Saturday, February 24, 2007

Missile Defense Plan Continues To Heat Up

PRAGUE -- As if the Bush administration didn’t have its hands full already with the “war on terror” spiraling out of control in Iraq and even Afghanistan, and talk of Iran being the next target, U.S. plans to base parts of its anti-missile shield system in former Warsaw Pact nations Poland and the Czech Republic is threatening to rekindle the Cold War.

Under the proposal, the Czechs would house the radar system and the Poles the silos with 10 rockets to shoot down missiles fired from “rogue regimes” like Iran and North Korea. The United States already has missile interceptor sites in California and Alaska.

Russia, however, fears the system could be aimed at them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the proposal is further proof of the United States’ “increasing disregard for the fundamental principles of international law.” Putin has accused Washington of trying to reignite the global arms race.

General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russian army chief of staff, speculated publicly about whether to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which had led to the disarmament of medium-range missiles. General Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of Russia’s missiles forces, has said Russian missiles could be aimed at the Czech Republic and Poland if they agree with the U.S. plan.

Russia is also planning to spend $189 billion to beef up its military. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has announced plans for drastic increases in the number of ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. The Russians also plan to quadruple the number of Topol-M missiles.

In the West, the saber-rattling talk from Putin and his military illustrates that it is Putin’s Russia that is looking for conflict. Putin is viewed as a growing autocrat bent on using all means possible, namely oil and natural gas, to regain influence in the former Soviet empire and Western Europe.

However, the U.S. decision to base parts of its anti-missile system is another sign of waning Russian influence in its former empire and how Washington is creeping closer. NATO has gobbled up much of Eastern Europe and even the former Baltic Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, putting this U.S.-dominated military club right on Russia’s border. Ukraine and Georgia could join NATO in the future. U.S. military forces are in other former Soviet republics, including, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan. Russia finds itself increasingly encircled, hence the paranoid over the anti-missile shield.

Russia wants Washington to promise in writing that the missile system is not aimed at its country, according to a Feb. 6 Interfax report.

“The Russians say, ‘This is my backyard. You need our cooperation.’ They are right. You cannot stop Iran or contain Iran without Russia. You need the Russians on board,” Andrew Brookes, a space technology expert at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the AFP news agency on Jan. 26.

Russian objections may be the strongest, but they are not the only ones.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung have criticized the US for failing to discuss the plans with Moscow. Iran didn't possess any intercontinental rockets that could reach the United States, Steinmeier added.

Opposition to the project is strong in both Poland and the Czech Republic. But it appears the governments in Warsaw and Prague aren’t listening. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and his Polish counterpart Jaroslaw Kaczynski have said they back the proposal. Ironically, the hostile reaction from Moscow has probably tipped more pols and the public into the pro-camp.

The leader of the Czech opposition Social Democrats, Jiri Paroubek has backed off from calls for a referendum after “being leaned on,” by U.S. officials in Prague, according to the London Guardian.

Lost in the whole debate is whether, militarily at least, there is any point to building a radar station in the Czech Republic. According to Bruno Gruselle, a researcher at the Paris-based Strategic Research Foundation, “the U.S. military already has radar stations in Norway, in Greenland, and in Britain—on top of its Defense Support System satellite alert system—which permit the early detection of missiles, wherever they come from.”

Perhaps the U.S. goal is more political than military. In his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard, former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote that maintaining U.S. primacy would require Washington “to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to prevent the barbarians from coming together.”

None of the vassals here in “New Europe” are making any mention of that.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Polish Parliamentarian Publishes Controversial Pamphlet

A pamphlet has whipped up a firestorm of protest among Jews in Europe. Maciej Giertych, a Polish member of the European Parliament, earlier this week published his short tract, "Civilizations at War in Europe", in which he sets out some pretty controversial thoughts. According to dpa, the pamphlet contains such doozies like Jews form a "civilization of programmed separateness, of programmed differentiation from the surrounding communities (and) prefer to live a separate life, in apartheid from surrounding communities." Also that Jews "tend to migrate from poorer to richer lands." The European Jewish Congress is upset, to put it mildly. It says the book-pamphlet (not sure which) reeks of medieval hate and 19th Century racial stereotyping. They want Giertych stripped of his parliamentarian immunity and they say they could take the guy to court. Making matters worse, the European parliament actually put up coin to publish Giertych's dubious tract. According to the French daily Liberation, the European parliament has no intention to move against Giertych. German lawmaker Hans-Gert Poettering told Liberation, "There is no censorship a priori of publications published by European deputies. It is contrary to European values." The 71-year-old Giertych holds some pretty hard-right views, including opposing homosexuality, and moral relativism. He's a literalist when it comes to the Bible. Believes the "creationist" tale and once calculated the size of Noah's Ark. If interested in more of this guy's bio, check out his bio on Wikipedia.

Poles Plan To Pave Over One Of Europe's Only Wetlands

The Rospuda Valley is one of Europe's most unique wetlands. According to Greenpeace, the wetland in northeast Poland is home to a wide array of flora and fauna, many of them extremely rare, even on the verge of extinction! Sounds like the perfect place to run a road through, right folks? Sadly, the Polish government thinks so, and is going ahead with plans to build a 17-kilometer stretch of an elevated highway through the Rospuda wetland to the popular Mazurian lakes resort town of Augustow. Doubly sadly, the country's evironmental minister Jan Szyszko has signed off on the project. The highway is a piece in a bigger asphalt puzzle. The idea is to build a highway linking Poland with its fellow EU friends up in the Baltic, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Not everyone is smitten with the project, and not just granola-crunching tree-huggers. Poland's Ombudsman and the bigger honchos in Brussels, the European Commission, think the project doesn't meet strict EU environmental rules. According to German news agency dpa, the European Court of Justice could hand down fines if they find the project violates EU legislation. Greenpeace is taking action as well, more direct. They've set up a camp in Rospuda to block construction.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The European Parliament CIA Saga

Well CEEI readers, yours truly has been chronicling off and on this European parliamentary probe into CIA rendition flights and other skullduggery on European soil. Well, on Valentine's Day, they issued their final report. More precisely, the report was voted on by over a thousand lame lawmakers. Yes, that number is right. Here's how the vote broke down: 382 backed the report, 256 voted against, and 745 abstained. Wow, the European parliament is big. Anyway, the final report more or less repeated some of the stuff I've already reported. At least 1,245 CIA flights alleged in and out of Europe since 9/11. The lawmakers picked on several countries including Spain, Romania and Poland. It also said the Italian government had to know of the extraordinary rendition of Abu Omar within its territory. An Italian prosecutor wants to try 26 Americans, all but one CIA spooks, and six Italians over the 2003 kidnapping of the Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milian. The vote broke down the left-right political spectrum. Socialist Claudio Fava, who authored the report, said, "It is the rigorous analysis of five years of excesses and abuses often tolerated in the name of the fight against terrorism." On the other side of the aisle, rightwingers accused the accusers of 'anti-Americanism." Jas Gawronski, a leading conservative, said the report, "presumes there is one chief guilty party and that is the United States. That's why we don't like this report." Think this will be anything more than another report to be tossed in the pile and forgotten, think again. EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said: "It is not for the European institutions to pass judgement and to hand out verdicts but... to ask that the truth be sought." He was refurther to further probes at the national level now ongoing in several states including Germany, Spain and Portugal. On Wednesday, Switzerland started criminal proceedings against those responsible for the abduction of Abu Omar in Italy and allegedly flown thru Swiss airspace. According to the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation, U.S.-registered planes suspected of being used by the CIA crossed Swiss airspace at least 74 times since 2001.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bulgaria and Romania To Be Launch Pad For US Attack On Iran?

Will the U.S. launch its much-feared assault on Iran from Romania and Bulgaria? Both countries are part of what Donny Rumsfeld called the "New Europe" that is not wise to the deceit and lies of Washington like "Old Europe", and has an almost starry-eyed admiration for all American, at least as far as these countries elites go, and, after all, as Mr. Bush put it, they are the 'deciders.' Well, an obscure Bulgarian news agency, Novinite, put out an item at the end of January saying the U.S. "could be using its two air force bases in Bulgaria and one at Romania's Black Sea coast to launch an attack on Iran in April." The report was picked up by Scotland's Sunday Herald and that got picked up by other papers including this report by the Turkish Daily News. As the Sunday Herald report notes Bulgaria is "setting up new refueling places for US Stealth bombers, which would spearhead an attack on Iran." Bulgaria okayed 3 bases for U.S. troops in April, 2006. As an American official told the Washington Times having bases in the Balkans would put the American nearer to the 'action'. "One of the key issues anywhere is our ability to use our soldiers where we need them." "Otherwise, we would be tying ourselves [down]. The old model [during the Cold War] was that we had forces in Europe because we thought we'd fight in Europe." It was also a sweet deal for the Yanks: Officials of both countries said the United States will not pay rent for its use of the Bezmer and Graf Ignatievo air bases and the Novo Selo army training range and storage facility. But, according to the agreement, it will cover "operational and maintenance expenses." As to whether the Romanians are in on the Iran attack plot, China's "People's Daily reported the Romanian Defense Ministry has kept its mouth shut, but the Chinese note interestingly that Defense Minister Sorin Frunzaverde is paying a working visit to the United States on Jan. 30 - Feb. 3. For those who believe this is all bluff and fear mongering, think again. As this Guardian article notes, plans to bomb Iran are well advanced at the Pentagon. Stay tuned...