Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Anatoly Serdyukov, the director of the Federal Tax Service since 2004, as Russia’s new defense minister. Since then, Serdyukov has kept a low profile, despite a recent visit to China to promote military cooperation and Russian arms sales with Beijing. Serdyukov was a surprising choice. Apart from serving his obligatory two years of military service after graduation from the Leningrad Institute of Commerce in 1984, Serdyukov never worked in the defense community. He has now become the first genuine civilian to head the Russian Ministry of Defense. His Russian and Soviet predecessors had […]

The Year of China in Russia got off to a top-level handshaking start in Moscow this week, ensuring that whatever else might go amiss, visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao would have something to smile about, for the TV stations back home at least. But after three days of political pledges and promises with President Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders, the Chinese president has returned home without any progress on the one issue that hexes Beijing now — energy security. China cannot maintain its racing economic growth of over 10 percent a year without scouring the world to vacuum up […]

The assembled contestants for the 2007 “Mrs. World” competition, a spin-off of the better-known “Miss World” contest, gathered in late-February in Gudermes, Chechnya, where they were feted by the republic’s guileful young President, Ramzan Kadyrov. Staged as part of an ongoing attempt by the Kremlin, and its proxy regime in Chechyna, headed by Kadyrov, to showcase the supposed “normalization” of Chechen society after 15 years of turmoil, the whole affair made for a quite an absurd spectacle. The collection of beauties, dubbed the “world’s most beautiful married women,” made quite an impression on President Kadyrov. As Chechnya’s acting president — […]

WAKEFIELD, England — On Thursday (March 29), the Scottish Parliament will dissolve ahead of an election scheduled for May 3, amid one of the most keenly fought campaigns in Scotland’s political history. It is an election that could have far reaching consequences for the 300-year political union of Scotland and England and the future of the United Kingdom as a state. Current polls show that the opposition Scottish National Party (SNP) is as much as six points ahead of the ruling Labour Party and within touching distance of its dream of power. Although Tony Blair devolved power to Scotland in […]

From the moment Iranian forces captured a group of 15 British sailors and Marines, the tensions among competing power centers within Iran began bubbling to the surface. One can almost imagine the heated debates raging among assorted Mullahs, military men and politicians about what to do with the 14 men and one woman taken on March 21 in the waters of the Persian Gulf. That, not coincidentally, was the day before a scheduled meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which approved new sanctions against the Islamic Republic, demanding yet again the suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. There are […]

A quality common to any good story has become characteristic of Kremlin succession struggles — suspense. After Vladimir Lenin died, Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky vied for the leadership of the Soviet Union. After exile and assassination, Stalin emerged victorious. After Stalin, Lavrenti Beria and Nikita Khrushchev struggled for power. Again, after much backstabbing and another assassination, Khrushchev beat out Beria. While the political system has changed in name since those political tales played out, suspense is still relevant to Russia’s succession struggle leading up to 2008 elections. The main difference today (besides, hopefully, the lack of political assassination), however, […]

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Corridors of Power is written by veteran foreign affairs correspondent Roland Flamini and appears in World Politics Review every Sunday. Click here for the Corridors of Power archives. NEVER GIVE UP — Pope Benedict XVI has marked the 50th anniversary of the European Union by reviving the Vatican’s campaign to have a reference to Europe’s Christian roots included in the draft constitution. Speaking in the Vatican Saturday, Pope Benedict called on Catholic politicians to challenge “the secularists who want to keep quiet about the Christian culture in Europe and in the world.” Elaborating on one of his top concerns, he […]

VALENCIA, Spain — An outsize effigy of George Bush was burned here in the annual Fallas festival Tuesday, reflecting the president’s unpopularity in Spain, and the country’s continued preoccupation with its past involvement in the Iraq war. Every year in this Spanish coastal city, Valencia artists make hundreds of large, Carnival-type figures for the ancient three-day spring festival. But it’s hardly a carnival atmosphere, as the long Fallas weekend culminates with the figures being set on fire. Satirical themes abound, but the satire is even-handed: Pope Benedict XVI and Spanish Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero were also featured […]

BRUSSELS — A man with tattered trousers, tousled hair and a blood-stained T-shirt wanders through a post-nuclear landscape. “Where am I?” he asks a veiled woman. “Belgium,” replies the Muslim lady. “What are those sand dunes over there?” “The Ardennes,” she replies, insinuating that climate change has turned this rain-soaked country into a desert. “And what’s this heap of rubble I’m standing on?” “The remains of the Berlaymont” (the European Commission’s star-shaped headquarters.) Welcome to Europe 2057 — the centenary of the EU’s birth — seen through the eyes of a troupe of Brussels-based correspondents. If last month’s annual EU […]

Rwandan President Paul Kagame came to power following the 1994 genocide in his country. Before that, starting in 1990, he was the leader of the Tutsi rebel force, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR). Accusing Paris of being “implicated in the genocide,” he has no intention of conceding in a confrontation that, according to him, began more than twelve years ago. Last November, Kigali broke off diplomatic relations with Paris after the French investigative judge Jean-Louis Bruguière recommended that the Rwandan President be tried for his “presumptive participation” in the shooting down of the jet of his predecessor, Juvénal Habyarimana. The […]

In April 2006, the German government appeared finally to have consented to grant scholars full access to the documentary depositories of the International Tracing Service (ITS), a vast archive of files on the crimes of Nazism, including, of course, the Holocaust. ITS is managed by an international body of 11 custodian nations. Germany’s consent should have been sufficient to encourage the others, and the International Red Cross, to follow suit. Unfortunately, a year later, there is still no access. Berlin’s glacial sluggishness on the issue encouraged Rome to stonewall the issue ever more blatantly. Pundits like Anne Applebaum suspect fear […]

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Corridors of Power is written by veteran foreign affairs correspondent Roland Flamini and appears in World Politics Review every Sunday. Click here for the Corridors of Power archives. FLAG OF CONVENIENCE — This week, the foreign minister of Malta, Michael Frendo, was in Washington to sign the Bush administration’s Proliferation Security Initiative. The tiny Mediterranean island is the smallest member of the European Union (pop: 410,000, acreage: 90 square miles), but the signing is not as marginal as it seems at first glance. Malta has the world’s eighth largest ship registry, so the agreement will enable U.S. inspectors to board […]

Fertile fields where there was once barren tundra; the Arctic free of ice; unhindered access to mineral resources — in Russia, there is increasing hope that the country will emerge as a winner from the catastrophe of climate change. For the northern giant with millions of cubic kilometers of permafrost soil, global warming could bring enormous national benefit. The other countries around the North Pole are likewise beginning to imagine the coming of a new Golden Age. On this view, a Union of Nordic Nations might be the strategic alliance of the future, which thanks to the warming climate could […]

Submarine-launched Trident ballistic missiles are currently the United Kingdom’s only nuclear delivery system, and the submarines that carry them are nearing the end of their operational lifetimes. A serious debate has arisen in Britain over whether new submarines should be developed — and, by extension, whether the country should renew its independent nuclear deterrent. The U.K. currently deploys its Trident nuclear missiles on four Vanguard-class submarines, which are due to be decommissioned in the 2020s. In December 2006, the British government found that designing and building new submarines to carry the Trident force would take 17 years — in order […]

On March 2, Italy’s political crisis ended as rapidly as it had begun when the Italian parliament reconfirmed Romano Prodi as the country’s prime minister. By obtaining majority backing in both the Chamber of Deputies (by 342-253) and the more closely divided Senate (162-157) — Italy’s lower and upper houses of parliament, respectively — Prodi prolonged the tenuous life of his center-left governing coalition. The previous week, Prodi’s coalition government lost a key foreign policy vote in the Senate after the defection of two Senators resulted in the government’s falling just short of the necessary majority in that body. The […]

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MADRID, Spain — How many people spilled through the streets of Madrid on Feb. 3, marching alongside relatives of Spain’s terrorism victims, as they protested concessions the government appears prepared to make in order to re-engage the Basque separatist group ETA in a no-fault “peace process”? Well, there were either 1.5 million or 181,200 people taking part, depending on whose police force you want to believe. That latter figure is courtesy of Spain’s National Police, which is controlled by Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Interior Ministry. The claim of 1.5 million is from the Foro de Ermua, the group […]

TBILISI, Georgia — The breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia has voted in parliamentary elections its leaders hope will confer long-awaited international recognition, but Georgia’s president and the West dismissed the ballot and said results will not be recognized. Abkhazia’s status has become a sensitive issue between Georgia and Russia, which has given tacit support to separatists there and in nearby South Ossetia. Although the conflicts remain frozen, analysts say the region is a potential flashpoint as tensions mount between the two countries. Georgia accuses Russia of interfering with its internal affairs, while Moscow counters its southern neighbor has become increasingly […]

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