Thursday, January 28, 2010

UN’s Role In Georgia Has ‘Fundamentally Changed’

Johan Verbeke is the former head of the now-defunct UN observer mission in Georgia and was the UN’s special representative at the Geneva talks initiated after the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Verbeke has since been named Belgium’s ambassador to the U.K. On the eve of a fresh round of talks in Geneva on January 28, Verbeke spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Olesya Vartanyan about the possibility of restoring observer missions in Georgia and the continued challenges regarding Russia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.

RFE/RL: You were appointed the UN’s special representative to Georgia during the August 2008 war. At the time, the UN still had monitors and humanitarian programs in Abkhazia. How has the role of the UN changed since the war, and what are its future prospects?

Johan Verbeke:
The role of the United Nations has fundamentally changed in Georgia. The most significant proof of this, of course, is the fact that the mission of the United Nations, UNOMIG, is no longer there. This is not quite abnormal -- it was quite foreseeable, I think, that the very nature of the UN presence should change in Georgia, and that is indeed what has been happening.

That said, just because the UN mission is gone doesn’t mean that the United Nations is finished in Georgia. There is still the UN country team, with different agencies -- you know, the UNDP, UNICEF and others; and us [working on the Geneva resolution talks]. So, the United Nations continues to work actively, both as the co-chair of the Geneva talks and as a chair of the so-called IPRM [Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism] for Abkhazia.

RFE/RL: What kind of prospects do you see for the UN in Abkhazia? Is there any chance the UN will return there with the same mandate?

The question, I think, is not really should we return there, should we go back to the past, should we re-establish a full-fledged UN mission. I don’t think that is the question. The real question is whether we, as the United Nations, can continue what we have been doing for the last few years -- and that is to keep the confidence on both sides, so that through the United Nations, bridges can be established, dialogue can take place.

How, then, that will take form in the future -- we will see. In diplomacy, you can never force structures -- they have to naturally follow diplomatic developments. It may very well be possible that the UN will increase somewhat its presence in Abkhazia as time goes on, but we should not pre-fix such objectives.

The first thing we should do, and continue to do, is to be an objective intermediator, a facilitator of talks between the Georgians and the Abkhaz, and then see what fixtures, what institutional mechanisms, what structures this needs.

RFE/RL: Some people have praised the UN for managing to maintain trust in both Georgia and Abkhazia. Unlike the settlement process in South Ossetia, there’s been some progress with Abkhazia, even after the war. I’m referring to the meetings in the Georgian-majority Abkhaz region of Gali, for example, which take place all the time. What does it take to remain a trustworthy partner for both sides?

Once you lose the trust of one side, you’re no longer useful in diplomacy. One of the reasons the IPRM meetings in Gali went rather well is...that the UN listened carefully to both sides. We never made dramatic statements with regard to one side, we never took sides in the discussions, and always, as much as possible, we tried to objectively contribute to building bridges.

For the future that remains the recipe for success, and it’s one of the reasons the UN will be called upon to continue playing an important role in Georgia. Because it’s one of the few institutions and organizations that has the objective, intermediary trust of both parties. And in the future, indeed, the Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] is looking for a person who may also incarnate those assets.

RFE/RL: The Geneva talks, which continue on January 28, appear to be fundamentally deadlocked. Some of the main players don’t even hide the fact that they don’t expect any progress this week. What needs to be done there?

I think the Geneva talks aren’t something that’s meant to bring miracles in the short term. It’s not a machine for producing big and dramatic solutions. That is not the purpose of Geneva, and never has been. The Geneva talks are a forum, a platform where all the concerned parties can meet, discuss issues and progress to some extent.

I, as a co-chair, and my other friends and co-chairs from the European Union and the OSCE have never had the illusion that we would, in one year’s time, break through with dramatic developments on the status-related questions [on Abkhazia and South Ossetia]. We always said that this should be a bottom-up process, where you start with small-scale problems, and then you build up. The mere fact that the talks are going on, the mere fact that all these parties meet regularly in Geneva, is itself a very important element in what I would call the peace process.

RFE/RL: The Geneva mediators have been working on an agreement which Russia refers to as an agreement on the non-use of force. The third draft of these documents is due to be discussed this week. What’s the content of the agreement, and what is it that the sides can’t agree on?

Again, even though we don’t have a final product on this, the talks have still been useful. You’re right -- the accents are different. From the Russian side, what’s being stressed is the non-use of force. From the Georgian side, what is being stressed is the necessity of having international security mechanisms.

I think that is a legitimate point, and, at least a couple of months ago, there was an agreement that both should go together -- that is, the question of the non-use of force, and that of the setting up of security mechanisms. I’m no longer in the game, as you know, but my colleagues are now in the stage of working out the balance between these two things.

RFE/RL: You worked for the UN for many years. Why did you decide to move back to the Belgian Foreign Ministry?

Well, I’ve been moving up and right and down and what have you all my life. That is the very life of a diplomat, who, by instinct, is sort of a nomad. I came to the UN from the Belgian diplomatic corps -- as you know, I was the Belgian ambassador to the United Nations and, more specifically, in the Security Council. From there, I took up that very interesting job in Georgia. But the time comes when you have to go back to bilateral diplomacy, as I’ve done now.

I can tell you that my experience professionally, as a special representative of Ban Ki-moon, was a very challenging and interesting experience. And the fact that I had the opportunity to live in Georgia, in the South Caucasus, was a very enriching experience on a personal level.

By RFE/RL. Published on 27 January 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

OSCE, EU Ministers meet to discuss Kazakhstan's Chairmanship priorities, Corfu Process dialogue on European security

Kazakhstan's 2010 OSCE Chairmanship priorities, including Afghanistan, protracted conflicts and advancing the dialogue on European security through the OSCE-anchored Corfu Process, were the focus of a Ministerial meeting between the OSCE and the EU in Brussels today.

OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Kazakh Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev, informed the EU side about plans to hold eight meetings within the Corfu process this year and stressed the importance of strengthening the co-operation between the OSCE and the EU.

"Today the concept of European security goes far beyond the borders of the European continent and encompasses the vast expanse of Eurasia. The strong co-operation between the EU and the OSCE - the only regional security organization bringing together the states of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian areas - is critical if we are to tackle our common security challenges," Saudabayev said.

Saudabayev emphasized the intention of the Kazakh OSCE Chairmanship to have a summit in 2010 and encouraged the participating States to contribute to shaping its agenda. "The summit's main topics could include future European security, rehabilitation of Afghanistan and promoting the value of tolerance," he said.

The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office underlined that the co-operation with the EU is vital for seeking diplomatic settlement for the protracted conflicts in the OSCE area, including on the basis of solutions in the humanitarian and economic fields. "This is especially relevant in the light of the constructive role the EU has been playing in peacekeeping on the continent and worldwide," he noted.

He reiterated an invitation to his counterparts to attend an informal meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers in summer near Almaty.

The EU delegation was led by the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, representing the Spanish EU Presidency. Minister Saudabayev also met European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. He will meet the European Parliament Chairman Jerzy Buzek later today.

Tomorrow he will have a meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The OSCE Troika brings together this year's Chairperson-in-Office with representatives of the previous and incoming Chairmanships. Ambassador Eitvydas Bajarunas, Political Director from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, represented the 2011 OSCE Chairmanship, while Greece, which chaired the OSCE in 2009, was represented by Ambassador Mara Marinaki, Permanent Representative of Greece to the OSCE.

All 27 EU Member States are participating States of the OSCE.

Press Release: OSCE, 26 January 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bringing Moldova's Women Into The Democratization Process

Moldova's women remain prime targets for human trafficking and exploitation, and it will take more than just improving Moldova's economy to save them.

Both the blight and the profits of human trafficking in Moldova can be felt everywhere in the small country. Children left in the care of ailing grandparents or abandoned to appalling orphanages in Chisinau represent part of the toll trafficking has taken on families in Moldova. The ostentatious new homes at the edges of poor villages and young men driving luxury cars purchased with foreign remittances illustrate the irresistible lure of the trade.

Trafficking represents more than just the selling of human bodies. It is a painfully clear indication of a government's failure to protect its citizens, to provide basic necessities, and to insure civil rights. Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, bears the scars of poor governance, geopolitical tugs-of-war, and internal ethnic struggles.

But it is Moldova's women who are suffering the most in these struggles. If trafficking is to be abated, if Moldova is to get back on its feet economically and politically, and if civil society and democracy are to be strengthened, Moldova needs to pay attention to the rights and democratic responsibilities of women.

Responsibility, But No Power

As in many post-Soviet states, the role of women in Moldova has reverted to pre-Soviet "traditional" roles that emphasize women as mothers and domestic caretakers, but not as political or economic actors.

Indeed, the International Fund for Agricultural Development reports that the majority of those unemployed -- a whopping 68 percent -- are women. Those who do have employment continue to work in lower-paying jobs and represent an insignificant number of decision-makers in the economic and political spheres.

Yet women are more likely to carry the burden of providing for their families. Thus, women are often placed in the contradictory position of being the family breadwinner --either for a lower salary than men in Moldova earn or, more commonly, for higher pay and higher risks working abroad.

Some official estimates report that between 200,000 and 400,000 Moldovans have been trafficked since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which includes men trafficked for labor as well as women trafficked for labor and sex work. Unofficial estimates put this figure much higher, while the UN's "2009 Trafficking in Persons Report" estimates that 25,000 Moldovans were trafficked in 2008 alone.

Yet women do not possess power within society to change these conditions for themselves and their families. Nor do they have the power to change conditions within society for the benefit of all. Through the seemingly empowering act of emigration, many women are made victims of traffickers and abusive employment practices abroad, yet they receive little or no protection from the Moldovan government or society.

Although the Moldovan government has paid lip service to the empowerment of women through the establishment of such bodies as the Commission for Equality between Women and Men, women's real political empowerment has not improved much. Surprisingly, the government has no means of tracking changes in attitudes or gauging women's political and economic participation.

Increasing women's participation in civil society is crucial to improving women's roles in Moldova and stemming the tide of trafficking. Overwhelming evidence from around the world has shown that when women participate fully in a country's economy and politics, there are vast improvements in both. Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen argues that including women in economic and political decision-making structures results in policy making that is more inclusive, protects individual rights, and is more likely to resolve social inequalities that harm both men and women.

Bolstering Civil Society

To that end, the international community -- including the European Union and the United States -- has developed various strategies to further democratic-transition processes. On the most basic level, this means that states must create the institutions necessary to encourage free-and-fair elections and to allow for free speech, free association, and free-market reforms.

Further, the international community has made an explicit link between the strength of democracy and a state's ability to protect its citizens from the abuses of trafficking. The UN's Protocol on Trafficking, which went into force in 2003, provides states with tools and model laws to help stem the tide of trafficking. The success of the protocol lies in the strength of ties between NGOs and law enforcement, thus implicitly linking civil society, democracy, and the protection of a state's citizens.

But the solutions are not clear-cut. While the process of democratization requires consideration of women's rights if the endeavor is to succeed, arguing for women's rights in the face of a government more concerned with preserving its tenuous grip on power often meets strong resistance.

If the Chisinau protests in 2009 and the newly elected non-Communist government are any indication, however, civil society may indeed be strengthening. Those of us watching Moldovan politics were encouraged by the massive protests seemingly spurred by university students and technologies like Twitter.

At the same time, the global economic crisis means there is no end in sight for Moldova's economic woes in the near future. Nor will Moldova's continued on-again, off-again relationship with Russia provide security.

But there is much that can be done domestically and internationally if Moldova's authorities really want to strengthen civil society and curtail the plague of trafficking. The first step is making women's rights and responsibilities one of its highest priorities.

By Denise Horn. Published on 12 January 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, January 25, 2010

EU Energy Security May Depend On Ukraine’s Runoff

This winter may not see a natural-gas crisis in Ukraine, but then again, the country's presidential election isn’t over. The outcome of the February 7 second round runoff may well determine whether the gas crises continue, and by extension, shape the future of European energy consumption.

President Viktor Yushchenko, the dioxin-scarred pro-Western reformer, is not only out of the race, but never had a chance. A combination of Russian meddling and EU apathy transformed Orange Revolution hopes for sweeping reforms and Western integration into the desperate situation we see today: a bankrupt government begging the International Monetary Fund to float another loan so that it can pay Moscow for last month’s gas bill. This after gas cutoffs by Gazprom in 2006, 2008, and 2009 that saw Ukraine’s geopolitical woes passed on to freezing consumers in central Europe.

But fault does not lie only with external actors. Yushchenko’s principled, yet uncompromising approach to governance inspired historic protests in Kyiv’s Independence Square, but found him few friends in Ukraine’s tumultuous political arena. Hence the final round between Yushchenko’s two political rivals: Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Conventional wisdom dictates that should Yanukovych -- Russia’s man during the 2004 election -- come out on top this time, the pressure from Moscow on Kyiv to pay its bills to Gazprom will dissipate. Ukraine’s leadership will prize its special relationship with Russia over NATO and EU membership, reforms will be put on the back burner, and the opaque, corrupt practices of Ukraine’s energy sector will continue, benefitting government-tied oligarchs in Ukraine and Russia alike. This geopolitical and governance “reset” will mean that Gazprom’s Kremlin leadership will no longer seek to use energy as a weapon against Ukraine -- and thus EU consumers will not experience natural-gas cut-offs down the pipeline.

But 2010 is not 2004. Moscow’s lesson from the Orange Revolution was that it cannot put all its eggs in one basket, so Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have cozied up to both contenders, with particular attention paid to Ukraine’s perennial political question mark: Tymoshenko. Famous for her braids and political brawn, Tymoshenko was originally Yushchenko’s Orange ally, but broke from that coalition to cultivate her image as a middle-ground pragmatist with particular expertise in the energy sector.

That image paid off in November when Tymoshenko, as prime minister, worked out a deal with Putin to reform and regularize the energy relationship between Ukraine and Russia. In the process, she lessened the likelihood of a 2010 gas cutoff significantly and garnered praise from both Brussels and Moscow. That arrangement could collapse on or after February 7, depending on Gazprom’s whims. But, it is the closest to a stable energy relationship that the two countries have had in the past six years. And Tymoshenko showed that she could negotiate practically with Putin. That cannot be said of Yanukovych, because he owes too much to his Russian backers.

Most importantly, because of the political ground she has carved out, Tymoshenko is probably the only leader in Ukraine who can negotiate on good terms with Putin and also live up to her promise of implementing EU-backed energy-sector reforms, specifically to bring in a Western company to run the country’s transit system.

Functional ties between Kyiv and Moscow and increased transparency in Ukraine’s energy sector is exactly the combination needed to avoid future gas crises. The energy opacity and uneven power relationship that would characterize a Yanukovych presidency is probably more likely to produce more of the political and business wrangling within Ukraine that formed the context of the last three gas cutoffs. And in the midst of another such crisis, Yanukovych would be a lot less likely to heed Brussels’ warnings.

Therefore, a Tymoshenko victory on February 7 is most likely to ensure EU energy security this winter and in winters to come. But that stems from the fact that a Tymoshenko presidency will not necessarily be a pro-Western affair. That spells trouble for the EU’s long-term energy security, which can only be achieved with comprehensive political and economic reforms in Ukraine, the kind only realized during an EU accession process. With the opportunity of the Orange Revolution passed, any future Ukrainian president will have to see clear incentives from EU member states to make the concerted effort necessary to join the club. Unfortunately, such incentives are not likely to be forthcoming any time soon.

By Alexandros Petersen. Published on 22 January 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Man of the Moment in Ukraine

Serhiy Tigipko headed Viktor Yanukovych's campaign during the infamous presidential election in 2004, when their victory -- in voting widely believed to have been rigged -- prompted thousands onto the streets.

The Orange Revolution removed Yanukovych and the rest of the old administration from power. But that hasn't stopped Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the Orange Revolution's heroine, from hoping Tigipko will join her side this time.

The mathematics are simple: Tymoshenko won 25 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on January 17. That's 10 percent behind her rival Yanukovych, a gap she needs to make up to have any chance of winning the presidency in the second round.

Backing from Tigipko -- who came from nowhere to place third with 13 percent -- is Tymoshenko's surest bet to convince undecided Ukrainians to vote for her.

Tigipko is a former central banker and amateur bodybuilder who recently appeared bare-chested on the cover of a glossy magazine. He's insisted he won't back any candidate to win, but there's intense competition to get him to change his mind.

Tymoshenko first began wooing him at her campaign headquarters in Kyiv's Hyatt Hotel on election night. But in an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on January 21, Tigipko said he hadn't accepted her offer of the prime minister's seat, along with half the cabinet's other posts. But he said talks were continuing, and left the window open for changing his mind.

"I don't know yet. I'm going to listen and I'm going to think about it," Tigipko said.

Many believe accepting the post would be suicidal. Ukraine is mired in a crippling economic crisis that would ensure that any new prime minister responsible for improving people's lives would quickly become unpopular.

Tigipko is said to be creating a new political party. Like the other 15 losing candidates in the first round, his campaign during the past year is seen as focused not on the presidential vote, but on snap parliamentary elections most believe will be called in May.

Tigipko founded a bank in the early 1990s that he later sold to the Swedbank group for almost $1 billion. Although he was close to Yanukovych, he hasn't been tainted by the corruption allegations that have hurt many other Yanukovych allies. Many of those who voted for Tigipko said they wanted a fresh new leader to replace the same old faces they see as being tied to big business and equally corrupt.


So far, no one in Ukraine is predicting who will win the razor's-edge presidential competition most believe will be decided only on election night.

Much of Yanukovych's lead can be explained by a split among Orange supporters who divided their votes between three candidates: Tymoshenko; the fourth-place finisher, former central banker Serhiy Yatsenyuk, who won almost 7 percent and also says he won't endorse anyone; and President Viktor Yushchenko, who won more than 5 percent.

Some believe Orange voters will inevitably rally behind Tymoshenko. But Ukrainians tend to vote for personalities, not issues, and some analysts say a certain number of those who voted against Tymoshenko in the first round won't be any more likely to back her in the runoff.

Most believe the election will come down to the candidates' campaigning. Inside the Tymoshenko campaign, politicians say they're relishing an out-and-out fight. During the first round, they were badly constrained by a fear of disillusioning potential second-round supporters by attacking Tymoshenko's fellow Orange rivals too strongly.

This time, they say Tymoshenko's task is to paint a stark picture of the difference between her anticorruption, pro-European policies and those Yanukovych, who served two jail terms in his youth for assault and battery, and who they say will turn back the Orange Revolution's democratic gains.

It will be down to voters to decide whether or not they believe her. The election will be Tymoshenko's to win or lose, but Tigipko's endorsement would be a coup that would stack the odds heavily in her favor.

By Gregory Feifer. Published on 21 January 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Armenian Foreign Minister Warns Turkey, Cools Karabakh Peace Talk

Turkey will risk reversing its unprecedented rapprochement with Armenia if it persists in linking the process with a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict desired by Azerbaijan, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian has said.

In a videotaped studio interview on January 17 with RFE/RL's Armenian Service (here in Armenian), Nalbandian also sought to cool talk of an imminent settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that Baku is "not prepared for mutual concessions in 2010."

Commenting on the continuing Turkish linkage of the two issues, Nalbandian reiterated his government's arguments that Ankara and Yerevan set no preconditions when they embarked in 2008 on an intensive dialogue culminating in the signing in October of two agreements to normalize bilateral relations. He also argued that neither "protocol" makes any mention of the Karabakh dispute. The interview with Nalbandian was aired by both the Artsakh public television broadcaster inside Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as by regional Armenian TV.

"Had there been preconditions, we would not have started this process and reached agreements in the first place," said Nalbandian.

"If one of the parties is creating artificial obstacles, dragging out things, that means it is assuming responsibility for the failure of this process," he warned.

President Serzh Sarkisian, who is meeting today in Moscow with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, explicitly threatened last month to walk away from the agreements if the Turkish side fails to ratify them unconditionally and "within a reasonable time frame." But he did not set any concrete deadlines for Turkish ratification.

Nalbandian also avoided mentioning any dates, stressing instead the fact that Western powers and Russia also stand for an unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.

“If Turkey takes a step back, then this will be not only a violation of the agreements with Armenia but will demonstrate that it is not respecting the international community’s opinion, with all resulting consequences and the loss of credibility in the first instance,” he said.

“Armenia, on the other hand, will -- let’s not say win -- not lose anything that we had before this process,” he added.

Denounced Aliyev Statements

The minister went on to dismiss domestic opposition criticism of the protocols and, in particular, a clause envisaging the creation of a Turkish Armenian “subcommission” of history experts.

“If we were to believe in what opponents of the protocols have said, then Turkey should have rushed to ratify these protocols a long time ago,” he scoffed.

Nalbandian insisted that the Sarkisian administration will not stop campaigning for greater international recognition as genocide of the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, despite agreeing to what is expected to be a joint Turkish-Armenian study of the issue. The subcommission in question, he said, would be tasked with "restoring mutual understanding and trust between the two peoples," rather than determining whether the massacres constituted genocide.

Turning to the Karabakh conflict, Nalbandian denounced Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s latest threats to win back the disputed territory by force.

“Such statements show that Azerbaijan is not prepared for mutual concessions in 2010 as well, and that Azerbaijan remains a threat to the security of the Karabakh people,” he said, adding that they “cannot make any impact on or intimidate Armenia or Artsakh [Karabakh].”

Aliyev issued the warning in a New Year’s address to his nation. He also claimed to have secured broad international support for Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani rule.

Nalbandian brushed aside the claim.

“What are the mediating countries saying? They are saying what Armenia says: That the Karabakh problem should be solved in accordance with the principles and norms of international law and, in particular, the principles of nonuse of force, self-determination and territorial integrity,” he said. “This is made clear in the statement which was recently adopted in Athens by the 56 OSCE member states.”

“Azerbaijan’s leadership is trying to predetermine the result of the negotiations,” he continued. “Namely, the question of Karabakh’s status, Karabakh’s self-determination. And yet the question of Karabakh’s status must be decided by the people of Artsakh themselves.”

'Basic Principles'

Nalbandian pointed to a joint statement on Karabakh that was issued by the presidents of the United States, Russia, and France -- the three countries spearheading the peace process -- in July. The statement reaffirmed, in general terms, the essence of the “basic principles” of Karabakh peace proposed by the American, French, and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.

“Contrary to Baku’s claims, it is indicated there that the people of Karabakh hold the key to the Karabakh settlement,” said Nalbandian. He also stressed the importance for the Armenian side of the reference to peoples’ self-determination made in a Karabakh-related declaration that was adopted during an OSCE ministerial conference in Athens last November.

“It was the first time that such a statement upheld the right to self determination,” he added. “A statement that was also signed by Azerbaijan.”

Azerbaijani leaders maintain, however, that under the existing Minsk Group proposals, Karabakh’s predominantly ethnic Armenian population would be able to exercise that right only within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. These diametrically opposite interpretations of the proposed deal raise questions about the mediators’ ability to get the conflicting parties to overcome their remaining disagreements anytime soon.

Nalbandian cautioned against excessive expectations from the negotiating process in the coming months.

“I see no point in artificially accelerating the process, and I think everybody agrees with that,” he said.

“Of course, some progress in bringing the parties’ positions closer to each other was registered last year,” he added. “But that was not enough to achieve a breakthrough. If we are able to maintain the positive dynamic of 2009, then it will be possible to improve prospects for the conflict’s resolution.”

By Anna Israelian, Aghasi Yenokian. Published on 18 January 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ukraine’s presidential election meets most international commitments

The first round of Ukraine’s presidential election was of high quality and showed significant progress over previous elections, meeting most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments, concluded the international election observation mission in a statement published today.

The observers noted that the election demonstrated respect for civil and political rights,and offered voters a genuine choice between candidates representing diverse political views. Candidates were able to campaign freely, and the campaign period was generally calm and orderly.

The legal framework remained unclear and incomplete, and was subject of permanent discussion. Nevertheless, the election was generally administered efficiently, and commissions mostly worked in a collegial and non-partisan manner. A pluralistic media offered voters a variety of information about candidates, although electronic media reporting was often influenced by candidates paying for news coverage.

Voting and counting on election day was assessed overwhelmingly positive by observers.

“This was a good and competitive election and very promising for the future of Ukraine’s democracy. I look forward to the continuation of this positive experience in the second round of the election,” said João Soares, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Special Co-ordinator of the OSCE short-term observers.

“Ukraine has proven that it can hold a clean election, even under an incomplete and unclear election law, confirming the desire of the Ukrainian people to freely choose their leaders. However, a major challenge ahead for Ukraine’s politicians is to play by the rules rather than with the rules,” said Matyas Eörsi, Head of the delegation of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.

“These elections consolidated the progress achieved by Ukraine since 2004. We were impressed with the overwhelmingly orderly process conducted in polling stations across the country on election day. Shortcomings remain, particularly with regard to the electoral legal framework and its implementation. This undermines public confidence. Still, the Ukrainian voters won these elections. They have once more demonstrated their strong commitment to freedom and democracy,” said Assen Agov, Head of the delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

“The people of Ukraine had a genuine democratic choice between a large number of candidates. Open access to information about the candidates and their programmes allowed the Ukrainian voters to make a well-founded choice. Looking back to the last presidential elections, democratic standards and mechanisms have made a great step ahead and have stabilized democracy in Ukraine,” said Pawel Kowal, Head of the delegation of the European Parliament.

“This election was organized overall efficiently and with respect for fundamental freedoms, despite challenges such as an incomplete and inconsistent legal framework. We commend the tireless efforts of countless election workers to ensure a smooth functioning of the electoral process,” said Heidi Tagliavini, Head of the election observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

Source: PACE, 18 January 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Surprise Showing For Tymoshenko In Ukraine

It appears orange is still in style in Ukraine.

When the results of the country's most respected exit polls were announced on television after voting ended in Sunday's presidential election, pro-Moscow candidate Viktor Yanukovych came in first with more than 31 percent of the vote.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko followed with more than 27 percent. But the heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution placed far better than expected, putting her in good position to gain enough support to win the presidency in a second-round vote next month.

Supporters applauded as Tymoshenko entered a packed press room in her campaign headquarters inside central Kyiv's Hyatt Hotel. Wearing a chic white dress and with her hair impeccably styled in her trademark blond braid crown, Tymoshenko appeared radiant.

Echoes of Orange

She spoke confidently at the podium, demonstrating the kind of decisiveness Ukrainians say they desperately want after five years of political crisis and endless infighting among the Orange Revolution's estranged leaders.

Lashing out at her main rival, Tymoshenko said the exit poll results showed a majority of people want Ukraine to be a free, democratic country. "The chances for Yanukovych -- who represents criminal circles -- [of becoming president] simply don't exist," she said.

Other exit polls gave Yanukovych a bigger lead, around 10 percent, which is much closer to predictions ahead of the vote.

But Tymoshenko criticized them for having been commissioned by television stations connected to corrupt business oligarchs, saying they had spread lies during the campaign aimed at obstructing the democratic process.

Tymoshenko said as president, she would never allow Ukraine to turn from the path it chose during the Orange Revolution.

"It's the path of struggle for the revival of justice, the struggle for our European choice, toward the renewal of democracy," she said.

If the final official results expected over the next several days show that no candidate won a majority, the first- and second-place finishers will face each other in the runoff election on February 7.

Tymoshenko appealed to Ukrainians who had voted for other candidates, saying she would carry out what had eluded the country's Orange leaders since they came to power.

"The democratic forces will be united," she said. "We will do everything so that in the future they will act in a single and powerful force to move the country toward European civilization."

Tired Of Infighting

Many Ukrainians say they're disillusioned by politics that have been hamstrung by the bickering between Tymoshenko and her former ally, President Viktor Yushchenko.

The infighting deepened even as corruption ballooned and the economy was devastated by the effects of the global financial crisis.

Exit polls gave Yushchenko around 6 percent of the vote, ruling him out of the race.

But Yanukovych, the villain of the Orange Revolution -- which drove him from power after street demonstrations against his victory in a tainted presidential election five years ago -- put on a brave face.

Speaking in a massive, wood-paneled room at his own hotel headquarters next door to Tymoshenko's, the onetime electrician said the results showed he would win the presidency.

"Our citizens voted for change. They made it clear their views require transformation for the better -- that's the main result," she said.

Yanukovych Defiant

But the mood at the banquet tables under a giant video screen of Yanukovych was decidedly dejected. The barrel-chested opposition leader said he would wait for the official results to come in, saying he was prepared for possible falsifications by his rivals in power.

Yanukovych's main support is in the industrial, largely Russian-speaking east of the country. He returned to an issue that helped make him popular there when he first rose to prominence, vowing as president he would make sure Ukraine would never join NATO.

"The Ukrainian state will remain outside any bloc. Ukraine will never join any military alliance," he said. "That's the view of the Ukrainian people, it must be respected and taken into account."

The exit polls put Ukraine's newest up-and-comer Serhiy Tygypko -- a wealthy banker and former economy minister who once served as Yanukovych's campaign manager -- third with more than 13 percent of the vote.

Trailing Tygypko was 35-year-old Arseniy Yatsenyuk, President Yushchenko's former foreign minister, with almost 8 percent.

Analyst Taras Kuzio said the exit poll results were "fantastic" for Tymoshenko. He said if she's able to win over the Orange voters who cast their ballots for Tygypko, Yatsenyuk, and other candidates -- something many predict -- she can easily win the second round.

"It's not going to be a massive result, it's not going to be a massive landslide, in Ukraine politics never are," he said. "But certainly I think she has a chance of winning."

Negotiations Underway

Backroom negotiations to win backing from the losing candidates had already begun on Sunday.

Analysts say unlike Tymoshenko, Yanukovych has less room to maneuver, saying he can't be certain any besides the small number of communist and socialist voters will join his supporter.

Besides the intense horse trading, most expect the coming weeks ahead of the second round to be fraught with fraud allegations and court cases.

But in cold and snowy Kyiv on Sunday night, Tymoshenko's supporters were giddy with the prospect that she appears set to be crowned Ukraine's new leader.

By Gregory Feifer. Last Updated on 18 January 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ashton shows clear determination

S&D Euro MPs said that Baroness Ashton showed clear determination to be both a strong EU foreign minister and a strong Commission vice-president when she appeared before the European Parliament in Brussels today.

Said S&D vice-president Hannes Swoboda and the coordinator of S&D in AFET Kristian Vigenin:

"Cathy Ashton represents a pragmatic policy but also fights for human rights, for ideas and for democratic values. She has for many years been committed to anti-nuclear activities nuclear disarmament. She is especially keen on cooperation with NGOs to defend human rights and promote democracy.

"She expressed her willingness to cooperate with the European Parliament on issues related to the establishment of the new European External Action Service.

"In the coming months there will be tough discussions between the European Parliament and foreign ministers over future foreign policy. Here, Lady Ashton will have to play a strong mediating role. It is absolutely clear that without the European Parliament, there cannot be a common foreign security policy".

Press Release: S&D

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yushchenko: 'I Will Never Say I Failed During These Five Years'

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko survived a near-fatal poisoning and massive election fraud to become Ukraine's first truly pro-Western leader.

Five years later, however, he is trailing badly in the polls as his country prepares to vote in the first presidential elections since the 2004 revolution.

Yushchenko has been criticized for presiding over a half-decade of political chaos and drawing Ukraine into unwelcome conflict with Moscow. But in an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, he was unrepentant.

"As the president, I will never bow my head and say that I failed in some way during these five years. I brought this nation what it needs,” Yushchenko said. “If it can understand this, that will be its salvation. If it can't, then we will have to spend another 15-20 years with Yanukovyches and Tymoshenkos, under a Kremlin project, like during Kuchma’s time. There's a price to this."

The two candidates expected to fare best in the January 17 contest are Yushchenko's worst rival and closest ally from the Orange Revolution -- Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Both have seen their popularity soar on platforms that diverge from Yushchenko's openly pro-Western stance, which has caused Kyiv's ties to Moscow to grow increasingly hostile during the past five years.

'Simple' Choices

In the RFE/RL interview, Yushchenko warned that a presidential victory by either of his two rivals would throw Ukraine back into Russian domination.

"There is a danger of authoritarianism because we have two leaders, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, who represent the best Moscow project, which takes away freedom, democracy, and 'Ukrainianhood,'" Yushchenko said. "Today the choice is very simple -- either this pro-Kremlin couple and pro-Kremlin policy wins, or the pro-European policy does."

Yanukovych, who is supported by many Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the country's east, said in a January 7 interview that he will keep the country out of NATO if he wins.

But Yushchenko, who made NATO membership a priority of his presidency, said it would be a blow to Ukrainian interests for the country to turn its back on the military alliance.

"If Ukraine does not repeat the response of the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians [to join NATO] -- who else did I miss, the Romanians, Hungarians -- if we don't give [a positive] answer [to the question of NATO membership] as a nation, then we will not have independence. We will lose our democracy," Yushchenko said.

But the protracted infighting that has been miring Ukraine's political life, in addition to the country's dismal economic performance, has crippled Yushchenko's efforts to join NATO and the European Union.

In 2008, the military alliance rejected Ukraine's bid for a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a decisive preparatory stage for NATO membership.

Yushchenko, in his interview with RFE/RL, pinned the blame squarely on Tymoshenko for Ukraine's sluggish progress toward Western integration.

"It is clear that Ukraine the way it is today is not very appealing to the European Union. This is not the EU's problem, it is our problem," he said. "Only the prime minister can conduct reform, but we live without reforms. We are currently experiencing our biggest crisis. And it's not due to the European or the global crisis. The crisis is located on Hrushevsky street, on the seventh floor, in the office of the prime minister of Ukraine."

Oil, Gas, And Politics

Both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have said they would use a victory to improve relations with Moscow, which grew increasingly hostile as Yushchenko pursued a pro-Western agenda.

Ties hit a low this time last year, when Moscow cut off gas supplies to Ukraine amid a pricing dispute that Yushchenko said was politically motivated. The cutoff caused severe energy shortages in EU countries dependent on gas shipments through Ukraine.

A similar dispute is currently playing out in Belarus, which is accusing Moscow of imposing an unfair pricing structure on shipments of crude oil that Belarus refines and profitably exports to the West.

Yushchenko told RFE/RL the Belarus dispute is no different than Ukraine's gas crisis last year.

"This is pressure. It's obvious. Oil and gas are not only hydrocarbons -- unfortunately, they're also the stuff of politics,” Yushchenko said. “We're talking not only about oil and gas, and not only about economic relations, but also about the big challenge of dependency, including political dependency."

Still, energy security and political stability are likely to override the concerns among many Ukrainian voters about the perils of dependency.

Yushchenko's presidency was marked by near-constant political infighting that brought parliamentary procedures to a frequent standstill. He is also seen as failing to reel in rampant corruption, and has faced allegations by his rivals of financial profiteering in shady gas deals.

Yushchenko today said he continues to oppose a proposal by Yanukovych to create a gas transport consortium between Ukraine, Russia, and the European Union. In an interview published on January 7, Yanukovych said, "Ukraine should become a reliable partner in gas relations with Russia and the European Union."

Such a move, Yushchenko says, would grant Russia unwelcome leverage over Ukraine's valuable gas-transportation system -- and, by extension, its political independence.

"Why is Ukraine proposing a gas consortium? Why isn't Russia proposing a gas-exploration consortium with Ukrainian participation? Why aren't our European colleagues suggesting a consortium with Ukrainian participation?” Yushchenko asked. “We have a national company that can brilliantly manage, let's say, gas transit. Are we not capable of organizing our own monopoly? This is the surrender of our national interests."

By Inna Kuznetsova, Halyna Tereshchuk. Last Updated on 9 January 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Kazakhstan Faces Responsibility, Scrutiny As OSCE Chair

It's no secret that Kazakhstan's every step will be scrutinized now that it has taken over as chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for a one-year stint, the first former Soviet republic, and also the first Muslim country, ever to do so.

In the months and weeks before it assumed the post on January 1, numerous Western specialists and human rights organizations argued that Kazakhstan was unqualified, given its authoritarian leadership and bad track record on human rights.

Those failings do not, however, automatically render the Kazakh Foreign Ministry incapable of discharging the formal functions of the country occupying the OSCE chair.

Indeed, a senior OSCE official in Central Asia tells RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that the Kazakh Foreign Ministry -- whose head, Kanat Saudabaev, is tasked with carrying out the duties of chairman in office in his capacity as foreign minister -- is making every effort to demonstrate that it is up to the task.

Changing Focus

As its name suggests, the primary focus of the OSCE is promoting economic and security cooperation between its 56 member states. Those aspects, for better or for worse, frequently take precedence over the human rights component -- what is known as the "Basket Three" of the 1975 Helsinki Accords that established the Committee for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (The organization was renamed in 1994.)

Kairat Abdrakhmanov, who is Kazakhstan's ambassador to the OSCE, played up the economic and security components during a December 30 roundtable conducted by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

"Today [at this roundtable] we mainly focused on the third, humanitarian, dimension of the OSCE. That is understandable. We have to admit it," Abdrakhmanov said.

"But the organization that we're about to chair is mainly focused on important issues, like military and political aspects of security, like increasing the effectiveness of this organization in terms of solving the economic and environmental aspects of the OSCE's goals. As chair, we have a lot of issues to solve."

First up will be organizing the Annual Environmental and Economic Forum, held in two stages in January and May, for which the OSCE chair proposes a specific theme.

For 2010, Kazakhstan has proposed: "promoting good governance at border crossings, improving security of land transportation, and facilitation of international transport by road and rail in the OSCE region," according to the OSCE official in Central Asia.

The chair country also hosts conferences on security and human rights, and the annual meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in November that focuses on all aspects of the organization's activities.

In addition, Foreign Minister Saudabaev will visit selected member states to discuss the work of the OSCE as a body and, if necessary, to highlight failures to comply with the OSCE's core values, especially human rights.

Post-Soviet Arbiter

Kazakh officials have argued that their country is uniquely qualified to help mediate in disputes between other former Soviet republics.

Saudabaev told Azerbaijan's Trend news agency last November that as OSCE chairman, Kazakhstan "will actively participate in the negotiation process under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group" that since 1992 has sought to mediate a formal solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has twice tried to bring Armenia and Azerbaijan to the negotiating table -- in 1991 and again in 1992 -- but both those bids came to nothing.

In addition, Kazakhstan's chosen economic focus offers it the opportunity to expedite an improvement of the strained relations between Georgia and Russia by urging both countries to open the Verkhny Lars border crossing.

Foreign Minister Saudabaev is scheduled to address the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on January 14, when he will outline Kazakhstan's priorities as chairman in greater detail.

By Liz Fuller. Published on 7 January 2010
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Playing Into Moscow's Hands

Provocations are by definition intended to provoke, and consequently, responding to them in exactly the way their authors hope is often the worst possible choice by those against whom they are directed. It gives those who are using them a victory they should not have, and those against whom they are directed several kinds of defeats they do not deserve. But all too often, the temptation to rush into the trap set by those who launch provocations is so great that many are not able to avoid doing so.

Few in Georgia -- or indeed anywhere else -- can have any doubts that recent claims by Moscow's Federal Security Service (FSB) that Tbilisi is providing training or other kinds of support for Islamist and nationalist militants in the North Caucasus are absurd provocations. But even fewer in the Georgian capital seem to recognize that far more is riding on their responses than whether the international community accepts, or at least does nothing in response to, this latest example of political duplicity from the Russian powers-that-be.

Attention Getter

More than many other national leaders, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has allowed himself to be provoked, apparently confident that responding in dramatic and sometimes hyperbolic language serves him well both abroad and at home. Abroad, he clearly believes a sharp response on his part will generate more attention in the international community to Russian lies, and thus more support for Georgia from that community. At home, he clearly calculates such attention to Russian actions will go a long way to silencing his opponents and thus reinforcing his power.

In both cases, he is only half right. It is true that Saakashvili's reactions to Russian charges often attract more attention than do the Russian originals.

But as he may not be fully aware, that is exactly what the Russian side is hoping for, convinced that if it continues with such charges and Saakashvili responds as he has in the past and Russian forces take no action, Saakashvili will find himself in the eyes of the West like the little boy who cried wolf once too often. When the wolf finally came, no one would believe him.

It is also true that Saakashvili is correct in his conviction that playing up such Russian threats helps him to control the opposition, as few of its members are going to be willing to incur the kind of withering criticism he and his supporters would deliver if they questioned what he was doing.

But even if that tactic works most of the time, it has two corrosive effects. On the one hand, it undermines the real unity among Georgians that Saakashvili seeks by creating a false simulacrum of agreement. On the other, it undermines the Georgian political system by suppressing precisely the kind of debate that is the essence of a democratic system.

Responding Prudently

None of this means that Georgians -- from Saakashvili to the leaders of the Georgian opposition to the Georgian man and woman in the street -- should avoid responding to Russian lies. Instead, it means that all of them need to recognize that the way in which they respond is critically important.

If some Georgians continue to respond with bombast and others by remaining silent, they will have fallen into an FSB-laid trap -- whether they want to recognize it or not. But if they recognize the ways in which provocations can be turned against their authors, then Georgia and the cause of Georgian democracy will only benefit.

How then should Georgians respond? There are many good ways (for a broader consideration, see Paul W. Blackstock's classic study, "The Strategy of Subversion") but three immediately suggest themselves.

First, no Georgian should be in the business of helping Moscow to spread its lies about Georgia. That means not issuing emotional responses every time the Russians say something. If Georgian leaders could say something like "Moscow has released the latest in a long line of lies about our country" and leave it at that, Georgia and Georgians would be much better off. Only the FSB would suffer, and it seems unlikely many Georgians would see that as a bad thing.

Second, no member of the Georgian opposition should be afraid of speaking out about either how absurd the Russian charges are or about his or her disagreement with how Georgian government officials are responding to them. If opposition figures are frightened of doing either, they are serving neither their own interests nor those of Georgia; they are serving the interests of those in Tbilisi who do not want democracy and those in Russia who do not want Georgia to be independent.

Third, given the rapid multiplication of Russian charges in this area, Georgians, both in the government and outside it, would almost certainly benefit from the formation of an international commission that could assess these charges. Such a group would both move the issue beyond a "he said-she said" situation of the kind in which Georgia found itself after the August 2008 war and provide the kind of cover Georgians of various political stripes may need to act as vigorous members of a democratic polity.

Obviously, there will always be the temptation among government circles to charge critics with being supporters of an outside power, especially in a country with Georgia's history and location. But that temptation must be fought, because failure to fight means that Georgians, despite all their convictions to the contrary, will be playing into Moscow's hands.

By Paul Goble. Published on 4 January 2010
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.