Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Clinton to travel to Moscow for Quartet talks

Clinton to travel to Moscow for Quartet talks
From Ma'an News Agency, 16 March 2010 11:39:
(Bethlehem - Ma'an) - On 18-19 March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by US envoy George Mitchell, will participate in a meeting of the Quartet, the State Department announced Monday.

She will meet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, as well as Quartet Representative Tony Blair, to discuss Mideast peace efforts, Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley said.

In a statement, Crowley said the secretary would also meet with senior Russian officials to discuss progress on a successor agreement to START, cooperation on nonproliferation, counterterrorism, regional security issues, and the work of the Bilateral Presidential Commission.

The US State Department is waiting for a formal Israeli response to its concerns, declining comment on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks in support of settlements, Agence France-Presse reported Monday.

Netanyahu earlier in the day indicated that construction of Israeli settlements would continue in East Jerusalem, despite an angry phone call last week from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging him to stop, AFP said.

"When she outlined what she thought appropriate actions would be to the prime minister, she asked for a response by the Israeli government. We wait for the response," State Department spokesman reportedly Philip Crowley told reporters.

Crowley added: "We asked for a formal response from the Israeli government and when we get that response we'll react to it."

He also said US envoy George Mitchell may reschedule travel plans to the region, where he was expected to arrive this week.

"This is a fluid situation. As of this moment he's still in the United States," Crowley said, according to AFP.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Russian envoy to visit Sudan with businessmen, MPs

Russian envoy to visit Sudan with businessmen, MPs
From Sudan Tribune, Monday 8 March 2010:
March 7, 2010 (KHARTOUM) — Russia’s Special Envoy to Sudan Mikhail Margelov will begin a four-day visit to Sudan on Tuesday, March 9. He will be heading a delegation that includes businessmen and parliamentarians.

Moscow last year signalled its desire to boost private sector relations between the two countries. A delegation that included Russian business and media representatives visited last December with Margelov during a six-day trip. The envoy on that visit met with President Omer Al-Bashir in Khartoum and First Vice-President Salva Kiir Mayardit in Juba. Margelov is scheduled to visit Juba again on this trip.

During the upcoming visit, the Russian envoy will be holding talks with state officials on bilateral relations between the two countries as well as the latest developments in Sudan, according to the state Sudan News Agency.

He will also be holding talks with the head of the National Elections Commission, political leaders and leaders of civil society organizations.

The Russian envoy last December drew some fire for comments seemingly in support of President Al-Bashir’s election bid in the forthcoming April polling. He was quoted by the Russian Ria Novosti news agency’s Arabic service as saying "I have not yet seen this alternative [to Bashir]…". He added he had tried to convince Western nations in January 2009 that the arrest warrant against Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – which was issued thereafter in March — "is not viable and unrealistic".

Margelov suggested further that he was sceptical that there were any other viable candidates for the nation’s presidency. He said too, "There is an emerging feeling that the ICC decision on arresting the current Sudanese president was rushed and politicized".

The Russian official was also involved in efforts to pressure rebel groups into talks with the Government of Sudan. On October 21, 2009, he met for the first time the leadership of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement during a visit to the Chadian capital Ndjamena. (ST)

Dmitry Medvedev's Russia still feels the cold hand of Vladimir Putin

Dmitry Medvedev came to power amidst high hopes that Russia would liberalise, but the authoritarianism brought in by Vladimir Putin remains.

Dmitry Medvedev's Russia still feels the cold hand of Vladimir Putin
From Telegraph.co.uk by Andrew Osborn in Moscow
Published: 6:00AM GMT Sunday 07 Mar 2010
Emboldened by what he thought was the new spirit of openness sweeping Russia, Major Alexei Dymovsky decided to blow the whistle on police corruption in his run-down fiefdom on the Black Sea coast.

The dispirited detective, from the crumbling port of Novorossiysk, broke his silence in a You Tube broadcast that became an internet sensation, garnering well over a million hits.

Four months later, he may be wishing he had kept quiet. He is now languishing in jail after being sacked and accused of fraud, while a human rights activist who took up his cause, Vadim Karastelyov, can barely stand after two men stabbed him with sharpened wooden stakes outside his flat last Saturday.

Concerns about the way Mr Dymovksy was silenced, though, go well beyond the simple matter of whether police in Novorossiysk can continue to take bribes and frame the innocent with impunity, as he had claimed. It has also raised disturbing questions about the promises of Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, to end the creeping authoritarianism brought in by his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, and usher in a renewed era of freedom.

"What is happening now is illusory," said Mr Karastelyov, speaking to the Sunday Telegraph after his discharge from hospital last week. "Medvedev does not have the political weight to make the necessary changes. There is a huge gulf between what he is saying and reality. We have hopes but no illusions."

Even though he was handpicked for the job by Mr Putin, a man accused of strangling the chaotic but vibrant democracy that Russia briefly enjoyed in the 1990s, Mr Medvedev was quick to cast himself as a liberal reformer when he came to power in 2008. His promises to fight corruption and restore the rule of law were hailed as a welcome change from the Putin era - not least in Britain, where the Litvinenko poisoning case showed a Russia lurching back to Soviet habits. Hopes that the new man would be liberal and pro-Western were raised further by the fact he was a lawyer by training, not a spy, and his matey disclosure that he was a fan of British heavy metal band Deep Purple.

Yet now, half-way into his four year term, the liberal newspapers, human rights groups and NGOs that suffered increasing harrasssment during Mr Putin's reign say little has changed. Mr Medvedev may well have denounced Josef Stalin and spoken of the need for political competition and modernisation. But the problem, say those who earnestly want to believe him, is that he is all talk and little action.

"We have not given up on him yet, and we should give him the benefit of the doubt," says Tanya Lokshina, of the Moscow branch of Human Rights Watch. "But quite a bit of time has passed and so far there has been little but rhetoric and more rhetoric."

Mr Medvedev does boast some reforms to his credit. He has replaced a clutch of regional governors, and fired a slew of top police and military officers. However, he also appears to have gone out of his way to mimic the walk, talk and even dress sense of his mentor, Mr Putin, prompting some critics to call him "Putin's younger brother". Kremlin-watchers also note that while Mr Putin addresses Mr Medvedev using the casual form of you in Russian or "ty," Mr Medvedev employs the more deferential and formal 'vy' when talking to Mr Putin, underlining his junior role in the partnership. Kremlin image makers seems to avoid putting Mr Medvedev up for the kind of macho photo opportunities deemed suitable for Mr Putin, who was this week pictured on horseback in snow-bound Siberia.

"Medvedev is warmer and sunnier," said one former senior US intelligence official. "But he does not want to change things that much. He believes in what might be called 'venture liberalism' - trying out various things, but not really getting serious."
Nina Khrushcheva, granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, describes Mr Medvedev's job in the Kremlin in rather less flattering terms. His role, as she sees it, is not so much as president but as first lady.

"The cheerful facade is composed of Russia's miniature president, Dmitry Medvedev, whose job, like that of America's first lady, is to keep up appearances," she said. "And the appearance that needs the most maintenance is that of a modern and civilised Russia."

Among those who are disappointed, but not surprised, by the Medvedev track record is Yevgeny Ikhlov, an expert at the 'For Human Rights' pressure group, which is involved in the case of Major Dymovsky, the police whistleblower. He claims there was a secret agreement, sealed during Vladimir Putin's 2000-2008 presidency, that allowed the police and the FSB security service to do as they please in return for their unswerving loyalty to the regime.

"The system senses weakness in Medvedev and crushes anyone who dares to pop their head above the parapet," said Mr Ikhlov. "Medvedev gave people hope and created a different atmosphere in society but he is not strong enough to break the unwritten agreement with the law enforcement agencies."

Mr Medvedev's aides, who are aware of the perestroika expectations that their boss initially generated, urge patience. "Such changes do not happen quickly," says one adviser close to the Kremlin. "You cannot change the situation just like that." Russia, it is argued, is the largest country in the world, and moves like a super tanker.

Yet with whistleblowers like Major Dymovsky still viewed primarily as troublemakers, analysts who thought the main question would be purely the speed of Medvedev's reforms are now pondering other questions instead. Is he his own man or just Mr Putin's creature? And does he really believe in reform, as the impassioned style of many of his speeches might suggest, or is he just a fall guy whose job is to defuse growing social tension at a time of financial stress? With a presidential election in 2012 approaching, many sceptics believe that Mr Medvedev is merely a temporary fixture and that Mr Putin, who is now prime minister, is preparing to take his old job back at the very top of Russian politics.

"Medvedev is keeping the seat warm," says one seasoned Russia watcher who regularly interacts with the Kremlin. "You need to be more than a nice person to run a place like Russia."