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    Friday, October 26, 2007

    Reflections from a land (almost) without wireless

    I've been unable to blog for almost two weeks now, hit by the double-whammy of being busy reporting on the crisis along the Iraq-Turkey border (as always, you can find my latest reports at The Globe and Mail website) and the fact that Turkey's telecommunications sector has gone on strike, making Internet access scarce in some of the places I've been the last little while.

    To catch up quickly, short notes on a few things that caught my eye this week:

    New rhetorical heights: Putin is banging the drum lounder than ever today, warning the United States (and Poland and the Czech Republic) against the planned missile defense system for Europe. This time he's comparing the situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis that almost started a nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR back in 1962. "I would remind you how relations were developing in an analogous situation in the middle of the 1960s," Putin said in a press conference at the end of today's Russia-EU summit. "Analogous actions by the Soviet Union when it deployed rockets on Cuba provoked the Cuban missile crisis.... For us, technologically, the situation is very similar."

    An overstatement, perhaps, given that the Soviet Union was deploying offensive weapons in the Carribean back in 1962, while the White House is contemplating a defensive shield today. But Putin's point is valid: George W. Bush's provocative plan to set up a missile defense network in in Eastern Europe, like Nikita Khrushchev's decision to sneak missiles into Cuba, would have the effect of changing the nuclear balance-of-power. Russia, as Putin has repeatedly made clear, would have to do something to counter that, likely by restarting the Cold War arms race and developing new missiles and warheads that could overwhelm any system the U.S. builds.

    Does the world need this? Given that any Iranian nuclear threat is still theoretical at this stage, why is Bush so determined to go ahead with the shield plan when it delivers few strategic benefits and is so provocative to the Kremlin?

    If a vote is cast in Siberia and nobody monitors it, is anybody elected? The Moscow Times has an interesting front-page report today on the troubles international election monitors are facing getting registered ahead of the looming Duma elections.

    No surprise here - you can argue (as I do in my book) that without international monitors from the OSCE and other organizations, the authorities in Georgia and Ukraine would have gotten away with their election tampering and there would have been no Rose or Orange Revolution.

    When Kremlin aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky says "we do not want to listen to any lectures," he's hinting at what everybody already knows will happen:

    1) there will be electoral manipulation (either through physical means at the ballot box, or through the use of "administrative resources" to tilt the playing field before voting day) to ensure that Putin and United Russia win by an acceptably large margin.

    2) the West, and more specifically monitors from the OSCE and other groups, will complain about it, providing fuel to those who are planning to take to the streets on and after election day.

    Election monitors provided a causus belli and the moral high ground to pro-Western demonstrators in Belgrade in 2000, Tbilisi in 2003 and Kiev in 2004. The Kremlin is doing everything it can to ensure that it doesn't happen in Moscow in 2007.

    Prepare the way for PM Yulia, Take 2: Ukraine's High Administrative Court has finally validated the results of the Sept. 30 election, meaning that an already negotiated power-sharing deal between on-again Orange Revolution allies Yulia Tymoshenko and President Viktor Yushchenko can finally kick in. Tymoshenko will be prime minister, while the cabinet posts will be split between her party and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine movement.

    When I interviewed The Braided One back in April at her Kiev office, I asked her why the Orange team deserved another chance after she and Yushchenko squandered the mandate the people gave them back in 2004, spending more time publicly dquabbling over the spoils of power than they did tackling the country's endemic problems. Yushchenko eventually fired her, setting the stage for Viktor Yanukovich's startling political comeback.

    Tymoshenko correctly predicted that the reformed Orange team would win the vote, and promised that the pro-Westerners had learned from their mistakes and deserved another chance to govern. "I firmly believe that ... these early elections will give us a new chance that we will not misuse or lose," she told me.

    I hope so.

    Alisher Saipov, 1981-2007: Another journalist brutally murdered, this time an Uzbek reporter who had recently founded a newspaper called Siyosat. The paper's name means "Politics" - a dangerous thing to report on in that part of the world. Saipov also reported for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, as well as the Uzbek-language services of Voice of America and Radio Liberty.

    No question it was an assassination: he was shot three times as he walked the main street of Osh, in southern Kyrgzstan, on Wednesday night.

    Read the IWPR's tribute to Saipov here.

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