From the Metro Section of the Washington Post

Sometimes it pays to read beyond the front page:

Federal and local law enforcement authorities are investigating a shooting in Prince George’s County that critically injured a prominent intelligence expert who specializes in the former Soviet Union.

Paul Joyal, 53, was shot Thursday, four days after he alleged in a television broadcast that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin was involved in the fatal poisoning of a former KGB agent in London.

Law enforcement sources and sources close to Joyal, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the motive for the shooting was unclear. But several sources confirmed that FBI investigators are looking into the incident because of Joyal’s background as an intelligence expert and his comments about the Alexander Litvinenko case.

Joyal was shot by two men in the driveway of his house in the 2300 block of Lackawanna Street in Adelphi about 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The shooting was reported yesterday by Channel 4. …

In the “Dateline [NBC, a long-running news magazine program]” interview, Joyal accused the Russian government of being part of a conspiracy to silence its critics.

“A message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin: ‘If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you, and we will silence you — in the most horrible way possible,’ ” Joyal said. …

He is well-known for his expertise on intelligence and terrorism and for his network of friends in the former Soviet Union, and he published a daily intelligence newsletter for 10 years that offered information on the former Soviet Union. In 1998, he was a lobbyist for the Georgian government in Washington.

Holy shit.

(Thanks to Laura Rozen for bringing this to my attention.)

Virtual politics and real bullets

The Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, renowned for her reporting on the North Caucasus wars, was murdered yesterday in an evident assassination (three shots, two to the chest and one to the head) in the lift leading to her home. It was the birthday of the Russian President, and just after the birthday of the Russian-appointed prime minister of Chechnya, who she was about to accuse of torture. After a week of rising hysteria in the Russian media and state, with a wave of goon-squad assaults on Georgian businesses and the collection of sinister lists of Georgian-sounding schoolchildren – what, pray, is the purpose of this? – this ought to inter any lingering myths of Russian democracy. It is time to grasp that we are sharing a continent with a very large tyranny, in fact, that we never ceased to do so.

Exactly what will happen next is unclear, but the worst must be assumed. The reaction of Europe so far appears to be deafening silence. See the BBC report above for a tasty quote from the secretary of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, suggesting she was killed by “self-appointed executioners”. Self-appointed? I don’t think his Midlands constituents lost very much when they voted him out back in 2004. No Baltic gas pipelines were involved, so German silence is a given, France will presumably continue to find Russian support on the UNSC useful, and Britain will probably shut up – hasn’t Tony Blair prided himself on his personal relationship with Putin? (Personal politics, the great delusion of the last hundred years.)

If you need any convincing, I recommend Andrew Wilson’s book Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World. This is a truly impressive march through a morass of deceit and state-sponsored bullshit, whose central thesis is simply that most of Russian politics, as it was marketed both to the Russians and also to the western politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats who funded it through the 1990s, does not exist. Parties do not have members, policies, or constitutions, and do not represent real interest groups. Even when, like the Communist Party, they actually do exist, they are frequently not actually trying to win the elections-sensationally, Wilson quotes a senior Communist as being horrified how close the party came to unwanted victory in 1996.

Instead, parties, movements and politicians are usually prepared from whole cloth for specific political projects, and created in the public mind by a barrage of TV advertising for the mass and outrageous web propagandists for the elite. It is possible to buy an entire political party, tailored to one’s specifications, from $100,000.
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Noted With Pleasure: Reindeer People

One of the other books that I picked up while in Helsinki was Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia, by Piers Vitebsky. (US paperback coming in December.) He’s an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, and the reindeer people are his research specialty. The book, however, is an engrossing synthesis aimed at a general audience. More than that, though, it’s a personal account of living with nomads, clashes of cultures (ancient, Soviet and post-Soviet) and vivid personalities, all played out in a beautiful and harsh land. I picked up the book in part because I had just missed meeting some reindeer people when I was in northern Mongolia a few years back, and I wanted to learn what their way of life was all about.

I got much more: how reindeer are partially domesticated, what the coming of Soviet power meant to the far North, how people are surviving its ebb, how reindeer migrate, what Arctic cold means in practical terms, to name just a few. Vitebsky writes well, he’s chosen interesting ground to cover, he can sketch people, relate key anecdotes and sustain narratives about their conflicts. Layer upon layer, like the clothing the Eveny wear in winter, Reindeer People envelops the reader, imparting something of those distant lands.

The new great game

Our next anniversary guest post is written by the the great Jonathan Edelstein.

It’s starting to look like the season of referenda in the near abroad.

On September 17, less than a week from today, voters in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, located between Moldova and Ukraine, will be asked to vote on whether to “renounce [their] independent status and subsequently become part of the Republic of Moldova” or “support a policy of independence… and subsequent free association with the Russian Federation.” The option of “free association” with Russia, which is widely considered a prelude to outright annexation, is reportedly backed by a large number of Russian-financed business and political organizations, some with long-standing presence in Transnistrian politics and others apparently formed for the occasion. In the meantime, South Ossetia, which had earlier explored the possibility of petitioning Russia’s constitutional court for annexation, has just announced its own referendum for November 12, and although Abkhazia currently denies similar plans, there are rumors that a plebiscite may be in the works there as well.

The referenda, which are rather transparently supported by Moscow, represent something of a change in policy for the Russian Federation. It’s certainly nothing new for post-Soviet Russia to attempt to maintain its influence over the countries comprising the former Soviet Union, and it has at times used Russian citizenship to cement the “soft” annexation of neighboring territories; for instance, at least 90 percent of Abkhazians and South Ossetians now hold Russian passports. Nevertheless, up to now, it has soft-pedaled the issue of de jure territorial expansion. The forthcoming vote on whether Transnistria should become a second Kaliningrad suggests that policymakers in Moscow are at least starting to think seriously about taking formal responsibility for the territories that have broken away from other former Soviet republics.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Russia would push such a policy at the present time. All three of the breakaway republics have substantial minorities who oppose union with Russia; Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, and despite post-Soviet ethnic cleansing, South Ossetia and Abkhazia retain Georgian minority enclaves. The recent wave of terrorist bombings in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol may well be linked to the referendum, and Russian annexation of the Georgian breakaway republics would only intensify border conflicts such as the Kodori Gorge. Nor would successful plebiscites lend a veneer of legitimacy to a Russian annexation; indeed, given the current international attitude toward non-consensual secessions from recognized states, this would only make Russia’s legal position worse by transforming it into an occupying power.

In other words, the referenda seem like a recipe for stirring up ethnic conflict within the breakaway republics, making Moldova and Georgia even more alarmed over Russian political ambitions than they already are, and creating new diplomatic and legal problems for Moscow. Which leads naturally to three questions: why now, what does Russia stand to gain in compensation for these risks, and how much should the rest of the world (and particularly Europe) care?
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Overdue Evaluation (The Prize, by Daniel Yergin)

There is not much market for reviews of books published almost a decade and a half ago, so without further ado, my thoughts on The Prize, by Daniel Yergin. This evaluation is overdue because I started reading the book when I bought it, back in 1997. I put it down around page 400 (which is a little more than halfway), so this review is likely, very likely, to be stronger on the second half of the book.

Yergin’s subtitle is The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, which gives both theme and thesis. The title, if I am remembering an early part of the book correctly, comes from a statement made about oil by Winston Churchill: “The prize was mastery itself.” The argument is that understanding oil is central to understanding the twentieth century and, by extension, the world today. To complaints that the war in Iraq is “all about oil,” the only proper answer is “Of course.” The last century’s major conflicts, and many of its smaller ones, were driven by oil, determined by oil, or both. Without an understanding of oil, much of the period will remain opaque.
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A Tale of Unintended Consequences.

Wisely, most European governments that were opposed to the war in Iraq have constrained themselves since it has become evident that the fall of Saddam’s statue in April 2003 and the American crash course in Democracy has not (visibly) helped to speed up the region’s modernization or led to a self-reinforcing trend of ethnic accomodation and democratic governance. But now Joschka Fischer, former and famously “unconvinced” German foreign minister, has allowed Spiegel Online English to publish an “I-told-you-so-manifesto” taken from the foreword of his forthcoming book “The return of history“.
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A Brief Note…

from our internal discussions. I recently remarked to Edward that for much of the US government’s foreign policy apparatus, Russia is still Not Europe. This view is a legacy (still) of the Cold War period in which most of the decision-makers and working-level staff were trained and gained experience. It shapes basic reflexes toward Europe and the post-Soviet space, and knowing the background may at some level help outsiders understand this or that about official US approaches. (There are of course many levels of complexity, not least Congressional politics, commercial interests and ethnically based politicking, but this is meant to be a brief note.)
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A Certain Irony

In a post back in May about the bloody repression in Uzbekistan I noted that Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin was suggesting that US troops should be withdrawn immediately (I didn’t agree if you read the post). Well he seems to have got his way, and the reasoning behind the Uzbekistan parliament decision is of course interesting. The parliament has backed a government order which gives the United States six months to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad airbase. The suggestion is that this order is not entirely unconnected with the U.S. decision to join international demands for an independent investigation into May’s bloody crackdown.

While I’m up posting on Uzbekistan,
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When Sorry Is The Hardest Word

Vladimir Putin, speaking in Moscow today, paid tribute to the courage of “all Europeans who resisted Nazism.” He also stated something which for my generation seems to be simply a fact: that the war?s most ?ruthless and decisive? events had unfolded within the Soviet Union, whose sacrifice of 27m citizens had underpinned the Allied victory. Had the Stalin-Hitler pact held, the war in Western Europe would probably have looked very, very different. However, as the FT notes:

Mr Putin stopped short of issuing the apology demanded by the Baltic states for the four decades of Soviet occupation that followed the war. He also made no reference to the post-war division of Europe.

Why is it sometimes so hard to say sorry?
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Is this the resolution?

Ten days on, and we may be close to a resolution of the crisis in the Ukraine. There’s definitely been some agreement between Kuchma, Yuschenko, Yanukovich and the mediators (Solana, Adamkus, Kubis and Kwasniewski) but, as ever, the devil is in the details. The basic points seem to be that there will be a revote, there will be constitutional reforms before the vote occurs, protestors will stop blockading government buildings and an all-party working group will implement changes based on the rulings of the Supreme Court.

The questions that remain to be answered though, are:

  • What form will the revote take? The full election, or just the second round? Will new candidates be allowed to stand, and will existing ones be barred from standing? Will more observers be allowed in for the elections, and will Yuschenko’s other requirements, such as limiting absentee ballots, be accepted?
  • What form will the constiutional reforms take? The general opinion seems to be that the Prime Minister and Cabinet will gain powers from the Presidency, but is this to weaken a potential Yuschenko Presidency? And will the reforms address the regional issues?
  • Where do the protestors go now? Blockades are over, but will some remain on the streets to keep the pressure on?
  • Finally, what will the Supreme Court actually rule and when? It seems the election process can’t really begin until its deliberations are completed?
  • As I said, reaction seems to be mixed amongst both the media and the bloggers as to whether this is the end of this stage of the crisis, or whether it still continues. See the Kyiv Post, PA/Scotsman, Le Sabot, Foreign Notes, Notes from Kiev and SCSU Scholars for more.

    In related news, The Argus notes that while the events in Ukraine may have inspired protestors in Tajikstan Uzbekistan, while attention’s been focused elsewhere, Russia is demanding Abkhazia reholds its recent election.

    Finally, I’ve received a report from Tarik Amar, who reported from Ukraine on John Quiggin’s blog last week. He’s been talking to the people in the tent city and you can read the full thing below the fold.
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