Russia: we are ready for a new cold war

Russia’s relations with the west plunged to their most critical point in a generation today when the Kremlin built on its military rout of Georgia by recognising the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Declaring that if his decision meant a new cold war, then so be it, President Dmitri Medvedev signed a decree conferring Russian recognition on Georgia’s two secessionist regions. The move flouted UN Security Council resolutions and dismissed western insistence during the crisis of the past three weeks on respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity and international borders.

Tonight, Medvedev accused Washington of shipping arms to Georgia under the guise of humanitarian aid.

Russian threat to Nato supply route in Afghanistan

Russia played a trump card in its strategic poker game with the West yesterday by threatening to suspend an agreement allowing Nato to take supplies and equipment to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia.

The agreement was struck at a Nato summit in April to provide an alternative supply route to the road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistani border, which has come under attack from militants on both sides of the frontier this year.

Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan, told The Times in an interview that he believed the deal was no longer valid because Russia suspended military cooperation with Nato last week over its support for Georgia.

Why Georgia matters [LRB Archives 1992]

In the wire services of the world, the Georgian ‘story’ blips in and out of the schedules, usually with some mention of Eduard Shevardnadze, for the past month the elected head of Georgia’s Parliament. In the scale of what matters to those who believe foreign affairs matter to their lives, Georgia seems minor: self-contained, complex, resistant to solutions. The argument for it mattering is not the so far relatively small loss of life, but the fact that it is an extreme but not wayward example of the particularist and defensive ethno-nationalism which is now becoming the dominant political principle throughout Eastern Europe and beyond.

That Abkhazians are killing and being killed by Georgians stems directly from the collapse of Soviet power. Until quite recently it was generally believed, by me among others, that the rapid dismantling of the Empire was a good thing which would allow the suppressed nations to recover an identity from whose search they had always been deflected by force or the threat of force. It is hard to hold onto that belief now, especially in the Caucasus and Transcaucasus.

Doubts cast on Zardari’s state of mental health

Asif Ali Zardari, the leading contender for the presidency of nuclear-armed Pakistan, was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.

The widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhuttowas diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.

Mr Zardari, the co-chair of the Pakistan People’s party, and its candidate to succeed president Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down last week, spent 11 of the past 20 years in Pakistani prisons fighting corruption allegations, during which he claims to have been tortured.

Peace Now settlement watch report

Despite the Israeli government’s renewed commitment during the Annapolis Summit to freeze all settlement activity, the construction has continued and almost doubled in all of the settlements and outposts on both sides of the Separation Barrier. No outpost had been evacuated, and instead, many outposts were expanded. In East Jerusalem the construction increased dramatically.

It seems that the government of Israel repeats the mistakes of the past, by on the one hand negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians and in parallel constructing in the settlements. This construction undermines the Palestinian partners and creating facts on the ground that might prevent the possibility of a peace agreement.

Israeli outposts seal death of Palestinian state

Long-established Palestinian villages are instantly identifiable by their homes’ flat roofs and the prominence of the tall minarets of the local mosques. Interspersed among them, however, are a growing number of much newer, fortified communities of luxury villas topped by distinctive red-tiled roofs.

These are the Jewish settlements that now form an almost complete ring around Palestinian East Jerusalem, cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank and destroying any hope that the city will one day become the capital of a Palestinian state.

“These settlements are supposed to be the nail in the coffin of any future peace agreement with the Palestinians,” said Dror Etkes, a veteran observer of the settlements who works for the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din. “Their purpose is to make a Palestinian state unviable.”

The majority of the half a million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to Mr Etkes, are “economic opportunists”, drawn to life in the occupied territories less by ideological or religious convictions than economic incentives. The homes, municipal services and schools there are heavily subsidised by the government.

Afghans want a deal on foreign troops

The Afghan Council of Ministers decided Monday to review the presence of international forces and agreements with foreign allies, including NATO and the United States, after a series of military operations that have caused mounting civilian losses.

The ministers demanded a status of forces agreement, which would stipulate that the authority and responsibilities of international forces be negotiated, and they said that aerial bombing, illegal detentions and house raids by international forces must be stopped.

The declaration came after several military operations involving American forces resulted in heavy civilian casualties, most recently airstrikes in western Afghanistan on Friday that killed more than 90 people, most of them women and children, according to a government commission. The United States military is investigating the latest episode; it earlier said the airstrikes had killed 5 civilians and 25 militants.

Baghdad’s misguided crackdown on the Sons of Iraq

There is a gathering storm on Iraq’s horizon. Over the last several weeks, its central government has embarked on what appears to be an effort to arrest, drive away or otherwise intimidate tens of thousands of Sunni security volunteers — the so-called Sons of Iraq — whose contributions have been crucial to recent security gains. After returning from a trip to Iraq last month at the invitation of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, we are convinced that if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his advisors persist in this sectarian agenda, the country may spiral back into chaos.

Much of Iraq’s dramatic security progress can be traced to a series of decisions made by Sunni tribal leaders in late 2006 to turn against Al Qaeda in Iraq and cooperate with American forces in Anbar province. These leaders, outraged by Al Qaeda’s brutality against their people, approached the U.S. military with an offer it couldn’t refuse: Enter into an alliance with the tribes, and they would turn their weapons against Al Qaeda rather than American troops.

The 21st-century man

At the core, Obama’s best message has always been this: He is unconnected with the tired old fights that constrict our politics. He is in tune with a new era. He has very little experience but a lot of potential. He does not have big achievements, but he is authentically the sort of person who emerges in a multicultural, globalized age. He is therefore naturally in step with the problems that will confront us in the years to come.

So as I’m trying to measure the effectiveness of this convention, I’ll be jotting down a little minus mark every time I hear a theme that muddies that image. I’ll jot down a minus every time I hear the old class conflict, and the old culture war themes. I’ll jot down a minus when I see the old Bush obsession rearing its head, which is not part of his natural persona. I’ll write a demerit every time I hear the rich played off against the poor, undercutting Obama’s One America dream.

I’ll put a plus down every time a speaker says that McCain is a good man who happens to be out of step with the times. I’ll put a plus down every time a speaker says that a multipolar world demands a softer international touch. I’ll put a plus down when a speaker says the old free market policies worked fine in the 20th century, but no longer seem to be working today. These are arguments that reinforce Obama’s identity as a 21st-century man.

Barack’s big night

More than any politician in recent history, Barack Obama’s national career began with a speech–his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. On the eve of the convention that caps the journey begun that night, it’s remarkable how little is understood about how he obtained his historic break–and who really deserves credit for it.

In his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote, “The process by which I was selected as the keynote speaker remains something of a mystery to me.” Today, the process remains shrouded in competing versions of events. A slew of top Kerry aides (understandably) take credit for putting Obama on the campaign’s radar. “I knew about him in the Illinois senate primary. I knew about what he had done on the war before the war,” says Kerry’s top strategist, Bob Shrum, who learned about Obama from his friend Laurence Tribe, the Harvard professor for whom Obama had served as a research assistant during his years in law school. Jack Corrigan, who managed Kerry’s convention operations and closely follows Illinois politics, told me that he had contemplated hiring Obama to work on voter outreach months before the convention. “I thought, ‘This guy’s going to lose in a month,'” Corrigan recalled, referring to the grim odds Obama faced in February 2004. “We should go after him.”

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