Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had a pleasant, two-day summit last week in Beijing. The agreeable nature of their public encounter was evident when Hu thanked the Russian government for its assistance to the victims of the May 12 earthquake in southwest China, which may have killed as many as 80,000 people. “Between friends, there can be no other kind of relations,” Medvedev replied, while offering to provide additional help. Their only unpleasant comments were directed at third parties. The two governments expressed resentment of Western criticism regarding their human rights practices and actions abroad. A […]

The irony of great tragedies is that their smallest moments are the ones that truly touch us. Statistics and death-counts impress strategists and historians. But the image of a terrified boy crouching behind his father in the crossfire of armed fighters — and then dying in his father’s arms — has the power to melt hearts, ignite fury, and move people to action. Such was the case with Mohammed al-Dura, the Palestinian boy supposedly killed by Israeli soldiers in September 2000 during a gun battle with Palestinians. His story sparked outrage around the world and added fuel to a raging […]

Putin in Paris

It’s no coincidence that Vladimir Putin chose France for his first foreign visit as Prime Minister. The visit demonstrates the growing importance of the two countries’ bilateral relations, in the context of Russian-EU relations. Russia and the EU will begin negotiations next month for a new Cooperative Framework Agreement, and France assumes the EU presidency in July. In a sign, too, of how central civil nuclear energy has become to French foreign policy, Putin will be accompanied by the head of Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear agency, which is seeking to broaden its collaborative contracts with its French counterpart, Areva.

Europe’s Liberty of Position

Nikolas Gvosdev’s right. Europe’s return to the center-right does not equal an automatic alignment with American positions. In fact, I’d argue that on the points of disagreement (which Gvosdev identifies as Russia, the EU’s limits, and Iran), we’d be better off realigning our positions to theirs than vice versa. (I’d add differences in counterterrorism and stability operations docrine, and the emphasis given to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a driver of Middle East conflict, to the list.) The consequences of policy differences have been significantly dedramatized on both sides of the lake to the point where no one here in […]

Italy and the Roma

Alex Harrowell of AFOE isn’t the only person concerned about the recent resurgence of reactionary xenophobia in Italy. Recently a research fellow from a French think tank I was speaking to drew a direct link between European immigration policies and the “Clash of Civilizations” scenario. He made particular mention of Italy, and called what’s going on there “very disturbing.” Harrowell argues that the European Commission should make itself heard, along the lines of its official sanctions against Austria for admitting an extreme right party to its coalition government. This could be an opportunity for Nicolas Sarkozy to pivot back to […]

Two years ago, the U.N. created the “Human Rights Council” to replace the erstwhile “Human Rights Commission.” One of the instruments that the new body was given in order to overcome the glaring failings of its predecessor is the so-called country review. In the periodic reviews, the human rights record of each of the 192 U.N. member states is examined and recommendations are made for improvement. The review sessions are supposed to be marked not by the rich Western democracies making paternalistic and condescending reproaches against the world’s most brutal governments and most notorious rogue states, but rather by a […]

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov traveled to the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol May 10-11 to mark the 225th anniversary of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. During that weekend, he made several inflammatory comments to the effect that the port and city still legally belong to the Russian Federation. Luzhkov’s remarks have further strained relations between Russia and Ukraine, which also differ on other issues, especially Ukrainian aspirations to join NATO. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) responded by designating the Moscow mayor persona non grata. The SBU claimed that Luzhkov ignored “a warning regarding the unacceptability of actions harming Ukraine’s national interests […]

French Strike Update

Yesterday’s daylong nationwide transport workers strike in France was a qualified success for the unions, who achieved their goal of putting half a million people in the streets. But as Libération explains, it won’t be very easy for them to convert their show of force into a unified stance. To begin with, they remain divided amongst themselves about the ongoing reform of the “special regimes.” A few militant unions are pushing to return them to 37.5 years of contribution for a full pension, some are okay with where things stand now (re-aligned with the general retirement system of 40 years […]

EU Greenlights Russia Talks

The EU member states just greenlighted the opening of negotiations for a new cooperative framework agreement between the EU and Russia. The talks had been blocked less than a month ago at the EU foreign ministers’ summit by Lithuania, which had several outstanding grievances against Moscow, including resumption of interrupted oil deliveries. Those disputes have been included in the mandate of issues to be resolved in the new negotiations, which (barring any surprises) will open next month at the EU-Russia summit. That the negotiations’ opening rounds will take place under the French EU presidency is a stroke of luck, because […]

On the basis of preliminary returns and exit polls, President Mikheil Saakashvili declared an overwhelming victory for his party in yesterday’s legislative elections in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Many observers had hoped that the vote would end the protracted and vicious political infighting that has characterized Georgian politics in recent years, but Saakashvili’s opponents immediately contested his claim. A prominent opposition leader, David Gamkrelidze, accused the government of the incumbent president of falsifying the results and called for new legislative elections. Nine political parties and three blocs competed for representation in the 150-member parliament. Half of the seats […]

GENEVA — Hold in your hand a moral Geiger counter, a tool to find the place where the noblest ambitions of humanity have turned into the coldest machinations of tyrants. The western shore of Lake Geneva, in Switzerland, sets the counter buzzing. The setting looked ideal for the dreams of the League of Nations, the doomed predecessor of today’s United Nations. Founded on the ashes of World War I, when a devastated world sought ways to avoid more devastating wars, it attempted to bring together the moral power of humanity to resolve disputes peacefully and, quite plainly, make the world […]

The latest figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute show a precipitous decline in the volume of Russian weapons sales to the Chinese military. Although Beijing remains the single largest recipient of Russian arms, the figures show a 63 percent decrease in the value of major Russian weapons deliveries to China, which is the lowest level in a decade. The decrease contributed to a 29 percent reduction in Russia’s overall export of major conventional weapons systems between 2006 and 2007. In addition, China and Russia have not signed any major new arms contracts in recent years and are […]

The Return of Villepin?

This is a little bit of inside baseball, but Marianne is reporting that former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is likely to be cleared of diffamation charges in what’s known as the Clearstream scandal. The incident dates back to 2004, when a list of offshore accounts mysteriously surfaced, purportedly linking the account holders (including Nicolas Sarkozy) to a 1991 kickback scandal involving the sale of French frigates to Taiwan. Instead of opening an official investigation, Villepin assigned a retired spy to investigate the list, which was later proven to be a fabrication, but not before it was leaked to the […]

Russian Energy Giveaways

Talk about a nice going away present. Just before leaving office on May 6, Russia’s former Prime Minister (now vice premier) Viktor Zubkov sealed a ruling that transferred one third of Russia’s federally owned gas reserves to Gazprom. The transfer, which took place without tender, followed a smaller but hefty one in April, and boosted Gazprom’s wealth by 13 percent. Meanwhile, “Prime Minister” Putin announced plans for a round of tax holidays for Russian oil prospecting and developing companies. Of course, if I’m a Russian oil prospector, I’ve got to be wondering whether the field I develop will ultimately be […]

Parisian Summer

As if the ride wasn’t getting bumpy enough for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the major transportation unions just announced their intention to strike next Thursday. Trains, subways and airports will all be effected nationwide. The pretext is to protest the government’s efforts to lengthen the contribution for full pension benefits from 40 to 41 years for transport workers. But I think it’s also safe to say that the unions are taking advantage of Sarkozy’s present weakness to try to redefine the balance of power resulting from last fall’s transport strike. That weeklong shutdown took place while Sarkozy was at the […]

Trouble in the Ranks

Through a combination of procedural clumsiness, personal ambition and institutional pride, the parliamentary majority of French President Nicolas Sarkozy has mounted something of a protest over the past few days. At issue is both the relationship of the government to its majority, and the functioning of the UMP party. Parliament members complain of inaccessible ministers and the imposition of unpopular legislation without deputies’ input. One prominent UMP figure attacked the party’s “Brezhnevian” direction. (French-language links.) So far, the legislative victims of the parliamentary rebellion have been a law on OGM’s and a constitutional amendment that would have bypassed popular referenda […]

When it emerged in mid-March that the perpetrator of a deadly suicide attack on American troops in Afghanistan had come from Germany, the American media showed remarkably little interest. On March 3, 28-year-old Cüneyt Ciftci from Ansbach in Bavaria drove a pick-up loaded with several tons of explosives into a guard post in Khost province in southeastern Afghanistan and then detonated his payload while still inside the truck. According to U.S. Army and Afghan sources, two American soldiers and two Afghans were killed in the attack and another seven persons, including four soldiers, were wounded. The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), […]

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