Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Results from the EU-Russia Summit

Copy of commentary from European Union Law blog
Results from the EU-Russia Summit
November 19, 2009:

So what are the particular results of the last EU-Russia summit? First, the parties signed financing agreements for five cross-border co-operation programmes (CBC) under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).

Second, Russia claimed to support the energy security of the EU, though doubts remain.

Third, Russia has pledged to support the EU position on climate policy, but details remain vague.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Vaclav Havel warns that Russia remains a threat despite the demise of the Soviet Union

Vaclav Havel, the dissident who led Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, has used the 20th anniversary to warn Russia remains a threat despite the demise of the Soviet Union.

From The Daily Telegraph
Vaclav Havel attacks Russia on anniversary of Velvet Revolution
By Matthew Day in Prague
Published: 7:34PM GMT 17 Nov 2009
The 73-year-old who played a pivotal role in freeing his country from communist rule in 1989, said that the Russian government had mastered the art of manipulating its population while maintaining democratic façade.

"The era of dictatorships and totalitarian systems has not ended at all," he said.

"It may have ended in a traditional form as we know it from the 20th century, but new, far more sophisticated ways of controlling society are being born.

"It requires alertness, carefulness, caution, study and a detached view."

His warning came as Czechs took to the streets of Prague in their thousands to celebrate the Velvet Revolution that swept the socialist state into the history books in a few weeks.

Thousands of people retraced the path taken by a student demonstration in 1989 that proved to be a turning point in the country's history.

On the night of November 17, 1989 about 15,000 students, emboldened by the collapse of the Berlin Wall two weeks before and demanding change, found themselves penned in and attacked by hundreds of riot police.

The savage assault that left scores injured galvanised the Czech people and triggered a series of mass demonstrations.

On November 25 an estimated 800,000 protesters poured onto Prague's streets in a massive show of strength of defiance against a government that had little authority over its people by that stage.

Two days later a two-hour general strike supported by around 75 per cent of the population prompted the resignation of the government and the end to 41 years of communist rule in the then Czechoslovakia.

It was soon labelled the "Velvet Revolution", the peaceful overthrow of communism is still an immense source of pride for Czechs.

"I think it was an important moment in our history," said Kristyna Bartorova, a 24-year-old student participating in the celebrations. "It had a big influence on our lives and I'm happy that our parents' generation did this. I want to say thank you to them." Hundreds of people queued to light candles at a memorial on the street where the students had been attacked, while on Wenceslas Square, the scene of many of the mass demonstration, Czechs both young and old waited in silence to put candles and flowers on the site marking the spot where in 1969 Jan Palach, a 21-year-old student, burned himself alive in protest of the 1968 Soviet invasion.

For those who took part in the demonstration 20 years ago, the anniversary has provided an opportunity to look back on an extraordinary night.

"It was a time of change and expectations.

Nobody knew what would happen next but it was a time to say something," said Petr Stastny, who, as a 17-year-old, had joined the demonstration with a group of school friends. "We had all seen the East Germans passing through Prague as they went west. We saw their abandoned cars. We knew that something was going to happen." But along with the heady excitement fear of violent backlash by the communist state permeated the demonstration.

"People were afraid of what could happen next," said Petr Janis. "Nobody knew what the government might do. I remember a classmate of mine crying because she was so afraid. She thought that people would die." In a speech on the eve of the anniversary, Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, said that communism would never return but warned the Czech public of other "isms" such as "environmentalism".

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Meme: Joe Trippi's Eleven-Eleven 1111Campaign - America's and Britain's Veterans have given so much. Now, you can give back.

Joe Trippi, one of America's greatest bloggers, has launched Eleven Eleven Campaign. The objective of the Eleven Eleven Campaign is simple: to get 11 million Americans to donate $11 to support America’s Veterans. Here is a copy of Joe's latest tweet on Twitter:
Tomorrow is Veterans Day, and now is our moment to encourage our friends, family members and colleagues to join us...
33 minutes ago from Facebook
Eleven Eleven
Hey Joe! Britain's Veterans have given so much too!

Stand with 11 million Brits and Give £11 to Support Britain’s Vets!

Take Action Today
Click here to support Britain's Veterans
November 11, 2009

Britain's Veterans have given so much.  Now, you can give back.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Moscow says too soon to scrap nuclear weapons

News report from Moscow, November 02, 2009 (RIA Novosti) -
Moscow says too soon to scrap nuclear weapons
Russia has no plans to completely abandon nuclear weapons, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday.

"If there were only five nuclear powers in the world and they abandoned their nuclear weapons, after which only conventional weapons - muskets, cannons, and pistols - would remain, we would have disarmed ourselves a long time ago," Sergei Lavrov told a news conference after a meeting with his British counterpart David Miliband in Moscow.

He added that there were unofficial nuclear powers, and that it was not ruled out that nuclear technology, which "is virtually available via the Internet," would spread.

He stressed the importance of nonproliferation efforts and said that nuclear disarmament "means many things, including practical agreements that will prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology anywhere in the world."

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Russia 'simulates' nuclear attack on Poland

Russia has provoked outrage in Poland by simulating an air and sea attack on the country during military exercises.

From The Daily Telegraph
By Matthew Day in Warsaw
Published: 4:37PM GMT Sunday, 01 Nov 2009
Russia 'simulates' nuclear attack on Poland
The armed forces are said to have carried out "war games" in which nuclear missiles were fired and troops practised an amphibious landing on the country's coast.

Documents obtained by Wprost, one of Poland's leading news magazines, said the exercise was carried out in conjunction with soldiers from Belarus.

The manoeuvres are thought to have been held in September and involved about 13,000 Russian and Belarusian troops.
Poland, which has strained relations with both countries, was cast as the "potential aggressor".

The documents state the exercises, code-named "West", were officially classified as "defensive" but many of the operations appeared to have an offensive nature.

The Russian air force practised using weapons from its nuclear arsenal, while in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which neighbours Poland, Red Army forces stormed a "Polish" beach and attacked a gas pipeline.

The operation also involved the simulated suppression of an uprising by a national minority in Belarus – the country has a significant Polish population which has a strained relationship with authoritarian government of Belarus.

Karol Karski, an MP from Poland's Law and Justice, is to table parliamentary questions on Russia's war games and has protested to the European Commission.

His colleague, Marek Opiola MP, said: "It's an attempt to put us in our place. Don't forget all this happened on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland."

Ordinary Poles were outraged by news of the exercise and demanded a firm response fro the government.

One man, identified only as Ted, told Polskie Radio: "Russia has laid bare its real intentions with respect to Poland. Every Pole most now get of the off the fence and be counted as a patriot or a traitor."

Donald Tusk, Poland's prime minister, has tried to build a pragmatic relationship with the Kremlin despite widespread and vocal calls in Poland for him to cool ties with Moscow.

After spending 40 years under Soviet domination few in Poland trust Russia, and many Poles have become increasingly wary of a country they consider as possessing a neo-imperialistic agenda.

Bogdan Klich, Poland’s defence minister, said: “It is a demonstration of strength. We are monitoring the exercises to see what has been planned.

Wladyslaw Stasiak, chief of President Lech Kaczynski’s office, and a former head of Poland’s National Security Council, added: “We didn’t like the appearance of the exercises and the name harked back to the days of the Warsaw Pact.”

The Russian troop exercises will come as an unwelcome sight to the states nestling on Russia’s western border who have deep-rooted anxieties over any Russian show of strength.

With a resurgent Moscow now more willing to flex its muscles, Central and Eastern Europeans have warned of Russia adopting a neo-imperialistic attitude to an area of the world it still regards as its sphere of influence.

In July, the region’s most famed and influential political figures, including Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel, wrote an open letter Barack Obama warning him that Russia “is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods.”

Moscow and Minsk have insisted that Operation West was to help "ensure the strategic stability in the East European region".

Britain's David Miliband in Russia

From AFP - Sunday, 1st November 2009:
Britain's Miliband in Russia to thaw ties
LONDON — David Miliband headed off for the first visit by a British foreign secretary to Russia for five years on Sunday, seeking to mend relations damaged by the poisoning in London of a Kremlin critic.

As Miliband embarked on his two-day visit, the British government said it could not "spare" him to be the European Union's foreign affairs chief amid growing speculation that he is in line for the new role.

Miliband's trip to Moscow coincides with the third anniversary of the poisoning of former spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, but Russia refuses to extradite the KGB agent-turned-lawmaker who is the chief suspect in the murder.

A row over the status of the British Council and disputes over the ownership of Russian-British oil giant TNK-BP have added to mutual distrust over the Litvinenko case, resulting in an unprecedented degradation in ties.

Writing on his blog, Miliband said a better relationship was essential for both countries.

"We don't always see eye to eye with Russia, but we share the same global challenges and it is important that we work on them together.

"The wealth of people-to-people contacts and the dynamic business links which have grown between Britain and Russia over the last 20 years make political engagement all the more important," he wrote.

While top officials from Latin American and Asian states have made regular stops in Moscow in recent years, the last serving British foreign secretary to visit for bilateral talks was Jack Straw in July 2004.

Miliband was due to arrive late on Sunday before holding talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Monday.

There appears little chance of Russia wavering in its refusal to extradite Litvinenko murder suspect Andrei Lugovoi.

British police accuse Lugovoi of murdering Litvinenko, possibly by lacing his tea with radioactive polonium in a London hotel on November 2, 2006. He died three weeks later after suffering intense pain.

Lugovoi, who denies involvement in Litvinenko's death, was later elected to the Russian parliament for a generally pro-Kremlin party.

London responded to Moscow's refusal to hand him over by expelling four Russian diplomats from Britain, prompting Moscow to respond with a tit-for-tat measure.

As well as looking to overcome the problems in bilateral ties, Miliband will be looking to secure Russian support for tough sanctions against Iran if the current round of diplomacy over its nuclear programme fails.

"We're going to talk substantively about Afghanistan, substantively about Iran, substantively about the Middle East," Miliband told the Financial Times recently.

Meanwhile, a senior British government figure responded to a newspaper report that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was conducting a secret campaign to help Miliband become the EU's top diplomat by saying he was needed at home.

The deputy leader of Brown's Labour party, Harriet Harman, said she could understand why Miliband featured in rumours for the new role because he was a politician of "international standing".

But she told BBC television: "We can't spare him. I don't think he wants to go -- and we'll be keeping him here."

Miliband's insists publicly that he is "not a candidate and not available".

The Sunday Times said Brown was discreetly backing Miliband, as the chances of former British premier Tony Blair becoming EU president appeared to be fading.

The roles of president and High Representative for Foreign Affairs are set to be created when the EU's Lisbon Treaty is ratified.

An unnamed official from Brown's office told the newspaper: "Behind it all there is very careful consideration being given to David getting this job."