It’s All About Me

One of the consequences of Montenegro’s split from Serbia was the country’s need for its own top level domain, following its departure from .yu and .cs. In September 2007, ICANN settled for .me, potentially setting up another odd, little-country bonanza like .tv and .to.

Miquel Hudin Balsa relates his experience playing around to get a tasty .me name. The process looks like it’s set up as much to monetize the connection to the English-speaking world as to actually get people in Montenegro registered. As for the assignment itself, 21 of a possible 26 dot-m-whatever combinations were already taken; Macau, Malta and Mongolia had already claimed some of the likelier candidates.

There’s a second-level academic domain like the UK has. I sure hope that some wag will name servers on it after Warner Brothers cartoon characters.

For the misanthropes out there, bad news. (Is there any other kind for misanthropes?) The registrar says that the domain bite.me “is a premium domain and has not yet been scheduled for release.”

Understatement

“It should be noted that AIG wrote its derivative contracts in London.” – Commenter Thomas, at Crooked Timber

And indeed, we see a report on Bloomberg, the wire service the financial folks use to communicate with each other, that Allianz was involved in a bid for AIG two days before the crisis that led to its nationalization. Financial markets are tightly linked, and we are just starting to hear the chains rattle.

As with Russia’s neighbors, the question in the markets now has to be, “Who’s next?”

Trying to Rhyme with Orange

It isn’t working, and Ukraine’s parliament has 30 days to form a new ruling coalition. Good luck with that, too. If not, elections in December.

The long-simmering feud between Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko has, again, reached its breaking point. Tymoshenko, the current premier, has a month to engineer a new coalition, which would have to be with parties from outside the Orange bloc. So she would have to team up with Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions, or other, less mainstream parties. I’ll bet on new elections.

Russia has a lot of levers to pull, especially on a winter-time election, and I can’t see Medvedev or Putin having too much need for restraint. Prices on natural gas, export and import restrictions, pipeline transit fees, and much more will probably all be on the menu of blandishments. The Georgian example will also be very much on everyone’s mind.

Eastern policy has not been one of France’s priorities within the EU, so it is ironic that the country’s once-every-two-decades tenure in the EU presidency will likely be bracketed by eastern questions: Georgia at the start and Ukraine at the end. Without strong friends in Europe’s west, Ukraine’s medium-term future looks less like candidacy and more like Finlandization. Maybe Yulia just figured this out faster than the rest of us.

(On the other hand, if the Russian consulate in the Crimea starts handing out passports willy-nilly, something other than Finlandization could be in the cards.)

Francly

Flight to quality is about the only thing I can say for sure about the ongoing Wall Street crisis that swallowed up a 158-year-old investment bank and forced Merrill (no-relation) Lynch to be sold to some outfit in North Carolina. (The $613+ billion that Lehman lists as debt is between the 2007 GDP of Belgium, $448 billion, and Turkey, $657 billion, the 17th and 18th largest economies in the world.)

Stock up on Swiss francs and hope that your European institution didn’t load up on specialty vehicles backed by US property bonds. The Washington Post calls it the beginning of a new financial architecture, and it’s getting built on the fly, without blueprints, at a speed that the builders hope will be faster than the collapse of the old one. Good luck with that.

A new job description for EU Commissioners?

That’s what Paul Adamson argues for in today’s Financial Times.  The basis of the argument is that we should acknowledge that the commissioners are not a dispassionate executive branch of the European Union, but people who bring their country interests to their respective portfolios — so why not make this explicit and let the commissioners be the interlocutors of their countries with the EU policy apparatus?  Example: Charlie McCreevy

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Kosovo 46, South Ossetia 2?

I wanted to write a post comparing Kosovo and South Ossetia, but Dan Drezner has already written it. It’s a week old now, but still good:

It’s been more than a week since Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. The number of other countries that have followed Russia’s lead is…. well, maybe one (Nicaragua), as near as I can tell. Belarus keeps promising that they’ll get around to it, and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has defended Russia’s recognition decision; since that initial promise, however, Belarus appears to have decided to sit on their hands. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has expressed similar support of Russia’s recognition decision – but I haven’t seen any actual recognition from Caracas either… Vedomosti reports that, “It appears that the Russian government has reconciled itself to the fact that no other country has recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday the reluctance of other states to recognize the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories was not critical.”

As they say, read the whole thing — there are lots of interesting links and some thoughtful discussion of whether recognition was really such a good idea for Russia.

You want to bring along a grain of salt, because Drezner — like a lot of American conservatives — is a mild Russophobe. I note that he thinks the war was a serious economic setback for Russia, a position that Harvard B-School professor Noel Maurer sharply disagrees with. (Key quote: “Markets do not punish successful aggressors.”) Read ’em both and decide for yourself.
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Jumping the gun

In an action that may remind the White House why their ally can sometimes be exasperating even to them, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili apparently pre-empted an announcement that George Bush will attend  a special “Summit of Friends of Georgia” in late October – which would be within a fortnight of the US elections in November.  White House press secretary Dana Perino was evasive when asked about the report (see e.g. the Georgian Times) at the just concluded daily briefing.  Yet Saakashvili’s claim  sounds plausible, not least because it’s the kind of thing that Dick Cheney would have promised during his visit there last week.  It also indicates that John McCain is not planning to rely much on Bush in that crucial period — which is perhaps why they would have rather made the announcement at a time of their choosing (e.g. late on a Friday evening).

Serbia’s Radical Party: strange convulsions

“Strange are the convulsions of defeat.” — Winston Churchill

So Serbia’s Radical Party, having lost two Presidential and three Parliamentary elections in a row, is breaking up. Sort of.

If you’re not a Serbia-watcher, here’s the short version: the Radicals are Serbia’s Obnoxious Populist Nationalist Party. Most Balkan countries have OPMPs. If they can corner the entire OPMP vote, they typically poll around 25%… sometimes lower, never much higher. Which in most places makes them a nuisance, maybe a very large nuisance, but not a serious threat.

What makes the Radicals different from, say, “Attack” in Bulgaria or Vadim Tudor’s Greater Romania Party is Serbia’s unhappy recent history. While “Attack” and such may have a lot of members who fantasize wistfully about gathering members of unpopular and despised minorities together, killing them, and dumping their bodies in a nearby large body of water, the Radical Party includes a number of people who have actually done so. In fact, its leader is currently on trial in the Hague for war crimes. Continue reading

Old Habits Die Hard

Deference outlives ideology. If the Kremlin is for it, and Washington is against it, Ortega must be in favor.

From AFP, via

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega has revived Cold War ghosts by recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia, supporting Russia’s stance on the breakaway Georgian regions.

Ortega, a former Marxist guerilla leader who had close ties to the ex-Soviet Union, went further than other leftist Latin American countries in his defiance of Washington over the Georgia conflict by recognizing the independence of the rebel regions. …

Nicaragua “recognizes the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia” decreed by their respective parliaments in August, Ortega said Tuesday evening.

Nicaragua also completely supports “the Russian government’s position,” added Ortega…

Given its historical experience, you might think that Nicaragua would side with a small state against an overbearing northern neighbor, but no. Apparently the habit of following the line laid down in Moscow is too strong. (Presumably Ortega is also betting on a McCain administration in the US — thumbing your nose at the outgoing administration is going to have a very short shelf life — and an Obama team would bring rather different people to Latin American relations. That may not be the best of wagers either.)

Update: The of course completely reliable Wikipedia says that Nicaragua has five territorial disputes with its neighbors. But who needs territorial integrity as a norm in international relations?