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A new Cold War front

Nikolaj Nielsen
18 April 2008

Russian President Vladmir Putin says Russia will recognize the legal entities in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia inside Georgia. The announcement, made on Wednesday, drew a strong reaction from Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili who said Russian endorsement of the separatist movement threatens Georgia’s sovereignty. NATO, the European Union, and the United States have also condemned Putin’s comments. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Russia must not recognize these provinces. Russia’s Federation Council is set to vote on whether or not officially recognize the independence of the two regions on April 25.

The toD verdict: The scenic breakaway province of Abkhazia was once a popular holiday destination of the Soviet elite. Nestled between the coastline of the Black Sea and the Caucaus mountain range, Abkhazia is a brisk 45-minute drive away from Putin’s summer resort in Sochi. While the province basks in the Mediterranean style climate, a diplomatic row between Russia and the US-backed Georgian republic is brewing a dark cloud on the horizon. In the early 1990s, Abkhazia clashed with Georgia, eventually driving out the Georgian half of the population. For the past fifteen years, Russia’s unremitted support of the breakaway region extends from offering Russian citizenship, subsidies and economic incentives, to a contingent of 1000 Russian “peace-keepers” along the border. These “peace-keepers” now face 2000 Georgian soldiers who gathered last week in the Upper Kodori valley, an area inside Abkhazia that Georgia re-occupied in 2006.

Putin’s decision to acknowledge the legal entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia came only one day after the United Nations Security Council adapted a resolution to extend its mission to ensure Georgian territory. Kremlin’s portentous move is meant to destabilize Georgia’s NATO candidacy by making it a potential flashpoint. Russia sees any eastward expansion of NATO as a threat and was vehemently opposed to Georgia’s application for Membership Action Plan (MAP) during this month’s NATO summit in Bucharest. MAP is the last stage before NATO membership which was eventually denied to both Georgia and the Ukraine.

The diplomatic clashes and background maneuvers by the US and Russia is a harbinger to cooler relations, reminiscent of the Cold War. Washington wants to station interceptor missiles in Poland, ostensibly to ward off attacks from rogue states like Iran and North Korea. Furthermore, recognizing the ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo as an independent state by the international community this past February enraged the Kremlin. Meanwhile on the Abkhaz border of Gaz, Abkhaz military leaders talk of war.

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A call to arms supposedly delivered by al-Qaida’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, was circulated on the internet to mark the five year anniversary of Iraq’s invasion by coalition forces. Ayman al-Zawahri is considered to be al-Qaida’s chief strategist. Its authenticity could not be verified, however, this is the second time in a month a message by the same speaker was issued. The 16-minute audio goes on to say that Iraq must become an Islamic state and a “fortress of Islam.” It also says the fight to take Jerusalem would start in Iraq.

Renowned poet laid to rest

Martinque’s most celebrated poet and anti-colonialist, Aimer Cesaire, died at the age of 94 yesterday. Cesaire and his works instilled a positive cultural pride in black heritage which helped former French departement become a nation. His path of resistance against colonial oppression began in the 1930s when he co-founded the journal Black Student in Paris. Twenty years later, he published “Discourse on Colonialism,” regarded as seminal book in French political literature. Aside from a one year break, he was a mayor of Fort-de-France in Martinque from 1945 to 2001.

UK sailors not in Iraq when seized

The fifteen UK sailors taken captive by Iran in March of last year were not seized in Iraqi waters. The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) released a statement saying the arrests took place in an area that was internationally recognized as Iraq. Furthermore, the release says the US-UK coalition had arbitrarily designated the dividing line between Iraq and Iran without informing Iran. A top coalition official said the absence of an agreed boundary and the failure to communicate led to the incident. Former Defense Secretary Lord Heseltine said the MoD was humiliated.

New $7 billion US/Pakistan bilateral relation

US drones will no longer wreak havoc in the tribal areas along the Afghan Pakistan border. As part of a new strategy to curb militancy, the US has signed a new bilateral agreement with Pakistan’s civilian government. The deal is meant to focus on non-military counter-terrorism measures. The new $7 billion aid package, put together by Senator Joe Biden, marks a shift of focus from President Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani army to civilian government.

The new deal comes in light of a scathing report by the Government Accountability Office which has criticized the Bush administration for failing to construct a strategy to combat terrorism in Pakistan. The report says of the $10.5 billion given to Pakistan, 96 percent of $6 billion went to reimburse 120,000 Pakistani troops. Six years later, al-Qaida havens remain firmly entrenched in the area.

An unnamed US administration official said Musharraf’s influence is waning and that the new civilian government must be reckoned with. Pakistani officials say the funds will be spent on civilian law enforcement institutions, the intelligence bureau, and the federal investigation agency and not the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) organisation. The US has also set aside another $1 billion “democracy dividend” as a reward for Pakistan’s peaceful elections and formation of a coalition government.

ETA bomb blast

The Basque separatist group Eta detonated a bomb yesterday in the outskirts of the Spanish town of Balboa. The blast apparently injured a half dozen police officers and massively damaged a building housing Spain’s ruling Socialist party. A half hour before it detonated, an anonymous caller informed the police of the bomb.

Muslim Brotherhood sentenced without charges

Cario has jailed twenty-five members of the Muslim Brotherhood after two days of deliberation in a military court. Some of the members were sentenced up to ten years. Defense lawyer Abdel Monieum Abdel Maqsoud said the men were initially charged with terrorism and money laundering. These charges were later dropped. Senior Brotherhood leader Khayrat al Shater was sentenced to seven years. A Brotherhood spokesman says the convictions are politically motivated on the part of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who fears the Brotherhood may pose a threat to his son Gamal.

Middle east’s largest weapons convention

Foreign Policy has published a photo essay of the middle e

ast’s largest military weapons biennial held in Amman, Jordan. Some 10,000 people attended the Special Operations Forces Exhibition (SOFEX). King Abdullah II of Jordan is SOFEX’s principal sponsor, attracting several hundred exhibitors from sixty countries.

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