Putin Withdraws From Treaty

Vladimir Putin continues his saber-rattling with his withdrawal from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. He signed into law the suspension, which will take place on December 12th, that will throw out the final Cold War treaty that kept Europe and Russia from flooding the borders with heavy arms and allowed the decades-long standoff to wind down peacefully. Putin says he wants a new treaty, one that allows Russia to defend itself:

President Vladimir Putin signed a law Friday suspending Russia’s participation in a major conventional arms treaty that had limited NATO and Russian military deployments in Europe.
The Kremlin had been threatening all year to scrap the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, and on Friday Putin signed a law passed this month by parliament providing for that step. The suspension takes effect Dec. 12.
Putin’s decision comes two days before parliamentary elections and after a campaign marked by harsh anti-Western rhetoric and claims that the president has restored Russia’s ability to stand up to the United States and the NATO alliance.
Signed in the last days of the Cold War, the accord limited the number of tanks, combat aircraft and attack helicopters, as well as artillery pieces and other heavy weapons, that NATO and the Soviet Union could deploy in Western Europe and the western part of Russia.
Senior Russian generals have said there will be no immediate deployment of military hardware to Russia’s western borders following the suspension. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Russia is ready to discuss implementing an amended version of the treaty.

Putin says he withdrew from the CFE partly because of US plans to install anti-missile systems in eastern Europe. They also want the US and other NATO members to ratify amendments made to the CFE in 1999, which the Western nations has so far not done. Lavrov’s offer pertains to the amended version of CFE, which Russia sees as beneficial to its security.
NATO, however, sees it differently. The amendments hinged on Russian withdrawal from Georgia and Moldova. Russia only now has begun withdrawal from Georgia eight years later, and still doesn’t plan on pulling out of Moldova. Until Russia agrees to remove its troops from former Soviet republics, NATO countries do not want to offer Russia favorable security terms.
With the Russian elections about to begin, Putin undoubtedly intends this to be a show of force to the US and NATO. He wants to ride anti-Western feeling — and stoke it up as well — all the way into an unassailable parliamentary majority that will then bolster his grip on power. The CFE is just the first diplomatic victim of the Putin power grab.

Sarkozy To Paris Rioters: My Patience Is At An End

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has a track record for dealing harshly with rioters, and he issued a warning to those stoking the latest round of antisocial violence. France will not approach these people as political activists, but as murderers who simply haven’t yet found success:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to bring to justice rioters who shot at police in Paris in urban unrest that followed the death of two youths.
Mr Sarkozy, visiting policemen injured in the riots, said such shootings could not be tolerated. …
Mr Sarkozy touched down from a state visit to China on Wednesday morning and headed straight to a hospital in Eaubonne, northern Paris, to visit some of the 120 officers injured in the rioting.
Afterwards he said: “Opening fire at officials is completely unacceptable… [this] has a name – attempted murder… Those who take it into their hands to shoot at officials will find themselves in court. It is not something that we can tolerate, no matter how dramatic the deaths of these two youngsters on a motorbike may be.”

Part of the problem stems from the strange tolerance that the French have for riots in the first place. If they accept the burning of dozens of cars a night, then that becomes a baseline for later protests; anything that happens created an imperative for escalation. In this case, the attacks have targeted the police for their supposed role in the death of two Muslim teenagers who drove recklessly on a moped, without helmets.
If Sarkozy wants an end to these kinds of riots, then he needs to emulate Rudy Giuliani in a zero-tolerance enforcement strategy. He needs more police on the streets of the banlieus, arresting people who flout the law. It will take a while for the point to get made, and it will likely provoke a rise in short-term violence. Re-establishing law and order is a must, thought, if Sarkozy wants to protect policemen and the French citizenry in the long term.
Unlike previous French administrations, Sarkozy has the will to act on this if he chooses. If he can regain control of these areas and end the perpetual pity-party riots, Sarkozy will establish that French law rules in France, and not the car-burners.
UPDATE: In a clear case of coffee-less blogging, I inexplicably wrote “flaunt the law” when I meant “flout”. The image of rioters throwing flaming legal textbooks is rather amusing, but not at all what I had in mind. Thanks to Bobby in the comments for the correction.

The Hair Of The Balkan Dog

With the status of Kosovo beginning to create a political firestorm in the Balkans, one might be tempted to rethink the actions that brought Europe to liberate the province and then occupy it without any thought of what should follow. Not Richard Holbrooke, one of the architects of the disintegration in the Balkans. He writes in the Washington Post that, like everything else, Kosovo’s woes are the fault of the Bush administration — and that we should send a lot more American troops to garrison the Balkans:

Recent American diplomacy led by Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and special envoy Frank Wisner, working closely with E.U. negotiator Wolfgang Ischinger, has largely succeeded in persuading most of our European allies to recognize Kosovo rapidly. But NATO has not yet faced the need to reinforce its presence in Kosovo. Nor has serious transatlantic discussion begun on Bosnia, even though Charles English, the American ambassador in Sarajevo, and Raffi Gregorian, the deputy high representative in Bosnia, have warned of the danger. “Bosnia’s very survival could be determined in the next few months if not the next few weeks,” Gregorian told Congress this month. Virtually no one paid any attention. …
When Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in September 2000 and a reformist government took over, the road seemed open to a reasonably rapid resolution of Kosovo’s final status. But the new Bush team hated anything it had inherited from Bill Clinton — even (perhaps especially) his greatest successes — and made no effort to advance policy in Kosovo until 2005 and ignored Bosnia. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even sought to pull American troops out of the NATO command in Kosovo, which Secretary of State Colin Powell prevented. (However, the State Department did not prevent Rumsfeld from prematurely turning the NATO command in Bosnia over to a weak E.U. Force, a terrible mistake.)
By the time meaningful diplomatic efforts started in 2006, the reformist prime minister in Belgrade had been assassinated by ultranationalists. And Vladimir Putin decided to reenter the Balkans with a dramatic policy shift: No longer would Russia cooperate with Washington and Brussels in the search for a peaceful compromise, as it had in 1995 when Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin sat on the hillside at Hyde Park and reached a historic agreement to put Russian troops under NATO command. Today, Putin seeks to reassert Russia’s role as a regional hegemon. He is not trying to start another Cold War, but he craves international respect, and the Balkans, neglected by a Bush administration retreating from its European security responsibilities, are a tempting target.

Where to start with this litany of foolishness? First, Holbrooke leaves out a few little details about why the Bush administration didn’t make Kosovo its highest priority. In September 2001, we had this little incident with terrorists and a few airplanes that focused our attention elsewhere. We also had a military commitment that long preceded the Balkans that the UN couldn’t handle for twelve years, one that involved a lot more hot-war actions than the Balkans. The notion that Kosovo should have been a high priority between 2001-2006 is patently absurd, and Holbrooke shows intellectual dishonesty for not pointing out the valid reasons this got back-burnered.
He doesn’t mention the most obvious reason, either. Kosovo and the Balkans aren’t our responsibility, diplomatically or in terms of national interest. The UN took over the Kosovo mission in 1999 — not NATO, which did the initial fighting — and the UN has remained stuck on stupid ever since. Russia blocks any attempt to recognize Kosovo’s independence. This old story at Turtle Bay demonstrates the complete ineptitude of the UN when it comes to political pursuits.
The United States has no national interests in the Balkans. Unlike the Middle East, where we have vital economic and political interests at stake, the Balkans has few strategic or economic interests for our nation. This is, and should always have been, a strictly European affair, and Kosovo (and Bosnia) should have been garrisoned by European troops. American troops serve no purpose there and could be used elsewhere more effectively, particularly in Afghanistan, where our European partners refuse to accept combat roles.
The failure of the Kosovo mission belongs squarely on the back of the UN, and the responsibility for its resolution should rest on Europe. It’s amusing that the same people who complain about American empire and unilateralism always find a place for both in areas where we have the least interest. Taking the hair of the Balkan dog after 9/11 and extending American involvement is a ludricrous idea.

Sarkozy’s Triumph

New French President Nicolas Sarkozy has won an impressive and historic victory over the French unionists. After announcing his economic reforms, union activists tried to invoke 40 years of successive victories for French socialism by once again rushing to the barricades and shutting down public transportation in a massive strike. Days later, faced with unprecedented public anger, the strikers have returned to work in defeat:

Traffic on French trains, subways and buses started returning to normal Friday after striking transport workers ended a nine-day walkout over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reforms.
Pockets of resistance remained, and restoring full service to the nationwide rail service and public transport in Paris and other cities was expected to take days.
But the victory for Sarkozy was clear as workers voted on Thursday to end the strike after talks opened on his plan to end special retirement privileges for half a million train drivers and other state employees.

The strikers thought they could replicate the spirit of 1968, when a popular uprising cemented Socialism as the guiding light of the nation. However, after almost 40 years of socialism, the French have tired of the slogans and of being held hostage to the unions. They want a new direction for their economic structure — and they have little patience for the extortive techniques of the modern Socialists.
The Los Angeles Times captures the mood:

The public has had it.
Stranded commuters and students missing first-semester exams, among others, are not just frustrated but also angry at those striking in the name of leftist ideology or fighting to preserve special privileges such as retirement on a full pension at age 50.
The public may doubt that Sarkozy can fulfill all of his election promises, but it also appears to be tired of unions tying up the streets.By Thursday, evidence that the unions had run into a determined president and public that stuck behind him was accumulating as many of the major rail unions voted to return to work, thereby easing the transit calamity, even as negotiations go on.
For all the talk about the strength of the French labor movement, only 7% of workers are unionized, a smaller percentage than in the United States. And even in the ranks of those striking, there are now divisions. On Wednesday, some unions were forced to disown saboteurs who set fire to the tracks for high-speed trains, further delaying an already stalled system.

Even the core of the old movement — the universities — has begun to crumble. Most students have other aspirations beyond perpetual petulance. They have belatedly discovered that the French business establishment completely mistrusts them, and considers university graduates as wholly unprepared for employment. They have no prospects after college under the current system, and they want that system changed. Students have little enthusiasm for using their universities as another front for the trade unions; they want a real education instead.
Sarkozy didn’t win his election in a vacuum. The French people want significant change, even if they balk somewhat at the bill. The unionists completely ignored this rather obvious shift in the wind and tried to roll back the calendar 40 years. They exposed themselves as out-of-touch anachronisms of that earlier age. They want to continue to play as radicals, while France wants to get back to business.

The Quagmire Continues

Almost nine years ago, the United Nations sent a military force to take over the administration of Kosovo from Serbia, of which it had been a part, on and off, for centuries and continuously for decades, Having kicked out the Serbian government from its province, the UN and the international community gave Kosovo a de facto recognition as its own political entity — and for almost nine years, they have pretended they did no such thing. Europe has once again warned Kosovan separatists not to declare independence, this time after a referendum on their status:

Foreign ministers from several EU countries have urged Kosovo Albanians not to declare unilateral independence following Saturday’s elections. Independence without foreign support could isolate Kosovo, they warned.
A party led by a former Kosovo Albanian rebel is set to win the polls, which were boycotted by the Serb minority. Hashim Thaci’s party seeks to declare independence from Serbia after 10 December – the UN deadline for ethnic Albanians and Serbs to reach a deal.
Kosovo is formally a part of Serbia but has been run by the United Nations since 1999 when Nato ejected Serbian forces from the province.
Ethnic Albanians, who make up some 90% of Kosovo’s population of two million people, have been pushing for the province’s independence.

The entire situation is absurd. NATO intervened on behalf of the Kosovars because of the actions of a Serbian government long since gone. The rationale for the occupation of Kosovo left along with Slobodan Milosevic. If the province was going to be returned to Serbia, it should have been done when the Serbs got rid of Milosevic and returned to a rational policy of engagement with its neighbors.
The UN and EU, however, couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do with Kosovo. They apparently don’t want the Serbs running the province, but they also don’t want the Kosovars runnning it either. The only other options appear to be handing the province off to another country — which neither the Serbs and the Kosovars would countenance — or to sit on Kosovo forever as an occupied state.
We do not need to continue our part in that foolishness. NATO and the EU acted to free Kosovo, and now they do not want to take responsibility for any negative consequences of that action. Whether or not Kosovo should have been partitioned off from Serbia, the invasion and occupation have already accomplished that, and the vast majority of people in that province do not want to return to Serbian rule. If the West believes in self-determination, the choice here should be very simple — a choice NATO and the EU forced on themselves.
The US should make it clear that we will not remain in Kosovo for any longer than it takes to transition the provisional government to an independent state. If the EU wants to pretend it didn’t liberate Kosovo, then let it do that all on its own. With the lack of participation that our NATO partners in Europe have given in Afghanistan, we can use our forces elsewhere for liberty rather than a strange and aimless occupation.

We’re Popular!

Has anti-Americanism gone out of vogue on the Continent? With eastern Europe showing unabashed enthusiasm for free-market economics and Nicolas Sarkozy warmly embracing the US, it appears that we have become the belle of the European ball. Gordon Brown, who at first wanted to establish credibility as an anti-Blair, now wants to play catch-up:

Nicolas Sarkozy’s star turn in America last week didn’t escape notice in London, which used to pride itself on the “special relationship.”
Of late, the friendship has felt less than special. On becoming Prime Minister this summer, Gordon Brown threw a few bones to the Harold Pinter gallery. He brought the America-skeptic Mark Malloch Brown from the U.N. to serve in his cabinet. In his first meeting with President Bush, the PM was all straight talk, making a point to strike a contrast with the chumminess on display whenever Tony Blair dropped by Camp David. Little changed on policy, but the symbolism and body language were cool. And, it turns out, out of step with the new Continental zeitgeist.
In France “Sarkozy l’Américain” went from a derisive nickname to a compliment in the six months since his election. Speaking openly of his admiration for the U.S., the new President works closely with Washington on Iran, Kosovo and other issues. He vacationed in New Hampshire this summer. His moving address to a joint session of Congress last week sealed the rapprochement. Then this weekend, Chancellor Angela Merkel paid the first visit by a German Chancellor to the Bush ranch in Crawford to talk about Iran’s nuclear program.
So Monday night, in his first major speech on foreign policy since moving into 10 Downing Street, Mr. Brown sought to out-Sarkozy the Frenchman. “It is no secret that I am a lifelong admirer of America,” he said in London. “I have no truck with anti-Americanism in Britain or elsewhere in Europe. I believe that our ties with America — founded on values we share — constitute our most important bilateral relationship.” In noting the recent pro-U.S. tilt across the Channel, Mr. Brown said, “It is good for Britain, for Europe and for the wider world that today France and Germany and the European Union are building strong relationships with America.”

I blame George Bush, that dastardly unilateralist! Where’s Don Rumsfeld when we need him?

Russians No Longer Have Georgia On Their Minds

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming …. home. For the first time since Georgian independence, the Russian troops stationed in the former Soviet republic will withdraw. Georgia will regain control over its two restive provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the first time, although some Russian troops remain, with apparent Georgian coordination:

A top Russian general said early Thursday that Russia has completed its withdrawal of troops that had been based in Georgia since the Soviet collapse, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
The presence of Russian troops in the ex-Soviet republic was one of the longtime irritants between Georgia and its giant neighbor.
“There are no more Russian troops in Georgia, there remain only peacekeepers … in Abkhazia and those that are part of the combined forces in South Ossetia with the participation of Georgia,” the news agency quoted Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Ground Troops Gen. Alexei Maslov as saying.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are two separatist regions of Georgia that have been outside Georgian control since the mid-1990s. Georgian leaders complain that Russian troops in both regions support the separatists, and their continued presence is likely to remain an issue of hot dispute between Tbilisi and Moscow.

The troops in the rest of Georgia will pull back into Armenia. The Armenians appear cooperative with this plan, although it may strain relations between themselves and Georgia if they remain for any length of time. Georgia will not want to live under the threat of occupation, but it certainly beats actual occupation.
This will allow Georgia to ease its emergency decree if all goes well. The tension between Russia and Georgia, as well as the separatist movements that Georgia accused Russia of fostering, provoked the government in Tbilisi to declare the emergency days ago. John McCain remarked about his opposition to that decree and his intent to ask the Georgian government to reverse it, but in this case it may have accomplished a key goal — the removal of Russian troops.

New Terror In Southern Russia?

Russians in the car-making city of Togliatti awoke to a deadly bus bombing that has already claimed eight lives, and may claim more. The bus attack appears to be a terrorist strike, but given the nexus of crime networks in the city, the answer may wind up being more complicated:

A bomb ripped through a packed passenger bus in a southern Russian city Wednesday morning, killing eight people and wounding 56, regional officials said.
The bomb exploded around 8 a.m. local time at a busy intersection in the Volga River city of Togliatti, the center of Russian car-making since Soviet times. Officials said at least seven of the wounded were in grave condition and many of the victims were students on their way to university, according to the Russian news agency Interfax .
“The preliminary scenario is a terrorist attack,” said the regional governor Vladimir Artyakov in comments broadcast on state television. Russian media also reported that investigators are examining the possibility that a passenger was transporting the bomb and it went off accidentally.

Certainly that would make sense. The low-grade war in the Caucasus that the Russians have fought against Islamists has not ended, although it has become more quiet in recent years. The Islamists who co-opted those wars from the original separatist movements in Chechnya and other regions have as much compunction about killing civilians in Russia as they do anywhere else, and perhaps less so there than most places, as the massacre of children in Beslan demonstrated.
They may not be the only suspects, or even the best suspects, however. Togliatti could be called the Russian Detroit for its industry, but perhaps the Russian Chicago for its mob wars. In the past 16 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Togliatti has seen over 500 killings in gang warfare, mostly over car sales. A quick Google search finds a number of mail-order bride operations running from Togliatti as well, which may also fuel the gangs in the city.
A bus bomb would be a rather blunt instrument for a gang-war hit. Most of the people killed and injured were bound for the local university, and al-Qaeda likes to target civilian transportation. They don’t usually use TNT, which was the explosive used in this attack, but it might have been the most handy explosive available. Islamists usually add shrapnel to their bombs, something missing from this attack, according to Reuters. The Togliatti gangs use TNT bombs without shrapnel to settle scores.
Unfortunately for the Russians in Togliatti, they have a plethora of troublemakers. Hopefully, no other attacks will follow.

France Back In NATO?

With Nicolas Sarkozy at the helm of government, relations between the US and France have warmed considerably. Sarkozy has adopted the American position on Iran and now leads European efforts to demand accountability from Teheran on their nuclear program. Can a French return to NATO be far behind? Not according to Ronald Asmus, who oversaw a close-run attempt ten years ago:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated his willingness to bring France back into NATO. It is an offer the United States should not refuse. Earlier in my career, I was a hard-liner on France and NATO. In fact, when I stepped down from the State Department in 2000, the French ambassador to Washington was so relieved he toasted my departure at a European Union ambassadors’ lunch because of my dogged pursuit of U.S. interests. (I considered it a back-handed compliment.)
But times change, and so should our thinking. …
In the wake of the Bush administration’s failings in Iraq and elsewhere, America’s image in Europe is at an all-time low. While official relations have warmed, public estrangement from the United States has not budged one inch — as public opinion studies, including the recent German Marshall Fund survey, have shown. Sarkozy is being strategically smart and politically courageous to buck this trend, but doing so is not without risk. And one can think of few things that would help America’s image in Europe today more than a public embrace by Paris.
The French president is scheduled to visit Washington next month, and NATO will undoubtedly be discussed. There are good deals and bad ones. In the months ahead, American diplomats and soldiers will negotiate hard to achieve the former. But the conditions France has thus far laid out, while still vague, should be achievable if the political will and strategic imagination exists. Let’s not miss this window of opportunity again.

Asmus lays out four reasons why he feels the time has arrived to get France back in NATO, but despite his self-professed “hard line” attitude, he still has some of this backward. NATO has survived and thrived without French participation for 40 years. In fact, the absence of the French have allowed us a less-complicated relationship with NATO and a far more cohesive NATO approach to conflicts — and even the addition of a Sarkozy-led France will add more complications.
Asmus assumes that adding France to NATO will give America more support for its foreign policy. That would only be true if Sarkozy wants to act as a rubber stamp for American foreign policy. Otherwise, France would act as another hurdle to climb to get NATO action on any issue. How does a French contingent in NATO help support American foreign policy — or does Asmus want a stronger French influence on our policy in order to make nice with the rest of Europe? He hints at this in this passage: “a French move toward NATO should be matched by a U.S. move toward a new and more strategic U.S.-E.U. relationship.”
We have a problem with NATO (sans France) refusing to meet its obligations to the mission in Afghanistan. Even those nations contributing troops have preconditions that force the US, British, Canadians, and eastern Europeans to do most of the fighting. Will adding France to this mix make that situation better or worse? What does France add militarily to NATO? Asmus argues that an alliance with France could bring “the right nexus between military power, development and governance,” without explaining why France is the sole resource for that nexus.
I don’t oppose a French return to NATO, but the goal of such a partnership should be an improvement in the alliance. France suffers from the same problem as most of Europe in military terms, which is a lack of investment thanks to American projection of power during the Cold War. It seems that Asmus argues for a French return to policy demands while offering little in the way of actual military benefit. If France wants to start investing in its military strength to give value to a NATO contribution, then it sounds like a good deal. Otherwise, we have other ways to strengthen the friendship with France.

An Orange Rebound?

The Ukrainian elections held this weekend may have returned momentum to the pro-Western parties that fueled the Orange Revolution two years ago. The slow count in the pro-Russian east of Ukraine could still dent that momentum, and already accusations of cheating have arisen from perhaps the most famous — and fiery — of Ukrainian politicians:

Ukraine’s pro-Western opposition claimed victory on Monday in an election widely seen as key to ending divisions that have stalled market reform and exacerbated tensions between a nationalist west and Russian-speaking east.
With just over 60 percent of votes in Sunday’s parliamentary poll counted, groups linked to President Viktor Yushchenko, swept to power in 2004 “Orange Revolution” protests, appeared strongly placed but far from certain victory. A close result would again mean long talks on forming a coalition government.
Yushchenko’s rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, dismissed the “orange” declaration of victory as groundless. He said his party would be declared the winner when votes from the industrial, pro-Russian eastern region were counted. …
But officials said the count was proceeding slowly in eastern Ukraine, where Yanukovich’s party traditionally scores well. A top Tymoshenko ally said the prime minister’s team was conspiring to cheat in its eastern strongholds.
“We will challenge the results in areas where there will be an attempt at vote-rigging,” Oleksander Turchinov told reporters.

Accusations of cheating and vote-rigging triggered the original Orange Revolution. Leonid Kuchma’s attempt to ensure Viktor Yanukovich’s succession backfired, as Ukrainians took to the streets in peaceful and powerful protest. Viktor Yushchenko seized the opportunity to ride that wave to the presidency in an election do-over, and he partnered with Yulia Tymoshenko to reform Ukranian government — at least at first.
After a short period, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko could not effectively share power, and that led to a comeback for Yanukovich and his pro-Russian, eastern-based politics. Yushchenko had to share power with his one-time rival, and Tymoshenko became the focus of reform efforts. The political situation has remained muddied ever since, and this election was supposed to clarify the direction of Ukraine.
It may make it even more muddied. While the Orange forces have done well so far, so has a surprising bid from a centrist party. Former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn has apparently led his bloc past the 3% threshold to gain seats in the parliament. That could complicate efforts to form a government for any of the major parties, and Lytvyn may find himself in the role of kingmaker.
The situation bears a close watch. As Ukraine goes, so may go Belarus and the central Asian republics formerly of the Soviet Union.