European Union

Caucasus asylum seekers returning to Poland

RFE/RL reports that most of the 200 asylum seekers from Chechnya, Georgia and Ingushetia who attempted to travel to Strasbourg by train but were detained at the Polish-German border yesterday are now returning to Poland, where they are being temporarily held at a refugee centre in Warsaw:

The protesters — who boarded the train without tickets — told RFE/RL they wanted to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to highlight their poor living conditions in Polish refugee centers and police abuse they said they have experienced.

The refugees have reportedly been refused political asylum in Poland.

Meanwhile, the pro-Moscow Chechen President Ramazan Kadyrov told journalists in Grozny today that the refugee protest in Poland is an “act of desperation.”

He said, “If these people return home, their rights will be protected better.”

Polish journalist Krystyna Kurczab-Redlich, who writes about human rights in Chechnya, told RFE/RL that it is hard to obtain political asylum in Poland in general but the European Union law known as the Dublin Regulation does not allow refugees to leave Poland for another EU country if an asylum request is refused in Poland.
She said that creates difficulties for Polish officials, who do not know what to do with the refugees, and leaves the asylum-seekers with few options.

Mistral: a cold French wind blows east

epl Originally published in Estonian as Mistral: külm Prantsuse tuul puhub itta

David J. Smith*

The French Navy amphibious assault ship Mistral—named for a cold French wind—visits Saint Petersburg today. This is not just a port call; it is a sales call—with ominous geopolitical implications.

“We plan to buy one Mistral class ship in France and with technical support from the French to build four helicopter carriers of this class under license,” said Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, First Deputy Chief of the Russian Navy Staff. It would be the biggest ever NATO country military supply to Russia.

The Mistral class of ships is designed to attack the shore from the sea, an ideal weapon for Russia to intimidate its neighbors. Mistrals can carry 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters, 4 landing craft, 900 soldiers and up to 70 military vehicles, including up to 40 tanks.

At about $800 million apiece, France’s motivation to sell Mistrals is understandable. Besides, sale proponents argue, a few modern ships to Russia’s barnacle-ridden navy will hardly threaten American dominance at sea.

However, is Paris prepared to reward Russian aggression against Georgia, ignore shredding of the ceasefire agreement negotiated and signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, accept the help of Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan but enforce an unacknowledged arms embargo on Georgia, and meanwhile sell advanced arms to Russia? Does France really want Russia to have this littoral combat capability?

Ignoring these questions may evoke pleasant noises in Moscow for a time, but Russia will not reciprocate in any concrete way. Indeed, it will demand ever more to be appeased. And eventually Russia will employ the Mistrals in another act of aggression, thereby making France complicit.

Regrettably, the potential sale of Mistral class ships to Russia appears to spring from worse than unprincipled economics. France’s partnership with Russia, Prime Minister Francois Fillon recently said, “can take several forms in the defense sphere, from military cooperation to close industrial partnership.” Recall that Fillon a day before the April 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit, told France-Inter radio, “We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think it is not the right response to the balance of power in Europe and between Europe and Russia.”

It is difficult to imagine what power Fillon imagines France will balance with the sale of Mistrals to Russia. However, one can readily discern Russia’s motivation for the purchase.
Moscow will not soon challenge US Navy dominance of the oceans. The Russian Navy for the foreseeable future will be a green water navy, operating close to home, largely as a complement to Russian land forces. And those forces undergird Russia’s intent to halt NATO’s eastward enlargement, particularly to Georgia and Ukraine; to retain its Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol beyond the 2017 expiration of its leasehold; to discourage NATO from planning and exercising the defense of the post Cold War NATO allies; to challenge American cooperation with those allies; and eventually to roll back what it characterizes as encroachment from the west.

“All that we consider ours will remain ours,” said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, toasting the 80th birthday of well known Soviet and Russian foreign policy specialist Yevgeny Primakov. The Baltic Sea, once a Soviet lake, is no doubt one of the places that Putin had in mind. When the Mistral navigated Skagerrak and Kattegat, the straits that lead from the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea into the Baltic Sea, it steamed by the shores of united Germany; by Gdansk, catalyst to the upheavals that toppled the communist world that Putin so reveres; by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, now NATO members, once occupied but never cowed by the Soviet Union.

On Baltic shores, apart from Saint Petersburg, only Kaliningrad—headquarters of the Baltic Fleet founded by Peter the Great—remains of the world for which Putin yearns. And it was no coincidence, therefore, that in Kaliningrad on September 28, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Russian troops who had participated in the exercise Zapad 2009, “I am convinced that we will be able to reestablish our navy in the next decade…We need a strong navy.”

And the Mistrals are part of the plan. On inland seas such as the Baltic or the Black Sea, Mistral class ships would make a big difference—and the Russians know it. Referring to Russia’s August 2008 invasion of Georgia, Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy recently remarked, “A ship like that would have allowed the Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not 26 hours, which is how long it took us.”

Consequently, the Mistral’s call in Saint Petersburg must capture the attention of every NATO ally. The French sale of Mistral class ships to Russia would be a major adverse geopolitical development and a potential alliance buster—it must be stopped.

*David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.

Russia "testing reactions"

Georgia’s President Saakashvili has pointed to the irony of the presence of Russia’s President Medvedev at the recent anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:

“What does it mean – welcoming the Russian President in Berlin as if he were a big democrat to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, while Erich Honecker [the last leader of German Democratic Republic] was not doing even one tenth of what [Russia] is doing now; Honecker was eventually apprehended by the Europeans… And now they [the Europeans] have him [Medvedev] sitting smiling next to them; it won’t work – shaking one hand with them [Europeans] and capturing children with the other.”

By “capturing children”, Saakashvili was referring to the recent detention of four Georgian teenagers by South Ossetian forces. Saakashvili appealed to leaders of the countries of the EU to react more decisively to Russia’s provocative actions:

“The Russians are testing the reactions of others, what others will do in response to Russia’s provocations. What happens next will depend on cases like this.”

Vanhanen: Finland needs "deeper ties" with Russia

Via Bloomberg (October 9):

The conclusion in Finland was that we have to deepen our relations to Russia and that we have to try in all ways to bind Russia better and better to Europe,” [Finland’s Prime Minister] Vanhanen said today in an interview at his office in Helsinki. “So, more cooperation with Russia; that was the conclusion we made after the Georgia war.”

Hat tip: Mari-Ann Kelam

Centre-right dominates in European elections

According to Deutsche Welle, the EPP (European People’s Party) secured 267 seats in the 736-member European Parliament, while the Socialists secured 159 seats with 81 seats for the Liberal Democrats, who came third, followed by the Greens with 51 seats. 

Centre-right parties made large gains in Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Hungary Italy, Poland. Slovenia and Spain and Poland.

Estonian results:  Centre Party 2, Reform 1, IRL 1, Social Democrats 1, Indrek Tarand 1.  Centre Party will probably challenge or contest or demand a recount in an effort to get 3 seats.    This means that Tunne Kelam was re-elected and in another development, Mari-Ann Kelam will be in the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) again, replacing Marko Pomerants who has become a minister in the government.

EU: S.Ossetia Polls ‘Illegitimate’ []

EU: S.Ossetia Polls ‘Illegitimate’

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 1 Jun.’09 / 13:52

European Union said it “does not accept the legality of the ‘elections’,” held in breakaway South Ossetia on Sunday, and “nor its results.”

“The holding of such elections is illegitimate and represents a setback in the search for a peaceful and lasting settlement of the situation in Georgia. The EU reiterates its firm support for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders,” the EU Czech Presidency said in a statement on June 1.

The breakaway region’s central election commission said that three parties – one officially backing the South Ossetian leader, Eduard Kokoity, and two others uncritical to him – cleared the 7% electoral threshold and secured seats in the 34-member parliament.

Party of Unity, according to the local election commission, received with over 46.3% and secured 17 seats; People’s Party – up to 22.6%, amounting to 9 seats and the Communist Party – 22.2% with 8 seats.

“Fidibasta” – Fatherland Party, which described itself as “a constructive, not radical opposition,” received 6,37%, failing to secure seats in the breakaway region’s parliament. The party has claimed widespread violations and intimidation of voters. The party has also questioned official voter turnout of over 80%.

The real danger of global warming

At Project Syndicate, Czech President Vaclav Klaus looks at the strategies currently being adopted by Western governments to deal with the problem of global warming, and is puzzled:

I am amazed to see people going along with the currently fashionable political argument that policies like cap-and-trade, government mandates, and subsidies for renewable energy can actually benefit an economy. It is claimed that government, working together with business, will create “a new energy economy,” that the businesses involved will profit, and that everyone will be better off.

This is a fantasy. Cap-and-trade can only work by raising energy prices. Consumers who are forced to pay higher prices for energy will have less money to spend on other things. While the individual companies that provide the higher-priced “green” energy may do well, the net economic effect will be negative.

It is necessary to look at the bigger picture. Profits can be made when energy is rationed or subsidized, but only within an economy operating at lower, or even negative, growth rates. This means that over the longer term, everyone will be competing for a piece of a pie that is smaller than it would have been without energy rationing.

This does not augur well either for growth or for working our way out of today’s crisis.

Georgia: EU condemns opposition attacks on journalists and calls for talks []

EU Calls for Talks to Overcome ‘Deadlock’

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 7 May.’09 / 11:29

Tbilisi-based diplomatic missions of EU member states, European Commission Delegation and EU’s Special Representative for South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, called on the authorities and the opposition to engage “into serious and constructive talks in order to overcome the current deadlock and undertake the political reforms necessary to consolidate the Georgian democracy.”

The joint statement was released before the police and protesters clashed late on May 6.

“Freedom of media issues could be a part of these talks. We confirm our readiness to support positive steps taken in order to strengthen democracy and the rule of law in the country,” the statement reads.

It says that EU continues to closely follow the ongoing developments in Georgia.

“We strongly condemn all acts of humiliation, intimidation and violence. For example, scenes outside the Public Broadcaster where journalists were verbally and physically assaulted prompted our concern and are simply unacceptable,” the statement reads. 

“We recognise that the freedom of media in Georgia needs to be strengthened, that the editorial independence and journalistic freedom need to be protected. We are supporting all efforts in this regard, but we are also supporting the journalist’s right to be met with respect and to carry out their work in dignity.” 

“We encourage the authorities to, in full transparency, continue the investigations into all alleged violent acts and assaults, this leading to swift conclusions, bringing the cases to be tried before the courts. We also urge all sides to show restraint and refrain from violent and inflammatory language and behavior.”

“We reaffirm that freedom of peaceful assembly is one of the key rights of the citizen in all democratic countries. With that right also follows obligations to ensure order and that manifestations are conducted causing minimal inconvenience for the normal functioning of institutions and daily life of all citizens. We once again call on all parties to strictly abide by the laws of the country and standards of peaceful public gathering,” the statement reads.