Month: February 2007

Blogger Bildt

Carl Bildt, who became Sweden’s foreign minister in October last year when Fredrik Reinfeldt’s centre-right Moderaterna party came to power, has recently come in for criticism because of his blogging activity. Some time ago, Bildt stopped posting to his English-language blog, Bildt Comments, and started a new Swedish-language one, where he now makes his own personal observations on issues of Swedish foreign and domestic policy on a day-by-day basis. Bertil Torekull, former editor-in-chief of the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, has published a long article in the other main Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, criticising Bildt’s blogging activity, and asking whether it’s right for a government minister to lead a “double life” in this way, making official statements and then, in Torekull’s view, at least partly undermining them by private ones. Torekull even draws an analogy with the “off-the-cuff” statements and activities of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez (an analogy that seems more than a little far-fetched, it has to be said). Today Bildt responds in his blog, remarking [my tr.]:

And in the last analysis everyone can choose, after all. Those who don’t want to read this or other blogs can refrain from doing so. Those who don’t want to read a newspaper don’t need to.

Freedom of choice. And openness.

It will truly be interesting to see how this discussion develops…

MSNBC on Litvinenko

On Februrary 24, MSNBC’s Dateline aired an in-depth investigation of the Litvinenko poisoning affair by Ann Curry, with contributions by security expert Paul Joyal, among others.

As a subsequent NBC news report pointed out, however, there appears to be little likelihood that the assassins will be brought to justice, even though all the evidence appears to point to Moscow and the Kremlin as the likely instigators of the murder:

“Everything what happened in Russia, if it’s happened, it’s Putin decide to do it,” Marina Litvinenko, who speaks broken English, told “Dateline.” “Because without him, it’s just impossible.”

It is an assessment shared by Oleg Kalugin, the onetime top spy for the KGB.

Litvinenko “was a traitor. So was I and a number of others. They have a list,” Kalugin said. “They would love to kill him.”

And it is an assessment shared by Paul Joyal, the Russia specialist. Joyal believes the Kremlin is resisting the British investigation because it is guilty and is hoping to run out the clock.

“It’ll go away in time,” he said. “Maybe not this week. Maybe not next week. But if you just hang in there and deny, at the end of the day — if there’s no one stepping forward saying, ‘I know’ — it will be forgotten.

“And there’s nothing anyone can do.”

Thirteen Years

Today is February 23, the anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechen people in 1944. and Prague Watchdog has published a special feature to commemorate the event.

Tamara Chagayeva has recorded the recollections of Nura Tsutiyeva, one of the witnesses of the deportation, who describes the month-long train journey into the unknown, and the “grey and monotonous life in an alien land”: Thirteen Years Spent in a Reservation.

Going Ballistic

Russia is serious about abrogation of the INF treaty, Pavel Felgenhauer suggests in a new Eurasia Daily Monitor article, asserting that “the Russian military always disliked the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987 by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.”

From later in the piece:

During the invasion of Chechnya in 1999 and 2000, the Russian military used SS-21 (Tochka-U) ballistic missiles to attack Chechen towns and villages (Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, October 29, 1999). Russian Air Force attack helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are old and badly maintained because spare parts are in short supply. The pilots are untrained, because they lack adequate flying practice. Russia does not have modern, airborne, precision-guided weapons. But ballistic missiles can fill the gap.

The SS-21 has a range of 120 kilometers. Using mobile launchers deployed in North Ossetia and in Dagestan, the Russian military could effectively cover all of Chechnya during the 1999-2000 offensive. But should a conflict erupt elsewhere in the Caucasus or, perhaps, in Crimea near Sevastopol, the SS-21s deployed in the North Caucasus will be of little help, and the Iskander-M will be useful only with a range enhanced to 500 kilometers.

While the Kremlin rhetoric is today aimed at Washington and its possible strategic missile defense deployments, the true target is the INF. Moscow wants to deploy new missiles that cannot reach the United States, but are designed for neighbors. That was in essence the thrust of Putin’s Munich speech, aimed at the West: Accept us as equals and give us at last our sphere of influence within the region. Keep out! Stop poking into our neighborhood — or we may go ballistic.

Russia, NATO and Europe

From RFE/RL Newsline (Feb. 20):

RUSSIA THREATENS TO TARGET SITES IN POLAND, CZECH REPUBLIC Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov, who commands the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, told a February 19 Moscow news conference that Russia might target missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic if those countries agree to host U.S. missile-defense sites, Russian media reported (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” February 2, 9, and 12, 2007). Solovtsov said that “if a political decision [is made by the Kremlin] to withdraw from [the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty] between the United States and Russia, the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of carrying out the task [of targeting sites in the Czech Republic and Poland].” He added that, under the 1987 pact, “intermediate-range missiles were dismantled as a class, but the [knowledge of how to make them] is still there…. So, if such a decision is made, it won’t be difficult to resume their production.” Solovtsov noted that the United States and its allies are discussing the missile-defense project but have not yet taken any concrete steps. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said on February 19 that there will not be any new “Cold War” in Europe, the daily “Vedomosti” reported on February 20. He added that Russia is nonetheless prepared to defend “its national interests” by making an unspecified “symmetrical response” to the stationing of a missile-defense system near its borders. On February 15, General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian General Staff, said that Russia has “convincing evidence” that would enable it to abrogate the INF agreement under the terms of that pact, RIA Novosti reported. The state-run news agency described his remarks as “a strong warning” to Washington. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on February 16 that Baluyevsky was “simply stating the facts” and that Russia has made no decision on scrapping the treaty. The “International Herald Tribune” on February 20 quoted Moscow-based analyst Ivan Safranchuk as saying that Russia is threatening to abrogate the agreement in the hope that unspecified “Europeans” will “put pressure on the United States” not to go ahead with its missile-defense plans. “The Economist” of February 17 argued that Russia seeks recognition of its own “sphere of influence” in Europe. PM

In a statement in Brussels on February 19, NATO spokesman James Appathurai described the comments by Colonel General Solovtsov as unacceptable, news agencies reported. Appathurai stressed that “the days of talk of targeting NATO territory or vice versa are long past us. This kind of extreme language is out of date and uncalled for.” On February 15, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the missile-defense system “is no way directed at Russian strategic forces. This is in no way directed against Russia. As a matter of fact, we have offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense.” On February 19, State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said that “we have offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense because we believe we face a common threat emanating from the Middle East as well as other areas.” President Vladimir Putin and former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov have said repeatedly that they do not believe that the defense system is directed against Iran (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” February 2, 9, and 12, 2007). PM

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and his Polish counterpart Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in Warsaw on February 19 that they are likely to accept U.S. missile-defense sites on their respective territories, international media reported. Topolanek added that “both of our countries are now preparing a response to the U.S. proposal. We have agreed that both countries are likely to give a positive response, and then we will begin negotiations.” Alluding to recent criticism of the missile-defense system by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Topolanek said that “saying that the United States did not consult with Russia is naive” (see below). Kaczynski noted that “the state of Polish-Russian relations is well-known, so seeking Russia’s acceptance [of a U.S. missile-defense system] will be difficult. But we will try to convince the Russians of the obvious fact that this deployment is by no means aimed against them.” He stressed that the system is not directed against “normal countries” but against those that do not abide by international norms. In a joint article published in the Polish daily “Rzeczpospolita” on February 19, Topolanek and Kaczynski said the system will serve as “passive protection from attacks” for all members of the Euro-Atlantic community. The project has aroused controversy in both countries, but many commentators there have noted that the harsh language coming from Moscow in recent weeks is likely to convince Czechs and Poles that they do indeed need a U.S. missile-defense system. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra said on February 19 that Czechs have ample experience with Russian bullying and know that they will pay dearly if they give into it, the daily “Mlada fronta Dnes” reported on February 20. Jiri Sedivy, who is a former head of the Czech General Staff, said on February 19 that Colonel General Solovtsov’s remarks were “unnecessarily tough” because the U.S.-Czech alliance is no threat to Russia, CTK reported. Sedivy suggested that Solovtsov was “just flexing his muscles.” PM

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) said in a recent interview that “because the sites for stationing [the missile-defense system] are quite near Russia, one should have talked with Russia about it beforehand,” Deutsche Welle reported on February 19. Later on February 19 in Baku, he qualified his criticism of the United States, Poland, and the Czech Republic by noting that the U.S. and Russian defense ministers have already begun discussions. Eckart von Klaeden, who is foreign-policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), was quoted in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” of February 20 as saying that “the thrust of any [German] criticism [over the missile-defense controversy] must not be directed against America.” He suggested that Germany should rather concentrate on warning President Putin that he is sending the wrong message to Iran by criticizing the U.S. missile-defense plans, since those plans are not directed against Russia but against Iran. Von Klaeden added that Russia is wrong to threaten to scrap its 1987 agreement with the United States. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who is a CSU member of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, also stressed that the United States seeks to defend its own territory against a “plausible” threat from Iran. But Rolf Muetzenich, who is a disarmament spokesman for the SPD, praised Steinmeier’s comments. Muetzenich added that he has “basic doubts” about the missile-defense project, and he stressed that a “new arms race” should be avoided. He said that Russia’s threat to scrap the 1987 pact “shows how serious the situation is.” The CDU/CSU and SPD officials alike agreed on the need to discuss the missile-defense project within NATO and the NATO-Russia Council (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” December 1, 2006, and January 18 and 23, 2007). PM

From Partner to Adversary

Charles Krauthammer, writing about Vladimir Putin in the Seattle Times:

He wants Gromyko’s influence – or at least some international acknowledgment that Moscow must be reckoned with – without the ideological baggage. He does not want to bury us; he only wants to diminish us. It is 19th-century power politics at its most crude and elemental. Putin does not want us as an enemy. But at Munich he told the world that, vis-à-vis America, his Russia has gone from partner to adversary.

Realignment in Europe

One or two links to consider:

Poland and Czech Republic risk being targets of Russian missiles,
Moscow says

They could be targets, Moscow says
The Associated Press
Published: February 19, 2007

Missiles could reach Europe if Kremlin wanted: general

Spisok Kachinskikh (Lech Kaczynski’s report)