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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.

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.

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.

Climate Change – No Concern to the Poor?

Amanda Graham / flickr
Photo: Amanda Graham / flickr

It is said that – besides polar bears – the negative effects of global warming will hit the poor the most. But two recent articles I read suggest that climate change is of little concern to the poor; rather, it is a concern of the well-off who can afford to worry about melting ice caps (and their furry white residents).

Dear Santa: A Letter to Obama

Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr
Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr

If you could write an open letter to US President Barack Obama, what would you write? The question almost makes you think of something like a wish list to a Santa, who will do his best to fulfill your desires.

The open letter written by 22 Central and Eastern European intellectuals and former leaders made me think about this Christmas tradition. A letter intended for the US president, in which Eastern European children make a wish list and, in order to be convincing, explain how good they have been in the past.

During the last months the media has seen innumerable open letters to Obama. And this is yet another one. It is a doleful and angst-ridden letter, one whose main argument is that the Obama administration is not taking the necessary measures for rebuking “revisionist Russia.”

I first had a reflective look at the senders’ list. Václav Havel and Lech Wałęsa are there, symbols of the people who led the revolutions of 1989. However, beyond all emotions, I realized the word ‘former’ is too prominent on the senders’ list. Valdas Adamkus, former president of the Republic of Lithuania; Martin Butora, former ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the US. The list goes on.

‘Former’ refers to something or someone belonging to a prior time. Even the letter reads ‘former’ to me, with arguments that in the current international context have acquired their dustiness.

The letter’s nostalgia-conjured past does not truly reflect historical realities. “Our nations are deeply indebted to the United States,” the letter argues. “Many of us know firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years.”

These words make me think of my Romanian grandfather and how he told me that years after the end of World War II he was looking at the sky, asking himself when would the Americans come. And the Americans never came. So what is Central and Eastern Europe so indebted for? Apart from listening to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, there was not much of an important support to be felt in the region during the Cold War.