Month: April 2009

No Eastern Partner

The European Union is currently launching something called an “Eastern Partnership“, which is designed to cement links with six neighbours: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus. Quite why Belarus has been included in the “reach-out” plan is something of a mystery. If Belarus accepts the invitation to attend the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague on May 7, this will grant the republic a legitimacy it clearly does not deserve, in view of the widespread repression that is still taking place within it. Now Maidan writes that one of the leaders of the Belarus opposition who is also Co-ordinator of Charter 97

has rejected an invitation to attend events connected with the EU Summit in Prague. He believes the invitation issued to Lukashenko to be a grave mistake. He names just three political prisoners – Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, Uladzimir Asipenka and says that the first has been on hunger strike for more than a week demanding an open trial.

“Political repressions go on in our country, many Belarusians have had to emigrate due to political persecution, the authorities refuse to register political parties and NGOs, peaceful demonstrations are brutally dispersed and banned, we do not enjoy even minimum freedom of speech, youth activists are unlawfully drafted for military service. The authorities don’t investigate the cases of kidnapped opposition leaders and a journalist although the international community suspects them of involvement to these crimes. I think inviting Dictator Lukashenko to Prague when demands to release political prisoners and stop political repressions have not been met was a great mistake.
That’s why I have taken the decision not to go to Prague.”

Medvedev and "Helsinki-plus"

During talks with Finland’s President Halonen in Helsinki on April 20, and also in a speech he gave at Helsinki University the same day, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev outlined shadowy proposals for a “new European security structure” which would also involve energy-related considerations. The proposals would be discussed at a prospective summit forum in Helsinki, to be called “Helsinki-plus”.

In her blog, the Finnish centre-right politician, OSCE advisor and human rights campaigner Nina Suomalainen comments on Medvedev’s proposals, and wonders what they may actually involve  [my tr.]:

Did Russia’s so-called Helsinki-plus initiative take a step forward in Helsinki, or not? Finland’s chairmanship of the OSCE and the OSCE meeting that was held in Helsinki in December last year stuck closely to the line that the current structures are a good basis for agreement on European security issues.

This week, President Medvedev raised the issue again. For Russia is not very pleased with the OSCE, which it feels pays too much attention to questions of human rights. The holding of free elections has also been another of the OSCE’s preoccupations, and Russia cannot ignore the fact the elections brought about a change of government in Georgia and Ukraine.

However, it is not really clear how President Halonen viewed the matter, except to say that Finland would provide help with regard to the meeting place, and “everything else”. Foreign Minister Stubb, however, seemed skeptical, and reiterated the OSCE’s approach: No new structures are required.

Russia’s Helsinki-plus idea doesn’t really have much precision or clarity, and in spite of efforts that have been made, its content is still not understood. One guesses that it is mainly a proposal for a review of the security question mainly from Russia’s own standpoint, leaving aside all the nonsense about democracy. So it is probable that Helsinki-plus will be on our tables for a long time, and that at some stage it will emerge in the form of a real initiative, as a concession to Russia. Medvedev’s comments and the “maybes” of the Finns fit together like a nose on a head.

Another issue that is creeping up is the Baltic Sea gas pipeline. On the positive side, the opportunity for Finns to make land deals in Russia were high on the meeting’s agenda. Though it sounded – rightly or wrongly – a little as though this was the first that Russia had heard of it. Now it will have to really think about how to react to it.

Hat tip: FinRosForum

U.S. says Georgia NATO exercises "not provocative" []

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 22 Apr.’09 / 10:57

NATO’s planned multinational exercises in Georgia are “not provocative” and “we believe that they’re important to go forward, and we’re going to do so,” Robert Wood, an acting spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, said on April 21.

“The NATO exercises are a normal part of NATO’s relationship with Georgia,” he said. “And the purpose of these exercises is to help Georgia meet NATO standards. I know there have been reports about Russia being concerned about these exercises. These exercises are no threat to Russia, to anybody else, and they’ve been in the planning stages for a long time.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused members of Nato of reverting to the “confrontational logic of the Cold War”.

In an interview with the BBC Russian service on April 21, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said that NATO was reverting to the “confrontational logic of the Cold War.”

He said that the roots of the diplomatic hostility lay in NATO’s “unilateral position” on the August war. Lavrov said the alliance members refused “to even debate the reasons for the conflict.”

Nineteen NATO-member and partner countries were initially to take part in the exercises, which will take place from May 6 to June 1 in Vaziani military base, twenty kilometers east of Tbilisi. On April 21, after Russia’s protests, however, Kazakhstan said that it would not take part. Other countries planning to participate are: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Moldova, Serbia, Spain, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States

Norway at Durban 2

A couple of notes on events that marked the first day of the Durban II conference.

After Ahmadinejad’s tirade, Norway’s foreign minister delivered a rebuke:

I heard the messages in the President’s speech – and they amount to just that: Incitement of hatred, spreading politics of fear and promoting an indiscriminate message of intolerance.

The Iranian President’s allegations run counter to the very spirit and dignity of this conference. I will not respond to all the allegations. Through his message the president has made Iran the odd man out. And Norway will not accept that the odd man out hijacks the collective effort of the many.

On the other hand, Norway’s Christian Democratic Party leader Dagfinn Høybråten noted in a written commentary sent to the Norwegian daily Aftenposten that it was [my tr.]

sad and incomprehensible that the Norwegian delegation chose to remain seated and listen to the Iranian president’s emotional and subjective attacks on Israel, while nearly all the other European countries left the hall.

Saakashvili: Georgia should show "maximum restraint"

“When Russian politicians say: ‘we want to have good relations with Georgia’ – I want to tell everyone who wants to believe it, to look thoroughly to maps which are being printed today in Russia. When they say: ‘we want good relations with Georgia’ – under Georgia they mean: Tbilisi, part of Kartli region; Kakheti; part of Imereti and maybe Racha-Lechkhumi as well. For them Georgia is not the same Georgia as it is for us and for rest of the world.”

As long as such stance persists in Russia, he continued, Georgia should be “extremely cautious” and should show “maximum restraint.”