Tag Archives: Georgia

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Economic data out this week suggests that the end of the global recession may be nearing. The most recent jobless numbers out of the United States gave economists reason to celebrate, as the unemployment rate declined by 1/10 of a point, leading to a price rally on Wall Street. Germany, which has seen a sharp decline in gross domestic product (glossary) during the global recession, benefitted from an unexpected expansion of exports—7 percent in June. While other countries continue to struggle, including Russia and Iceland, many economists now believe we are seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

In other news from the previous week:

1. The trial of dozens of people, including a French national and two Iranians employed in the British and French embassies began in Iran on Saturday. The defendants are charged with espionage and “acting against national security” by taking part in and reporting on post-election protests to Western embassies. Under Iranian law, a conviction on either charge could be punished by death. Several of the defendants have confessed, but Western governments have dismissed the charges as “baseless” and contend the confessions were made under duress. The government of Iran accuses the United States and Britain of interfering in its internal affairs by “proving financial help to Iran’s opposition.” Meanwhile, the trial of 100 opposition leaders continued last week. The opposition leaders have condemned the trials as a spectacle, but the defendants face charges punishable by death. Opposition leaders continue to assert that the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad in June’s disputed presidential election was the result of electoral fraud. Nevertheless, Ahmadi-Nejad was sworn in on Monday.

2. A power struggle inside Taliban in Pakistan emerged over the weekend after the organization’s top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Friday. Mehsud was a powerful figure in the Waziristan district of Pakistan, and Pakistani officials believe he was responsible for nearly all of the major terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the past two years, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the bombing of Marriot Hotel in Islamabad in 2008. Many analysts believe that Mehsud’s death will undermine the ability of the Taliban to operate in Pakistan. Already, political infighting in the Taliban in Pakistan’s leadership has led to the murder of one top leader by another, as Waliur Rehman, a leading contender to lead the organization, killed Hakimullah Mehsud, a rival for the same position. Pakistani intelligence now believes the organization is likely to splinter into several factions, each operating independently, but collectively much weaker than the original organization.

3. Former President Bill Clinton met with North Korean President Kim Jong-il this week, securing the release of two American journalists who had been sentenced to twelve years of hard labor for illegally entering the country. The meeting, which the White House maintains was not part of its official diplomatic efforts to address the challenges posed by the North Korean regime, was the highest level contact between the two countries in more than ten years. The Obama administration also reminded North Korea that, despite Clinton’s trip, that the United States will continue its efforts to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on the North Korean state unless it abandons efforts to secure nuclear weapons.

4. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her Africa tour this week, meeting with Kenyan officials on Wednesday. Clinton is hoping to apply pressure on the coalition government to move forward with political reforms intended to bring grater stability to the country and to prevent another flare up of the violence which rocked the country after February’s disputed presidential election.

On Thursday, Clinton met with Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the embattled president of Somalia. Clinton used the opportunity to reiterate U.S. support for the Ahmed government, pledging to provide more military and economic assistance as the government continues its battle against Islamist insurgents. Meanwhile, in neighboring Eritrea, President Isaias Afewerki, who is believed to be a supporter of rebel groups in Somalia, dismissed U.S. efforts, saying that it is unrealistic to try and “imposing [a government] that doesn’t exist in reality.” Somalia has long topped Foreign Policy’s list of failed states. The lack of an effective central state has also made the country a haven for pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

5. A series of cyber-attacks aimed at social networking sites last week were believed to be directed at one individual—a blogger posting under the name of Cyxymu Livejournal. The denial-of-service attacks targeted several popular sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the blogging site Livejournal. Cyxymu Livejournal is a critic of Russian policy in the Caucuses, particularly Georgia. According to some sources, the Russian government has used denial-of-service attacks in the past, targeting sites critical of the Russian government in Georgia, Estonia, and Eastern Europe. But if responsible for the most recent round of attacks, this could represent an expansion of the strategy. Leading credence to the theory is the fact that this week marked the one year anniversary of the Russian-Georgian War over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The death of Michael Jackson dominated news coverage this week, pushing other major developments aside. Indeed, with so much popular interest generated that popular sites like Twitter and Facebook were overwhelmed with traffic and unable to keep up with bandwidth demands. By Sunday morning, networks were slowly returning to other coverage.

In other news from the previous week:

1. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the decision of the Iranian government to arrest eight local employees working in Tehran. The eight Iranian employees at the British embassy were charged with involvement in the ongoing protest over the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections. The arrests follow developments last week in which Britain and Iran each expelled two of the other’s diplomats. The arrests (and the continuing deteriorating relationship more generally) will likely be a topic for informal discussions at the G8 meeting this weekend.

2. Meetings between NATO and Russian foreign ministers over the weekend set the stage for greater cooperation in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Relations between Russia and the west had deteriorated after the Georgian war last year. The Russian government also announced plans to restructure the country’s military.

3. Taro Aso, Japan’s prime minister, is facing increasing pressure to resign from his post ahead of general elections which must be held by October. Aso’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has dominated post-war Japanese politics, ruling the country for all but 11 months of the last 53 years. But Japan’s ongoing economic crisis, combined with allegations of corruption and political infighting within the LDP, has led to a sharp decline in popular support for the party—and a potential radical shift in Japanese politics, with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan poised to seize the opportunity.

4. Lebanon’s new prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, has begun the task of forming a new parliament for the country. Hariri won a surprising victory over rival Hizbollah last month, but now faces the daunting task of uniting Lebanon’s three rival factions, the Sunnis, Shi’as, and Christians. In order to maintain good relations between Lebanon’s three factions, Hariri has proposed to establish a government of national unity. (glossary) But Hizbollah has so far refused to accept the possibility of a unity government unless it is granted veto power, a development which Hariri opposes. Hariri was the favored candidate of the United States and Saudi Arabia, but was sharply opposed by Syria. Stable relations between the three countries are seen as vital to the maintenance of peace and stability in Lebanon.

5. Human Rights Watch accused the government of Zimbabwe of engaging in murder, forced labor, and torture in its diamond mining operations in the Marange district in the eastern part of the country. The accusations come shortly after a campaign by the country’s prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, failed to secure the western economic aid it had hoped for. Zimbabwe faces considerable challengesin its attempt to address the ongoing economic and political crisis which has plagued the country for more than a year. While inflation has come down from its record 231 million percent last year, the political standoff between President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, and his political rival, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, remains unresolved.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia continues to be a problem for the international community. Despite the presence of U.N. sanctioned international forces—which at times has among others involved U.S., E.U., Indian, German, British, French, and Portuguese naval vessels—Somali pirates last week attacked a U.S.-flagged ship and seized control of an Italian-flagged tug. The U.S. navy is engaged in a standoff with pirates who kidnapped the captain of the Maersk Alabama after its crew prevented them from taking control of the ship. In another standoff, French forces stormed a yacht held by pirates on Friday. One hostage and two pirates were killed in the operation.

In news from outside the Gulf of Aden last week:

1. The government of Thailand declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, the country’s capital, on Saturday, hoping to bring to a close the recent uptick in anti-government protest in the country. Under the terms of the state of emergency, the power of the government to arrest and detain people is significantly expanded, and large gatherings are banned. The opposition labeled the state of emergency as “an act of war.” An estimated 80,000 people took to the streets of Bangkok on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has been in office for five months. On Saturday, protestors in the Thai resort town of Pattaya forced the cancellation of a three-day summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations, embarrassing the Thai government.

2. The United Nations Security Council appears to be moving forward with a statement condemning last week’s rocket launch by North Korea. The statement, expected to be approved by the body on Monday, is a compromise between the demands of the United States and Japan for a resolution condemning the launch and China and Russia’s desire for a more cautious approach. Sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council following a North Korean nuclear test in 2006 have not been effectively enforced, but the current statement would permit the Security Council to extend or expand the sanctions.

3. Alberto Fujimori, former president of Peru, was sentenced to 25 years after being found guilty of human rights violation on Tuesday. Fujimori was elected president in 1990, but staged in coup in 1992, suspending the constitution and closing down Congress. At the time, the country was engulfed in a civil war, with the government fighting against the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru revolutionary movements. During the war, both sides regularly engaged in kidnapping, murder, and other crimes against humanity. Fujimori was the first democratically elected leader in Latin America to be tried in country for human rights violations and his trial is widely viewed as a potential model for other countries to follow.

4. The trial of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi is expected to begin this week. Saberi, who has worked for the BBC, National Public Radio, and Fox News, among others, was arrested by the government of Iran on charges of espionage two months ago. Saberi’s trial would complicate overtures by the U.S. government to enter into formal, country-to-country negotiations with Iran over the status of its nuclear program.

5. Political instability seems to be the rule of the day in the “privileged sphere of influence” claimed by Russia. Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of Tbilisi, demanding the resignation of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The protests lack a unified theme, but common points of concern include increasing unemployment, Saakashvili’s poor handling of the war with Russia last August, and his attempts to limit the independence of the judiciary. Meanwhile, the constitutional court in Moldova granted Vladminir Voronin’s request to recount ballots from last Sunday’s disputed presidential election. Voronin’s community party won nearly half the popular vote and would get to choose the country’s next president. But anti-communist groups have refused to recognize the outcome and ransacked the president’s offices lat week.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum took place in Davos, Switzerland, over the weekend.  The forum is intended to provide world economic leaders an opportunity to meet to discuss issues of global importance.  The meeting is normally incredibly cordial, as the economic focus of the conference provides an opportunity to move beyond traditional political wrangling that characterizes official meetings of heads of state.  This year, however, the Gaza crisis prompted the Turkish prime minister to leave the meting in protest and tension filled the air.  In general, this year’s forum has been dominated by discussion of the global economic crisis  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned against a rising tide of protectionism similar to the trend that occurred leading into the Great Depression, while bankers cautioned the U.S. government against political interference in banking operations

In news outside Davos this week:

1.  Provincial elections in Iraq on Saturday were generally peaceful.  Although the final tally will take more than two weeks to complete, preliminary results indicate voter turnout was 51 percent, a slight decline from 2005.  Turnout in Sunni provinces, which had previously dismissed the electoral process as biased against their interests, was particularly high.  With more than 14,000 candidates competing for just 440 seats, there are bound to be a large number of disappointed political parties and candidates.  The question that worries observers now is: how do those who lose the vote respond?

2.  A last-ditch effort to craft a government of national unity in Zimbabwe appears to have been successful, as Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change agreed on Friday to join Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union, Popular Front to govern the country.  Once one of the wealthiest and most productive countries in the region, Zimbabwe has gradually collapsed into economic chaos.  With the unemployment rate at an estimated 95 percent, the World Food Programme estimates that up to 70 percent of the country’s population may require food aid in the next six months.  In an effort to deal with the crisis and bring the country’s rampant inflation—currently believed to be running as high as a quadrillion percent (that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000%, incase you’re wondering) under control, the government last week also removed restrictions on using foreign currencies for economic transactions within Zimbabwe.  It is now possible—indeed likely—that bread, gas, and other basic commodities will be priced in U.S. dollars, pound sterling, South African rand, or other foreign currencies.

3.  The crisis over the future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which was at the heart of a diplomatic standoff between the United States and Russia lat year, has once again reemerged on the international stage.  Russia has announced plans to construct a new naval base in Abkhazia, a move which Georgia claims will undermine its national sovereignty.  Meanwhile, in an apparent overture to the west, Russia has suspended plans to deploy a missile station in Kaliningrad.  Russia had announced its intention to deploy cruise missile batteries in the enclave last year after the United States moved forward with plans to deploy its missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. 

4.  The Mexican government announced on Tuesday that the country is likely headed into recession, with the economy estimated to contract by as much as 1.8 percent in 2009.  The Mexican economy is heavily dependent on exports to the Untied States, with exports to the U.S. accounting for 80 percent of all Mexican exports and representing about 25 percent of all economic activity in the country.  Already, Mexico’s central bank has cut interest rates in an attempt to stimulate the domestic economy.  Meanwhile, an ongoing conflict between powerful drug cartels and the central government has led some analysts to forecast that Mexico could achieve “failed state” status if it is unable to assert control over the cartels.

5.  Although the fragile ceasefire in Gaza has officially held, a number of fractures are beginning to appear.  On Thursday, Hamas launched rockets into Israel in response to an Israeli airstrike against a suspected arms factory in Gaza on Wednesday.  President Barack Obama named George Mitchell his Middle East envoy, and Mitchell appears to have his work cut out for him.  Arab states are demanding an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the conflict in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,000 were injured. 

And in a bonus story this week:

6.  A moderate Islamist leader, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, was declared the winner of Saturday’s presidential elections in Somalia.  Ahmed was the head of the country’s sharia court system that brought stability to southern Somalia in 2006.   But the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops earlier this year has led to even more instability in Somalia, and the political process, now to be led by Ahmed, has been dislocated from the country, now based in neighboring Djibouti.  Somalia has become a haven for piracy in recent months, and the World Food Program was forced to halt shipments to the country due to insecurity.

Russian Missiles and the Obama Doctrine

In a development that some are viewing as Obama’s first foreign policy test, Russia has announced its intention to develop a new missile base along the Polish border.  Financial Times blogger Gideon Rachman has termed it the “Polish Missile Crisis.”  Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made the move in response to the decision of the United States to deploy its missile defense system into Poland and the Czech Republic.

The current crisis is a classic illustration of the security dilemma, in which an action intended to improve the security of one state cause another state to fear for their own security and therefore respond in way that undermines the security of both states.  In other words, states behaving rationally in the pursuit of their own interests can produce irrational outcomes.  In this case, the decision of the United States to develop and deploy a missile defense system, intended to improve its own security, causes Russia to expand its deployment of missile systems along the Polish border to offset U.S. gains.  As a result, both countries feel less secure. 

According to liberal international relations scholars, the security dilemma can be overcome through closer economic, cultural, and political interactions which, over time, create a shared sense of empathy.  But will this be the case here?  After years of improving relations between Russia and the United States following the end of the Cold War, relations between the two countries have fallen sharply—remember Georgia?  Nevertheless, the FT’s editorial pages are hopeful, noting that  

even in difficult times in east-west relations, agreements can be struck on matters of mutual interest, as happened even in the cold war. There is much that binds Russia and the west, including energy and trade, and concerns about Iran, global terrorism and, most recently, financial stability. Reducing tensions over missile bases should be high on this list.

Sounds like a test for the Obama Doctrine.

Five Stories You Mihgt Have Missed

The big stories in the United States this week were the landfall of hurricane Ike and the impact of the failure of Lehman Brothers investment bank.  Here are other important stories that you might have missed during the past week:

1. On Wednesday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, announced it would cut production by 520,000 barrels per day in an attempt to keep oil prices above $100 per barrel.  The move was quickly criticized by the International Energy Agency and the White House.  The cut, OPEC’s first since December 2006, comes as oil prices have fallen to just over $100 per barrel, a decrease of more than 30% from peak prices several months ago.

2. On Saturday night, a series of bomb blasts tore through New Delhi.  The five explosions killed 25 and wounded more than 90.  An additional four explosive devices were found before they detonated.  Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, police believe that the bombings may be linked to one of India’s banned Muslim groups, such as the Students Islamic Movement or the Indian Mujahideen.

3. The longstanding political impasse in Zimbabwe appeared to be diffused last week when the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Popular Front (ZANU-PF) and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) reached a power-sharing deal.  The details of the deal have not yet been released, but both sides view the new government of national unity as a victory.  Despite the agreement, concerns over the country’s political stability and economic collapse remain.  Inflation in Zimbabwe is currently estimated to be more than 10 million percent.

4. On Thursday, the Financial Times reported that the Chinese government had used its foreign exchange reserve funds to pressure Costa Rica to sever ties with Taiwan and establish relations with Beijing. If confirmed, the move would mark the most dramatic use of China’s $1.8 trillion forex reserves as a tool of Chinese foreign policy.

5. In an interview with Charlie Gibson last week, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin declared on Thursday that the United States would be obligated to go to war with Russia if Georgia were a member of Nato.  McCain has advocated a more aggressive stance towards Russia over the past several months, but Palin’s announcement was the first time the idea of direct confrontation between the two Cold War rivals has been specifically mentioned.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Headlines this week have been dominated by two stories: Michael Phelps’ success at the Olympic Games and the Russia-Georgia War.  With all the attention paid to these two stories, here are five other developments you might have missed.

1.  Russia’s Poland Threat:  After Russia’s move into Georgia last week, Poland decided to permit U.S. interceptor missile bases to be housed there.  The bases, part of the Bush Administration’s strategic defense initiative program, had been frozen due to American resistance to Polish demands that a Patriot missiles battery be stationed in the country as part of the deal.  After the Georgian conflict, the United States appeared willing to give in to the Polish demand.  In response, Russia warned Poland that it was now a target for their nuclear arsenal.

2.  Musharraf’s (Possible) Resignation:  Facing possible impeachment, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf indicated on Thursday that he will be stepping down.  Impeachment proceedings had been set to start early next week.  Musharraf’s resignation was likely intended to avoid that spectacle.  As part of the agreement, Musharraf will avoid prosecution and will be permitted to remain in Pakistan.  His departure, however, signals an important shift in Pakistani politics, a key country in the war on terror.

3.  No Diplomatic Solution in Zimbabwe:  Negotiations intended to resolve Zimbabwe’s longstanding crisis have so far failed to reach a peaceful settlement.  At issue is who will lead Zimbabwe.  Robert Mugabe, the current president, has been in office since 1980 and has increasingly relied on force to maintain his rule.  Morgan Tsvangarai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, won the first round of presidential elections last March before being forced to cancel his campaign in the second round of voting due to political violence.  Despite extensive pressure being placed on the country by South Africa, Mugabe appears so far to be unwilling to share power.  Negations continue, but few are hopeful that a settlement will be reached.

4.  Lugo Wins Paraguay Election:  Continuing a leftward shift in many Latin American countries, Fernando Lugo won the election in Paraguay, marking the end of 61 years of one-party rule by the Colorado Party.  One of Lugo’s first acts as President was to decline his monthly salary of approximately $4000, declaring that “the money belongs to the poorest.”  Evo Morales, the leftist President of Bolivia, said that Lugo’s victory would “deepen democracy” in the region.

5.  Syrian-Lebanese Meeting:  In the face of a declining security situation in Lebanon, the country’s President, Michel Suleiman, agreed to re-establish full diplomatic relations with neighboring Syria.  The agreement, part of a package that seeks to normalize relations between the two countries, marks the first time the countries would exchange ambassadors since both achieved independence in the 1940s.