Caucasian Crisis Communication

There seems to be a dangerous crisis in progress between Russia and Georgia. During the past week, the Georgians have surrounded the headquarters of the Russian forces in Georgia with policemen and arrested four officers of the GRU (Russian military intelligence) for allegedly spying and conspiring with opponents of the government, in order (so they say) to prevent further integration of Georgia with NATO. On top of that, the Russians have been evacuating nationals from Georgia, and have also announced a stop to the withdrawal of their troops from the country.

Yesterday, the Russian “peacekeeping force” in South Ossetia complained of being overflown by Georgian Sukhoi-25 (NATO name Frogfoot) aircraft, the Soviet answer to the A-10. Before that, the Georgians had accused “somebody” of firing a Strela-2 man portable SAM at President Saakashvili’s helicopter, whilst a group of US senators were aboard. And the Russians have also complained that “new NATO states” have been selling Georgia arms.

Today, a border incident resulted in an Abkhasian man being killed and two Georgian police wounded, the first time in this round of the conflict that the trouble includes Abkhasia. This could yet get very serious indeed-it doesn’t take a Kissinger to realise that all kinds of complicated strategic interests and ethnic/religious identities are involved.

How much EU or NATO support can Georgia count on? Or will the EU seek to reassure Russia?


France is, finally, honouring its North-African war heroes in the wake of the release of the film Indigènes. The film is by French director Rachid Bouchareb and its main cast of five were collectively awarded the Best Actor prize at the film festival of Cannes. The title of the film means “natives” but the official English-language title is “Days of Glory”. From BBC News:

The film is about the campaign from Provence through to Alsace in 1944-45 as seen through the eyes of four soldiers, who leave their homelands in Algeria and Morocco to fight for France.

President Chirac has seen the movie, was moved by it and:

…has announced that the pensions of foreign soldiers who fought in the French army are to be brought into line with those of French ones.

Another interesting quote from the same article:

Many in the audience were themselves of North African origin, and had no idea of this part of French history. “I never saw an Arab or an African soldier in my history books”, says 23-year-old Salima, a student from the Paris suburb of Seine-St-Denis. Her parents come from Morocco and her grandfather fought in the war. (…) “When you go to Africa, people tell us we’re not African. In Europe they tell us we’re not European. We are, and we’re staying. “We’re a bridge that Europe and Africa needs, especially in these times”.

Immigration Under The Microscope

With the arrival of Romania and Buglaria as full members of the EU the issue of migration is once more attracting a lot of attention. Stefan Wagstyl recently had an FT piece which gave a fair overview of the kind of debate which is presently going on in the UK, where the substantial (and largely welcomed) movement of large numbers of migrants from Poland and other Eastern Accession countries has now lead to an ongoing reflection over whether a repeat performance with its origins in the latest member countries would be considered so desireable. Immigration obviously has the capacity to bring out both the best and the worst in us, often at one and the same time.
Continue reading

Barroso: Constitution Before Enlargement

Maybe Commission President Barroso did not specifically say the Union needed a constitution, despite setbacks in France and the Netherlands. He said that the Union had to address its institutional issues before proceeding with any additional enlargement after Bulgaria and Romani join at the beginning of next year. But the only way to re-jigger the institutions is with something very much like a constitution.

So tough luck for now, Croatia. Should have gotten into the express lane.

The German presidency will feature institutional reform as one of its key issues, but this will be tough going. In general, Merkel has benefitted from being underestimated, but pushing through changes at the EU level is an area where it would probably be better to have an outsized reputation.

Well, these issues have been hibernating for more than a year. No longer.

An Experiment in Globalization

Nowadays, people’s lives often take them far from the land of their birth, right? And the internet is supposed to be able to help diminish the problems arising from distance, yes? We will see if Apple and iTunes are up to the challenge.

Dear Sir or Madam,

My sister, who lives in the United States, sent me an iTunes gift certificate for my birthday. I would like to use it to purchase music. Your software tells me that I cannot use this gift certificate for iTunes Germany. It also tells me that I cannot sign on to the iTunes store for the United States, where the certificate was purchased.

How can I use this gift certificate to purchase music?


Douglas Merrill

The FAQ says to expect an answer within 24 hours. I will keep you all posted.

Superfast Update: The “thank you” page says that they will be in contact within 72 hours. This is not an auspicious start.

Have Global Interest Rates Peaked?

With the ECB adamant that it will continue to raise rates this would seem to be the most untimely of questions, but there are now signs that this may well be the case.

Firstly this in Bloomberg today:

Federal Reserve to Cut Rates in 2007, Corporate Bond Sales Show

Thinking about refinancing your mortgage in the U.S.? Wait a year. Considering a certificate of deposit? Sign up now. While economists debate whether the Federal Reserve will cut its target interest rate for overnight loans between banks from 5.25 percent, investors have already decided the central bank will reduce borrowing costs next year. Nowhere is that clearer than in the market for floating-rate notes, whose interest payments rise and fall with central bank policy. Sales of so-called floaters are slowing for the first time since the Fed started raising interest rates in June 2004. They’ve fallen to $21.5 billion in September from a monthly average of $35 billion this year through August, according to data compiled by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Now one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and it is early days yet, but take a look at ten year US Treasury Bonds:

U.S. 10-year Treasuries fell, halting a five-day rally, before a report today forecast to show consumer confidence gained this month.The gains ended on speculation yields at their lowest since March will deter some investors. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note rose 2 basis points, or 0.02 percentage point, to 4.56 percent as of 6:37 a.m. in New York, according to bond broker Cantor Fitzgerald LP. The price of the 4 7/8 security due August 2016 fell 5/32, or $1.56 per $1,000 face amount, to 102 15/32. Bond yields move inversely to prices.

So today we have nudged the yield back up a little, but the rate has been dropping steadily since March. And yesterday Bloomberg were being even more explicit:
Continue reading

Afghanistan: the forgotten war

Just a small reminder (emphasis mine):

Last week, 17 British soldiers, 10 Estonian infantrymen, 100 Afghan army and 100 Afghan police took part in a joint Nato operation to retake the dusty desert town of Garmser in southern Helmand. The town, which sits on the Helmand river, has fallen to the Taliban twice since July and is strategically important because it is the southern-most point of government control.

When the fighting finally finished earlier this week, the event merited a one-and-a-half line press release from the Afghan government: “Garmser retaken by Afghan police after five hours fighting.”

That did little justice to what was actually an unrelenting six-day battle, as British journalists discovered when they accompanied the British Army unit during its assault on Garmser.

Hungary: Well That Didn’t Take Long!

It was only just over two weeks ago (two weeks, which following the logic of a historical time which seems far from uniform, now seem like half a lifetime) that guest poster P. O’Neill, said this:

For understandable reasons — the addition of 10, and soon to be 12, new member countries, and the constitutional crisis, the European Union has been preoccupied with foundational questions in recent years. But an older concern is working its way back onto the agenda: how to handle an economic crisis in a member country……However, the risk of the latter type of crisis in a member country is now quite high.

The warning lights are flashing again – this time in eastern Europe, and especially in the recent or imminent member countries of Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Poland is also a source of concern. Some combination of profligate governments, political uncertainty, EU spending booms, and capital inflows have created precarious economic positions for these countries.

Well, well, well, scarcely three weeks later, and here it is, all on the table. Sometimes, in the field of interest of what is sometimes erroneously termed the dismal science, things do indeed move quickly.
Continue reading