Sunday, August 31, 2008

Is Re-thinking Needed? Is Re-calculating worth it?

While US and almost all leading European governments are calling for harsh criticism and sanctions against Russia, Germany is the first to call for considerate approach, re-calculating possible economic implications of breaking normal trade and economic relations with Russia. Wise and objective, or tactful? You decide...and we all feel later...

Will the worsening of relations with Russia help the world?

Indeed, the tensions over Georgian-Russian war have escalated even further after the war ended this month. US is criticizing, EU is threatening with sanctions, Russia is responding fiercely...

But one should think whether it helps the world these days, as the fuel prices are already high and affecting each aspect of economic and social life of the societies in all parts of the world. If Europe is imposing economic sanction on Russian goods, will it include oil and gas in the coming winter season? Will this be good for European consumers who already feel financial burden and anticipate further problems of the financial markets? Are these questions well considered by politicians, or are they just playing already lost game just to save their image?

The world has changed, and it brings about the need to think twice before announcing new policies or actions towards any country of the world, as implications are becoming more and more unpredictable, if not analyzed through the prizm of new realities.

The world has changed to the point that price fluctuation in one part of the world is immediately felt in all countries and regions and small conflicts could lead to global confrontational disputes. Is this what the world needs now? Or something completely different and new? Your thoughts...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Latest UN Security Council Meeting on Georgia

Georgia exposes UN's weakness
Deadlocked over Georgia, ineffective on Darfur and impotent about Zimbabwe, the BBC's United Nations correspondent Laura Trevelyan asks, what is the point of the UN Security Council?

In the dog days of late August as Manhattan swelters, I have spent much of my time lurking by what is called the "UN Security Council stakeout".

It is the corridor where diplomats come to talk to journalists on their way in and out of security council meetings.

On the TV the stakeout radiates significance, but in reality it is rather faded.

Behind the diplomats hangs an enormous tapestry of Guernica, a reproduction of Picasso's famous anti-war painting, and a reminder of what the security council is supposed to try to prevent.

Georgia crisis

The stakeout has been unusually busy this August. Russia's eloquent Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has been a regular, denouncing what he calls "propaganda from Georgia".

Tibilisi's young telegenic envoy Irakli Alasania is as media savvy as Georgia's president, but his efforts with words have been no match for Russian firepower on the ground.

The sparks have been flying between Ambassador Churkin and his US counterpart Zalmay Khalilzad, reflecting the profound disagreement between Moscow and Washington. European ambassadors have tried to act as a bridge between the two.

United Kingdom
United States

Diplomats have spent many long hours consulting, trying to agree a resolution which would endorse the ceasefire plan brokered by France.

The security guards have gone into overtime, the stakeout carpet has become even more worn and smoke has filled the air (you can light up in bits of the UN as it is international territory).

I have even tried to count the threads in the Guernica tapestry, but the council has been unable to agree even the mildest statement on the Georgian situation.

Much diplomatic effort was expended in an effort to agree language on the territorial integrity of Georgia. Russia said the world could forget about it but the US and European countries insisted it should be respected.

The diplomacy finally juddered to a halt earlier this week when Russia recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, rendering further arguments about territorial integrity futile.

With Russia being both a party to the conflict in Georgia and a veto-wielding power, the result this summer was paralysis at the council

But there is another reason why the council was deadlocked. Russia, like the US, Britain, France and China, is an all-powerful permanent member of the UN Security Council with the ability to block decisions.

That is the way the council was set up in the wake of WWII, with power going to the victors.

After the failings of the League of Nations, the idea was to give the UN Security Council teeth by enabling the five major powers to veto resolutions.

But with Russia being both a party to the conflict in Georgia and a veto wielding power, the result this summer was paralysis at the council.

Veto impasse

It is hardly the first time this has happened.

During what some are now calling the first Cold War, the Security Council was deadlocked because Russia and the US could both use their veto power.

But given the regularity with which the council reaches an impasse now, the obvious question is whether it is really working in the way it should.

The council is charged with maintaining international peace and security, a grand ambition, but if it cannot pronounce on Georgia, what use is it?

In July, China and Russia vetoed an attempt by the West to impose sanctions against members of Zimbabwe's government.

The peacekeeping force the Council despatched to Darfur is struggling, weakened because divisions between China and the West meant the Sudanese government was given a role in the force's composition, one it has exploited to the full.

Legitimacy doubts

You could say that the world is not united, so why expect the Council to be?

As China and Russia become more assertive, of course they will use the veto power as a tool of their foreign policy, just as Britain and France use their permanent member status to punch above their weight.

And it is not as if China and Russia are the only ones to use the veto.

The US uses the veto to protect its staunch ally Israel from what Washington sees as unbalanced criticism from the Arab world.

Security Council diplomats argue that the Georgia stand-off shows how important the forum is. If it was irrelevant, then no-one would bother trying to get agreement, say diplomats.

The failure is actually a reflection of the Council's power.

Meanwhile developing countries outside the Security Council question the legitimacy of a body set up to reflect the global power structure 60 years ago.

Divided world

India, Brazil, Japan, South Africa and Nigeria all have a strong case to be permanent members, and for 14 years, what are called in the jargon "open-ended discussions", have been going on over reforming the Security Council so it reflects the world as it is now.

Unsurprisingly those discussions have never concluded because many countries prefer the status quo to change, which would elevate their regional enemies.

Existing powers on the Security Council argue that enlargement is not without its perils. If too many countries have the veto, nothing would ever get done, they argue... self-servingly but also accurately.

Meanwhile I am still here at the stakeout, asking what the point of the UN Security Council is.

My conclusion is that it holds up a mirror to the world's divisions.

But if it does not start to reflect the schisms of the new world too, it will become as threadbare as the stakeout carpet.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Friday, August 29, 2008

Georgia Breaks its ties with Russia

According to the recent news Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia has asked Russian diplomats to leave Tbilisi, as Georgia is cutting its diplomatic ties with Russia.

EU energy reliance on Russia to grow after Georgia

EU energy reliance on Russia to grow after Georgia
Tom Bergin - Analysis
LONDON, 28 Aug—Russia's invasion of Georgia has reinforced Europe's desire to avoid over-reliance on Moscow for energy but EU countries' reluctance to pay for alternatives and uncoordinated policies mean their dependence is likely to grow.

The European Union relies on Russia for around a quarter of its gas and much of its oil while imports are expected to rise as North Sea production falls.

In recent years Moscow has cut off energy supplies to neighbours on a number of occasions, prompting the EU to push for projects that would bypass Russia.

In the past month, this policy has gained new urgency.

"The Georgia conflict appears to reaffirm the Commission's continued policy on strengthening the security of Europe's energy supply, including by means of diversification," EU Commission spokesman Martin Selmayr said.

The EU is pushing the Nabucco pipeline, which seeks to bring Azeri and Central Asian gas to Europe through Turkey, and a trans-Caspian pipeline that would allow Central Asian counties like Turkmenistan to export gas without crossing Russia.

These pipelines have struggled to get off the ground. Now their future looks even more in doubt after Russia's action highlighted the vulnerability of the 850,000 barrels per day Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil link and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline both crossing Georgia.

"It was unlikely to happen anyway and what has happened in Georgia has made it a whole lot less likely," said Tanya Costello at Eurasia Group, the political risk advisory firm.

Costello said oil companies would now be reluctant to invest in pipelines that crossed Georgia or relied on oil and gas passing through that country. Also, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan may now fear pursuing non-Russian export routes.

"Russia's actions in Georgia make those Central Asian gas producers even less likely to risk jeopardising their relationship with Moscow for a pro-Western route," she said.

Part of the reason Nabucco and the trans-Caspian pipeline have struggled is because Europe's governments have been reluctant to back the projects with cash or diplomatic pressure in the way that Moscow has promoted such projects of its own.

A spokesman for the UK government said it would press the case for Nabucco, which is also strongly supported by the United States, but added, in an email, that it was "conscious of the underlying principle that the market is best placed to deliver required investment".

Analysts say it is unrealistic for governments to expect companies like Royal Dutch Shell and BP to bear the costs and risks of providing Europe's energy security.

"If you looked at commercial factors alone, the Soviets would never have built the pipeline infrastructure from Siberia to Eastern Europe in the first place and now Europe relies on that pipeline network," Andrew Neff, Energy Analyst at Global Insight said.

In addition to cash, the EU could back projects by taking a more active role in securing energy supplies from countries like Turkmenistan.

"Finding enough supplies is the big problem and it cannot be solved just by the efforts of the companies in the Nabucco consortium," Bulgaria's Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov told Reuters in an interview earlier this week.

"Russia is holding political talks to buy out the available gas from the Caspian region ... I believe the EU should also hold such political talks," he said.

Another problem in diversifying away from Russia is that big countries like Germany and Italy tend to back projects which secure their own energy supplies rather than working with other EU members on behalf of the whole bloc, analysts and some European politicians say.

Berlin backs the Nordstream gas pipeline which is led by Russian state-controlled gas export monopoly Gazprom and in which Germany's largest utility E.ON and chemicals maker BASF own minority stakes.

Nordstream aims to bring gas from Russia to Germany across the Baltic rather than through Eastern Europe.

Poland and Lithuania have criticised the pipeline, saying it makes them more susceptible to supply cuts from Russia as they alone would be affected.

Previous reductions in Russian oil and gas exports to Germany and Italy, after Moscow cut supplies to Ukraine and Belarus as a result of price disputes, were short-lived.

By contrast, an oil pipeline to Lithuania, which Russia shut down in July 2006, after Vilnius opted for a Polish rather than Russian buyer for its state refinery, has never reopened.

"The way Germany sees this is the best way to reduce insecurity of supply is not to cut Russia out but to cut dependence on potentially troublesome transit countries," Costello said.

Similarly Milan-based oil company Eni, in which the Italian government has a 20 percent stake and whose chief executive is selected by Rome, is a junior partner in Southstream, a Gazprom-backed rival to Nabucco.

Eni has also offered to help Gazprom build a gas pipeline to Europe from Libya, from which Gazprom said in July it had offered to buy all future volumes of oil and gas, much to the discomfort of Brussels.

Katinka Barysch, at the Centre for European Reform, a pro-Europe think-tank, said the inability of European countries to act together was Moscow's gain.

"If they're divided, Russia would be foolish not to take advantage of it," she said. /// Reuters

Thursday, August 28, 2008

There would be more questions...and more answers?

The war has ended, but the tension is high. What will be the reaction of the world to the situation here. While the positions of Russia and Georgia are known, how the rest of the world will react? USA? European Union? Japan? China?

Any suggestions? Forecasts?

FT: New Article - views from President of Georgia

Moscow’s plan is to redraw the map of Europe

Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Any doubts about why Russia invaded Georgia have now been erased. By illegally recognising the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, made clear that Moscow’s goal is to redraw the map of Europe using force.

This war was never about South Ossetia or Georgia. Moscow is using its invasion, prepared over years, to rebuild its empire, seize greater control of Europe’s energy supplies and punish those who believed democracy could flourish on its borders. Europe has reason to worry. Thankfully, most of the international community has condemned the invasion and confirmed their unwavering support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Our first duty is to highlight Russia’s Orwellian tactics. Moscow says it invaded Georgia to protect its citizens in South Ossetia. Over the past five years it cynically laid the groundwork for this pretence, by illegally distributing passports in South Ossetia and Ab­khazia, “manufacturing” Russian citizens to protect. The cynicism of Russia’s concern for ethnic minorities can be expressed in one word: Chechnya.

This cynicism has become hypocritical and criminal. Since Russia’s invasion, its forces have been “cleansing” Georgian villages in both regions – including outside the conflict zone – using arson, rape and execution. Human rights groups have documented these actions. Moscow has flipped the Kosovo precedent on its head: where the west acted to prevent ethnic cleansing, in Georgia ethnic cleansing is being used by Russia to consolidate its military annexation.

Other Russian lies have also been debunked. The most egregious was Moscow’s absurd claim on the eve of the invasion that Georgia was committing genocide in South Ossetia, with 2,000 civilian deaths. A week later, Moscow admitted that only 133 people had died. These were overwhelmingly military casualties and came after the Russian invasion. But the genocide claim served its goal. In a media era hungry for content, the big lie still works.

Russia’s campaign to redraw the map of Europe is based on the propagation of misinformation. On Wednesday on this page, Mr Medvedev asserted that Georgia attacked South Ossetia. In fact, our forces entered the conflict zone after Russia rolled its tanks on to our soil, passing through the Roki tunnel into South Ossetia, Georgia. Mr Medvedev also claimed Russia had no designs on our territory. Why then did it bomb and occupy Georgian cities such as Gori? Why does it continue to occupy our strategic port of Poti?

Moscow also counts on historical amnesia. It hopes the west will forget ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia drove out more than three-quarters of the local population – ethnic Georgians, Greeks, Jews and others – leaving the minority Abkhaz in control. Russia also wants us to forget that South Ossetia was run not by its residents (almost half were Georgian before this month’s ethnic cleansing) but by Russian officials. When the war started, South Ossetia’s de facto prime minister, defence minister and security minister were ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.

The next step in Russia’s invasion script, of disinformation and annexation, is regime change. If Moscow can oust Georgia’s democratically elected government, it can then intimidate other democratic European governments. Where will this end? What we know about Russia, and especially the current regime, is not encouraging.

Last week Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president, put us on alert: “Russia does not really know where it begins and where it ends.” He noted that the Moscow regime is “a lot more sophisticated” than the Soviets under Leonid Brezhnev. He should know – he was on the front line the last time Russia invaded a European country.

Mr Medvedev is now making menacing statements about Ukraine and Moldova and is replicating its Georgia strategy in the Crimea by distributing Russian passports. The message is clear. Russia will do as it pleases.

I believe the most potent western response to Russia is to stay united and firm by providing immediate material and political support. If Moscow is trying to overthrow our government using its lethal tools, let us resist with democratic tools that have sustained more than 60 years of Euro-Atlantic peace. Backing Georgia with Europe’s political and financial institutions is a powerful response. Regrettably, this story is no longer about my small country, but the west’s ability to stand its ground to defend a principled approach to international security and keep the map of Europe intact. /// The Financial Times, 26/27 Aug

Article in Financial TImes

Why I had to recognise Georgia’s breakaway regions
Dmitry Medvedev, President of Russian Federation
On Tuesday Russia recognised the independence of the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was not a step taken lightly, or without full consideration of the consequences. But all possible outcomes had to be weighed against a sober understanding of the situation – the histories of the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples, their freely expressed desire for independence, the tragic events of the past weeks and inter­national precedents for such a move.

Not all of the world’s nations have their own statehood. Many exist happily within boundaries shared with other nations. The Russian Federation is an example of largely harmonious coexistence by many dozens of nations and nationalities. But some nations find it impossible to live under the tutelage of another. Relations between nations living “under one roof” need to be handled with the utmost sensitivity.

After the collapse of communism, Russia reconciled itself to the “loss” of 14 former Soviet republics, which became states in their own right, even though some 25m Russians were left stranded in countries no longer their own. Some of those nations were un­able to treat their own minorities with the respect they deserved. Georgia immediately stripped its “autonomous regions” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of their autonomy.

Can you imagine what it was like for the Abkhaz people to have their university in Sukhumi closed down by the Tbilisi government on the grounds that they allegedly had no proper language or history or culture and so did not need a university? The newly independent Georgia inflicted a vicious war on its minority nations, displacing thousands of people and sowing seeds of discontent that could only grow. These were tinderboxes, right on Russia’s doorstep, which Russian peacekeepers strove to keep from igniting.

But the west, ignoring the delicacy of the situation, unwittingly (or wittingly) fed the hopes of the South Ossetians and Abkhazians for freedom. They clasped to their bosom a Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, whose first move was to crush the autonomy of another region, Adjaria, and made no secret of his intention to squash the Ossetians and Abkhazians.

Meanwhile, ignoring Russia’s warnings, western countries rushed to recognise Kosovo’s illegal declaration of independence from Serbia. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.

Seeing the warning signs, we persistently tried to persuade the Georgians to sign an agreement on the non-use of force with the Ossetians and Abkhazians. Mr Saakashvili refused. On the night of August 7-8 we found out why.

Only a madman could have taken such a gamble. Did he believe Russia would stand idly by as he launched an all-out assault on the sleeping city of Tskhinvali, murdering hundreds of peaceful civilians, most of them Russian citizens? Did he believe Russia would stand by as his “peacekeeping” troops fired on Russian comrades with whom they were supposed to be preventing trouble in South Ossetia?

Russia had no option but to crush the attack to save lives. This was not a war of our choice. We have no designs on Georgian territory. Our troops entered Georgia to destroy bases from which the attack was launched and then left. We restored the peace but could not calm the fears and aspirations of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples – not when Mr Saakashvili continued (with the complicity and encouragement of the US and some other Nato members) to talk of rearming his forces and reclaiming “Georgian territory”. The presidents of the two republics appealed to Russia to recognise their independence.

A heavy decision weighed on my shoulders. Taking into account the freely expressed views of the Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples, and based on the principles of the United Nations charter and other documents of international law, I signed a decree on the Russian Federation’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I sincerely hope that the Georgian people, to whom we feel historic friendship and sympathy, will one day have leaders they deserve, who care about their country and who develop mutually respectful relations with all the peoples in the Caucasus. Russia is ready to support the achievement of such a goal. /// The Financial Times, 26/27 Aug

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Future of Georgian-Abkhaz-Ossetian relations

The history of relations between ethnic groups in Georgia is very complicated and is overwhelmed by conflicts, lack of security and continous threats of conflicts. The latest war has ended this month. What the future will bring to the people in this very insecure part of the world? Any ideas?
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