Siniora in Russia

Moscow, Russia — Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is in Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top officials. The visit comes ahead of Basher Assad’s visit to the Russian capital, and is likely intended to garner Russian influence over Syria.

While Syria was not directly mentioned, President Putin said that Russia would help Lebanon ease the political tension.

Role for Syria?

It is no secret that Russia is in good relations with Syria, both politically and economically, so Putin’s support will be useful to the Siniora government. However, more is needed to solve the political standoff.

The idea that Damascus can stabilize the situation lies on the fact that Hezbollah has been linked to Syria. However, the current protests in Beirut are not a Hezbollah-only project. In fact, several political factions have mobilized to demand a unitary government. According to Ziad Najjar, of the Council of Lebanese Canadian Organizations, Hezbollah represents about a third of protesters.

The Lebanese crisis is not about outside actors, but is about the domestic situation. Domestically, Lebanon’s government has limited support; according to a poll conducted by Al-Akhbar, 7 out of 10 Lebanese favor the formation of a unitary government in Lebanon, something Prime Minister Siniora has been refusing.

Syria can certainly help with the situation, but the solution to the crisis is inside Lebanon.

Russia Still With Iran

November 16, 2006

Russia continues to not make progress with the US in sanctioning Iran over its nuclear program, even in light of the IAEA’s recent plutonium discovery. Members of the security council have not been able to agree on handling Iran, with Russia and China opposing sanctions and favoring dialogue.

With the WTO deal between Russia and the US about to happen, a shift in policy is possible. John Bolton, the US’s ambassador to the UN, has expressed optimism in light of President Bush’ meeting with President Putin. The hope is that Russia will agree to sanction Iran to pressure the state to abandon its nuclear ambitions. This would be contrary to Russia’s economic interests, with the nuclear powerplant at Bushehr being built by Russians.

The fact that it was indicated that the WTO deal would go through, but not finalised is key. It is still being negotiated and is expected to be signed at the APEC summit. Iran still could be part of the deal and the current statements by Russian officials could be misleading. And all should become clear upon the completion of APEC and deal-or-no-deal on Russian’s membership in the WTO.

Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted a televised Q&A session today answering some of the pressing concerns of the country.

Talking of one of the hottest topics of late, President Putin said that Russia will not annex the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin stressed that the recent comments he’s made about Georgia have to do with concern over potential bloodshed in the region.

At the same time, Putin did not rule out potential use of force: “There are certain contradictions: on the one hand, Russia supports the territorial integrity of Georgia and other countries. However, a nation has a right to self-determination. Therefore, we should take into account these contradictions and, of course, we will thoroughly consider international precedents, including that of Kosovo.”

The Georgian territories have been pushing for independence and some sort of association with Russia.

Human Rights Violations

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry has made a complaint with the UN High Commisioner for Human Rights.

The complaint has to do with Russia’s crackdown on illegal migrants of Georgian descent, which followed Georgia’s detention of four Russian diplomats last month. Russia’s response has been adequate in terms of foreign policy — the country has exercised restraing and not acted with military force (as, Israel did, this summer). Domestically, however, Russia has failed miserably exercising a policy of ethnic-based discrimination, going as far as asking schools for lists of Georgian students.

Press Freedom Index

Reporters Without Borders published its list of dangerous places to be a journalist. While North Korea has topped the list yet again, Russia does not have a favourable position either: the former super-power was 147 (out of 168 countries). The most recent example of the danger being the murder of Journalist Anna Politkovsaya.

It’s been a week of bad PR for Russia. And rightly so.

The Russian Blockade

Progressive Russian publication Kommersant reports that the attitude of Georgians towards their President is not unanimously favorable. Many believe the President has gone too far in his negative rhetoric in regards Russia, rhetoric which has prompted Russian sanctions.

With the harvest in full bloom, this is the best time for Georgian farmers to make money by selling to the Russian market. This season they cannot do this and must now struggle to survive, because their President did not handle a diplomatic situation with the care that it required. Until the Russian blockade was imposed, Saakashvili talked the language of defiance. Once the hard reality set in, he suddenly became open to dialogue and was suddenly perplexed by Russian response. This only goes to show his political immaturity — one of the main tenets of his presidency has been criticizing (rightly so, and not) Russia. This is healthy, but one’s presidency cannot lie on just one raison d’être: denying your neighbor.

War Plans?

This weekend, Georgia replied to Russian President Putin’s suggestion that the conflict may end in bloodshed, and denied having war plans.

This is rather curious as tensions have been rampant in the two separatist (and pro-Russian) regions of Georgia. In fact, on several occasions President Saakashvili has made statements about getting those areas under complete Georgian control — in domestic media, of course.

Curiously enough, the situation that played itself out this fall in Georgia had a very familiar ring to the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict of this summer.

Four supposed spies were arrested and held by Georgia, much like the Israeli soldiers that spurred the violence in Lebanon this summer. Except Russia did not respond with force. And force is what Saakashvili has wanted for so long — painting Russia as an aggressive villain, this is exactly what he needed, the confirmation of the corrupt nature of the Russian state. After all, Russia’s aggression has been Georgia’s (i.e. Saahashvili’s) raison d’être.

Not this time. But tensions are not falling and in all likelihood some sort of military confrontation will take place, unless proper diplomacy is finally exercised by both sides.

Russia’s Shame

The Russian government showed a political immaturity of its own by implementing an anti-Georgian policy within the country. Cracking down on illegal casinos and probing Georgian-owned businesses, the authorities have also began to target simple citizens with Georgian credentials. This is nationalism at its worse and it doesn’t help anyone: nationalistic discrimination is simply unacceptable. It has touched everyone, young and old, as has been reported throughout most major media. (For example, see this BBC story.) When I was on the phone with Moscow 10 days ago, I was told of a 19 year old girl who “looked Georgian” (and was not) being constantly harrassed by police officers to provide her credentials. What threat simple citizens pose to Russia, is simply unclear. And this is shameful state nationalism.

Thankfully, most Russians have realized the level of discrimination and have started to write in to papers to complain. Ashamed of the policy, Russia’s stars have started protests of their own. For example, Russian Actor Stanislav Sadalsky has applied for Georgian citizenship as a sign of solidarity for the Georgians living in Russia. Other members of the entertainment industry have made a statement about the ongoing discrimination.

Georgia Upset with Putin

October 21, 2006

Georgia’s foreign minister expressed anger over Russia’s portrayal of the Georgia-Russia conflict.

Apparently Georgia has not been pressuring Russia with war plans. Interesting. And why the constant military and other activity at the borders of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia. For example, what about Saahashvili’s plan to settle Abkhazia? Seems artificial enough.

The Georgian government is concerned over the separatist tendencies in these regions and this is at the core of the conflict. The separatists are in favour of a union with Russia. After all, many of the citizens already hold Russian passports.

And it all comes down to oil and gas which is abundant in the separatist regions. No wonder Georgia is concerned, and so is the US.