Saturday, December 20, 2003

Respect for the law

Britain's longest strike ended this week. The workers at a factory in Caernarvon, Friction Dynamics UK, that makes brakes, clutches and other vehicle parts, went on a one-week strike in April, 2001 over changes to their shifts introduced at a time when their wages had been static for 4 years and were going to be cut by 15%. Although the workers agreed to call in ACAS mediation, the management failed to turn up. After 8 weeks the management sacked all 86 strikers - this was legal under the Employment Act once a strike reaches 8 weeks. They were replaced by people recruited from Jobcentres (apparently the Employment Service saw nothing wrong in acting as a strikebreaker agency), and went to an industrial tribunal claiming unfair dismissal. For a start, it took a year for the case to come up, but that wasn't all. In the meantime one of the scabs was seriously hurt working with a machine missing a guard - he lost all the fingers on one hand, and was not compensated because Dynamics had somehow omitted to tell their public-liability insurers that 86 out of 103 workers had been sacked and replaced.

And that was it. The TGWU dug in for a long struggle and they kept picketing, lobbying, demoing and the rest of the armoury of protest. Finally, in August this year, the courts ruled that they had all been unfairly dismissed. But no compensation ever appeared - the American owner, Craig Smith (here's a link to some interesting information on this character) put the firm into administration, then got a new firm called Dynamex Friction which he owned to buy its assets, appointing the former manager of the plant as chief executive.

Why is it that conservatives are obsessed with "respect for the law" when the people they idolise most have all the respect for the law of goats? Smith may or may not have broken the law with his latest trick - the lawyers will decide that - but he has demonstrated utter contempt for it. The picket, by the way, is coming to an end now because the struggle will go on in the courts.

Blogroll update

We welcome two blogs to the blogroll - Guild of Ghostwriters, a British group blog, and Waldheim, a lefty blog from Yale.

Friday, December 19, 2003

First non-government supersonic flight!

Rutan does it again

The great Burt Rutan has come up with another of his astonishing aircraft. SpaceShipOne (great InterCapping!) flew above the speed of sound - the first time anyone has done without the aid of the state, better yet on the 17th of December, 100 years after the Wrights blah blah blah. This is his effort for the X-Prize, a prize of $10 million for the first spacecraft built without governmental aid, successfully flown into space, with space for 3 passengers, and repeated within 2 weeks with the same craft.


Now that's the first good news in a while.

The Fate of Rumsfeld...

One day, in the future, they will find his body in the desert, blackened by the sun, his lips cracked, eyes swollen, collapsed at the foot of a great sand dune with a shovel still gripped in his blistered hands, crushed by the sand drifting back into the hole, like Ozymandias' architect.....still looking for weapons of mass destruction.

Brief thought about Saddam, trials etc

The possibility of an acquittal is a valid criterion of a fair trial.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Clark's Role in Kosovo Exemplifies His Traits (

Link Excellent Washington Post story on Wesley Clark and the Kosovo war. Not the best advert for his presidential campaign, even though it doesn't mention "I'm not going to start World War Three for you, SIR!"

17th December - 100 years of aviation

100 years to this day - Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first ever controlled and sustained manned flight. Another good reason why, as soon as this post publishes, I'm off for a beeer.

Preparing for smallpox and the Asylum Cry

The Guardian reports today that plans for dealing with an outbreak of smallpox in Britain have been published. The arrangements include the establishment of emergency clinics, to be co-located with district general hospitals, within 24 hours of a smallpox case being confirmed anywhere in the world. These sites would require 140 staff each, who the regional health authorities are now to select. These persons would be the first group of people to be vaccinated immediately on a threat being identified. The clinics' task would be to isolate and observe all suspected cases, vaccinate contacts and any other groups, and treat any unfortunates who develop the disease. The first set of guidelines issued some time ago for this case suggested that the clinics would be set up away from any centre of population, but it would appear that practicality has won through.

All well and good, then - no wonder this article from the Canadian National Post suggests that Britain might be one of the few countries that could survive a flu pandemic. But what is wrong with us when - even in this desperate crisis - it is necessary to say that illegal immigrants who came forward to report suspected disease would be given immunity from prosecution (and, I hope, from smallpox as well)? Why has this psychosis seeped into absolutely everything? I'm sure that one day it will be remembered as one of the periodic panics that sweep through societies, like the Chinese Labour Cry or radon gas or Flesh Eating Bug. Rather like the one issue every nation has that seems absolutely vital to them but bewilderingly trivial to everyone else, people in the future will stand uncomprehending before the screaming headlines and hypocritical rantings yellowing in the archives. What was it all about - after all, it made up only 0.4% of public spending? Where did all the hate come from?

And in this weird country, 20 feet from me right now, two carpenters speaking what sounds like Russian are repairing a toilet cubicle..
Perhaps they wouldn't be so bemused if they were to read David Blunkett's insane remarks to the BBC today. "I need to ensure that people feel safe, that they are not egged on by those who would use insecurity and instability and difference as a method of whipping up racism and xenophobia", he said in an effort to defend his exciting new Asylum and Immigration Bill, which would permit him to withhold state benefits from rejected asylum seekers and take their children away if they refused to make a voluntary departure. So - we're going to be xenophobic in order to keep the xenophobes from getting in and being - well - xenophobic?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

FRLs - Further Ramblings on the Law and Saddam?

Another issue which militates in favour of a legal conclusion is that it ought to be a much clearer case than that against Milosevic. Much of the geologically slow wrangling at The Hague has been about the application of the principle of command responsibility for war crimes. Given that Saddam Hussein held the posts of Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Leader of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party of Iraq, President of the Republic of Iraq, and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces - that shouldn't be so hard to achieve...and it might go some way to achieving what Iraq Now, a US National Guard officer blogging from Iraq thinks is necessary:

"I wrote before, in War of Ideologies, it's not enough just to capture Saddam Hussein. It's not enough to militarily defeat the Saddamites and radical Muslim sects. This war will not be over until those movements are discredited on their home turf"

Foday Sankoh and the Iraqi Question

An interesting precedent to what I suppose will now be the Hussein Case seems to have occurred in the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000. It might well throw some light on the differing views of legality and its importance between the UK and US to consider what happened immediately after the capture of the RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Sankoh - whose movement famously engaged in mass amputations of prisoners' limbs as a form of revolutionary terror - was taken prisoner at a house in Freetown very soon after the British force landed. The initial problem was to prevent his followers from springing him, not to mention preventing a lynching. The obvious solution was to load him into a helicopter and ferry him without further ado to Illustrious, the task force flagship. But there was a serious difficulty in using her as a jail, which was that according to the law of the sea, she was under exclusive UK jurisdiction. That meant that he could legally claim refugee status immediately his feet touched the deck. In the end he was held in the Freetown prison awaiting trial by a UN-supervised court set up after the RUF's defeat later that year (he died in prison).

The Americans, though, occasionally give the impression that third-country prisoners are being held aboard ship. Whilst those ships are on the high seas or in US territorial waters, they are technically part of the US courts' jurisdiction for any event aboard. In foreign waters, the principle is the same - but with the condition that the port state has jurisdiction on any matter affecting its peace or security. Either way, they are either not holding prisoners at sea or they simply find the law inconvienient.

A perfect role for the ICC!

They got him in the end, of course - dragged out of a hole in the ground when the loyalty finally ran out. The now-whats gape, though. On the same weekend no less than 30 Iraqi policemen were killed. There was much talk about his trial. About crucial intelligence, weapons, terrorists. Does anyone really believe, though, that everything will change overnight? According to the public statements of the US commanders in Iraq, the vast majority of attacks come from the people they call the FRLs, former-regime loyalists, and not from the foreign terrorist element their political masters seem obsessed by. You could ask, for example, Major-General Chuck Swannick of the 82nd Airborne Division, who I quoted on this blog some time ago as saying exactly that at the same time that Paul Bremer was assuring the world that "90% of the threat comes from foreigners", although he confessed to having no information to support that. Why will they give up because their leader is jailed? Will this not just infuriate them more, or lift the spectre of a Ba'athist restoration from potential sympathisers?

Even if the foreign infiltrators did exist in the numbers we are asked to believe they do, surely the capture of Saddam Hussein would be a victory for their side? After all, the secular national socialism he espoused was equally offensive to the jihadis as Western liberal capitalism. Even in his later phase of swinging towards Islam post-1991, they still could not work together. Anyway, this all assumes a solution to the question of what to do next. Clearly, there must be some reckoning for the victims of his wars and persecutions. It ought to be obvious that we must make an example of civilised conduct in doing so. And the biggest problem in doing so is simply practical - where can a trial be conducted? How should it be conducted? Under which laws should it be conducted? It would be absurd to place him on trial in Iraq now - under the criminal code written by his government, it might be that he had committed no crime! Not even to think of the security problem. It would be very unlikely that a trial under the law of either Iran or Kuwait could be considered fair - and what about offences committed in Iraq against Iraqis?

The only code of law that unequivocally applies to all the possible charges against Saddam is international law. There are the crimes against humanity specified in the Geneva Conventions - genocide, murder of prisoners and the use of illegal arms against Iran. But Iraq is not a party to all the Conventions - can they apply retroactively? There are also the Genocide Convention and the Convention on the Prevention of Torture, and the UN Declarations on Civil and Political Rights could inform any judgement. On the question of retroactivity, it should be remembered that the provisions of the Geneva Conventions on crimes against humanity and war crimes are considered to be obligations "erga omnes" - they are crimes against all states based on the customary law of civilised nations. So that would be covered. There is, of course, one tribunal operating specifically for such purposes.

It's the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The one the Americans passed a law to attack if it prosecuted US soldiers. A pity, then, that its statute is limited to crimes committed after July, 2002 - otherwise, what could be better? One good piece of news is that the Iraqi "governing council"'s own tribunal has used much of the ICC statute in its preparations.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Hoon - and those apologies he was after

I notice that, back on the 14th of May, our much despised Secretary of State for Defence Geoff Hoon said in parliament that

"All the requisite numbers of boots and clothing and equipment were there..the truth is that when they went into operations all of our forces were given the right boots. There was sufficient clothing and protective equipment in theatre to deal with a force of this size. I am waiting for apologies from either individual journalists or their editors.."

Well, I'm waiting for apologies from this apology for a minister for his outstanding incompetence, dishonesty, and double dealing. Oh yes, throw in his charming crack about Iraqi mothers whose children had been wounded thanking the coalition. This was of course part of the immediate pre-Kelly period when Alastair Campbell was trying to get revenge on the media for being rude, and I suppose his remarks to the Defence Select Committee should be seen in this light, as an exercise in calculated bullying rather than a contribution to parliamentary debate. That doesn't change the rules though - lying to parliament is a resigning matter, and the National Audit Office report shows that he did just that. Literally. I thought I would have to wade through reams of text - but on the bottom of page 14, I found the evidence - in the huge glossy photo of a Royal Marine standing in front of a huge portrait of Saddam - WEARING A GREEN CAMO JACKET! (One-quarter of the 7th Armoured Brigade had woodland camouflage kit and black boots throughout the war.) From the horse's mouth (page 25 figure 6):

"The procurement was regarded as of limited success as few troops received their full complement and mismatches in sizing continued into the postconflict phase".

Better yet, the supply of body armour is described as follows:

"Despite these efforts, insufficient numbers were distributed in theatre largely as a result of difficulties with asset tracking and distribution"

Which means there wasn't any, of course. Other highlights of the document include the fact that only 8% of the highest priority stores requests were supplied on time, the missing nuclear/biological/chemical filters for the tanks, and the curiosu way the accommodation for headquarters was completed by the end of May but for everyone else much later. When will this man finally resign? In passing, wasn't it a remarkable coincidence that this crushing report was released on the same day as Hoon's White Paper?

Iraqi "Anti-Terror" demonstrations not all the reports seem?

Various media sources have been reporting supposedly "anti-terrorist" demonstrations in Iraq, including to its shame the BBC (what's going on there at the moment?). It seems, though, that portraying the demos as pro-CPA just because they are anti-Ba'ath might be unwise at best.

"One group that
mobilized its cadres for this demonstration was the Iraqi Communist
Party. Its supporters waved red flags emblazoned with the hammer and
sickle, according to ash-Sharq al-Awsat. It seems obvious that the
CPI was more likely demonstrating for human rights and against the
Baathists than in favor of the US per se."

Juan Cole, Michigan University

You could say that, couldn't you? Communists? Well, they're not going to be very pro-US are they? A demonstration by communists is perhaps the easiest to recognise there is - the iconography is the same around the world. (big red flags, stars, hammers/sickles, Marx, Lenin, Che, the AK47, and the local hero) But you'll find no mention of them in most reports. No - this was officially a demo in favour of George Bush!

That new Iraqi intelligence service - not a good start

So, apparently the boss of the Iraqi secret service we're creating (to replace the 300 out of 700 soldiers who have deserted from the Iraqi army we're creating? It's true that intelligence can make up for a shortage of manpower, but this is ridiculous!), one Iyad Allawi, is a former Ba'athist spook - what a surprise! - who used to pursue Saddam's enemies in Europe. (According to the Angry Arab News Service. Mind you, they do seem a little forward: "Regis Debray, the former leftist who surrendered Che to his death (allegedly)"...that's one hell of an allegedly.) Don't things just keep getting better? As Perry at Bush Wars puts it, "Every time you think they've committed the all-time biggest blunder imaginable, this crew tops itself."

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Damn good blogs

We welcome three outstanding blogs - Living with Caucasians, a blog covering goings-on in Georgia, Slugger O'Toole and the Broom of Anger - two excellent Northern Irish newsbloggers. If you didn't read this - you wouldn't know that the "Police Fund IRA spies" story has been debunked. And you do now.

Christ! This is what Building Democracy looks like..

"On Dec. 6, according to a union spokesperson interviewed by phone, a convoy of 10 Humvees and personnel carriers descended on the old headquarters building of the Transport and Communications Workers union, in Baghdad's central bus station, which has been used since June as the office of the Iraqi Workers Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). Twenty soldiers jumped out, stormed into the building, put handcuffs on eight members of the Federation's executive board, and took them into detention.

"They gave no reason at all, despite being asked over and over," says IFTU spokesperson Abdullah Muhsin. Soldiers painted over the name of the federation on the front of the building with black paint, Muhsin says. The union had few resources, "but we did have a few files, and they took those," Muhsin adds. Ironically, the office had posters on the walls condemning terrorism, which soldiers tore down in the raid.

Although the eight were released the following day, there was no explanation from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the U.S. occupation government in Iraq, for the detentions."

Brilliant. Link Thanks to ConfinedSpace.

BBC drop a bollock over the Pre-Budget Report

Watching the 10 O'clock News and then (as yer do when you're a politics addict) Newsnight last night I was shocked - really! - by the BBC's performance. It was as if Conservatives on heat had invaded TV Centre and declared a coup d'etat. Where did they get the idea of illustrating the pre-budget report with graphics showing a roulette wheel, dice, cards and gambling furniture generally? I'm sorry, but this is not objectivity and it is not fairness. Especially as, after months of scare stories about "The £30 billion black hole!!" and how the government's economic forecasts were absolute nonsense, what they were reporting was surprisingly good news. Certainly, £10 billion is a very large sum of money - but it is not £30 billion as previously trailed. The truth of the matter is that the Treasury was right - and the Tories, the IFS, Ernst&Young, the NIESR and a whole volley of other organisations were wrong. Even the poor, battered manufacturing sector has produced some growth.

So what was Jeremy Paxman doing on Newsnight when he practically handed over the discussion to Letwin? Much as I despise the government, Paul Boateng was treated unfairly - shut up at once and ordered to listen carefully as the Shadow Chancellor issued a lengthy propaganda rant. Not just that, but the BBC itself, in the person of Paxman, indulged in some pretty awful statistical nonsense. Our man snarled at Boateng that "NHS spending has gone up by 40% but finished consultant episodes only by 5%!", which sounds tragic but is rather less than honest. After all, if the health service was succeeding, surely less people would need a consultant - and the figures would get worse. And - using this measure - building new hospitals is part of the "waste" that Mr. Letwin decried! (Because, of course, no distinction is made between capital or current spending.) Neither did Paxo or anybody else make the slightest effort to define what a "finished consultant episode" is - could you?

All in all, a pretty bad showing.

CIA to form new Iraqi secret service

Iraq Spy Service Planned by U.S. To Stem Attacks (

So, not only does Iraq now have a police force, a border patrol force, a civil defence brigade, a new army, the "facility protection service", and a special paramilitary militia, but she will soon be blessed with a new-old internal secret service. Not surprisingly,

"... the outstanding issue is, "to what degree you bring back former intelligence service," one U.S. intelligence expert said."

Indeed. One wonders if more gunmen are really what a New Democratic Beacon for the Middle East need, especially in the same week that it was reported that a special commando force had been established with Israeli help to operate "behind the lines" in Iraq. What lines? The lines in question are the frontiers of Iraq's neighbouring states, of course - but the phrase suggests commando derring-do in the middle of a war, not a secret invasion of various neutral states.

But I'll bet you didn't know that:

"Intelligence services are the heart and soul of a new country," said one former CIA operative who helped several post-communist countries establish new services."

Monday, December 08, 2003

Industrial relations, the Korean way

"It wasn't exactly a kidnapping, but the managers did not go by choice. When an alarmed Iraqi employee called out to ask where they were being taken, one of the managers began to respond, but a worker smacked him in the head, a Washington Post reporter observed. Workers led the managers by their arms to a conference room in the back of the Tutaitulah Hotel, where the workers had been staying.

The room was dim, and the executives were placed in a row of seats in the front of the room.

Hae Chun Suh, Ohmoo's president, wearing a sky-blue bullet-proof vest, stared stoically at the crowd. E Sah Park, a manager for Shiloh, sat in a corner with his hands on his face after a worker had hit him in the stomach. Another worker was seen throwing some food left over from lunch at his bosses, the reporter observed.

Then, either individually or in small groups, workers came up to yell at them. "Why were they alone? Why wasn't there anyone to help our friends?" demanded Song Kun Bae, 35.

Tae Ho Ohm, 42, chastised the managers for not taking into account the emotional state of the workers when they tried to order everyone back to work the next day. "The way we think, those who lived and died, we are all the same," Ohm said.

The workers placed blank pieces of paper in front of their managers and told them to write letters apologizing for their role in the deaths of their co-workers and promising that there would be compensation. "And write it prettily," one worker demanded."

Washington Post story on the Korean contractors' exit from Iraq.

That 45-minute source: utter nonsense and a possible explanation

The Daily Torygraph reported over the weekend that they had found the "senior Iraqi officer" who was the source for the now infamous claim that Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes' notice. Lieutenant-Colonel Al Dabbagh was supposedly the commander of an air defence unit in the western desert of Iraq and stated that "containers" had arrived shortly before the war from Baghdad containing a "secret weapon" that was only to be used in a critical situation. He further stated that the weapon was made in Iraq and was fired in a similar way to a rocket-propelled grenade. Well - nice try! According to, an RPG7 has an effective range of 500 metres and a maximum range of 920 metres. Now, what kind of weapon of mass destruction would anyone release within a kilometre of their own location? And would fit in a 2.25kg round? And what did his air-defence unit have to do with it?

Several newspapers have also carried quotes from the famous "security sources" saying that it was expected that several Iraqi officers would claim responsibility - after all, thye have careers to look after. There is another possible explanation though - remember the mystery weapon that destroyed an American tank on the 28th of August? The story only leaked out at the end of October after it became clear that the Americans were baffled as to what the projectile was. On Thursday, the 6th of November, I blogged on the affair. Opinion seems to be leaning towards some kind of advanced warhead used to boost the effects of an RPG. Could those have been the secret weapons Lt Col Al-Dabbagh saw?

Friday, December 05, 2003

Admin: new feature!

Thanks to, we now have a search facility for Ranter posts...just look in the sidebar for "Search the Ranter".

MacShane the Mouth busts loose

The new Europe minister, Denis MacShane, has launched a rant demanding the resignation of Romano Prodi on the grounds that he is spending too much time preparing his return to Italian politics. Whilst Macca has a point, it's alarming that he went off like this. No.10 has now officially disowned the member for Rotherham's brain fart - but I wonder how much conviction was in the denial? After all, Tony Blair has spent much time and effort making nice with Silvio Berlusconi - not the kind of company a socialist should be keeping, but what's that got to do with him? - and Prodi is his arch enemy. Was MacShane's indiscretion an exercise in Prodi-prodding intended to divert Berlusconi from the Italian proposals on the European constitution that we don't like? Not that Prodi's tenure has been a gem - he was once described as a man who never risks popularity by changing his ideas, and a stony conservatism has been in evidence on the Stability Pact, institutional reform and much more. All his proposals to the Convention on the Future of Europe were dominated by the house ideology of the commission - more centralisation, more commission power, "an economic government", less rights for ministers or the European Parliament. They could have been written in 1961.

But - importantly - it might not be so bad, even if it was official. Perhaps they're trying to keep things dragging on until the handover to the Irish presidency. After all, does anyone really want Berlusconi to take home his Second Roman..oops..treaty in time for the elections? On the content of the Treaty, I'm beginning to think it would have been all much better if we could have skipped the IGC - as predicted, the text everyone thought was great and only needed tinkering with has been mangled until practically everything is up for review. That is of course hindsight. What answers? On the principle of eliminating the unnecessary, the whole debate about a reference to God should be kicked into touch. It makes absolutely no difference and is merely an annoyance - surely a concession waiting to happen. On the voting weights: this is the only real issue left on the agenda, once the flimflam is gone. I personally think the flimflam removal might clarify the issue somewhat - surely the Poles could be met halfway as a concession in exchange for dropping the godbothering clause?

Aussie study shows each immigrant = A$250,000 more to the public purse

Sydney Morning Herald story

According to some mob called Access Economics, an immigrant benefits the Australian state on average by 250,000 dollars. Apparently, 15-year olds are the best value - unsurprisingly, refugees get the lowest grade in this rather cold-blooded calculus, averaging only A$111,000. So - how much cash are the Australians spending on scouring the seas for immigrants in order to ship them to jail? I wonder why I've never heard of a similar exercise for the Home Office...don't let the facts get in the way of a good prejudice, eh.

Yanks - Australians too leftwing to worry about!

Yankee Blog

"I don't recall the site, but I recently saw a comment (perhaps in reference to that Zakaria piece) basically asking why Hu Jintao got a better reception in Australia than Bush. Someone responded by basically dismissing Australians as just too left-wing to worry about. This is the most moronic comment in the world. If I were to put all of the democracies in the world on a political spectrum that basically characterized the tone of their political discourse Australia would be the closest to the US. The US would be the farthest to the right (which if our left is winning I would actually find satisfying because in the world-wide scheme of things I am closer to the right), and then would be Australia, then the UK, then Canada, perhaps NZ, and finally we would start to see Continental European nations, probably starting south and working our way north. "

I can't begin to imagine the thinking that led to that remark. The post, on Yankeeblog, is outstanding - and probably what Australia should be worrying about, when they say that "The bigger issue here though is are we losing all of our allies in Asia. If I were a Malaysia or Thailand of the world I have to say that I would be looking more towards China for my economic and political security." Perhaps that's why the Aussie defence minister Robert Hill has just signed up to Son of Star Wars and begun negotiating for the purchase of three ex-US Navy Aegis missile destroyers - ships designed among other things to fight in a missile environment. Mind you, the Australians better hope that the performance of this flaky scheme outweighs the offence given to all the other countries in Asia. After all, it's no wonder that Indonesia doesn't like the idea when the putative nuclear missiles it's meant to shoot down would approach Australia from the north. Fallout is an unwanted gift that just keeps giving. Neither is it any wonder that most of those countries are arming like hell - Russian Su30 fighter jets being this year's top fashion item on the death catwalk.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Watch what you blog!

Not so long ago, I blogged on the curious contents of this site's search engine analysis, and referred to a post on Yankeeblog in which they reported that their site was (mysteriously) the third result on MSN's search engine for the query "I want Pakistani sexy clips". Foolishly I quoted them - now, examining my stats, I discover that regular hits are arriving from a site called Just stop it, alright?

Mind you - perhaps it wasn't so weird?

"The West needs Russian cooperation in the fight on terrorism, it badly needs Russian oil and natural gas because the Middle East is unstable, and is in no position to actively resist a major move by Moscow to dominate and reintegrate the former Soviet republics. Sources close to the Kremlin have expressed the view that the Bush administration has already signaled its readiness to accept the territory of the former Soviet Union (minus the Baltic states) as being Russia's "sphere of influence," giving Moscow a free hand to dominate the region.

Indefinitely maintaining troops at a high cost in Moldova -- a landlocked country that has no common border with Russia -- does not seem to serve any obvious Russian national interest. It only makes strategic sense if the Kremlin has plans to link up with that outpost by retaking all or a large part of Ukraine.

Such plans are in fact much discussed today in Moscow. One version doing the rounds is that after 2008 when Putin's second term as president expires, he may continue as supreme leader by becoming president of a revitalized union (all the more painful, therefore, the rebuff Moscow received last week in Moldova).

Reunification plans are being pursued not only in Moldova. In Georgia, after the ousting of President Eduard Shevardnadze, Moscow has been increasingly openly supporting separatist regional governments. The new government in Tbilisi has clearly been given a choice: Bow to Moscow or Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Adzharia may by "reunited" with Russia."

So says Pavel Felgenhauer of the Moscow Times.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Yet further Caucasian weirdness - the GRU, the pipeline and the greens..

In the non-smouldering aftermath of Georgia's revolution, a fresh burst of Caucasus weirdness was only to be expected. Fortunately it has so far kept within limits - just a couple of mystery aeroplanes, phone calls to BP-Amoco and sabre-rattling local bosses, nothing too serious. But that was until this truly odd story emerged...

"A £2bn pipeline to carry Caspian oil to Europe through Georgia risks being damaged by Chechen mercenaries or ecological saboteurs sponsored by Russian intelligence, a senior Georgian security official and sources in Moscow claim.
The GRU, the sophisticated elite of Russia's military intelligence corps, has allegedly allocated money towards hiring or training eco-warriors and mercenaries to sabotage the 1,100-mile project, which is run by a consortium headed by BP and is expected to be operational by 2005.

"We are aware of this threat," a Georgian cabinet member said. "The pipeline is a key strategic interest to Georgia and we are checking the situation very carefully."

According to information obtained from Moscow security sources during two months of inquiries by the Guardian, the GRU has allocated part of its budget towards the sabotage operation. The plan is not yet believed to be active, although the GRU has allegedly begun training a cell of ecologists"

Wot? Very sensibly, the reporter (Nick Paton-Walsh) mentions the possibility that this might be a planted story intended to worry BP or possibly to keep the Georgians intimidated. Indeed, but why stop there? Did they leak the story to the Georgians? To give it more credence perhaps? Or did the Georgians come up with it to discredit the Russians and attract western support? Or perhaps the Russians leaked it in the hope the Georgians would over-react....wibble. I can well imagine that you can barely chuck a rock in Tbilisi at the moment without hitting a spook, but surely this of ecological terrorists trained by the GRU is all James Bond and bollocks?

I wonder how long we'll have to wait for the first unfortunate conservationist to end up bleeding on a concrete police floor because of this...

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