantageous, and risk-free. It will be a matter of judgement when to move to a deeper understanding, and when the time comes it will be obviously the right course.
[not my headline] To Russia with love
Why has an odd alliance of leftwingers, Tories and bankers come out for this fascist kleptocracy?
On Russia, at least, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg think alike. Belatedly and perhaps emptily, all three party leaders have condemned the invasion of Georgia and demanded a tough response. Yet a different and even odder alliance is taking shape on the other side. Its members include such unlikely figures as Andrew Murray of Stop the War Coalition, David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, and historian Correlli Barnett, as well as anonymous but influential City bankers and lawyers.
The Kremlin's most constant allies are the old pro-Soviet left: people such as Bob Wareing, the veteran leftwing MP for Liverpool, West Derby. He recalls warmly the wartime alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union, and the promise of social justice in the communist system. In the Morning Star, Andrew Murray blames the war in Georgia on American imperialism and contrasts it with the success of "Soviet nationalities policy" in promoting "the cultural, linguistic and educational development of each ethnic group, no matter how small or how historically marginalised". Chechens, Crimean Tatars and other victims of Stalin's murderous deportation policies presumably don't count.
A simpler approach is pure Russophilia: people who love Russia's culture or language, and rejoice in what seems to be a national rebirth under Vladimir Putin. A wider group is sparked chiefly by anti-Americanism. If you hate George W Bush then you may cast a friendly glance on the people who make life difficult for him, such as Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, or Putin in Russia. It is countries such as Russia, however spiky and unattractive, that can derail the new world order. Yet that's odd. If, say, you feel that Muslims get a hard deal from America, then surely the Russian torture camps in Chechnya should make your blood boil?
In odd alliance with the anti-globalists are the champions of international business: those who do well out of selling goods and services to Russia. In the City, investment banks, law firms, accountants and consultants have enjoyed a bonanza thanks to their Russian clients. Auditors such as PricewaterhouseCoopers have not flinched at doing the Kremlin's dirty work - for example in withdrawing their audit of Yukos, once Russia's biggest oil company, which conveniently coincided with Kremlin allegations of fraud. For this pinstriped fifth column, business is business, and worries about human rights or the rule of law are tiresome distractions.
David Wilshire, a leading Conservative member of the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly, has lobbied hard to make Mikhail Margelov, a pro-Putin Russian parliamentarian who used to be a KGB language instructor, the next president of the organisation, which is supposedly devoted to promoting human rights. Then come those such as the polemical Peter Hitchens, who have no great liking for tycoons, but a deep admiration for the nation-state. He writes: "I often wish we were more like Russia, aggressively defending our interests, making sure we owned our own crucial industries, killing terrorists instead of giving in to them, running our own foreign policy instead of trotting two feet behind George W Bush." Russia, he says, has come to stand for national sovereignty and independence, while we give up our own.
Correlli Barnett praises the regime in Russia in a similar vein. In the past few days, for example, Barnett has said: "World peace? Give me Putin any day!"; and "the West should jettison moral indignation and global do-goodery as the basis of policy, and instead emulate Russia's admirable reversion to 19th-century realpolitik". The main motive here is dislike for the whole apparatus of modern diplomacy - multilateral organisations governed by international treaties and at least a notional commitment to human rights.
It is all very odd. Russia is an oil-fuelled fascist kleptocracy ruled by secret police goons and their cronies. It is authoritarian: critics risk forcible incarceration in psychiatric hospitals, or are simply murdered - such as the shooting dead in police custody of Magomed Yevloyev, an Ingush journalist, this week. It is imperialist: bullying neighbours with oil and gas cut-offs, let alone the occupation of Georgia, where Russia's proxies have practised ethnic cleansing on a scale that recalls the atrocities of the wars in former Yugoslavia. And it is deeply corrupt and lawless: something that even Putin's successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, has acknowledged publicly. However bad other countries may be, it is hard to find anything there worth emulating.
· Edward Lucas is the author of The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West