The Great Debate UK
from Chrystia Freeland:
For anyone who ever hoped Russia could become a liberal, free-market democracy, the grim trial last month of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon who was once his country’s richest man, offered a slender solace—it was widely and loudly condemned.
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, compared the prosecution to that of the late poet and Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky. Joe Nocera, writing about the business and economic consequences in The New York Times (whose global edition is the International Herald Tribune), described the Kremlin’s tactics as “boneheaded.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the case would “have a negative impact on Russia’s reputation,” and particularly on its “investment climate.” What was notable about this chorus of foreign criticism was the implication that, even judged by the Kremlin’s own standards of realpolitik, the treatment of Mr. Khodorkovsky was a mistake. Moscow’s leaders want to restore Russia’s wealth and greatness: Western assertions that the Khodorkovsky trial had hurt Russia’s reputation and would discourage foreign investment suggested that the Kremlin was harming its own cause.
But some investors, economists and political analysts are drawing a different, and much starker, conclusion: The Khodorkovsky verdict was an inevitable and logical act of self-preservation by a regime that is fully and lucratively in control of Russia.
In this reading, there is nothing accidental about Mr. Khodorkovsky’s continued imprisonment. It is, instead, the clearest possible statement of the rules of Kremlin capitalism, and of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s confidence that, at least as long as Siberia has oil, there is plenty of private capital willing to play.
from Global News Journal:
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has dismissed suggestions that her diplomats are part-time spies, as suggested by the latest batch of documents released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
"Let me be very clear -- our diplomats are just that, they're diplomats," Rice told reporters at the United Nations where she was peppered with questions about the latest chapter in the WikiLeaks scandal. "Our diplomats are doing what diplomats do around the world every day, which is build relationships, negotiate, advance our interests and work to find common solutions to complex problems."
She didn't exactly deny the charges of espionage. But the top U.S. diplomat in New York did reject the idea that there would be any diplomatic fallout from the release of thousands of documents obtained by WikiLeaks, some of which have been published by The Guardian and other newspapers.
One U.S. diplomatic cable published by The Guardian shows how the State Department instructed diplomats at the United Nations and elsewhere around the world to collect credit card and frequent flyer numbers, work schedules and biometric data for U.N. officials and diplomats. Among the personalities of interest was U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as were the ambassadors of the other 14 Security Council member states.
There is nothing new about espionage at the United Nations, but it's always embarrassing when classified documents proving it happens surface in the media.
Most Security Council envoys declined to comment on the WikiLeaks documents as they headed into the council chambers on Monday for a meeting on North Korea. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, however, told reporters, "Surprise, surprise."
Churkin should know. One of the diplomats in his charge was implicated earlier this year in a high-profile Russian espionage case in the United States in which nearly a dozen people were accused of being part of a Russian spy ring that carried out deep-cover work in the United States to recruit political sources and gather information for Moscow. The U.S. Justice Department said that an unnamed diplomat at the Russian mission to the United Nations had delivered payments to the spy ring.
And then there was the man known as "Comrade J", a Russian spy based in New York from 1995 to 2000. Working out of Russia's U.N. mission, Comrade J directed Russian espionage activity in New York City and personally oversaw all covert operations against the United States and its allies in the United Nations. According to a book about his exploits, Comrade J eventually became a double agent for the FBI.
Nor does the history of U.N. espionage end there. In 2004, a former British cabinet minister revealed that British intelligence agents had spied on Ban Ki-moon's predecessor Kofi Annan, who fell afoul of Washington and London by opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was also the victim of a phone-bugging operation, according to media reports from 2004. He had also opposed the invasion of Iraq and angered the United States by saying that their intelligence on Saddam Hussein's alleged revival of his nuclear arms program was not only incorrect but partly based on falsified evidence. U.S. officials pored over transcripts of ElBaradei's telephone intercepts in an attempt to secure evidence of mistakes that could be used to oust him from his post, the reports said. Not only did they fail to unseat him, he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
Some eye-catching numbers from Standard Bank out today on the influence of BRICs countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- on Africa.
First off, the bank says the global recession and its recovery have been nourishing these so-called South-South ties. But it is all now ready to take off. The bank estimates:
from The Great Debate:
By Masha Gessen
The author is a guest contributor to Reuters.com. The views expressed are her own and not those of Thomson Reuters.
"Are you scared?" someone asked me during a talk in New York last Friday night.
I always get that question. I am a journalist working in Russia, where 19 murders of journalists remain unsolved. Russia ranks eighth in the Impunity Index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists -- the only European country on the list, it is wedged between Nepal and Mexico.
from Chrystia Freeland:
Get ready for the next wave of globalization. The emergence of the emerging markets is old news, of course: after all, Tom Friedman discovered that the world was flat back in 2005. But even as much of the developed world is struggling with weak consumer demand and stubbornly high levels of unemployment, the emerging market countries are writing a new chapter in the story of the global economy.
We are accustomed to thinking of our economic relationship with the countries Fareed Zakaria describes as “the rest” as a two-way exchange between west and east or north and south: western companies setting up call centers in India or manufacturing their goods in China, for instance; and, more recently, savings-rich emerging market economies, especially China, investing in US treasuries, or Russian oligarchs buying London mansions.
Russian initial public offerings are set for a comeback. Some $20 billion of Russian share sales are forecast this year, including dozens of IPOs. With plenty of options, investors should be able to drive a hard bargain.
Following a two-year lull in activity, bankers are excited at the prospect of a return to the heady days of 2006 and 2007, when Russian companies raised some $37 billion in 42 international share issues. Media group Profmedia plans to raise $500 million in April with a London listing, while iron ore miner Metalloinvest and coal miner SUEK are mulling billion-dollar IPOs in 2010.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has come out with a new report that tries to measure, country by country on a global level, government and social restrictions on religion. You can see our coverage of the report here and here and can download the whole report here.
The report, which Pew says is the first major quantitative study of the subject on a global level, ranks countries under two indices -- one measures government restrictions on religion, the other social hostilities or curbs on religion that stem from violence or intimidation by private individuals or groups.
from Global News Journal:
Western responses to President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal for a new European-Atlantic security body that stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok have ranged from dismissive to lukewarm. None have been enthusiastic.
But some inside and outside Russia argue it would be unwise for Europe and the United States to reject the proposal out of hand, not least because, as one Russian official put it, this is one of the few occasions where Russia isn’t disagreeing but coming up with something constructive.
from Global Investing:
Some fascinating data about the growing power of emerging markets, particularly the BRICs, was on display at the OECD's annual investment conference in Paris this week. Not the least of it came from MIGA, the World Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which tries to help protect foreign direct investors from various forms of political risk.
MIGA has mainly focused on encouraging investment into developing countries, but a lot of its latest work is about investment from emerging economies.
from Global Investing:
It may end up sounding like a famous ball-point pen maker, but an argument is being made that Goldman Sach's famous marketing device, the BRICs, should really be the BICs. Does Russia really deserve to be a BRIC, asks Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an article for Foreign Policy.
Åslund, who is also co-author with Andrew Kuchins of "The Russian Balance Sheet", reckons the Russia of Putin and Medvedev is just not worthy of inclusion alongside Brazil, India and China in the list of blue-chip economic powerhouses. He writes: