Transnistria: a solution?

A recent article over at Radio Free Europe suggests that Moldova and Russia may be getting close to a solution of the Transnistria conflict. (For some background on Transnistria, here are some articles I wrote last year.)

Now, RFE tends to be pretty Russophobe, so there’s a certain amount of mouth-breathing: Moldova has turned back to Moscow and away from the West! It’s going to become a satellite of Russia once more!

Well… perhaps. But in terms of settling the Transnistrian conflict, the deal described in the article makes a lot of sense. Continue reading

Serbia sells its energy company to Russia

“Against stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain.” — Schiller

So Serbia’s government has agreed to sell its oil and gas company, NIS, to Russia’s Gazprom.

By itself there’s nothing wrong with this. What’s stupid about it is the price. NIS has a market value of around $2.8 billion. The government is selling it to Gazprom for $400 million, plus the promise of another $500 million in investment over the next five years. In other words, Gazprom — a company not exactly strapped for cash — is getting a windfall of almost $2 billion, at the expense of one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Why is the Serbian government doing this? Several reasons, all of them bad. Continue reading

Kosovo, Kosovo, blah blah blah

So Kosovo continues to creep — soooo slowly — towards some sort of independence.

Serbia is having a Presidential election this weekend, with a runoff two weeks later. There’s a tacit agreement that nothing should happen before then… the assumption being that Kosovar independence might tip the balance between the incumbent President (moderate and basically decent Boris Tadic) and his challenger (odious populist-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic).

Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica — who, honestly, seems to be getting dumber and more stubborn with each passing year — has said that if the EU sends a mission to Kosovo, Serbia won’t sign a Stabilization and Association agreement with the EU. Brussels has said it will wait a bit (i.e., until after the election). I can see the case for that, but once the election is over… well, this strikes me as the sort of bluff that’s crying out to be called. “Oh, we won’t take the next step towards EU candidacy!” “Fine… don’t.”
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The Transition is Over

“Transition to democracy” was one of the European politics geek’s terms of art ever since 1989; there’s even an AFOE category devoted to transition and accession to the EU. According to Tim Garton Ash, one of his old dissident friends kept a large file of documents under the rubric “TD”; he suggested, wisely, that it ought to have been TC, for “Transition from Communism”. There’s even Transitions Online.

The transition is over. It’s now clear that even the aspiration for it in Russia is dead; the “administrative resources” are now aiming for a one-party Duma. TOL itself is more optimistic; they reckon there is a chance for a significant Communist revival, which would at least mean the opposition was a real, existing political party. However, who can do anything but laugh at the thought of e-voting in Russia? E-voting everywhere else in the world has been bad enough, and its well-publicised fiascos will deaden any criticism of Russia’s version.

It’s the end of an era. Earlier this week, I watched a BBC documentary about the shutdown of the BBC World Service’s programmes in Central and Eastern Europe; a whole microculture of Polish and Bulgarian broadcasters in West London signing off. They, of course, can claim that it’s mission accomplished, especially as the Kazcynski Kidz lost the elections.

The next point to watch here is the fate of the OSCE, and specifically its office of democratic institutions and human rights; Putin has promised to “reform” it. (As you know, Bob, AFOE hates the word “reform”.) It should be pretty clear what “reform” will consist of; a dictators’ club veto on publishing anything critical. This is something that badly wants watching, as I doubt there is much political will in the West to keep it going.

If we want to take the EU as a magnet for democracy, peace, and other good stuff – basic norms of civilised behaviour – ODIHR needs either support, or else to be transferred into the competence of the European Union, safe from post-Soviet vetoes or US fiddling.

Kosovo: then what?

Okay, so Kosovo is likely to declare some sort of independence in the near future.

“Some sort” covers a lot of ground, but it will be something formally unacceptable to Serbia, and thus to Russia. The negotiations have another three weeks to run, but it’s clear they’re going nowhere; the Kosovar Albanians want independence, and Serbia will never agree to that. So, at some point the knot will have to be cut.

Okay, what happens next?

Former US Ambassador to Serbia William Montgomery has some ideas. I disagree, and I’m willing to stick my neck out a little.

Some fisking follows. If you’re not interested in Serbia and Kosovo, jump now! Continue reading

Frozen conflicts: Transnistria

Spent a weekend in Nagorno-Karabakh last month.

If you don’t know what or where Nagorno-Karabakh is… well, that’s healthy and normal. Most people don’t. But it’s pretty interesting, in a depressing sort of way.

When the Soviet Union broke up, it left a number of unresolved ethnic and territorial conflicts around its old frontiers. Four of these still survive today. In ascending order of nastiness, they are Trans-Dnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Would anyone be interested in an occasional series on these? Here’s one on Trans-Dnistria below the cut.
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Review: The Wages of Destruction, Adam Tooze

Adam Tooze, who (it says here) is a senior lecturer at Jesus College, Cambridge, has a book out; The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. It is getting some very good reviews, and this one will be no different. Tooze’s thesis is that the Nazi German economy was a more powerful factor in many decisions taken by the leadership than hitherto assumed, that its structural weaknesses were determining in the failure of Nazism, and that Nazism itself can be understood as an effort to escape them by a combination of will and technology. The first is fairly original, and certainly controversial, the second is hardly controversial (although it is surprising that it still needs restating; the image of impregnable fascist might dies hard), and the third is both new and highly controversial.

Tooze begins with a discussion of Germany’s economic problems and relative place in the world whilst passing through the Depression. He provides an excellent account of Stresemann’s policy in terms of a special relationship with the United States, importing US capital to develop German industry and help cover the reparations bills to France and Britain. At the same time, he argues, closer economic ties to the US were also a means of forcing the US government to press the European Allies over the reparations issue; France and the UK were insisting on the cash in order to cover their war debts to the US, so being as close as possible to the US meant that Germany could count on US support in a crisis, on the principle of being too big to fail.

America in German eyes is a main theme of the book, and a little-remembered sub-theme of Nazi discourse more generally. Not only were leading Nazis concerned about the potential power of the US, they both idealised what they took to be the unique efficiency of 1920s US industry, and demonised what they took to be the decadence and miscegenation of US society. It was the era of Josephine Baker, Al Capone, and Henry Ford, and all three icons were lapped up by Weimar culture, just as US bankers (Jew York, verdammtnochmal!) lapped up Weimar industry’s short-term paper. Stresemann and his fellow liberals, and the Social Democrats, thought the answer to America was to preserve the international political and trading structure; perhaps with a European community in the far future.

The Nazi response was to shake the structure until it fell down; the economic history of the 30s in Germany is one of continuous foreign exchange crises, mitigated by a succession of increasingly inconsistent expedients. Hjalmar Schacht, as Reichsbank president, is the figure most associated with this – it is perhaps worth noting that he was himself half-American, but didn’t use his other two Christian names (Horace Greeley) very often. A telling detail is that, as each crisis passed, the Bank and the ministries of finance and economics convinced themselves that this time, things would get back to normal. Memos for a return to multilateral trading, a relaxation of administrative controls, and a slowdown in armaments spending would be drawn up, and immediately ignored as Hitler, and the various groups either working towards the Führer or trying to take advantage for their interests, concluded that their survival of the crisis confirmed the rightness of their course.

According to Tooze, who provides a considerable quantity of statistical evidence for this claim, the work-creation programme created little work; after all, actual spending on the autobahns and public works projects was not all that great, and the total demand for construction workers was limited. Fritz Todt’s new reinforced concrete building methods were capital-intensive and required specific skills, rather than hordes of labourers. What got Germany back to work was rearmament, and Tooze argues that much of what is thought of as civilian investment was actually more like disguised military investment, or investment in war-supplying industry. It is well worth pointing out here that Tooze is excellent on the corporate world of Nazi Germany, and especially the fast-growing influence and power of the top technical executives of big industry (especially chemicals and aeronautical engineering), who made up something like an independent technocratic lobby in their own right. J.K. Galbraith’s technostructure comes to mind; this may have been the most malevolent and evil manifestation of it ever. Even the big coal and steel men, who generally went along, were frequently horrified by Nazi policy; not so Junkers, BASF, Bosch or IG-Farben, who were not only profiting from arms sales but benefiting from massive state capital investment into the latest technologies in their research divisions.

As a rule, steel and forex were the limiting factors, and hence swung conservative; chemistry and engineering were convinced that all could be achieved with enough budget, will, and steel. But it wasn’t their job to find the steel or the sterling, so their ambitions ballooned to deranged proportions. By the Munich crisis in 1938, Germany was nearly bankrupt – after a summer of currency crisis, the Reichsbank was able to get away a succession of huge bond issues in the relief afterglow, but ran into a wall when the market refused the fourth loan. Only by paying suppliers 40 per cent of their contract prices in tax credits could the Reich roll over its short-term loans; at the same time, the vast consumption of steel by the war industries meant that the State Railways were struggling to keep going. The forex question even put a crimp in anti-Semitism; right up to the war, the Reichsbank was required by its charter to convert anyone emigrating from Germany’s marks into foreign exchange. And even though the total wealth that could be seized from the Jews was risibly tiny, it far exceeded the available cash. Tooze argues that one of the motivations of Kristallnacht was to scare them into leaving without their money; even that was a problem, as so much plate glass could only come from Belgium, which meant it had to be paid for in hard currency and cash on the nail.

By 1939, the Reichsbank was reduced to commissioning secret studies to estimate the mark’s exchange rate; the economists who carried them out concluded that the concept was now meaningless in the light of dozens of mutually incompatible side-deals with Germany’s trading partners. Germany paid 72 per cent over the world price for Peruvian cotton, and 10 per cent over market for petrol from the same source; 63 per cent over market for Dutch butter, but Danish butter was paid for at the world market price (there must have been plenty of butter moving from Denmark to Holland…).

The upshot was that the decision for war, and then the decision to take the offensive in the West, and finally the decision to take the offensive into Russia, were at each step driven by a logic of economic bootstrapping. War, and the consequent loss of world trade, had a serious initial impact on the German economy; inflation threatened to burst out of control, there was a constant struggle between interests over short-supply assets, and a key feature of the German economy caused deep discontent. This was uneven development; Tooze argues strongly that Germany’s apparent economic might concealed a long tail of poverty, not just in the hard-arse Mietskasernen of the working class but also among the peasantry.

Peasants were a key Nazi constituency, as well as occupying an important place in ideology; unfortunately this image of virtue didn’t translate into grain all that well. Agricultural productivity was poor, with a toxic cocktail of absentee landlord estates and tiny plots that barely supported their tenants. Most of the Nazi solutions to this started off with the idea of a class of farmers with secure tenure of farms big enough to make a good living, but wanted the excess peasants to stay on the land for reasons of mythology. Ominously, the answer was to put them on someone else’s land. Here, the appalling figure of Herbert Backe, State Secretary and later Minister of Agriculture, stands out; Backe wrote a PhD thesis years before entering office on the Russian grain business, in which he explained that the superior people without space must get rid of the Russians in order to secure the Ukraine’s surplus and settle enough of their urban working class to overcome the unrooted, degenerate tendencies created by the modern nomads, that is to say the Jews.

Hilariously, the examiners threw this manifesto for genocide back in his face; terrifyingly, he had it reprinted and issued as part of Wehrmacht formation commanders’ briefing material for the invasion of Russia. Tooze makes a good case that Backe’s elevation to the Ministry in early 1942 was an important catalyst in the decision to launch Operation REINHARD, the extermination of the European Jews; it is well-known that one force encouraging ghettoisation the year before had been other Nazi proconsuls’ tendency to herd their own race enemies into the Government-General of Poland, which was slated to be reduced in population. However, one hitherto underestimated fact is that Backe’s revised grain allocations at the same time foresaw a dramatic change; rather than being a net importer of food, Hans Frank’s fief was to become a major exporter.

The reason why this was so important is simple; although the conquest of western Europe turned a very bad economic position into a tolerable one with considerable potential, Europe was far more globalised than the Nazi economists assumed. Oil is the canonical example, but Europe also imported a lot of animal feed, and also British coal. Problems with transport, and the planners’ inability to come up with a settlement of coal supply between the mighty interest groups concerned, exacerbated the feed problem. As agricultural productivity fell, so did productivity down the mines; it probably would have done anyway, French communists not being likely to bend their backs any harder for German fascists, but hunger is enough to explain the droop in coal output per hour. The Foreign Ministry put forward schemes for a European community, but in the prevailing climate of hubris this never stood a chance; the government far preferred a more exploitative option, the centralised clearing system under which exporters to Germany were paid by their own central bank, which then charged an account with the Reichsbank. German exports in the other direction were meant to be set off against this; however, the Germans simply ran a permanent overdraft.

This permitted a substantial theft of goods, services and assets; it also created a powerful incentive not to produce. The upshot was a European economy operating massively below capacity and a German economy running red hot, with a continent-wide shortage of key inputs. Soviet trade, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, matched part of the difference, but the Soviet government demanded its price, especially in terms of technology transfer. Trade with allies and neutrals, meanwhile, had the serious disadvantage from a Nazi viewpoint that it was actually trade; it required matching exports, which for political reasons were a priority claim on resources.

Hence, the crisis; with the occupied territories only a marginal benefit, and much capital investment not yet producing, Germany was faced with the rapid spin-up of US production. Where to go for the next bootstrap, before US industrial power took effect? Russia, clearly. Tooze’s book may be a final slam-dunk demonstration for the “functionalist” view of Nazism, dominant since the 1980s, which argues that the regime’s internal politics, shared assumptions, and the incremental radicalisation caused by a succession of crises drove Germany into war and genocide, rather than a clear rationalist design. Independent decisions, taken for different reasons, mutually reinforced each other.

This is no longer controversial, but there is much in the book that is. For example, Tooze vigorously criticises the common idea that Germany never attained the same level of civilian mobilisation as the UK, that the Nazi government “protected” civilian living standards at the expense of the war effort and the occupied up to the declaration of “Total War” in 1943. In fact, he argues, there was very little slack in the economy; if anything was being held back from war production, it was because the early war years were years of massive capital investment. This investment, he claims, explains the surge in armaments production from 1942 onwards that is usually ascribed to Albert Speer. It was the pre-war dynamic between the Luftwaffe, the Führer, and the industrial technocrats writ stupefyingly large, combined with a new emphasis on the entrepreneur as leader. (Of course they were not entrepreneurs, but technocrats managing huge state-funded projects; they thought of themselves as Unternehmer, though, and Nazi propaganda lionised them as such.)

Some of this was wasted, of course. There was the fabulous Flugmotorenwerke Ostmark, a scheme to build a gigantic aero-engine plant in Austria to match the output of Ford’s new plant next to River Rouge (it could as well have been to match Rolls-Royce’s at Barnoldswick, but it had to be American); it never produced more than 198 engines a month compared with a target of 1,000. But in the same industry, Daimler-Benz was able to upgrade one of its own facilities from 300 DB605 engines a month to 1,200, at a fraction of the cost. (The UK war economy had a similar experience with the state-financed shadow factories; Rover and Vauxhall never really got the hand of aero-engines, especially not the jet program, but things improved immensely when the whole thing was slung to the real experts at Rolls-Royce.) And who knew that the Buna synthetic-rubber plant next to Auschwitz still produces about 5 per cent of the world’s synthetic rubber? The installation, never completed during the war, was first robbed of the fancier chemical engineering bits by the Russians and then rehabilitated by the Poles; even if there is no Hitler in uns selbst, there may be some Hitler in your tyres.

So there should be no surprise, then, that the German war economy pulled out of the Moscow crisis in the winter of 1941; it was the capital formation whatdunnit. Tooze has ample statistical data to underpin this, but I am less sure of his conclusions regarding another of the classic controversies. In nearly all British accounts of the second world war, the author takes sides regarding one or more of the morality, effectiveness, and wisdom of the RAF’s strategic bomber offensive against Germany; it’s an identity-creating decision for any British historian. AJP Taylor is the leader for the opposition; he argued, on the basis of J.K. Galbraith and George Ball’s US Strategic Bombing Survey results, that not only was it wrong, but it was also incredibly wasteful, sucking up almost one-quarter of UK industrial production and failing to seriously interrupt the German war effort. Still less did it deliver the crushing blows to morale the airpower theorists promised. And no branch of service offered its members a shorter life expectancy.

Tooze argues, against Galbraith, that the bombing was indeed effective. Specifically, he cites the “Battle of the Ruhr” in the spring of 1943 as essentially being enough to stop the growth of German armaments production in its tracks; and he has a graph to support this, with a little explosion at the inflection point (presumably there isn’t a carbonised ironworker’s corpse in MS Excel’s clipart file). He also quotes various people’s reactions to the destruction of Hamburg with a slightly distasteful enjoyment, hence the rather harsh finish to my last sentence. In fact, he goes as far as to conflate the Ruhr and Hamburg, although Hamburg can’t have been the key point because it’s not a steelworks town and it never has been. And anyway, the bombers didn’t win the war in 1943, nor 1944 or 1945 for that matter. What went wrong? Tooze argues that the mistake was Bomber Command’s – although he doesn’t say so. But it was Bomber, and particularly “Bomber” Harris, who shifted the target from the Ruhr to Hamburg, and then on to Berlin. Harris and his staff didn’t want to disrupt industry, after all; they wanted to “dehouse the German working class”, which they believed would lead to revolution or at least chaos. So this counterfactual would have required a different Bomber Command; one that didn’t believe in airpower theory, and therefore probably wouldn’t have existed. This is not mentioned, even though Tooze repeatedly and approvingly quotes the phrase “dehousing”.

More importantly, he argues that RAF Bomber Command could simply have kept bombing the Ruhr at the rate of May 1943 indefinitely; but there was a reason why the Battle of Berlin was called off at the end of February 1944. Quite simply, the Nachtjäger had won and the RAF’s loss rate was running permanently well above the rates its infrastructure was scaled to support. Even the Ruhr battle had an aggregate loss rate of 4.71 per cent; the Oberhausen raid on June 14th hit 8.37 per cent, and nowhere could be more of a Ruhr target than Oberhausen. The RAF Air Historical Branch thought that “Bomber Command was approaching perilously close to the unbearable, or at any rate the insupportable, sustained casualty rate during the Battle of the Ruhr”; it’s worth remembering that each cohort of crews faced that average rate every time they went out, for a tour of thirty missions. It wasn’t a question of finding enough aircraft, but enough people. The figure of 30 was meant to represent the point at which the individual reached a 50/50 risk of death, and once the loss rate went past a critical figure this datum line, as it was known, moved closer and closer. And the rate went progressively higher over time; the Berlin battle had an average of 6.44 per cent, the last Berlin raid 8.88 per cent, the raid on Nürnberg six days later a knockout 11.94 per cent.

Something changed, and it wasn’t just targeting; the Luftwaffe completely redesigned its tactics, command and control, and equipment between the spring of 1943 and the autumn. The tightly-controlled “Zahme Sau” system was replaced by the free-rein “Wilde Sau”; new airborne radar meant that the night fighters began coming out halfway across the North Sea to meet the bomber stream. Of course, this could just be the sort of operational history that economic historians don’t bother with; but you would think that costs are a pretty important concept in economic history. Further, Bomber Command competed for resources primarily with the U-boat war, with RAF Coastal Command; but there’s nothing here about this.

Tooze returns to the bombers, later on, as the bombers returned later on; apparently, in the autumn of 1944 “the war-winning airfleet was now ready”. It seems rather late; and, we read, “the correlation between the area bombing of Germany’s cities and the collapse of its war production was loose at best…the wanton destruction of German cities could disrupt production but it could not bring it to a complete standstill.” In between these sentences we learn that far from submitting to the “operational stranglehold” claimed for the Ruhr in 1943, the Krupp Gußstahlfabrik in Essen kept going through the bombs until its electricity supply was wrecked in October, 1944; war-winning, indeed. Further, he argues that it was actually the massive attacks on the railways in this period that did it; which isn’t the same thing as bombing steelworks two years earlier.

But despite this, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is a major contribution. (It’s notable that the sections that deal with bombing are the least well-referenced in the book.) In conclusion, what stands out is that the Third Reich was fascinated by the United States, perhaps even more than the Soviet Union; Hitler spoke of the Volga as Germany’s Mississippi, and various SS Schreibtischtäter of treating its inhabitants as “Red Indians”. The size of the proposed empire was frequently compared to Canada or Australia. It is clear that a major motivating factor for many leading Nazis was a wish to escape from an increasingly integrated world economy, and a matching desire to have a Grossraumwirtschaft to match the people seen as controlling the world economy; Tooze’s book leaves the disturbing sensation that this is us.

PwC Makes a Funny

PwC was auditor for what was then one of Russia’s largest oil companies, Yukos. The Russian government took a serious disliking to Yukos and its then-president Mikhail Khodorkovsky, eventually putting the company effectively out of business (with key bits sold off to state-owned or state-controlled companies) and Khodorkovsky in jail. Now the Russian government is pursuing another case against Khodorkovsky, and it does not want PwC’s audits to be usable in his defense. So the Russian authorities claim that PwC has not been diligent in paying its own taxes. It has raided various offices and threatened to pull the company’s license to operate within the country.

Yesterday, PwC said that it was withdrawing its audits of Yukos from 1995 to 2004, after “new information came to light.” New information provided by the government. Will PwC say what that information is? It will not. Its management did offer an opinion on a related question:

PwC’s management said yesterday the decision to withdraw the audits had nothing to do with this pressure

That’s from the first page of the second section in yesterday’s FT. (Electronic version is in pay-per-view.) The reporter did not indicate whether it was said with a straight face or not. More here here here and here.

At any rate, the message is clear: Audits of businesses that are important to the Russian state will say what the state wants them to say. Caveat lector.

Russian Hide-and-Seek with Routers

So what exactly happened with the allegedly Russian-orchestrated DDOS attack on Estonian Internet interests? Some people have been talking about the first act of “cyberwar” against a sovereign state, others about a bizarre fuss about nothing. AFOE asked Gadi Evron, a world expert on botnets who runs Israel’s CERT and who took part in the international response effort, exactly what was going on.

How large was the DDOS attack on Estonian interests? How many different sites were targeted?

The DDoS attacks themselves were relatively small compared to some
past attacks we have seen, such as those on the root servers, but it
was significant for them and their infrastructure.

2. EE-CERT was presumably the first responder. How did other CERTS and agencies get involved, and what support did you/they provide?

There were 4 CERTs from Europe (Finland, Germany and Slovenia) who
helped directly with the response outside of Estonia, serving as an
escalation point for reporting attacking sources outside of Estonia.
I was there to help in whatever was needed, and later was also asked
to write a post-mortem of the attacks and defense for the Estonians,
covering preparedness for the next time.

Inside the country what saved the day was close coordination between
the CERT, ISPs, banks, etc. who all responded in semi real-time and
helped each other out.

3. Did the attackers attempt to compromise network infrastructure, or just end hosts?

They mostly left the network infrastructure alone, however, one
misconfigured router was attacked directly and another couldn’t take
the stress.

4. How much disruption was actually caused?

Considering Estonia is more advanced than most of us (they even held
the last elections online) the impact of the attack was significant
with some down-time for the banks, government sites, etc. It could
have been more serious, but while their Internet infrastructure as a
quiet country was not prepared for such an attack, the response and
mitigation worked for them. They stood the risk of losing their
ability to buy gas, for example, and for a short time, they did.

5. How unusual were the mitigation techniques used – just BCP38 etc, or spookier?

The fascinating thing is that in Estonia BCP38 is considered best
practice and implemented widely, which likely prevented some more
mess. As to mitigation, it ranged from basics such as using mitigation
devices to extremes such as blocking connections to certain networks
from abroad. Nothing any of us haven’t done before ourselves, however
mundane or extreme.

6. What fraction of the traffic came from within Russia? Or was it typical botnet activity, globally distributed?

The botnet traffic was distributed globally, with some of the botnets
being bought. However, many of the attacks were not by a botnet, but
rather by a mass of home users using commands such as ping to manually
attack Estonian sites. As they coined in Estonia, this was a riot, and
not just in the streets. Many different Russian-speaking forums and blogs (the Russian
blogosphere?) encouraged people to attack Estonia using crude commands
or simple tools. Others used more advanced techniques.

7. What was the role of ENISA?

“Who?”

8. Did the attack attempt to compromise/darkout other Internet-connected systems?

What other systems? Sorry, I don’t follow.

“Other systems” here was intended to mean such things as telco networks, embedded control systems, and the like.

Telco’s were affected for sure, as they hosted or were transit. There
was no attack on control systems that I know of, but the Internet is
critical infrastructure enough. The civilian infrastructure proved to
be more critical than any SCADA system.

Thanks!

Highly charged polonium

“I have today concluded that the evidence sent to us by the police is sufficient to charge Andrei Lugovoy with the murder of Mr. Litvinenko by deliberate poisoning,” [UK] Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald said, immediately setting off a diplomatic confrontation between London and Moscow.

This of course has gone over like the proverbial heavy-isotope balloon in Moscow, where authorities and lawyers have alternately blustered, denied, denigrated the British court system and pointed to the Russian constitution, which appears to make extradition a dead letter. Still, an EU-wide warrant is likely to follow, and Lugovoy’s travel prospects will surely be limited.

Foreign relations tests will come fast and furious in the early part of Gordon Brown’s term as prime minister…