News & Current Affairs

September 19, 2008

Rice criticises ‘isolated’ Russia

Rice criticises ‘isolated’ Russia

Russia is becoming increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said.

In a strongly-worded speech, Ms Rice said Moscow was on a “one-way path to isolation and irrelevance”.

Diplomatic relations between the US and Russia have been strained by the recent conflict in Georgia.

Earlier, Russia’s president said the two nations should not risk established ties over “trivial matters.”

Dmitry Medvedev said it would be “politically short-sighted” if Washington and Moscow were to endanger their political and economic ties.

However, Ms Rice suggested in her speech that following the conflict in Georgia, Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization had been put in doubt.

Russia’s leaders violated Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and launched a full-scale invasion
Condoleezza Rice

The US has already shelved a civilian nuclear deal with Russia, but despite tensions the two countries are maintaining diplomatic links.

Ms Rice held a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov just hours before delivering her speech, and Russia is also due to join an international meeting on Iran’s nuclear program on Friday.

Our correspondent says Moscow is also telling the US that its co-operation is needed over issues like Iran and North Korea, with many in Washington feeling the Russians have a point.

Several hours after Ms Rice spoke, it emerged that a Russian submarine test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

An official from Russia’s defence ministry is quoted as saying that the test – carried out in Russia’s far-eastern Kamchatka peninsula – went according to plan.

‘Deeply disconcerting’

Speaking at an event organized by the German Marshall Fund in Washington, Ms Rice acknowledged that Georgia had fired the first shots in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Russian troops in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali

Ms Rice said Russia had tried to dismember Georgia

“The Georgian government launched a major military operation into Tskhinvali [the capital of South Ossetia] and other areas of that separatist region,” she said.

“Regrettably, several Russian peacekeepers were killed in the fighting,” she added.

But Ms Rice said that Russia had escalated the conflict.

“Russia’s leaders violated Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and launched a full-scale invasion across an internationally recognized border,” she said, adding that Russia had also violated the terms of a ceasefire negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ms Rice said it had been “deeply disconcerting” that Russia had tried to “dismember” Georgia by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and argued that Russia’s actions were part of what she described as a “worsening pattern of behavior”.

“I refer… to Russia’s intimidation of its sovereign neighbours, its use of oil and gas as a political weapon… its threat to target peaceful neighbours with nuclear weapons… and its persecution – or worse – of Russian journalists and dissidents,” she added.

Pledging help to rebuild Georgia, Ms Rice said the US and Europe would not let Russia benefit from aggression.

‘Taking the bait’

Ms Rice admitted that Georgia could have responded better to the events last month in South Ossetia.

We will not allow Russia to wield a veto over the future of our Euro-Atlantic community
Condoleezza Rice

“We warned our Georgian friends that Russia was baiting them, and that taking this bait would only play into Moscow’s hands,” she said.

However Ms Rice, an expert on the Soviet Union, also said that Russia could not blame its behavior on the enlargement of Nato.

“Since the end of the Cold War, we and our allies have worked to transform Nato… into a means for nurturing the growth of a Europe whole, free and at peace.”

The promise of Nato membership had been a positive incentive for states to build democratic institutions and reform their economies, she added.

And she insisted that Russia would not be allowed to dictate who joined the Nato alliance.

“We will not allow Russia to wield a veto over the future of our Euro-Atlantic community – neither what states we offer membership, nor the choice of those states to accept it,” she said

“We have made this particularly clear to our friends in Ukraine.”

The secretary of state was also critical of the domestic situation inside Russia.

“What has become clear is that the legitimate goal of rebuilding Russia has taken a dark turn – with the rollback of personal freedoms, the arbitrary enforcement of the law [and] the pervasive corruption at various levels of Russian society,” she said.

Russia’s leaders were risking the future progress of the Russian people, she said, declaring that Russia’s leaders “are putting Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance”.

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September 16, 2008

France frees sailors from pirates

France frees sailors from pirates

French commandos capture Somali pirates (11 April 2008)

French commandos arrested six alleged pirates in April

French commandos have freed two sailors seized by pirates off the Somali coast, the French presidency has said.

One pirate was killed in the operation and another six captured, it said.

The couple were seized in a sailing boat in the Gulf of Aden earlier this month by pirates who reportedly wanted a ransom of some $1.4m (£0.8m).

President Nicolas Sarkozy said the French operation should serve as a warning, and called for international efforts to counter escalating piracy.

France will not allow crime to pay
President Nicolas Sarkozy

The waters off Somalia, which is wracked by conflict, are among the most dangerous in the world. Attacks by pirates are common and hamper the delivery of food aid.

In the latest reported incident, a Hong Kong-owned tanker was seized late on Monday in the Gulf of Aden.

International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Center told the AFP news agency that 22 crew members were taken hostage.

French commandos launched a similar raid against Somali pirates in April.

‘Safe and sound’

President Sarkozy said the 30-man operation had taken just 10 minutes.

He said he had given the go-ahead late on Monday when it was clear that the pirates were heading for the lawless port of Eyl, where many well-armed pirate gangs are based.

He said it would have been too dangerous to free them if they arrived in Eyl, reports Reuters news agency.

map
Puntland encourages such steps and calls on other governments whose nationals are being held to do the same thing the French have done
Bille Mohamoud Qabowsade
Puntland spokesman

A minister in the semi-autonomous Puntland region recently told the BBC that when he visited Eyl, he could see at least 10 boats being held by pirates there.

“The two French nationals are safe and sound,” the French statement said.

Tahiti-based sailing enthusiasts Jean-Yves and Bernadette Delanne were on their way from Australia to France, through the Gulf of Aden, when they were captured on 2 September.

“This operation is a warning to all those who indulge in this criminal activity,” Mr Sarkozy said at a press conference on Tuesday. “France will not allow crime to pay.”

“I call on other countries to take their responsibilities as France has done twice.”

Attacks against fishing boats, cargo ships and yachts have surged over recent months and foreigners, who can be exchanged for large ransoms, are frequent targets.

Warships from France and other nations have been patrolling the Somali coast to protect ships carrying aid to the country, where up to a third of the population needs food aid.

On Monday, European foreign ministers agreed to set up a “co-ordination unit” to improve security patrols.

France, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has a military base in neighbouring Djibouti.

Welcomed

In April, French commandos made six arrests in a helicopter raid on Somali pirates after they had been paid a ransom to free the crew of another French yacht.

The six seized alleged pirates were handed over to French justice officials to be tried.

According to Reuters, the pirate group holding the Delanne couple were also demanding the release of their compatriots held in France.

Authorities in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland welcomed the French move.

Puntland’s administration claims it is powerless in the face of the growing power of the pirates, who are well-armed and employ a lot of people.

“The state of Puntland encourages such steps and calls on other governments whose nationals are being held to do the same thing the French have done,” Puntland presidential adviser Bille Mohamoud Qabowsade told AFP.

The IMB says pirates off Somalia use “mother ships” that travel far out to sea and launch smaller boats to attack passing vessels, sometimes using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered from continual civil strife.

Battles between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government soldiers have forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the last 18 months.

September 8, 2008

Sarkozy leads EU trio to Moscow

Sarkozy leads EU trio to Moscow

Nicolas Sarkozy shakes hands with Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev in August 2008

President Sarkozy (L) brokered a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to arrive in Moscow for talks with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the crisis in Georgia.

He is joined by the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and the European Commission head, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Mr Sarkozy is expected to press Russia to fully implement a peace plan he brokered to end the fighting.

Meanwhile, Georgia has gone to the UN’s highest court over what it claims are Russian human rights abuses.

Judges at the International Court of Justice in the Hague are being asked to impose emergency measures to halt what Georgia says is a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Russia in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian forces remain in South Ossetia and large parts of Georgian territory after it responded heavily to Georgian attempts last month to recapture the separatist region.

Difficult goals

After talks in Moscow, the three senior European figures are due to go on to the Georgian capital, Tblisi, to meet President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Russia says it is honoring the terms of a six-point plan agreed to end the conflict.

However, European nations do not agree.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions but Russian peacekeepers may take unspecified “additional security measures”
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

President Sarkozy wants Russian troops to pull back from their current positions in Georgia – well beyond the boundaries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The European trio is also expected to press the Russians on arrangements for a strengthened international effort to monitor developments on the ground.

Some European leaders have already warned that there can be “no business as usual” with Russia until the peace plan is fully implemented, and the European Union has suspended talks on a new partnership agreement with Moscow.

However, with winter approaching, individual European countries continue to consume Russian oil and gas as usual.

Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, and its continuing failure to implement the agreement to the letter, will have profound consequences for Russian relations with the EU.

It will also make it difficult for President Sarkozy to achieve his goals in Moscow, he says.

August 24, 2008

US warship docks in Georgia port

US warship docks in Georgia port

USS McFaul passing through Bosphorus Strait heading for Georgia 22 August

The USS McFaul is the first of three ships to arrive in Georgia

A  has arrived in the Georgian port of Batumi carrying the first delivery of aid supplies by sea.

Russian forces are still in control of the military port of Poti, to the north of Batumi, after withdrawing most of its combat troops from the country.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the ceasefire, has urged Moscow to pull out those forces too.

Meanwhile, a train carrying fuel has exploded after hitting a mine near Gori, Georgia’s interior ministry said.

A huge plume of black smoke could be seen across the region, the AFP news agency reported.

Interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said there had been several explosions near an abandoned Georgian military base where the Russian troops, on leaving Gori, had left a stockpile of munitions taken from the Georgian army.

“Our teams can’t even get close to the area because it is in flames and the munitions are continuously exploding,” he said.

The spokesman suggested the stockpile or the train track could have been mined by the Russian forces. There have been no details about possible casualties.

Georgian authorities had been hoping to help thousands of refugees return to Gori on Sunday having carried out a mine-sweeping operation in the town.

Russia’s four-day war with Georgia erupted after Tbilisi tried to retake its province of South Ossetia – which broke away in 1992 and was supported by Moscow – in a surprise offensive on 7 August. The offensive followed a series of clashes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions but Russian peacekeepers may take unspecified “additional security measures”
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Crisis day-by-day

Eyewitness: Russian withdrawal

Russia’s game plan

The conflict left hundreds of people dead and created tens of thousands of refugees. Many have been returning to their damaged or destroyed homes since the Russian withdrawal.

The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR reported this week that, according to Russian estimates, more than 30,000 people from South Ossetia had fled to North Ossetia. Another 128,000 were estimated to have been displaced within Georgia.

International aid agencies are working on the ground and the US has already delivered some aid by military cargo plane.

The destroyer USS McFaul is reported to be carrying supplies such as blankets, hygiene kits and baby food.

Two more US ships are due to dock later this week.

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse, in Tbilisi, said that apart from delivering aid, the arrival of US naval personnel is undoubtedly intended to send a signal to the Russians – that America is serious about its support for Georgia.

But, he adds, the prospect of US and Russian armed forces actually meeting on Georgian soil is one that both sides seem keen to avoid.

Batumi is not a natural harbour for a naval vessel the size of the USS McFaul to dock but Russian forces have been fortifying their positions at the key port of Poti, further up the coast.

On Saturday, Mr Sarkozy, welcomed the withdrawal of Russian forces so far, but urged Moscow to pull its troops back from Poti and Senaki, which is the site of Georgia’s main air base.

Russia says it has a duty and a right to keep its forces in a buffer zone around the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – though it acknowledges that Poti falls well outside that zone.

Georgia map

August 20, 2008

Russia rejects UN Georgia draft

Russia rejects UN Georgia draft

Captive Georgians atop of a Russian tank in Poti, Georgia, on 19 August 2008

Russia paraded captive Georgians on armoured vehicles

Russia has rejected a draft UN Security Council resolution on Georgia, saying it contradicted the terms of last week’s ceasefire deal.

The draft text called on Russia to pull back its forces to the positions held before the current conflict.

But Russia says the truce allows its troops to stay in a buffer zone on the Georgia side of South Ossetia’s border.

Moscow earlier dismissed a NATO warning that normal relations were impossible while its troops remained in Georgia.

The conflict broke out on 7 August when Georgia launched an assault to wrest back control of the Moscow-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia, triggering a counter-offensive by Russian troops who advanced beyond South Ossetia into Georgia’s heartland.

Georgia says its action was in response to continuous provocation.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is visiting the region, is to visit a camp for displaced people in Georgia on Wednesday. Tens of thousand of people have been made homeless by the recent conflict.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

On Tuesday, Mr Miliband held talks with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to update him on Nato’s reaction at an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels which demanded that Russia pull its troops out of Georgia.

The foreign secretary criticised Russia’s failure to keep to a promise to withdraw troops from Georgia.

Meanwhile, a Russia’s main security service, the FSB, says a Russian officer has been detained accused of spying for Georgia.

An ethnic Georgian, Mikhail Khachidze was arrested in the southern Russian region of Stavropol near Georgia, an FSB spokesman said.

“[He] was involved in collecting secret information on Russian armed forces, its combat readiness as well as data on other servicemen,” he said.

Russian veto

At the UN, Russia’s ambassador said the French-drafted UN resolution went against the terms of the ceasefire brokered by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Vitaly Churkin said the resolution should incorporate all elements of the six-point peace plan agreed last week.

He also objected to language in the draft reaffirming Georgia’s territorial integrity, saying South Ossetia and Abkhazia did not want to be part of Georgia.

Russia can veto UN resolutions and the ambassador told the BBC that putting the text to a vote would be pointless.

He said: “It’s a waste of time because the process of the withdrawal of Russian forces will continue.”

HAVE YOUR SAY
As an American, I find Bush’s and Rice’s comments regarding the attacks on a sovereign nation in the 21st Century just too embarrassing to bear

B Coyle, Maryland

Following a rebuke from Nato’s 26 foreign ministers in Brussels, Moscow accused NATO of bias in favor of the “criminal regime” in Tbilisi.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia risked becoming the “outlaw” of the conflict, in an interview with CBS news on the sidelines of the NATO emergency meeting.

Russia says President Dmitry Medvedev told President Sarkozy that by Friday, Russian troops would either be sent home, be pulled back to South Ossetia or to a buffer zone along the border.

Russia said it had begun a pullback on Tuesday as it withdrew 11 military vehicles from the Georgian town of Gori.

A Russian officer told reporters invited to watch that the column was heading for South Ossetia and then home to Russia, but Georgia dismissed it all as a show.

Correspondents there say there are still several artillery positions and checkpoints in Gori.

And the operators of the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti told the BBC that Russian forces had seized the commercial harbour.

In an apparent goodwill gesture on Tuesday, the two sides exchanged prisoners at a checkpoint near Tbilisi, but on the same day Russia paraded captive Georgians on armored vehicles.

Map of region

August 14, 2008

Rice says Russia faces isolation

Rice says Russia faces isolation

A  US C-17 transport plane sits at Tbilisi Airport on 13 August

The first US relief plane was unloaded in Tbilisi overnight

he US secretary of state has warned Russia that it risks isolation abroad if does not observe a ceasefire with Georgia and withdraw its troops.

“We expect Russia to meet its commitment to cease all military activities in Georgia,” she said.

Condoleezza Rice is to visit France for talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy, who currently chairs the EU, before visiting Georgia itself on Friday.

The US has begun delivering aid by air to the ex-Soviet republic.

Washington is showing unwavering support for Georgia in its conflict with Russia.

Russian forces briefly moved out of the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia on Wednesday to destroy military hardware at an abandoned Georgian military base in the nearby town of Gori.

Thousands of Russian troops remain in South Ossetia since they drove out a Georgian force which tried to regain control of the de facto independent province in a surprise attack one week ago.

They are also deployed in force in Abkhazia, Georgia’s other breakaway province, where separatists ejected Georgia’s remaining troops this week.

‘Isolation’ for Russia

Condoleezza Rice has warned Russia it risks further isolation.

Dispatching Ms Rice to Europe, President George W Bush called on Moscow to withdraw its forces from Georgian territory.

“The [US] stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia, insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected,” he said at the White House on Wednesday, flanked by the secretary of state and Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

[There is a] very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said that it wants to be
Condoleezza Rice
US secretary of state

Ms Rice said Russia faced international “isolation” if it refused to respect the truce.

“We expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country,” she said.

There was, she said, a “very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said that it wants to be”.

Ms Rice is to discuss with Mr Sarkozy the five-point peace plan he personally brokered with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on lightning visits to Russia and Georgia on Tuesday.

FIVE-POINT PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops return to pre-conflict positions

A US military transport plane landed in Tbilisi airport on Wednesday evening, delivering what the US said was medical supplies, bedding and other items for internally displaced people.

The US special envoy to the region, Matthew Bryza, said the consignment was the first of many that would be arriving by sea and air.

The provision of US aid to Georgia follows a promise by President Bush that the US military would play a role in delivering emergency supplies to Georgia.

Kim Ghattas, the BBC’s correspondent at the US state department, says that while Washington has been warning Russia of the consequences of its military action in Georgia, so far little has happened apart from the cancellation of a joint military exercise.

But the view from Washington is that Russia has more to lose from a deterioration in ties with the West.

US officials insist that Moscow does care if concrete moves are taken to isolate it on the international scene, our correspondent says.

‘Civilised country’

The Georgian government says that 175 people, mainly civilians, were killed during the conflict with Russia and South Ossetian separatist forces.

A Russian officer records the decomposing body of a Georgian soldier on a street in Tskhinvali on 13 August

This Russian officer was recording a body found in Tskhinvali

Russia, which says that 74 of its troops were killed, reports that more than 2,000 people died in South Ossetia, the vast majority civilians allegedly killed in the Georgian attack.

While none of the casualty figures have been verified independently, the UN refugee agency estimates that some 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, both from South Ossetia and Georgia proper.

Russia says its forces dismantled and destroyed military hardware and ammunition at an undefended Georgian base near the town of Gori on Wednesday.

Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said attacks by Russian forces on Georgian military targets outside South Ossetia were legal and necessary.

He said Russia had to destroy Georgian artillery, and bomb military airfields, in order to protect its peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

Speaking to the BBC, he also said he was surprised at the international condemnation of Russia’s response to the crisis:

“Any civilized country would act same way. I may remind you [that on] September 11 [2001], the reaction was similar. American citizens were killed. You know the reaction.”

Meanwhile, Georgians fleeing Gori reported widespread shooting and looting by South Ossetian separatists.

Map of region


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