Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ukraine, the riddle

Reading Russian politics is not easy. As it is not easy at all to understand its influences in the immediate neighbourhood as Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, Central Asia or Belarus. A "yes" could be a "not" and a "not" could be a "yes". Or we are tempted to read it so, because of our inner naivity and lack of comprehension.
What do we need, in fact, to understand? As the institutions are strictly connected with individuals, we need to know "who's who" and all the Byzantine personal relations dominating the political, economic, social and cultural life. The genealogical approach is useful, as it is necessary to have permanently a direct contact with this world. Sympathies could turn into animosities and love into hate. Or, at least, for me is one of the most useful approach. But, as I rarely address such topics, I do not have any pretention at all to provide a clear perspective.
We will shortly stop now to Ukraine, where the new elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, announced no intention to join NATO. A pleasant news for the ears of Kremlin, that harshly opposed any close and direct relationship between the North-Atlantic Alliance and Kyiv. It was the same in the case of the Baltic states and these states are today members of both EU and NATO. It is worthy to mention that Ukraine is an active member of the dialogue with NATO. Yanukovych's declaration didn't addressed this activity or the eventuality of putting an end to this dialogue. The issue was whether or not to join the Alliance and he answered "no". Or, at least, "not now" - in the next four years of his presidential mandate.
We could question as well: is Ukraine prepared to enter NATO? Are the Ukrainian institutions ready enough to tackle to financial and administrative pressures involved by the full membership to this alliance? Are the Ukrainian military structures prepared to reform significantly in order to be trusted enough for sharing information with the North-Atlantic partners?
Yanukovych was considered one of the main looser after the 2004 "Orange Revolution". But, in reality, the term "revolution" was overrated and for six years already Ukraine fought a serious political instability and lack of reform. The expectations were too high and not took into consideration the Soviet heritage and the problematic structure of the country. It is Russia guilty for the general instability? Moscow is not innocent at all and continues to exert its influence through first and second and third range politicians or more or less public figures. But, it was like this in the Baltic states as well. Or continue to be. And there, the reforms were possible. Maybe the countries are smaller. But, with - most likely - or without Russia - almost impossible - the question is about having a serious track of reforms. A record not achieved during Yuschenko. Whould Yanukovych, whose slogan was "Stability and Order", change somehow this situation? He never made a secret of his support from the part of Moscow and probably he would not disappoint his friends. But, as the case of Belarus showed, when it is about business - gas business - money talks. And, given the large number of friends Russia is having in Ukraine, any choices could be make very easy. Voronin, in Moldova, never denied his Russian close ties. But, he is now recent past history.
Indicted several times for a robbery and moderate assault, or for "mild degree body injuries" in the 70s, autodidact, close friend of business community from Donetsk area - among which Rinat Akhmetov, in Top 50 European Forbes -, where he served twice as governor, former prime minister, Yanukovych is an interesting character in the strange riddle of Russian matrischkas game.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Speed control in foreign affairs

Diplomacy and diplomats are rarely in love with speed. Sometimes, they look like living completely out of time. Your "now" could mean, in terms of diplomatic efforts, at least one year or so. Achieving concrete results is always a matter of patience, thinking more than ten times and mostly, avoiding to show off too soon the results.
This pace is visible in what you could call the big international "files". An example. During the last presidential campaign, president Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay. But, of course, it is not only a political decision and behind the curtains, lots of diplomatic negotiations were necessary in order to secure a safe final deal.
When it comes to the issue of the Middle East peace process, from outside it is a neverending process, not yet reaching its final solution. But, as long as you have to deal with complicate partners and with weak or lack of coherent institutional frameworks, it is not a wonder we are still far from a solution.
The communications in this issue are extremely delicate, as long as any declaration could, in fact, create expectations or disappointments and, in fact, complicate the diplomatic process. But, making declarations on this issue is a guarantee of winning the attention of the public opinion. And, in some situations, it is hard to avoid this temptation.
It is how I am trying to read the latest French declarations regarding the Palestinian state. In an interview for Journal de Dimanche, published February 21, the French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, declared:
What’s important at the moment is to build facts on the ground: France is training Palestinian police officers; businesses are being set up on the West Bank… Then we can envisage the rapid proclamation of a Palestinian State and its immediate recognition by the international community, even before its borders are negotiated – I’d be tempted by that – by [recognition by] European countries. I’m not sure of being followed or even of being right.
The declaration was made ahead of the visit in Paris of the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas. After the meeting with Abbas, February 22, not other declarations were made. The declaration from Journal de Dimanche could be considered more than fortuit: police officers and business interest are not, by far, the conditions to talk about a state. You need, for example, legal institutions, reliable fiscal authorities, law enforcement authorities etc. And, what is more surprising for somebody who, as Kouchner had a certain experience with "new" states, is the danger of talking - at the official/diplomatic level - about a state without knowing what the borders of this state are.
The experience he apparently gathered in the Balkans, as first UN Representatives and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), between 1999-2001, was not illustrative enough of the difficult process of building a state? Very hard to understand this concern for "speed" instead of looking for realistic solutions.
February 23, he is back. Together with the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Kouchner signed an article: "A Palestinian state, when?". Stressing the need for a "tough, credible reform based on financial transparency and fighting corruption", to be implemented by the Palestinian Authority, the authors are stressing "the inexorable outlines of the final settlement: absolute security for Israel, recognition when the time comes of a Palestinian State on the basis of the 1967 borders with land swaps, and Jerusalem as the capital of the two States". "Recognition when the times comes". "(...) when the times comes". No speed here.
Spain is currently holding the EU six-month presidency and have a long experience in dealing with the conflict in the Middle East. The diplomacy chief Moratinos was between 1996 and 2003 the European Union special Representative for the Middle East Process. The experience of Spain with the Middle East was controversial in some respects.
Spain continued to consider itself as a bridge between the Arab world and Western Europe, and adopted frequently a pro-Arab stance in most Middle East conflicts. For years, Spain was the only West European country that did not recognize Israel. The Spanish government finally established diplomatic relations with the state of Israel in January 1986. Shortly after, Spain accorded diplomatic status to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Madrid in August 1986. This political support turned at the end of the 1980s into an expanded trade and cultural relations and Spain intended to profile itself as a bridge between different cultures.
Spain hosted in October 1991, the Madrid Conference, who made possible, for the first time ever the reconsidering of the dialogue formula between the main stake-holders in the Middle East, by focusing on an intensive multilateral and bilateral level of negotiations. In 2005, Spain launched together with Turkey the Alliance of Civilisations aimed to bring together the European heritage and to create bridges between Europe and the Middle East. In the same year, during the OSCE chairmanship-in-office, Spain hosted in Cordoba the OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance. Shortly after taking the EU presidency, this January, Spanish authorities supported any kind of efforts "to ensure that Middle East peace negotiations resume as soon as possible".
Everybody is waiting for results in the Middle East. So many years of waiting, so many negotiations started and shortly after aborted, so many public declarations. But, in the same time, pondering a final solution, could be The Solution in the area, and not a solution. Working under the pressure is specific to diplomats. But their main capacity should be to be able to find the best answer. A combination of intuition, general culture and wisdom.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What to do in the case of Greece? Some lessons learned as well

Since a couple of months already, Greece is facing a debt deficit problem. Greece is an EU member and its problems are directly or indirectly affecting the whole European members of the Union. In the same time, the situation, including from the point of view of the history of the relations between Bruxelles and Athens, is offering lots of warnings regarding the future expansions of the European Union.
These relations are concerning the trust between the Hellenic national institutions and the European bodies. The politics of expansions are decided on the basis of various factors: from strong lobby - political, individual, economic - from the part of the candidate countries, from political interests - as it was the case after the end of the Cold War, with so many countries once part of the other side of the Iron Curtain reclaiming their right to be "Europeans", or economic interests. The weights of these interests are varying and are not always very clear.
The final decision for entering the EU is took in accordance with the level of fulfillement of the so-called "Copenhagen Criteria", laid down at the June 1993 European Council in Copenhagen. Shortly, these criteria are requiring to the candidates countries: functional democratic governance, respect of the rule of law, respect for human rights and the protection of minorities, fulfilling the criteria for a functional market economy, legislative alignement with the communitarian legislation. More or less, these criteria are imposing various subjective definitions and, probably, should request careful rephrasing on the basis of recent lessons learned. But, by now, there were the main standards followed in deciding the fate of a candidate.
The annual progress of the candidate countries are evaluated in detailed reports, benchmarks for the local political decision makers. The reports are made in accordance with the information provided by local institutions - in the area of judiciary, or economy - as well as non-governmental association and individuals directly involved in the political processes. The key-word for gaining respect is reliability of the sources. Without reliable and transparent information you cannot build policies and, the degree of openness of various public institutions is an important denominator for the free societies, in comparison with the attitudes encountered in totalitarian states.
As for the member states, the need to respect rules and criteria continue, mainly regarding the economic standards. One of the most important set in this respect are those set by the art. 121 (1) of thee European Community Treaty, the so-called Maastricht criteria of convergence. These regulations are available for the EU member states to enter the third stage of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and to adopt the euro as their currency. Greece wanted among the first to join the EU, hoping to tranfer the responsibility for some internal problems to the European Central Bank. The candidacy was kept in check for two years, but soon after Greece joined the euro, in 2001, it emerged that the Greek government lied about its deficit.
The EU opened its first investigation into Greece’s deficit in 2004 after a revision of data revealed that, contrary to previous indications, the deficit had exceeded the EU ceiling every year since the country adopted the euro. But, at stake it was a more serious matter, one of national pride: the gap reached a euro-area record 7.5 percent that year was swollen by costs for hosting the Olympic Games in Athens.
- The inflation rate should be no more than 1.5 percentage points above the rate for the three EU countries with the lowest inflation over the previous year; Budget deficit: This must generally be below 3% of gross domestic product (GDP)
- The national debt should not exceed 60% of GDP, but a country with a higher level of debt can still adopt the euro provided its debt level are falling steadily
- The long-term rate should be no more than two percentage points above the rate in the three EU countries with the lowest inflation over the previous year
- The national currency's exchange rate should have stayed within certain pre-set margins of fluctuation for two years.
But, as the case of Greece already showed, some serious loopholes could be open by the possibility to alternate the responsibility in terms of separation of monetary and fiscal politicies. Greece enjoyed monetary stability - enforced by the strength of the other EU member countries - but lacked completely a coherent fiscal policy. And, again, the matter of trust intervened: Athens authorites lied again about the budget deficit. Added to a national debt of 113 percent of the GDP, a huge lie of a deficit of 4 percent, instead of the real one, of 12.7 percent of the GDP, in 2009. The limit set is of 3 percent.
What to do?
The question is not so difficult: what EU should do in this respect? Plus: what is to be done in the next future, giving the fact that Greece is not the one and only country facing this kind of problems. In fact, with the exception of the big industrial countries, all of new members - from the Baltic to the last two Eastern European countries members Romania and Bulgaria, plus Spain and Portugal - could be exposed to serious economic risks.
As in the case of Greece it is more about serious system problem, but about accountability, helping Athens in this situation will risk to let unsanctioned a behavior creating serious problem to the economy of the European Union.
On the other side, what consequences to follow at the level of the Union if Greece will not benefit of the required help?
The EU informal summit from February 11, set a couple of lines concerning the "Greek file". According to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the European Union will monitor Greece's fiscal actions on a monthly basis, as the country bids to cut its massive public deficit. The objective set for 2010, according to Sarkozy, is to reduce the deficit by four percentage points of GDP.
A potential aid package might be delivered as well, with a German contribution of almost 20%. In this situation, apparently, a situation was already found. Greece will be saved and, maybe, due to the strict monitoring system announced, it will be able to correct the not-telling-the-truth-attitude in respect with the EU institutions. In the same time, strict and clever mecanisms of control and reporting, mainly in the area of economic parameters, are more than necessary. New countries from the Western Balkans are making small but strong steps to get closer to Bruxelles. Some of them are inheriting serious system disfunctionalities dued to the lack of institutional cultures. Greece could be a start for redefining and reanalysing the general and particular policies. Including regarding building trustworthy relationships among member countries.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A bit about Dubai and its police. And the Middle East, again

Dubai is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. According to the federal distribution of powers, its current ruler since 2006, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is also the prime minister and the vice-president of UAE. The Maktoum family, a powerful bedouin clan, is ruling Dubai since 1833. Al Maktoum is a main donor for charitable institutions in the area, initiated in 2007 a foundation dedicated to reduce the educational gap in the Middle East and is a major figure in international thoroughbred horse racing and breeding. His junior wife is Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, daughter of King Hussein of Jordan and half sister of the current king Abdullah II of Jordan.
Despite the fact that basically the main resources of Dubai were petroleum and gas, currently, these are contributing with less than 6%, the main revenues being tourism, property and financial services. Dubai is the second most expensive city in the region - after Tel Aviv, as of July 2009, according to Mercer Human Resource and Economist Intelligence Unit, and 20th most expensive city in the world. It is considered the "shopping capital of the Middle East" and is attracting yearly lots of tourists and business men from the area or outside the region. In the same time it is having as well a dark side, beyond the perfect PR. English is lingua franca and, despite the fact that, according to the article 7 of the Provisional Constitution Islam is the official state, the attitude towards other denominations is relatively open, in comparison with other countries from the region. In 2005, 84% of the population of metropolitan Dubai was foreign-born, about half of them from India.
The role played as a financial hub and touristic attraction, Dubai is as well the place of various challenges for the local authorities. Beyond the illegal immigration and a relative problematic system of social protection - various reports on human rights are outlining the complicate situation facing the immigrants from Asia - common to other countries from the region as well, there are problems regarding prostitution or international crime.
According to a 2007 PBS documentary Dubai - Night Secrets, prostitution in clubs is tolerated by authorities. Many of the foreign women working there are doing freely, with good financial results. According to the census conducted by the Statistics Center of Dubai, the population of the emirate was 1,422,000 as of 2006, which included 1,073,000 males and 349,000 females. Shortly, men outnumber women to a 3 to 1 ratio.
Being a Las Vegas of the Middle East involves as well various other problems, and the last episode is not the first. And, for sure, not the last. Less than a year ago, Sulim Yamadayev, a Chechen leader who was once a close aide to Chechen President Ramazan Kadyrov, was gunned down in the parking lot of the Jumeirah Beach Residence, the luxury Dubai apartment building where he resided for several months, dying later in the hospital. A golden gun, which allegedly belonged to Kadyrov, was left at the crime scene. Dubai Police arrested two suspects in the case, but the main suspect, a Russian Duma deputy named Adam Delimkhanov, is still wanted in the UAE. Delimkhanov represented the United Russia party, is Kadyrov's cousin and one of his close associates. Yamadaev was de facto commander of the Russian military special Battalion Vostok, belonging to the GRU, but was as well a commander on the Russian side in the war with Georgia.
Last April, Dubai police declared the case solved and forwarded to Interpol a request to arrest Delimkhanov. Police chief Tamim called on Russia to “take responsibility in front of the world to control these killers from Chechnya.” For the moment, nothing changed as far, but the local police authorities prooved themselves as efficient and able to solve dangerous international riddles.
The Dubai Police was established with only 29 members back on June 1, 1956, in Naif Fort, which still operates as a police station. It has law enforcement jurisdiction over the emirate; the force is under direct command of the ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. In this case, solving difficult cases and giving proof of efficiency could mean more than a professional duty.
It consider itself to be the most forward-thinking and progressive Arab police forces accordin to its own website. “Comprising our ranks are 15,000 personnel of the highest educational standard of any organization"..."We are unlike any other Police Force in the world". Many of the Dubai police personnel come from abroad, while others studied and trained in foreign countries, including Egypt. Its slogan - "Quality".
The force is proud to outline that it been the first in the Arab world to use DNA testing in criminal investigations, the first to use electronic finger printing, and the first to implement the concept of a paperless department. As well, it is using an Automatic Vehicle Location. It includes as well a Human Rights Department.
The latest update on its website reports that the “passports of the mercenaries” who killed Mabhouh were not fake. “Dubai immigration officers were trained by European security experts to spot such documents. This training qualifies immigration officers to spot fake passports. They applied these procedures at Dubai airport when the alleged [killers] entered the country,” he said. “No forgery was found in those passports.”
I dare to say the website is extremely well organised and providing various useful information. The public reactions and the statements released the last days are showing a high knowledge of PR and communications strategies. In the same time, communicating all the time it is not always a sign of efficiency. permanently releasing messages is one thing, thinking about what the opportunity is another one. The latest declarations are a bit too hasty, if not ridiculous. Of course it is a matter of pride and publicly, the emirate do not have anything to do than to react and send messages of trust to the other neighbours from the area, overprotecting of possible retaliations. It is, for sure, only a very small episode, in the turmoiled permanent history of the Middle East.
What's next?

Diplomatic rephrasing

Iran "could be making nuclear warhead". A small change, but still a change in the UN usual phraseology, when it comes to Iran.
From the very technical point of view, you do not need too many sentences and diplomatic words to identify how much enriched uranium do you need in order to produce atomic bombs. From the political point of view, you do not need to many imagination to conclude how such a capability could be used by a non-democratic country.
Read my lips? And nothing than my lips?

The case of the Falklands

I always have been very skeptical to use the geopolitical theories when trying to explain foreign affairs. Under a sophisticated wrapping of words you try to excuse basic abuses and "raisons d'etat" of various kinds.
It is easier to explain situations on a case-by-case basis, using more or less recent historical situations, changes of mentalities, economic reasons, irational decisions took by decision-makers laking any kind of rationality.
Islands always played a big role in our human builded imagination, proof being the utopian and SF stories. Beyond literature and fantasies, islands were important as strategical avanposts and ways to exert certain influences. Or, at least, projecting such intentions. Cyprus could be a good example from this point of view, as a possible gate of Europe to the Middle East as well as a junction point of various cultures and influences.
On the other side, our need for resources, directly proportional with the sophistication of our needs and the increase of population is a reality of the last decade. We need more and the resources identified by far are limited. Thus, loooking for new potential energy hubs is a counter time long ride. Is not geopolitics or desire to impose a certain power, but a need of survival. Up to the position on the evolution scale, the survival is, of course, perceived differently.
Different as well are also the pressure and, not least, political resources the countries could use in order to defend and protect their economical interest. From this point of view, the recent tensions between Argentina and the UK around the issue of Falklands are showing the need to go beyond the old Cold War confrontational paradigm and think at a very practical level.
The increasing dependence of natural resources is changing on short, medium and long term habits and communities. And, more or less it is a change of perception among the representatives of the young generation, less focus on recent painful historical episodes and more interested about a better future. These perceptions could maintain a permanent pressure against over reacting outside pressure. If the drilling will start or not, or if meanwhile behind the mediatic buzz, negotiations are on the way, the final solution of the current conflict - but not the whole conflict - cannot neglect the high pressure of including both the concern for sharing more resources, but taking into account as well the needs of the local communities. Because, sooner or later, policies - including in foreign policy - will have to be understood more than confrontations of powers - in geopolitical terms - but as providing content and including pertinent solutions - as the environmental aspects together with answers to social and economic aspects.
For the moment, it looks like nother utopia of the island.


The recent killing of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai, opened thousand of discussions about secret services, honour, diplomacy, who should be arrested and why and for how long.
We could see some consequences of the current - mediatic mostly - arguments, and could expect other changes when a new and serious discussion about the plans of peace in the Middle East will be reopened. Openly speaking, some of the recent media reports and comments I've seen in the last days are more than ridiculous, and do not have nothing to do with intelligence, the human intelligence.
But, what I missed - hope it is only a problem of my incapacity to access the best journalistic sources - is the following point of view: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was not an innocent being walking on the streets of Dubai looking for the best icecream in the Arab world. He assumed he killed two persons and was part of a network of smuggling weapons. If somebody will perpetrate at least one of these acts, in a Western country, will be put on trial, convincted and sent to prison. Eventually, for the rest of his life. In this case, as far as I remember, it was not the case. He travelled in the Middle East, he confessed in the media about the killing and how he succeeded to escape. I do not know if he is a hero for the local public opinion in the region. But, at least, somebody who did what he did and still free could encourage many other people - youngsters, for example - to do the same, without taking care of being convicted.
At the end of the day, in fact, it is a matter of having laws, respecting it, respecting the rule of law.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


A very candid and innocent question. Maybe more than one.
I am watching these days the last "evolutions" in the case of Iran. I previously watches what happened during the post-electoral unrest. As well as the moves from the nuclear camp.
Thus: why the usual anti-atomic movements are silent in this case? It is more than pollution here, it is a thread regarding the regional stability in the Middle East. A similar questio regarding the North Korea nuclear program, in a country were people are starving, but their regime is strengthening the atomic profile.
And: when people demonstrating against their government and are killed in the street, it is more than human to reject such an attitude. It is not about the clash of civilisations or the autonomy to take decisions. But, about human rights and the right of these people to refuse to be burried under the commitments an undemocratic power is asking them. Is their right to tell the world they are alive. Where are those are worried about the human rights in the Middle East? Iran is a proud member of the UN. It is a matter of credibility and accountability of the international institutions. And to let people being killed because a religious institution decided to, is a deep misunderstanding of the multiculturalism.