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Commemorating the General

For the first time since Tsar Alexander I in 1819, a Russian head of state is visiting Switzerland. Today, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is coming for an official visit to the small Alpine country.

The main purpose of Medvedev’s visit is to celebrate the 210th anniversary of Russian General Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Suvorov’s victorious military expedition across the Alps, which resulted in the defeat of Napoleon’s occupying forces in Switzerland. Following Switzerland’s liberation from the French, the modern Swiss Confederation (more or less within today’s political borders) came into being.

Suvorov crossing the alps / Wikimedia Foundation

Suvorov crossing the alps / Wikimedia Foundation

Many Swiss living in the mountainous areas through which Suvorov’s triumphant troops passed remain deeply grateful to the Russian general, who is said to have never lost a battle and is seen as one of the greatest military geniuses ever to lead an army. He also coined phrases such as “To surprise is to vanquish”, ” Train hard, fight easy” or “Speed is essential, but haste harmful”. Both the Swiss and the Russian consider the Russian general a military hero. No questions asked. » More

ISN Weekly Theme: The Truth About ‘Truth’ Commissions

Photo: Athena Workman/flickr

Photo: Athena Workman/flickr

Truth commissions are usually formed to examine a country’s history, bringing to light the good, the bad and the ugly.

But, history belongs to the victors. Truth commissions can also be used to forward a particular political stance. In our weekly theme, “The Truth About ‘Truth’ Commissions, Ariel Cohen examines the new Russian ‘Truth’ Commission with a critical eye, stating that it has been intentionally designed to stop the pieces of history that would damage the carefully crafted image of today’s Russia from coming to the surface.

The ISN’s Linda Popova gives background information on truth commissions and offers evidence that bureaucracy can hinder even the most earnest attempts at finding the ‘truth.’

And as always, check our site throughout the week for more on the topic.

But Timber Doesn’t Sink, Right?

Rambo with a missile, photo: Andrew Becraft / flickr

Lego Rambo with a missile, photo: Andrew Becraft / flickr

In one of the most bizarre stories of the month, a Finnish-owned ship with a timber load belonging to Stora Enso (a Finnish company and the second largest paper producer in the world) worth an estimated 1.3 million euros, vanished (yes, vanished!) as it was passing through the English Channel nearly three weeks ago on its way to Algeria. The ship and its all-Russian crew have not been heard from since. Reports state that the ship was hijacked off the Swedish coast in July and subsequently released by suspected pirates who had reportedly boarded the vessel dressed up as Swedish anti-narcotics police. The ship, upon failing to bring its load to Algeria on 4 August was reported missing.

While the Finns seem oddly indifferent and blasé about the whole thing, Putin is already flexing his well-toned muscles and threatening to launch a Rambo-mission to find the poor hijackees (with the help of his sidekick, Medvedev, of course). We needn’t worry though- apparently timber can’t sink, so the ship will be found, intact or as a sea of floating Finnish timber in the Atlantic.

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What is that A-Bout?

An alleged international weapons trafficker, searched for by Interpol and placed under an international travel ban by the UN, will soon be running free?

What is that about?

Kalashnikov: Photo: melomelo/flickr

Kalashnikov/Photo: melomelo/flickr

On 11 August, a Thai court ruled against extraditing Viktor Bout to the US. The US is accusing Bout of trying to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC, a group that is deliberately targeting Americans assisting the Colombian government in the drug war. (A year ago, ISN Security Watch featured an in-depth analysis on Victor Bout’s unsavory career: see part I and part II).

Yet unlike the US and the EU, Thailand does not consider the FARC a terrorist group – hence, in the eyes of the Thai judge, Bout cannot be extradited for ‘political’ reasons. This is a big slap in the face for US counterterrorism efforts. To capture international terrorists and those supplying them with weapons, the US relies on a strong network of allies – and Thailand has historically been a strong ally of the US.
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Democracy Through the Looking Glass

Looking for direction / Photo: World Economic Forum, flickr

Looking for direction / Photo: World Economic Forum, flickr

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s ascension to power. The collapse of the Soviet block in the late 1980s and the Soviet Union itself in the early 1990s can be seen as an inflection point, a moment at which the arc of Russian history changed; it opened up an old wound in the Russian psyche, namely, that of identity. With the loss of its satellites and formerly appropriated republics, a political, institutional, economic and moral decay took hold.  Russia’s need for reinvention became an existential threat and opportunity at the same time.

With Russian foreign policy practically non-existent in the early 1990s, the climactic evidence of which was NATO’s utter disregard for Russia’s position on the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, the soil was moist for a mushrooming ‘man of action,’ who would later use precisely this justification to advance his ambitions of restoring great power status to Russia.
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