Moscow on manoeuvres

While playing openly on the world stage, Russia holds onto a more subtle influence in Europe

Vladimir Putin has been holding court on the international scene in recent months.

Laughing off US investigations into election meddling, championing the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s civil war efforts, and reining in Western powers’ determined punishment of North Korea.

It waves its veto whenever a Syria resolution is brought before the United Nations, and only gives the green light to sanctions on North Korea that ensure the secretive state does hold onto some wriggle room.

But as all this global drama plays out, Russia also has ongoing geopolitical interests in hidden corners of Europe.

Moldova sits on the shoulder of Romania, jutting into Ukraine. It is an often-overlooked nation – except, perhaps, by European football fans on unique away-days.

It is the poorest country in the region. Economic output last year was $6.8bn, according to the World Bank. Comparable in population size, income status and geography, Albania saw GDP of $11bn, with a much higher life expectancy.

Moldova also has a breakaway, Russian-leaning region.

Transnistria comprises a sliver of land to the east of the River Dniper up to the nearby border with Ukraine.

It has declared independence but is only recognised by other breakaway, Russophile regions, namely Abkhazia and South Ossetia (both parts of Georgia now controlled by Moscow).

Russian is the local lingo, the hammer and sickle is on the flag and citizens buy their shopping with a version of the ruble.

So could Transnistria rejoin the Moscow motherland?

It is not without precedent.

The Russian state of Tuva, now an integral part of the country, is a southern province off the south-east border with Mongolia. And in 1944 it requested incorporation into the Soviet Union. Tuvans enjoyed a 23-year-long independence before calling off their self-governing statehood.

But if Transnistria were to re-incorporate into Russia, then it would be cut off from the mainland. It would be stranded in Europe, surrounded by independent countries wary of Russia.

That, too, would not be anything new.

Nestled between Poland and Lithuania, Kaliningrad is a constituent part of Russia, but an exclave with no direct land connection to the mainland.

Annexed by the Soviet Union after World War Two, when the USSR broke up in 1989, the former Communist Poland and the former Soviet Lithuania declared independence, encircling Kaliningrad, which remained part of Russia.

It may have lost a number of its territories when the Soviet Union collapsed, but there remain several pockets of peoples across Europe who want to break free of their European Union-leaning governments and look to Moscow for their futures.

And if we are looking for a sad illustration of when these disputes turn to war, then there is also an example for this: the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where Russophile rebels are fighting the government in the east of the country.

 

Reporting the dead: Part One

The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) has published its end-of-year report and it does not make easy reading for journalists. This is the first part of a two-part blogpost analysing the data.

In 2010, 105 journalists were killed. Since 2006, 529 have died. The risky countries are not surprising. However, there are different reasons for the dangers faced by reporters and cameramen out on the roads.

There are two main sets of figures the PEC has released: this blogpost will look at this year’s figures and the next blogpost will analyse the global total of journalists’ deaths since 2006.

  • 2010 – Death toll: 105

a) The five most deadly countries in the last year

1 = Mexico and Pakistan 14 dead in both

With more than 3,000 people killed in Ciudad Juarez, a northern border town, this year alone, it is no great shock that the ‘war on drugs’ has claimed journalists’ lives in Mexico. The reporting of drugs deals and violence is often accompanied by death threats and in September the newspaper ‘El Diario de Juarez’ published a frank editorial to the gangs titled ‘What do you want from us?’ and agreed to print what the gangs wanted after one of its photographers was shot dead.

More than 3,000 died in violence in Pakistan last year. Militancy, tribal wars, US drone strikes and the Pakistani armed forces’ battles against Taliban insurgents have contributed to the rising deaths. Journalists covering the militancy have been shot as political, religious and international tensions grow.

3. Honduras 9

Since the 2009 coup, which installed Porfirio Lobo as the new premier, politically-motivated murders have been on the rise. In addition, the contagion of Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ has spread to the country and that has caused further problems for journalists in the field.

4. Iraq 8

US combat operations ceased in Iraq this year but thousands of troops are still in the country training troops and aiding stabilisation policies. The insurgency has claimed 8 journalists’ lives this year alone.

5. The Philippines 6

Religious conflict in the mainly-Muslim south and the ferocious and deadly politics, where ethnicity, party allegiances, family ties and religion meet in a lethal mix, have created an unstable environment in which to report.

b) The deadliest nations in the rest of the world

Africa (14): Nigeria 4, Somalia 3, Angola 2, Uganda 2, Cameroon 1, DRC 1, Rwanda 1

Asia (16): Indonesia 3, Nepal 3, Afghanistan 2, Thailand 2, India 2, Bangladesh 1, Yemen 1, Israel/Gaza 1, Lebanon 1

Europe (11): Russia 5, Belarus 1, Bulgaria 1, Cyprus 1, Greece 1, Ukraine 1, Turkey 1

Latin America (13): Colombia 4, Brazil 4, Venezuela 2, Argentina 1, Ecuador 1, Guatemala 1