Focal Points Blog

Crimea: Just Who’s Encroaching on Whom?

NATO aircraft

NATO aircraft

Is the Russian occupation of the Crimea a case of aggressive expansionism by Moscow or is it aimed at blocking a scheme by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to roll right up to the Russia’s western border? WikiLeaks has revealed a secret cable describing a meeting between French and American diplomats that suggests the latter, a plan that has been in the works since at least 2009.

Titled “A/S Gordon’s meeting with policy makers in Paris,” the cable summarizes a Sept. 16, 2009 get-together between Philip Gordon, then assistant U.S. Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and French diplomats Jean-David Levitte, Damien Loras, and Francois Richier. Gordon is currently a special assistant to President Obama on the Middle East.
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The Ukraine Crisis: Rebooting Russia?

The Kremlin

The Kremlin

The crisis in Ukraine continues. Russian soldiers are in Crimea, and there are suggestions from Moscow that Eastern Ukraine might be next. Russian lawmakers are rushing to draft legislation that will legalize the expropriation of assets from American and European companies doing business in Russia. Pundits are warning that a new Cold War is upon us. And I keep thinking about a crazy conspiracy theory I once heard.

Over the eighteen years that I have been studying East Europe, I’ve heard many wild conjectures about how things are not what they seem in the post-communist second world. Instead, there are secret plots by dark suited men in shadowy rooms. Back in 2008, a Bulgarian friend laid out the biggest conspiracy theory of them all.  
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Nuclear Weapons and Guns: Comrades in Arms

NuclearWarhead

A nuclear weapon and a gun may be far apart on the arms spectrum, but they’re more alike than not. They’re both designed to kill by setting off detonations – one massive, the other miniaturized. Both depend, also to different degrees, on deterrence for their effectiveness. What’s more, the imperative to “go forth and propagate” seems to inform both nuclear proliferation and the profusion of guns. But nuclear disarmament and gun control are difficult to enact in the United States because nuclear-weapons advocates and pro-gun campaigners twist the law, in the form of treaties and the Constitution, to their own ends.

Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) calls for negotiations on “measures relating to nuclear disarmament,” as well as “a treaty on general and complete disarmament” (an umbrella term that covers conventional weapons and the arms trade, as well as nuclear weapons). While nuclear disarmament and gun control run on different tracks, it might be useful to compare and contrast them in hopes of shunting nuclear weapons and guns to the same rail yard. Once there – if on timetables reflecting their force differential – they can finally be decommissioned.
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Trade Unionists in Hungary Seek to Keep Jaws of Austerity From Closing on Them

Peter Fiedler

Peter Fiedler

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

One of the memorable events of the Hungarian transition period was the day that the taxi drivers went on strike. It was October 1990, and the economic changes were starting to bite. After the Soviet Union cut back oil shipments to Hungary, the government in Budapest dramatically raised the price of gas. In response, taxi drivers and teamsters essentially shut down the country over a three-day period. It was just a taste of what was to come in terms of austerity measures.

But how the strike ended was equally important. The government sat down with representatives of employers and employees and hammered out an agreement. This National Reconciliation Council was Hungary’s attempt to create a tripartite system that would advance economic development with a measure of social harmony. That council remained in place for more than 20 years.
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Egyptian Military “Cures” for AIDS and Hepatitis C Symptom of Its Desperation

Gen. Abdel Fatah El Sisi and former President Mohamed Morsi

Gen. Abdel Fatah El Sisi and former President Mohamed Morsi

A rational and sane person would think that the Egyptian military would come back to its senses after it became the source of international ridicule after its top leaders announced that they have found a cure for AIDS and the Hepatitis C Viruses.But that’s not the case so far. Ever since the military staged a coup against a democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, last year, it looks more intent on remaking the Egyptian political and social landscape in a way that would make Gen. Abdel Fatah El Sisi the inevitable president whom Egypt and Egyptians need more than he needs them.

Meanwhile, the lack of clear and unequivocal American and Western support for the coup appears to be the main reason that drives the new Egyptian leaders’ thinking and the source of increasing hostility to the US  in the official and private media outlets as reported by the Wall Street Journal last year.
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The Dark Side of the Ukraine Revolt

Svoboda demonstrating

Svoboda demonstrating

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TheNation.com.

The April 6 rally in Cherskasy, a city 100 miles southeast of Kiev, turned violent after six men took off their jackets to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Beat the Kikes” and “Svoboda,” the name of the Ukrainian ultranationalist movement and the Ukrainian word for “freedom.
– Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 12, 2013

While most of the Western media describes the current crisis in the Ukraine as a confrontation between authoritarianism and democracy, many of the shock troops who have manned barricades in Kiev and the western city of Lviv these past months represent a dark page in the country’s history and have little interest in either democracy or the liberalism of Western Europe and the United States.
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What Kind of Politician Bases a Major Foreign Policy Speech on Civilian Casualties?

Civilian casualties

Not sure why exactly, unless she really is thinking of running for president, but, at Georgetown University on February 26, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA, as if you didn’t know) strayed from her usual domain of banking and consumer protections to deliver her first foreign-policy speech. With U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, she posed these questions for the future of the U.S. role abroad.

How do we best balance liberty and security? What role, if any, should nation-building play in our military strategy? When, if ever, should we engage in a so-called war of choice?

Then she said:

Today, I want to focus on a related question about how we advance our national interests – a question that is discussed less often than many of the others, but one that I think deserves our attention. How should we think about civilian casualties and their effect on our strategic decisions?
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In India Book Withdrawal Sparks Criticism

Vishnu

Vishnu

A few weeks ago, Penguin India decided to remove from circulation and destroy any remaining copies of a 2009 book, The Hindus: An Alternate Anthology, by Wendy Doniger, an eminent scholar of Hinduism at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The decision sparked widespread outrage and criticism within literary circles in India and abroad.

Penguin India’s decision came after a three-year court battle over a 2011 lawsuit filed by the Shiksha Bachao Andolan (Save Education Movement), a right-wing Hindu group. The suit claimed that the book hurt “the religious feelings of millions of Hindus” and violated Section 295a of the Indian Penal Code, which makes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens” criminally punishable.
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Africa’s Supposed Failure to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals

Africa Poverty

There are currently 7 billion people living on our planet. Some 80 percent, or 4.7 billion, of those people live on a meager $10 a day. The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population holds just 5 percent of global income, while the richest 20 percent holds 75 percent. The stark divide between the rich and the poor was addressed in a series of conferences and summits held by the United Nations that culminated in the United Nations Millennium Declaration in September 2000. From this summit the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were born.

The MDGs consist of eight broad goals that range from eradication of extreme poverty and achieving universal education to ensuring environmental stability and fighting diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS. The goals, agreed to by all the world leaders that attended the summit, are laudable—after all, eradicating poverty is one of our most pressing global issues—however, they are not free from criticism.
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Sochi Brought to Fore Not Just Russian Homophobia, But Islamophobia

Image Wikimedia Commons

Image Wikimedia Commons

The Sochi Olympics proved to be a big success — exactly what Russia wanted. Right from the opening ceremony itself, the entire event was a megalith in terms of popularity and success. If one wanted to catch a glimpse of Russia’s glorious past as well as its vibrant art, this year’s Winter Olympics were the thing to watch!

But the Olympics at Sochi were not without their share of controversy. Take, for example, the case of the Pussy Riot protest performance.

So success on one hand and chaos on the other. A mixed bag, probably?

However, Russia’s mixed bag had one key element missing.

The plight of the Muslims of Sochi.
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