What happened in South Ossetia? The war may be over but questions linger. Who started the war? Was there ethnic cleansing of Georgians? What role did South Ossetian militas play in the conflict. BBC has made available the first part of Tim Whewell audio documentary on South Ossetia where he uncover more pieces of the puzzle. Here’s BBC’s program description:
This summer’s war in Georgia sparked the biggest crisis in east-west relations for 30 years. When Russia sent its tanks across the border, its intervention was denounced around the world.
Reporting from Moscow and Georgia, and with rare independent access to the disputed territory of South Ossetia, Tim Whewell investigates allegations of ethnic cleansing of Georgian villages, and counter-claims that Georgia’s army was guilty of war-crimes against Ossetian civilians.
I recommend giving it a listen.
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- By Sean — 11 years ago
The US has rejected Russia’s offer to cooperate on the missile shield. Kommersant reports that in the an interview with CNBC, Secretary of State Rice stated that “I think the Russians, after a period now of just saying no, no, no to what we intend to do in terms of missile defense, decided to come up with some of their own ideas. Now, we don’t agree; we believe that we still need to continue to move forward with the Czech Republic and with Poland.” The response comes in regard to the proposals Putin offered when he and Bush met in Kennebunkport. During a joint press conference Putin blindsided Bush with the following:
“We support the idea of consolidating our forces with regard to the Gabala radar station. And the idea is to achieve this through the Russia-NATO Council. But our proposal is not limited to this. We propose to establish an information exchange center in Moscow… A similar center could be established in one of the European capitals, in Brussels, for example. This could be a single system that would work in real time… In this case, there would be no need to place any more facilities in Europe – I mean, those facilities in the Czech Republic and the missile base in Poland. And if need be, we are prepared…to modernize the Gabala radar station. And if that is not enough, we would be prepared to include in this system a newly built radar station as well, an early warning system in the south of Russia.”
According to Kommersant Bush met these words by staring at Putin “in surprise and even let his smile fade for the first time throughout the entire first 15 minutes of the press conference.” It seems that Putin failed to mention any of these during their talks leaving Bush “to have been caught flat-footed again.” Bush bounced back by reasserting that Poland and Czech Republic should be part of a missile system no matter what the outcome.
Rice’s announcement is simply a reiteration of that opinion though she conceded that “U.S.-Russian cooperation could make a gigantic leap forward.”
The announcement also came on the cusp of “Sea Breeze 2007” in Odessa. The operation is the 10th of its kind. Last year’s was canceled when war broke out between Israel and Hezbollah. The U.S. and Ukraine along with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Greece, Canada, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Germany, Romania, and Turkey are staging military exercises in the Black Sea. The maneuvers feature a personnel of 2,500, 22 naval ships and numerous airplanes. The U.S. and Ukraine are providing the bulk of the personnel. About 1,000 are Ukrainian while the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are providing about 700. The exercises last until 22 July.
But Sea Breeze 2007 was met with a chill from the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine (PSPU) and the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) joined by the Black Sea Cossacks and United Fatherland. A few hundred protesters at two separate rallies voiced opposition to the presence of NATO members in Ukrainian territory. While PSPU members shouted slogans of “We Don’t Need NATO” and “NATO, get lost”, at the joint KPU, Black Sea Cossack, and United Fatherland rally speakers regaled their members with visions of inter-Slavic war. “We oppose the deployment of foreign troops on our soil, because that could lead to war between Slavic peoples,” prophesied Black Sea Cossack leader Oleg Dryanin.
The only violence was a small scuffle between police and PSPU members who refused to take down their tents despite a court order. The cops were unleashed to clear the area.
There is no doubt that tensions between the U.S. and Russia are going to make some see year’s Sea Breeze far more ominous than year’s past.
- By Sean — 11 years ago
No one likes to be over edited. Least of all Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. So much so that he pulled his article “Containing Russia: Back To The Future?” [Part One and Part Two] from publication in Foreign Affairs because, according to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry:
The Editors, with reference to their own standards, substantially edited the article, if not censored it. It was cut by 40%, losing a considerable part of its original meaning. Some editing even meant that Sergey Lavrov was to subscribe to certain Foreign Policy positions of the present US Administration, to which Russia objects on grounds of principle. Having gone through that all and motivated exclusively by the interests of strengthening US-Russian relations, we had to face an utterly artificial and unacceptable demand by the Editors. We were required to supplement the article’s title “Containing Russia: back to the future?” with a subtitle which read “averting a new Cold War” or “a conflict between Russia and America.”
FA editor James Hoge, speaking in an interview with RFE/RL, rejected “all suggestions of censorship” and that Lavrov’s retraction “was a total surprise” and was “kind of baffling.”
The editorial dispute according to Hoge concerns his request that Lavrov provide a subheading for the article, which is standard practice for FA articles. But Lavrov “balked at presenting one. We then said, we really have to have it, all the essays have it, it’s really a format formality, you can choose the wording you want, if you want a few suggestions, we’ll make them, which we did. And the next thing we know, he just sends us an email withdrawing the piece with no explanation.” In regard to Lavrov’s claim the edited version would aggravate US-Russian relations, Hoge replied, “Well that’s nonsense. The piece — you can see because the Russian Embassy thinks it is so aggravating they have put it on the wire (newswires), which we would have done too, but we didn’t want to violate his copyright — it’s a very tame piece.”
The thrust of the piece is a reply to Yuliya Tymoshenko’s May/June 2007 article “Containing Russia.” That article, which opens with a reference to George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” raises the specter of Russia’s “age-old imperial designs,” this time fueled by its oil-gas empire, and argues that “the West must seek to create counterweights to Russia’s expansionism and not place all its chips on Russian domestic reform.” Basically it seems to me with her arguments about the need to create a “collective energy market” i.e. the EU should negotiate energy deals collectively rather than on a state by state basis, while at the same time promoting “democracy and free markets” amount to a new form of containment policy. Yet, despite all these, Tymoshenko maintains that “I do not believe that a new Cold War is under way or likely.” You could have fooled me.
The article is also a plea for Western European and American backing of Ukraine. “By strengthening our independence,” Tymoshenko writes, “we can shape Europe’s peace and unity as we roll back the crony capitalism and lawlessness that are now the norms of the post-Soviet world.”
My favorite line is “Russia’s leaders deserve understanding for their anguished struggle to overcome generations of Soviet misrule.” As if Russia’s leaders are wounded children that need nurturing, understanding, but also a bit of tough love. I doubt infantalizing Russia’s leaders will hardly garner their cooperation.
If anything, Tymoshenko’s article makes it crystal clear where she stands in all this: Save us from the Russians because your future is tied with ours.
Lavrov, of course, sees right through this ruse. “The mere posing of the question [of whether or not to contain Russia],” he writes, “suggests that for some almost nothing has changed since the Cold War.” Lavrov never mentions Tymoshenko or Ukraine specifically and mostly addresses the US as if the former is merely a puppet of the latter. So despite all his claims that the Cold War is anachronistic and “it is time to bury the Cold War legacy and establish structures that meet the imperatives of this era,” Lavrov nevertheless speaks in terms of a West-East binary. Still he does well to draw attention to the “limits of force” (a direct shot at Washington) in dealing with some of the crisis that plague the world. But his scope for those problems are limited to those which directly affect Russia’s interests: Iran, Kosovo, and NATO expansion. While serious issues for sure, but besides nuclear proliferation, the real crises are yet to come.
If Russia wants to be a partner in global cooperation in dealing with the world’s problems it needs to take stock of how many of its current domestic problems are also global ones: the increasing gap between rich and poor, migration/immigration of redundant populations, the rise in ethno-religio-nationalist radicalism, the increasingly collapse of secular political movements as vehicles for political change, the rise of low intensity political violence by groups that lack state power, and the “balkanization” of the Middle East and Central Asia as a result of all this.
It seems to me that no binary can encompass the totality of these processes. Not East-West, nor North-South. Because when you look at the topography of the world, conditions previously relegated to the former are now found in the latter, and vice versa. Such is the bequeathal of globalization.Tags: Putin|Russia|Foreign Affairs|US-Russia relations|Sergei Lavrov|media|democracy|globalization|Cold War|Ukraine
- By Sean — 9 years ago
As hundreds of thousands protesters fill the streets of Tehran and other provincial centers, one can’t help think that we’ve seen this all before. So much about the Iranian protests look like the “colored revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, (the failed attempts in) Moldova and Belarus. In fact, “colored revolution” has become a preeminent phenomena in our young 21st century. It’s scripted like a bad TV drama with recycled plot lines, characters, and props. Colored revolutions unfold like ready-made, recyclable skits. Their ingredients include a “managed democracy,” a contestable election where the opposition claims “foul,” mass protests, a prominent place for “social networking” technologies (SMS, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, and the like), and the adoption of a color to symbolize all political demands. The dramatic conflict plays out between the “state” and “the opposition” (whether the latter is actually outside the former matters little) over the legitimacy of the election. All that is missing is the canned laughter. Nevertheless, no matter how much one may deride how revolutionary colored revolutions actually are, they do provide a glimpse into the political unconscious of our age. Whereas the 20th century provided us with the template for communist/anti-colonial struggles, the 21st has already given us an idea of what liberal revolution will look like.
The connection between the boiling discontent among Iranians and the possibility of a “colored revolution” in the Islamic Republic hasn’t been lost on the hardline leadership. According to Abbas Milani, prior to the election, Sobhe-Sadeq, the main organ of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard “warned in a lead editorial that the opposition’s use of the color green had become dangerously similar to the kind of “color revolution” that dethroned governments in Ukraine, Lebanon, and Georgia.” With his eyes clearly on events in those countries, Supreme Leader Khamenei ordered the creation of a committee to investigate the possibility of “colored revolution” three years ago.
Nor has the “colored revolution” paradigm been far from the minds of observers. When protests erupted in Tehran, Joshua Tucker asked in the New Republic whether Ukraine could teach us anything about events in Iran. After pondering the question for a few days, he rejected the idea. Not because of the anatomy of the protests, but because “the Iranian authorities may have learned a number of specific lessons from their less fortunate post-communist counterparts.” But after more than a week of escalating protests, every lesson Tucker says the Iranian government learned have proved to be ineffective against a determined and growing opposition. The question is: are we witnessing a “colored revolution” in Iran? Given that events in Iran do appear similar to colored revolutions in the former Soviet republics, how do some in the Russian press see in the Iranian protests? After all, Russian journalists should know a colored revolution when they see it given all their experience with observing them in their near abroad or watching their state hysterically dedicate its security apparatuses to preventing one at home.
A good place to start to identify what parallels Russian commentators see between Iran and post-Soviet states is a commentary by Andrei Kolesnikov published in Vedomosti. Kolesnikov sees the Iranian protests and the “revolutions” in CIS countries as symbolic of what Jurgen Habermas calls “catch-up revolution.” Kolesnikov writes:
This phenomena described in political philosophy is called “catch-up revolution.” The philosopher Jurgen Habermas labels a revolution in reverse rewind when a society painfully attempts to make up for years of induced stagnation. Moldova, lived through, like the majority of post-Soviet states, a national revolution but did not undergo a bourgeois revolution. The part of Iranian society disposed toward modernization were seriously disillusioned in the years of the predecessor of Ahmadinejad–the moderate reformer Khatami. And now 12 years after what began as Khatami’s rapidly unfurled “thaw”, and after came to be a genuine “frost”, results in a catch-up revolution, a revolution not so much of hope, but of persistent disappointment.
Whether a catch-up revolution is in the making is difficult to gage. Plus the whole idea of “catch up” suggests that a there is something to catch up top. Habermas’ idea, and Kolesnikov embrace of it, is based in the historical teleology that state’s political development follows a singular path toward liberalism. Still, one gets the feeling that Kolesnikov musing in political philosophy has little to do with Iran per se. Kolesnikov’s views speak more to his native country, Russia. Indeed, like so many around the world, the Iranian protests have been subsumed into the desires of the observers. Iran, therefore, only highlights the nadir of political change in Russia. “Perhaps,” Kolesnikov writes, “one of the few comparatively poor states, where a catch-up revolution is now impossible by force of the shapelessness of political protest is Russia. Our political revolutions occur in kitchens and social salons. And protest continues to be purely social, and Pikalevo-like.”
Perhaps this is why the Russian press lacks the adulation that one finds in the Anglo press. Whereas the American politicos see an Iran budding into a potential Persian America, the Russians are more pessimistic and emphasize the limits of political change; limits which undoubtedly stem from their own historical experience with “revolutions.” Take for example, Petr Goncharov’s opinion in RIA Novosti,
The situation in Iran indeed recalls something revolutionary. And the “green” opposition chose the green color of Islam as “a symbol of struggle against stranglehold of the regime.” The most recent circumstances gave the possibility to adherents of the “sacredness” of any order to see in it its “orange” essence. Today, every protest, slogan and other demands “for liberalization” have accepted the stamp of the danger of “orange” revolution. There won’t be a revolution. Neither “green,” nor “orange” for that matter. The revolution has been postponed. Postponed by Imam Khamenei the Supreme (and lifelong) spiritual leader of Iran.
Statements about the revolution being postponed are certainly premature. But the foreclosure that both Kolesnikov and Goncharov place on it speaks volumes. They both seem to be saying in their own disillusioned way that, “It’s happened in Iran, but it cannot and won’t happen in Russia.” Russia liberals, of course, are asking similar questions along similar lines. “Why isn’t Russia Iran?” asks Alexander Golts. The question must eat at liberals like Golts as they watch citizens of a theocracy excercize their rights while those in an arguably more open Russia remain idle. As for why this is the case, Golts gives this answer,
There are several objective factors which makes Iranian society more “passionate” than the Russians. First of all, the age of the [Iranian] urban population. Seventy percent are young people who absolutely don’t want to rot for several more years under the leadership of a narrow-minded fanatic. Moreover, in this theocratic state, as it’s been shown, political competition has a place with frank, you will laugh, debates on television. But the main conclusion is that Vladimir Putin does not mess with Russians to the degree and with such passion as Ahmadinejad does Iranians. The Russian government does not meddle, in contrast to the Iranians, in private life. However, I surmise that the effectiveness with which Vladimir Vladimirovich guides the national economy will very soon compel Russians to spit on his charisma and remember their right to choose . . .
Of course, Golts, in all his liberal hopes, forgets that while he thinks that the future of post-Soviet Russia is still up for debate, or rather than he and his ilk are part of that debate, the reformers in Iran are. As the last weeks have proven, the Iranian opposition is part of Iranian mainstream political culture however much the hardliners who back Ahmadinejad try to deny it and paint them as part of a CIA/Mossad plot.
For all intents and purposes, the Iranian opposition isn’t calling for an undoing of the Iranian Revolution. For the most part, their calls are for the regime to abide by its own rules. Their demands are still very much within its ideological and discursive confines, though as some note, the situation is so unpredictable that Islamic regime could be swept away as easily as its predecessor. This relationship to the past is what differentiates events in Iran with those in post-Soviet states. The “colored revolutions” in former Soviet states are in part an effort to break from the past, and in particular, move away from Russia’s orbit to face the West. In this case, they were a continuation of a process of national revolutions began in 1991. In Iran, the position of the opposition leadership appears to be for a retooling of the past, a return to the principles of the Revolution, rather than its utter disregard.