Saturday, November 24, 2007

Iran: Accusers, Supporters, and Leaders

U.S. officials have accused Iran of many things: Developing nuclear weapons. Sponsoring terrorism. Killing Americans in Iraq. Planning Israel's destruction.

Does the U.S. have evidence?

In the buildup to the Iraq war, the Bush administration made allegations against Saddam Hussein. Polls showed that Americans believed these allegations, which were later shown to be wrong.

The United States and Iran have been enemies since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a time of mullahs returning from exile, demonstrating students, and American hostages.

For almost two decades, Iran pursued a secret nuclear program.

Iran claims its program is for civilian power generation only. The U.S. says it is for a bomb.

Many other countries agree that Iran's actions to date, such as its enrichment of uranium and its continued secrecy suggest it has seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Other nations, including Russia and China, urge Iran to be more open, and call for compromises on all sides.

A new national intelligence estimate, originally due last spring, was delayed by the need to evaluate new information, the U.S. national intelligence director, Mike McConnell, said recently. But most analysts say that new information is mostly just Iran's political developments and recent U.N. findings on enrichment, already public.

Very little is known about Iran would do with a bomb, if it had one.

Most countries develop nuclear weapons as a way to gain regional power and influence, as was the case with India and Pakistan.

The real power in Iran is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's top religious and political authority whose views remain shrouded in mystery. He has backed Ahmadinejad and is deeply conservative.

There are numerous signs Iranians dislike their current government. Iran's young, well‑educated population objects to many aspects of the current authoritarian regime. The country has an inefficient economy, exacerbated by Ahmadinejad's blunders.

Khamenei lacks the stern, spellbinding charisma that bound the first revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, so strongly to his people.

Kasparov Arrested and Sentenced

On November 24, 2007, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov was arrested and sentenced to five days in prison after he helped lead a protest against President Vladimir Putin.

Kasparov is one of President Vladimir Putin's harshest critics. He was charged with organizing a demonstration without permission, chanting anti-government slogans, and resisting arrest, court documents said.

There is growing concern in the West over the state of democracy in Russia. Western critics claim that Putin is restricting freedom. Putin accuses the West of meddling in Russian politics.

Kasparov and dozens of other demonstrators were detained after the rally which drew several thousand people.

Kasparov's coalition includes radicals, democrats and Soviet-era dissidents. It has attracted significant media coverage but generated little public support.

Robert Kocharyan

Robert Sedraki Kocharyan is the second president of the third republic of Armenia.

Kocharyan was born in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh on August 31, 1954.

Kocharyan was drawn to politics after joining a movement to cede Nagorno‑Karabakh from the Azerbaijan SSR to the Armenian SSR. His influential political style helped him rise through the ranks of Soviet politics and by 1989, he emerged as a deputy of Armenia's Supreme Soviet.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict escalated into a full scale war. In August 1992, Kocharyan became Chairman of the State Defense Committee of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). On May 12, a ceasefire was proclaimed. Kocharyan was elected NKR's first President on December 24 by the decision of the NKR Supreme Soviet.

On March 20, 1997, Kocharyan left his post as President of the NKR when he was appointed Prime Minister of Armenia. In February 1998, Armenian President Levon Ter Petrossian was forced to step down due to his support of concessions to Azerbaijan in the resolution of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. These concessions were not popular with Armenians, who viewed them as detrimental their security.

After Ter Petrossian's resignation, Kocharyan was elected Armenia's second President on March 30, 1998.

As President, Kocharyan continued to work for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Nagorno‑Karabakh with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Russia and China -v- US and EU Over Iranian Nuclear Program

On November 23, 2007 Iran stated Western nations’ efforts to impose seeking harsher U.N. sanctions against it could halt its steps to clarify nuclear activity to U.N. inspectors.

Earlier in the week, U.N. nuclear watchdog stated that believed that Iran was making good progress towards resolving key objectives by the end of the year, only to be told not enough had been done to secure the trust of the West.

The Western accusation against Iran it is secretly trying to build atomic bombs.
Iran's clarifications on centrifuge research were consistent with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) intelligence.

Iran also continued to defy demands by the United Nations Security Council to suspend enrichment work.

The so-called "EU-3 Powers" of Britain, France and Germany told IAEA governors that further delays were not acceptable.

They and the United States said Iran had failed to show full disclosure and suspend enrichment gain a reprieve from further sanctions.
Russia and China did not join the Western camp in supporting further Security Council action. Russia, moreover, has referred to Iran’s cooperation so far as having been constructive.

The two key issues involve traces of highly enriched -- or bomb-grade -- uranium that inspectors found at research sites, and intelligence on links between uranium processing, explosives tests, and an apparent design for a missile warhead.

Putin: Demands Of and Threats Against

Marina Litvinenko, widow of Alexander Litvinenko, is seeking a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that the Russian state was complicit in poisoning the former security agent with radioactive polonium.

Louise Christian, Litvinenko’s lawyer claimed she had obtained expert evidence that the polonium had come from Russia's Avangard plant, a state facility surrounded by tight security.

The former KGB security officer became a Kremlin critic in exile, and was poisoned by polonium slipped to him in a cup of tea. He spent three weeks dying in agony in London.

Britain wants to prosecute another ex-KGB man, Andrei Lugovoi, for the murder. Russia strongly denies state involvement in the killing and refuses to hand over Lugovoi because its constitution bars it from extraditing its own nationals.

Exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovskii, a friend of Litvinenko and Kremlin opponent whom Russia has tried unsuccessfully to extradite from Britain has stated that he believes British authorities know the source of the polonium.

Berezovskii said Putin had violated the constitution and therefore his ouster was legitimate and forecasts a possible uprising like Ukraine's Orange Revolution between elections in December and March.

He said such an uprising could come after parliamentary elections on December 2 and before presidential polls three months later.

Democratic movements staged the Orange Revolution in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine in 2004, a popular uprising that brought pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Berezovskii, who faces a number of charges in Russia, was a key Kremlin insider in the 1990s, but left Russia after coming into conflict with Putin and was granted political asylum in Britain in 2003.

Ukrainian Government Resigns

On November 23, 2007 Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych presented his government's resignation at the first session of a new parliament on Friday, in the aftermath of the September elections.

Yanukovych's declaration, as required by the Ukrainian constitution, came after the swearing in of all 450 new parliamentary deputies. Earlier, Yanukovych expressed hope that his Party of Regions would be included in a new governing coalition.

Analysts say an "orange" coalition of President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine-Self Defence party and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc will most likely be the result.

Ukraine held elections at the end of September in an effort to resolve months of dispute between the pro-Western Yushchenko, and the more pro-Russian Yanukovych.
Yushchenko has called for the Party of Regions to be included in the new government.

OSCE: No Monitors for Russian Election

Vladimir Churov, head of the Russian Central Election Commission is not disappointed with the the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR) not to send observers to the upcoming Russian Parliamentary elections.

Churov said that the appropriate invitations had been made in time, and that the decision was most likely political in nature.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

US "Thanksgiving Proposal" to Russia: Missiles, Treaties, and Troops

On the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, the United States submitted a proposal to Russia for cooperation on missile defense in eastern Europe against a supposed threat from Iran.

The U.S. also submitted a proposal to Russia that would hopefully prevent Russia’s withdrawal from a key European arms control treaty.

Officials on both sides have declined to release copies of the documents. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to discuss them early next week in advance of Middle Eastern peace talks.

The documents describe U.S. plans to develop a radar system in the Czech Republic and to deploy missile interceptors in Poland, and also address Russia’s plans to suspend participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE).

The U.S. claims that the missile defense system would counter the threat of Iranian missiles that could be aimed at Europe or U.S. territory. Russia, on the other hand, contends the U.S.-proposed system also could be used against Russian missiles, which would make it a threat to its nuclear deterrence.

A key component of the missile system proposal is a delay in the activation of the U.S. missile interceptors until it can be shown that Iranian ballistic missiles pose a threat to Europe.

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the sharing of a Russian-leased early warning radar in Azerbaijan with the United States.
The proposal for delaying the activation of the interceptors has apparently been favorably received by Russian negotiators who also insist that the offer include a binding treaty that would detail specific terms for activation. The United States would likely object to such a demand.

The CFE imposes limits on the deployment of tanks, aircraft and heavy conventional weapons across Europe. Negotiators agreed to revise the treaty in 1999, but the United States and other NATO members have not ratified it.
The U.S. position is that Russia must fulfill obligations to withdraw forces from Georgia and from Moldova's separatist Trans-Dniester region before the CFE issue can be addressed. Russia insists that there should be no such link.

Putin Decries Western Meddling in Russian Elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked opponents and has accused the West of meddling in Russian politics.

Putin's attack on his opponents came as he seeks to secure a high turnout and strong support for the United Russia (Ednaya Rossiya) party.

Many see this as a way for Putin to retain power after the March 2008 presidential election.
Putin’s statements appeared to refer to opposition rallies planned for the coming weekend in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

He did not name specific nations or political parties, but offered a general criticism of his liberal, pro-business and Communist opponents, calling to mind the economic and political uncertainty that plagued Russia before and after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as well the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia that led to the installation of pro-Western regimes.

A clear victory for the United Russia party would give Putin a popular mandate and a loyal parliament to limit his succesor's influence and possibly lay the groundwork for his return to the presidency in 2012 or sooner.

This week’s stadium rally was a mixture of a soccer game and a Soviet-style rally.

Many of Putin’s supporters have demanded constitutional changes that would permit him to stay on as president. He has promised to step down as the constitution currently required, but has also indicated he will seek to retain influence and has not eliminated the possibility of presidential bid in 2012.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Iran + Russia + Venezuela = Dissent at OPEC Summit

On November 18, 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have expressed interest in converting their cash reserves into a currency other than the rapidly depreciating U.S. dollar.

The meeting was held in the Saudi capital Riyadh, with heads of states and delegates from 13 of the world's biggest oil-producing nations, was the third full OPEC summit since the organization was created in 1960.

Ahmadinejad's comments at the rare OPEC summit meeting also highlighted the growing challenge that Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, faces from Iran and its ally Venezuela within OPEC.

Oil is priced in U.S. dollars on the world market, and the currency's depreciation is a significant source of concern to oil produces as it has played a role in the increase in crude prices and the decrease in the value of their dollar reserves.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah had tried make the environmental impact of the oil industry on the environment the topic of the summit, but faced continual interference from both Iran and Venezuela.

Iran and Venezuela proposed trading oil in a basket of currencies to replace the historic link to the dollar, but they had not been able to generate support from enough fellow OPEC members. Many OPEC members, such as Saudi Arabia, are U.S. allies.

Both Iran and Venezuela are currently at odds with the U.S., and their proposal may have political, as well as economic motivations. Iran is in a dispute with Washington over its nuclear program, and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is an open critic of U.S. President George Bush. U.S. sanctions on Iran have made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the country to do business in dollars.

A day earlier, Saudi Arabia opposed a move by Iran on Friday to have OPEC include concerns over the falling dollar included in the summit's closing statement after the weekend meeting. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister even warned that even talking publicly about the currency's decline could further hurt its value.
But by Sunday, it appeared that Saudi Arabia had compromised.

Though the final declaration delivered Sunday did not specifically mention concern over the weak dollar, the organization directed its finance ministers to study the issue.
Iran went a step further and said OPEC will form a committee to study the dollar's impact on oil prices and investigate the ramifications of a currency basket.

Algeria's Oil Minister, Chakib Khelil, said he would urge Russia, the second-biggest oil supplier, to join OPEC when he became president of the organization.

Russia attends OPEC meetings as an observer nation.

Khelil will become OPEC president on January 1, 2008.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Над Бабьим Яром памятников нет

Babii Yar is a ravine in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. In the course of two days, September 29—30, 1941, German Nazis, aided by their collaborators murdered 33,771 Jewish civilians. The Babii Yar massacre is considered to be the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust.

Dmitrii Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor (Op. 113, subtitled Babii Yar) first performed in Moscow on December 18, 1962 by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra and the basses of the Republican State and Gnessin Institute Choirs, under Kirill Kondrashin. The soloist was Vitali Gromadsky.

The work sets poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko that concerned the World War II Babii Yar massacre and other topics.

The first poem, Babii Yar, criticises Soviet anti-Semitism.

The second, "Humour", describes humor as a mischievous rascal who constantly eludes censorship.

The third, "In the Store", glorifies the women of the Soviet Union, always tired from standing in long lines at the store, often in bitter cold.

The fourth, "Fears", recalls the pervasive atmosphere of dread during the Stalin era.

The fifth final poem, "A Career", is a celebration of Galileo's refusal to recant his discoveries about the nature of the heavens, even when faced with the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition.

The symphony was completed during a thaw in Soviet censorship, but even so Nikita Khrushchev criticised it before the premiere, and threatened to stop its performance. The premiere went ahead, but afterwards Yevtushenko was forced to change his poem, replacing a stanza declaring in part "I am every old man shot dead here, I am every child shot dead here" with a stanza mourning the ethnic Russians and Ukrainians that died alongside the Jews at Babii Yar. Thereafter the work was infrequently performed until more recently.

Shostakovich originally intended the first movement to stand by itself, but ideas kept coming to him and he had to expand the work into its current symphonic form.

Latvian Language and Citizenship

Latvia’s current citizenship law was enacted in 1998 after pressure from and debate with both Russia and the European Union. Latvian citizens are defined as those persons who had Latvian citizenship prior to June 17, 1940, and their descendants.

Those who settled in Latvia during the Soviet period can obtain Latvian citizenship via naturalization.
Naturalization criteria include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, an oath of loyalty, renunciation of former citizenship, a 5-year residency requirement, and a knowledge of the Latvian constitution.

Latvia allows those who were forced to leave Latvia for political reasons and who adopted another citizenship while away from Latvia to hold dual citizenship. The deadline for filing a claim for citizenship under these circumstances was July 1, 1995.

Latvian is the sole state language in Latvia, and it is inextricably tied to Latvia’s strong oral tradition, which includes over a million folksongs.

Several factions have requested official status for Russian (the mother tongue for 37,5 % of inhabitants, according to 2000 census).
Since 1999, Latvia’s education law forbids public universities from using languages other than Latvian for instruction (there are made exclusions for linguistics, some international projects and nonprofit groups).

The law originally included a provision mandating Latvian as the sole language of instruction in high schools. After protests in 2003 and 2004, this law was changed so that Latvian is only required for 60% of instruction.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Waiting in Warsaw

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has claimed that it will not be able to monitor the Russian Parliamentary elections in December 2007 because Russia did not grant visas in time.

Vladimir Churov, Russia's top election official, denied that the visas been refused and said they were waiting in Warsaw at the headquarters of the election monitoring office, the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

All 56 OSCE member countries, including Russia, have agreed to invite observers to monitor their elections. The organization then decides whether to send observers based on scheduling and need.

In a meeting before the OSCE's announcement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed the need for discussions on Russian-backed proposals that would place new restrictions on election observer missions.

OSCE observers described Russia's last parliamentary elections in 2003 as a step backward for democracy, saying the state had used the media and other levers to favor the main Kremlin-backed party.

In another sign of its defiance of the West, Russia’s upper house of parliament has voted to suspend participation in a key European arms control treaty.

President Putin had called for Russia's temporary withdrawal from the treaty amid mounting anger in the Kremlin over U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin’s counterproposal called for placing the system in Azerbaijan.

Under the moratorium, Russia will halt inspections and verifications of its military sites by NATO countries and will no longer be obligated to limit the number of conventional weapons deployed west of the Urals.

Russia ratified the updated treaty in 2004, but the U.S. and other NATO members have refused to follow suit, saying Moscow first must fulfill obligations to withdraw forces from Georgia and from Moldova's separatist region of Trans-Dniester.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Politics in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan declared its independence from the former Soviet Union on August 30, 1991.

Ayaz Mutalibov, former First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party became the country's first President.

After a massacre of Azerbaijanis at Khojali in Nagorno‑Karabakh in March 1992, Mutalibov resigned and the country experienced a period of political instability.
Mutalibov returned to power in May 1992, but less than a week later his efforts to suspend scheduled presidential elections and ban all political activity prompted the opposition Popular Front Party (PFP) to organize a resistance movement and take power.

Among its reforms, the PFP dissolved the predominantly Communist Supreme Soviet and transferred its functions to the 50-member upper house of the legislature, the National Council.
Elections in June 1992 resulted in the election of PFP leader Abulfaz Elcibay as the country's second president.

The PFP-dominated government, however, proved unable to resolved the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh or managing the struggling Azerbaijani economy.
As a result, many PFP officials came to be perceived as corrupt and incompetent.

Growing discontent culminated in June 1993 in an armed insurrection in Ganja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city; rebels marched on the capital, Baku. President Elcibey fled to his native province of Nakhchivan, and died there in 2000.
The National Council conferred presidential powers upon its new Speaker, Heydar Aliyev, former First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party (1969-81) and later a member of the U.S.S.R. Politburo, the KGB, and USSR Deputy Prime Minister.

Azerbaijan's first Parliament was elected in 1995. The present 125-member unicameral Parliament was elected in November 2000. A majority of parliamentarians are from the President's "New Azerbaijan Party."

Aliyev was elected to a 5-year term as President in October with only token opposition. Aliyev won re-election to another 5-year term in 1998, in an election marred by serious irregularities. Azerbaijan has a strong presidential system in which the legislative and judicial branches have only limited independence. The Speaker of Parliament stood next in line to the President, but the constitution was changed at the end of 2002: now the premier is next in line.

In August, 2003, Ilham Aliyev, Heydar's son, was appointed as premier, though Artur Rasizade, who had been prime minister since 1996, continued to fulfill the duties of that office so that Aliyev could concentrate on his presidential election bid. In the October 2003 presidential elections, Aliyev was announced winner sworn in as president at the end of the month, and Rasizade became premier again.

Fission at the UN?

Iran has answered questions about its past nuclear activities posed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but the IAEA does not believe that Iran is being completely truthful.

The IAEA’s report warns that knowledge about Iran's current nuclear program is decreasing because Iran is currently providing less information than it had previously.

The report is expected to play a crucial role in determining whether the United Nations Security Council will impose more sanctions on Iran.

International powers may, once again, find themselves at an impasse.

The United States is likely to argue that the report validates concerns that Iran is covertly developing a nuclear weapon.

Russia, China and others will almost certainly contend that as long as Iran continues to respond to questions, tougher sanctions are premature.

The Bush administration agreed with other world powers in late September 2007 to hold off on new sanctions while IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei sought Iran's cooperation in clearing up the history of its nuclear program.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

United Russia's One Name: Putin

On November 13, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that victory for his United Russia party in upcoming parliamentary elections would give him a moral mandate to lead Russia.

Putin said he intends to convert his current popularity into post-presidential clout after the December 2 legislative poll. This is a clear indication that he intends to remain in politics.

United Russia already holds two-thirds of seats in the State Duma and is forecast to score a crushing victory on December 2. The Communist Party is expected to come a distant second, while liberal parties once popular in the 1990s will probably win no seats at all.

Putin, who assumed power in 2000, is barred by the Russian Constitution from seeking a third consecutive term in March 2 presidential elections.

In what analysts say is probably a Kremlin-coordinated campaign, regional politicians and interest groups have multiplied their appeals begging Putin to stay in office.

Putin said United Russia, created almost overnight in July 2001 as a pro-Kremlin vehicle, was the best party available.

Under the Russian rules of proportional representation, each of the 11 parties contesting the December 2 election presents a list of candidates. The number of deputies from this list that gets seats in parliament depends on the party's share of the total vote.

Parties usually present a list with the leader and two more well-known names, followed by a list of candidates from specific regions. United Russia's federal list has only one name: Putin.

Since the rest of the vote would be divided up into smaller parties -- many of them failing to cross the minimum seven-percent barrier -- such a result would translate into an overwhelming majority of seats in the 450-member State Duma.

The lavishly funded United Russia is the only one of the 11 parties refusing to take part in television debates as part of the election run-up.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Black Sea Oil Spill: Ukraine's Yanukovich Intervenes for Environmentalists

On November 11, 2007, the Volgoneft-132, a small Russian tanker, broke up and spilled between 1,300 and 2,000 tons of oil.

The result is that Russia's Black Sea coast could face an ecological catastrophe.
Three seamen were drowned.

A search was under way for five others missing, though hopes of finding them alive were dwindling.

The spilled fuel oil coated birds in a thick black sludge along a vast expanse of coastline in the northern mouth of the Black Sea, near Russia's border with Ukraine.

Sunday’s storm sank the tanker and at least four freighters while crippling other vessels in the narrow Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and Azov Sea.

On Monday, rescuers found the bodies of three of the sailors missing since the storm. Helicopters and rescue vessels continued to search for the five seaman still missing, but with a new storm on its way later in the week, officials said hopes of finding them alive were dwindling.

Environmentalists, backed by Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, said the incident raised questions about safety standards for shipping in the region. This incident has the potential to exacerbate Russian-Ukrainian relations, which often become difficult as winter approaches.

Russian officials said the captains of several vessels had put to sea despite storm warnings. The tanker that was the source of the spill was built in the 1970s, and was not designed for heavy seas.
At Novorossiisk, Russia's No. 2 port for exports of oil and oil products, officials had ordered tankers not to dock because a new storm was on its way later in the week.

Yuliya Tymoshenko

Yuliya Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko is a Ukrainian politician, former Prime Minister of Ukraine, and the leader of the All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc.

Before becoming Ukraine's first female Prime Minister, Tymoshenko was one of the key leaders of the Orange Revolution.

Prior to her political career, Yuliya Tymoshenko was a successful but controversial businesswoman in the gas industry, which made her wealthy.

Tymoshenko is the daughter of Ludmila Nikolaevna Telegina and Vladimir Abramovich Grigyan She was born on November 27, 1960, in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine (then the Ukrainian SSR). In 1979, she married Oleksandr Tymoshenko, son of a mid-level Soviet communist party bureaucrat, and began rising through a number of positions under the Komsomol, the official Soviet Communist youth organization. She graduated from the Dnipropetrovsk State University with a degree in economics in 1984, and went on to gain a candidate’s degree (the equivalent of a Ph.D.) in economics. Since then, she has written about 50 papers.

From 1995 to 1997, Tymoshenko was the president of the United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a privately owned middleman company that became the main importer of Russian natural gas to Ukraine in 1996. During that time she was nicknamed "gas princess" in light of accusations that she has been reselling enormous quantities of stolen gas and avoiding taxation of those deals.

Tymoshenko moved into politics in 1996, and was elected to the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) from the Kirovohrad Oblast, winning a record 92.3% of the vote in her constituency. She was re-elected in 1998 and 2002. In 1998, she became the Chair of the Budget Committee of Verkhovna Rada.

From 1999 to 2001, Tymoshenko was the Deputy Prime Minister for fuel and energy sector in the cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko. She was fired by President Leonid Kuchma in January 2001 after developing a conflict with the oligarchs in the industry.

In February 2001, Tymoshenko was arrested on charges of forging customs documents and smuggling of gas between 1995 and 1997 (while president of United Energy Systems of Ukraine) but was released several weeks later. Her political supporters organized several protest rallies near the Lukyanivska Prison where she was held in custody. According to Tymoshenko, the charges were fabricated by Kuchma's regime, under the influence of oligarchs threatened by her efforts to root out corruption and institute market-based reforms. In spite of being cleared of the charges, Moscow maintained an arrest warrant for Tymoshenko should she enter Russia until her dismissal as Prime Minister over 4 years later.

Several months into her government, numerous inner conflicts inside the post‐Revolution coalition began to damage Tymoshenko's administration. On September 8, 2005, after the resignation of several senior officials including the Head of the Security and Defence Council Petro Poroshenko and Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko, Yuliya Tymoshenko's government was dismissed by President Viktor Yushchenko during a live TV address to the nation.

Tymoshenko wrote an article called "Containing Russia" in the May-June 2007 edition of the journal Foreign Affairs. In the article she sharply criticized alleged authoritarian developments under Vladimir Putin and opposed the alleged new Russian expansionism.

Following balloting in the 2007 parliamentary elections held on September 30, 2007, Orange Revolution parties said they had won enough votes to form a governing coalition. As of October 3, 2007, an almost final tally gave the alliance of Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko a slim lead over a rival party of Prime Minister Yanukovych. Although Yanukovych, whose party won the single biggest share of the vote, also claimed victory, one of his coalition allies, the Socialist Party of Ukraine, failed to gain enough votes to retain seats in Parliament.

Nonetheless, it is expected that the Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense Bloc, which is associated with President Yushchenko, will form a governing coalition. Both parties are affiliated with the Orange Revolution. On October 15, 2007, Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense Bloc and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc agreed to form a majority coalition in the new parliament.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Suitcase Nukes?

Many government experts and intelligence officials say the threat of a miniature nuclear weapon, often referred to as a “suitcase nuke” gets much more attention than it deserves.

Counterproliferation authorities do not completely rule out the possibility that these portable devices once existed. But they are not convinced the threat is still there.

The idea of portable nuclear devices is not new.

During the 1960s, American intelligence agencies received reports from defectors that Soviet military intelligence officers were carrying portable nuclear devices in suitcases.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. made the first ones, known as the Special Atomic Demolition Munition. It was a "backpack nuke" that could be used to blow up dams, tunnels or bridges. While one person could lug it on his back, it had to be placed by a two-man team.

Some believe that the Soviets constructed similar devices.

General Aleksandr Lebed, who was also the Russian national security chief, said the separatist government in Chechnya had portable nuclear devices, which led him to create a commission to research the capabilities of the Chechen arsenal.

Even more details emerged in the summer of 1998, when former Russian military intelligence officer Stanislav Lunev — a defector now in the U.S. witness protection program — claimed that Russian agents were hiding suitcase nukes around the U.S. for use in a possible future conflict.

In a 2004 interview with the Russian Federal News Service, Colonel-General Viktor Yesin, the former head of the Russian strategic rocket troops, said he believed that Lebed may have been misled by mock-ups of special mines used during training.

Yesin believed that a true suitcase nuke would be too expensive for most countries to produce and would not last more than several months because the nuclear core would decompose quickly.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush asked Russian President Vladamir Putin whether he could account for all of Russia's nuclear material. Choosing his words carefully, Tenet said, Putin replied that he could only account for everything under his watch, leaving a void before 2000.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Ukrainian Party of Regions

The Ukrainian Party of Regions political party was created in March 2001.

It originally supported president Leonid Kuchma and joined the pro-government United Ukraine alliance during the parliamentary elections on 30 March 2002. The party's current leader is Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Its power base, both electoral and financial is located primarily in the east and south-east of Ukraine. In the Eastern Ukrainian Donetsk Oblast the party claims to have over 700,000 members.

The party shifted its political ideology to the left and became much more populist in nature before the Ukrainian presidential election, 2004 and, as a result, Yanukovych won over a large part of the Communist party's electorate in eastern Ukraine. The party announced support for making Russian a second official language in Ukraine, a pro-Russian foreign policy, and increased social spending. It also advocates the regionalist ideology, and many members support making Ukraine a federation.

The Party of Regions moved to opposition after its candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, lost the 2004 presidential election. The party leader first claimed an electoral victory but strong allegations of electoral fraud triggered a series of events commonly known as the Orange Revolution. In the re-run of the presidential election ordered by the country's Supreme Court, Viktor Yanukovych lost the election to Viktor Yushchenko.

In the parliamentary elections of 26 March 2006, the party gained 32,12% of votes and 186 (out of 450) seats in the Verkhovna Rada, forming the largest parliamentary group.

In mid-2007, the Ukrainian Republican Party and Labour Ukraine merged into the Party of Regions.

No Tranquility in Georgia

On November 8, 2007, troops occupied the center of the Georgian capital Tbilisi on to enforce a state of emergency imposed after a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Hundreds of Interior Ministry officers in khaki uniforms and armed with hard rubber truncheons patrolled Rustaveli Avenue, the site of the main protests by demonstrators calling for pro-US President Mikhail Saakashvili to resign.

Riot police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, and Saakashvili announced a 15 day nationwide state of emergency, in which news broadcasts on independent stations were halted and all demonstrations banned.

The American-educated Saakashvili, who is trying to shake off centuries of Russian influence and align the former Soviet republic with the West, has accused Moscow of instigating the protests and expelled three Russian diplomats.

Tensions with Russia have risen as Saakashvili has sought to establish central government control over two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that have run their own affairs with Russian support since wars in the early 1990s.

In a nearly 30-minute televised address, Saakashvili said he regretted the use of force, but argued that it was necessary to prevent the country from sliding into chaos.

The state of emergency must be approved by parliament within two days.

Many of Saakashvili's opponents support his aims, including closer ties with the United States and Europe.

But there has been increasing disillusionment among critics who say he has not moved fast enough to spread growing wealth. Opponents accuse him of sidestepping the rule of law, creating a system marked by violations of property rights, a muzzled media and political arrests.

Russia, which views most countries of the former Soviet Union as its sphere of influence, has deepened ties with the separatist regions and imposed a trade and transportation blockade on Georgia.

On May 10, 2005, while U.S. President George W. Bush was giving a speech in Tbilisi's Freedom Square, Vladimir Arutinian threw a live hand grenade at Saakashvili and Bush.

It landed in the crowd about 65 feet from the podium after hitting a girl, but it did not detonate. Arutinian was arrested in July of that year, but before his capture he killed one law enforcement agent. He was subsequently convicted of the attempted assassinations of Saakashvili and Bush, and given a life sentence.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Oil: Compulsion and Defiance

It is widely recognized that China and India have the potential to develop into economic superpowers in the 21st century. A key component of their growth is oil, which both nations are compelled to import.

This compulsion is not without its geopolitical costs, especially with oil prices at record highs. Iran and Venezuela, for example, can continue to enjoy more protection from outside political pressure as their oil revenues increase and non-oil producing nations find it necessary to come to terms with them.

In Russia, the lower house of Parliament voted unanimously in early November to suspend the country's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. This is yet another of Putin’s shows of defiance to the west. The higher demand for oil will lead to increased reliance by consuming countries like the U.S. and European allies on imports of oil and gas from the Middle East and Russia.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Iraqi Oil, Russian Ambitions and Influence

The Iraqi government has canceled a controversial development contract with the Russian company Lukoil for a vast oil field in Iraq's southern desert, freeing it up for potential international investment in the future.

Iraq’s decision was apparently made based on advice received from American advisors.

Russian authorities have retaliated by threatening to revoke a 2004 deal with creditor nations to forgive $13 billion in Iraqi debt.

The field at issue is West Qurna; its estimated reserves are 11 billion barrels, the equivalent of the worldwide proven oil reserves of Exxon Mobil. Hussain al-Shahristani, the Iraqi oil minister, said in an interview that the field would be opened to new bidders, perhaps as early as next year.

The contract, which had been signed and later canceled by Saddam Hussein’s government, had been in legal limbo since the American invasion. But the Kremlin remained hopeful it could be salvaged until this September, when al-Shahristani traveled to Moscow to inform officials there that the decision to cancel it was final, he said.

The Russian government, newly emboldened in international affairs by its expanding oil wealth, is still backing Lukoil's claim and protesting what it considers selective enforcement of contracts in Iraq.

West Qurna has the potential to produce 1 million barrels of oil a day after four to five years of development, according to both Iraqi oil officials and Lukoil.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Estonia's Electronic Election

On March 4, 2007 Estonia held an election to choose the members of the Riigikogu.

It was the world's first national elections where some of the ballots could be cast in the form of remote electronic voting via the Internet.

A total of 30,275 citizens (3.4% of the voting population) used Internet voting.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Another Move In The Iranian "Nuclear Game"

On November 1, 2007 the United States claimed that both Russia and China had been blocking tough U.N. sanctions against Iran.

China may not have sided with Russia, but it has certainly decided to participate in the Iranian "nuclear game" whose outcome will influence the remainder of the 21st century.

Nicholas Burns, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said China and Russia had been stalling a new United Nations Security Council resolution since late March.

The five permanent powers on the Security Council (United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain) plus Germany will meet in London on Friday to weigh the scope for more sanctions.

Russia has argued that further sanctions could push Iran into a corner.

China urged a diplomatic solution to the issue, recognizing it had become difficult.

Iran has defied three Council resolutions, two with modest sanctions attached, since last year demanding it stop enriching uranium. Iran says it wants nuclear-generated electricity, but Western powers suspect a disguised bid to build atom bombs.

Tension over Iran's nuclear activities has helped catapult oil prices to record highs of over $90 a barrels in recent days.
Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested new bilateral U.S. sanctions would mainly hurt European Union countries doing business with Iran, which has vast oil and gas reserves.