Stop Putin in Ukraine, or Baltics will be next

andreipiontkovskyIf the West does not stop Vladimir Putin’s campaign to subordinate Ukraine to Moscow, then the Kremlin leader will move against the Baltic countries even though that carries with it the direct threat of a military conflict with NATO, according to Russian analyst Andrey Piontkovsky.

But if Putin and his concept of a “Russian world” is stopped in Ukraine, something that still can be achieved by economic and political means, the Russian analyst continues, then he will be overthrown by elites in Moscow, Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia reports.

Some in the West understand the second danger and want to avoid driving Putin into a corner from which he might behave in unpredictably radical ways, few understand what Putin is doing in Ukraine is part of a much broader and more threatening scenario and that he will have to be stopped at some point, said Piontkovsky, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Many want to view what is happening in Ukraine as a special case, Piontkovsky says, but they are wrong. What is happening there is “part of a global project and Putin is not concealing this.” His notion of a “Russian world” is a threat to the world because it is “a remake of Hitler’s Sudentenland speech.”

This is not to say that Putin is the Hitler of today in all respects. But in his foreign policy actions, “the parallels are so obvious that one of the Kremlin propagandists [Andrannik Migranyan in "Izvestiya"] acknowledged that yes, this is very similar to the actions of Hitler but the Hitler before 1939.”

That statement, Piontkovsky says, “indicates the level of the analogy. For Hitler, revenge for [Germany's] defeat in World War I was the central issue; for Putin, it is revenge for defeat [of the Soviet Union] in the Cold War.”


Kremlin targets journalists investigating deaths of Russian soldiers


Credit: BBC

Credit: BBC

Journalists investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers that news reports claimed were killed during Russia’s alleged involvement in Ukraine’s conflict have been targeted in a series of attacks since late August, writes Elena Milashina, Moscow Correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists. The attacks, mostly by unknown assailants, began after they tried to investigate the mysterious deaths of Russian soldiers.

According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), the Moscow-based press freedom group, attacks on local and international journalists covering the story have spiked. In at least five cases in August, GDF documented threats, arbitrary detentions, denial of access to public information, use of violence, and physical assaults……

The attacks started after the independent newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, published a series of reports claiming members of 76th Division had been deployed secretly to eastern Ukraine, and had been actively involved in the conflict with pro-Russia separatists. Russia denies the claims. On August 29, the newspaper’s publisher, Lev Shlosberg, who is also a politician with the opposition party Yabloko, was the victim of a vicious attack that he said was in retaliation for his paper’s investigation into the deaths of Russian paratroopers in Ukraine. In a series of reports, the newspaper alleged that up to 100 soldiers from Pskov were killed in eastern Ukraine in August. …..

On Tuesday, Shlosberg filed a formal request asking the office of the Russian general prosecutor to investigate the deaths of 12 soldiers who served in Pskov region, the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported.

After he filed the request, the state-owned news channel Vesti released a lengthy report on Shlosberg’s case. But instead of following up on his inquiry, the broadcaster portrayed him as a traitor and recipient of foreign grants, including from the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy.


Bahrain reform plan prompts protests, as court upholds activists’ jail terms

Maryam al-KhawajaOn September 18, Bahrain media reported that Crown Prince Salman, perceived as a conciliator, had sent a letter to his father, King Hamad, outlining areas of “common ground” in talks on political reforms, writes Simon Henderson, a Gulf specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

Five core elements were listed: redistricting to ensure greater representation; legislative changes to allow parliament to question ministers, including the prime minister; parliamentary approval of the cabinet; improvement in judicial standards and judiciary independence; and security-sector changes, including new codes of conduct for the security forces. In the absence of actual reforms, the crown prince’s efforts to clarify the issues could simply exacerbate the country’s divisions, Henderson suggests:

On September 19, Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the main al-Wefaq opposition faction, told a large group of demonstrators that the proposals did not represent “the will of the people” and the elections would be “illegitimate.” … The opposition is no doubt frustrated at being offered the prospect of political reform but only after elections in which their hope of victory is nil. A large-scale boycott would be embarrassing for the government, yet delaying the vote until reforms are enacted is probably not a realistic option. Under the constitution, polls have to be held before December 15 unless the king extends the terms of current members of parliament by two years. Perhaps the ominous presence of the “Islamic State”/ISIS in Syria and Iraq — which is a danger to Bahrain’s Shiites and ruling family alike — will avert a major crisis at home.

A Bahraini appeals court Sunday confirmed five-year jail terms imposed on nine Shiites, among them a photojournalist and an online activist, for calling for the overthrow of the Sunni monarchy, AFP reports:

Dozens of Bahraini Shiites have been handed lengthy prison terms after being convicted of involvement in protests that have shaken the kingdom since February 2011. The court upheld an April ruling sentencing photographer Hussain Hubail and activist Jassim al-Nuaimi, along with seven other Shiites, to five years in prison, after convicting them of promoting the overthrow of the regime “through illegal means via media and social networks”.

bahrainThe Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has been informed by the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) about the provisional release pending trial of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja (above left),GCHR Co-Director and a member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR):  

According to the information received, on September 18, 2014, the public prosecution ordered the release of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja pending her trial on 1 October 2014, for allegedly assaulting a police officer at the airport. A travel ban has been imposed on her and a guarantee of her place of residence was required as a condition of her release. She is due to appear on October 1 2014 before the High Criminal Court. If convicted, she can face up to two years of imprisonment.

Today, the Shia political opposition looks to London and Washington for help, but if there is no effective help, and if  they remain effectively disenfranchised, the day will come when some among them begin to look instead to Tehran, warns Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies with the Council on Foreign Relations:

That will be a disaster for Bahrain and for the United States– a kind of “reverse Iraq,” for in Iraq it was the Shia-led government of prime minister Maliki that refused compromise and alienated the Sunni population.

The United States should not today be pressuring the Shia community, led by the al-Wefaq organization, to participate in the elections come what may. The ground rules and the terms of compromise count. Al-Wefaq participated in parliament from 2006 to 2010 under pressure to play the political game, produce change, and reap the benefits. But there were no benefits; the experiment failed. Bahrain is today less free than it was a decade ago.

Instead, the United States should be pressing both sides for a genuine and meaningful compromise, and should be urging the King to act now to save his country from strife that surely lies ahead unless he uses his influence and his power to guide change, argues Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Democracies do best in fight against graft


In many countries, corruption is so endemic that it is considered impossible to eradicate. And yet India, Brazil and SA have created institutions and processes to fight at least some corruption, writes a prominent analyst.

Many of these tools would be impossible to use in the absence of the democratic institutions that support them, writes Ann Bernstein, head of the Centre for Development and Enterprise:

We also know much more about corruption in democratic societies than we do in authoritarian states, thanks to the efforts of citizens, parliaments, state institutions, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and the media. This does not mean corruption is more prevalent in democratic regimes. On the contrary, democracies provide more opportunities for people and institutions to expose and talk about corruption wherever it occurs and to fight for improvements.

In each one of these countries, the problem of corruption remains profound, and has not by any means been defeated, she suggests:

However, the possibility of reform lies in the nature of the three constitutional democracies. All of them have multiple self-correcting mechanisms; citizens do not depend upon the goodwill of the executive or of the ruling party for political reform. When Parliament itself is corrupt or unable to curb executive power, then individual citizens, civic organisations, the independent judiciary or specially created independent state institutions, all supported by a robust independent media, can take over the task of improving the quality of governance, as they have done in the past.

“The continuing battle against corruption ultimately requires more transparency, more effective democratic institutions and more accountable representative democracy, not less. It is hard to see how authoritarian states can compete with this,” Bernstein concludes.

• Bernstein is head of the Centre for Development and Enterprise and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. This article is based on a new publication from the centre: The Democratic Alternative from the South: India, Brazil, and SA.