Monday, December 28, 2015

The exploitation and death of Vlad Kolesnikov

Media such as KPHG and Radio Free Europe are full of the suicide of Vladimir Kolesnikov. They paint it as yet another symptom of the lack of freedom in Russia.

The problems of this 18-year old boy started when last june he went to his school in a Moscow suburb with a T-shirt featuring a Ukrainian flag and the words: "Return Crimea." He got trouble in his school and with his grandfather with whom he lived and he was repeatedly beaten up. After some time he was sent to his father who lives in some small provincial town. There his trouble continued, made even worse by his homosexuality. In the end he gave up and committed suicide.

As the title ("How My Friend, Vlad Kolesnikov, Was Driven To His Death In Putin's Russia") of the article written by Claire Bigg for Radio Free Europe already suggests it is a real tear jerker.

However, I see the situation from the opposite side. Far from being his best friend - as Bigg presents herself - I see someone who took advantage of a lonely boy who desperately wanted to belong to something. It must have been easy to convince him of the superiority of Western culture with its tolerance of homosexuality. It gave him 2000 Facebook "friends" and "friends" such as Bigg who lived thousands of kilometers away. But these were false friends - keeping him disconnected from his own environment and preventing him from making up with those who were close to him.

A true friend of Vladimir would not have filled his head with nonsense about how brave he was doing this. It would instead have explained to him that this is a sensitive issue in Russia and that of a lot of Russians have died in Ukraine and that for those reasons he should be subtle in his support for Ukraine.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Syria peace plan that wasn't

The Security council has adopted resolution 2254, that is presented as a peace plan. The BBC summarized it as follows:
- Calls for ceasefire and formal talks on a political transition to start in early January
- Groups seen as "terrorist", including Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, are excluded
- "Offensive and defensive actions" against such groups - a reference to air strikes by US-led coalition and Russia - to continue
- UN chief Ban Ki-moon to report by 18 January on how to monitor ceasefire
- "Credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance" to be established within six months
- "Free and fair elections" under UN supervision to be held within 18 months
- Political transition should be Syrian-led

It is a lot of hot air that very likely won't produce any result.

First of all the plan is not realistic:
- there is no strict separation between Islamic State, Al-Nusra and the rest. They often fight together against the government and fighters regularly switch from one group to another.
- as al-Nusra and ISIS are part of the rebel groups in many areas it will be impossible to maintain an armistice there.
- more than half the Syrian rebels subscribe to an Islamist extremist ideology. If one group disappears they will just join another group.
- "free and fair elections" is a joke in a climate were there are many fighting groups that don't believe in democracy. Neither do they believe in tolerance and equal rights for other groups that is among the foundations without which democracy is impossible. There is probably a majority of the Syrians who are democratically minded, but in the present power distribution they would lose the fight for control and democracy would be short-lived.
- "Credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance" sounds good. Unfortunately that assumes also an inclusive attitude from the opposition. Yet that is definitely absent among much of the armed opposition. If Syria had a law that prevents sectarian parties to participate in elections - as some countries have - almost none of the opposition groups would be allowed to participate.

And then there is the question whether all parties voted for this resolution in good faith:
- A look at Ukraine learns that the US has accepted there similar peace plans and that nothing ever came of it. The typical pattern is that the US becomes serious about peace plans when the side that it is supporting is losing and is in danger of breaking down. After the peace plan is adopted the accompanying armistice is used to rearm and retrain that side until it is strong enough to attack again. In the meantime the peace negotiations lead nowhere. The US supported side ignores the concessions it did in the peace plan and makes demands that it knows are unacceptable for the other side. When it resumes hostilities the US government is quiet or tries to blame the other side. The Western press and the other Western governments mostly slavishly follow suit.
- It is already clear that the US and the parties it supports will - once negotiations start - again demand the immediate departure of Assad. So a compromise is impossible.
- So the most likely goal of the circus is to put a brake on the Russian attacks against the "moderate" opposition.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The EU gave in to Erdogan's blackmail and helped him to get elected

There is one rule when it comes to blackmail: if you give in there is a good chance you will face more of it.

When Erdogan suddenly opened the borders and flooded Europe with "refugees" there was little doubt that this was blackmail. Yet soon lots of high level EU diplomats could be found in Turkey and when Erdogan a little later visited the EU he got a red carpet treatment and almost everything he had asked for. It will be made easier for Turks to get a visa for the EU - although the details still need to be negotiated -, Turkey will get 3 billion euro to support its refugees and an EU progress report that critical of the situation in Turkey was postponed until after the Turkish elections of 1 november.

To top it off Merkel visited Istanbul shortly afterwards and declared there that the agreement between the EU and Turkey on the refugees had brought a Turkish EU membership closer. She could as well have shouted "Vote for Erdogan!". Unsurprisingly Erdogan won the elections - getting much more votes than the opinion polls had predicted.

One can only wonder what made the Eurocrats so stupid that they gave in to Erdogan's blackmail - and doing so helped him win an election. For some of them it will have been mere stupidity. But I suspect that US pressure played an important role. A weakening of Erdogan's position would have put in doubt Turkey's commitment to America's regime change project in Syria. Obama has named Erdogan as one of his top five international friends. And it was another of Obama's top 5 - Merkel - who helped to explode the opening of Turkey's borders into a crisis by declaring begin september that Germany would accept any refugee from Syria.

Soon after the gates opened in Turkey articles started to appear that suggested that the flood of refugees was no coincidence but the result of deliberate decisions at the top in Turkey. This was confirmed by an Erdogan advisor.

It didn't help that the EU had egg on its face as its memberstates had been very busy slashing their contributions to the World Food Program, that as a consequence was forced to slash its support for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

As could be expected Turkey has only partially stopped the flow of refugees since the agreement. It knows very well that once the pressure subsides the EU may start to come back on some of its promises. So it does enough to give the impression of an effort while it does on the other side little enough to keep up the pressure on the EU. And once the EU starts delivering it will without doubt find ways to increase its demands: asking for more money and also repeating its demands for a military intervention in Syria - its main demand that wasn't concurred with. According to Amnesty Turkey has found yet another method to keep up the pressure: maltreatment of refugees and even sending some back to Syria.

Recently we have seen the EU heaping the blame on Greece for not guarding its border better. But Greece doesn't have much incentive to do so as registering the refugees would also bring the obligation to keep them. And what sense does it make to register refugees when you can't send them back. Besides that: Greece registering the refugees would do nothing to stop the flow. It looks like Greece is singled out as a scapegoat by Eurocrats who don't want to anger Turkey.

The EU could have taken the opposite approach. It could have scolded Erdogan for unleashing the refugee flood. It could have declared very publicly that as long as Erdogan is in power an EU membership for Turkey is impossible. Punishment is sometimes a better strategy than rewarding blackmail.

Now the EU has adopted crazy plans to adopt 160.000 refugees. It will help nobody. There should be adequate money for refugee shelter and support in the region and also in Syria itself. The stated logic is that it is better when we make our own selection instead of waiting for who comes by himself. But such a selection will do nothing to stop the flow crossing illegally the borders. On the contrary: one can expect it to increase.