Category Archives: International Politics

Medvedev and Putin explain the world

Dmitry Medvedev joined Vladimir Putin in interpreting world affairs “in a Russian way”.  Or is it just a ‘lecture’ in international politics for Sarah Palin?

“Just by getting closer to Russia’s borders, NATO is not becoming stronger,” Medvedev said. “…what if Georgia had a NATO membership action plan? I would not wait for a second in making the decision I made at that point.”

Vladimir Putin also tried his best to defend the war in Georgia:

“What did you want us to do? Wave our penknives in the air and wipe the bloody snot off our noses? When an aggressor comes into your territory, you need to punch him in the face – an aggressor needs to punished.”

I just have some objections about “the aggressor coming in your territory”, Mr Putin, somehow that explanation does not really convince me. Apart from that little “twisted fact”, I particularly like the diplomatic language in this statement.

The Russian President has another interesting analogy:

“Immediately after the events in the Caucasus it occurred to me that August 8 was for us almost what 9/11 was for the United States. There were many useful lessons from 9/11 in the United States. I would like the world to draw its own lessons from what happened. The world changed.”

Yes, the world is always changing. Interesting, first the “genocide” label, now the 9/11 analogy, any deeper meaning or just because it is September?  Russia as the victim? And what about these “useful lessons”? I can’t think of ‘many’.

I guess statements like the ones above show that Russia is trying desperately to tell its side of the story. But somehow it always sounds clumsy, undiplomatic, arrogant and based on ‘wrong’ realities (at least in our view). However, any ‘legitimacy’ depends on perceptions abroad. And Moscow is loosing ground there. It becomes obvious that Russia simply has neither the tools nor the allies to dominate a “global information war”.

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Propaganda and Satellite Imagery in Georgia

There has been a lot of talk about the role of information/propaganda during the war in Georgia. The question what information is actually correct has been one of the major problems in analysing the conflict. Robert Amsterdam posted a translation of Propaganda 2.0, a good article on the topic (here the original in German).

Via Paul Goble’s blog I discovered some interesting data from UNOSAT, that is the” the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme”. Basically they released satellite images that were taken during the conflict in the region. Paul Goble explains the implications:

Satellite photographs analyzed by United Nations experts show that only five percent of Tskhinvali was destroyed during the fighting there but that 50 percent of ethnic Georgian villages were destroyed in that region by Ossetian marauders behind Russian lines, a pattern that undercuts Moscow’s claims about what took place. (…) But these photographs taken over the course of August also call into question repeated Russian claims that the Georgian army had destroyed much of the South Ossetian capital – the satellite photographs show only five percent of its buildings having been damaged — and that Georgian forces had carried out a systematic genocide there.

Human Rights Watch also offers some further explanations here.

I am pretty sure that we will see more of this kind of data in the future, also for other conflicts. Satellite technology has been developed rapidly and quality improved considerably in the last years. And when free services such as Google Earth already show quite detailed images, what about high quality, high resolution satellite images frequently used by governments? Propaganda and the spread of false information will definitely get more difficult.

I also wonder whether the EU Satellite Centre has similar evidence regarding the conflict in Georgia? Never heard of this EU agency? Here the short mission statement:

The mission of the European Union Satellite Centre (EUSC) is to support the decision-making of the European Union by providing analysis of satellite imagery and collateral data. The EUSC is an Agency of the Council of the European Union. It is one of the key institutions for European Union’s Security and Defence policy, and the only one in the field of space.

At least with that in mind the proposed EU “fact finding mission” in Georgia could get quite interesting…

How to explain a political process with a video? (II)

Here we go again. The second part of my little collection of online videos that explain political processes. Indeed, this seems to develop into a little series of posts. (check out the first part here).

This time the topic is even more complex than last time: It is about the conflict in the Middle East. The video was made by Axel Rudolph, a student of media design in Ravensburg/Germany. Here he explains the purpose of the video:

My dissertation, titled ‘Knowledge’ for my degree at Ravensburg College (subject: media design) deals with a virtual TV format that gives current important matters a more visually attractive shape.

It is especially attractive to younger people. One of my goals is to show that education and learning may also have a ‘cool look’. This new look often reminds the viewer more of a TV music video than that of a matter-of-fact history lesson. The sample – to be seen here – gives a 5-minute-explanation of the roots of the Middle-East conflict. It took about 3 ½ months to research this project, write the story book, and prepare the animation graphics.

I think it is a great piece of work that shows how political news can be presented. The combination of powerful visuals, clear explanations and a certain ‘MTV feel’ is both informative and attractive. It actually reminds me of a survey from a couple of months ago that showed that a majority of people that watch news on TV actually don’t understand them. Maybe a video like that one could help…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Obama, Berlin and the world

So what did we expect from Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech in Berlin?  Since Barack Obama is not even the official democratic candidate yet, and obviously not the US President, I think expectations were hugely exaggerated. Apart from that, the following list of expectations sums it up (at least for me):

  1. Great visions for the future of everything: yes.   – Policy details: no, not really.
  2. Great rhetoric: yes.  – Great visuals for his campaign: yes, definitely.
  3. Bush-bashing: no. – And a “Berlin surprise”: Oh yes please.

And what did we get? (You can read the transcript of the speech here)

1. What about “visions”: well, sort of. Barack Obama spoke about many global problems and a lot of shared responsibilities and the need for cooperation. Not more, not less. Of course freedom played a big role (George W. Bush would have said the same!). Also the importance of immigration is something Europe needs to learn! Interesting maybe the issue of nuclear disarmament. I haven’t heard any politician to call for that in the last decade or so. Of course he did not go into any detail (it is election campaign time! not a good time for details). However, the “big visionary moment” of the speech was missing. But considering what could have gone wrong with such a speech, I guess it was OK. But of course symbolism prevails over content in every election campaign…

2. What about “great rhetoric”: First of all, I think the rather short speech was well constructed. The second part was better than the beginning. But I also found that the family background did not really work (maybe he should have started with something else and talked about it later? ). I liked the idea of a “world citizen” (what do you expect with that blog name…?). The delivery was very professional but, again, the big moment was missing. BUT the visuals for the campaign were great (and eventually that matters at the moment): They can suggest that he is respected and hugely popular in Europe (the crowd of 200 000 was impressive, right? ) which might give him some foreign policy credibility in the US. But that depends on the spin of the campaign…

3) Obviously no Bush-bashing abroad which is unthinkable in the diplomatic world. So what about the “Berlin surprise”: Nothing really. Basically he used Ernst Reuter and the Berlin airlift for his speech trying to put it in context with globalisation and global challenges. Not a bad idea. But then again, since expectations were huge I doubt that he could have delivered a real “surprise”. Maybe next time…

Anything else?

Well, from a European perspective we can take note that he knows about the EU and he generally thinks highly of global institutions and international cooperation, which is good to know. But I think the really remarkable thing is the pure existence of this event, a kind of “globalisation of US election campaigning”. I think we will see similar events in the future! As somebody on German TV said “It seems that he is the candidate for the world presidency”.

Update: Here is the video of the speech:

The new cold war

Edward Lucas talks about his new book (The new cold war – How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West) at Google HQ:

Russia – A new European partner?

During the last several weeks a range of interesting events happened in EU-Russia and in NATO-Russia relations. After quite some time full with “new cold war” rhetoric, new partnerships are being negotiated:

– Russia will support the EUFOR Chad mission by deploying 6-8 helicopters. According to some EU officials, these helicopters are quite crucial for the mission…

– At the NATO summit in Bucharest, Russia agreed to give logistical support to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The plan foresees that Russia will provide a land corridor on its territory for NATO transports. Given the troublesome history between Russia and NATO, this can be seen as a milestone development.

The Kremlin in Moscow

It seems as if a constructive dialogue has started between European diplomats and their Russian counterparts. Of course it is too early to come to a final conclusion but basically two scenarios are possible: (1) in a more positive outlook, this could be the first sign of a new partnership between Europe and Russia; (2) a more negative (‘realist’ if you want) interpretation would also take into account all other problematic areas/ disagreements ranging from CFE , missile defence and energy issues to Kosovo, Ukraine and Georgia. One could even conclude that Russia sees itself in a stronger position which led to the perception that it can deal with the “West” on a more equal basis. In that context, the above mentioned issues are perceived to increase Russia’s relative power position.

Another scenario is relatively simple: It may only be a ” diplomatic present” of the “new” Russian president/government in order to symbolize a kind of new beginning … whatever the direction may be! (the fact that Putin was responsible for these negotiations is not a contradiction: Medvedev and Putin are, at least for the time being, a very efficient team)

Some random thoughts on Kosovo

I actually did not want to write something about Kosovo…but well, here we go again. First a few good pieces from around the web and then a few random thoughts on Kosovo.

A good commentary on Kosovo can be found on stanley’s blog that writes “Recognition of Kosovo’s independence is an unfortunate solution, but there is currently no better solution.” Another outstanding article by Timothy Garton Ash (This dependent independence is the least worst solution for Kosovo) with some great quotes:

The Balkanisation of Belgium meets the Belgianisation of the Balkans. (…)

Here is the 21st-century European style of decolonisation: from protectorate to EU member state, without ever achieving full, sovereign independence in between. (…)

And it was in Belgrade, not Pristina, that I heard this joke: the Serbs will do anything for Kosovo except live there. (…)

Both statements are true: Kosovo is unique, and there will be more Kosovos.”

Plenty of interesting stuff, so go and read the article here. A few days ago Dusan Reljic gave this interview. On the whole I agree, but I think it is a bit exaggerated when he argues about international law and the UN (that unfortunately lost credibility not only because of Kosovo). And I also would have liked him to answer the question on partition… Public Policy Watch thinks that ” the decision whether to recognize Kosovo’s independence or not is determined primarily by the self-interest of individual countries” However, the most convincing point is this one: “Perhaps the majority of democratic countries with respect for human life still perceive Kosovo as a victim and Serbia as an aggressor.(…) This perception enables European countries to endorse an action contrary to the spirit and practice of international law in the area of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Kosovo flagSince I don’t want to repeat much that has already been said, I just want to throw a few random thoughts into the discussion:

– I always failed to grasp a general common feature of South Eastern Europe: Why do people still argue with stories and myths that come straight from the 14th century?

– 10 years ago there was a genocide in Kosovo so maybe Kosovo has a point of not wanting to be ruled from Belgrade? (To be fair I have to add that ethnic cleansing happened on both sides…) However, there is a 90% majority for independence. Apart from that, Belgrade has had not control over Kosovo for the last 9 years… (the dilemma is of course that Kosovo is not economically sustainable)

– A number of mistakes have been made in the 1990s by all actors involved (that includes Germany). But it is also ironic that now 7 “independent and sovereign” states exist that all want to join the EU to share competences (again). They will eventually negotiate with each other in Brussels…oh yes and I guess they also want to join the Euro and Schengen… so what was the point in splitting up in the first place?

– Despite the recognition debate, the EU acted with one voice. Thanks to the “formula of constructive abstention“(as reported by the EUobserver) the Council decided to deploy its biggest foreign policy mission to date to Kosovo. And of course it was not a coincidence that both events, the decision of the Council and the declaration of independence, took place within a few days … The official voting records will reveal that most of the countries that made a fuss about the independence approved the mission. But without the approval of the EU mission there would have been no declaration…

– Does it set a precedent? well, everything is a precedent if somebody in politics uses it as an argument. Anyway, it seems people like comparing apples with oranges. So what about Bangladesh, Eritrea, … I am not aware of any legitimizing UN resolution in these cases. Maybe even the whole process of decolonalisation and the collapse of the Soviet Union could also fall in this category… (ok, I admit, also too much history!)

– Sovereignty and independence are also quite relative (one could even argue dying) concepts – especially within the EU, so it is hard to understand that EU member states think the case might have an impact on their domestic situation. Regionalisation in the sense of subsidiarity has always been a EU principle and usually everyone is quite fond of highlighting that.

– Without any further comment: Belgium has recognised Kosovo

– And finally the idea of partition: diplomatically this could become a solution in a few years. The deal could be: Serbia takes control over the north of Kosovo, in return it recognises Kosovo as a state (which also means Russia drops the veto in the UN). At the same time the EU could offer Serbia some sort of fast track EU membership (again).

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