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October 2004 Country Archive


Back to the future - One man rule in Russia

 Whilst RUSSIA was reeling in the wake of the school massacre, Vladimir Putin wasted no time to turn the authoritarian screw that much tighter, described in this issue. The rather feeble form of democracy, introduced by Boris Yeltsin has now been finally superseded by effective one-man rule and a return to totalitarianism. How else can one describe it? True, it is at this time lacking the gulag, but with the mass media under firm control, with uniformly unsolved murders of many of those journalists who tried to remain independent; now all-important elected offices at both federal and national level are to be from candidates nominated by the Kremlin. The justice system never goes against the president's wishes, and the slivoviki, ex-KGB and military with massive powers, are confirmed as the new ruling class of Russia, displacing the disgraced oligarchs and responsible only to Putin. If the core of democracy in any country is accountability to it's citizens - that process can no longer be identified in Putin's RUSSIA.

Under communism, the leaders that came after Stalin were responsible not to the people of course, but ultimately to the inner committees of the party. Putin has no such constraints. His Unity Party was his own creation brought into being on the back of his popularity. He now has more personal power than any leader since Stalin. Theoretically he is on his final four year term, but it would now be regarded as astonishing if he doesn't alter the constitution to remain president of RUSSIA for another four years to follow.

In the aftermath of the horrors of the North Ossetian school siege, Russia's apparent stability is actually in some doubt depending on the current tensions in its North Caucasus provinces. There is a real danger of revenge attacks and internecine warfare as blame is distributed on a wider scale amongst themselves, and not just on the obvious Chechen rebels. This area has long had tinderbox potential and of course neighbours GEORGIA on which we report, which hitherto had been making all the news with its breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Islamist Chechen Basayev, may have been fully aware of what would be stirred up throughout the whole of the North Caucasus by his horrific hostage taking.

In amongst the 'Axis of Evil' and a 'Rogue or Two'
Whilst in the USA Bush and Kerry are slugging it out, IRAQ, despite the now embarrassing 'mission accomplished' claim, is undeniably an escalating war-zone. Our report takes in the implications as it acquires the characteristics of a Vietnam, with more bloody offensives promised to re-capture towns and regions abandoned to the rebels. Samarra is ongoing, after the experience of inner-city fighting so far, in Fallujah, Najaf and Baghdad itself, the level of the Iraqi insurgents' self-sacrifice looks in some ways comparable to that of the defenders in the extended WWII sieges of Warsaw and Stalingrad. Whilst the military outcome need not be in doubt, the US army and its Iraqi auxiliaries must be deeply apprehensive about the losses in battling house to house. Casualties could become unsustainable, or so the resistance must hope.

The elections scheduled for January are themselves a potential time-bomb. One neighbour, the Iranians are very supportive of the elections, whilst another, the Jordanians have forecast disaster. IRAN sees the advantage to the already majority Shia that it sponsors in IRAQ, Jordan, a mainly Sunni nation, is fully aware that with Rumsfeld's forecast of 20% - 25 % of the nation disenfranchised by being under insurgent control, the minority Sunni will be reduced to a rump in an elected government, a recipe for a re-run of a three-cornered Lebanese style civil war. With both candidates in America's election hard-pressed to implement an exit-policy, real democracy may be a long way off.

The two US candidates both agreed that nuclear proliferation is the greatest threat to the world today. Bush did not dispute Kerry's claim that NORTH KOREA already has nuclear weapons. We describe the current state of negotiations and comprehensively detail the situation in the 'hermit republic'. IRAN is similarly exercising the world's chancelleries, insisting that their programme is peaceful, whilst the evidence remains inconclusive. There is a real danger of a pre-emptive Israeli airstrike, partly on their own behalf but also as a proxy for the US. The worldwide Islamic reaction to an attack on IRAN could make the current war on terrorism look feeble. Do not believe however that this option is not being weighed in Washington in terms of their November election. Whatever else, we report on how the situation in IRAN merits the most careful scrutiny by the West.

AFGHANISTAN, about to have its first ever elected president, has all the main candidates still playing power games. We describe how this nation that exists on foreign subventions and the export of narcotics, is decidedly brittle in its governing structures and how Karzai faces endless problems in leading his quarrelsome nation to some semblance of what might be recognisable as a democracy.

SYRIA has had a wakeup call by recent events, which we describe, that have exemplified its basic weakness. LIBYA, although remaining classed by the US as a Sponsor of Terrorism, has nevertheless had a US diplomatic mission restored and must be heading for reclassification from its 'rogue' status. The EU nations with Italy in the vanguard, are moving back in and like the US have removed all sanctions. All are hoping to share in LIBYA'S oil wealth, now even more significant given world shortages and prices.

Ukraine Poised between East and West
On UKRAINE this month we present a full report on the immensely important presidential election of October 31st. The future of this troubled country, the largest in Europe and with a population nearing fifty million, is on the cusp. Positioned as it is between the great landmass of Russia, it's former colonial power that longs to resume control, and to the west, the new democracies of Central Europe, the main candidates reflect the competing poles of attraction. As we describe, the outcome will largely determine the direction that UKRAINE will take, towards the EU or now totalitarian Russia.

A wave of new leaders have simultaneously come to power in those same western neighbours, POLAND, HUNGARY and the CZECH REPUBLIC, all as a part of the democratic process. The cause and effect of each of these changes is described in our reports. The former sluggard SLOVAKIA, now a popular international destination for FDI, has joined all three countries in the vanguard of economic growth amongst the former communist satellites.

Statistics.... or Damned Lies
What to do about states that submit false statistics to the world to enhance their status in the world? True, it was commonplace with the communist states and remains so with many third world nations, But GREECE, the earliest of the democracies? Read this months report, which lays it bare.

In addition to these monthly reports we include all of the FSU and FYR republics, as well as important reports on TAIWAN, SOUTH AFRICA, INDIA, VIETNAM and the PHILIPPINES. Forty nations in transition!

Clive Lindley - Publisher 

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