Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Syria: What Next?

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The latest aggravation of the Syrian crisis and the failure of Kofi Annan’s mission pose new challenges for Russia’s foreign policy. Russia confirmed its status as a key player in the Middle East and, so far, prevented (along with China) the development of a “Libyan scenario” in Syria. Now, Moscow faces another serious dilemma… what next? It’s clear that continuing the current policy (adherence to the Annan Plan and diplomatic support for Damascus), which made sense six months ago, is no longer a valid option.

It’s obvious that the Syrian crisis entered a new stage this summer. Judging by how well the double attack on Damascus and Aleppo and the 18 July terror attack were organised, we can say that the once-scattered groups of militants now appear to have a unified command. The opposition managed to acquire weapons and recruit new supporters. For that reason, the Syrian opposition, which has escalated combat actions in recent months, has little incentive to negotiate with the authorities. With the UN split over Syria… between Russia and China on the one hand, and the USA, Britain, and France on the other… the Syrian opposition is feeling pretty confident. The Western powers condemn the violence committed by Assad’s forces; yet, at the same time, they regard violence committed by the rebels as an unpleasant but unavoidable part of the fight against dictatorship.

Russia has a number of possible options, each with its own positive and negative sides. One option is for Moscow to stick to the existing course that, as noted previously, has proved to be fruitless. Moscow could, without any redirection of effort, continue its diplomatic support for the Assad government and block possible UN sanctions against Syria. This tactic saved Damascus from armed intervention last year. However, under the new conditions, it’ll only prolong the conflict, as the balance of forces in the civil war gradually tilts in favour of the opposition (due to arms and finances supplied from abroad and the engagement of mercenaries), ultimately leading to the fall of the Assad government. Another alternative is to pressure the Syrian president to resign in favour of someone close to him. That’d give Russian diplomacy an argument… “Assad’s gone; let’s negotiate”. However, the resignation of the head of the state would certainly be perceived by the opposition as evidence that anything can be achieved through violence, making it even less willing to begin a dialogue with the authorities. Finally, Moscow could try to shift the active engagement in the Syrian crisis onto the shoulders of other states, i.e. China and Iran, and step out of the limelight. Tehran is keen to stabilise the situation in Syria and maintain a friendly régime there, to avoid geopolitical isolation as it faces the threat of foreign incursions. However, China, whose main interests are in the Asia-Pacific region, would most likely follow Russia’s example. That might open up the possibility of a wider war in the Middle East entailing the violent destruction of the Syrian government and military action against Tehran.

Then again, Moscow can try to play a more active role. In addition to diplomatic support to Assad’s government, Moscow can supply the régime with the needed weapons and equipment (to compensate for the support of the opposition by the Western powers and the regional oil monarchies). With the help of intelligence agencies, it could organise the collection and transmission of information on armed opposition groups to the Syrian government. It could organise patrols of the Syrian coast by the Russian Navy to intercept vessels supplying arms to the opposition. It could put pressure on the major sponsors of the militant opposition… Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The latter option would lead, inevitably, to greater Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict. On the other hand, it’ll show the irreconcilable opposition that it’ll face serious difficulties if it continues to prosecute the war, but it would carry diplomatic costs for Russia’s relations with the Western powers that, unlike Syria, remain Moscow’s key economic partners.

Of course, all these scenarios are purely theoretical. The choice of one or the other of them depends on the Kremlin’s assessment of all potential risks and benefits. Probably, the key role will be played by President Vladimir Putin’s stated allegiance to the principle that foreign interventions shouldn’t interfere in the domestic affairs of sovereign states. Now, we can only hope that the Kremlin’s choice will also reflect Russia’s national interests… and be beneficial for the people of Syria.

27 August 2012

Aleksei Pilko

Senior Research Fellow, Moscow State University (MGU)

Faculty of History

RIA-Novosti

http://en.ria.ru/analysis/20120827/175465119.html

Egypt’s Anti-Islamist Counter-Revolution Falls Flat

Shahira Amin, Egyptian journalist, former Deputy Head of Egyptian state-owned Nile TV and one of its senior presenters

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Organisers had called it “a second revolution” to topple Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, but last Friday’s so-called “million people rally” failed to draw the massive support the opposition activists had hoped for. Revolutionary forces also proclaimed it “a failure”, which had earlier announced their decision not to take part. Unlike last year’s popular uprising when Egyptians were unified by the common goal of bringing down the corrupt Mubarak régime, Friday’s rally reflected the deep polarisation of a country divided along ideological lines. However, the lower-than-expected turnout signalled… for the second time in as many months… that the new Islamist President’s following was by far larger than that of the opposition camp (the first time this occurred was during the run-off vote that pitted Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayyat against former régime-loyalist Ahmed Shafik). The crowd protesting outside the presidential palace on Friday (which at its peak numbered no more than 3,000 demonstrators) was a mix of former régime supporters, secularists, and Christians… all opposed to what they described as the “Brotherhoodisation of Egypt”. Since Islamist Morsi was appointed President, there’ve been growing concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood (from which Morsi hails) is seeking to monopolise power by exercising control over key state institutions.

Earlier this month, a controversial decision by lawmakers in the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, parliament’s upper house, to replace the chief editors of state-run newspapers sparked angry protests by journalists fearful of a regression in the freedoms they have gained since the revolution. On 9 August, columnists left their columns blank to protest what they perceived as “an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to control the media”. An ensuing crackdown on journalists critical of the Brotherhood and the Islamist President also fuelled fears of a return to repressive Mubarak-era tactics to silence voices of dissent. Faraeen, an independent TV channel, was suspended for a month, and its owner, controversial talk show host Tawfik Okasha, faces investigation on charges of “inciting violence against the President”. A former régime-loyalist and an outspoken critic of the revolution, Okasha was among the first to call for the anti-Muslim Brotherhood rally. He was known for his staunch support of the ruling military generals in the transitional phase of the revolution, but he turned against them after Morsi came to power, accusing them of “selling the country to the Muslim Brotherhood”.

Islam Afify, Editor in Chief of the independent al-Dostour is also on trial on charges of “defamation and slander”. Several lawsuits were filed against the paper owned by an Egyptian Christian or Copt, accusing it of “stoking sedition” after the recent spate of sectarian violence in Dahshur, in which a Muslim man was killed and scores of Christian families were forced to flee the village. Meanwhile, the 11 August edition of the paper was confiscated after it featured a front-page article warning that the country was in danger, and calling on Egyptians to “close ranks with the military against the Islamists”. After facing criticism both inside and outside the country for “his attempts to stifle freedom of expression”, Morsi used legislative powers he wrested from the military earlier this month to pass a law against the detention of journalists on media-related charges. However, the move’s done little to quell the criticism. In a televised interview on one of the independent Egyptian channels, prominent journalist Saad Hagrass called it “a feeble attempt to appease the public” and questioned why the decision was announced just a day before the 24 August anti-Brotherhood rally and not before.

Morsi’s sacking of the top military generals after a militant attack on an Egyptian border post in the Sinai Peninsula earlier this month (in which 16 border guards were killed) and his cancellation of supplementary constitutional amendments issued by the generals on 17 June compounded fears that he’s seeking to monopolise power. Protesters outside the presidential palace on Friday expressed their categorical rejection of Morsi’s newly-gained sweeping powers with fervent chants of “Illegitimate!” and “Down with the rule of the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide”. Activist Iman Baybars, founder of the Association for the Development of Women, a NGO working to improve the status of women, complained, “We had a revolution last year for a secular civil state, not a theocracy“. She expressed concern that Morsi’s “non-inclusive policies don’t auger well for the democratic process “and insisted that the “Muslim Brotherhood was infiltrating state institutions to Islamise and control rather than reform them”.

Coptic protester Romany Malak said it was difficult to trust the Brotherhood as the group repeatedly lied to get access to power, saying, “Not only did they dominate parliament and seek a monopoly over the drafting of the constitution, they had also vowed not to field a presidential candidate but later reneged on their promise”. Despite their visible anger and frustration, the protesters outside the Heliopolis Presidential Palace were determined to keep the protests peaceful, chanting “Selmiya! Selmiya! [Peacefully! Peacefully!]” Apart from a scuffle that broke out earlier in the day between Morsi supporters and anti-Brotherhood protesters in which four people were injured, including three with shotgun pellet wounds, there was no violence reported in the capital. In Egypt’s second city of Alexandria, an attack by a mob wielding knives and sticks against anti-Brotherhood protesters resulted in several injuries. The anti-Brotherhood protests serves as a reminder that the newly-elected Islamist President Morsi, who came to power by winning just 51 per cent of the vote, has to do a lot more to win the hearts and minds of all Egyptians. Despite claims from the president that he’s severed ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, a more pluralistic approach may be what he needs to convince the opposition that he is, indeed, as he claimed in his inaugural speech, a president for all Egyptians.

26 August 2012

Shahira Amin

RIA-Novosti

http://en.ria.ru/analysis/20120826/175442524.html

28 August 2012. A Photo Essay. Lest We Forget: A Mute Witness to Persecution… Memorials to Those Killed in the Habsburg Repressions

Rova Farms. Jackson NJ USA. It’s sad… Rova’s no longer what it was… all grown-over and abandoned…

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“To the eternal memory of the Carpatho-Russian martyrs who suffered and died at Talerhof in the First World War 1914-17″

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a closeup of the inscription on the Rova Farms memorial

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the English inscription on the memorial

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monument in  Peregrimka, Lemko region of Carpatho-Russia. POLAND

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monument in Svidnik (Carpatho-Russia. Eastern Slovakia) (Svidník OkresPrešov Kraj) SLOVAKIA

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The unrepentant Habsburg hangsmen and their victims… New Martyrs Fr Roman Berezovsky and peasants Lev Kobylyansky and Panteleimon Žabyak. This is a “short drop” hanging… considerably more barbarous and cruel than a proper “long drop”.

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The grave in the village of Ditkovtsi (Brody Raion. Lvov Oblast) UKRAINE of Fr Ignaty Gudima (1882-1944), Confessor of Talerhof. Imprisoned at Talerhof, he survived, but the pressure of it broke his sanity, though. The Nazis shot him as they were retreating from Galicia, as part of a general massacre of mental patients (an Eastern “Hadamar“, if you will).  

“Fr Ignaty Gudima: Fighter to reconcile Galicia to the Russian Orthodox Church. A prisoner at the Austrian concentration camp at Talerhof, murdered by the German Fascists in the 82nd year of his life in his birthplace of Ditkovtsi”. 

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“Eternal Glory to the Martyrs of Talerhof and Terezín and other concentration camps, fighters for the reunification of Transcarpathia with Great Russia

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By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Psalm 136

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May we NEVER forget… no one is forgotten… nothing is forgotten.

BMD

 

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28 August 2012. RIA-Novosti Infographics. Moscow’s Analogues to London’s Hyde Park “Speaker’s Corner”

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The Moscow municipal government chose Sokolniki Park and Gorky Park to be Moscow’s analogue to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. However, the designated meeting zone doesn’t cover the whole park, only parts of them. Four areas were under discussion for this role:

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin actively encouraged the idea of ​​creating an analogue of Hyde Park as a platform for political expression. The Moscow authorities designated these “free meeting zones” due to the numerous opposition demonstrations, beginning in late 2011 with those related to the election. However, these legal demonstrations caused dissatisfaction amongst many Muscovites, for their breaches of public order, and for the inconvenience caused the public by the blockage of streets to ordinary traffic.

28 August 2012

RIA-Novosti

http://en.ria.ru/infographics/20120828/175454340.html

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