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Cyprus

Tag Archives | Cyprus

Crimea Joins Russia: What International Law Suggests

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Ambassador Samantha Power talks with Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, prior to the Security Council's vote on the situation in the Crimea.  Eskinder Debebe/UN

“There is a strong belief that Russia’s action is violating international law. I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations, but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.” – President Barack Obama, March 4

Ambassador Samantha Power talks with Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, prior to the Security Council’s vote on the situation in the Crimea. Eskinder Debebe/UN

On the basis of Obama’s words, one can assume international law to be nothing beyond a set of beliefs that are classified as acceptable or unacceptable, depending on which side of the spectrum one stands.

As a result, when Crimean voters decided to secede from Ukraine and unite with Russia, what role did international law play in the picture? Again, you cannot properly define something that is viewed as more a matter of ‘strong belief’ than that of ‘codified norms’, but the verdicts and opinions of the International Court of Justice are well worth discussing here.

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Turkey and its Neighbors, Turning a New Page?

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Despite experiencing a period of domestic and diplomatic unease over the past few months, Turkey appears set for a brief period of calm.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Things should be cooling down for Turkey, as the country’s leaders make efforts to reach out both internally to their people – in particular the Kurdish community – and externally to the region, strengthening their political and diplomatic ties. Internally, the Turkish Government has taken a major step towards reconciliation with its Kurdish community through the implementation of an energy partnership with the Kurds in Iraq. The Washington Post reports that the planned oil pipeline promises to provide the Iraqi Kurdistan region with an independent stream of revenue, which has gladdened the Kurdish community in general. It is a rather surprising move, since in the past Turkish leaders have opposed encouraging any measure of autonomy for Iraqi Kurds, mostly for fear that Turkey’s own Kurdish minority might be encouraged to separate.

Externally, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been busy re-implementing his “zero problems with neighbors” policy. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu went on an official visit to Iraq last weekend, conducting high-level meetings in an attempt to repair ties between the two countries after years of uneasy relations. At a press conference in Baghdad, Davutoğlu admitted that there was a period of silence between Turkey and Iraq, but said that now there is a greater effort to overcome that situation.

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Examining Israel’s Syria Bombing

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An Israeli military jeep near the Israel-Lebanon border. Israeli forces attacked a convoy in Syria on January 29th heightening tensions in the region.  Baz Ratner/Reuters

“If there is a need, we will take action to prevent chemical weapons from being transferred to Islamic terror organisations. We are obligated to keep our eye on it at all times, in the event chemical weapons fall into Hezbollah’s hands.” – Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom

An Israeli military jeep near the Israel-Lebanon border. Israeli forces attacked a convoy in Syria on January 29th heightening tensions in the region. Baz Ratner/Reuters

Now that the dust has settled—literally and figuratively—from Israel’s Jan. 29 air attack on Syria, the question is, why? According to Tel Aviv, the bombing was aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-craft missiles to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, which one former Israeli military intelligence officer said would be “a game-changer.” But there are major problems with that story. First, it is highly unlikely that Damascus would turn such a system over to Hezbollah, in part because the Russians would almost certainly not have allowed it, and, secondly, because the SA-17 would not be terribly useful to the Lebanese Shiite organization. In fact, we don’t even know if an SA-17 was the target. The Syrians deny it, claiming it was a military research center 15 miles northwest of Damascus that was bombed, killing two and wounding five. The Israelis are refusing to say anything. The story that the anti-aircraft system was the objective comes mainly from unnamed “western officials.”

The SA-17 is a capable, mid-range, anti-aircraft weapon. Designated “Grizzly” by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it consists of four missiles mounted on a mobile launcher. It has a range of 30 miles, a ceiling of close to 50,000 feet, and can down anything from aircraft to cruise missiles. Introduced in 1998 as a replacement for the SA-11 “Gadfly,” the SA-17 has been sold to Egypt, Syria, Finland, China, Venezuela, India, Cyprus, Belarus, and the Ukraine. It has a bite. During the 2008 Russia-Georgian War, the SA-17 apparently downed three Russian SU-25s close support attack planes, and an ancient long-range Tupolev-22 bomber. It appears Georgia acquired the anti-aircraft system from the Ukraine without the Russians knowing about it.

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Remembering Ambassador Rodger Davies

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United Nations buffer zone in Cyprus. Eskinder Debebe/UN

“[Ambassador] Rodger Davies embodied the qualities and spirit which mark an American. He chose an unusual profession, a profession which required that to serve his country he leave his home but never forget it.” – Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, August 21, 1974

United Nations buffer zone in Cyprus. Eskinder Debebe/UN

On July 10, 1974, Ambassador Rodger Davies, the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, presented his credentials in Nicosia. He arrived on the small island at a tumultuous time with the ambitious goal of fostering a fair, long-term peace agreement between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Six weeks later, on August 19, 1974, Amb. Davies was assassinated. A sniper from 100 yards away shot him in the chest as he tried to keep his staff safe during a violent rally outside the embassy. The sniper was a member of the Greek Cypriot paramilitary group, EOKA-B, responsible for the coup d’état that overthrew the government just one month before.

Some thirty-eight years later, the same cultural and political tensions that led to the assassination of Amb. Davies, and prompted the arrival of Turkish peacekeeping troops continue to divide the island to the detriment of its people, its national security, its financial stability and its future economic opportunities. The history of this discord holds the key to reuniting the two faces of Cyprus and commencing a new era of peaceful co-existence.

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Spain’s Economy faces many Years of Pain

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Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz characterizes the Spanish bank bailout as “voodoo economics” that is certain “to fail.” New York Times economic analyst Andrew Ross Sorkin agrees, “By now it should be apparent that the bailout has failed—or at least on its way to failing.” And columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman bemoans that Europe (and the U.S.) “are repeating ancient mistakes” and asks, “why does no one learn from them?”

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy with Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. Source: European Council

Indeed, at first glance, the European Union’s response to the economic chaos gripping the continent does seem a combination of profound delusion, and what a British reporter called “sado-monetarism”—endless cutbacks, savage austerity, and widespread layoffs. But whether something “works” or not depends on what you do for a living. If you work at a regular job, you are in deep trouble. Spanish unemployment is at 25 percent—much higher in the country’s southern regions—and 50 percent among young people. In one way or another, those figures—albeit not quite as high—are replicated across the Euro Zone, particularly in those countries that have sipped from Circe’s bailout cup: Ireland, Portugal, and Greece.

But if you are Josef Ackermann, who heads Deutsche Bank, you earned an 8 million Euro bonus in 2012, because you successfully manipulated the past four years of economic meltdown to make the bank bigger and more powerful than it was before the 2008 crash. In 2009, when people were losing their jobs, their homes, and their pensions, Deutsche Bank’s profits soared 67 percent, eventually raking in almost 8 billion Euros for 2011. The bank took a hit in 2012, but the Spanish bailout will help recoup Deutsche Bank’s losses from its gambling spree in Spain’s real estate market.

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From Russia with Love? Cyprus seeks another Bailout

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias during an official visit.  Source: Kremlin Press Office

Cyprus today hinted that it was seeking a €5 billion loan from the Russian authorities to bolster its bank’s capital levels before a key regulatory deadline at the end of June. This assistance would follow a €2.5 billion loan in 2011 from the Kremlin which the island nation has been fully dependent on having been effectively shutout of capital markets.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias during an official visit. Source: Kremlin Press Office

There had been signs over the past couple of days that Cyprus would formally request financial aid from the current Eurozone bailout fund, the EFSF, but this has yet to materialize, although it has not entirely been ruled out by the Cypriot authorities who claim to be “considering all available options”. Cyprus is under pressure to recapitalise its banking sector, particularly Popular Bank, which requires a capital injection of €1.8 billion this month in order to satisfy the conditions of European regulators. A rights issue underwritten by the Cypriot government is planned to start this Friday and will place further stress on Cyprus’s finances if, as expected, private participation is low.

A bailout, which looks likely, poses an interesting conundrum for the Cypriot authorities. Accepting an EFSF package from its European partners would likely tie the small Mediterranean nation in to austerity conditions akin to those imposed on the other peripheral Eurozone economies. Furthermore, it is presumed that any Russian assistance would be free of fiscal conditions, which would be favourable but may subject Cyprus to other agreements likely to arouse suspicion in Europe and beyond. For Russia, a country flushed with Euro denominated reserves, this could be a targeted investment with potentially lucrative returns. It has been reported that Russia has an interest in developing a deep-water naval capability in this strategic location as well as tapping into the reported sizeable natural gas reserves in the waters surrounding Cyprus.

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Income Inequality and the Rise of European Separatist Movements

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Basque rally in support of independence. Source: Russian International Affairs Council

Separatist movements typically flourish during times of economic or political distress.

Basque rally in support of independence. Source: Russian International Affairs Council

While in the recent past separatism has been associated most with emerging or failed states and linked with armed conflict and insurgencies, the west’s economic dislocation and the ‘rise of the rest’ has coincided with a surge in political movements and a desire for autonomy and independence – not only among violence-prone regions of the world, but among the strongest of emerging states, and the EU. That separatist movements are flourishing in Europe is an indication of the impact of rising income inequality, a trend which is global in nature. As a result, a rise in separatist movements may be expected globally in the medium and long term.

Several countries within the EU-27 have political movements that have expressed support for regional or national parties seeking greater self-determination. Belgium experienced a long crisis last year, being virtually ungoverned on a national level for months. The desire by the Flanders region to acquire more autonomy had been a central issue in Belgian politics for some time. Of the major regional movements requesting autonomy or independence, several are ironically among the wealthiest regions within their country, such as the Flanders region, Aland region of Finland, the Basque region of Spain, and Moravia in the Czech Republic. Ten European countries face similar tendencies in one or more of their regions, with Italy, Spain and the UK having the best known separatist movements.

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Erdoganism: A Word of Caution

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Pete Souza/White House
Pete Souza/White House

Pete Souza/White House

There are few analysts today who would disagree that Turkey’s populist Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is having a good run. On paper, it’s not difficult to discern why. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has enjoyed three successive election victories, eight years in power, a booming economy and a continued ability to subdue any interference in political life from his country’s feared military. If that wasn’t enough, Erdoğan’s dual charm offensives in the west as the new model Muslim leader, and simultaneously in the Muslim world as the big brother ready to protect them, has gone down well enough for almost every world capital to lay down the red carpet welcoming him.

Impressive economic growth and increasing grass roots support aside, Mr. Erdoğan has now become somewhat of a major international statesman, including in his beloved Muslim neighborhood. Even before the events in the Arab Spring and Iran’s nuclear tussle with the West (in which he personally was an advocate and go-between peacemaker), the 2009 Israeli onslaught on Gaza was an opportunity he dared not miss. Vitriolic attacks on Israeli leaders and publicly challenging Israel’s President Peres at the world economic forum were only the beginnings of his ever-increasing demagoguery.

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Turkey’s High Stakes Foreign Policy Gamble

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Syrian army soldier taking position next to damaged buildings, during a patrol in the Daraya area in the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. Source: SANA

A diplomatic dance is unfolding on the Middle Eastern stage between Iran and Turkey, who are jockeying for position while attempting to influence the outcome of the ongoing political drama in Syria.

Syrian army soldier taking position next to damaged buildings, during a patrol in the Daraya area in the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. Source: SANA

Both countries now appear to be united in their public appeals to President Assad to end his crackdown on domestic opponents of his regime. This has been a consistently-held position for Turkey, but a rather ironic and improbable position for Iran. Ahmadinejad has not exactly practiced what he is now preaching vis-à-vis his own domestic opposition, and Iran of course has a long history of crushing internal political dissent.

Syria has for decades been as a primary conduit for Iran’s projection of power in the Middle East and opposition to Israel, and Iran and Syria have enjoyed a close political and military relationship. Although Iranian/Turkish relations have mostly been warm diplomatically, militarily, and economically, just two months ago Iran issued a stern warning to Turkey to stay out of Syria’s internal affairs, suggesting that Turkey has designs on a post-Assad Syria. Iran threatened retaliation if Turkey’s air bases are used by U.S. forces against Assad, as U.S. and NATO forces did against Libya’s Gaddhafi. Iran has said that in such a situation, U.S. and NATO bases in Turkey could become targets of Iranian missiles – a not so veiled indication that Turkey is already the target of Iranian missiles.

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Britain’s Defence Policy under David Cameron

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British Prime Minister David Cameron.  Source: 10 Downing Street

The SDSR, “Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review,” was released by the David Cameron government in October of 2010. Despite calls for deep cuts to the military budget, British defence policy under David Cameron mirrors the policy directions taken by his predecessors, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

British Prime Minister David Cameron. Source: 10 Downing Street

For example, the U.K. will continue to have an operational military presence in Afghanistan and the Balkans and a non-operational presence in Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Germany and Northern Ireland. The parliamentary elections last year were essentially a mandate on Labour’s handling of the economy. The general campaign theme of the Conservative Party was the U.K.’s dire economic circumstances and the need for difficult spending cuts to confront the U.K.’s massive debt burden and return the U.K. to fiscal solvency. As leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron posted on his WebCameron blog at the beginning of 2010, “I defy anyone to look at our plans and call them timid – because the truth is they cannot be timid if we’re to confront and defeat these problems.”

The cuts proposed by David Cameron, reflect his pragmatic approach and his acknowledgment that in order for the U.K. to stay competitive and respond to threats from external and internal actors, defence spending had to be addressed in a responsible manner. Britain’s Treasury establishes the fiscal problems facing the U.K., “Last year, the Government borrowed one pound in every four that it spent; and the interest payments on the nation’s public debt each year are more than the Government spends on schools in England.” Further, the U.K. owes £43 billion in interest on its debt.

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