Friday, January 31, 2014

Tensed elections in Thailand

This Sunday, Thailand is organizing general elections, that will take place in a tensed environment following months of political unrest. Around 10,000 security forces will be at work in the next days, trying to guarantee a peaceful electoral process, while the representatives of the opposition are announcing mass demonstrations and made appeal for boycott. 
The elections were called by the prime minister in office, Yingluck Shinawatra, the first woman holding such a position in the democratic history of the country, following the unrest from the last months, that affects the economy and tourism of the country. Shinawatra, originally from the North of the country, was accused of trying to pass a law that might made possible the return to Thailand of the exiled tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, who is in exile shortly after being changed through a military coup in 2006, is still considered a powerful influence due to his numerous businesses still operating in the country, especially in the North and North eastern area. I personally remember how years ago I visited this region and was explained at a silk factory how grateful people are to Taksin for his successful companies employing people and giving them various benefits.
The representatives of the opposition, especially Suthrep Thansuban, a former deputy prime minister for the Democrat Party, called for a boycott of the elections accusing the prime-minister of being a sock puppet of the tycoon.
Thailand went through similar unrest almost 4 years ago, when around 90 people died following the conflicts between the intervention forces and the demonstrants. 
This Sunday early general elections are the 25th since 1933 and organized according to the 2007 Constitution. The votes will be given for electing new members of the House of Representatives. 

What Kerry wants

To be honest, I have big doubts about John Kerry's diplomatic skills and it is my right as citizen of the world to doubt it. In the last decade, the representatives of the American diplomacy in general are nothing but diluted shadows of what the function of State Secretary used to be. Hopefully, the main diplomats preparing the memos and representing the US interests abroad didn't change, but this is another good story.
As for Kerry, the benchmarks of his glorious mandate are not glamorous. During his first speech dedicated to the foreign-aid, an important instrument of branding America abroad, and not only, he branded a new country 'Kyrzakhstan'. Last August, while in Pakistan, he praised the merits of the Egyptian Army in preserving democracy - probably he watched the wrong movie a couple of years late. His speeches about Syria where confusing and created a lot of problems to the White House and other professional diplomats, fighting to correct for hours his risky statements made without watching the files prepared by the specialists.
No wonder that the White House sent a special help for the chief of the diplomats, Jen Psaki, the former spokesperson of Obama during 2012 elections, where will occupy a similar position.

New York Times diplomacy

The practice to use the media for sending diplomatic messages is not new and not invented by the US. However, in big serious issues, the recommendation will be to use the normal channels. Such a tactic is usually employed when someone wants to test certain ideas and initiatives. Somehow, when the ideas and projects are very important, it is not a very smart idea to play such media games.
However, the same Kerry did it by using the pen of the close friend of Obama administration, Thomas Friedman, in the case of the Middle East peace plan.
Due to the stakes and the implications, I humbly think that it is a very childish idea, to keep the diplomatic language.
You don't need to write books about the Middle East to know that most of the ideas presented by Friedman as part of the plan are not acceptable and will never work out. If Washington wanted to know how the political allies of Netanyahu will react, they only needed to hire a good Hebrew reader to watch for a week or 10 days the local media. And if they think that without Netanyahu - who is a skilful politician, to keep the same diplomatic language - they will get any 'deal', they underestimate seriously the situation.
But, remember, Kerry was the one who had a nice dinner with Bashar al-Assad when the same Assad was butchering his people. No comment.

The 'plan'

According to the well informed Friedman, the 'plan' includes: a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank; an increased security arrangement in the Jordan Valley (Obama and King Abdullah are expected to meet the 6th of February in California, anyway); an Arab capital in the East Jerusalem; the recognition of the Jewish state by the Palestinian Authority (whose head, Abu Mazen has big problems not only with recognizing Shoah, but also with managing the extreme militant Islamist elements); the maintenance of a couple of settlements, under the condition of compensation from the Israeli state; the right to return of the Palestinian refugees will not be recognized.
Dan Shapiro, the US Ambassador of Israel, said on the occasion of his participation of a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies that the ideas were mostly expressed by the Israeli and Palestinian representatives and does not reflect a strict 'American authorship'. On the other hand, one day before, Benjamin Netanyahu said that the ideas reflect the American ideas. During the government meeting the last Sunday, Netanyahu said that the Jews living in the West Bank might be under the authority of the Palestinian Authority. 
Right now, the security of the settlements is in the majority of cases guaranteed by the IDF, not becaue they like it, but due to the often serious security threats from their Palestinian neighbours.


Present at the same discussion of the Institute for National Security Studies, Stephen Hadley, the former national security advisor under the former US president George W. Bush, an experienced diplomat and security expert, outlined that there might be a coincidence between the 'peace plan' and the negotiations with Iran. Most specifically, Benjamin Netanyahu needs serious guarantees that the deal with Iran will be strong enough to do not expose Israel to an atomic danger and thereafter will consider the peace options at home.
On the Israeli home front, the situation turns to be problematic. Local politicians supporting a peace, like the Finance minister Yair Lapid, warns that the EU sanctions - that were never so fast and serious when it was about dealing with the human rights violations in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Syria and many other parts of the world - will affect seriously the Israeli economy. 
The local economy is going through difficult times already, but mostly to the some disfunctionalities of a primarily socialist system non fully adapted to the market economy. 
The possibilities of local elections are quite high, due to the fact that part of the Likud party as well as the bloc party of HaBayt HaYehudi, will never accept the deal. Naftali Bennett, a young leader with a lot of support in the settlements, and the minister of Economy, warned that the deal will over expose Judea and Samaria to serious security threats. 
This Friday, around 2,000 persons gathered in the Old City of Jerusalem to oppose the main points of the 'peace deal' as appeared in the media. 
As for Mr. Kerry, his office declined the possibility of a visit, the 11th within one year, in the region in the next days. 
The peace in the Middle East is a honest wish for many citizens of the Jewish state and probably for many Palestinians too. But it should be done realistically, understanding the needs of the region and the possibilities of the local elites. Something that the NYTimes diplomacy will most likely fail to address. And a dinner with Bashar al-Assad will not bring good inspiration either. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The German connections of Khodorkovsky case

Putin's decision to pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, was obviously a symbolic and propagandistic move, aimed to improve the country's image, before Sochi winter games. Together with Khodorkovsky, who was anyway schedule to be freed this August, the doors of the prison opened too for the Pussy Riots girls. 
On the other hand, Khodorkovsky's cause was constantly supported by German politicians and business circles, many of them travelling to Kremlin often in order to request his release. Before being imprisoned, in 2003, the Russian businessman had a last press conference at Hotel Adlon, in Berlin, where he disclosed the corruption and illegalities of Putin's clique. The German diplomacy regularly brought the issue into the agenda of the bilateral discussions. Khodorkovsky's mother was treated for cancer in Germany.
Upon his arrival to Berlin, Khodorkovsky once very close to the nomenklatura of the 'reformed' Russia, was welcomed at the airport by Hans Dietrich Genscher, who had a great contribution to writing the closing chapter of communism. On September 1989, he convinced the Czech authorities to help the refugees from the then DDR. Together with the Hungarian politician Gyula Horn, to whose funerals he participated the last June, and other reformist Hungarian politicians he built the support for the destruction of the Wall. Genscher is a professional politician, with a long governmental career. Between 1969 and 1974 he was Interior minister under Willy Brandt and minister of Foreign Affaris between 1974-1992, under Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl.
The trip of Khodorkovsky to Berlin was prepared by the German diplomacy, but the transportation was made with the airplane provided by the Swiss-German businessman Ulrich Bettermann, the owner of the concern OBO. Bettermann and Genscher went together to the funerals of Horn. Bettermann has also high-end political connections, being one of the founders of the Davos forum and being often a hosted international statesmen such as Henry Kissinger or Mikhail Gorbachev.
Sometimes, the political connections are intricate and may change over time. The old friendships built in time are not easy to destroy. Khodorkovsky was allowed one-year stay in Germany and received a three-month visa for Switzerland, where two of his children study. Shortly after the release, he announced that will dedicate time and energy to fight on behalf of the political prisoners in Russia. His son is already involved in human rights projects in the US. 

New EU Greek presidency is presenting its priorities

Greece still coping with social instability and serious economic deficit took over today the semestrial EU presidency, one of the most important events of the mandate being the European elections this May. Due to the increasing climate of uncertainties about the economic future of the Eurozone and widespread Euroscepticism, the next months are an important test for the unity of Europe.
Under the motto: 'United we sail further', the priorities of the Greek presidency, presented on the official website since the end of the year, are focused on growth and jobs, creating the conditions for the banking union and coping with illegal migration and a growth oriented towards mobility in the area of freedom, security and justice. These objectives were already on the agenda of previous presidents. 
Greece brings to the agenda its own priority, the creation of an integrated maritime policy for the EU. This covers the domain of maritime spatial planning, fisheries, alternative energies and one of the most proficient domain for the economy of Greece, tourism. The last year, tourism recorded an impressive number of 17.8 million tourists, bringing a 12.5 billion EUR. to the economy. The Greek officials are optimistic about the perspective of negotiating a debt deal till the end of the presidency, on 30 June. 
During the official ceremonies today, a 18-hour ban of protests was imposed, and around 2,000 policemen are expected to be at work the entire day. The majority of left or right groups that are usually protesting will respect the ban, with the exception of some far-left organization that already announced the mobilization for a rally in Athens. 
Alex Tsipras, leader of the main opposition party, Syriza - left - announced its absence from the official ceremonies scheduled in Athens, as a message of open disagreement with the policies of the current government. 
Even though the chances to obtain tremendous results in such a short time and given the fact that many EU politicians will be busy to convince their electorate at home for a new mandate, this 6-month presidency gives Greece a symbolical chance to improve its image abroad. The economic problems of the last years, and the increasing influence of the far-right, as well as the resuscitation of various far-left groups created dramatic problems for the perception of Greece in Europe. The next six months can create many interesting image and diplomatic opportunities for the future of the country. 

Here is the logo presentation animation of the Greek Presidency:

Monday, January 6, 2014

New series of Foreign Policy Focus reports

Various writing and professional assignments kept me away the last year from my foreign policy interests. I continued to read and watch the latest evolutions on the international stage, but did not have too much time and energy to organize my thoughts and to publish too many articles on my blog.
This time, I promise a serious come back, with a new book that probably will be ready in maximum 2 months on a very challenging topic - to be disclosed at a certain unexpected moment - new analysis ready in the next days and also new country reports that I call: Political Guides, covering country profiles and insights about the world countries (if everything will go as expected, I plan to publish at the end of the year a full e-book). I will focus especially on the Middle East and Europe, but also on the influence on social media on daily diplomatic works. An old dream of mine is to try to analyse the frozen conflicts especially from the point of view of the soft diplomacy efforts and its failures and successes. 
Compared with the other years, I plan to be more involved in covering life foreign policy events, mostly in Europe, but also publishing interviews and regular contributions with and from respected authorities on various topics.
Last but not least, I have plenty of books and booklets and reports and other information that I should read as fast as I can for regular reviews. Time is always a serious challenge, and I will try to cope with it in the most gracious way.

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Let's keep in touch very soon!