Tag Archives: Putin

What next in Turkey?

Turkey’s election result is a tribute to its vibrant democracy. But there are hard political and economic tests to come.

Written by Dimitar Bechev and Nathalie Tocci. Published 6-9-15 in OpenDemocracy.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, image via internet blogspot

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, image via internet blogspot

At the peak of the protests of May-June 2013 in Turkey, spurred by plans to transform Gezi park in central Istanbul, the country’s then president, Abdullah Gül, made a statement that would go down in political folklore: “Democracy does not consist only of the ballot-box” (“Demokrasi sandıktan ibaret değildir“). He had a point: a democracy worthy of the name is also about other things – the rights of minorities, freedom of speech and association, the rule of law, transparency and accountability – all of them in scarce supply in Turkey, both historically and in more recent days.

Yet, the parliamentary polls on 7 June 2015 are also a strong reminder that the ballot-box can actually be the most robust safeguard of democratic governance. Free and fair elections alone may not suffice. But when a polity, which has experienced multi-party democracy for over half a century, casts its vote, it can help put back on track a process of political transformation gone astray.

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Absurd!

Syrian Za'atri Refugee Camp. Photo by U.S. Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Syrian Za’atri Refugee Camp. Photo by U.S. Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has proclaimed his solidarity with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position regarding the crisis in Ukraine. He extends his sentiments on behalf of the Syrian people, according to a report from EuroNews.

The report includes portions of al-Assad’s message, describing “the Russian leadership’s stance as a “wise policy” in the face of “coup attempts against legitimacy and democracy in favor of the terrorist extremists”. He reiterated Syria’s commitment to Putin’s “rational approach” which he described as supporting “the right and truth” and applauded Russia for “saving the world from dangerous events”.

At the most ironic turn in the message, al-Asaad also states the actions of Putin as being “legitimate and adheres to the UN’s objectives that aim “to create a balanced and transparent world based on respecting the sovereignty of countries and the right of peoples to decide their destiny,” EuroNews said.

It should be noted that Syria obtains most of its military equipment and weaponry through Russia. More than 140,000 people, over 7,000 of them children, have been killed in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war.

This photograph, taken on January 31 and released by UNRWA on February 26, shows the grim reality for those trapped inside the neighborhood of Damascus' Yarmouk Refugee Camp. Photo courtesy United Nation News Centre via Facebook. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/portrait-of-despair-thousands-queue-for-un-food-parcels-in-yarmouk-damascus-20140227-hve0b.html#ixzz2uX0i9hoh     This photograph, taken on January 31 and released by UNRWA on February 26, shows the grim reality for those trapped inside Damascus' Yarmouk Refugee Camp. Photo courtesy United Nation News Centre via Facebook.

This photograph, taken on January 31 and released by UNRWA on February 26, shows the grim reality for those trapped inside the neighborhood of Damascus’ Yarmouk Refugee Camp. Photo courtesy United Nation News Centre via Facebook.

On Wednesday, the day prior to this message, Syrian government airstrikes and barrel bombs tossed from helicopters rained down on the northern city of Aleppo and Yabroud, according to a Daily Star – Lebanon News report. “The airstrikes pounded the neighborhoods of Marjeh, Sukkari, Jalloum and Aqbah, while 11 barrel bombs fell on the Masaken Hanano district, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,” they report.

The Telegraph reports, “Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels in Syria have taken control of Yarmouk camp, ceasing the flow of aid to tens of thousands of civilians who are trapped and living in desperate conditions.” This is the same refugee camp we featured in “Roads to Damascus” on February 28.

The sincerity of al-Asaad’s adherence to the UN objectives, like Putin’s claims in Crimea, are about as absurd as finding polar bears in the Sahara.

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There Will Be Costs

As President Obama spoke these words in reference to Russia’s decision to ramp up their presence in the Crimea, “There will be costs,” we could not help but note this to be perhaps the understatement of the day.

Image By Peter Fitzgerald (:Image:Ukraine regions map.svg) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image By Peter Fitzgerald (:Image:Ukraine regions map.svg) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Our assessment comes not necessarily through agreement with the US stance on the Ukraine matter, but rather in observation of the fact that the costs the Ukraine has before it now are staggering in both complexity and implementation. As the new government moves through its parliament to set the course for the future, the choice they make will come with costs to them.

Crimea has had a sense of autonomy prior to these developments in Kiev. A home for a Russian naval base, Crimea’s population is over 60% ethnic Russian. Many do not speak the Ukraine language, but hold roots to their history of when the Ukraine, and Crimea in particular, were part of the U.S.S.R. They do not wish any of this to change. They view the developments in Kiev as negative, and fear the changes will result in policies that will change their way of life against their will.

United States President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin walk to the G8 Summit dinner following their bilateral meeting in Ireland on 17 June 2013. Photo by Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

United States President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin walk to the G8 Summit dinner following their bilateral meeting in Ireland on 17 June 2013. Photo by Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Russia has always viewed the Crimea as “theirs” and has continued to hold this position since the 1994 Budapest Agreement they signed with the Ukraine. The Budapest Memorandum is a treaty concerning the nuclear disarmament of Ukraine and its security relationship with the US, the UK and Russia. In return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons to Russia, the signatories agreed to respect Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty, among other things. Russia now views the protection of the Black Sea Fleet, their naval unit located in Crimea, as both a responsibility and a right. It is highly unlikely this attitude will change. They have now authorized military action in Ukraine, not limiting actions to the Crimea region.

Former Ukraine President Yanukovich has surfaced in a press conference from within Russia, stating that he has not relinquished power and is still the legitimate ruler of Ukraine. The international community has not responded to his claims, but he has turned to his friend, Putin, asking for Russian support in overthrowing the “bandits” that have seized control of the parliament in Kiev. Arrest warrants have been issued for both Yanukovich and his son,  Oleksandr, by the Ukraine government after documents found trace nearly $67 billion in assets stolen from the country while in power.

At this time, assets in foreign banks have either already been frozen or in the process of being frozen, as the international community responds to these serious charges based on clear evidence. The Guardian reports this is “in response to a request from Kiev targeting the fortunes of up to 20 of the Yanukovych clique. Yanukovych’s family, his former prime minister and former chief of staff all have substantial properties, businesses, and bank accounts in Austria. The foreign ministry in Vienna said assets were being frozen. But the details were leaked to the Viennese press before being implemented, leaving it unclear whether the assets had already been shifted.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine is challenged with finding a way to move forward that allows acceptance by the international community as well as the diverse population within the country. Most observers, including the EU, are encouraging ties be made with the west, meaning the EU and the US. Crimea and Russia see ties to the east as the only correct path forward. Ukraine’s military has been placed on high alert and the new president has stated that military action from Russia would force the Ukraine to sever ties with them. Ukraine has appealed to NATO and the UN for assistance.

Events in Kiev on 2-18-14. Photo By Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/http://www.unframe.com/ (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Events in Kiev on 2-18-14. Photo By Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/http://www.unframe.com/ (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We tend to agree with those who say it might be possible for the Ukraine government to accomplish ties to both, in the interest of maintaining the country’s unity and to stabilize the geopolitical climate in the region. This does not need to be an “either-or” decision.

We want to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin, who states his action are not a violation of any law or agreement but are being taken to bring calm to the Crimea at their request. Russian citizens and troops threatened in Ukraine (Crimea region), need armed forces’ protection, he claims. We also can not ignore the similarities in language and in action taken now to those taken prior to the war with Georgia not that long ago.

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