And as Ehud Olmert flies home from Moscow, CFR, not normally noted for a stance supportive of Israel, is backing up the reports that have recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post and elsewhere to the effect that Hizballah is steadily rebuilding the infrastructure that was destroyed in the Lebanon war, and is replenishing and refurbishing its stock of missiles and other weaponry. The Lebanese government is likewise making preparations that look like the preliminaries to war:
Experts say reverberations from the current dispute could undermine the UN’s authority in the region. The UN mission in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, had stationed more than 5,700 troops as of October 13, under the control of a French force commander, Gen. Alain Pellegrini. The force has come under increasing criticism from within Lebanon in recent days. On October 17, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon’s most senior Shiite cleric, said Lebanese were right to be wary (Daily Star) of UNIFIL’s authority, saying the force had “come here to protect Israel, not Lebanon.” Nasrallah’s remarks are blunter. At a recent rally, he warned the UN not to spy (LAT) on “the resistance,” and declared, “No army in the world is capable of forcing us to give up our weapons.” As UN troops work to stabilize one of the most fragile regions of the world, these are unwelcome signs indeed.
Lebanon, for its part, is not banking on the UN to defend it, and reportedly has struck a deal with Italy (DEBKAfile) to obtain sophisticated air defense missiles capable of bringing down Israeli warplanes in a future conflict. For deeper reading, CFR offers backgrounders on the troubled history of multilateral operations in the Middle East, on the fractured loyalties of Lebanon’s army, and on key UN resolutions in the Middle East conflict. Globalsecurity.org offers this guide to Lebanon’s military.
As tomorrow’s EU Lahti summit approaches, President Putin may be feeling he would rather not attend this event and dinner, which promise to be acutely embarrassing for him. The FT gives a foretaste of what will be on the menu, quoting part of the contents of an open letter from the Liberal group in the European Parliament, which will be published in Novaya Gazeta (the paper Anna Politkovskaya worked for) and the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat, among others:
Excerpts include: “We are deeply concerned that political opposition is being slowly but surely eliminated and that those who dare to finance it, such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, are being silenced and incarcerated.
“We therefore challenge you to reverse those policies which are strangling your country and its private citizens, conduct an open and independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Anna Politkovskaya and others and bring the perpetrators of this and other murders to justice.” Otherwise, it says, they will be agitating against a new EU deal with Moscow.
It’s enough to make Putin choke on his herrings.
See also: The Invited Guest
In the Moscow Times, Richard Lourie is another observer who notes that a turning-point is being reached in Russia:
…some sort of gigantic struggle is afoot in Russia, a new “divvying up.” Most of it takes place behind the scenes, but its violent reverberations are felt everywhere: When Georgia arrests four Russians on charges of espionage, the response is overkill — all transportation and postal links severed. Shell Oil’s project on Sakhalin Island is charged with serious environmental violations. All the foreign companies bidding for a part in the development of the Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea are summarily rejected. A senior official at TNK-BP, Enver Ziganshin, is shot dead.
Yukos and its former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, may well have breached the understanding reached with Putin, but in the post-Yukos era the same contempt felt for journalism, justice and politics has infected the rules of the game in business as well.
The murders of Kozlov the banker, Ziganshin the oilman and Politkovskaya the journalist all no doubt had their specific causes about which we will probably never know any more than we will know who pulled the trigger or paid the killer. But what they all have in common is that they emerge from the context created in Russia over the last few years. Putin’s chickens have come home to roost. And they’re not chickens, they’re vultures.
(Hat tip: CH)
See also: Russia and the Future of Democracy