Month: February 2008

Putin’s legacy: a massacre

The Independent‘s Shaun Walker, from Beslan, North Ossetia:

As Mr Putin prepares to hand over power, Beslan is still suffocating in a pall of tears and anger. For Mr Nazarov, as for many in this town of 35,000 people, voting for Mr Medvedev on Sunday is unthinkable. “I would not vote for anyone who was recommended by Putin,” he says. Hanging the picture of Mr Putin and his heir among the photographs of victims is his way of saying what he believes the political course of Mr Putin and his heir-apparent leads to.

Nur-Pashi Kulayev, the sole surviving hostage-taker, was jailed for life in 2006 but, for Mr Nazarov and other victims’ relatives, many questions about the events of 2004 remain unanswered. How were the terrorists able to take School No 1 hostage without any resistance, who ordered the special forces to storm the building, and was the blaze which engulfed the gymnasium and killed so many started by rockets fired by the Russian troops?

NY Philharmonic Arrives in North Korea

CNN reports the arrival of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in North Korea:

The visit comes as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended Monday’s inauguration of South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung-bak. She said before leaving Washington that she had no plans to stop in Pyongyang during a trip that also takes her to China and Japan.

“I don’t think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea,” Rice, a classical pianist herself, said Friday, while also conceding the benefit of the event in giving North Koreans a window to the outside world.

The concert will feature Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 and “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin. Among the encores planned is the Korean folk song “Arirang,” beloved in both the North and South.

The performance will begin with the orchestra playing the national anthems of both countries and the U.S. and North Korean flags will stand together on stage, said the Philharmonic’s president and executive director, Zarin Mehta.

Ahead of their arrival, North Korea was even tearing down the anti-U.S. posters that line the streets of Pyongyang, Mehta said Sunday. He cited a diplomat based there who briefed the orchestra before its departure from Beijing, the last stop on a tour of the greater China region.

Full Hearts – 2

It looks as though Friday Night Lights, which because of the Writers’ Strike came to a standstill with episode 15 of Season 2, may survive and flourish after all, with the possibility of a Season 3. San Diego media blogger Kristin Dos Santos writes that

Inside sources confirm to me that NBC Universal (the studio that makes FNL) is currently talking to various networks about the idea of sharing the show’s third season among more than one channel in an effort to save the series from cancellation and broaden its audience.

Those channels in discussion include the CW, TNT, DirecTV and a place called Comcast Entertainment Group, which, hmmm, sounds familiar because, oh yeah, they sign my checks. Both E! and G4 fall under the Comcast umbrella.

This would be good news, as FNL is probably one of the most inventive American TV series to have aired in the past decade, and has the potential to become a hit worldwide. It certainly deserves to.

See also: Full Hearts

Watching Russia

Via AP:

…U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns called on Serbia’s main ally Russia to repudiate a suggestion by one of its officials [Dmitry Rogozin] that it may need to use military force to earn respect after the U.S. and other countries recognized the independence of Kosovo, which is mainly ethnic Albanian, over strong Serb and Russian protests.

“We strongly advise Russia to be more responsible in its public comments toward Kosovo,” Burns said, responding to questions in an online written discussion. “Russia is isolated this week — very few countries are supporting its position.”

Serbs Attack US Embassy – 3

Via CNN:

Richard Holbrooke, a former negotiator in the Balkans under President Clinton, said: “The fact that (independence has) not happened as peacefully as people had hoped is the direct result of the incitement to violence by extremist elements in Belgrade, implicitly and privately supported by the Russians.”

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Serbs Attack US Embassy – 2

From RFE/RL:

As night fell, parts of the crowd broke away and marched to the U.S. Embassy. Black smoke and flames were soon billowing out a front window.

The same group also vandalized the neighboring Croatian Embassy, a McDonald’s restaurant, and several other stores. Elsewhere in the city, police beat back crowds who tried to attack the Turkish and British embassies.

Television images showed hundreds of people surging through the streets as anti-riot police arrived and fired tear gas canisters as crowd control.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns had telephoned Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic to convey the message that they had not adequately protected the U.S. Embassy.


On February 17 and 18, crowds threw stones at the U.S. and Turkish embassies in Belgrade and damaged the mission of Slovenia, which currently heads the rotating EU Presidency.

Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic, who heads the New Serbia party, said on February 20 that the action was “just Serbian youth expressing their protest” over the “dismembering of Serbia,” adding that such incidents are part of “democracy.”

The Politics of Precedent – 3

In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum reminds her readers that the wars of Yugoslavia actually began in Kosovo – in the late 1980s, when Milosevic deprived the province of its autonomy, installed a new police force, and by 1990 had more or less destroyed Kosovo’s civic, cultural and political life. Then, by backing Serbian minorities across the former Yugoslavia, Milosevic inspired the creation of similiar campaigns of terror, intimidation and murder by local Serb militias:

…the result of this activity — discrimination, ethnic cleansing, warfare — was a complete disaster for Serbia. The Serbian economy went down the tubes; the Serb dominance of ex-Yugoslavia evaporated; Belgrade, the Serb capital, was bombed. Now Serbia looks set to be dismembered as well: Some European countries and the United States have recognized Kosovo’s independence, something that wouldn’t have happened two decades ago. Milosevic the super-nationalist — the would-be leader of a revived, powerful, successful Serbia — damaged no country nearly so much as he damaged Serbia itself.

Keep that lesson in mind over the next few months as others in Europe — and possibly elsewhere — attempt to use the Kosovo example as a precedent. After all, if the Albanians can be independent from Serbia, the Abkhazians and South Ossetians would like to be independent from Georgia, the Basques and the Catalonians don’t see why they shouldn’t be independent from Spain, and who knows what could happen in Cyprus.

In some of these cases, there are other, larger neighbors that might be interested in facilitating the split, just as Serbia was keen to encourage ethnic Serbs in Bosnia or Croatia. Most notably, and most notoriously, the Russians have made ominous noises and dropped dark hints about those Georgian separatist groups, and one can certainly see their logic. What a perfect way to take revenge on those difficult, NATO-loving Georgians: Encourage Georgia’s ethnic minorities to launch civil war. Besides, the timing could hardly be better. In the waning days of the Bush administration, is Abkhazia anybody’s central concern? During the most interesting U.S. presidential campaign in decades, is anyone going to spare a thought for South Ossetia?

Except that if Abkhazia and South Ossetia were to secede, and civil war in Georgia were to follow, the Russians would then have a failed state on their borders. And, as we know from Yugoslavia, the Middle East and Africa, ethnic and religious civil wars have a nasty way of spreading to their neighbors. Chaos in Georgia might be in the short-term interest of a small group of Putinites, desperate to raise the specter of warfare, annoy the West, and cling to power (much like Milosevic, once upon a time), but it is most definitely not in the long-term interest of Russia.

Russia’s policy toward these would-be separatists over the next few weeks will therefore reveal a great deal about the mentality of Russia’s ruling clan. If the denizens of the Kremlin have a shred of concern about their compatriots’ future well-being, they’ll shut up and try to calm everyone down. If not — well, I hope they remember that the risks of the law of unintended consequences apply to them, too.

The Politics of Precedent – 2

Vladimir Socor takes a more skeptical view of Russia’s reaction to Kosovar independence, and considers that Russia’s bluff has been called on the issue:

Moscow’s threat to use Kosova’s secession as a “precedent” or “model” for resolving post-Soviet conflicts was never a credible threat, unless the Kremlin was bent on incurring severe damage and no gain to its policies on a wide range of interests: Relations with the West, with members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (far beyond those immediately affected by secessions) and with international organizations, as well as Russia’s own security situation in the North Caucasus would have been jeopardized.

Those concerned about Russian exploitation of a Kosova “precedent” overlooked the fact that Moscow remains more than content to exploit the existing, “frozen” situation in the unresolved conflicts. This it can continue doing effectively and at low cost to itself, as long as the West does not prioritize the resolution of the post-Soviet conflicts.

Indications are now multiplying that Moscow has blinked on its most specific threat: that to “recognize the independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia had singled out these two Georgian territories as prime candidates for “recognition.” This line of attack contradicted Moscow’s own claim that resolution of all secessionist conflicts in Europe and the world must follow a common “model” or “single standard.” Such selectivity about Abkhazia and South Ossetia reflected Moscow’s special enmity toward Georgia, the immediate territorial proximity (whereas Karabakh and Transnistria are not contiguous to Russia), and the Russian policy of allowing Armenia de facto a free hand in Karabakh, while Moscow claims de facto a free hand in the two Georgian territories.

Largely for those reasons, Moscow handed out Russian citizenship en masse in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so as to claim a right of intrusive protection there, including military presence. At the same time it left the issues of citizenship and security protection in Karabakh up to Armenia. And it has been negotiating with Moldova since 2006 regarding a settlement that would leave Transnistria within Moldova, in return for a certain measure of Russian political and military oversight over a Moldovan state “reunified” in that way.

These highly differentiated, expediency-based approaches nullified from the outset Russia’s argument about a “Kosovo precedent” with general applicability. Had it applied such a “precedent” unilaterally in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Kremlin would have been exposed as singularizing Georgia and targeting it for a wanton act of aggression. With Russian troops and Russian-appointed local leaders already deployed in those two enclaves, any Russian “recognition” would have been seen worldwide as open military occupation and annexation. Moscow did not need to risk such a scenario, since the existing situation suits Russian purposes well.

As Kosova’s declaration of independence and Western recognition drew near, Moscow must have concluded that its threats against Georgia were unusable threats. Consequently, Moscow seems to be seeking a face-saving exit from a political impasse into which it has driven itself. Suddenly the Kremlin is downplaying its all-too-recent, dire warnings.

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