Inter Press Service » Europe http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Uruguay Not a ‘Pirate’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uruguayans-pirates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguayans-pirates http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uruguayans-pirates/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:34:29 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133728 The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis. The government believes that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues. The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the country’s […]

The post Uruguay Not a ‘Pirate’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Pavol Stracansky
VIENNA, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis. The government believes that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues.

The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the country’s government of having a “pirate attitude” for going against the UN’s conventions on drugs."It is not our aim that anyone follow us or do what we have done."

Diego Cánepa, secretary of the office of Uruguayan President José Mujica, tells IPS that he believes a regulated marijuana market was the right decision for his country.

Q. How do you feel about your country being labelled “pirates” by the INCB for legalising the marijuana market?

A. Well, the INCB is just one UN body and it is just one opinion. They have a special mandate and that mandate is not to decide what approach each individual country should follow. We have had a discussion over the correct interpretation of the UN drugs conventions. We believe, and we have the evidence to show this, that our interpretation is correct. We followed the original spirit of the convention and we hope that the step which we have taken is the right one to create better control of the marijuana market in our country.

Prohibition was a big mistake in the last 40 years, so we believe that a strictly regulated marijuana market is the best way to fulfil the spirit of the UN drugs conventions.

Q. Do you get frustrated when you hear people from other countries talking about how what you are doing is wrong, for example from countries which have a much more conservative, hard line approach to drugs?

A. We very much respect every opinion. It’s an open discussion. We do not think that we have the whole truth in our hands. We listen very carefully to the opinions of other countries but we defend our sovereign right to do what we think is right for our own country and our people. And we believe that in terms of our health policies this is the best option for Uruguay.

We don’t want to be a model for other countries over this, we just think that this is the best way for our country and we will defend our right to take this option. But we are open to discussion. We think that prohibition is not the answer and overwhelming evidence has shown that it is a mistake. We don’t want to have this kind of policy. We need to have the right to explore a different approach to drugs.

Q. If you find that after a couple of years things are not going well with the legalisation or that you are not seeing the kind of results you want with regards to public health, would you be prepared to go back to a ban on drugs?

A. I think the question is different. First of all, a few years is not enough. You need at least eight, nine or ten years before you can draw any conclusions. We need to have a lot of evidence over a long time period to really understand what effects this policy is having.

Looking at public health, violence, drug consumption – all the evidence shows us so far that by regulating the market and making visible what has until now been an invisible market means that you can control that market better, and control trafficking and then you have less violence. But I think that if that doesn’t happen in ten years then we will have another debate on this. But I do not think we would go back to banning [marijuana]. We would need to find another answer.

Q. Are you happy when you see other countries doing things which are similar to what you have done? For example states in the U.S. which have legalised commercial marijuana sales.

A. Actually, what they have done in Colorado is much more than what we have done. There you are free to buy and sell what you want. They have a different model to us. But there are 18 states in the U.S. where marijuana can be bought for medical purposes. But that is just an euphemism because we know that the majority of people use marijuana not with a medical purpose but with a medical excuse.

We see that an individual state in the U.S. is operating this way with no federal overrule on it so it is impossible to not accept that there is a big, open debate on this when you have different countries around the world taking different approaches to the problem.

Q. Could you see other countries following your lead and regulating their marijuana markets?

A. I really don’t know and it is not our aim that anyone follow us or do what we have done. We do not want to be a model for any other country. We respect everyone else’s policies but we think that this is the best model for our country.

The post Uruguay Not a ‘Pirate’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uruguayans-pirates/feed/ 0
Q&A: Agriculture Needs a ‘New Revolution’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/agriculture-needs-new-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agriculture-needs-new-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/agriculture-needs-new-revolution/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:32:27 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133705 IPS correspondent Silvia Giannelli interviewed KANAYO F. NWANZE, president of IFAD

The post Q&A: Agriculture Needs a ‘New Revolution’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Judith Mwikali Musau has successfully introduced the use of grafted plants for crop and fruit harvesting. IFAD says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector. Credit:Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Judith Mwikali Musau has successfully introduced the use of grafted plants for crop and fruit harvesting. IFAD says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector. Credit:Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
ROME, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

The Millennium Development Goals deadline of 2015 is fast approaching, but according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), poverty still afflicts one in seven people — and one in eight still goes to bed hungry.

Together with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), IFAD unveiled the results of their joint work Apr. 3 to develop five targets to be incorporated in the post-2015 development agenda."We have a growing global population and a deteriorating natural resource base." -- Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD

These targets include access to adequate food all year round for all people; ending malnutrition in all its forms with special attention to stunting; making all food production systems more productive, sustainable, resilient and efficient; securing access for all small food producers, especially women, to inputs, knowledge and resources to increase their productivity; and more efficient post-production food systems that reduce the global rate of food loss and waste by 50 percent.

IPS correspondent Silvia Giannelli interviewed Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, on the role of rural poverty and food security in shaping the current debate on the definition of a new development agenda.

Q: Do you think it is time to rethink the strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?

A: It’s not only that I think, I know it. And that is why we have Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are being fashioned. The SDGs are an idea that was born in the Rio Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. The crafting of a new global development agenda is a unique opportunity to refocus policy, investments and partnerships on inclusive and sustainable rural transformation.

The intent is to produce a new, more inclusive and more sustainable set of global development objectives that have application to all countries. These goals – once agreed by governments – would take effect after the current MDGs expire in 2015.

And measurement will be crucial if we are to achieve what we set out. This is why we are talking about universality but in a local context. The SDGs will be for all countries, developing and developed alike. But their application will need to respond to the reality on the ground, which will vary from country to country.

Q: How do the five targets revealed this month fit in this discussion on the post-2015 development goals?

A: The proposed targets and indicators are intended to provide governments with an informed tool that they use when discussing the precise nature and make-up of the SDGs related to sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition.

These are five critical issues for a universal, transformative agenda that is ambitious but also realistic and adaptable to different country and regional contexts. The targets can fit under a possible dedicated goal but also under other goals. So, it is for governments to decide whether or not they wish to include these targets in the SDGs.

Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector so it can fully live up to its potential to drive sustainable development. Credit: Juan Manuel Barrero/IPS

Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, says it is clear that a new revolution in agriculture is needed to transform the sector so it can fully live up to its potential to drive sustainable development. Credit: Juan Manuel Barrero/IPS

Q: Why does agriculture represent such a critical aspect within the post-2015 development agenda?

A: We have a growing global population and a deteriorating natural resource base, which means more people to feed with less water and farmland. And climate change threatens to alter the whole geography of agriculture and food systems on a global scale.

It is clear that we need a new revolution in agriculture, to transform the sector so it can fully live up to its potential to drive sustainable development. Target areas should address universal and context-specific challenges, but context-adapted approaches and agendas are the building blocks for any effort to feed the world.

Q: Why is the focus on rural areas so important in order to overcome inequality?

A: The world is becoming increasingly urban, yet cities are still fed by the people working the land in rural areas. And it is in those rural areas where 76 percent of the world’s poor live.

At IFAD we see that the gap between rich and poor is primarily a gap between urban and rural. Those who migrate to urban areas, oftentimes do so in the belief that life will be better in the urban cities.

However they get caught up in the bulging slums of cities, they lose their social cohesion which is provided by rural communities and they go into slums, they become nothing but breeding ground for social turmoil and desperation. One only has to look at what is happening today in what was described as the ‘Arab spring’.

Q: But beyond the issue of exclusion and turmoil, why is key to addressing rural poverty?

A: Because the rural space is basically where the food is produced: in the developing world 80 percent in some cases 90 percent of all food that is consumed domestically is produced in rural areas.

Food agriculture does not grow in cities, it grows in rural areas, and the livelihoods of the majority of the rural population provide not only food, it provides employment, it provides economic empowerment,[…] and social cohesion.

Essentially, if we do not invest in rural areas through agricultural development we are dismantling the foundations for national security, not just only food security. And that translates into not just national security but also global security and global peace.

Q: What risks are we facing in terms of global security, if we don’t face and take concrete action to ensure food security?

A: We just need to go back to what happened in 2007 and 2008: the global food price crisis, as it is said, and how circumstances culminated in what happened in 40 countries around the world where there were food riots.

Those riots were the results of inaction that occurred in some 25-30 years due to these investments in agriculture and the imbalances in trade, across countries and across continents. Forty countries experienced serious problems with food riots, and they brought down two governments, one in Haiti and another one in Madagascar. […] We’ve seen it, [and] it continues to repeat itself.

Q: What role are developed countries expected to play in the achievement of these five targets?

A: All countries will have an essential role to play in achieving the SDGs – whatever they end up looking like. Countries have agreed that this is a “universal” agenda and developed countries’ commitment will have to extend beyond ODA [Official Development Assistance] alone.

At IFAD we [are] seeing that development is moving beyond aid to achieve self-sustaining, private sector-led inclusive growth and development. For example, in Africa, generated revenue shot up from 141 billion dollars in 2002 to 520 billion dollars in 2011. This is truly a universal challenge, but it also requires local and country-level ownership and international collaboration at all levels.

 

The post Q&A: Agriculture Needs a ‘New Revolution’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/agriculture-needs-new-revolution/feed/ 0
Russian Law Corners Drug Users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-law-corners-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:54:40 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133685 As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees. OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been […]

The post Russian Law Corners Drug Users appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees.

OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been available in Ukraine for almost a decade.

But Russian law forbids its provision, and Russian government officials have said they intend to close OST services in the region by the end of this month."We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die."

Organisations working to provide services to drug users on the peninsula say this has put the future health of more than 800 people receiving OST in the region in doubt.

They say that distances to the nearest facilities in Ukraine offering the treatment mean it would be impossible for drug users to access OST services without leaving Crimea permanently.

Without this lifeline treatment, they warn, many users will turn back to dangerous drug habits, reverting to crime or prostitution to support their addiction, and sharing contaminated needles.

Anton Basenko, a member of the All Ukrainian Association of OST Participants, told IPS: “Many of these people, just like me, have HIV, hepatitis C and other chronic diseases complementing their drug dependence. Stopping substitution therapy for the majority of them is the same as denying them oxygen to breathe. They are being thrown back to crime and despair.”

Drug users in Crimea who spoke to IPS said they were dreading their futures without OST.

One 32-year-old drug user from Sevastopol, a mother of one who gave her name only as Ludmila, told IPS: “I am hoping to start a full-time job in a few weeks but this will be impossible for me if I cannot receive OST. My husband, who also receives OST, currently has a job but he will lose it if he stops getting his treatment. Ending these programmes will be a disaster for this whole family.”

Another, who gave his name only as Vitaliy, told IPS he had been helped by the OST he had been receiving for the last four years. He said he did not want to leave his home in Sevastopol but was afraid of what might happen to him if he did not.

The 27-year-old said: “I don’t want to go but at the same time I don’t want to return to injection drug use.”

A 37-year-old man who asked to be called ‘Yevgeny Kovalenko’ (not his real name), who has been receiving OST in Simferopol since 2008, said he faced a stark choice.

He told IPS: “I am scared, my friends are scared. We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die. And that is not me just being dramatic or using a figure of speech, I will literally die.  So will many others.”

Groups such as the HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine say some drug users have already left Crimea to ensure they can continue to access OST. The Alliance is preparing for hundreds to arrive in Kiev looking for help when the programmes close in Crimea.

But while those who make it to Kiev will be able to get help, those that cannot, or choose not to leave their homes in Crimea, will be left to deal with their addiction in a region where local authorities will be enforcing repressive Russian policies on drugs.

Under Russian legislation, minor drug offences are punished severely with, for example, convictions for possession of even the smallest amounts of heroin – including residue in a syringe. Such offences carry lengthy jail sentences.

Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics, which UNAIDS and other bodies say has been historically driven by injection drug use.

Ukraine, which also has a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic, has recently reduced the rate of new HIV infections – a success put down to the widespread implementation of harm reduction programmes.

It is unclear at the moment what effect Crimea becoming part of Russia will have on the provision of harm reduction services other than the OST programmes.

Ukrainian groups working with drug users say there are more than 14,000 people in Crimea who access such services, and that any threat to their provision could have devastating consequences for their health and create a serious public health threat in Crimea.

Meanwhile, drug users in Kiev are calling on the Ukrainian Ministry of Health to act.

They say that, even if they cannot persuade authorities in Crimea to allow the extension of OST programmes at least until January next year, when all legislation in the peninsula should be brought fully into line with that of the rest of Russia, the ministry should be setting up facilities for OST programmes in other parts of Ukraine.

Basenko told IPS: “Practical steps need to be taken to organise the accommodation of these refugees, these patients from Crimea, so they can continue their treatment in Ukraine.

“Drugs available in Ukraine must be redistributed and additional OST facilities need to be set up to meet the needs of these patients.”

The post Russian Law Corners Drug Users appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/feed/ 0
Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:41:12 +0000 Adriane Lochner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133688 “I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals. But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his […]

The post Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

By Adriane Lochner
BISHKEK, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

“I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals.

But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his travel agency told him “swimming” was part of the package.Activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health.

In Nukus, the sleepy regional capital of western Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan region, local tour operators say the number of sightseers is growing each year. Many come to this remote part of the Central Asian country to see the famous Savitsky art collection. There are excursions to ancient fortresses and historic Khiva, once an important stop on the Silk Road.

But the Aral Sea – one of the world’s most infamous, man-made ecological disasters – is probably the top attraction.

“Last year almost 300 foreigners went on camping trips to the coastline, and numbers are increasing,” says Tazabay Uteuliev, a local fixer who arranges transport for several Uzbek travel agencies.

Spring and autumn are most popular, but this year he even had a group in January. “More and more people seem to like it extreme,” Uteuliev tells EurasiaNet.org. The tourists are usually adventurous, not looking for a trip to the beach, but to see the famous lake before the last of the water is gone, he adds.

Bendz, the Swede, claims a special interest in unusual places. On a previous trip to Ukraine he visited Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear accident. As he runs toward the shore, his feet sink in mud. The other two tourists and their driver follow him with their eyes.

The driver explains that over the course of only one year, the coastline has receded about 50 metres. The former seabed is still damp and covered with clams.

“You don’t even have to swim,” Bendz shouts, giddily floating on the water. In 2007, one estimate put the Aral’s salinity at 10 percent. As the sea continues shrinking, salt content is believed to have risen to about 15 or 16 percent, or half the concentration in the famously salty Dead Sea.

For local activists, the swell of foreign interest offers a chance to educate, as well as entertain.

In a hotel in Nukus, a group of Swiss tourists listens to a seminar about the history of the Aral catastrophe as part of their tour programme. The lecturer asks EurasiaNet.org not to print his name because he is implicitly criticising Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government.

He has a legitimate fear: activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health. In 2012, one activist said she was beaten and threatened with forced psychiatric care.

During his presentation, the speaker shows satellite images and videos of fishing boats from the time when the fish-packed Aral Sea was one of largest lakes in the world. He describes the consequences of the water loss for locals: extremely hot summers, freezing winters, dust storms and lung diseases.

“Only the government can do something about it,” the activist says, describing wasteful irrigation upstream on the Amu-Darya River.

In his opinion, poor government management of water resources is the main cause of the environmental problems. Only about 10 percent of the water diverted from the river makes it to the fields, he says. The rest evaporates or leaks out of aging irrigation canals.

“People should [be required to] pay for the water, then they would save it,” he says.

Uzbekistan’s centralised agricultural plan aims to produce three million tonnes of cotton annually. To meet this target, officials require farmers to grow the water-intensive plant and press-gang residents to help with the harvest each autumn.

Environmentalists are also concerned that powerful international interests have little reason to save the Aral: Energy companies from China, Russia, Uzbekistan and elsewhere are drilling in the former seabed for natural gas. The tour group drives past their rigs the next morning, across a salt desert, to visit Muynak.

A generation ago, this former fishing village was a port at the southern end of the sea. Now it is about 100 kilometres from the water’s edge. Ships once anchored offshore are now popular tourist attractions, rusting, leaning over into the desert sand. Local children play on the graffiti-covered wrecks.

Only a few hundred kilometres to the north, on the Kazakhstani side, there is hope for the Aral Sea. There, a dike built with assistance from the World Bank in 2005 catches water from the Syr-Darya River, helping bring a tiny portion of the lake back and spawning a renewed fishing industry.

But the Kazakh side does not attract as many visitors, says a representative at Tashkent-based OrexCA, a travel agency specialising in Central Asia.

The agent says she receives occasional inquiries but no bookings to visit the lake in Kazakhstan. She thinks visitors are discouraged by the higher prices and also because Kazakhstani officials have removed so-called ghost ships, selling them for scrap. Instead she touts OrexCA’s “shrinking Aral Sea tour” on the Uzbek side.

The package includes visits to historical sites and, according to the agency’s website, is “designed for admirers of extreme tourism, adventurers and fans of exotic photography.”

Editor’s note:  Adriane Lochner is a Bishkek-based writer. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/feed/ 0
Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:56:45 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133673 On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope. When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But […]

The post Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

By Joanna Lillis
ASTANA, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope.

When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has set himself up as the defender of Russians everywhere, and used that rationale to annex Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the slogan seems more pertinent than ever – at least to Kazakhstani leaders in Astana.

Ever since the Soviet collapse in 1991, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration has stressed the promotion of tolerance and inter-ethnic harmony. For the most part, Nazarbayev has succeeded in keeping the country tranquil, enabling the economy to attain an unrivaled level of growth in Central Asia.

But now, the ripple-effect created by the Ukraine crisis threatens to test the loyalties of Kazakhstan’s ethnically diverse populace, in particular the substantial ethnic Russian minority, which is concentrated in northern regions of the country.

Given recent developments, boosting patriotism has rocketed up Nazarbayev’s political agenda. Highlighting the high level of concern in Astana, officials introduced amendments in early April to punish public calls for separatism with long jail terms.

Separatist sentiment in the industrial northeast created a headache for Nazarbayev in the 1990s – and Oskemen was once a hotbed of intrigue, with 13 pro-Russian conspirators jailed over a separatist plot in 2000. In this city, known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk, 67 percent of inhabitants are Russian, triple the national ratio.“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here. It’s seen as an opportunity.” -- Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University

Separatist moods ebbed as Kazakhstan consolidated its nationhood – but the scenarios playing out in Ukraine are enough to cause Nazarbayev a full-blown migraine. Russia’s justification of its annexation of Crimea on the grounds of protecting Russian speakers makes Astana jittery. In Kazakhstan, 22 percent of the population is ethnic Russian, with far higher ratios living along the sprawling 7,000-kilometre border with Russia.

Inflammatory statements by Russian nationalists about claims on northern Kazakhstan have added fuel to the fire, sparking an unusual diplomatic spat between close allies Moscow and Astana. On Apr. 11, following a sharp rebuke from Kazakhstan, Moscow disassociated itself from the pronouncements – but did not explicitly deny having designs on Kazakhstan’s territory.

Astana may be up in arms, but Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community views the nationalist outbursts across the border with equanimity.

“On the immutability of borders … talking about some actions being eternal is simply somewhat incorrect,” says Viktor Sharonov, a gruff Cossack ataman (leader), choosing his words carefully. “Then what call would the Scottish have to hold a referendum on separating from Great Britain?”

Sharonov was speaking on Apr. 8 at a meeting of Oskemen-based Russian community groups attended by EurasiaNet.org, where community leaders championed the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine and denounced what they perceive as Western meddling in Russia’s backyard.

“I personally, and our Cossacks, see this as the desire of Western countries … to totally do the dirty on Russia once again,” Sharonov said heatedly.

“Unfortunately real fascists, ultranationalists… have come to power in Kyiv,” obliging Moscow to intervene to defend Russian speakers’ rights, said Oleg Navozov, chairman of the LAD Slavic movement.

On one hand, the prevailing view among Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community, as articulated by Navozov, echoes Astana’s official line: Nazarbayev has called the government in Kyiv “neo-fascists” and railed against Ukraine’s “discrimination against minority rights,” winning him plaudits from these community leaders.

“Nazarbayev supported Russia in those actions aimed at protecting the rights of ethnic minorities in Ukraine and protecting its national interests,” said Nikolay Plakhotin of LAD approvingly.

On the other hand, Russian intervention in Ukraine leaves many in Kazakhstan wondering: What if Moscow decides Russian speakers here need protection?

This scenario is overwhelmingly rejected in Oskemen, where Russian speakers interviewed by EurasiaNet.org said without exception that Nazarbayev’s inclusive ethnic and linguistic policies rule it out.

“The situation in Kazakhstan is completely different to Ukraine,” Vadim Obukhov, deputy head of the Russian Cultural Centre, said. “We don’t have any confrontation between Kazakhs and Russians.”

As Nazarbayev juggles competing agendas, promoting the interests of the majority Kazakhs while protecting minority rights, “this balance is being maintained very competently,” said newspaper publisher Yevgeniy Cherkashin.

Nazarbayev’s pro-Kremlin stance in the Ukraine crisis is playing well in the Russian-speaking community in the north, although elsewhere critics vehemently attack it as a betrayal of national interests.

“In the consciousness of many Russians the northern part of Kazakhstan is Russian territory,” Almaty-based analyst Aydos Sarym told EurasiaNet.org, hence “as many Kazakhs understand it, this [official pro-Moscow] position is mistaken.”

In Oskemen some ethnic Kazakhs do “fear” a Russian land grab, albeit at some hazy point in the future, Kenzhebay, a middle-aged Oskemen resident who declined to give his surname, told EurasiaNet.org. Many also believe that close partnership with Russia offers Kazakhstan its best protection: Astana can best safeguard its sovereignty by acting as a friend to Moscow rather than foe.

Russians questioned on Oskemen’s city streets viewed the idea of Moscow encroaching on Kazakhstan as preposterous. “I don’t think Russia’s going to grab a piece of Kazakhstan – what would it want to do that for?” puzzled engineer Viktor Chernyshev.

“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here,” explains Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University. “It’s seen as an opportunity.”

From Oskemen, the Russian city of Novosibirsk is closer than Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, and locals flock over the border into Siberia to work and study – helped by Kazakhstan’s membership of the Russia-led Customs Union.

This free trade zone is to be transformed next month into the Eurasian Economic Union, amid vociferous opposition from Kazakh nationalists and liberals who fear Russian domination. But in northeastern Kazakhstan backing for the union is rock solid.

Vladimir Putin makes no secret of his nostalgia for the Soviet Union, or his vision of the union as a political vehicle promoting Russia-dominated post-Soviet integration; and some in Oskemen seem to share his dream.

The union represents “a return – perhaps not entirely, but nevertheless largely – to what existed in the Soviet Union,” suggested Navozov.

These words may be music to Putin’s ears, but perhaps not to Nazarbayev’s: he is suspicious of any political element to integration and has pledged not to cede “an iota” of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.

While looking to Russia for political and economic reference points, Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community is strongly loyal to Nazarbayev, seeing him not only as guarantor of minority rights but also as guarantor of political and social stability.

Ukraine-style unrest is impossible here, said Leonid Kartashev, president of the Russian National Cultural Centre, since “in Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev is legitimately elected, and in Kazakhstan there is a legitimate government.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/feed/ 0
Whales Find Good Company http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/whales-find-good-company/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whales-find-good-company http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/whales-find-good-company/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 06:51:40 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133634 Posters with the words “Do you know who caught your seafood?” are now appearing on buses, trains and other venues in Boston. They are part of a campaign organised by a coalition of U.S. environmental groups called Whales Need Us, to draw attention to the links between Icelandic whalers and fish sold in the U.S. […]

The post Whales Find Good Company appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Workers start to dismember a fin whale at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur, about 45 km north of Reykjavik. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS.

Workers start to dismember a fin whale at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur, about 45 km north of Reykjavik. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS.

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Posters with the words “Do you know who caught your seafood?” are now appearing on buses, trains and other venues in Boston. They are part of a campaign organised by a coalition of U.S. environmental groups called Whales Need Us, to draw attention to the links between Icelandic whalers and fish sold in the U.S.

A picture of a whale appears on the poster, together with the name of the website where those interested can find more information.“The campaign has contacted retailers, wholesalers and the food service industry across the U.S. to let them know that American consumers do not want to buy seafood from whalers."

The groups decided to focus on Boston because the launch of the campaign mid-March coincided with the opening of the North American Seafood Expo at the Boston Convention Centre.  Supporters picketed the stall of HB Grandi, one of Iceland’s largest fishing companies, asking onlookers to stop trading with the company because of its links with whaling.

The expo is the largest seafood trade event in North America.

At the start of the protest, fish consumers were requested to ask their local food retailers and restaurants to verify that their seafood products did not come from a source linked to Icelandic whaling.

“The campaign has contacted retailers, wholesalers and the food service industry across the U.S. to let them know that American consumers do not want to buy seafood from whalers, and asking for their help,” says Susan Millward, executive director of the Animal Welfare Institute, one of the organisations behind the Whales Need Us campaign.

On Mar. 18, the last day of the three-day expo, Canadian-U.S. seafood company High Liner Foods (HLF) announced it would discontinue trading with HB Grandi because of its whaling connections. It had been trading with the Icelandic company since October 2013.

Since the end of the expo, U.S. companies Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market have severed ties with Rhode Island-based Legacy Seafoods, another company that imports substantial quantities of fish from HB Grandi.

HLF say they do not have any existing contracts outstanding with HB Grandi, and are committed not to enter into any new contracts with them until they have fully divested their involvement and interest in whaling.

“Even though HLF’s policy is strict on not doing business with suppliers directly involved in whaling, it has nothing to do with individuals or shareholders of HB Grandi. We have no control over the ownership of privately or publicly owned companies in HLF’s supplier base,” Elvar Einarsson from High Liner’s procurement division tells IPS.

At the end of 2011, High Liner bought Icelandic Group’s U.S. and Asian operations. Icelandic Group also agreed to a seven-year licensing agreement with HLF for the use of the Icelandic Seafood brand in North American countries until 2018.

“For HLF the marketing and sales of seafood from Iceland under the brand Icelandic Seafood is an important part of our business. There will be no change on HLF’s procurement from its other Icelandic suppliers and hopefully HB Grandi’s circumstances will change so they will be able to become one of HLF’s suppliers again,” says Einarsson.

Last September, Kristjan Loftsson from the whaling company Hvalur increased his family’s shares in HB Grandi from 10.2 percent to 14.9 percent. On the HB Grandi website, Loftsson is listed as chairman of the board.

At the time, there was obviously some concern over the repercussions that this could have. The fishing website Undercurrent reported “an Icelandic industry player” as saying: “Hvalur is Iceland’s only whaling company, and it’s increasingly a controversial activity. It’s obviously a risk to a company selling wild fish that their ownership is closely connected to whaling.”

Vilhjalmur Vilhjalmsson, CEO for HB Grandi, has stated publicly that he will not speak to the press on the company’s trade with High Liner Foods. In a short press release issued by his company, he is quoted as saying: “We agree with the government’s policy on sensible utilisation of natural resources and have nothing to do with what operations individual shareholders choose to practise or not practise.”

But Millward emphasises that they are not trying to attack Icelandic fisheries as such. “The campaign is in no way meant as an attack on Iceland’s economy and is geared only at those companies linked to the Hvalur whaling company,” she says.

In 2011, President Barack Obama issued diplomatic sanctions on Iceland as part of the Pelly Amendment. The Whales Need Us coalition has once again made use of this.

“The campaign has also urged the public to contact President Obama, and ask that he take targeted action against Icelandic companies connected to whaling by invoking the Pelly Amendment, a tool promulgated by the U.S. Congress as a means of compelling compliance with international conservation treaties,” Millward told IPS.

To an extent, this policy worked. Obama has said that he would invoke the Pelly Amendment and instigate a number of measures aimed at Iceland. But once again, these measures appear to be diplomatic rather than trade sanctions, although they are more extensive than before.

Coincidentally, Icelandic Social Democratic MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir has just put forward a parliamentary proposal that calls for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

“The investigation will take into account both minke whales and fin whales,” she told IPS. “Are we prepared to sacrifice more for less, when there is growing opposition to whaling and Iceland is catching more whales than are deemed sustainable by the IWC [International Whaling Commission]?”

The IWC says that the annual sustainable catch for fin whales in the North Atlantic is 46, whereas Iceland has set a quota of 154.

Meanwhile, Loftsson and other Hvalur employees are becoming increasingly sensitive to outside criticism and have now removed the company phone numbers from ja.is, the Internet listing of Icelandic phone numbers.

The post Whales Find Good Company appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/whales-find-good-company/feed/ 1
Soaring Child Poverty – a Blemish on Spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 19:05:23 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133550 “I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, […]

The post Soaring Child Poverty – a Blemish on Spain appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

“I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, Manuel and Leónidas, 4 and 5, were evicted by the local authorities from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat – an old apartment building with a common courtyard that had been occupied by 13 families who couldn’t afford to pay rent. The evicted families included a dozen children.

Since then, she told IPS, her sons “don’t like the police because they think they stole their house.”

Spain has the second-highest child poverty rate in the European Union, following Romania, according to the report “The European Crisis and its Human Cost – A Call for Fair Alternatives and Solutions” released Mar. 27 in Athens by Caritas Europa.

Bulgaria is in third place and Greece in fourth, according to the Roman Catholic relief, development and social service organisation.

The austerity measures imposed in Europe, aggravated by the foreign debt, “have failed to solve problems and create growth,” said Caritas Europa’s Secretary General Jorge Nuño at the launch of the report.

“We’re doing ok. The kids are already pre-enrolled in school for the next school year,” said González, a native of Barcelona, who left the father of her sons in Italy when she discovered that “he mistreated them.”

She started over from scratch in Málaga, with no family, job or income, meeting basic needs thanks to the solidarity of social organisations and mutual support networks.

According to a report published this year by the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF, in 2012 more than 2.5 million children in Spain lived in families below the poverty line – 30 percent of all children.

UNICEF reported that 19 percent of children in Spain lived in households with annual incomes of less than 15,000 dollars.

“Child poverty is a reality in Spain, although politicians want to gloss over it and they don’t like us to talk about it because it’s associated with Third World countries,” the founder and president of the NGO Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace), Catholic priest Ángel García, told IPS.

Spain’s finance minister Cristóbal Montoro said on Mar. 28 that the information released by Caritas Europa “does not fully reflect reality” because it is based solely on “statistical measurements.”

But in Málaga “there are more and more mothers lining up to get food,” Ángel Meléndez, the president of Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche, told IPS.

Every day, his organisation provides 500 breakfasts, 1,600 lunches and 600 dinners to the poor.

For months, González and her sons have been taking their meals at the “Er Banco Güeno”, a community-run soup kitchen in the low-income Málaga neighbourhood of Palma-Palmilla, which operates out of a closed-down bank branch.

According to Father Ángel, child poverty “isn’t just about not being able to afford food, but also about not being able to buy school books or not buying new clothes in the last two years.”

“It’s about unequal opportunity among children,” he said.

The crisis in Spain is still severe. The country’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU: 25.6 percent in February, after Greece’s 27.5 percent.

In 2013, the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy approved a National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2013-2016, which includes the aim of reducing child poverty.

Caritas Europa reports that at least one and a half million households in Spain are suffering from severe social inclusion – 70 percent more than in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis broke out.

“Entire families end up on the street because they can’t afford to pay rent,” Rosa Martínez, the director of the Centro de Acogida Municipal, told IPS during a visit to the municipal shelter. “More people are asking for food. They’re even asking for diapers for newborns because they are in such a difficult situation.”

Of the nearly 26 percent of the economically active population out of jobs, half are young people, according to the National Statistics Institute, while the gap between rich and poor is growing.

As of late March, 4.8 million people were unemployed, according to official statistics. The figures also show that the proportion of jobless people with no source of income whatsoever has grown to four out of 10.

Social discontent has been fuelled by austerity measures that have entailed cutbacks in health, education and social protection.

A report on the Housing Emergency in the Spanish State, by the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) and the DESC Observatory, estimates that 70 percent of the families who have been, or are about to be, evicted include at least one minor.

“The right to equal opportunities is dead letter if children are ending up on the street,” José Cosín, a lawyer and activist with PAH Málaga, told IPS.

Cosín denounced the vulnerable situation of the children who were evicted along with their families from the Buenaventura corrala on Oct. 3, 2013.

Fifteen of the people who were evicted filed a lawsuit demanding respect of the children’s basic rights, as outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which went into effect in 1990.

The Convention establishes that states parties “shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”

The number of families in Spain with no source of income at all grew from 300,000 in mid-2007 to nearly 700,000 by late 2013, according to the report Precariedad y Cohesión Social; Análisis y Perspectivas 2014 (Precariousness and Social Cohesion; Analysis and Perspectives 2014), by Cáritas Española and the Fundación Foessa.

And 27 percent of households in Spain are supported by pensioners. Grown-up sons and daughters are moving back into their parents’ homes with their families, or retired grandparents are helping support their children and grandchildren, with their often meagre pensions.

“When times get rough, the social fabric is strengthened,” said González. She stressed the solidarity of different groups in Málaga who for three months helped her clean up and repair the apartment she is living in now, which is on the tenth floor of a building with no elevator, and was full of garbage and had no door, window panes or piped water.

González complained that government social services are underfunded and inefficient, and said she receives no assistance from them.

Like all young children, her sons ask her for things. But she explains to them that it is more important to spend eight euros on food than on two plastic fishes. It took her several weeks to save up money to buy the toys. Last Christmas she took them to a movie for the first time.

The post Soaring Child Poverty – a Blemish on Spain appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/feed/ 0
Ukraine Crisis Cements Astana in Russia’s Orbit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 18:10:23 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133492 The Crimea crisis is putting pressure on Kazakhstan’s long-standing, multi-vectored foreign policy, which has sought to balance the competing interests of Russia, China and the United States in Central Asia. In forcefully backing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, many in Kazakhstan worry that President Nursultan Nazarbayev could be setting himself up for separatist woes of his […]

The post Ukraine Crisis Cements Astana in Russia’s Orbit appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev shaking hands at a Kremlin meeting in December 2013. Credit: Kremlin Presidential Press and Information Office - CC BY 3.0

Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev shaking hands at a Kremlin meeting in December 2013. Credit: Kremlin Presidential Press and Information Office - CC BY 3.0

By Joanna Lillis
ASTANA, Apr 7 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The Crimea crisis is putting pressure on Kazakhstan’s long-standing, multi-vectored foreign policy, which has sought to balance the competing interests of Russia, China and the United States in Central Asia.

In forcefully backing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, many in Kazakhstan worry that President Nursultan Nazarbayev could be setting himself up for separatist woes of his own.“Kazakhstan’s position is dictated not so much by creed as by fear… Events in Crimea are a possible scenario for Kazakhstan too.” -- Aidos Sarym

At the Nuclear Security Summit on Mar. 25 in The Hague, Nazarbayev jumped off the diplomatic fence to offer strong support for Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, the architect of the Crimean land-grab.

Nazarbayev essentially blamed Ukraine’s new leaders for precipitating the crisis, saying that “an unconstitutional coup d’etat” had occurred in Kiev. He also noted there had been “discrimination against minority rights” in Ukraine, thus providing diplomatic cover for Russia’s position that it intervened to protect Russians in Crimea.

Outraged officials in Kiev called Nazarbayev’s remarks “unacceptable;” A Kazakhstani Foreign Ministry representative quickly retorted that the Ukrainian reaction was “dictated largely by emotions, and not common sense.”

The occasion marked Kiev’s second protest within a week: on Mar. 20 it complained about Astana’s recognition of the Mar. 16 Crimean referendum, which Russia proceeded to use as justification of its annexation of the peninsula.

On Mar. 27, Kazakhstan abstained in a vote against a U.N. resolution declaring the plebiscite invalid.

The crisis is placing considerable strain on Nazarbayev’s “multi-vector” approach, which is premised on the maintenance of good relations with all powers.

The policy, along with an abundance of natural resources, has raised Kazakhstan’s international profile during the post-Soviet era. Nazarbayev’s recent statements, however, are leading Kazakhstan into a “political and diplomatic blind alley,” cautioned opposition leader Amirzhan Kosanov.

“Kazakhstan has basically lost its independence in assessing events taking place in the world and, wittingly or unwittingly, is becoming hostage to the foreign policy pursued by the Kremlin,” Kosanov told EurasiaNet.org.

Kosanov is far from the only one worried. Kazakhstan’s pro-Russian stance is causing widespread consternation at home, where critics fret that Putin’s doctrine of intervening to protect Russian speakers in Crimea could eventually be applied to Kazakhstan – albeit in circumstances currently unimaginable, since Astana and Moscow are close allies and Russian speakers’ rights are guaranteed.

Northern Kazakhstan is home to a sizable Russian minority.

The similarities between Kazakhstan and Ukraine are blinding: both are post-Soviet states sharing long borders with Russia, with large ethnic Russian minorities (22 percent of the population in Kazakhstan’s case).

“Kazakhstan’s position is dictated not so much by creed as by fear… Events in Crimea are a possible scenario for Kazakhstan too,” Almaty-based analyst Aidos Sarym told EurasiaNet.org.

Hyperbolic headlines splashed across Kazakhstan’s press illustrate the apprehensions.

“Is Kazakhstan Threatened With Occupation Tomorrow?” thundered the Assandi Times. “Is Kazakhstan Being Dragged Into Someone Else’s War?” wondered Adam Bol magazine.

“Supporting the precedent of the actual annexation of Crimea from sovereign Ukraine, Akorda [the presidential administration] is itself encouraging possible separatist sentiments within the country,” said Kosanov.

Dosym Satpayev, director of the Almaty-based Risks Assessment Group think tank, suggested that Nazarbayev’s backing of Russia over Ukraine may represent what he sees as the lesser of two evils: for the 73-year-old president, in power for over two decades, his fear of domestic dissent seems to be overwhelming any concern that “separatist sentiments could be possible in Kazakhstan itself.”

“That means fears of revolutions and coups turned out to be higher for Kazakhstan’s leadership than fear of the threat of separatism,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Unfazed by Nazarbayev’s pro-Kremlin stance, Western leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Francois Hollande lined up to meet him in The Hague.

This suggests that Kazakhstan still retains lots of diplomatic wiggle room to get back squarely on a multi-vector track. As well as eyeing Kazakhstan’s oil and gas reserves, Western leaders may be hoping the veteran Kazakhstani leader can exert a behind-the-scenes, calming influence on the irascible Putin.

In a nod to Western sentiment and Kiev’s sensibilities, Astana has mixed pro-Russian pronouncements with statements on the need to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty, performing what Sarym calls a “verbal balancing act.”

The nuclear summit also offered Nazarbayev a PR opportunity to note the contrasts between Kazakhstan and Ukraine, says Satpayev, and laud “Kazakhstan’s domestic political and inter-ethnic stability.”

Nazarbayev has consistently made clear that, multi-vector policy notwithstanding, he considers Russia to be Kazakhstan’s main geostrategic ally. Beyond the politics of such a position lie glaring economic realities.

Russia is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, last year accounting for 36 percent of imports worth 17.6 billion dollars and seven percent of exports worth 5.8 billion dollars.

The trade balance may be in Russia’s favour, but – crucially for Kazakhstan – while most trading partners buy oil, Russia is a major consumer of non-oil exports.

Kazakhstan is also tied into economic cooperation with Russia through their membership of the Customs Union, a trilateral free trade zone with Belarus which is due to sign an agreement in May to expand into the Eurasian Economic Union from 2015.

For Putin, Ukraine’s tilt westward has infused his Eurasian Union vision with even greater political significance. Nazarbayev is a strong backer of Eurasian integration (he first proposed the idea of a Eurasian Union in 1994) – but he nowadays views the political element of integration with suspicion.

In The Hague he took pains to stress that Kazakhstan has a “purely pragmatic economic interest” in the union, which, as he pointed out, allows his landlocked country tariff-free access to the Black Sea through Russia.

Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that, in addition to political and economic factors, there is a “mental factor” contributing Kazakhstan’s support for Russia, suggests Sarym: many in the Astana political elite (including Nazarbayev) have held top posts since the Soviet era, and in their worldview, “Moscow is the center of the world and the Kremlin is a cultural mecca.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specialises in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post Ukraine Crisis Cements Astana in Russia’s Orbit appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit/feed/ 0
Italian Doctors Abort a Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/italy-aborts-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=italy-aborts-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/italy-aborts-law/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 07:19:47 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133355 Two out of three doctors in Italy are ‘conscientious objectors’ to abortion, according to new data. The Italian Ministry of Health reveals that in 2011, 69.3 percent of doctors refused to carry out abortions, with peaks of over 85 percent in some regions. In the face of such numbers, the ruling of the European Committee […]

The post Italian Doctors Abort a Law appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A demonstration in support of abortion rights in Dublin. Credit: Irish Family Planning Association.

A demonstration in support of abortion rights in Dublin. Credit: Irish Family Planning Association.

By Silvia Giannelli
ROME, Apr 5 2014 (IPS)

Two out of three doctors in Italy are ‘conscientious objectors’ to abortion, according to new data. The Italian Ministry of Health reveals that in 2011, 69.3 percent of doctors refused to carry out abortions, with peaks of over 85 percent in some regions.

In the face of such numbers, the ruling of the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe against Italy earlier this month over a complaint for violating the right to protection of health came as no surprise.“Many doctors object simply because they have nothing to gain from doing this extra work.”

“The Italian situation really worries us, and this is why we filed the complaint,” Irene Donadio, advocacy officer at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF_EN) told IPS. “We believe that there is a problem with the functioning and application of the abortion law, which, in fact, would be a good law but is often violated.

“We acknowledge the fact that the right to conscientious objection is included in the same law, but the right of women to access a service that is legal and fundamental for their health needs to be respected as much as this right.”

IPPF_EN sees the high number of conscientious objectors in Italy as the main cause behind refusal of women’s right to termination of pregnancy.

IPPF_EN, with the help of several Italian associations, presented to the Committee a scenario of never-ending waiting lists and arbitrary suspensions of the service. It listed many instances where women were forced to travel for abortions within the country or to go abroad.

“According to data from the Ministry of Health, the number of voluntary interruptions of pregnancy per year is around 110,000,” Giuseppe Noia, president of the Italian Association of Catholic Gynaecologists Obstetricians (AIGOC) told IPS.

“If we consider that there are about 1,500 non-objecting physicians, each physician carries out around 74 abortions per year, that is an average of five or six per month. The fact that non-objectors are overloaded and cannot guarantee an efficient system is therefore absolutely false,” Noia said.

In its response to the Council, the Ministry had said that due to a decline in abortions, “the workload for non-objecting doctors was cut by half in the last 30 years” and therefore “it appears difficult…to maintain that the high number of conscientious objectors would be an obstacle for accessing the interruption of pregnancy.”

The ministry’s note does not elaborate on the geographical distribution of objectors across the country. This is what, according to the Council of Europe, creates a disparity in treatment depending on where the woman seeking an abortion resides.

In the southern region of Basilicata, according to official data, 85.2 percent of physicians are conscientious objectors, in Apulia they account for 79.4 percent of the total, and in Sicily 81.7 percent.

“The situation is generally worse in the South, but also Lombardy [in the north bordering Switzerland] has serious problems, and we know that this is because is a not very laic region,” Silvana Agatone, president of  the Free Italian Association of Gynaecologists for the Application of Law 194 (LAIGA) told IPS. Law 194 is the law that regulates abortion in Italy.

The decrease in abortions claimed is subject to different interpretations. The ministry maintains that this is due to “the promotion of a higher and more efficacious recourse to conscious procreation.” But Marilisa D’Amico, a lawyer who was involved in presenting the complaint, says that the increase of cases of spontaneous abortions, or miscarriages, “can only be explained as an increase of clandestine abortions” presented as miscarriages. There were less than 57,000 such abortions in 1990, 68,000 in 2000 and more than 76,000 in 2011, according to ISTAT.

The official figures show a constant increase in the number of miscarriages through recent years.

LAIGA provided a list of 45 hospitals that have a gynaecology unit but do not perform terminations of pregnancy, disregarding Article 9 of the Italian law on abortion. This article states that hospital establishments and authorised nursing homes shall ensure that procedures for the termination of pregnancy are guaranteed.

Clandestine abortions continue to take place, says Massimo Srebot, head of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Lotti Hospital of Pontedera in Tuscany region, the first structure in Italy to introduce RU-486, a pill that blocks the action of the hormone progesterone in order to cause abortion without surgical intervention.

“Women who find obstacles in public hospitals seek alternative channels with physicians who, upon receiving a bribe, are willing to simulate a spontaneous abortion. These are conscientious objectors only when they have to work for free. They turn a blind an eye to their conscience in their private clinics.”

Srebot says “many doctors object simply because they have nothing to gain from doing this extra work.” Also, “carrying out abortions doesn’t help a doctor’s professional career because it is not a high-level specialisation operation.”

Srebot has proposed new solutions to ensure the respect of Law 194. One option would be to nominate a non-objector as a sub-head physician for every public hospital.

“I truly respect the real conscientious objectors, but there are those who speculate on women’s difficult situations, they don’t sustain them, they don’t help them preventing further incidents, they only wait for them to get pregnant again, so they once again cash in.”

The post Italian Doctors Abort a Law appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/italy-aborts-law/feed/ 1
Discomfort over Crimea Annexation Among Emerging Powers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 00:00:17 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133437 Last month’s annexation by Russia of Crimea and the West’s reaction have placed emerging regional powers, which have generally supported Moscow’s position on key geopolitical developments, in a difficult position, according to U.S. analysts. Moscow’s move, which followed its de facto military takeover of the peninsula and a snap referendum on joining Russia of the […]

The post Discomfort over Crimea Annexation Among Emerging Powers appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Crowds waving Crimean and Russian flags in Simferopol in Crimea after the referendum. Credit: Alexey Yakushechkin/IPS

Crowds waving Crimean and Russian flags in Simferopol in Crimea after the referendum. Credit: Alexey Yakushechkin/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 5 2014 (IPS)

Last month’s annexation by Russia of Crimea and the West’s reaction have placed emerging regional powers, which have generally supported Moscow’s position on key geopolitical developments, in a difficult position, according to U.S. analysts.

Moscow’s move, which followed its de facto military takeover of the peninsula and a snap referendum on joining Russia of the mainly Russian-speaking population there, has also underlined differences within the so-called BRICS bloc, which includes Brazil, India, China, and South Africa, as well as Russia.“They don’t want to be pulled into a fight between the big dogs." -- Rajan Menon

Rather than vote with Moscow, the four non-Russian BRICS members all abstained on last week’s vote at the U.N. General Assembly, which affirmed the world body’s commitment to recognise Crimea as part of Ukraine and declared the snap referendum, which took place in mid-March, invalid.

China abstained on a similar resolution in the U.N. Security Council on the eve of the referendum. Russia cast the lone veto.

“I think the Chinese decision to abstain, rather than back Russia, was a very significant decision,” said Bruce Jones, who directs the Brookings Institution’s International Order and Strategy project.

“The Chinese and the Russians have long paired up in their willingness to back each other in vetoes, and, for an issue as important as this, with the Russians putting as much emphasis on this as they did, for the Chinese to abstain was a really significant signal that they were not willing to simply close their eyes to Moscow’s action,” he told IPS.

“Overall this is an event that will sow discord within the BRICS’ grouping and will make the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, and others think more carefully about their support for and partnership with Russia,” according to Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Moscow’s annexation, which has been countered by a series of still-escalating economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed by U.S.-led Western nations, has provoked considerable division among both the non-Russian BRICS, as well as other members of the Non-Aligned Nations.

While only 11 countries – all of them either closely allied to Russia or reflexively anti-U.S. in foreign policy orientation – voted against the resolution, 58 countries, including the four BRICS members, as well as other politically significant countries such as Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Uganda, and Vietnam, abstained.

One hundred countries voted in favour, including all European Union (EU) members, Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia, and most of Latin America and the Gulf Arab states.

Two dozen countries didn’t show up, including several important countries with strong interests in alienating neither Russia nor the West, including several Central Asian nations with large Russian-speaking minorities.

Israel, which habitually aligns itself with Washington, and Iran, which normally opposes it but is now engaged in critical negotiations with the West over its nuclear programme, were both no-shows.

While Western leaders appear resigned to the irreversibility of Russian control of Crimea, they are hoping that what they see as the steadily rising economic and political costs incurred by Moscow – including capital flight and NATO commitments to move military assets further east toward the Russian border — will dissuade President Vladimir Putin from further adventurism either against Ukraine or in Russian-speaking areas of Romania and Moldova. Whether that works remains to be seen.

But the precedent-creating nature of Russia’s takeover – its use of military force (albeit without bloodshed), the violation of territorial integrity of a nation with internationally recognised borders, and its justification that Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population faced persecution and discrimination from what Moscow considers a regime that had illegally seized power against an elected president – has clearly troubled many nations, especially those with significant disaffected minorities.

“What is most threatening is that most states in the world are not homogenous,” said Rajan Menon, who teaches international relations at City University of New York (CUNY).

“India is a highly diverse nation, as is China and, in a way, South Africa, too. So the idea of holding a referendum to become separate states is naturally very troubling to them.”

“I think the other BRICS were all in their way quite uncomfortable with Russia’s moves in Crimea, but they’re also quite uncomfortable with the West using sanctions because they’re all quite vulnerable to that political weapon,” noted Jones, author of a just released book on the global order, ‘Still Ours to Lead: America, Rising Powers, and the Tension Between Rivalry and Restraint’.

The latter was demonstrated in the approval by the BRICS foreign ministers March 24 of a statement in which they rejected the reported suggestion by the foreign minister of Australia, which will host the next G20 summit in Brisbane in November, that Russia should be suspended or expelled form the group.

“The escalation of hostile language, sanctions and counter-sanctions, and force does not contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution, according to international law, including the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter,” the statement said.

While some commentators interpreted the statement as backing Moscow, Jones noted that the foreign ministers rejected language in support of the annexation that had been sought by Russia.

“That goes to the core issue of the BRICS,” he said. “They’re strategically divided at the same time that they are unified in wanting to resist the West’s using its economic leverage to pressure them.”

Moreover, he added, the idea that Russia is leading anti-Western bloc – a theme raised by more right-wing voices here since the Crimea invasion – is “nonsense.”

Indeed, Kupchan, author of a 2012 book on world order, ‘No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn’, told IPS he thinks the Western powers have gained in the international arena as a result of the Crimea crisis.

“Even though emerging powers are reluctant to align themselves clear with the West on this front, I think that they are for the most part on board with the Western response,” he said. “And the fact that so few countries have recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimes speak for itself.”

According to Menon, the BRICS want above all “a world with multiple centres of power,” a point that applies in particular to the less powerful BRICS members, namely India, Brazil, and South Africa, as well as other emerging powers.

“They don’t want to be pulled into a fight between the big dogs,” he told IPS. “They want maximum flexibility, a kind of strategic ambiguity, if you will.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

The post Discomfort over Crimea Annexation Among Emerging Powers appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers/feed/ 1
Russia Expelled From G8, but G20? Not So Fast http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 21:42:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133357 When Western powers, led by the United States, decided to throw Russia out of the Group of 8 (G8) industrial nations, it was aimed at punishing and “isolating” President Vladimir Putin for his intervention in Ukraine and “annexation” of Crimea. “What’s next? Expel Russia from the United Nations and the G20?” an Asian diplomat jokingly […]

The post Russia Expelled From G8, but G20? Not So Fast appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Russian President Vladimir Putin awaits leaders arriving for the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg on Sep. 5, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Russian President Vladimir Putin awaits leaders arriving for the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg on Sep. 5, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

When Western powers, led by the United States, decided to throw Russia out of the Group of 8 (G8) industrial nations, it was aimed at punishing and “isolating” President Vladimir Putin for his intervention in Ukraine and “annexation” of Crimea.

“What’s next? Expel Russia from the United Nations and the G20?” an Asian diplomat jokingly asked one of his colleagues at the U.N. delegate’s lounge last week, hinting at what could only be construed as a Western political fantasy.The procedure the G7 followed to transform itself to G8 in 1998 (with the inclusion of Russia) was as opaque as the process that led to Moscow’s virtual expulsion.

The G8 move was pretty tame because it was a decision taken by seven Western industrial nations: the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan, along with the European Union.

But Russia is also a member of the G20, a coalition of both developed and developing countries, as well as the economic powerhouse called BRICS (comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Australia has reportedly warned that Russia may be excluded from the next G20 summit meeting in Brisbane in November. But that is more easily said than done.

On the sidelines of last week’s Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, the foreign ministers of BRICS warned Australia against any such action.

In a statement released during the summit, the foreign ministers of BRICS said “the custodianship of the G20 belongs to all member states equally and no one member state can unilaterally determine its nature and character.”

The G20 members include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and the European Union (EU).

At a General Assembly vote last Friday, on a resolution implicitly critical of Russia on the upheaval in Ukraine, Russia’s four BRICS partners abstained, joining 54 others.

The final vote was 100 for the resolution, 11 against, but with 58 abstentions in an Assembly with 193 votes.

Chakravarthi Raghavan, editor-emeritus of the Geneva-based South-North Development Monitor, told IPS, “The G7/G8 and the G20 are at best self-appointed informal gatherings, without any legitimacy, mere costly annual exercises, where occasionally side-event meetings are of some help.”

He pointed out that the G7/G8 originally came into being in the wake of the oil crisis to tackle economic issues and promote a dialogue of the G5/G7 with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to promote agreements and avoid confrontations.

Soon, it became clear the G7 process was not effective, and the initial aim of informal but frank and spontaneous exchange of views among the leaders failed.

“Their own bureaucracies and ministries in governments did not want this process to move forward,” said Raghavan, a veteran journalist and a former editor-in-chief of Press Trust of India (PTI) who has covered the United Nations, both in Geneva and New York, for several decades.

But instead of abandoning the annual meetings, he said, the G7 continued to meet, with the original economic focus lost, and with costly preparations and meetings of “sherpas”, where the gatherings themselves became too formalised, and where the outcome had been already decided or agreed to at the lowest common measure of accord.

He also pointed out that the G7/G8 increasingly began pronouncing themselves on all kinds of subjects – with none of the leaders able to ensure the decisions were carried out in their own countries.

Vijay Prashad, author of “The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South”, told IPS the procedure the G7 followed to transform itself to G8 in 1998 (with the inclusion of Russia) was as opaque as the process that led to Moscow’s virtual expulsion.

The Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA) came together in 1974 to consolidate their response to the major thrust from the Third World Project: an assault of the oil weapon of 1973 that consolidated in the U.N. General Assembly resolution 3201 in May 1974 for a New International Economic Order (NIEO).

The G7 was formed, as former U.S. President Gerald Ford put it, “to ensure that the current world economic situation is not seen as a crisis in the democratic or capitalist system,” Prashad said.

“It had to be seen as a momentary shock, not a systematic challenge,” he added.

The collapse of the Third World Project, the rise of a new International Monetary Fund (IMF)-driven neo-liberal dispensation and the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) moved the G7 to welcome battered Russia into its arms, said Prashad, who is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

Membership in the G7 came with the promise that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) would not move one step closer to Russia than the German border, he added.

Raghavan told IPS the annual G20 meeting pronounces itself on a range of political, economic and other arenas — but with less and less effect — whether (as they have done several times) for concluding Doha trade negotiations or other areas.

Some of their views on global financial stability – addressed to the Bank of International Settlements – have factually been very diluted in actual decisions and norms because of the lobbying of the big financial groups, both in New York and London, said Raghavan, author of the just released “Third World in the Third Millennium”.

Prashad said when the credit crisis startled the West in 2007, the G8 hastened to China and India, asking for funds.

If the money came – as it did – the G8 would wind up its operations and the G20 (with Brazil, China, India and South Africa as members) would take over as the effective executive managers of planetary affairs – which it did not, he added.

The G20 had been formed during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 to ward off any nationalistic reactions to that crash.

“As the Western stock markets rallied by 2011, the promise was forgotten,” he said.

The G8 continued – much to the chagrin of the BRICS bloc, which had assumed it would now share power.

They agree the West’s move east is dangerous, and it is unlikely they will allow for the expulsion of Russia from the G20 – itself of limited consequence, he noted.

The post Russia Expelled From G8, but G20? Not So Fast appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast/feed/ 1
With U.S. Taking Off, Kyrgyzstan Mulls Selling Airports to Russia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-taking-kyrgyzstan-mulls-selling-airports-russia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-taking-kyrgyzstan-mulls-selling-airports-russia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-taking-kyrgyzstan-mulls-selling-airports-russia/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 18:32:23 +0000 Asel Kalybekova http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133352 Russia’s state-run oil giant Rosneft wants to purchase a majority stake in the state-controlled company that owns all of Kyrgyzstan’s civilian airports. The negotiations are stoking concern in some circles in Bishkek about the potential risk to Kyrgyzstan’s sovereignty. But with its entrenched corruption, poor governance and remote location, the Central Asian country has few […]

The post With U.S. Taking Off, Kyrgyzstan Mulls Selling Airports to Russia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Georgian soldiers congregate at the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan en route to Afghanistan in late September 2013. As U.S. troops, which began using the airport near Bishkek in 2001, close down their operations, Rosneft, Russia's state-controlled oil giant, wants to grab a majority stake. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Georgian soldiers congregate at the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan en route to Afghanistan in late September 2013. As U.S. troops, which began using the airport near Bishkek in 2001, close down their operations, Rosneft, Russia's state-controlled oil giant, wants to grab a majority stake. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Asel Kalybekova
BISHKEK, Apr 1 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Russia’s state-run oil giant Rosneft wants to purchase a majority stake in the state-controlled company that owns all of Kyrgyzstan’s civilian airports.

The negotiations are stoking concern in some circles in Bishkek about the potential risk to Kyrgyzstan’s sovereignty. But with its entrenched corruption, poor governance and remote location, the Central Asian country has few other options.

Rosneft’s takeover target is a company called Manas International Airport, named for the largest of the airfields under its control. In addition to Manas, which is situated outside Bishkek, the company operates 10 smaller (mostly non-functional) airports around the country.

The Manas facility has hosted a U.S. military base for almost 13 years, but the troops are packing up and are due to leave by July. Without the American spending, Kyrgyz officials argue, the company, which is 79 percent state-owned, will go into the red.

In February, Igor Sechin – Rosneft’s chairman, and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin – and Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev (who has since been appointed acting prime minster) signed a non-binding memorandum on Rosneft’s intentions to purchase at least 51 percent of Manas’ shares.

In the memo, Rosneft also promises to spend up to a billion dollars for the shares and to create “a large-scale international logistics hub.”

In a separate document, Rosneft expresses its intentions to purchase 50 percent of fuel-distribution operations at Osh airport, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest, and acquire the Bishkek Oil Company, a private company that runs a network of filling stations in Bishkek.

Manas Vice President Dair Tokobaev admits that Manas’ economic prognosis is grim unless it can find a new revenue stream to offset the closure of the American base. “We have a lot of problems. We need an investor,” Tokobaev told EurasiaNet.org.

Since 2010, when Kyrgyzstan’s government began insisting the Americans would have to leave, officials have floated the idea of turning Manas into a civilian transportation hub serving cargo and passengers transiting Asia.

In the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, President Almazbek Atambayev has made reconstruction and modernization of the country’s airports, and the creation of a global hub, one of his administration’s top priorities.

In a Mar. 27 television interview, Atambayev threw his support behind the Rosneft initiative, reasoning that Kyrgyzstan basically had no other choice. Inexpensive fuel is necessary for the airport to develop and only Rosneft is able to provide it, he said.

“Those screaming that any percent cannot be given to Rosneft, all the more so 51 percent, they, in fact, want to put an end to the future of Manas,” Bishkek’s Kloop.kg news agency quoted the president as saying.

In recent years, Russian state-controlled companies have moved aggressively to gobble up key Kyrgyz assets.

In December, for example, Moscow’s state-run giant Gazprom acquired ailing Kyrgyzgaz, which manages Kyrgyzstan’s gas-distribution network, for the symbolic price of one dollar. (Gazprom promised to invest 600 million dollars into the network and also assumed 38 million in debt.)

During discussions of the sale last summer, Kyrgyzgaz chief Turgunbek Kulmurzayev told local newspaper Vechernii Bishkek that the company was “bankrupt” and “had no other choice” but to sell.

Another Kremlin-controlled company, RusHydro, started construction of a 400-million-dollar hydroelectric cascade last June. Moreover, Russia’s state-run Inter RAO has promised to build an estimated two-billion-dollar hydropower dam, Kambara-Ata-1, further upstream on the Naryn River.

Such deals are viewed warily by some experts in Bishkek. Most readily acknowledge that Moscow is destined to exert considerable influence over Bishkek, given that Kyrgyz labour migrants in Russia generate the equivalent of about one-third of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP, and a large contingent of Russian troops are stationed in the Central Asian state.

But the steady stream of sales of state assets is making it much more difficult for Kyrgyz officials to steer an independent course.

Bishkek-based analyst Marat Kazakpaev argues that while Kyrgyzstan needs foreign investment, it should strive to attract private investors. He believes that Russia, with the recent string of deals, is expanding its geopolitical influence in the region and sees Bishkek as its foothold.

“The fact that Rosneft is a state-owned company gives this memorandum a political context. This is not business, this is politics,” Kazakpaev told EurasiaNet.org.

The challenge for Kyrgyzstan at present is that its reputation for widespread corruption and political volatility is frightening potential Western investors away.

“Let’s admit it frankly, if there will be investment, it will be from Russia. We won’t get any investment from the West,” economist Meimanbek Abdyldaev told Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz Service. Rosneft’s interest in Manas “can be regarded as a forerunner to [Kyrgyzstan’s] entrance into the [Russia-led] Customs Union.”

Though the Rosneft memorandum is not legally binding – and any final deal to sell state-assets must be ratified by parliament – on Mar. 20, a small group of protestors gathered outside the legislature.

Rights activist Gulshaiyr Abdirasulova told Kloop.kg that Manas is a “strategic object. It’s the people’s welfare and wealth. We’re not against investments that will develop the airport, but [we want investment] without giving away a controlling stake.”

Parliamentarian Dastan Bekeshev supported the demonstrators. “If one wants to attract investors, one does it not through sale, but through opening a joint venture,” he was quoted as saying.

Rosneft did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Neither did Russia’s Transport Ministry, which is helping negotiate the deal.

Tokobaev at Manas agrees that the airport is a strategic object, but for him development is more critical than the funding source. Without investors like Rosneft, “we will be left feasting our eyes on [Manas] like a cultural memorial. Should we let it be gouged and plundered and stay Kyrgyz, or should we save and develop it together with someone?”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post With U.S. Taking Off, Kyrgyzstan Mulls Selling Airports to Russia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-taking-kyrgyzstan-mulls-selling-airports-russia/feed/ 0
Ukraine-Crimea – The Solution Is a Federation with High Autonomy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crimea-solution-federation-high-autonomy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ukraine-crimea-solution-federation-high-autonomy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crimea-solution-federation-high-autonomy/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 18:19:56 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133351 In this column, Johan Galtung, rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University and author of "50 Years - 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives" (www.transcend.org/tup), writes about the situation in Ukraine and Crimea and possible solutions.

The post Ukraine-Crimea – The Solution Is a Federation with High Autonomy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

In this column, Johan Galtung, rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University and author of "50 Years - 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives" (www.transcend.org/tup), writes about the situation in Ukraine and Crimea and possible solutions.

By Johan Galtung
ALFAZ, Spain , Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

History, not only law, matters: like how Crimea and Abkhazia-South Ossetia – basically Russian-Orthodox – became Ukrainian and Georgian, respectively.

Two Soviet dictators, Nikita Khrushchev and Joseph Stalin, transferred Crimea to Ukraine and Abkhazia-South Ossetia to Georgia by dictate. The local people were not asked – just as Hawaiians were not consulted when the U.S. annexed their kingdom in 1898.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

The first referendum in Crimea, held Mar. 16, resulted in an overwhelming No to Ukraine and Yes to the Russian Federation.

Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea was within the Soviet Union, and under Red Army control. But when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Red Army became the Russian army, the conditions changed.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush wanted Ukraine and Georgia to become NATO members, moving the Russian minorities two steps away from Russia. Nothing similar applies to the other Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics. They are people living on somebody else’s land, not people living on their own land.

What happened to Crimea was a correction of what had become a basic mistake. However, Russia moving into eastern Ukraine could be – as the West says – invasion-occupation-annexation.

But that would be highly unlikely, unless civil war broke out between Ukraine West and East, and the Russian minority in the East – Donetsk – was in danger. Russia would not stand by, just as NATO would not if something similar happened close to the Polish border in Lvov.

This simply must not happen, but the possibility is growing.

President Vladimir Putin has the formula: a Ukrainian federation. Look at the maps, for instance the votes for Yulia Tymoshenko in the West and North and for Viktor Yanukovych in East and South Ukraine in the 2010 elections.

Elections decided by longitude-latitude mean two countries, and yet there is also just one.

The solution: a federation with high levels of autonomy for both parts. Educated guess: it will happen.

This is where Putin made his basic mistake: he moved too fast. He is more intelligent -better informed, more able to manage many factors mentally at the same time – than Western leaders. Others are slower; they need more time.

A referendum is the right of any people regardless of what the law says, a serious act under freedom of expression – whether in Crimea (illegal), Scotland (legal), Catalonia in Spain (illegal). What then happens is a very different matter. If people vote for a divorce, then so be it. But make it clean. Putin has made it dirty so far – but the situation can be
remedied.

Putin should have called a conference right after the referendum, before any annexation, making it clear that he would respect the call for Crimea’s entry into the Russian Federation, but would take the concerns of everyone touched directly by the outcome seriously.

The Tatars are Muslims, not Orthodox. Not unlike the Serbs in Kosovo, who are Orthodox, not Muslim like the Albanian majority. Respect them, offer them the dignity of autonomy within Crimea, try to amend the horrors perpetrated against them in the past, be open to reconciliation.

The Ukrainians in Crimea, soldiers or civilians: If firmly rooted, invite them to stay; if garrisoned soldiers, invite them to leave peacefully before any annexation makes it look like surrender.

The Russian-speaking in Ukraine (16 percent): Leave the door open for a Crimean-style process with referendum and annexation if they so wish – but make it clear that the West of Ukraine would have the same right.

Providing a neutral buffer might be better for all. How could the European Union-Russia-NATO-Shanghai Cooperation Organisation cooperate to make that a reality?

Let them benefit jointly from the offers to make them lean one way or the other, towards the EU or towards Russia. Could the West do one, and the East the other?

The how, when, where and by whom to be discussed at the conference.

Kievan-Rus: Yes, there are Russian origins in the Ukrainian capital. This does not give Russia a legitimate claim to Kiev, just as origin does not give Israel legitimate claim to Palestinian land even if the West accepts it, origin does not give Serbia legitimate claim to all of Kosovo, and origin does not give Damascus-Baghdad legitimate claims in Southern Spain.

European borders have shifted a great deal; there are many origins to claim.

Sanctions against selected individuals: Make it clear that Russia has not and will not kill anybody if not attacked, and that sanctions may also one day be applied to individuals who launch aggressive, not defensive wars, such as the one in Afghanistan; admit that the Russian invasion there was also a mistake.

Kosova/o. The Albanians based on an overwhelming majority took Kosovo out of Serbia, but they did not have the right to take the Serbian minority with them – a good reason for not recognising Kosova. The solution is a federation with high autonomy for Serbs.

Now Putin has to show his willingness to do that for the Tatars and then recognise Kosovo – asking them to use Yugo-space as he will use the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
(END/IPS)

The post Ukraine-Crimea – The Solution Is a Federation with High Autonomy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crimea-solution-federation-high-autonomy/feed/ 0
The Uses of Ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/uses-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uses-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/uses-ukraine/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 23:38:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133188 The observation that the Chinese characters for the word “crisis” combine the characters for “danger” and “opportunity” has become a staple of Washington foreign policy discourse for years. So it’s no surprise that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine – and Russia’s de facto absorption of Crimea – provides lots of “opportunities” for various interests to […]

The post The Uses of Ukraine appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

The observation that the Chinese characters for the word “crisis” combine the characters for “danger” and “opportunity” has become a staple of Washington foreign policy discourse for years.

So it’s no surprise that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine – and Russia’s de facto absorption of Crimea – provides lots of “opportunities” for various interests to push their favourite causes.The notion of a new Cold War appeared to offer all kinds of opportunities for those interests nostalgic for the financial and bureaucratic benefits which it wrought.

Of course, that begins with Republicans who have used the crisis – and President Barack Obama’s failure to anticipate, prevent or reverse it – as an opportunity to pound away at his alleged naivete, weakness and spinelessness, a theme which the party’s still-dominant neo-conservative faction has been hyping since even before his 2009 inauguration.

“(T)his is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America’s strength anymore,” declared Sen. John McCain, Obama’s Republican rival back in 2008, before an audience of some 14,000 activists of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) earlier this month.

At the same time, the neo-conservative editorial board at the Wall Street Journal has kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism, comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter, rendered seemingly helpless in 1979 by the hostage seizure in Iran, the overthrow of the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist, Bret Stephens, suggested that Obama slap tough sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and business elite (steps the White House began taking last week) to force the Russian leader to back down.

“Only a president as inept as Barack Obama could fail to seize the opportunity to win, or even wage, the new Cold War all over again,” according to Stephens.

Indeed, the notion of a new Cold War appeared to offer all kinds of opportunities for those interests nostalgic for the financial and bureaucratic benefits which it wrought.

While arms manufacturers have opted to remain in the background – lest their enthusiasm for a return to the golden age of sky-high defence budgets appear too obvious, even vulgar – their representatives in Congress and sympathetic think tanks have not been so constrained.

Thus, Amb. Eric Edelman (ret.), who served as Pentagon undersecretary for policy under George W. Bush, called last week for “a large increase in the defence budget, much like the one Jimmy Carter obtained after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

“A jolt to the budget …would signal an end to the relative decline in U.S. military power over the post four years that, in [Defence] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel’s words, has meant that ‘we are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space can no longer be taken for granted,’” he wrote in The Weekly Standard last week.

Edelman is currently a director of the neo-conservative Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the successor organisation to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a letterhead organisation that championed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“That would send a powerful and unwelcome message to those in both Moscow and Beijing who are betting on the end of the unipolar world,” he added.

Writing for the same publication, Thomas Donnelly, a PNAC alumnus based at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that defence increases must include a reversal of the Obama administration’s decision to cut the active-duty from the current 522,000 troops to around 445,000, the smallest number since the eve of Washington’s entry into World War II.

He even decried other hawks, including McCain and neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who have ruled out putting “boots on the ground” to counter Russian moves, or for that matter advances by the Syrian army against rebel forces as well.

“Ukraine is still, for the present, a no-man’s-land, neither West nor East. But Ukraine is hardly the only no-man’s-land. The entire Middle East is fast become an especially gruesome. The South China Sea is likewise up for grabs. …Preserving the peace on the Eurasian landmass demands land forces,” he wrote.

In addition to restoring cuts to the army, another long-time and highly lucrative favourite of the military-industrial complex – missile defence – is being promoted as the answer to Russian moves.

“Beyond sanctions and aid to Ukraine, the most important thing we could be doing right now, with respect to Russia, is installing anti-ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe,” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a likely 2016 presidential aspirant, told the Washington Post last week shortly after Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney made much the same pitch, deploring Obama’s decision in 2009 to scrap a plan to install missile defences in Poland the Czech Republic as part of a “reset” in relations with Moscow.

Echoing FPI, which, much like its PNAC predecessor used to do, published an entire agenda Friday of actions to counter Moscow signed by dozens of mainly neo-conservative foreign policy analysts, Cheney called for a “joint military exercises with our NATO friends close to the Russian border,” as well as a step-up in military equipment training for Ukraine’s armed forces.

But the military-industrial complex is not the only interest that is jumping on the Crimea crisis to push for major new initiatives from which it stands to benefit financially.

Bemoaning the degree to which Ukraine, other Central European countries, as well as much of western Europe depends on Russian oil and gas, U.S. energy companies and their advocates in Congress and on the op-ed pages are pressing the administration hard to permit them to more freely export their products, especially liquefied natural gas (LNG), for which the U.S. has very few export terminals, around the world.

“Even if, in the short term, most of our LNG exports go to Asia rather than to Europe, expediting and expanding those exports would increase global supply, push down global prices, and signal to Putin that Washington is determined to squeeze his gas revenues and break his energy stranglehold on Eastern Europe,” wrote Texas Sen. John Cornyn Monday in the National Review Online.

That argument was echoed by the Washington Post, which in the past has expressed concerns about the impact on climate change of encouraging fossil fuel consumption.

But, faced with Russian actions, the Post said ramping up U.S. exports now would send an important message. “The more suppliers there are…,” it wrote Sunday, “the less control predatory regimes such as Mr. Putin’s will have over the market.”

While the administration declined to comment on Monday’s announcement by the Department of Energy that it had authorised LNG exports from a terminal in Oregon, the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s lobby group, welcomed the move.

“The economic and strategic benefits of natural gas exports have sparked a bipartisan chorus for action,” said API’s president, Jack Gerard. “Today’s approval is a welcome step toward greater energy security, and our industry stands ready to help the administration strengthen America’s position in the global energy market and provide greater security to our allies around the world,” he said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

The post The Uses of Ukraine appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/uses-ukraine/feed/ 0
Ukraine Confronts Another Split http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ukraine-confronts-another-split/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ukraine-confronts-another-split http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ukraine-confronts-another-split/#comments Sun, 23 Mar 2014 08:22:18 +0000 Zack Baddorf http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133163 In Donetsk’s Lenin Square, Yuroslav Korotenko keeps a constant vigil inside a tent erected just a few feet away from a massive statue of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. “We stay here and save this monument and this place, because people in the West come [to] this place with war,” Korotenko told IPS. “People from Donetsk […]

The post Ukraine Confronts Another Split appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A pro-Russian protestor screams at Ukrainian riot police outside the regional administration building in downtown Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Credit: Zack Baddorf/IPS.

A pro-Russian protestor screams at Ukrainian riot police outside the regional administration building in downtown Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Credit: Zack Baddorf/IPS.

By Zack Baddorf
DONETSK, Ukraine, Mar 23 2014 (IPS)

In Donetsk’s Lenin Square, Yuroslav Korotenko keeps a constant vigil inside a tent erected just a few feet away from a massive statue of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.

“We stay here and save this monument and this place, because people in the West come [to] this place with war,” Korotenko told IPS. “People from Donetsk think about peace with Russian Federation and don’t want war in our town.”“People don’t accept the new government that is now in Kiev."

Korotenko describes himself as a protector of the square, where thousands of pro-Russian protestors have held daily demonstrations in support of a referendum to join Russia and in opposition to the government formed in Ukraine after former president Viktor Yanukovych absconded to Russia.

“People don’t accept the new government that is now in Kiev,” said Alex Yoktov, a Donetsk native who attends the rallies. “It’s like one oligarch switched to another oligarch in the government.”

Yoktov said the Euromaidan movement in the capital Kiev used violence and “extremists to get to power.” The Euromaidan protests in Kiev were held over the past several months to demand closer integration with the EU.

“I fear that Nazis like Svoboda [a Ukrainian political party] and stuff, and such parties will be the main power of the country,” he told IPS. “So they can do whatever they want. It will be almost the same situation … in Germany when fascists come to power.”

Home to about two million people, Donetsk is a major economic, industrial and scientific hub in the east located about 80 kilometres from Russia.

In early March, the city council of Donetsk called for a referendum on the future of the region to “protect the citizens from possible violent actions on the behalf of radicalised nationalistic forces.”

The council noted that it considers Russia a strategic partner.

Yoktov said he feels closer to Russia than Europe. “It’s like native relations. We are the same people as in Russia. They’re our brothers.” Many people in the region, including Yoktov, have relatives in Russia.

Nadiia Zima, a 24-year-old teacher in Donetsk, disputes Yoktov’s claim. She has protested on the streets of Donetsk in support of Euromaidan, and wasn’t paid.

Zima is convinced there will be a referendum in Donetsk, since Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the eastern part of Ukraine is historically Russian. “Any referendum is to my mind just an imperial desire of the Russian president,” Zima told IPS.

Zima worries about her country’s future. “I fear that war can start,” she told IPS. “The thing that I am afraid of more is that our Donetsk region is going to be the next after Crimea.”

Vitalik, standing guard at a Ukrainian police checkpoint about 20 kilometers outside Donetsk with about eight Ukrainians fears war, too. He didn’t want to give his last name because he fears being targeted by Ukrainian security forces.

The self-organised, unarmed volunteers huddle together near an orange and black St George flag that symbolises Russian military valour.

“We’re stopping buses that are moving around this country to check that there are no guns, weapons and stuff like that and some strange people,” Vitalik told IPS. “We are protecting Donetsk.”

The 30-year-old construction worker said he’s especially concerned about the new 60,000-strong Ukrainian National Guard, which would include members of the Right Sector paramilitary group who fought in the Euromaidan protests in Kiev.

“It’s not like we don’t trust the Ukrainian military. We don’t trust the heads of the Ukrainian military,” he said.

More than 700 kilometres away in Kiev, Vitalik Coida is also a volunteer guard, protecting the entrance of the Euromaidan protest area in central Kiev. He is a member of the Svoboda party, considered by many pro-Russians as one of the main “extremist” groups.

Cojda watches out for “provocateurs” who bring weapons and bombs. “But we patrol, we stop them, anyone who looks suspicious. All of these are people sent by Putin because you can hear their Russian accent,” he told IPS.

Cojda arrived at Euromaidan on Nov. 26, shortly after the protests began. He said his 19-year-old friend died in his arms after being shot during a battle with the Berkut, the elite riot police of Ukraine. “It was very difficult to look into his mother’s eyes because it was me that invited him to come here…to protect the country from bandits.”

The Svoboda party, he said, is “really fighting for truth and for freedom.” He said he would remain at Euromaidan until Russian troops leave Ukraine.

The mistrust of the Euromaidan activists is the result of an “information war” led by Russia and Ukrainian elites, according to Donetsk Euromaidan activist Aleksandr Beznis.

“The people do not know the truth,” Beznis told IPS. “There are no extremists from my country from Maidan.” He said Ukraine’s biggest problem is now Russia.

Beznis came from Donetsk to Kiev this week to get weapons training.

“We like Russia, too, but we don’t want any war here,” Beznis said. “As we don’t want to be involved, we need to support our safety and democracy in Ukraine. We must protect our democracy and we must train for our power.”

His biggest fear is civil war. “I hope that it will not happen. I really hope. I try not to think about it,” he said.

Vitalik, the pro-Russian checkpoint guard just outside of Donetsk, says much the same. “Nobody wants a war, everyone wants to stay in peace.”

The post Ukraine Confronts Another Split appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ukraine-confronts-another-split/feed/ 0
OP-ED: A New World Order? Think Again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-new-world-order-think/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-new-world-order-think http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-new-world-order-think/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 12:37:32 +0000 James A. Russell http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133143 Russia’s storming of the Ukrainian naval base in Crimea just as Iran and world powers wrapped up another round of negotiations in Vienna earlier this week represent seemingly contradictory bookends to a world that some believe is spinning out of control. It’s hard not to argue that the world seems a bit trigger-happy these days. […]

The post OP-ED: A New World Order? Think Again appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Some argue that the conflicts in Syria, the Congo and Libya are part of a more general slide into a Hobbesian, or failed state, the kind of world in which the weak perish and the strong survive. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Some argue that the conflicts in Syria, the Congo and Libya are part of a more general slide into a Hobbesian, or failed state, the kind of world in which the weak perish and the strong survive. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By James A. Russell
WASHINGTON, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

Russia’s storming of the Ukrainian naval base in Crimea just as Iran and world powers wrapped up another round of negotiations in Vienna earlier this week represent seemingly contradictory bookends to a world that some believe is spinning out of control.

It’s hard not to argue that the world seems a bit trigger-happy these days.The chaos in places like Syria, the Congo, Libya, and Afghanistan has actually been the norm of international politics over much of the last century - not the exception.

Vladimir Putin’s Russian mafia thugs armed with weapons bought with oil money calmly annex the Crimea. Chinese warships ominously circle obscure shoals in the Western Pacific as Japan and other countries look on nervously. Israel and Hezbollah appear eager to settle scores and start another war in Lebanon. Syria and Libya continue their descent into a medieval-like state of nature as the world looks on not quite knowing what to do.

Noted U.S. foreign policy experts like Senator John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Condoleezza Rice have greeted these developments with howls of protest and with a call to arms to reassert the United States’ global leadership to tame the anarchic (and anti-U.S.) world.

They appear to believe that we should somehow use force or the threat of force as an instrument to restore order. Never mind that these commentators have exercised uniformly bad judgment on nearly all the major foreign policy issues of the last decade.

The protests of these commentators notwithstanding, however, it is worth discussing what all these events really mean; whether they are somehow linked and perhaps suggest a structural shift in international politics towards a more warlike system.

For the United States, these developments come as the Obama administration sensibly tries to take the country’s military off a permanent war-footing and slow the growth in the defence budget — a budget that will still see the United States spend more on its military than most of the rest of the world combined.

The first issue is whether the events in Crimea are emblematic of a global system in which developed states may reconsider the basic calculus that going to war with each other doesn’t pay.

Vladimir Putin may have correctly calculated that the West doesn’t care enough about Crimea to militarily stop Russia, but would the same calculus apply if he tried to seize Moldova, Poland, or some part of Eastern Europe?

Similarly, would the Central Committee in Beijing risk a wider war in the Pacific over the bits of rocks in the South China Sea that are claimed by various countries?

While we can’t know the answer to these questions, the political leadership of both Russia and China clearly would face significant political, economic, and military costs in choosing to exercise force in a dispute in which the world’s developed states could not or would not back down.

These considerations remain a powerful deterrent to a resumption of war between the developed states, events in Crimea notwithstanding – although miscalculations by foolhardy leaders like Putin are always a possibility.

The second kind of inter-state dispute are those between countries/actors that have deep-seated, historic disputes.

Clearly, the most dangerous of these situations is the relationship between India and Pakistan — two nuclear-armed states that have been exchanging fire directly  and indirectly for much of the last half century.

Similarly, the situation in the Middle East stemming from Israel’s still unfinished wars of independence remains a constant source of regional instability.

Maybe one day, Israel and its neighbours will finally decide on a set of agreeable borders, but until they do we can all expect them to resort to occasional violence until the issue is settled.

Try as we might, there’s not much the international community can do about these enduring disputes until the parties themselves seek peaceful solutions that address their grievances.

The third kind of war is like those in Syria, the Congo, and Libya that some argue is part of a more general slide into a Hobbesian, or failed state, kind of world in which the weak perish and the strong survive.

Here again, however, we have to wonder what if anything is new with these wars. As much as we might not like it, internal political evolution in developing states usually entails violence until winners in the contests for political authority emerge.

The West’s own evolution in Europe took hundreds of years of bloodshed until established political systems took shape that settled disputes peacefully.

The chaos in places like Syria, the Congo, Libya, and Afghanistan has actually been the norm of international politics over much of the last century – not the exception.

This returns us to the other bookend cited at the outset of this piece — the reconvened negotiations in Vienna between Iran and the international community.

These meetings point to perhaps the most significant change in the international system over the last century in which global institutions have emerged as mechanisms to control state behaviour through an incentive structure that discourages war and encourages generally accepted behavioural norms.

These institutions, such as the United Nations, and its supporting regulatory structures like the International Atomic Energy Agency, have helped establish new behavioural norms that impose serious costs on states that do not observe the rules.

While we cannot be certain why Iran seeks a negotiated solution with the international community over its nuclear programme, it is clear that the international community has imposed significant economic costs on Iran over the last eight years of sanctions.

That same set of global institutions and regulatory regimes supported by the United States will almost certainly enact sanctions that will impose significant costs on Russia as a result of its illegal seizure of the Crimea.

Those costs will build up over time, just as they have for Iran and other states like North Korea that find themselves outside of the general global political and economic system.

Russia will discover the same lesson learned by Iran – it’s an expensive and arguably unsustainable proposition to be the object of international obloquy.

For those arguing for a more militarised U.S. response to these disparate events, it’s worth returning to George F. Kennan’s basic argument for a patient, defensive global posture.

Kennan argued that inherent U.S. and Western strength would see it through the Cold War and triumph over its weaker foes in Moscow.

As Kennan correctly noted: we were strong, they were weaker. Time was on our side, not theirs.

The same holds true today. Putin’s Russia is a paper tiger that is awash in oil money but with huge structural problems.

Russia’s corrupt, mafia-like dictatorship will weaken over time as it is excluded from the system of global political and economic interaction.

The world’s networked political and economic institutions only reinforce the strength of the West and those other members of the international community that choose to play by the accepted rules for peaceful global interaction.

In places like Syria, we need to recognise that these wars are part of the durable disorder of global politics that cannot necessarily be managed by us or anyone else despite the awful plight of the poor innocent civilians and children – who always bear the ultimate costs of these tragic conflicts.

We need to calm down and recognise that the international system is not becoming unglued; it is simply exhibiting immutable characteristics that have been with us for much of recorded history.

We should, however, be more confident of the ability of the system (with U.S. leadership) to police itself and avoid rash decisions that will only make these situations worse.

James A. Russell is an Associate Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, where he is teaching courses on Middle East security affairs, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and national security strategy.

The post OP-ED: A New World Order? Think Again appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-new-world-order-think/feed/ 1
Ukraine Coup Lawful, Crimea Referendum Unlawful http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ukraine-coup-lawful-crimea-referendum-unlawful/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ukraine-coup-lawful-crimea-referendum-unlawful http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ukraine-coup-lawful-crimea-referendum-unlawful/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 21:40:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133126 U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, conscious of the stark ineffectiveness of the Security Council over the upheaval in Ukraine, is engaged in a round of shuttle diplomacy with Russian and Ukrainian leaders to help resolve the crisis in that region. “The secretary-general is desperately trying to create a U.N. role in the spreading dispute,” said one […]

The post Ukraine Coup Lawful, Crimea Referendum Unlawful appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Independence Square in Kiev on Feb. 24, 2014. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS

Independence Square in Kiev on Feb. 24, 2014. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, conscious of the stark ineffectiveness of the Security Council over the upheaval in Ukraine, is engaged in a round of shuttle diplomacy with Russian and Ukrainian leaders to help resolve the crisis in that region.

“The secretary-general is desperately trying to create a U.N. role in the spreading dispute,” said one Third World diplomat."Imagine the response from Washington if Russia or China or some other sizable world power had worked hard to build a military and/or political alliance near U.S. borders." -- Norman Solomon

“It’s a good try – but in a lost cause,” he said, pointing out that Ban is up against a tough-talking Russian President Vladimir Putin who has already rejected a political compromise held out by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Norman Solomon, founding director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS it is proper that “Ban Ki-moon should try to mediate the conflict, but it’s too bad his itinerary on this trip won’t also take him to Washington.”

Placing recent events in context, the U.S. and Russian governments are both blameworthy, he said.

“And if one takes seriously the unfortunate but very real dynamics that impel large nations to be concerned about spheres of influence – particularly in the vicinity of their borders – the U.N. secretary-general should be willing to confront President Obama as well as President Putin,” said Solomon, author of ‘War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.’

He said one of the ways that Ban could move toward defusing this crisis would involve urging a rollback of the expansion of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), along with an ironclad pledge from NATO to never seek membership from Ukraine.

“A secretary-general less subservient to the U.S. government might be willing to give it a try,” he said.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS, “I don’t know what the U.N. secretary-general did while that coup was planned and carried out, but his actions certainly come too late now.”

It would be interesting if he stated the coup in Ukraine was just that, and condemned the West for its interference, he added.

“For U.S. officials and press to claim somehow that the coup which occurred in Ukraine, engineered by the West, complied with law, while the referendum in Crimea did not, is utter hypocrisy,” said Ratner, president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

“But the facts are hard to find in the mainstream media,” he added.

John Quigley, professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University, told IPS it would advance the cause of peace and stability if the secretary-general supports the right of self-determination of the people of Crimea and if he distances himself from the statements of Western leaders who have denounced the referendum vote in Crimea and who view the incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation as an unlawful annexation.

“The principles of the U.N. Charter require such a stance on his part,” said Quigley, author of ‘The Ruses for War: American Intervention since World War II.’

Asked about his meeting with Putin, the secretary-general told reporters in Moscow Thursday: “I am not in a position to disclose all what the president said. What I can tell you is that I expressed my very serious, grave concerns about the current situation where tension is going [up].”

Political emotions have been hardened between important countries, particularly Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, and the European Union and the United States. They should really resolve this issue peacefully, Ban added.

Solomon told IPS the last three U.S. presidents, including Obama, have betrayed the promise of a peaceful, cooperative Europe by relentlessly promoting NATO expansion toward Russia’s borders.

“Imagine the response from Washington if Russia or China or some other sizable world power had worked hard to build a military and/or political alliance near U.S. borders. The cries of outrage from the USA would be matched by strenuous and muscular forms of intervention,” said Solomon.

Yet top officials of the U.S. government continue to act as though Russian leaders have no legitimate security interests in what goes on in Ukraine, he pointed out.

Solomon said the arrogance of nationalistic and geopolitical power matches up from the White House to the Kremlin and back again, with dangerous escalation of words and deeds.

“The culpability of the Kremlin is obvious, while the culpability of the White House may seem foggy,” he said.

Ratner told IPS, “I think it’s important to take on the dominant narrative in the Western press that somehow the overthrow of the government in the Ukraine was good, that Putin is the imperialist and that Russia is unlawfully taking over the Crimea.”

For a long time, he pointed out, the West attempted to undermine Ukraine, make it part of Europe and pull it away from Russia.

And it has tried this with other Republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, said Ratner.

“In Ukraine, as we know, the West tried to get the government to sign an agreement making the West the exclusive trading partner and pulling it into Western military alliances,” he said.

“As we know from the leaked phone call between U.S. officials, the United States., as Professor Stephen Cohen wrote in the Nation, was plotting to midwife a new, anti-Russian Ukrainian government by ousting or neutralizing its democratically elected president – that is, a coup.

“So now we have had the coup – a successful effort by the West to continue to weaken and isolate Russia,” he noted.

Quigley told IPS the secretary-general is calling for a solution based on principles of the U.N. Charter. And self-determination is one of those principles.

The people of Crimea have been consistently in favour of separation from Ukraine since the time of the break-up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The unfortunate focus on sanctions by the major Western powers has meant that pressing human rights issues are being ignored, said Quigley.

The secretary-general plans to meet with members of the U.N. human rights monitoring mission in Kiev on Friday. This is most helpful, he added.

Ban could also focus on human rights in Crimea, in particular the concerns of the two major minorities there – Ukrainians and Tatars – who oppose in the main the affiliation of Crimea with Russia.

The secretary-general should have raised this issue with the Russian Federation so that it might provide some assurances the rights of these minorities will be respected, he added.

The post Ukraine Coup Lawful, Crimea Referendum Unlawful appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ukraine-coup-lawful-crimea-referendum-unlawful/feed/ 3
Executions Rising in Iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/executions-rising-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=executions-rising-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/executions-rising-iran/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 10:20:58 +0000 Isolda Agazzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133106 As many as 700 people were sentenced to death in Iran last year, according to United Nations estimates. Most were charged with drug-related crimes and belonged to ethnic minorities, new studies show. “Despite signs of openness with the election of President (Hassan) Rohani almost a year ago, the human rights situation in Iran has dramatically […]

The post Executions Rising in Iran appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Isolda Agazzi
GENEVA, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

As many as 700 people were sentenced to death in Iran last year, according to United Nations estimates. Most were charged with drug-related crimes and belonged to ethnic minorities, new studies show.

“Despite signs of openness with the election of President (Hassan) Rohani almost a year ago, the human rights situation in Iran has dramatically deteriorated,” Taimoor Aliassi, U.N. representative of the Association of Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran – Geneva, told IPS.“Iran is the second executioner country in the world behind China, but the first one per capita." -- Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, executive director of French NGO Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort

At least 687 prisoners have been executed in 2013, 68 percent of them after the presidential election in June 2013, Aliassi said. This is the highest figure in 15 years.

The vast majority, he said, were from ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Baloch and Baha’is. “The repression of these minorities has accentuated.”

Aliassi’s comments followed a report by Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Iran, detailing the executions. The Iranian government labelled the findings “not objective” and “mostly a compilation of unfounded allegations.” It is opposing the renewal of Shaheed’s mandate.

“Last year, there were two executions a day,” Shaheed said at a meeting in Geneva earlier this week on rights in Iran. “Sixty percent of them were related to drug crimes. Many did not have access to lawyers, and confessions were got under torture. Three juveniles were among those hanged.”

Shaheed contested the Iranian government allegation that his report is based on opposition sources, or even terrorists. “Even though I could not get into the country, I talked to 700 people. I do my interviews by Skype. If I was able to go to Iran, there would be government views in my report. It would be in its advantage.”

“Iran is the second executioner country in the world behind China, but the first one per capita,” Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, executive director of the French NGO Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort, told IPS. The NGO was created in 2000 to investigate death penalties. It launched the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty that holds a congress every three years.

“The death penalty is a benchmark for human rights,” Hazan said. “It opens the door to the scrutiny of other human rights violations like juvenile justice, ethnic minorities, public executions, torture and unfair trials. We manage to work with grassroots NGOs in all countries, including China and Iraq, but not in Iran.”

The Iranian government, Hazan said, like North Korea “does not allow local NGOs to come to our congress. Our sources are individuals we identify in the prisons. Last year we counted 687 executions. We know it is more, but this is the figure we are able to prove in our report.” The U.N. report is in line with findings by NGOs.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesperson of Iran Human Rights, an NGO based in Oslo with members both inside and outside Iran told IPS that “56 percent of the figures included in this report are official, and 44 percent have been confirmed by us independently.”

Last year, he said, the group “documented 59 public executions, all of them announced officially. Children are also watching executions since there is no age limit. But there are so many secret executions in prisons that we need independent investigations.”

According to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iran, countries that have not abolished the death penalty can impose it only for the most serious crimes.

“Since 2010, more than 1,800 people have been executed on drug-related charges. But is the possession of 30 grams of heroin, morphine, opium or methadone a ‘most serious crime?’” said Hazan.

Other reasons for capital punishment are “corruption on earth”, rebellion, sexual offences including same-sex relations, organised crime, robbery and smuggling, murder and other religious offences. At least 28 women were hanged publicly in 2013, according to the Special Rapporteur.

Some NGOs accuse the government itself of fostering drug addiction for political reasons, particularly in the Kurdish area. “It is practising an anti-Kurdish policy of pushing youth into drugs and then arresting them,” Karen Parker, a human rights attorney based in San Francisco, told IPS.

Gianfranco Fattorini, of the Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples (MRAP), a French NGO that supports against racism and discrimination, told the meeting in Geneva that 20 Kurdish activists are known to be on death row and 25 Kurdish political activists have been sentenced to death for propaganda against national security and similar charges.

Diane Ala’i, of the Baha’i International Community, an international NGO representing members of the Baha’i faith, says the persecution of Baha’is is engrained in the constitution that recognises only three religious minorities – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrian. Members of the Baha’i religious minority are persecuted from the time they are born till they die, said Ala’i at the meeting in Geneva.

“Children are ostracised at school; youngsters are denied access to university and to jobs in the public sector. Today 136 Baha’is are in prison only because they are Baha’is. The accusation goes from enmity against god, to being spies or belonging to an illegal organisation. Some of these people are elderly; others are young mothers who have to take their children into prison.”

She added that their cemeteries are bulldozed and “it is clear that these horrible acts are condoned by the authorities.” Violent crimes and incitement to hatred are rising against Baha’is and other minorities, but none of these cases have been investigated by judicial authorities. “This is government orchestrated,” she said.

But more and more Iranians are showing solidarity with the Baha’is, she said. Last week, 75 prominent activists asked the head of the judiciary to give the benefit of Islamic law even to “unrecognised religious minorities” like the Baha’is.

Influential personalities like renowned film-maker Asghar Farhadi have signed an open charter to ask for abolition of the death penalty, following a campaign called Legam (step by step abolition of the death penalty) initiated last November.

“Since they are well known, they encounter fewer risks to go to prison. This shows that civil society is advancing. Now it is up to the government to show that it is opening up too,” said Hazan.

The post Executions Rising in Iran appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/executions-rising-iran/feed/ 0
Russians Stand Strong Against Sanctions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/russians-stand-strong-sanctions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russians-stand-strong-sanctions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/russians-stand-strong-sanctions/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 07:17:15 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133095 As the West imposes what have been called the most comprehensive sanctions on Russia since the end of the Cold War, many ordinary Russians say they have no fear of any economic measures the United States or the European Union may take against their country. Since the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula at the […]

The post Russians Stand Strong Against Sanctions appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Muscovites at the entrance to Red Square. Experts say the impact of any strong Western sanctions would be felt by ordinary Russians. Credit: Pavol Stracansky/IPS.

Muscovites at the entrance to Red Square. Experts say the impact of any strong Western sanctions would be felt by ordinary Russians. Credit: Pavol Stracansky/IPS.

By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

As the West imposes what have been called the most comprehensive sanctions on Russia since the end of the Cold War, many ordinary Russians say they have no fear of any economic measures the United States or the European Union may take against their country.

Since the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula at the end of last month, Western leaders have been threatening Moscow with economic sanctions.

The threat of sanctions sent stocks on Russian exchanges tumbling and added to what has been a massive capital flight – when investors pull money out of a country’s economy – since the start of the year.There is resolute confidence among many ordinary Russians that Russia is more than strong enough to withstand any economic assault.

Economists say that the already ailing Russian economy could be severely affected if harsh, targeted sanctions were implemented.

The referendum in Crimea at the weekend – condemned by much of the international community as illegitimate and illegal and which has resulted in the region being set to become part of Russia within possibly months – has now brought the first round of those sanctions.

So far, the EU sanctions will see EU-wide assets of 21 Russian and Crimean individuals identified as linked to unrest in Crimea frozen while those same people face a travel ban. The U.S. sanctions are similar but apply to 11 people.

And although widely seen as limited in scope, further measures have been pledged by the U.S. and the EU if Russia does not move to de-escalate the crisis.

While the Russian government and other politicians have responded by preparing a series of counter measures, there is resolute confidence among many ordinary Russians that Russia is more than strong enough, economically and politically, to withstand any economic assault the West launches at it. The street mood seems defiant, even if economists warn of consequences in the face of strong sanctions.

This confidence is being bolstered by reports in the Russian media, much of which is controlled by the Kremlin.

Since the invasion of Crimea, local media has portrayed the West as colluding with an illegal and reprobate Ukrainian government bent on oppressing the majority ethnic Russian population in Crimea.

It has also played on the widespread belief among Russians that Crimea is naturally a part of Russia – it was made part of Ukraine in 1954 by then Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev. Russian media has now posited Russia as a liberator securing the safety of its citizens in a land unfairly taken from it.

It has also emphasised the country’s military might. On Sunday the head of the state broadcasting network Russia Today, Dmitri Kiselev, spoke on his news show of how Russia remained the only country in the world capable of reducing the U.S. to “radioactive ash”.

Such talk has created a renewed sense of Russian power among many. In a survey by the independent Levada polling agency released this week, two thirds of Russians see Russia as a global superpower – up 16 percent since 2011.

Crucially, newspapers have carried reports saying that the sanctions will only push Russia closer to China and other Asian states and strengthen economic ties with them, replacing any lost trade with the West.

Maria Yemelianenko, 29, a supermarket worker in Moscow, seemed to sum up the general mood among Russians towards Western sanctions. She told IPS: “Russia is a huge country and sanctions could not affect us like they have with other countries in the past. We have a lot of our own resources.

“I am sure President Putin knows what he is doing, and the people of Russia will not go hungry.”

But while many Russian politicians have dismissed the potential effects of sanctions, not everyone is convinced there will not be some repercussions for the Russian economy.

Alexei Kudrin, a member of the Presidium of the Russian president’s Economic Council, was quoted by the Yandex.ru news website as saying that economic growth could be affected negatively and that both foreign and domestic investment could be hurt.

Dmitry Seleznev, 52, an economist at a large agricultural production company in St Petersburg, told IPS that the Russian economy would feel the effects of sanctions.

He said: “Investment growth will fall, the economy may lose its chance to come out of its current stagnation and exports could fall.”

Some economic fallout from the Crimean crisis has already been seen. Russian stocks have been losing heavily since the start of the year, but the falls deepened in the run-up to the referendum at the weekend.

Global investment houses issued warnings last week that foreign investors were pulling their money out of the country at a record rate because of Russia’s involvement in Crimea and that as of the end of last week, financial outflows from Russia had reached 45 billion dollars since the start of 2014 – a 60 percent rise from the first quarter of 2013.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecasts have also been slashed and some stock market analysts have spoken of long-term damage being done to Russia’s ability to attract investment because of negative perceptions of Russia among foreign investors.

Other experts believe though that while the current sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the EU are limited, further sanctions would indeed have the potential to make life ‘difficult’ for ordinary Russians.

Ian Bond, Director of Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Reform think-tank in London, told IPS: “The EU may be forced into a position where it has to apply broader sanctions, for example, to shut Russian banks out of European financial markets. And the U.S. can make life really difficult by denying Russia access to the U.S. system for dollar transactions.

“That sanction has had a major impact on the Iranian economy, for example, and would be noticed by ordinary Russians.”

He added that at that point support for President Putin, which is currently high among the general Russian population, could begin to wane.

He said: “Whether Putin’s popularity would be affected depends on how effective his propaganda operation is. So far it seems to be working well – his popularity in Russia seems to have risen since the takeover of Crimea, and a lot of people seem to be swallowing the fairytale that the new Ukrainian government is full of fascists and anti-Semites.”

One asset manager running a Russian equity fund who spoke to IPS, but asked not to be named, said that Russia’s economy would be in trouble if people’s worst fears were realised and the current situation escalated into armed conflict.

“The country would then be facing huge economic problems,” he said.

This is one thing which Russians do not want though. Despite their support for Crimea’s return to Russia and positive view of Moscow’s role in effecting that change, recent polls have shown a majority are against any Russian involvement in a military conflict in Ukraine.

“The referendum in Crimea went peacefully and people will probably eventually understand it was the will of the people there,” said Sergei Mishkhin, a 20-year-old student in Moscow.” I want Russia to have friendly relations with all countries. We are just hoping for peace.”

The post Russians Stand Strong Against Sanctions appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/russians-stand-strong-sanctions/feed/ 5
Amidst the Guns, Free Choice for Crimeans http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/amidst-guns-free-choice-crimeans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amidst-guns-free-choice-crimeans http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/amidst-guns-free-choice-crimeans/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 09:54:09 +0000 Zack Baddorf http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133077 Crimean officials have reported that roughly 97 percent of Crimeans voted for independence from Ukraine on Sunday, with a turnout of about 80 percent. Yet the security situation in Crimea has led many to question how free the vote really was. “Leaving the question of the referendum’s legality aside, the situation on the ground is […]

The post Amidst the Guns, Free Choice for Crimeans appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A Russian armoured personnel carrier in Simferopol, the provincial capital of Crimea. Credit: Zack Baddorf/IPS.

A Russian armoured personnel carrier in Simferopol, the provincial capital of Crimea. Credit: Zack Baddorf/IPS.

By Zack Baddorf
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine , Mar 19 2014 (IPS)

Crimean officials have reported that roughly 97 percent of Crimeans voted for independence from Ukraine on Sunday, with a turnout of about 80 percent. Yet the security situation in Crimea has led many to question how free the vote really was.

“Leaving the question of the referendum’s legality aside, the situation on the ground is hardly conducive to free expression of one’s will,” Dr. Anna Neistat, Human Rights Watch associate director who is now in Crimea, told IPS.“In the lead-up to the referendum the authorities spared no effort to control information and silence critics." -- Dr. Anna Neistat, Human Rights Watch associate director

“With unmarked armoured personnel carriers without licence plates in the streets, surrounded by fully armed men, and subjected to incessant pro-Russian propaganda, Crimeans [felt] that the choice has already been made for them,” she said.

Russian armed personnel carriers were parked on street corners throughout the Crimean capital Simferopol. The Russians have since surrounded and taken ground inside Ukrainian military bases throughout the peninsula.

Paramilitary groups of Cossacks, a Slavic people, brought from Russia roamed the streets on the day of the vote and leading up to it. Joined by members of local “self-defence” groups wearing distinctive red armbands, they attacked foreign and local journalists.

Slovak photojournalist Jan Husar was the victim of such an attack.

On Mar. 12, just a few days before the vote, Husar was taking photos at Simferopol airport of local militants barring flights coming from Kiev and Istanbul. They only let planes flying in from Moscow land.

Outside the airport terminal, he took a picture of a car passing by. “In the car were some guys,” he told IPS. “They jumped out. One had a handgun.” Husar speculates they may have been the Russian secret service.

They demanded to see his papers. A group of Cossacks started surrounding Husar. The two unidentified men from the car left after Husar deleted the picture of their vehicle but the Cossacks stayed.

They started to push him towards a nearby forest. Only after the intervention of a local resident did they let Husar go, but they kept his camera memory cards.

“In the lead-up to the referendum the authorities spared no effort to control information and silence critics,” Neistat told IPS. The units attacking journalists “acted completely outside of the law, with no clear chain of command and no accountability.”

“So imagine if you were a guy who was a [political] leader who wanted to speak out,” Husar said. “You could get in a really, really dangerous situation.”

Some activists in Crimea experienced just that. Viktor Neganov, leader of the Euromaidan movement in the Crimean city Sevastopol, led about 100 Ukrainians in his hometown to call for an end to corruption. At one protest, a pro-Russian crowd confronted the activists. They attacked Neganov, knocking him down.

“They started to punch me, I tried to protect myself but there were too many people – 10 or 20 from different sides,” Neganov told IPS.

Neganov said the protests were infiltrated and orchestrated by Russian spies and military officers pretending to be ordinary citizens. After facing threats later, he slipped away from Crimea.

Despite the crackdown, many voters also told IPS they had little concern about Russian troops occupying their homeland.

“I’m supporting the Russian troops. If there weren’t Russian troops, there would be something like what happened at Maidan in Kiev,” said Vladimir Ifirich, who said he voted for Crimea to join Russia.

The Maidan in Kiev has been the centre of pro-democracy protests over the past several months. Those protests have come to be known as the Euromaidan movement since the movement was started in opposition to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to not sign a European Union trade deal.

Voter Gunadi Blinsky, a 60-year-old emergency service worker in Simferopol, also doesn’t mind the Russian military presence.

“Actually we don’t experience any inconvenience with Russian troops here,” he told IPS. “The other day, we were at the theatre, today we’re going to a concert. So no problem at all.”

Construction plant worker Natasha Mamayeva echoed an indifference to the Russian occupation. “Everything is calm,” she said. “So far the Russian troops have done no harm to local people.”

On Tuesday, Russian troops stormed a Ukrainian military base in Crimea, killing a Ukrainian soldier and wounding another in the process of taking control. In the Crimean port city Yalta, Russian troops were reported to have kidnapped a Ukrainian military foreign intelligence service chief.

At a polling station in Simferopol with Soviet-style music being blasted out, local election official Ivana Lubov-Dutrianko told IPS that the vote was free and fair.

“Everything is quiet here,” she said. “Please tell the truth: Nobody forced anyone to vote. Everyone is free to vote how they want.”

But in Bakhchisarai town, just a half hour’s drive south of Simferopol, many boycotted the vote. It’s the heartland of the Turkic ethnic group, the Tatars, who make up about 12 percent of the Crimean population. The entire Tatar population was forcibly deported from Crimea in 1944 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

“If the diplomatic efforts fail, obviously some Tatars will join the insurgency and run a guerrilla war,” according to Imiril Mirov, the Bakhchisarai district government chief.

But there is no sign of any Tatar resistance movement. “We have no armed units, no self-defence, nothing at all,” Mirov told IPS. The primary goal is to avoid bloodshed, he said.

The post Amidst the Guns, Free Choice for Crimeans appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/amidst-guns-free-choice-crimeans/feed/ 1