Daily Archives: April 23, 2010

As Russia Reclaims Its Sphere of Influence, the U.S. Doesn’t Object

Time.com | Apr 22, 2010

By Simon Shuster

Moscow – Five years ago in the former Soviet Union, governments loyal to Moscow were falling roughly every six months. Those were the glory days of the “color revolutions” that brought new leaders to Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in quick succession between 2003 and 2005, all with the backing of the United States. The region’s political center of gravity was tilting sharply toward the West. But now that trend has been reversed. In the past three months, two of those governments have been ousted. Leaders far friendlier to Russia have again taken power in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, displacing the Orange and Tulip revolutions respectively. (Indeed, Kiev just agreed to extend Moscow’s naval lease on the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in exchange for cheaper gas; the previous Ukrainian regime had opposed the move.) The region’s last standing leader of a color revolution (the Rose), Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, is feeling lonelier than ever, and he has a warning for the Obama administration: Don’t give Russia a free hand in the former Soviet bloc.

In an interview with TIME at his glass-domed presidential palace, Saakashvili laid out how he sees the situation: President Barack Obama has been put in an awkward spot by his drive to invigorate ties with the Kremlin, having to deal with the legacy of George W. Bush, who had infuriated Moscow by supporting the color revolutions and building close ties with the governments they brought to power. Now Obama is being urged by the Russians to back away from those relationships. “It’s not just about abandoning your ally Georgia. No, Russia is asking the U.S. to give back the Soviet sphere of influence,” Saakashvili says. (See pictures of the Russia-Georgia war.)

In practical terms, this seems to require three things of the United States and its European allies: do not push for any more ex-Soviet countries to join NATO; do not openly support any opposition movements that seek to oust pro-Russian governments; and more generally, make sure to consult Moscow before going ahead with any big initiatives in Russia’s backyard, especially military ones. Under the Bush administration, all three were ignored, and relations with Russia became nastier than they had been since the Cold War. Obama, on the other hand, has been far more obliging, and his Administration believes Moscow is reciprocating – much to Saakashvili’s chagrin.

Nowhere has this been more clear than in NATO’s changing attitudes. In a statement on April 14, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged NATO countries to integrate Russia into their security strategy instead of seeing Russia as a potential threat. “The United States and Russia now clearly see eye to eye on a range of security issues. And we should use this new momentum to take further steps to enhance our common security,” Rasmussen said. Earlier plans to put Ukraine and Georgia on the fast track to NATO membership have been put aside, and as a result, Russia is helping NATO get its supplies into Afghanistan. The American approach to missile defense in Eastern Europe has also changed. Whereas Bush plowed ahead with his plan despite Moscow’s fierce objections, Obama has invited the Kremlin to take part in a dialogue over the issue. (See pictures of Obama in Russia.)

The Russians are taking notice. “It’s been very encouraging that the U.S. has refused to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic policy in the way it was doing during the Orange Revolution [in 2004]. Americans have also sharply cut their support to Georgia. At least they are not giving one dollar of military assistance, as far as I know, to Saakashvili,” says Sergei Markov, a long-time Kremlin spin doctor and a parliamentary deputy for the United Russia party led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Officially, of course, the Obama team insists it has not turned away from U.S. allies for the sake of better ties with Moscow, and Saakashvili says he has “no reason to complain about day-to-day relations.” The U.S. has also continued to criticize Russia for occupying about a fifth of Georgia’s territory after the two countries fought a war in 2008. But that war still marked a turning point for America’s broader strategy. It showed that Russia was willing to use force to defend its interests in the region, while the United States could be dragged into a war if it continued to oppose those interests to the end. Even the Bush administration was not prepared to take that risk. “[Bush’s Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice told me that you must avoid an open military conflict with Russia,” says Nino Burjanadze, former speaker of the Georgian parliament and now a leading opposition figure. “She told me, ‘We respect Georgia, but we will not go to war with Russia over Georgia.'” (See 10 things to do in Moscow.)

That approach probably saved the U.S. from a military catastrophe, and now under Obama, the U.S. has become even less willing to cheer on Russia’s adversaries. It has instead embraced Russia as a partner for global security, and this tactic is paying off. Concrete agreements have already been signed, most notably this month’s treaty to reduce the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals by a third. But it remains to be seen how countries like Georgia will fit into this budding relationship. Right now, it doesn’t appear congenial to the government in Tblisi. As Russia continues to clamor to have Saakashvili removed from office, the United States seems to be keeping him at arms length. At this month’s nuclear non-proliferation conference in Washington, Obama snubbed Saakashvili’s request for their first one-on-one meeting, and instead sat down with the new Kremlin-friendly president of Ukraine, who had agreed at the summit to get rid of his country’s highly enriched uranium.

Sitting in his luxurious office a few days before the Washington summit, Saakashvili was in a dour mood, and seemed a bit nostalgic for the Bush years. He is still the only leader to name a street after George W. Bush, and says there is a lesson to be learned in the way the previous White House tried to “pre-empt” the risk of Russian aggression, “rather than turn a blind eye and hope it goes away.” The threat Russia poses to his government, he says, is still as strong as ever, and the West’s softer tone toward Russia is not going to help. “From my experience of the Russian perspective, every softening of language is perceived as weakness, as an acknowledgment of any strength Russia has locally.” That strength is clearly growing with the arrival of Kremlin-friendly governments in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and Washington seems fine with that as long as relations with Russia thrive. As for the color revolutions, they look to be fading away.

Arizona governor calls for more border protection

A Customs and Border Patrol agent patrols along the international border in Nogales, Ariz. Thursday, April 22, 2010. Illegal immigration and border security are heating up as issues after the slaying of a border-area rancher and imminent passage of state legislation to crack down on illegal immigration. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Associated Press | Apr 22, 2010

by Paul Davenport And Jonathan J. Cooper

PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer again called for more troops along the state’s border with Mexico on Thursday, two days before a deadline for her to approve or strike down the nation’s toughest legislation on illegal immigration.

The Republican governor ordered a reallocation of state National Guard and law enforcement resources and called on the federal government to deploy National Guard troops as hundreds of Hispanics protested the bill at the State Capitol complex.

“The responsibility to ensure that we have an orderly, secure border — not just some imaginary line or a rickety fence — belongs to the federal government, and they have failed,” Brewer said, adding that she has asked five times for President Barack Obama to deploy troops.

Part of the plan requires approval from the federal government, including funding for an additional 250 National Guard troops to support anti-drug measures on the border. Brewer said the price tag is too high for the cash-strapped state to cover.

Brewer’s border security plan follows others released by Arizona politicians over the past two weeks in the wake of the death last month of a rancher on his property in southeastern Arizona. Authorities believe he was killed by an illegal border crosser.

The death came weeks before the state’s GOP-led Legislature passed the sweeping illegal immigration bill that would, among other provisions, require police to question people about their immigration status if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally. It also would make it a crime for illegal immigrants to not have alien registration documents and for residents to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them.

Brewer declined Thursday evening to say what she’d do with the bill but told a dinner meeting of an Hispanic group that she heard and understood concerns about the bill, which the group’s chairwoman had condemned minutes earlier as “a hateful piece of legislation.”

“I can tell you that what I decide will be based on what’s right for Arizona,” Brewer said.

Members of the audience attending the Chicanos Por La Causa Inc. dinner called out “veto” as Brewer left the hotel ballroom.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon spoke after Brewer, calling for a veto and saying the bill was giving Arizona a black eye.

Earlier, Phoenix high school students ditched class Thursday to demand that she veto the crackdown. Protesters came from as far away as Los Angeles.

“This is not a Latino fight. This a fight against hate,” said Daniel Rodriguez, an Arizona State University graduate from Phoenix, who spoke at the protest.

High school sophomore Citlalli Reyes said she feared police would engage in racial profiling if the bill becomes law.

“They’re trying too hard to get rid of us,” the 16-year-old Phoenix resident said.

Supporters of the law deny it will spur racial profiling. They contend its provisions will help drive illegal immigrants from the state, allowing the taxpayers to save money on services and reducing crime.

Arizona, which has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants and is the nation’s busiest border crossing point, has previously passed a variety of get-tough measures dealing with illegal immigration.

New attention was focused on the issues of illegal immigration and border security by the March 27 shooting death of Douglas-area rancher Rob Krentz.

Brewer, who faces a contested Aug. 24 Republican primary, is among numerous officeholders and candidates who have toured the border since Krentz’s death. One of Brewer’s primary election opponents, State Treasurer Dean Martin, called on her to sign the legislation.

“This bill was introduced many months ago, any additional delay is unacceptable. Failure to act exposes Arizona law enforcement officers, citizens, and their property to further harm,” Martin said.

Christian and Jewish clergy called on Brewer to veto the bill, saying its implementation would create distrust between residents and the police.

Day laborers “are not criminals,” said the Rev. Gerald Kicanas, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. “These are human beings who want to provide for their families and contribute to our society.”

Frat inspired by Robert E. Lee bans Rebel uniforms at “Old South” parties

This April 11, 2002 file photo shows members of the Kappa Alpha Order, dressed in Confederate military uniforms, escorting their dates from the James Dormitory at Centenary College during the Old South event in Shreveport, La. amidst protesting Centenary College students. The college fraternity inspired by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has banned members around the country from wearing Confederate uniforms to ‘Old South’ parties and parades after years of complaints that the tradition was racially insensitive.…(AP Photo/The Shreveport Times, Charlie Gesell, File)

Associated Press | Apr 22, 2010

by Jay Reeves

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A college fraternity inspired by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has banned members around the country from wearing Confederate uniforms to “Old South” parties and parades after years of complaints that the tradition was racially insensitive.

The Virginia-based Kappa Alpha Order issued new rules to chapters earlier this year saying members aren’t allowed to wear Rebel uniforms to parties or during their parades, which are a staple on campuses across the South.

The decision, announced in an internal memo posted on the group’s website, followed a flap last year at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where a black sorority complained after a KA parade stopped in front of its house on campus. KA members were dressed in the gray uniforms of Confederate officers, and young women wore hoop skirts.

More than 70 alumnae of the sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, sent a petition to Alabama President Robert Witt complaining about the use of Confederate flags and uniforms on campus.

In the memo to chapters, Kappa Alpha’s national executive director, Larry Wiese, said such displays had to end.

“In today’s climate, the Order can ill afford to offend our host institutions and fend off significant negative national press and remain effective at our core mission, which is to aid young men in becoming better community leaders and citizens,” Wiese wrote.

The KA chapter at Alabama has canceled this year’s Old South parade, which was set for this week. Still, a large Confederate national flag covers the front of its house on campus.

Other KA chapters quit donning Confederate uniforms or holding parades with Old South themes in recent years as criticism grew. The University of Georgia chapter canceled its parade in 2006 after complaints by residents of a black neighborhood. Instead, it switched to a Founder’s Day parade, with members riding horses but ditching Confederate gear.

Auburn University’s chapter ended its Old South parade in 1992 after black students confronted white students with Confederate flags.

Kappa Alphas at Centenary College in Shreveport, La., moved their Old South events off campus in 2002 after drawing protests from the Black Student Alliance and others over the Confederate garb.

On Thursday, the University of Alabama said the decision to call off the parade there was made by the fraternity in consultation with school administrators.

Thomas Wilson, KA’s president at Alabama, said the fraternity supports “an inclusive campus environment, and as an organization we chose not to participate in an activity that we knew other members of the community found offensive.”

“The members of the fraternity understand that when traditions hurt others, even unintentionally, it’s time to change them,” said dean of students Tim Hebson.

An alumna of the black sorority that complained about racial insensitivity at last year’s parade said there are ways for the fraternity to acknowledge its Southern heritage beside dressing up like Confederate soldiers.

“The women of Alpha Kappa Alpha and other racially diverse groups on UA’s campus trust that the men of Kappa Alpha will find ways to commemorate their founders in a spirited and significant manner that simultaneously recognizes the progress that we have made in race relations since the founding of Kappa Alpha and the rich diversity and inclusiveness of our progressive and positive campus,” said Joyce Stallworth, now an associate education dean at Alabama.

Kappa Alpha was founded in 1865 at Washington & Lee University — a school partly named for the Confederate general, and the group calls Lee its “spiritual founder.” It has about 130 chapters nationwide.