Category Archives: Foreign Policy

It’s the geography, stupid

The years of 2003, 2004, and 2005 brought a number of so-called Color Revolutions to the Former Soviet Union states. Russia looked wrong-footed. American NGOs, supporting these Color Revolutions, seemed to be turning the Russian sphere of influence into a pro-Western block. One by one, the countries of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan were becoming increasingly defiant of Moscow, irritating the big bear who was waiting for opportunities to come back.

Opportunities presented themselves soon thereafter. All three leaders of the Color Revolutions turned out to be every bit as incompetent, greedy, and undemocratic as their predecessors. Plus, they worked hard to antagonize Russia, which made their people feel more physically and economically insecure. Our revolutionaries seemed to forget that, whether they like it or not, just through sheer power of geography if nothing else, most of the countries in the FSU are helpless against Russia’s military and dependent on Russia’s energy and Russia’s trade.

So here we are, seven years after the rainbow wave of revolutions began its triumphant flow. The Kyrgyz leader got ousted through violence, the Ukrainian leader got voted out through peaceful means, and the Georgian leader, well, he is still standing, although his breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are no longer standing with him.

And there appears to be very little the Western countries can do about all these developments. At least not right away. To misquote one of the most interventionist American presidents, “it’s the geography, stupid.”

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Here’s another question . . .

If Bakiev is indeed out of power, what is going to happen to Manas air base?

Today’s RIA reports that Russia threw weight behind provisional Kyrgyz government and sent 150 paratroopers into Kant military base. Earlier, Putin came out and criticized Bakiev for corruption and nepotism, suggesting that the president got what he asked for.

It seems quite clear that ever since Bakiev backtracked on his promise to Russia to shut down Manas air base, Russians have been holding a grudge against the president and fostering relations with the opposition.

The opposition seems to understand that in order to hold on to power they need support of Russia, the hegemon in the post-Soviet region. To demonstrate their loyalty, leaders of the opposition have been very critical of Americans for courting Bakiev and sending him a letter of praise, after he allowed them to retain the base.

Could it be that if the opposition remains in power, Americans are out of Manas? Or could it be, they will have to start negotiations all over again, this time having to court not only Kyrgyzstan but also Russia?

LATEST UPDATE:

Reuters reports that Omurbek Tekebayev, who is in charge of “constitutional matters in the [provisional] government,” came out with a statement suggesting that “now there is a high probability that the duration of the U.S. air base’s presence in Kyrgyzstan will be shortened.”

WSJ reports that Russian delegation in Prague told reporters that Russia would push for the interim government to shut down Manas. Otunbayeva on the record saying “the status quo [on the base] remains in place… We won’t rush to decide on such issues.”

Reuters article is available here: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE63740R20100408

WSJ article is available here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052702304198004575171350635795616.html#mod=todays_us_page_one

here’s a question for ya . . .

what role did Russian media play in instigation of violence in Kyrgyzstan?

I don’t know much about this, but some analysts (see for example Central Asia-Caucasus Institute) suggest that after Bakiev agreed to continue hosting American military base in Kyrgyzstan, Russian television started coming out with investigative reports about corruption in Kyrgyzstan, particularly targeting the youngest son of Pres. Bakiev, Maxim (I saw the latest one on NTV.)

Now. For those who know Russia, there is no need to explain that if Russian television is reporting on something, it is doing so because Russian government told them to. Could it be that 2010 Revolution’s got Russian trace?

LATEST UPDATE:

Guardian reports that Roza Otunbayeva, who is the head of the provisional government, thanked Russia for its “significant support” in exposing a “nepotistic, criminal regime.”

Similarly, Reuters reports that Omurbek Tekebayev, another opposition leader, said that “Russia played its role in ousting Bakiev.”

I would really want to know, what in the world Otunbayeva meant when she thanked Russia for exposing Bakiev’s nepotism? Sure sounds like she referred to all the negative media reports that started coming out from Russia after Bakiev decided to continue hosting Manas Air Base.

Guardian article is available here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/08/kyrgyzstan-revolt-over-kurmanbek-bakiyev

Reuters article is available here: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE63740R20100408

Tulip Revolution Goes On

Remember March 2005? Well, you probably don’t. But I do. Because, one of those mornings in March, I woke up to news of the revolution in Kyrgyzstan, my homeland.

At that time, Western media and Western governments interpreted this revolution as a victory for Democracy. For those cynical of us, who were actually from Kyrgyzstan, it looked more like a victory for hunger and destitution. To us, this was only the beginning. We knew that without social reforms, new protests are only a matter of time.

This march Kyrgyzstan celebrated a five-year anniversary of the revolution. Over this period of time things have only gotten worse. Utility prices are up; Bakiev’s power is centralized; his son, Maxim, is going around the country, telling people to give him their businesses or else; and Bakiev’s relatives and fellow clansmen are at the helm of most of the government institutions.

And so it is. This morning I woke up to news of another revolution. Only this time it didn’t come from the south (because Bakiev’s Southern clan is in power); it came from elswhere in the north and the west of the country. Protests began in Talas, spread to Naryn, Issyk-Kul, and Tokmok. Now protesters are in the capital. Citizens of Bishkek are terrified of the upcoming night. Owners of stores are bracing for night visits from fellow countrymen. Bakiyev announced a state of emergency.

LATEST UPDATE:

Specialists predicted that Bakiev, unlike his predecessor, would not give up his power easily (I mean, what is Maxim to do if his daddy is not the boss any more?) Latest reports, however, suggest that the president fled the country. But even if revolution, part two, is coming to some sort of resolution, without social reforms, revolution, part three, will be here soon.

What Did You Really Mean, Mr. Secretary?

About a week ago, I went to listen to one of my heroes, James Baker, give an interview to another one of my heroes, Evan Smith.

To my great pleasure and satisfaction, Smith asked questions mostly about US foreign policy. Baker was great at answering these questions. As I expected, he was very measured in his responses, urging members of current administration to continue with their policy of reaching out to Iran and suggesting they might try to reach out to Hamas as well. And yes, Baker is a Republican. And no, he wasn’t facetious. He even praised Obama Administration for its policies in Afghanistan. His only criticism was that Obama set a deadline for troop withdrawal and Baker thought this was a bad idea.

During the q&a section, I got to ask a question exactly about Baker’s comment on this troop withdrawal date. With my heavy Russian accent (which becomes even heavier when I’m nervous, which I was) I asked something close to this:

“Mr. Secretary, several minutes ago you criticized Obama Administration for setting a deadline for troop withdrawal. And yet we now know that several days ago, one of the most prominent insurgency leaders, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, sent a delegation to Kabul, to negotiate with Karzai’s government over possible reconciliation. Spokesperson for this delegation went on the record to say that this visit would have never happened had President Obama not set this deadline. How would you comment on such development?”

Baker’s answer was short and simple. He thought that these talks are actually not that important and that

“those Taliban that don’t send a delegation to Kabul, they know when we gonna start pulling out and when you are in a war it’s not a good idea, at least I don’t think, to tell your enemy that we will fight for six months and then we are leaving.”

First of all, Hezb-i-Islami, which is a rebel group and a political party headed by Hekmatyar, is not Taliban and we are not at war with Hezb-i-Islami.  And also, by condemning these talks, Baker went against everything he said prior to my question.

Just several minutes before, Baker suggested that current administration should not only continue talking to Iran but also should seriously consider reaching out to Hamas. Perhaps indirectly, similarly to the way Bush 41 reached out to PLO, but nonetheless, reach out. Baker also said, and I quote,

“I’m not one of these people who thinks you either talk to people  or you shoot at them. There is middle ground. . . And I’m not one of these people who thinks that by talking to an enemy you somehow give him something. You don’t if you know that you are doing.”

So, we can talk to an enemy. . . only not Taliban.

You know better than that, Mr. Secretary. What did you really mean?

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Watch Evan Smith’s conversation with James Baker here: http://www.texastribune.org/videos/2010/mar/30/conversation-james-baker/. My question and Baker’s response are at 49:40 – 50:58.

Mohammad Daoud Abedi’s comments are available here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/world/asia/24afghan.html?ref=todayspaper. Abedi is a spokesperson for Hekmatyar’s delegation.

No Prospects of War Between Russia and Georgia… Yet

With a one-year anniversary of the August War coming up and with Georgia claiming that Russia is shifting the border of South Ossetia farther into Georgian territory, everyone wants to know whether hostilities are going to renew. I suggest that another August War is highly unlikely, since neither side sees it as beneficial to attack first.

In case of Georgia, neither domestic public nor international community will stand for another offensive. Last year’s military move into South Ossetia was not only heavily criticized by NATO countries such as Germany and France, it was also heavily discredited at home. In retrospect we can see numerous reasons for which Saakashvili made the first move (1.fulfilll election promise of retaking lost territories 2.provoke disproportionate retaliation which would damage Russian reputation) and these reasons seem rational. Having this same step repeated again, however, is another matter and the prospects of a pay off from another offensive are now significantly lower.

Russia’s offensive into Georgia will also make little sense. Russia has already scored a significant victory over Georgia last summer. It was not only able to move into Georgia’s proper, it was also able to pretty much get away with it. Saakashvili’s name is discredited, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are under Russia’s control, and Russia-NATO, Russia-US, and Russia-EU relations are steadily moving past last year’s incident.

Most importantly, both countries would be thrilled to have the other make the first offensive move. This way Georgia will be able to say “told you so” to international community in terms of Russia’s imperialist tendencies and Russia will be able to reinforce its point that South Ossetia and Abkhazia need protection from Georgia.

Therefore, both countries might try to provoke an offensive by getting on each other’s nerves. This would explain why Georgia has been so vocal in its request to get American troops as part of EUMM (european peacekeeping mission in Georgia.) Similarly, Russia has raised the level of combat readiness of its troops in South Ossetia. Both sides also exchanged accusations of firing across the de facto Georgia-South Ossetia border.

The bottom line – watch out for provocations on both sides. Other than that, another August War is unlikely. Both countries are better off with the status quo and making overt offensive moves would be irrational.

Doctrine of Pre-emption? Not so Fast.

One more popular misconception: the Iraq war was launched with the purpose to pre-empt Hussein’s use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Again, such notion is not accurate. Even if we did think that Saddam possessed WMDs, the war still cannot be called preemptive; instead, it should be called preventive. The distinction is not simply semantical: preventive attack violates norms of international behavior, while preemptive strike doesn’t.

The difference lies in the nature of threat. If threat is imminent (adversary poses imminent threat of attack), think Syrian and Egyptian forces mobilized on Israel’s borders in 1967, then a country is justified to launch an attack. If threat is not imminent (adversary is developing capabilities that some day might become threatening), think the early days of Cold War and Soviet’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons, then an attack is not justified.

By all accounts, the war in Iraq was launched preventively and the Bush Administration, by calling it preemptive, attempted to blur this very important distinction. Unfortunately, they succeeded.