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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

After hesitating several years, the British government finally accepted American entreaties to join the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), becoming its 21st member on Feb. 26, 2008. Celebrating the British decision, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said “This important addition provides great momentum for GNEP.” In the U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration, issued by Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin at their April 6 summit at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, the two governments reaffirmed their commitment to promote nuclear nonproliferation by “working together and with other nations to develop mutually beneficial approaches for economical and reliable access to […]

No Trade-offs with Russia

Foeign Policy’s Blake Hounshell has some thoughts about the Bush administration’s approach to diplomacy, in particular with regard to Russia, that are worth a read. The Bush administration has rejected the traditional give-and-take method of balancing demands on some issues with concessions on others in favor of arguing each case independently on its merits. It’s a classic case of values vs. interests, but the problem is that interests have a way of influencing how values are perceived. That and the fact that Russia is no longer in a position where it can’t really defend its interests.

Limping Out of Bucharest

This CFR interview with Charles Kupchan is about as good a rundown of last week’s NATO summit and the subsequent meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin as any I’ve read. Both the summit and bi-lateral meeting were mixed bags: not enough failure to resemble disaster, but not enough enthusiasm to resemble success. Despite the alliance’s high-profile rebuke of Bush on MAP’s for Ukraine and Georgia, Kupchan observed that Bush has actually done a good job of repairing relations with France and Germany. But in that he’s been helped by a changing of the guard in both countries, as well as […]

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin made what looks to be their last personal attempt as incumbent presidents to resolve the protracted dispute over European missile defenses at their Sochi summit this weekend. Despite several rounds of detailed discussions in Moscow and Washington during the past month, Russian officials continue to object to U.S. plans to deploy ballistic missile defenses (BMD) in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russian representatives claim that the stated American justification for the BMD deployments — that the systems are needed to defend the United States and European countries against an emerging Iranian missile threat — […]

Bush, Russia and Europe

I’m of two minds after reading Timothy Garton Ash’s brutal takedown of the Bush administration’s Europe and Russia policies (via FPA’s Diplomacy blog). Ash compares President Bush’s divisive insistence on missile defense and opportunistic “Coalitions of the Willing” with George (H.W.) Bush’s skillful navigation of the post-Cold War challenges of integrating “New Europe” into “Old Europe” without alienating Russia. And on the one hand, the Bush administration’s policies seem to reflect an obvious hostility to both the Bush 41 approach and objectives. But on the other, if you take a look at the U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration signed by Presidents […]

“We have to underline NATO’s enduring commitment to finishing Europe’s unfinished business — but also its relevance to emerging challenges, such as proliferation threats and vulnerabilities in our energy supply.” Thus remarked NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a conference sponsored by the Center for International Relations in Warsaw on March 13. Leaders of the 26 member countries are meeting in Bucharest this week to increase NATO’s collective defense capabilities and deepen transatlantic ties. While the alliance has adopted a basic approach to guarding energy infrastructure, plans to widen the scope of a NATO energy security policy will […]

Bush, Putin and NATO

According to EurasiaNet’s Joshua Kucera, President Bush really is committed to leaving Bucharest with Membership Action Plans (the last step before you get the NATO secret handshake) for Ukraine and Georgia. If you look at where the internal faultline lies, it’s pretty much England & New Europe for, and Old Europe (led by France and Germany) against. Remind you of anything? One official called it the “. . .success of the Gazprom foreign policy.” Turn it around, though, and it can be seen as the failure of the “With us or against us” policy. Either way, what’s surprising is how […]

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