On April 29, 2008, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the Georgian government in Tbilisi of preparing to invade the pro-Moscow separatist region of Abkhazia, which is located on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, along the Russia-Georgia border. Russian officials announced that they would deploy more peacekeeping troops in the region to defend the separatists. Russian government representatives have claimed that the Georgian military has been reinforcing its garrison in the strategic enclave of the Upper Kodori Valley, the most important part of Abkhazia still under control of the Tbilisi government. The Russian Defense Ministry attributed the current crisis […]

BELGRADE, Serbia — Vlade Divac, the retired NBA basketball player, is up against his toughest opponent ever in his quest to end the refugee crisis in Serbia, home to the largest number of refugees in Europe, while distancing himself from the political stalemate that has gripped his native nation. More than 300,000 refugees and displaced persons from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo remain in Serbia, of which 6,700 still live in deplorable conditions in dilapidated schools, barracks, shipping containers and other forms of temporary housing. Many of these refugees, who fled to Serbia from the wars that ravaged the former Yugoslavia […]

Clearing Customs, Redux

EurasiaNet just picked up the story I flagged yesterday about a Russian shipment bound for Iran’s Bushehr reactor being held up by Azerbaijan customs. Apparently I’m not alone in believing that the incident has more to do with behind the scenes intrigue than with the lack of proper shipping documents. And while the possibility of American involvement in the seizure is advanced, the article points out that the Russians, too, might have an interest in keeping one foot on the brake while the other hits the gas when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran, after keeping a low profile […]

Clearing Customs

Something fishy is going on at the Iran-Azerbaijan border. Last week I noticed a mention in the Russian press that a Russian shipment bound for the Bushehr reactor in Iran was held up three weeks ago by Azerbaijan customs officers because it supposedly lacked the proper paperwork. Now Iran is demanding the cargo be released, but Azerbaijan is still dragging its heels over concerns that the material, described as “heat-isolating equipment,” might be in violation of the U.N. sanctions against Iran. A spokeswoman for the Russian state-run export company claimed the delay would not effect the reactor’s launch date. But […]

The visit to the United States earlier this month of Pope Benedict XVI, the spiritual leader of more than 60 million Americans, was a whirlwind affair. In between meetings with President Bush, a stopover at the Pope John Paul II cultural center, a meeting with a Jewish community group in New York and a visit to ground zero, Benedict also managed to slip in three masses and a handful of addresses to various ecumenical bodies. While the trip lasted just four days, precious little was left undone. Judging by his schedule, American domestic issues were clearly high atop the Pope’s […]

Russia and the EU Redux

Yesterday I flagged a couple articles about the growing interest in both the EU and Russia to update their 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Today, an ITAR-TASS article elaborates on what Russia hopes to accomplish by updating the framework agreement. In addition to developing working arrangements for international crisis management, the Russians seem to be particularly interested in the development of a joint Russian-EU conflict intervention, peacekeeping and stabilization capacity. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry mentioned the recent example of Russia’s contributing helicopters to the EUFOR Chad mission as a model for future cooperation: “The participation of Russia in […]

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda met with outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, outside Moscow this past weekend. The talks addressed preparations for this July’s Group of Eight summit, which Japan is hosting, as well as such perennial issues as how to improve the often strained security and economic relations between the two countries. Tokyo-Moscow ties have remained troubled for decades. This weekend’s Moscow summit failed to change the underlying causes of these difficulties. Despite the end of the Cold War, the two countries have been unable to resolve their territorial dispute over what the Russians […]

Rights & Wrongs: Slovakia, Trafficking, Uganda, and More

SLOVAKIA LAW SEEN AS DANGER TO PRESS FREEDOM — As of June 1, anyone mentioned in a Slovak newspaper article will be entitled to a rebuttal in the same publication, according to provisions of a new law that has angered media freedom advocates and raised fears that official and self-censorship may be the law’s result. Under the law, anyone who objects to the use of their name in an article may complain to newspaper editors, who then will be responsible for printing a response by the complainer to the original reference, unless the paper can convince a court it is […]

The EU Hearts Russia

In an interview with Interfax, Javier Solana explains why the EU is eager to begin negotiations with Russia for an agreement to replace the current Partnership and Co-operation Agreement signed in 1994: The current agreement was negotiated soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russia as a state was then only a few years old, and the EU of today is also very different from that of the early 1990s. . . The new agreement should reflect the changes in both Russia and the EU, and lay a good ground for the very wide and diverse co-operation that we […]

This month’s NATO summit in Bucharest failed to produce a consensus in favor of proposals to offer Membership Action Plans (MAPs) to Georgia and Ukraine. The pro-MAP faction within NATO, led by the United States and also including Canada and most Eastern European countries, failed to overcome concerted resistance from most of the Western European member-states, led most vociferously by Germany and France. At the conclusion of the conference on April 3, NATO issued a cryptic joint communiqué stating that it “welcomed Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership and agreed that these countries will become members of NATO,” but […]

A German interior ministry proposal to grant Iraqi Christians asylum in Germany as a persecuted minority drew criticism last week from the chair of the Bundestag’s Human Rights Committee, who insisted that the program should be open to other Iraqis as well. “We should also accept Christians, because they are under particular pressure,” Herta Däubler-Gmelin said in remarks reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “but not only Christians.” “An appropriately large number of Iraqis should be taken in,” she added, “commensurate to Germany’s capacity and economic power.” Herta Däubler-Gmelin? If the name sounds familiar, that is because this is the […]

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he will decide by late 2008 or early 2009 whether France will fully rejoin the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It is one of the more important issues left unresolved at the recently concluded Bucharest Summit, where Sarkozy proclaimed: “I reaffirm here France’s determination to pursue the process of renovating its relations with NATO.” Gen. Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO’s military structure in 1966 in protest over American dominance of the Atlantic Alliance. And more than 40 years later, the issue of American influence over European security remains a fundamental stumbling block to […]

Georgia on my Mind

Richard Weitz has got a good rundown right here at WPR of the recent maneuvering in the Russian-Georgian standoff over Abkhazia, including Russia’s clever gambit of offering limited normalization of relations to both Georgia and the breakaway province at the same time. The idea seemed to be to exploit an ambiguous stance of neither recognizing nor rejecting Abkhazia’s independence in order to make things as uncomfortable as possible for Georgia in its quest for NATO membership, without quite pushing the envelope to outright conflict. But that was before Georgia claimed a Russian MiG shot down one of its aerial drones […]

Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze travels to the United States this week to consult with American officials and attend an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council regarding the latest crisis affecting Russian-Georgian relations. On April 16, President Vladimir Putin precipitated the most recent flare-up by instructing Russian officials to establish direct legal and economic relations with separatist regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia without first obtaining the approval of the central Georgian government in Tbilisi. Putin’s decree also authorized Russian government offices located in Krasnodar Territory and North Ossetia, Russian territories adjacent to the two breakaway regions, to provide […]

Vladimir Is Not Amused

Vladimir Putin had this to say in denying a Moskovsky Korrespondent report last week that he’d divorced his wife in order to marry champion gymnast and current Russian legislator Alina Kabayeva: I have always reacted negatively to those who, with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies, prowl into others’ lives. Just how negatively? Well, let’s just say that the paper was closed down by its publisher today, who denied any political motivation behind the decision. To be fair, according to the Moscow Times, the coverage of politicians’ personal lives is considered something of a taboo in Russia, and the Korrespondent […]

Virtual Nabucco

More problems for the Nabucco pipeline project, which if it never actually ends up delivering gas might have a future as a soap opera. This time the sticking point has to do with Turkish transit fees, which the EU and Azerbaijan wants to set at market rates, and which Turkey wants to negotiate at a “privileged ownership” rate. Hey, why not? Meanwhile, as John Rosenthal pointed out in a WPR piece not so long ago, the Nabucco pipeline really makes the most sense if it brings Iranian gas online. John saw that as a potential wedge Tehran could drive between […]

PAPAL VISIT — As the American media lavish attention on Pope Benedict XVI´s visit to the United States, the other part of his itinerary has rated hardly a mention. On Friday, the 81-year-old pontiff will address the U.N. General Assembly in New York. To the Vatican, the pope’s pronouncement to the world from the platform of the United Nations ranks as high in importance as his “pastoral” visit to Catholic America. The pope´s U.N. speech is a historic event in his papacy — a statement of how he sees the world. In reality, the pope’s trip is a triple header. […]

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