Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said today, in no uncertain terms, that Georgia will lose South Ossetia. He also extended this forecast to the separatist enclave of Abkhazia, saying that it was "unlikely Ossetians and Abkhazians will ever be able to live together with Georgia in one state."
In fact, South Ossetia and Abkhazia have enjoyed de facto independence from Georgia for well over a decade, although international recognition has not followed. There are ethnic, religious and cultural differences between the two regions and Tbilisi that make unification impossible, even if the international community recognizes them as one country. Put bluntly, South Ossetians and Abkhazians hate Georgians and vice versa.
The key question moving forward, then, is not Georgia's role in the two regions, but Russia's. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assured us in the Financial Times Tuesday that "Russia has no intention of annexing or occupying any part of Georgia and has again affirmed its respect for its sovereignty."
But in Russia's eyes, respect for the Georgian sovereignty still makes Abkhazia and South Ossetia fair game. Lavrov also notes that the majority of South Ossetia's people are Russian citizens, glossing over the fact that Moscow has been conveniently issuing South Ossetians Russian passports for years, making direct intervention in the region a necessity to "protect Russian citizens."
Seasoned Russia hand Strobe Talbott worries that the Kremlin might attempt to "Balkanize" the Caucasus, bringing the surrounding territories under Russian control in the same manner that Slobodan Milosevic tried to reunite the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s:
If [Lavrov] has given the world a glimpse of the Russian endgame, it's dangerous in its own right and in the precedent it would set. South Ossetia and Abkhazia might be set up as supposedly independent countries ("just like Kosovo," the Russians would say) -- but would in fact be satrapies of Russia."
Picking up on Katie's post: What happens when you give in to a massive lobbying effort, somehow believe bogus promises of improvement, wallow in corruption, and ultimately give the Olympics to a country that never deserved them? Just ask the International Olympic Committee:
IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said journalists should not be prevented from doing their jobs, a day after John Ray of London-based ITV News said he was wrestled to the ground and briefly held by police who apparently mistook him for a protester.
Asked repeatedly if IOC officials are embarrassed that China was not living up to its promises, Davies would only say they are happy with the way China is running the sporting events."
And, of course, the opening ceremony was lovely.
Although relations have warmed somewhat between the two Koreas in recent years, that trend appears to be retreating -- rapidly.
Last month, a North Korean soldier shot an unarmed South Korean tourist while she was visiting Mt. Kumgang, a tourist area in the North operated by a South Korean company (shown at right). In response, South Korea suspended future tours to Mt. Kumgang and ordered all South Korean residents to leave the resort.
Now, the North Koreans have returned the favor, changing the wording on their official invitation to South Korean tourists. Chosun Ilbo's editorial board has more:
The words 'We invite' and 'guarantee the safety' of the visitor has been changed to 'agree' (to the visit) and 'offer accommodation.'... Without a formal safety guarantee, whether it is for Mt. Kumgang or Pyongyang, it has become dangerous for South Koreans to set foot on North Korean soil simply hoping that nothing will go wrong."
I guess it is now, if not impossible to travel to Mt. Kumgang, at least highly inadvisable.
While Americans have been enthralled with the performances of God-King Michael Phelps, their neighbors to the north are starting to get a bit worried. The reason? Canada hasn't won a medal yet.
The team, which won 12 overall medals in Athens, does expect some wins in the coming days. And the hapless Canucks are nowhere close to some of the worst Olympians of all time, thanks largely to their prowess in winter sports. Still, as Mark Spector laments in the Toronto-based National Post, folks in Canada are starting to get a bit worried:
Togo has a medal. Michael Phelps has five. Azerbaijan has three. Kyrgyzstan has two.
We'll pass them all by the end, barring an absolute disaster, but still, as the calls from editors begin to roll into the press centres here - all looking for the "What's going wrong?" angle that usually doesn't arrive for a few more days at these things - it is clear that Canadians are getting edgy."
Spector's piece also speaks to the incredibly high cost of churning out top-tier Olympic athletes, comparing powerhouses like China and the United States to the New York Yankees, who pay obscene amounts of money and are highly successful (although he should have used a team that actually wins these days, such as, ahem, my own Boston Red Sox).
It's tough to argue with his point. The deck is obviously stacked for the likes of China and the United States, where no matter the price for Olympic glory, people are willing to pay for it. Of course, it also helps when you hand-pick your gymnasts at age three or four, cut them off from their families, and then have them compete in the Olympics when they're 13.
President Robert Mugabe has awarded a medal to Zimbabwe's election chief during a third day of talks to resolve the country's political crisis. He honoured George Chiweshe, head of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC), who has been criticised for his handling of the country's recent polls.
But wait, there's more:
The beneficiaries included Happyton Bonyongwe, head of the Central Intelligence Organisation which is accused of seizing, torturing and killing many MDC activists before the second vote in June; and Paradzai Zimondi, the prison service chief who said he would never recognise a Tsvangirai victory.
Remember Jean-Marie Le Pen, the ultra-nationalist French politician who shocked the world by reaching the second round of France's 2002 presidential election? The leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, anti-everything Front National is more or less a Ku Klux Klan member who was born on the wrong continent.
That's why it's so beautifully ironic that, faced with millions of Euros worth of debt after voters apparently didn't respond so well to his "Keep France for the French" motto in the 2007 legislative elections, Le Pen's party is selling its lavish Paris headquarters to a Chinese university. Perhaps the Front had trouble finding a pure-blooded French buyer willing to be associated with them.
The Guardian writes that the well-known building next to the Seine was "a symbol of the upward mobility of the party when it was purchased 18 years ago." I guess the sale is a symbol of the party's future drowning in the neighboring river.
These are tough times for Le Pen. He already had to sell his bulletproof car on eBay to try to pay off debts. Hopefully the dear leader of French neo-Fascism will be able to keep his white hood and robe.
In a pointed gesture, the U.S. Olympic team has voted Lopez Lomong, a member of the track team who gained American citizenship in 2007 after fleeing Sudan and spending a decade in a Kenyan refugee camp, as its flag bearer for the opening ceremony in Beijing.
Lomong was abducted at age six by militiamen looking to recruit child soliders. He managed to escape with two other boys and was grabbed by Kenyan authorities after he unknowingly crossed the border. Lomong was one of the 4,000 "lost boys" of Sudan who were resettled in foster homes throughout the United States in 2001. Lomong is also currently a member of the Team Darfur activist group whose cofounder -- American speedskater and Turin gold medalist Joey Cheek -- had his visa revoked by Chinese authorities two days ago.
Lomong's selection is certainly a touching gesture from his fellow athletes, and the Sudanese-American runner is ecstatic, saying that Friday will be "the happiest day" of his life. What effect it will have on U.S.-China relations is uncertain, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that China will not be able to hide from its Darfur policy simply by putting on the world's biggest fireworks show and wowing foreign dignitaries.
I would be absolutely shocked if the Olympics pass without some sort of dramatic protest or political statement from an athlete or group of athletes, on a podium or elsewhere. One English basketball player, formerly with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic, has said that Olympians have an obligation to speak out against China.
It may not be 1968, but that doesn't mean the gloves won't come off.
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