Wednesday, August 13, 2008

August 2008 - transforming international affairs

Russian invasion of Georgia that Kremlin's bosses euphemistically call "peace enforcement mission" has changed modus operandi of international politics. Response of the US leadership was unexpectedly harsh. Considering the fact that its the prime vacation time the response and actions of the EU27 were well coordinated. Furthermore the coordination of response between the US and its European allies is laudatory. Even a personal friend of the Russian PM Mr Sylvio Berlusconi had to change his former rhetoric, and give in to the present call for European unity in approaching Russia.

Reappearance of Russian tanks on streets of the European country since the Prague spring 1968 , and vicarious demands to topple the current Georgian government shows that Kremlin policy makers still have not changed the thinking patterns of the Cold War era. The Russian Federation and particularly its PM won a Pyrrhic victory so far. Mr Putin' s wish to consolidate "his energy empire" backfired, because the US and the EU have vital interests securing alternative energy sources from the Caspian Sea region. The whole mechanism of interdependence between the Russian Federation and the EU should be reassessed now. Wholesome interdependence cannot be played according to the zero - sum game rules that the former Russian presidency played for the last eight years. The latest events in Georgia clearly show that Kremlin's policy makers still stick to the old paradigms of structural realism, and that the modern ideas of international relations are foreign to them.

The weight of Kremlin power and its cynical political games have blinded Mr Putin personally. The Russian PM probably thinks that all rulers should act similarly to him, and that probably explains his irritation about the personality of Mr Saakashvili and his irresponsible remark about Mr Putin. After Kremlin invaded other member of its own creation, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Republic of Georgia slammed the doors of the CIS. Actions of Kremlin were thus poorly staged, that even its staunchest autocratic allies and none (!) of the CIS members supported Kremlin's adventures.

The forthcoming months prior the US presidential elections have coincided with further determination of the balance of power in Kremlin. It will be a time when a new modus vivendi between the US and Russia will be formed. Also the US presidential candidates McCain and Obama are busy positioning themselves vis-a-vis Russia.

The EU member state presidents from Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and the Ukrainian president were in Tbilisi to support Georgian people to withstand the dire situation their country has found itself. Polish, Baltic and Ukrainian leaders have fresh memories about the harshness of Soviet yoke. They understood, that leaving the irresponsible Kremlin bear unattended in Georgia will only intoxicate the beast and then none of the neighboring countries around Russia can feel safe. Apparently Polish, Ukrainian and 3B representatives were not happy with the initial draft of the Sarkozy brokered peace initative, thus came their joint statement.

The French President's brokered plan was accepted by both warring parties after all. The cease fire is still fragile, Russian forces are still on the Georgian soil where the former have even established illegal checkpoints. There is the NATO emergency session planned for the next Tuesday, and after presidential orders the Secretary of State is visiting Paris and Tbilisi. In spite of the vacation time many Western statesmen are forced to act, while some leaders are still in Beijing.

Q: Where is the Latvian president?
Photo: Leta

Estonian and Lithuanian presidents announced that they will not attend the Beijing Olympic Games. Latvian president was probably tired from the domestic political turmoil, thus he preferred to relax and support Latvian sportsmen/women in Beijing. The US president was at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, and then left to Washington D.C. because of his global responsibilities. Nicolas Sarkozy managed to be at the opening ceremony in Beijing, and after leaving home he managed touring Moscow and Tbilisi as the acting head of the European presidency. Finally he brokered the Georgian and Russian peace deal. In Tbilisi French president had a possibility to meet also Polish, Ukrainian, Estonian, Lithuanian presidents and the Latvian prime minister, while the Latvian president was simply not there. If small democracies want to sustain their long term sustainability and be considered as viable partners in international arena, their politicians must be as active as the leaders of great powers. Valdis Zatlers unfortunately did not live up to his responsibilities when at least 600 000 Latvian citizens expected him as little as to morally support fellow Georgians.

A: The president with his buddies (Aigars Kalvītis & Co) is in Beijing watching basketball

Photo: Aivars Liepiņš

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Impasse or the impossible Georgian affair? (updated)

The Russian invasion of Georgia that Kremlin's bosses euphemistically call "peace enforcement operation" is turning hot. Just happened to watch the joint press conference of the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Serguei Lavrov, and OSCE acting head the Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Alexander Stubb on BBC. Aswers of the OSCE acting head were short, concise and diplomatic. However, the tone of the Russian Foreign Minister was grim when asked about possibility to find a solution to the present conflict. The Russian official simply reiterated announcements of the Russian PM (Putin), the Head of the majority United Russia Party and Speaker of the Russian Duma (Gryzlov) and Federation Council (S. Mironov) - that the current leadership of the Republic of Georgia must leave the office(!!!). After the collapse of the USSR Russia is back in its "near abroad", and without any disguise it acts like a bear in the porcelain shop.

It is just incredulous to hear from the current Kremlin's leadership (in a country without a real press freedom) that the democratically elected president of a neighboring country (Georgia) must step down! Since 1898 Fashoda incident no democracy has ever attacked other democracy in a modern era. It seems that Russia with its questionable behavior wants to officially disqualify itself from the honour to be called democracy for a foreseeable future!

Russian propaganda about the thousands of civilian casualties in the capital of South Ossetia Chinvali have not been proven by any other media channels except the Kremlin's controlled Russian ORT and RTR. Alexander Stubb confirmed that the Finnish president Tarja Halonen has negotiated with her Russian counterpart the right for Alexander Stubb to visit Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia) to asses the magnitude of the Kremlin's called civilian catastrophe. In the meantime Human rights watch, independent and other Russian media channels ask, where are those thousands of civilian casualties, that Kremlin controlled media has been blaming "the Georgian leadership of slaughtering" for days in a row now?

I just had to give an interview to the Latvian Public Radio and the correspondent asked me whether the Russian adventure might spill over to other areas of the former Soviet Union (Crimea in Ukraine, Northern Kazakhstan), and possibly Latvia? My answer was that although imminently unlikely it very much depends on Russian experience in Georgia, and that further actions of Kremlin's bosses will be determined by the outcome of its Caucasian adventure. To support their Georgian colleague in dire times Polish and Estonian presidents together with their Lithuanian and Ukrainian colleagues, and Latvian PM flew to Tbilisi, according to Postimees. In the meantime the French president should visit his Russian counterpart today, and later he should be in Georgia to meet president Mikhail Saakashvilli.

News just came in that the Russian president has ordered the Russian military to halt all military operations in Georgia, while the Georgian army has taken defensive positions around the capital city Tbilisi. It is a good news for an instant, while the military actions still take place in Kodori gorge in Abhasia!

It is really interesting how the mutually agreed position on conflict final resolution and future coexistence will be found, because Kremlin bosses have now publicly announced that they do not even want to speak with the current Georgian representatives?


French and Russian presidents should have a joint press conference any time soon. In the meantime there is a mass rally in Tbilisi. Whilst seeing the body language of public speeches and knowing the high number of ethnic Georgian refugees driven out from their homes in Abhasia and South Ossetia I feel that Kremlin has miscalculated again. With the latest adventure they have made their traditional and historic ally in Caucasus one of their staunchest foe for a long time.

Perhaps the peace will hold after all, and in the long run it will also settle the new development for the post-Soviet space. Rather ominously there were two looks into the future from the Baltic Sea area by Juka Rislaki and Ernests who published their latest cartoons in today's Diena.

Q: Is it a real end of the USSR?

(The Russian army is bombing Joseph Stalin's native town)

Medvedev&Putin: "We are the guarantors of peace and material abundance!"

Soviet ghost: "We feel sorry for the lost superpower"

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Kremlin's adventures in Caucasus are wrong

Yesterday I just mentioned about the conflict escalation between the self-proclaimed South-Ossetia and the Republic of Georgia forces. Yesterday night there came rather bellicose announcements from the Kremlin bosses and today there is a full scale war going on between Georgian and Russian forces without even declaring a war. Georgians call it invasion of Russian forces in its territory while Russians call it euphemistically "peace enforcement" operation.

Picture: University of Texas

CNN an BBC have quite a good coverage of the conflict. There is a propaganda and cyber war going on in the meantime. I just watched the interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Mr Serguei Lavrov. Reporter asked whether the Russian Federation plans to continue with a full scale war with Georgia. Russian minister resolutely answered no. Further on Mr Lavrov rebuked Georgia's president Saakashvilli's statement about the Russian invasion as a preparation for similar adventures in other former Soviet republics and thus undermining the peace efforts in Europe as rubbish. Mr Lavrov was particularly referring to Baltic States. He accused the Baltic States and particular politicians in Estonia for having territorial demands from Russia, and thus undermining the peace in the region.

After hearing such announcements I cannot not to forget the past events, because the timing of the Russian adventure reminds me about the "tradition"of Soviet comrades to annihilate their weaker opponents while world's attention is driven away.

Just to remind you that when Nazis were marching on Paris in June 1940 the Soviet forces occupied the three Baltic States. When Suez crisis was culminating in 1956 the Soviet forces started suppressing Hungarian revolution in Budapest. During the height of the Kuwait war the Soviet paramilitary forces started onslaught on Vilnius TV tower in Lithuania, and later the Latvian Interior Ministry.

So, here we go with the Russian adventure in the brake away region of South Ossetia that has spilled over to Georgia proper. Apparently the Georgian port city Poti has been levelled by the Russian air force, and Georgians reported about gunning down Russian planes. Anyway, the war correspondents will deliver news from the war zones. But I am trying to reach out with this piece to ones who are in Georgia now, or who are in contact with Georgians on ground. You are on the front line now and knoweth that there are thousands of people in the Baltic States who attentively follow what happens in Sakartvelo.

If Nino Dzotsenidze, Sophy Megrelidze in Tbilisi and Armen Grigoryan in Geneva happen to read this peace just respond to this message, and thus I would learn your new e-mails.

Friday, August 8, 2008


At 8 o'clock on this ominous day the Beijing Olympics started, and before this event the military confrontation between Republic of Georgia and breakaway Republic, South - Ossetia escalated. Major media channels are covering both events and I really have no wish to comment those events. Instead there was latest popularity poll published in Diena today. Since the failed referendum some of the majority coalition members keep repeating that it failed due to the fact, that the majority (900 000) who did not appear in voting stations were AGAINST the referendum agenda. To prove how ludicrous are such announcements here is the result of the poll about the popularity of Latvian parliament and government.

Trust of the Latvian parliament in July & trust of the Cabinet in July, 2008

Does not trust - green

Trust - red

Do not know & N/A - grey

P.S. For those of you reading in Latvian here is a piece I wrote today.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The symbol of present governing elite in Latvia - spinelessness! (updated)

It was rumoured yesterday that the president would arrive to the Saeima, the Latvian talking shop to deliver his constitutional amendments en route to Beijing Olympics. Today the president was able to deliver mere inconsequential speech scolding MP's for their lack of work ethics, abrupt end of the tripartite discussions with the trade unions, and bad communication skills. President specified that those 40% of Latvian voters who participated in Saturday's referendum wanted to dissolve the parliament and president reminded that MP's should take such a fact into consideration. Also president blamed parliamentarians for the lack of initiative and particularly blamed them for not coming out with their own version of the constitutional amendments.

The president is either naive, or he is buying more time. If he is naive then nobody can help him. If he is trying to buy more time, then I am afraid that he has no clue about the extent of discontent in the Latvian society. V. Zatlers caught media attention in Bucharest NATO summit whilst supporting Georgia's and Ukraine's aspirations to be awarded the membership action plan with his ominous phrase": "no plan, no action". To paraphrase the author of these words, "if there is no time-frame for constitutional amendments, there is no action from the Saeima". If the present Latvian MP' s are not pressured they simply lack any initiative. It seems that the president has not realized that, and foolishly believes that perhaps MP's consider him as the authority (it is enough just to read opinion of Gundars Bērziņš to learn quite the contrary).

It is not easy for the former surgeon (V.Zatlers) to understand nuances of the post-Soviet governance, and I believe that the whole speech was poorly staged show. The same speech could have been aired in radio, or TV. Why is there need for the speech if MP's are not even allowed to debate after it? After all, it was announced right after the referendum that the president called for the emergency session of the parliament (Art.20) where he planned to use his rights of legal initiative (Art.47), and thus the speech would be about the consequences of the August 2 referendum. The speaker of the parliament and presidium, who are entitled to announce the emergency session according to the Article 20 of the constitution, thought that there is a need for the presidential monologue only. Thus, as a protest the opposition New Era (JL) party members left the parliament building. In the meantime opposition parties collected 1/3 of signatures that are needed (Art.20) for calling another emergency session of the parliament.

Opposition parties (JL, Civic Union, Reconciliation Centre, Artis Pabriks and Aigars Štokenbergs) want to discuss a motion that would prepare constitutional amendments enabling no less than 1/10 of the voters to initiate dissolution of the parliament in today's emergency session. The motion stipulates that the sub-committee should be created and the bill of the constitutional amendents should be finalized until October 1, 2008 in order to pass those constitutional changes during autumn 2008 session of the parliament.

The conservative majority seems to sleep on their laurels while the discontent in the society is brooding. There is no decisive action from the majority unless they are forced so by referendums or opposition disobedience actions. Spinelessness, no rational discussions and absolute lack of the long-term political planning is the best description for the behavior of the present majority clique in the parliament. To conclude, I want to use a comment in Diena about the presidential speech by the author named Ceplis. He was poignantly true when describing today's emergency session of the parliament.

"Prezident, pabariet mūs un aizrādiet par nepadarīto, bat atcerieties, ka tikai ar mēru... nu jūs jau saprotiet, lai cilvēki domā, ka pēc tā notiks aktīva rīcība !" Kalvītis, Daudze, Šlesers u.c. koalīcijas deputāti. [Mr President, scold us and make remarks about our unperformed tasks! But in the meantime you should remember not to must understand that the folks out there should simply believe in decisiveness of your speech! Kalvītis, Daudze, Šlesers a.o. governing coalition MP's ]


The Saeima emergency session is over just before 12.00CET and the opposition's demand for another emergency session was voted down. Today the Saeima official joker Juris Dobelis (TB/LNNK) was able to shine in the limelight of his own populism again. Prior voting on opposition motion J. Dobelis announced "that nothing should be done in a hurry", and continued with the idea that the referendum about constitutional amendments was a crushing defeat for the 600 000 people who came, because they are minority vis-a-vis those 900 000 naysayers or persons who did not come to referendum at all. Dobelis underlined that there are saboteurs who want to undermine stability in the republic, and he also suggested listening to the Lithuanian PM, who said to BNS another day that initiatives about constitutional amendments probably were prepared with the "methods prepared by the Kremlin's spin doctors."

So be it, and the Latvian population is scared by its so called leaders again. Prior the referendum those were PM and the speaker of the parliament, and now it is the official joker of the parliament. There are multitude of persons who listen to these scary tales, and they do not understand that it is a smokescreen for diverting attention from the fundamental problems of the Latvian governance - questionable work of legislators reflected in nonexistence of mandatory property and tax declaration system, faulty political parties financing law, criminal code and dysfunctional tax regime. Finally, the fact is that if in other European countries governing and opposition parties cannot work together because of the constitutional crisis they dissolve the parliament themselves. Latvian politicians, president included, are spineless and forgetful about the roots of the present discontent - the stolen elections in October 2006 and thus the untouchables feeling represented by the majority coalition MP's. Thus, there is no one to call for snap elections and the rat race a'la letton continues.

The head of the judicial committee Vineta Muižniece (People's Party-TP) announced that sub-committee for preparation of the constitutional amendments is being created under auspices of the judicial committee. However, there is no time-frame provided and it means that those amendments can be easily dragged through the corridors of the Latvian parliament until September 2010. So be it now until the next referendum on August 23.

No trust and accountability expected from the spineless rulers of this ...

Photo: Evija Trifanova

and this hall...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Constitutional amendments after the referendum on constitutional amendments? (updated)

The ominous referendum is over. Forty percent of the eligible voters or 2/3 of the voters who participated in the parliamentary elections in 2006 announced that they are not satisfied with the way their republic is governed. In any European democracy the political elite should take such forceful show of political participation into consideration. Latvian present "political clique" is of different breed. Except the PM Godmanis the rest of the governing coalition bigwigs assume that the majority of population is content with the way Latvia is ruled. So be it with the present Latvian "political elite", and they can really enjoy their Pyrrhic victory for a little while.

In the meantime it was an announcement of historic magnitude that came amidst the ongoing referendum campaign. Last Friday the TV3 "Nekā Personīga" show was the first media outlet that disclosed the ill famous "Lembergs stipend list". The latter is the notorious list to what also the former president Vīķe Freiberga was referring in her farewell speech in Saeima, the Latvian parliament. Last May she rather ominously concluded in her speech that "the sword of Damocles" is hanging over the heads of certain politicians, and for the sake of cleaning up the Latvian political environment she asked the leaders of political parties to start the "purification process" themselves. It is obvious today, that leaders of political parties do not care about such ethical suggestions particularly from the retired president, because they are scared. They are afraid to lose their material benefits, because most of the party members have taken mortgage, leased a car, and are also busily eager to fill their pension funds. It means that if they should lose their MP seat, they would have problems finding another job, thus just thinking about probable future discomfort makes them to behave the way they behave.

The president has called for the extraordinary session of the parliament although the Art. 46 of the constitution gives him the right to convene only the extraordinary sessions of the Cabinet. Perhaps the president is in hurry to make it to Beijing Olympics, thus such a hurry. Nevertheless, he announced that he wants to use his right (Art.47) to initiate legal amendments. He is planning to submit his version of constitutional amendments that would allow qualified number (250 000) of voters to initiate the dissolution of the parliament among other things. President's amendments were prepared by the group of constitutional law experts and led by the member of the European Court of Human rights Mr Egīls Levits.

So called president's amendments are upgraded version of the amendments on Art. 78-79 proposed by the popular motion, and voted upon last Saturday. If president is serious about the need to pass those constitutional amendments he should make it as an ultimatum for the parliament to pass them till the end of the autumn session around Christmas, as suggested by Iveta Kažoka. Also former Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks contemplates about same ideas, and suggests that in case the parliament would not act swiftly the president should act decisively and use his constitutional powers. After all, the president has a power (Art.48) to initiate the dissolution of the parliament.

Will it be possible to elect accountable and politically responsible representatives to fill those seats...
Photo: Saeima

I doubt about the ability of the 9th Saeima members to change their behavior. Delfi reported yesterday that the PM asked his coalition partners about possible resignation after learning the referendum results, but they had convinced him not to do it. Also Diena quotes the head of the People's Party (TP) fraction head Mr Kučinskis saying: "president strongly overestimates the ability to pass those constitutional amendments until the end of the year. Until that date the document could be passed only in the first reading."

Problems of the present government and Saeima stem not from suddenly 610 000 voters being dissatisfied. The reason for dissatisfaction is faulty and very often questionable legislation - the slow process of the anti money laundering law just being the most vivid example here. Such examples as I just mentioned are myriad, and loopholes in existing laws allow different interest groups have an inordinate influence on the way the country is governed.

Now, we should wait until the legal amendments of the Latvian president would be given to the parliament tomorrow. It is interesting, whether he would stipulate the need to have also certain time frame for this law to be passed in the parliament? Without a specified time frame MP's can easily delay their legislative duties until the next legislative elections in October 2010. And there is the August 23 referendum coming as well, thus to manipulate the outcome of the forthcoming referendum Latvian parliamentarians could actually make miracles and pass president's constitutional amendments prior this ominous date!?


Diena just reported that opposition Civic Union (PS) party has prepared their version of constitutional amendments and delivered them to the Saeima presidium. Reasons for such a sudden legislative rush are twofold. First, when popular amendments were voted down in the parliament, then the constitution stipulates that they must be voted in popular referendum without any amendments. Second, there are rumours about a possibility of the president not actually delivering constitutional amendments but the opinion of his constitutional commission instead. The president on his way to meet his Chinese counterpart apparently wants just to signal the parliament that they should bear in mind the real raison d' etre of the past referendum. Anyway, the primary task of the legislative branch is to legislate (!), and regardless of the president delivering his commission's amendments or just opinions about possibility to change the constitution there is one opposition party that acted already

The PS is actually using the legislative initiative from the past times. Just prior the coup d'etat in May 15, 1934 Latvian MP's already failed to pass the amendments that would allow 1/10 of the electorate to dissolve the parliament. The PS proposes to change the Art. 14 ("the electors may not recall any Members of the Saeima.") of the Satversme as follows: "no less than 1/10 of the electors may initiate the referendum about dissolving of the parliament. If majority of voters wants to dissolve the parliament, that is not smaller than the half of the total number of participants in the last elections, then parliament is sacked and new elections must be announced which must take place no later than two months after the referendum. Electors cannot recall single members of the Saeima"

Reasonable proposal indeed, and shall see what will be the text that the president is planning to deliver to the parliament tomorrow. Also, rather ominously already the speaker of the parliament Mr Daudze announced that there will be no debates after the speech of the president (!), because according to G. Daudze there is nothing to debate after presidential speeches...(douze points:-)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

August 2 refrendum day (updated)

Until 16.00 there were 30.09% of Latvian voters or 445 076 persons who voted in the referendum already. The next announcement from the Central election bureau should be at 20.00 local time.

Updated (Monday morning)

At the end 628 831 voters turned out and it was insufficient number for considering this plebiscite valid. However, this number means that 40,09% of all the eligible voters in Latvia wanted to see transformaion of the stagnant political system. Among the referendum participants there were 608 000 voters who said AYE and 19 000 naysayers.

To give you comparative perspective there were 469 934 voters who voted for the governing coalition parties (People's Party (TP) 177 481, Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) 151 595, Latvian First Party and Latvian Way Union (LPP/LC) 77 869, Fatherland Union (TB/LNNK) 62 989) during the last parliamentary elections in 2006, which could have been announced illegal by the Supreme Court of Latvia, and when the total voters turnout was 60,98%.

One issue is clear now - the rift between the governing "elite" and the voters cannot be really healed without snap elections in Latvia.