Here is a quick draft shopping list of possible reactions to the Georgia crisis (I am back properly from holiday next week so sorry if some of this seems out-of-date or ill-informed). I would be interested in all thoughts about priorities, practicalities, desirabilities. Please post comments
1) A "Georgia Solidarity Campaign" to lobby hard for a full troop withdrawal, NATO soldiers in Georgia (see the "Checkpoint Georgia" article by ex-ambassador Donald Maclarin in today's Telegraph). International brigade of volunteers to help Georgia. Visa free travel to EU and US for Georgian (and Ukrainian) passport-holders.
2) Sweden and Finland into NATO ASAP
3) Big counter-attack on information warfare, expose Kremlin lies, inventions, distortions of history. Hit hard on Katyn, Gulag denial, Stalin nostalgia.
4) Sue Chekists everywhere--Strasbourg, Hague, any western court (Can't someone in Spain get Pinochet-style arrest warrant out?) Make them scared to travel.
5) Use separatist arguemnt against Chekists Idel-Ural, Tatarstan, Chechnya
6) Stop talking about "Russia" (except where journalistic convention demands it). These guys aren't Russia. They are criminal gang of bullies, crooks and murderers who have hijacked Russia.
7) Demand Germany and Netherlands pull out of Nord Stream
8) Build up NATO presence in Baltic states (Balts provide the buildings, other NATO countries the people)
9) Constant name and shame of Chekist allies and stooges in Europe. What on earth is Cyprus doing? It should feel the deepest sympathy for Georgia...
10) Attack them financially. Raid Raiffeisen Bank, find out who owns Gunvor, RosUkrEnergo. Make all contact with Chekist-run commercial entitities toxic to professional reputations, careers. Without bankers, auditors, lawyers etc they will find life much more difficult.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Here is a quick draft shopping list of possible reactions to the Georgia crisis (I am back properly from holiday next week so sorry if some of this seems out-of-date or ill-informed). I would be interested in all thoughts about priorities, practicalities, desirabilities. Please post comments
Russia is fighting a new Cold War with banks and pipelines, not tanks and warplanes
By Edward Lucas
In classical mythology, Georgia was the land where the Argonauts had to harness bulls with bronze hooves to win the Golden Fleece. Modern Georgia is the source of a treasure scarcely less precious: oil and gas from central Asia and the Caspian, piped along the only east-west energy corridor that Russia does not control. But whereas Jason and his comrades triumphed, our quest has ended in humiliating failure.
As the occupying power in Georgia, Russia can close or destroy those pipelines whenever it wishes. The only country in the region that even came close to sharing Western values, one vital for our energy security, has been humiliatingly defeated and dismembered.
As politicians and voters in the free world return from their holidays, two big questions require answering. What happens next? And how do we stop it?
Decoding the Kremlin’s precise intentions is as tricky now as it was in the days of Kremlinology – a discipline as archaic as Morse code. But the outlines are clear.
Russia wants to recreate a “lite” version of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe and to neutralise the rest of the continent. Unlike the old Cold War, military action is a last resort: for the most part, it is banks and pipelines, not tanks and warplanes, that are doing the dirty work.
This may sound strange, given what has happened in Georgia. But it is vital to realise that this was not the beginning of a new Russian push, but part of something that began in the mid-1990s.
Russia has nobbled Belarus – the only other country, apart from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, that is ready to recognise the new statelets of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It props up the narco-state of Tajikistan, cossets the dictatorship in Uzbekistan and woos the benighted despots of Turkmenistan. It has a cautious alliance with China, in the form of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, an outfit dedicated to fighting “extremism, terrorism and separatism” (although this last “-ism” has evidently been forgotten when it comes to Georgia).
It has stitched up energy deals in North Africa; it flirts with Iran and sells weapons to Hugo Chavez, the America-hating windbag who runs Venezuela. And by using energy diplomacy and divide-and-rule tactics, it is stitching up Europe country by country, from Cyprus to the Netherlands.
And it works. Over the crisis in Georgia, Europe has shown astonishing softness. The leaders of the EU have been all but invisible.
Where is the supposed foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana? Or the foreign-affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner? Meanwhile, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has been humiliated by the blatant Russian breaches of the ceasefire agreement that he negotiated. Europe’s weakness is the result of multiple forms of soft-headedness and short-sightedness.
Partly it is simple anti-Americanism: if Vladimir Putin is making life difficult for George Bush, he must be a good guy. That attitude lies behind the astonishing opinion polls in countries such as Germany, which show that people have more trust in xenophobic, authoritarian Russia than they do in the world’s most powerful democracy.
There is also a mistaken belief that Russia is an ally in the struggle against globalisation: here is a country, argue intellectuals such as the British historian Correlli Barnett, that does not let itself be pushed around by multinational companies and the meddling do-gooders of the self-appointed “international community”.
But this is to misunderstand Russia under its kleptocratic and chauvinist ex-KGB rulers. Russia likes multilateral organisations, so long as it dominates them. It runs a whole bunch: for example, the “Commonwealth of Independent States”, which it is using to legitimise its occupation of Georgia.
Russia is also advocating a new pan-European security organisation, with formal legal status. This, it hopes, will exclude the United States, and tie up the West in the knots of international law, so that military intervention of the kind seen in the former Yugoslavia becomes all but impossible.
Similarly, although the Kremlin makes life difficult domestically for Western oil companies and tightly restricts foreign investment in any industry that it dubs “strategic” (which potentially covers almost anything), it is another story abroad. Russia delights in the possibilities of the global economy. If regulators in New York are sniffy about listing stolen companies on the stock exchange, there is always London. And if you fail even London’s undemanding test, Dubai, Bombay and Shanghai await with open arms.
Russia also uses its colossal war chest, fuelled by oil and gas revenues, to buy up assets in other countries. And that is the taproot of European softness: money.
In the Cold War, doing business with the Soviet Union was a rare and suspicious activity. Now Russia has penetrated our markets and businesses to a huge degree. Energy companies such as Austria’s OMV, Germany’s E.ON and Italy’s ENI work hand-in-glove with outfits such as Gazprom, which is nominally Russia’s biggest company, but better described as the gas division of Kremlin, Inc.
This directly affects politics. Germany, with Russia, is building the Nord Stream gas pipeline along the Baltic seabed to bypass Poland. Russia has already cut off energy supplies to punish Lithuania, the Czech Republic and other countries. When Nord Stream is built, it will be able to do the same to Poland.
Yet even now, after a clear and brutal demonstration of Russian imperialism, Germany refuses to consider cancelling the pipeline. Angela Merkel was willing to pay a high-profile visit to the Baltic states – a likely target for Russia’s next push westwards – to offer support. But she would not even contemplate ending her energy alliance with Russia.
And it is hard to see this changing: European consumers will not pay hugely higher energy prices to finance alternative supplies, nor will politicians give the EU the weight it needs to bargain properly with Russia (a country, don’t forget, that is three times smaller in population than the EU, with an economy roughly a tenth of the size).
With the EU and Nato hopelessly divided, Russia can dismiss our toothless whimpers about Georgia. That leaves Eastern Europe to base its security on the United States.
Yet even America’s willingness to confront Russia is limited. Every incoming president since Bill Clinton has criticised his predecessor for being soft on Russia. But none has proved any better. For all John McCain’s fighting talk, and Barack Obama’s belated belligerence, neither man will be able to take a hard line. America needs Russia – for nuclear security, to hold back Iran, to contain North Korea, as a supply route to Afghanistan, in hunting down terrorists. And Russia knows it. If the mood in Washington is frosty, the Kremlin need only flirt more intensively with Iran, Venezuela and China, or withhold co-operation on some pressing topic, and America will buckle.
On top of all that, Russia’s leaders have a massively secure position at home. Their central bank has nearly $600 billion in hard-currency reserves, while their popularity is far greater than the Politburo ever dreamed of. Mr Putin, and the war in Georgia, are acclaimed – a view stoked by the docile media, which portrayed the conflict as a valiant crusade against genocide and Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili as a murderous fascist.
Abroad, Russia senses that power in the world is shifting east and south, to countries such as India and China, which see Georgia very differently. They may not much like separatism, but they also think that the West is practising double standards: America would not tolerate the Kremlin’s meddling in its backyard, so why should Russia have to put up with an America protégé in the Caucasus?
The German philosopher GF Hegel wrote that the owl of Minerva spreads her wings only at dusk: we perceive historical changes only when they are almost complete. We have enjoyed an extraordinary 20-year period in which Russia was weak and seemingly benign. Europe became (mostly) whole and free.
The idea that the continent could again become a battleground between East and West is unwelcome, and to many still inconceivable. But it is happening: and our resurgent enemy seemingly holds most of the cards.
There is, however, one chink of light, for us if not for the Russians. In the long term, the Putin regime means catastrophe for his country. The political system is opaque and fossilised, unable to respond to the needs of a changing economy or to rein in corruption, let alone deal with the fast-growing Muslim population, which has soared to 25 million – a 40 per cent rise since 1989 – as the birthrate among the Slavs has plunged. Modernisation of public services and infrastructure, in a country awash with money, has been dismally slow.
Foreign adventures are the traditional way for autocratic rulers to distract public opinion from problems at home, and Russia is no exception. The regime running Russia will come unstuck in the end. But the cost in the meantime will be dreadful.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
[amazingly, some of the readers of this article on the Economist website seem to have thought it was a leaked email. I gave author's name to "Shutnik" rather than the "Khuiyovich" of 1994 and another draft piece posted on this blog, in order not to seem gratuitously offensive which is not my intention]
What Russia will do next
A secret e-mail to Mr Putin reaches our columnist
ESTEEMED Vladimir Vladimirovich!
As director of the operational task-force of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, I present my compliments to you personally at the conclusion of the initial military-political phase of Operation “Return”.
The penetration by this service and its sister organisations of decision-making structures in the enemy camp has long given us advance warning of European Union and NATO plans, and a substantial ability to influence them. Even we, however, did not expect such torpor and weakness from the enemy. We see empty words but no readiness for serious resistance. Indeed, some western commentators and politicians have praised our actions as justified, including in some cases those who have received no payment or other inducements. We can proceed confidently.
As we underline the disadvantages of bad relations and highlight the advantages of good ones, our main ally is the electoral cycle. Voters, politicians and other decision-makers will become increasingly aware that if they resist us, they will pay a heavy price; but if they cooperate, they will benefit.
His Georgian adventure
We will extend the intimidation, harassment and expropriation of British, American, Polish and Czech companies active in our domestic market and as energy customers, while at the same time offering further preferential treatment to those from countries that are politically friendly, especially France, Italy and Germany. Are big European companies willing to sacrifice billions of euros in lost exports or higher energy costs by indulging their politicians’ desire to grandstand and moralise? We think not.
We should visibly intensify our activity in non-western financial centres, chiefly Dubai, Mumbai and Shanghai, to show western capital markets, particularly London and New York, the loss of business that they face by their governments’ intransigent behaviour.
Similarly, the next American president will face a stark choice between the imminent prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran or the wasting asset of involvement in a Europe that does not wish to defend itself.
The electoral cycle in the enemy camp in coming months should deliver great victories to our side: by the year-end we expect Ukraine and Lithuania to abandon the enemy camp. But plans for further escalation are ready as needed. In Crimea, Islamic extremists, guided by our colleagues in Teheran and Damascus, can attack Russian passport-holders. The Ukrainian authorities, partly due to their own incompetence and partly thanks to our disruptive activities, will be unable to stop these atrocities. Our agents in the local population can therefore set up armed self-defence militias. These will clash with the Ukrainian police and army. Our forces can then intervene as peacekeepers, recreating the scenario that has played out so successfully in Georgia.
In the Baltic, provocations will be by nationalist hooligan gangs, supposedly acting as patriots, demanding ethnic cleansing of all Russian-speakers from Estonia and Latvia. Our compatriots there will also establish self-defence militias, which will appeal to us for protection from both the hooligans and from the organs of state power. In the case of Lithuania, our sponsored extremist groups can mount terrorist attacks on military transit to the Kaliningrad region, giving us the chance to demand, and provide, suitable security protection to them.
We can also launch deniable cyber-attacks against Poland and the Czech Republic, crippling official websites and disrupting the banking system.
There remains only the problem of certain propagandists in the enemy media who
Editor’s note: “Shutnik”—the surname of the author of this email—is the Russian word for “Joker”. Whether this affects the authenticity of the above material is for readers to decide.
You can hear me attacking a pro-Putin Tory MP on a BBC interview here (about 1 hour 6 minutes through the programme).
[I am back from my holidays. And though I am much refreshed, I am both gloomy and furious. The piece that follows is just an opening salvo]
Like any bully, Russia can be faced down. Let's do it sooner rather than later
By Edward Lucas 28th August 2008
David Miliband is hardly the kind of man to set the hard nuts of the old KGB trembling.
The ruthless ex-spooks and spivs who run Russia believe that nothing can now stop their restoration of the old Soviet empire.
And the tragic, even terrifying truth is that they could well be right. Indeed, we are close to losing the new cold war before our politicians even admit that it has started.
By staging their brutal and audacious attack on Georgia at a time when most Western leaders were either on holiday or at the Olympic Games, Russia caught us napping.
And even when we did belatedly respond, we said nothing to bother them.
The message from the Kremlin comes cold and clear: if Russia is expelled from Western clubs, no matter.
With a massive U.S.$600billion in the bank, and politics firmly stitched up at home, Russia is ready to roll - and roll westwards.
In short, post-Soviet politics is now a triumph of mind over matter - they don't mind and we don't matter.
The past weeks have seen a stunning series of defeats for Britain and its allies. It is not just that Georgia, the only country in the vital Caucasus region that believes in our values, has been dismembered and humiliated. The map of Europe has been redrawn, and in darker colours.
Putinism - a mixture of Soviet nostalgia and nationalism - is now wildly popular in Russia. Hopes that the heady mix of liberty and justice that once toppled the Iron Curtain would take widespread root in the former Soviet empire have been dashed.
Worse, at any moment, on any pretext, Russia's so-called peace-keepers (cynics call them piece-keepers) can seize or destroy the vital oil and gas pipelines crossing Georgia.
These are our only escape from the Kremlin's stranglehold on energy supplies from the east.
Had it met a really tough response from the West, the Kremlin might possibly have pulled back in Georgia. Now it is pressing ahead. The next target is Ukraine, by far the biggest and most important of the ex-Soviet republics.
Ukraine is a free country with a lively media where nobody lives in fear of the midnight knock on the door, forcible incarceration in psychiatric hospitals or the arbitrary confiscation of property. Such things are the hallmarks of the ex-KGB regime in Russia.
But that does not mean Ukraine can defend itself. It is divided on ethnic lines, with a heavily Russified east that sees plenty to admire in Russia's resurgence, and finds the Western orientation of the country's quarrelsome and incompetent leadership mystifying and unappealing.
The most explosive mix is in Crimea, the balmy Black Sea peninsula, where Britain fought its last full-scale war with Russia.
Stalin deported Crimea's indigenous population of Tatars in 1944. They were replaced with settlers, who proudly hold Russian passports and detest their nominal Ukrainian rulers.
As it did in South Ossetia, Russia can all too easily say that it needs to intervene to protect their interests.
One of Russia's biggest naval bases, Sevastopol, is in Crimea. Ukraine wants Russia to pull out as agreed when the lease expires in 2017.
Russia shows no sign of wanting to leave a naval citadel that holds a place in Russian hearts, similar to that of Plymouth or Portsmouth in ours.
It is precisely this nationalist sentiment that the Kremlin has found so easy to manipulate. Russians feel they were badly treated by the West in the 1990s.
The billions we squandered in vain attempts to prop up the ramshackle Russian economy have long been forgotten. So, too, have our attempts to befriend them.
Russians complain bitterly that Nato expanded eastwards. But thank goodness it did. Georgia's fate is a warning of what happens to those countries that failed to get in.
It is in the Baltic that this geopolitical drama will reach its crux. Unlike Georgia and Ukraine, the Baltic states are unquestioned successes. The story of their recovery after a ruinous 50-year foreign occupation is inspirational.
Twenty years ago, I watched these three small, proud countries leap to freedom as the Soviet Union collapsed. Now I fear dreadfully that their independence will prove shortlived.
I fear for Estonia and Latvia, which have tens of thousands of Russian passport holders - a legacy of the cynical migration policies pursued by the Soviet Union.
Russia has been complaining for years about the language and citizenship policies of these two states, which it regards, preposterously, as racist.
In truth, the restrictions are mild - especially given that these countries have just emerged from decades of forced Russification.
Soviet shadow: The Georgian flag flies at half mast in downtown Gori, behind a statue of Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin
Public business must be conducted in the local language: those wanting to become citizens must learn it, and pass a simple history exam.
But the Russian propaganda machine is all too capable of whipping up an artificial scandal.
Lithuania, meanwhile, has only a small Russian minority but is vulnerable for a different reason: voters are exhausted and disillusioned with what they see as a corrupt and incompetent government.
The great danger is that they turn to populist pro-Russian politicians in elections in October.
But our politicians are no better. Blinkered, browbeaten, bribed or brainwashed - they seem, pitifully, ill-fitted to the challenge now facing them.
The callow and ignorant administration of George Bush has ripped up nuclear arms agreements with Russia, the world's second-largest nuclear power, without providing any alternative.
It failed to hold back the impetuous, adventurist Georgian leadership. But it is ridiculous to blame America. Europe's security is our business.
Let us not forget our own guilty men: Tony Blair snuggling up to Vladimir Putin for nights at the opera in St Petersburg, safely distant from the howls echoing from the torture chambers of Chechnya.
Nor our pinstriped fifth column: businessmen whose salivating pursuit of profits blinded them to the looming menace of Russia's authoritarian crony capitalism.
And let us also blame the European leaders in Germany, Italy, France and elsewhere, crass and craven by turns, who have divided the continent and endangered our security.
But we can still fight back. We should scrutinise the way in which Kremlin cronies use our banks to launder the billions they have stolen from the long-suffering people of Russia.
We can tighten our visa rules so that Ukrainians find a warmer welcome, and Russians a colder one.
We should remember that when we act together, we are far richer and more powerful than ill-governed Russia.
Europe's population is three times bigger, its economy ten times larger than that of its new foe.
We can protect what is left of Georgia by spending money to rebuild what the Russian forces and their freebooters have looted and destroyed.
And, most vitally, we can send Nato warships and soldiers to emphasise our support for the Baltic states, our loyal little allies now shivering on the front line.
Because for all the swinish swagger of the ex-KGB men as they toast their destruction of a country one-thirtieth their size, they have no appetite for a real confrontation.
Like any bully, Russia can be faced down. So let us do it sooner rather than later.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
(this interesting document appears to be a draft memo prepared by Col Khuiyovich, who is a senior member of the foreign-policy planning staff of Russia's intelligence service.) I do not guarantee its authenticity.
The great success of our Georgia campaign callsfor a re-assessment of our strategical options.
We can either follow up with similar moves in for example Latvia or the Ukraine or we can move pro tem to a softly-softly approach to avoid stiffening reistence unnecessarily.
We destabilise other countries in the near abroad, and then move in to restore law and order, and to protect Russian citizens from harassment and harm.
Advantages: easy success, effective warning to rest of near abroad
Both NATO and the EU have shown that they are afraid to bite, and think that barking will do instead. They have more or less said that they will not lift a finger to help the Ukraine, and they won't either to help the Baltic States when push come to shove.
If we were to adopt Option I, I recommend we do Latvia next.
1. It would give us Riga, the main port in the region
2. It has a large Russsian minority
3. It would make Estonaia and Lithuania indefensible.
4. It would forestall any deployment of NATO forces in the Baltics
As regards 1 and 2, Ukraine is similar case, but we have actually got the use of Sevastopol for the immediate future, and the Russian minority is so large that it may be able to vote us into re-assimilating the Ukraine without the need for force. Use of force, though effective, is costly, as I shall argue later.
My fourth point is hypothetical. There is some danger that NATO may raise the stakes by placing armed forces in the Baltics, which would make future operations there more hazardous and costly. If we move quickly there is not much NATO can do. The Americans are busy with their elections. There are a few British troops still stationed in Germany, and the British navy could get itself into the Baltic in a day or two, just in time to evacuate a defeated expeditionary force from Klaipeda, or some other suitable Dunkirk. The Germans are divided with a potential von Ribbentrop in the Foreign Office and many vocal appeasers in the Bundestag. Sarkozy is good on gestures, but not one to get France to bite the bullet.
We sheathe the sabre, and use soft power.
Advantages: less hazardous, less confrontational, great potential for disuniting the enemy, makes full use of unusual window of opportunity.
In spite of all the noise and professed outrage over the disciplining of Georgia, most people in the West will be only too glad to be allowed to forget and go back to sleep. Some British MPs are already saying ``South Ossetia is a far away country, of no importance to us. There are several members of the British House of Lords who insist that Russia is different from what it used to be, and poses no threat to the West. There is enormous anti-Americanism which likens Georgia to Cuba, and Poland to Mexico. President Bush can be relied on to make America appear to the chattering classes as unattractive as Russia, and is in no position in the last months of his Presidency to rouse the Americans to do anything effective. All the members of NATO are in financial trouble, and unwilling to afford the cost or not doing business with us, and especially of not buying our gas and oil. This may not hold good in time to come, but at the present it gives us the whip hand economically, and we can use it wihtout fear of repercussions.
If we pursue option II, we need to pay particular attentiion to France, Germany, Italy and Britain.
1. France: M. Sarkozy is feeling affronted that the “peace in our time” ceasefire that he brought back is only a scrap of paper, and does not mean anything on the ground. A later much publicised withdrawal would ease his feelings, but the real thing to move him is economic. A sympathetic treatment of the very considerable French interests in Russia will quickly bring him to heel.
2. Germany: Ms Merkel has spoken out against our work in Georgia, but that is largely for public consumption. The Baltic pipeline is still to be constructed. If we can offer some further oily inducements, she will be sensible. In due course a Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (but secret of course ) may be available.
3. Italy: bribing MPs is cheap and effective.
4. Britain: Unfortunately Britain does not depend on us for oil or gas, but its energy policy is hamstrung by continued dithering over nuclear energy. We need to keep it that way. We need to coordinate a series of demosntrations against nuclear power, using green arguments about waste disposal and the virtues of wind- and wave-power. There is a large body of pacifist sentiment which we can nurture. Most important however are business men and (mostly) conservative politicians who hope to make money out of business in Russia. We have already brought a number of accountants and lawyers to heel, and the bankers are in no position to mount high moral horses at present.
Both strategies have merits, but I think Optioin II is better. Optioin I involves a series of high-profile crises which may galvanise opinion against us. The Rhineland worked because Britain would not back France. Munich worked because Britain and France were believed that there was an alternative to fighting. But that was enough to persuade almost everyone in Britain that Hitler had to be stopped, and he was stopped. We can get the Ukraine, and then might get Latvia, though better the other way nround. But then the peaceniks in the US and UK will have lost all credibility, and even chartered accountants will no longer look just to the profits to be had from rendering professional services to RosUkrEnergo and the like. Although Bush and Brown seem to be in terminal decline, the one thing each can do is to stand up for national security at a time of visible threat. Iraq would be forgotten and forgiven if memories of the Cold War were revived. It would be the one thing that each could do to restore his public standing. Better avoid excitement, and relying on soft power let somnolent democracies lie down and sleep.
Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, has given "The New Cold War" a very decent review in the Helsingin Sanomat. The English version here
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh
Fighting against the future
From The Economist print edition
THEY could hardly seem more different. Eric Blair (who took the pen name George Orwell) was an austere socialist—albeit Old Etonian—whose egalitarian convictions were etched into his soul by a miserable childhood and who despised churchy cant. Evelyn Waugh was a world-class snob and social climber, an aesthete whose rigid religious convictions were rarely matched by their practical application. “One resembled the embodiment of privilege”, writes David Lebedoff, “and the other its emaciated foe.”
Yet the sharp contrast is misleading. As this insightful, waspish book shows, the hidden similarities were greater than the visible differences. Having the fortune to be born in 1903, both men were too young to be killed in the first world war, but were a bit too old (and in Orwell’s case also too ill) to fight properly in the one that came next. Both sought moral clarity, but failed to find it.
Orwell had fought in the Spanish civil war; his disillusion with that cause is chronicled in “Homage to Catalonia”. Waugh was part of an ill-fated military mission to the cynical, wily Communist partisans in Yugoslavia. His disillusion is told in his masterpiece, the “Sword of Honour” trilogy, where his fictional hero, Guy Crouchback, starts by thinking “the enemy at last was plain in view…It was the Modern Age in arms”. But by the end Crouchback realises he has become the modern age’s henchman.
That is Mr Lebedoff’s main point. “Their seemingly opposite lives were dedicated to the same cause: fighting against the future.” They saw the evil of their own time “not as throwback but preface”. Moral relativism, cloaked in jargon, was on the march, promoted by the tedious, despicable know-alls of the supposedly educated classes. Both thought that decency (a favourite word of Orwell’s) was to be found elsewhere.
The two corresponded with appreciation and even with signs of affection. Each defended the other in public. Both were unpopular: Waugh as an effete reactionary; Orwell for his unfashionable anti-Stalinism. Orwell praised Waugh publicly for his moral courage. Privately Waugh upbraided Orwell for leaving religion out of “1984”. They even met, though only when Orwell was already on his deathbed.
Mr Lebedoff shows sureness of touch in linking the men’s writing and their lives. He understands what made them literary giants. He highlights neatly (and hilariously) Waugh’s demonic streak of prankishness: insisting to the bafflement and fury of all and sundry that Tito, the Yugoslav leader, was a woman. And he evokes with uncomfortable clarity the self-imposed poverty and discomfort of the Orwell household. He explains what made them likeable, and what made them maddening. Writing about Waugh’s frantic attempts to find a good military post in wartime London, he says: “He did, after all, know a great many influential people. The problem was that they also knew him.”
Aug 14th 2008
Don’t be beastly to the Poles
IT IS a fair bet that no British newspaper would print a column that referred to chinks, coons, dagos, kikes, niggers, spics, wogs, wops or yids. Indeed, a writer who tried using these words would probably find himself looking for a new job before the day was out. Yet Giles Coren, a leading light of the Times, last month referred to “Polack[s]” in a piece about his great-uncle’s funeral, and seems entirely unrepentant about it.
Nobody would deny that the history of Jews in Poland is tragic. But to assert, as Mr Coren did, that it is a place where people celebrate Easter by locking Jews into a synagogue and setting fire to it is a preposterous smear.
The article has provoked a furore in Poland, and many letters of protest to the Times. But Mr Coren returned to the fray a week later, saying that this just proved his case. He was condemning Poland for denying its responsibility for the Holocaust, and here was the Polish ambassador to London, he claimed, doing just that.
Arguments based on facts and reason may beat plain ignorance, but they are not necessarily the best weapons against attacks based on prejudice. Mr Coren seems truly to dislike Poles; an ancestor fled from there a century ago, and his family memories, etched and perhaps amplified by the passing decades, are of misery and persecution.
One could ask him why he thinks more Poles are honoured at Yad Vashem than gentiles from any other country. One could also point out that Poland was under foreign occupation during the Holocaust, and that Poles, unlike some other places occupied by the Nazis (Norway, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark or the British Channel Islands, for example), proved extremely unwilling to collaborate with Hitler’s war machine. One could note that the allies won the second world war thanks in part to Polish bravery and brilliance in smuggling out the Germans’ Enigma cipher machine.
But that would probably be pointless. For many people, ethnic prejudices are unshiftable. Sometimes they are harmless (Scots who will applaud any country that beats England in a sporting contest). Sometimes they are loathsome or even lethal. The real issue is why the Times, a respectable mainstream newspaper, permitted the slur to be published; and why, once it had been printed, nobody felt the need to apologise.
The answer is that anti-Polish prejudice is still socially acceptable, in a way that anti-Jewish prejudice, say, is not. That is partly a legacy of Soviet propaganda, which liked to portray all east European countries as benighted reactionary hotbeds that had been civilised by proletarian internationalism. It is partly a knee-jerk reaction of people who dislike the Roman Catholic Church, and particularly the last pope (described contemptuously by a leading British scientist as “an elderly Pole”, as if that disqualified him from having an opinion). It is mostly because being rude about Poles carries no risk.
That won’t change quickly. But before Poles feel too aggrieved about this, they should realise that they are in good company. British journalists (and, it must be said, some Polish ones) feel no shame in using anachronistic Nazi allusions when writing about Germany. English football fans disconcert (they think) German teams by humming, en masse, the theme from “The Dambusters”, a British war film.
Germans may even be called “Huns” in headlines; the French are sometimes “Frogs”. That is rude and tiresome. But the best reaction to such insults is a mixture of patient pity in public, and ostracism in private, for those silly enough to resort to them.
[this was written three weeks ago before the attack on Georgia and published while I was on holiday]
Prosecution and persecution
Aug 21st 2008
Lithuania must stop blaming the victims
IS LITHUANIA really persecuting Holocaust survivors as if they were war criminals? Not quite, but the story is still troubling. It starts with the Nazi occupation of Lithuania when the Germans, with local help, were murdering Jews (more than 200,000 Jews perished, around 95% of the pre-war population). The Nazis’ main opponent was the Soviet Union, so Jews’ only chance of survival was to fight alongside Soviet-backed partisan groups, who were fighting both against Hitler and to restore communist rule in Lithuania.
Sixty years on, independent Lithuania is still wrestling with the dilemmas of the wartime years. The Soviets condemned many Nazi collaborators (and tens of thousands of others) immediately after the war, but atrocities committed by the other side remain almost wholly unpunished. Perpetrators of dreadful crimes are still living freely in Russia and elsewhere.
Yet the interest Lithuanian prosecutors have shown in a handful of elderly Holocaust survivors seems to have only a tangential relationship with righting those historical wrongs. Fania Brantsovsky, now 86, is a librarian at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Lithuania, a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto and a former partisan. Prosecutors say they want to talk to her and another survivor, Rachel Margolis, about a partisan massacre of civilians in 1944.
Perhaps most spectacularly, a prosecutor wants to interview Yitzhak Arad, a Lithuanian-born historian and ex-head of Yad Vashem in Israel. Until recently he sat on a high-level Lithuanian commission investigating crimes perpetrated by totalitarian regimes in the country. Now he is refusing to co-operate. In a book published in 1979 he described how his partisan unit “punished” villagers who did not give them food.
No formal charges have been brought; the prosecutors say they are just following up a line of inquiry. But they claim to be “searching” for Ms Brantsovsky, as if she were a fugitive. The Lithuanian government seems embarrassed by the issue but says it cannot intervene in the justice system. It is bits of the Lithuanian media, calling for the individuals concerned to be put on trial as terrorists and criminals, who have done most to inflame the situation.
But it is still bad. Lithuania’s record on prosecuting war criminals of the other stripe has been spotty, to put it mildly. Targeting prominent local Jews looks selective, even vindictive. It also fits into a general pattern of what Dovid Katz, the Yiddish Institute’s research director, calls “Holocaust obfuscation”. This involves a series of false moral equivalences: Jews were disloyal citizens of pre-war Lithuania, helped the Soviet occupiers in 1940, and were therefore partly to blame for their fate. And the genocide that really matters was the one that Lithuanian people suffered at Soviet hands after 1944.
These arguments are as repellent as they are flimsy. Jews (perhaps 500 of them) comprised around a third of the pre-war Communist Party. But Jews also suffered disproportionately from the deportations of June 1941, aimed at the bourgeoisie of all races. The Soviet Union was profoundly anti-Semitic.
Dodging the blame for Lithuanian collaboration in the Holocaust is shameful. It also makes separating facts from Soviet-era smears (now enthusiastically repeated by Kremlin propagandists) more difficult. Lithuania suffered dreadfully under Soviet rule, but “genocide” is the wrong word. Lithuania in fact suffered less than its Baltic neighbours. It regained territory (including its historic capital, Vilnius) and a wily local Communist leader shielded it from russification.
It may suit demagogic politicians and their media hangers-on to distort history and defame Jews. But it reflects dreadfully on Lithuania, at a time when small countries in Russia’s shadow need all the help they can get.
The Kremlin's invasion of freedom-loving neighbour Georgia is strikingly similar to Prague exactly 40 years ago...
By Edward Lucas
They called it a night frost in the height of summer. But what struck Prague 40 years ago today was no freak of weather.
It was a change in the political climate that shaped a generation.
For seven precious months from January to the Soviet-led invasion of August 21, 1968, Czechs and Slovaks had tasted freedom - to speak, to travel, to publish - of a kind they thought they had lost for ever.
In the undivided and largely peaceful Europe of today, it is hard to imagine that nations such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, now so familiar to millions of British holidaymakers, were under the ice-cap of the Soviet empire.
Every facet of life, from education to travel, was controlled by the Communist party and their secret police henchmen. Private enterprise was banned; loyalty to the Soviet Union was mandatory; any contacts with the capitalist West, suspect.
And then in a few heady months, the political landscape seemed to have changed.
After 20 years of hardline communist rule, the reformist leader Alexander Dubcek seemed to be offering the impossible - the social justice and welfare promised by communism, with the freedom enjoyed by the West.
That was a tantalising prospect not only for those behind the Iron Curtain, but for millions elsewhere impatient with the capitalist system's shortcomings.
Dubcek called it 'socialism with a human face'. But those brief months of optimism are known today as 'the Prague Spring'.
Yet on the night of August 20-21, it all came to a sudden and dramatic end.
On Kremlin orders, 2,000 tanks and 200,000 soldiers rolled into Czechoslovakia, offering what in the topsy-turvy world of communist jargon was called 'fraternal assistance', but which amounted to an invasion.
As the tanks ground through the Czech countryside, Soviet troops seized Prague airport.
An elite snatch squad burst in on an emergency government meeting and arrested at gunpoint Dubcek and his colleagues.
They were deported to Moscow and forced to sign documents retrospectively 'inviting' the invasion.
After humiliatingly undoing his reforms, Alexander Dubcek was assigned a lowly job as a forester.
He was not to return to public life until he unexpectedly addressed a demonstration in Wenceslas Square in Prague November 1989.
The gasp that met the announcement of his name, I wrote at the time, was 'as if people had been holding their breath for 20 years'.
If that sounds a touch melodramatic, then it is with good reason. It was the crushing of the Prague Spring that sparked my childhood interest in - and lifelong enthusiasm for - Eastern Europe.
I still remember the anguished atmosphere on August 21 at breakfast in our Oxford household as my ashen-faced parents discussed the unspeakable news from Prague.
A few years later, I remember watching my father, a philosophy don, packing a suitcase with forbidden texts such as Plato's Republic and the New Testament.
Like many of his Oxford colleagues, he had responded to an appeal from the underground university in Prague, to lecture about Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas in secret seminars, to an audience of once-distinguished colleagues now reduced to jobs as street-sweepers and stokers.
It deeply impressed me that my father was risking his freedom to bring these dusty tomes to people who were risking theirs to read them.
The thought that freedom of thought could create a chink in the Iron Curtain was as romantic as it was tantalising.
And ten years later it was my own turn, as the only Western newspaperman based in communist Czechoslovakia, to hear the wistful echoes of the Prague Spring and its tragic aftermath in the back alleys of the crumbling baroque city.
My best friend among the dissidents was Jan Urban, once the country's top Byzantine historian.
The authorities had told him to sign a declaration condemning the opposition; when he refused the secret police told him that his children would be educated only as manual workers if he persisted in his defiance.
Other friends included an Englishwoman who had married her wartime sweetheart, part of the exiled Czechoslovak air force that fought side by side with the RAF in the Battle of Britain.
When they returned after the war, the communists jailed him as an enemy of the people.
When I myself was beaten senseless by riot police, I was proud to count my bruises among the far more grievous injuries inflicted on the Czechs and Slovaks by their alien masters over so many decades.
That is why I am so alarmed that the lessons of those grim years appear to have gone unheeded.
Through political complacency and public apathy, we in the West have allowed a resurgent Russia to once again interfere in the political progress of its neighbours.
Today it is Georgia that has been the Kremlin's target, with the conflict in South Ossetia demonstrating how President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin are as determined to halt the spread of Western democracy as the Soviet chiefs of old.
This week's anniversary of the Prague invasion should serve to remind us all that we cannot allow tyranny to succeed, and how courageous are those who fight for the cause of political liberty.
Certainly, it is easy to forget how breathtaking the scope and speed of the reforms pushed through by Dubcek and his colleagues were in that heady Prague Spring of 1968.
His 'action programme' in April that year turned communist orthodoxy upside down.
After two decades of tight control, Czechs and Slovaks had freedom to travel, to discuss, and to run their lives without the leaden interference of the Communist bureaucracy.
Dubcek even hinted that after a ten-year transition period, Czechoslovakia could become a multi-party democracy.
In the excitable atmosphere of the time, when students in Paris were marching under the slogan 'Demand the impossible', even that ambition seemed too mild.
Pressure groups mushroomed, long-suppressed anti-Soviet material appeared in the newspapers.
But events were spiralling out of control. Communist rule in Eastern Europe required a life-support mix of paranoia, lies and tight secret police control.
Public discussion was lethal. So was any suggestion of friendliness towards the West.
By freeing travel restrictions, Dubcek had allowed hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks to see that countries such as West Germany, France and Britain were not hotbeds of reaction and injustice, run by slavering warmongers, but prosperous free nations.
Most serious of all was talk of free elections.
For all their bombast about the historical inevitability of their victory, the communist ideologues were by the 1960s already well aware that their system was fatally flawed, and survived despite, rather than because of, popular will.
Their fear was that Dubcek's reforms may spread far beyond Prague and into the wider Soviet Empire. He had to be stopped.
After increasingly peremptory warnings went unheeded, it was time for the tanks to roll. They met little resistance.
A few Czechs and Slovaks took up arms - trying to defend the radio studios in Prague, for example, where a desperate-sounding announcer told the world 'when you hear the national anthem playing, it's all over'. It soon was.
Military resistance against the Kremlin's war machine was futile. It was that sense of frustration that led the student Jan Palach to burn himself to death - an event that became an instant taboo for the newly docile media to report on.
In despair, Czechs and Slovaks turned inwards. For some it was the pleasures of private life, such as startlingly promiscuous sex. Others simply chose the bottle.
Only a tiny handful of exceptionally brave men and women, such as the playwright Vaclav Havel, chose the lonely path of open resistance.
In 1977 they launched the Charter 77 opposition movement, whose leaders were jailed, beaten, harassed and even murdered.
For a decade, their efforts seemed as heroic as they were fruitless.
Only when the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev finally dumped the doctrine of his predecessors did history finally sweep away the concrete-faced apparatchiks installed in Czechoslovakia after 1968.
If there is one comforting lesson from all this, it is that 'truth will triumph' - the moving historic motto that now graces the national emblem of the Czech Republic.
Czechoslovakia won its eventual freedom in a heady two weeks of demonstrations in November 1989, dubbed the 'Velvet Revolution' for its lack of violence and ease of transition.
Soviet tanks went home, unlamented. Now, Czechs and Slovaks are citizens of Europe, their security protected by Nato.
As it turned out, the crushing of the Prague Spring was a Pyrrhic victory for the Kremlin.
It countered the threat of reform of communism for another two decades, but the cost in credibility was colossal.
Like so many other crimes and blunders in the history of communist power, the events of 1968 destroyed any hopes that the Soviet Union had of becoming a country worthy of trust or admiration.
Even the most soft-headed Leftist could hardly believe the cause of peace was promoted by tanks crunching through the streets of Central Europe's prettiest city, with bewildered conscripts (some of whom seemed to believe they were fighting West German invaders) sullenly brushing aside the impassioned pleas of mini-skirted girls who tried to put flowers in the barrels of their Kalashnikovs.
The vindictive 'normalisation' that followed the invasion had a similar effect. The brightest and best Czechs and Slovaks were hounded from their jobs for political unreliability and forced to work as stokers and window cleaners.
That epitomised the senseless viciousness of communism in its declining years.
But 1968 also has a darker lesson: that the West's capacity for self-delusion is matched only by its disunity and cowardice.
It is astonishing that, after 50 years of Soviet misrule, many in the Left still look back on that political doctrine with something akin to nostalgia.
Moreover, the parallels with the present are as disturbing as they are thought-provoking.
Then as now, the United States was weakened by ill-planned and costly overseas adventures. Back in 1968, Vietnam had destroyed America's moral capital and will to fight, just as George W Bush's 'war on terror' is sapping them now.
Then as now, Europe was distracted and timid. In 1968, it was hot-headed students and silly hippies who derided our institutions and eroded our sense of purpose. Now it is corruption in politics and the cynicism and apathy that it breeds.
Perhaps more sinisterly still, the invasion of 1968 highlighted Western impotence - just as Russia's occupation of Georgia has done now.
No European country is prepared to cut their lucrative trade ties with Russia, particularly in energy, in order to prevent the dismemberment and destruction of Georgia, any more than the West was willing to go to war with the Soviet Union for a captive Czechoslovakia struggling for its freedom.
Then as now, we bleat but do not act. Then, as now, the message to the Kremlin is clear: we have lost the will to stand up for our values.
• Edward Lucas is the author of The New Cold War, How The Kremlin Threatens Both Russia And The West (Bloomsbury, £18.99).
Russia and the West
Aug 26th 2008
Russia’s diplomatic recognition of two breakaway bits of Georgia is more bad news
TO GEORGIAN fury, Western consternation and strong support at home, Russia’s government recognised two breakaway regions of Georgia as independent countries on Tuesday August 26th. The map of Europe is different, and darker, as a result.
The planned dispatch of Russian diplomats to open embassies in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, the main cities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia respectively, marks the formal dismemberment of Georgia: until very recently, Russia had at least in theory accepted its neighbour’s territorial integrity.
As long as Russia kept up its recognition of Georgian territorial integrity, it could claim that its soldiers in both places were peacekeepers operating under international mandates. Cynics, such as Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, had long joked that the Russian forces should be called “piece-keepers”, whose real role was to maintain the Kremlin's influence in the former empire. Russia says that its forces are protecting the Abkhaz and Ossetians from Georgian attack.
Diplomatic historians may find that the two new countries will not make for enduring study. The next act in the drama may well be that both new countries ask to become part of the Russian Federation. That underlines Russia’s dramatic military victory against Georgia in this month’s war, giving it a permanent presence south of the Caucasus mountains, close to the vital oil and gas pipelines that bring energy from the Caspian region and Central Asia to Turkey and beyond.
Russia likes to draw parallels with Kosovo—a state carved out of Serbia as a result of Western military intervention. But the parallel is superficial. Few embassies will open in South Ossetia (which, following the ethnic cleansing of its Georgian population, has a population little bigger than that of Liechtenstein). Close Russian allies such as Belarus and Tajikistan will be keen to put on a show of support. Others may be more chary of recognising Russian puppet states as independent countries. Moldova and Azerbaijan, for example, have headaches with similar entities, Transdniestria and Nagorno-Karabakh. Like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, they are the result of ethnic flare-ups in the dying days of the Soviet Union. Russian allies farther afield, such as Venezuela and Cuba, may be tempted to join in the humiliation of the West.
Hard words are flying. Britain and America have condemned the move. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, called it “unacceptable”. She is on a hastily arranged visit to the Baltic states, which are now shivering in anticipation of what Russia’s foreign policy may hold in store for them. France, which holds the presidency of the European Union, had already called an emergency summit for September 1st to review ties with Russia. It was the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered a ceasefire on August 12th. He is furious with what he sees as Russian double-dealing.
Some of the strongest words came from Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister: “That the Russian government leadership now has chosen this route means they have chosen a policy of confrontation, not only with the rest of Europe, but also with the international community in general,” he said.
All that may be true. But for now, criticism of the Kremlin’s actions in Georgia seems to be fuelling the Russian leadership’s determination to do more of the same. Public opinion seems strongly behind the muscular new foreign policy, seeing it as a sign that Russia has recovered from the weakness of the 1990s. Russia seems not to care that Western countries are now threatening to block its membership of the World Trade Organisation.
Indeed, Russia feels it can easily withstand Western displeasure. Soaring oil and gas prices have put nearly $600 billion in its hard-currency reserves. Many Russians reckon that in the end the big European countries that matter will decide that they care more about trade ties and reliable energy supplies than they do about Georgia. On the evidence so far, that assessment may be correct.
This memo was published in the Baltic Outlook (part of the Baltic Independent in whic I was the managing editor) in the summer of 1993. Now seems a good time to republish it.
It was a (perhaps lame) attempt at satire. Posted further below is an account of what happened next (published in the Spectator in February 1994)
No laughing matter
Satirising the KGB was a mistake, Edward Lucas discovered
The ambassador was in confidential mood. "Our intelligence agents have
found a secret document. The Russian secret service is planning to
destabilise the Baltic states, destroy our democracy and end our
independence," he explained. I began to feel uneasy. He started giving
details. I stopped him.
"Actually, I wrote that," I explained. "It was a joke, in a colour
His face furrowed. "Joke? No, no, this was not joke. Is true. Our
security service send it to me." I persisted. He became cross, and we
parted in a miasma of mutual incomprehension and irritation.
Humour, and particularly satire, is a rare beast in the post-communist
Baltic, where journalism (whatever its factual shortcomings), is seldom
funny on purpose. Even my own newspaper, the Baltic Independent, seldom
strayed from a strict diet of heavy politics, diplomacy and business
coverage. Last year, however, we launched a colour magazine, Outlook,
deliberately intended to to entertain readers rather than just instruct
them. It was a considerable success, rapidly overtaking the parent
paper in pages and circulation.
Our first satirical effort was `Stereo-Balts' some thumbnail sketches
of common Baltic characters, including the ne'er-do-well returned
emigre, or the know-it-all foreign correspondent. Satisfyingly, several
people, some previously unknown to us, complained that the piece was in
reality a specific attack on them.
Next came a futuristic serial about the life and loves of a Riga-based
Scottish diplomat in a putative Riga of 1995. This also made people
cross, but being overtly set in the future, it was hard for them to
treat it as if it were true.
By the autumn, it was time for a change. I had been wondering for some
time what was actually going on inside the KGB (now renamed,
technically speaking, the Russian Intelligence Service). Clearly, there
must be somebody responsible for dealing with the Baltic states. What
did he do? How much did he really understand? Could he be conscripted
into a column? of the `Dear Bill' type in Private Eye.
(Edis notes. "Dear Bill" was a series of fake letters letters written as if
coming from Mrs Thatchers husband Dennis addressed to his friend Bill Deedes.
Appearing in the fortnightly satirical magazine Private Eye it gave a
'different' view of British events to the official Governement line)
Which was how Oleg Khuiyovich, Baltic desk officer at the KGB, made his
now scandalous debut in print. His name is as any speaker of
colloquial Russian would spot instantly impossible: it means,
literally, `Son of a prick'. I envisaged using him as a base to
satirise Baltic politics, Russian misconceptions about them, and life
in general. As a stylistic device, I would pretend that his memos were
being leaked to a `deep throat', and I would be credited as the
His first (and now last) appearance was a general scene-setter, in the
form of a memo to Boris Yeltsin, describing how the `re-integration' of
the Baltic into the Russian sphere of influence was proceeding, by
means of undermining democratic institutions through crime and
corruption, and paving the way for a take-over by regimes which would,
Latin American style, be autocratic at home, but docile towards their
When this was written, last autumn, it was still possible to parody
Russian behaviour towards the Baltics. Vladimir Zhirinovsky was not yet
in parliament; the Russian troop withdrawal from the Baltics seemed,
with fits and starts, to be proceeding, and a really serious threat, as
opposed to the occasional threatening mumble, seemed a long way off.
Colonel Khuiyovich's memo was published, in the usual slot for a
humourous article (more serious features included an account of the
ten-day Riga-Istanbul bus route favoured by soap traders, and
interviews with Latvians about their wartime choice between Stalin and
Distributing all 12,000 copies from Tallinn's antique printing plant
takes some time. But two weeks later, a fax from the main Baltic
lobbying group in the United States arrived, requesting us to send the
`orginal' of the `KGB document' as soon as possible, so that it could
be used in a direct mail shot alerting Baltic-Americans to the fiendish
Russian plot. We giggled at what seemed an amusing, one-off
misunderstanding by a young, overly-serious American lobbyist. Rather
less funny was a phone call from the Latvian Defence Ministry. Please
could we urgently publish a correction. The Ministry was being
bombarded with faxes and phone calls from panicky Latvian-Americans,
who wanted to know what was being done to round up Mr Khuiyovich's
agents. Somewhat embarassed, the civil servant explained: "Of course
I know it's a joke. With a name like that it's obvious. But these
Americans don't believe me when I tell them."
Next came the Lithuanian parliament's research and analysis centre.
They did not call us, but had, we heard, spent several days `analysing'
the document (which by then had been translated in Lithuanian, minus
the author's name). The country's security service had been asked to
cross-check it point by point, and the embassy in Moscow was trying to
confirm it. Via a third party, we tried to put them off the scent. "If
it's a joke, it's not very funny," snapped an official and put the
A few days later we received a phone call from the Estonian Foreign
Ministry. Could we be a bit more specific about how the document was
leaked, the official asked. We tried to explain. He was unconvinced.
"But look at the name Khuiyovich what it means in Russian". "I
don't speak Russian," he replied sniffily. "And anyway, only a sick
person would joke about a subject as serious as this."
By the time of my interview with the worried Baltic ambassador, the
memo had taken on wings of its own. Translated and re-translated, most
of the clues that it was fictional had disappeared. And with what the
Balts now call, without elaboration, the `Situation' (meaning the
threat from Russia) darkening by the day, Colonel Khuiyovich's menacing
assertions seemed all too likely to be true. We published correction
after correction, but to no avail. Like the notorious Douglas Hurd memo
on the desirability of expelling of Muslims from Europe (a palpable
forgery which is widely believed in the Arab world to be authentic),
fiction was proving more believable than fact.
There is an unhappy precedent to this. Our pre-war predecessor, the
Baltic Review, unwittingly provided the excuse for Stalin's annexation
of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by printing an article about the need
for a new Baltic security pact against the Russian threat. Stalin said
that this was evidence that the Baltic States were plotting against the
non-aggression pacts into which they had just been coerced, and marched
in. It is hard to imagine Colonel Khuiyovich's memo playing such a
deadly role. But in the current climate, his first appearance in print
will be--in so far as we can influence it--positively his last.
To: Boris Yeltsin, President, Russian Federation
From: Oleg Khuiyovich, Russian Intelligence Service
Re: Developments and prospects in the near abroad (Baltics)
I am pleased to report that the renewed integration of this region in
our historic sphere of influence is proceeding satisfactorily.
As you will recall, our policy is proceeding on two levels. On the
surface, we are dragging our feet on the question of troop withdrawal,
while continuing to protest about the abuse of human rights of our
Russian brothers and sisters in Estonia and Latvia.
Our real intentions are different. You will recall the seminar I gave
two years ago on the United States' `Monroe Doctrine' in Latin America.
This is the conceptual model we are now using for the Baltic region.
Keeping an overt military presence in these countries is costly, both
in terms of cash and of criticism from abroad. It is also ineffective:
our troops are, after all, basically useless except for crude military
intervention, which is not in our interest.
Our needs in the Baltic are quite simple: we want to know what is going
on, to be able to secure specific needs, and prevent anything we
dislike. The same, in fact, as the US enjoyed for decades in Latin
In practice, this means preventing the establishment of a solid
democracy. A free press, independent-minded parliamentary deputies, an
unbribable judiciary or sound public administration would all be major
obstacles to our need to manipulate and influence what is going on.
Instead, we need a sleepy, corrupt and rather autocratic system, which
nevertheless enjoys fairly wide public support. (Both we and our
American colleagues have had considerable difficulties with allies who
were hated by their own people).
Stage one, which we are currently engaged in, is therefore to undermine
democratic institutions and public confidence in them. Stage two will
be to establish autocratic regimes, nominally independent but in fact
subservient to our interests.
Our chief weapons in undermining democracy are crime and corruption. We
have made great strides in inspiring a public dread of `the mafia'.
Bomb explosions in all the major cities of the region are now a regular
occurrence, and the police are (as one would expect given our
continuing presence in their ranks) getting nowhere. Certain
newspapers, not without some help from us, specialise in the most lurid
and sensationalist reporting of `organised crime'. As one would expect,
when it comes to `organising crime' our people are unbeatable. As a by-
product, we are now well established in sectors of the economy such as
hotels, transport, and import-export; we make a tidy profit, and when
the time comes, we will be ideally placed to make sure that our own,
and other people's criminal activities cease practically overnight. The
public will be heartily thankful, and all the more likely to believe
that the new `National Patriotic' authorities (or whatever name they
chose) were right to sacrifice the trappings of democracy on the altar
of law and order.
Another strongpoint is our manipulation of the armed forces. We have
successfully concocted two major scandals one in the Estonian
volunteer armed forces and one in the Lithuanian. We have placed well-
trusted agents in senior positions in the defence ministries of all
three countries. These two tactics produce the following beneficial
results: a) the West is highly sceptical of any serious military co-
operation with the Baltic states; b) any seriously patriotic forces in
the defence ministries or general staffs can be monitored and
sabotaged; c) public confidence in the armed forces is low, and d) when
the time comes, it will be easy to marshall them behind autocratic
We have infiltrated, with little difficulty, all the major
political parties; we also have certain groupings which are entirely in
our hands and may provide a useful platform for the seizure of power.
We have agents-in-place in the diplomatic services of all three
countries, even at the highest levels, meaning that we are minutely
informed about Western intelligence activities in the region. One of
our top agents was recently even a guest of the CIA! We have
discouraged the growth of independent broadcasters, and almost regained
our previous presence in state radio and television.
We plan to continue these activities until we are certain that an
indirect seizure of power will be both inconspicuous and completely
effective. Once we have created a climate of hopelessness, in which
both the public and most of the political elites despair of democratic
solutions to their problems, we will assist our `strongmen' into
These `strongmen' (we have several candidates) are typically well-known
politicians, somewhat disappointed by their political fortunes and with
a firm sense of their own destiny. Many of these do not fully realise
that they are serving our interests: we have flattered them into
thinking that they alone really `understand' the situation in Russia,
the threat from the `mafia' etc. Although the plan varies somewhat
between the three Baltic states, in essence it involves them, backed by
some colleagues, the army and police, declaring a state of emergency
against crime. They will then suspend parliament on suspicion of
corruption (not difficult, given our activities in this field), impose
some restrictions on the press, freeze the activities of political
parties and restrict public gatherings. There is unlikely to be much
public protest. Criminal activity will have ceased dramatically, and we
will quickly strike some preferential trade deals, creating the sense
of increasing prosperity.
We do not anticipate any serious reaction from the West. Their
expectations were never very high anyway, and they are more likely to
be grateful for the sudden return of stability than believe what will
sound like wild conspiracy theories concerning its cause.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
How Georgia fell into its enemies' trap
The fighting in the Caucasus should be a deafening wake-up call to the West
Thursday, August 07, 2008
I had some hand in this print-edition obituary of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, which is much better than the hurried "first take" which went up on the web on Monday morning. I had nothing at all to do with this three-page briefing on Russian intellectuals, except to read it, agree with it, and admire it.
Corruption for and against
Aug 7th 2008
Why Daniel Morar deserves the West’s support
CORRUPTION in Romania is a hot topic as the government decides whether to renew the mandate of the prosecutor-general, Daniel Morar. His supporters see him as a valiant scourge of high-level corruption; his opponents think he is an incompetent stooge pursuing political vendettas. These are the five common—but flawed—arguments against him.
First: the West is no better and its criticisms are hypocritical. Certainly since the collapse of communism the ethical underpinnings of the western system have steadily crumbled. The Europe of Gerhard Schröder and Silvio Berlusconi has little authority to condemn anybody.
But the worst features of old Europe should hardly be a model for anyone. Italy’s economy is in a terrible mess; Germany has been nobbled by Russia. And Romania, as a much poorer country, cannot afford bad government. It has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to catch up the lost decades of communist rule and that depends largely on billions of euros from the taxpayers of the richer part of the continent. Corruption endangers that.
The second argument is that Mr Morar has made no difference. Corruption is just as bad as it always was. Again, there is a grain of truth in that. Bribery in schools, clinics and the like is endemic. But to be fair, dealing with that is not Mr Morar’s job: his prosecutors are supposed to go after high-level corruption, not day-to-day sleaze. His lack of results is notable, but hardly his fault: courts hand down derisorily lenient sentences and parliament preserves the immunity of his top targets. Even if Mr Morar is just scratching the surface of the problem and if some or even many of his prosecutors are incompetent, it is hard to argue that things would be better if nothing was happening at all.
Third: the real story is a battle of political clans, one of which is using the “anti-corruption issue” to attack the other. This has a large element of truth, in that the political grouping headed by President Traian Basescu has indeed used the corruption issue to bash its opponents.
And the president’s deplorable way with advisers, plus unexplained parts of his communist-era personal history, when he had a plum job abroad, certainly give his critics some serious ammunition. But that does not mean that anti-corruption fight is a sham. Politics in a free society often involves parties pushing good causes for opportunistic reasons. At the very least the past couple of years have seen an end to the climate of impunity that long characterised Romanian politics.
Fourth: the corruption issue is exaggerated. Most Romanians don’t pay bribes and the non-corrupt bit of the economy is what matters. Certainly growth has boomed and foreign investment has been flooding in. Yet those same foreign investors lament the damage corruption does. In particular, corruption in the education system devalues the “currency” issued by schools and universities—they will eventually become meaningless. And it is hard, if not impossible, for public administration to produce a modern infrastructure in a system plagued by corruption. Without that, growth will be throttled.
Five: this isn’t about morals. Corruption is just a symptom of bad government. True. It would be insane to start an anti-corruption drive by locking up all the doctors and teachers who take under-the-desk payments. But that is no excuse for leaving things as they are. Better salaries in the public sector are a necessary condition for ending corruption. So is more transparency. But it is also essential to punish flagrant wrongdoers, particularly at the top. Without that, no anti-corruption drive will have any credibility.
A bowl of thin alphabet soup
Aug 7th 2008
From The Economist print edition
The Kremlin wants a new security club for Europe and Asia. Can it work? And should it worry America, which is relearning to love its allies?
WHETHER the story is Muslim separatists killing Chinese policemen, Iran threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz to Western oil tankers, lethal fighting in a breakaway province of Georgia or Russia planning to put nuclear bombers in Cuba in retaliation for perceived American adventurism in Europe—just to take news items from the past few days—it is easy to see why officials in Moscow, Beijing and elsewhere think the security of the Eurasian land mass could be in better hands. Old alliances such as NATO, and looser outfits such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), do not seem to fit the bill. They are, critics say, too narrow in their membership, legally flimsy and too old-fashioned in their scope. High time, so it would seem, for something better.
That, roughly, is the thinking in Moscow, where for the first time in years Russia seems to be offering new ideas rather than old grumbles. Fuller details are promised in September. For now, the plan as outlined by President Dmitry Medvedev, and promoted by Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, is to have a big international conference in Moscow next year, attended by all NATO and EU countries, Russia and its ex-Soviet allies, as well as China and (probably) India, to set up a new security organisation to deal with issues such as terrorism and illegal migration. And who could object to that?
So far, the Western response has been muted. Some countries in Europe like the idea of a security structure that would rely less on American hegemony and more on international law. Others are privately sceptical, but think it would be rude to dismiss the plan before hearing it in full.
The idea of security organisations that span Europe and Asia is nothing new. Russia and China set one up by treaty in 1996. In 2001 it became the six-member Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (India and three other countries are observers). This aims to deal with the three big dangers (at least as seen by autocratic multi-ethnic countries): terrorism, separatism and extremism. The outsiders who support Islamist extremists in the North Caucasus are likely to be the same people who back Muslim separatists in China’s far west and insurgents in Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley—so the thinking goes. The SCO’s chief role is still to swap information and co-ordinate anti-terrorist work.
It has gained weight since then, becoming both a talking-shop for countries twitchy about American dominance and developing a loose military role. Last year member states played war games in Central Asia—the biggest Russian-Chinese shindig of that kind since the Sino-Soviet split half a century ago. That prompted panicky reactions: “OPEC with bombs” or “the WWW” (World Without the West).
Such talk is exaggerated. Bobo Lo, a London-based security pundit and author of a forthcoming book called “Axis of Convenience”, says the SCO’s main aim is to promote Russian and Chinese interests in Central Asia “without spooking the natives”—in other words, smaller countries in the area. If it becomes too controversial, it loses usefulness. A Tajik-backed bid for Iran to get full membership, launched in April, has got nowhere.
One aim of the Russian plan may be to nudge Western countries into taking the SCO more seriously. It would have a seat at the table at the planned conference, ranking alongside international bodies such as NATO. Western nervousness about the SCO and similar bodies risks looking hypocritical: the EU and NATO fume about Russia’s use of “divide and rule” tactics, using bilateral arrangements to undermine multilateral organisations. Yet that is pretty much how the West treats Kremlin-sponsored international organisations.
But the big problem facing any new organisation is not Western fastidiousness but deeper conflicts of values and interests. Even the SCO does not function altogether smoothly. Russia and China are partners on some things, but rivals on others. Arms sales from Russia to China have slumped in the past two years. Russian policymakers realise that a rising China will become a steadily stronger neighbour, keen to redress past injustices. In the long term, says Mr Lo, these may include “red line” issues, such as the territories that a weakened Chinese empire ceded to tsarist Russia. That imbalance seems to be diminishing Russian enthusiasm. Russia is resisting full Chinese membership of the G8. Talk in Moscow of a “multipolar world” has given way to praise for “common European civilisation”. “They are worried that in a multipolar world not all poles are going to be equal,” says Mr Lo.
So how would the new Eurasian security organisation reach agreement? Disputes between pro-Western and pro-Russian states have crippled the consensus-based OSCE, an outfit that was once much liked by Russia as a non-military alternative to NATO. Russia banned OSCE election monitors from recent elections and has sidelined it in escalating conflicts such as Georgia (see article). So the new outfit is unlikely to find agreement more easy.
America and European countries will be encouraged if Russia truly wants to be part of a space that foreign-policy wonks such as Dmitri Trenin at the Carnegie think-tank in Moscow call the “Greater West”. But the problem is that being “Western” is hard to define. Speeches by Russian policymakers seem to reflect a 19th century understanding of Western-ness, based on a mixture of national sovereignty and a common cultural heritage in Christianity.
Those ideas are out of step with the realities of the 21st century. Western countries now sign up to lots of sovereignty-limiting multilateral accords, and try to live up to agreed standards on human rights and political freedom. Such agreements are anathema to many in Russia and other SCO countries, who see them as hypocritical and irrelevant to security.
In practice, it is often either the propagation of common values (in the case of NATO) or common dislike of those values (in the case of the SCO) that provides the sort of glue that can hold an international body together. Is any ideological glue strong enough to fuse the whole of Eurasia into a single unit? On any of the challenges common to all the countries in that vast area—from collective security to energy supplies to minority rights—views diverge. Until that changes, the prospects for the Russian grand design look dim.
Bang bang, who’s dead?
Aug 7th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Sabre-rattling continues in a dangerous corner of Europe
IF IT is not the prelude to a real war, it risks being mistaken for one—and in a corner of Europe where Western and Russian interests could clash nastily. The talk of war has been in the air for months. But in the past two weeks six people have been killed in the breakaway (and Russian-backed) region of South Ossetia.
Claim and counterclaim abound. Russia says that Georgia fired first and is reinforcing its forces as a prelude to war. It sent warplanes into Georgian airspace last month—to deter an attack, it said. It also blames Georgian warplanes for violating South Ossetian airspace. Georgia says this is disinformation: Russia and its South Ossetian allies “are trying to create an alternative reality”, says a spokesman. Georgia has brought foreign ambassadors to inspect its lightly armed guard posts which, it insists, fire only in self-defence. This is by no means the first skirmish in the region. Georgian and South Ossetian politicians wrangled about a possible meeting on August 7th aimed at calming the mood.
But the row has given Russia a chance to step up pressure on Georgia, portrayed in the Russian media as a tiresome and aggressive Western stooge. The South Ossetian leader, Eduard Kokoity, said that he would force Georgian forces out of his self-declared republic (which is a patchwork of villages and small towns, some controlled by Georgian authorities and others by separatists). He says 300 Russian irregulars have come to his aid.
The quarrel in South Ossetia follows an escalation of tension in the other breakaway region of Georgia, Abkhazia. Russia has reinforced its military presence there, which is nominally part of a UN-monitored peacekeeping effort. A German-drafted peace plan for the economic revival of Abkhazia, indefinite autonomy and the return of Georgian refugees has so far stalled. The Abkhaz authorities are uneasy about the Russian embrace, but fear the return of ethnic Georgian refugees, once the largest ethnic group in the region.
The Kremlin’s immediate aim seems to be to force Georgia to return to the Joint Control Commission in South Ossetia. This body comprises Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia and the Russian republic of North Ossetia, just across the border, with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a Vienna-based multilateral body, as an observer. Georgia thinks that this is intolerably unbalanced and has walked out.
Russia also wants Georgia to give a formal guarantee that it will not use force in either breakaway region. Georgia thinks that unless its refugees can return this would amount to de facto recognition of the secessionists. It wants a stronger OSCE presence, demilitarisation, and international (not Russian) peacekeepers. It also wants joint Georgian-Russian control of the Roki tunnel under the Caucasus mountains. This, Georgia says, is used both for smuggling and for illegal reinforcements to South Ossetia.
Russia’s broader aim may be to try to roll back the advance of pro-Western forces in its “near abroad” by highlighting the West’s inability to help Georgia. The hotting up of Georgia’s conflicts coincided with Kosovo’s declaration of independence, recognised by much of the West, and American pressure for the expansion of NATO to Georgia and Ukraine.
That move has been stymied, mainly by Germany; Georgia was promised eventual NATO membership but no firm plan. Though Georgia has become a vital corridor for oil and gas exports to Europe, this has not brought the support that its leaders had expected. A lame-duck American administration has been able to do little, though Georgians hope a presidential-election victory by John McCain, an ardent supporter, may change their fortunes. The country’s strong-willed and idiosyncratic president, Mikheil Saakashvili, is not seen by all European leaders as quite the paragon of legality, freedom and reform that he claims to be. Georgia’s image was severely dented in November last year by a crackdown against the opposition.
Georgia is in a quandary: its Western friends tell it to stay calm yet seem unable to stop Russian bullying. It is all too easy to imagine misjudgements on either side leading to a real war. Georgian officials will spend August nervously at their desks. Some of their European counterparts may have other plans. As the recipients of an often daily blizzard of alarms and appeals from Georgia, they think that a summer break might be just the ticket.