Voices from Russia

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Christian Leaders Urge Churches to Mobilise Behind Syria Peace Plan

00 Give Peace a Chance. atomic fireball. 21.09.13


On Thursday, the World Council of Churches (WCC) urged its Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican member churches to lobby their congregations and national governments to support a political solution to the war in Syria. The Genève-based WCC made the appeal after a meeting with international envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who both asked Christian leaders to help mobilise public opinion for peace. The appeal by the WCC, representing about a quarter of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians, follows similar calls by the Roman Catholic Church, which makes up over half of global Christianity. A WCC communiqué released after a meeting near Genève on Wednesday said, “Churches must continue to raise their voice in their congregations and with their governments. We must strengthen the public outcry so that those in power will protect the common interest of humanity”. WCC General Secretary Rev Olaf Fyske Tveit told Reuters that there was “consensus in the whole Christian family” for a negotiated peace in Syria, and Brahimi and Annan convinced church leaders it could happen “if there’s enough political support”.

21 September 2013


As quoted in AsiaOne


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Why Does Kofi Annan Criticise Elections in America?


International experts expressed strong disapproval of the current rules regulating the American presidential election. According to the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy, and Security, headed by former-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the non-transparency and utter dependence of the candidates upon large financial donors undermines American society’s belief in the principles of equality and democracy. In its report, the commission, which consists of a number of former world leaders and Nobel Prize winners, said that there’s an alarming tendency evident all over the world showing a sharp growth in the influence of the financial élite on election results. The commission is convinced that one can see this process most clearly in contemporary America.

According to the report, so-called political action committees (PACs) are one of the main reasons for the loss of trust in fair elections by the American people. PACs support this-or-that candidate or bill and can receive and spend a legally-specified amount of money in the course of their activities. By a decision of the US Supreme Court in 2010 (Citizens United), so-called super committees (Super PACs) became legal, which are independent groups that don’t support a particular candidate, but they can receive unlimited donations from whatever source. Referring to statistical data provided by New York University, the report claimed that a majority of Americans think that candidates use Super PACs to gain support bypassing legal regulation, and that they pose a serious threat to the democratic electoral system. The commission believed that American elections have become the plaything of the country’s financial élite, which calls into question the idea of equality as such. Besides that, the commission criticised some state laws in the USA, which have the aim of depriving minority elements of their electoral rights by means of new and stricter requirements to access the voting process.

Ahead of the upcoming presidential election, the problem of the deficiencies in the American election process seems very urgent, especially if we take into consideration the expected vehemence of this contest. Examples of serious errors made by election boards continue to surface with frightening frequency. Some time ago, a team of independent observers (Voter Integrity Project) said that voting lists in North Carolina contained at least 30,000 “dead souls”. Then, a scandal arose around the decision of Florida election authorities to remove more than 2,500 local residents from the voting lists as having no right to vote. Only after human rights groups intervened, 2,625 people had their electoral rights fully restored. The activists justly said that the Florida authorities violated a federal law that bans removing voters from the voting lists less than 90 days before the election.

The abovementioned incidents are only the tip of the iceberg. The American electoral process has proven, yet again, its inability to conform to the democratic principles praised by the American government. However, as long as the imperfect American political process enables candidates to carry out their political machinations, the situation, as before, will remained unchanged.

13 September 2012

Vladimir Gladkov

Voice of Russia World Service


Monday, 3 September 2012

UN Envoy to Syria Sez Invasion or Military Intervention Not in the Cards


On Sunday, Lakhdar Brahimi, the new UN envoy to war-torn Syria, said that a military intervention by Arab forces isn’t in the cards. Brahimi said in an interview to al Arabiya television, “A military intervention in Syria means a failure of diplomatic efforts. For me, this option isn’t available, and, personally, this will be neither today nor tomorrow nor the day after tomorrow”. The 78-year-old diplomat called for a ceasefire in the conflict, which has claimed 25,000 lives since March 2011, according to UN estimates. Brahimi avoided apportioning blame, but said, “The government’s responsibility to stop the violence is greater” than that of the opposition.

Sunday marks the first day at the job for Brahimi, a former Algerian Foreign Minister, and a member of the Global Elders, a group of ex-world leaders and prominent public figures brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to tackle various global issues. Brahimi replaced Kofi Annan, a former UN Secretary General who introduced a peace plan for Syria in February that Russia signed off on, but both the Syrian government and the opposition ignored it. The Arab League, a regional organisation comprised mostly of Syria’s opponents, repeatedly blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the conflict and urged him to step down.

2 September 2012



Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Syria: What Next?


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



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