Passport

Putin deputy: no quid pro quo with Cuba for Abkhazia recognition

Russian Deputy Prime Minsiter Igor Sechin apparently blew his top after Kommersant published an article suggesting that Russian financial support for Cuba was being linked to recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia: The Miami Herald reports:

In an article Feb. 12 in the daily Kommersant, reporter Andrei Odinets said that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's tour of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Mexico was intended to restart – in the aftermath of the Caucasus war – Moscow's "diplomatic offensive in Latin America, which last year began to choke."

"It is possible that Moscow will encourage Russian investment in Cuba's mineral riches if Havana announces its recognition of [South Ossetia and Abkhazia]," Odinets wrote. "Russia already has worked such a scheme in Venezuela," trading oil-exploration money for diplomatic support, he said..

In an angry letter to Kommersant on Monday, Sechin derided Odinets as a self-appointed expert in foreign policy and an inept journalist. Some of Odinets' information was "biased and untrue," Sechin said. The reporter's allegation that Cuba's diplomatic support could be purchased was "detrimental to the principles of [Russo-Cuban] cooperation and long-term friendship, historically based on the shared values and trust acquired during the long and difficult years of working together."

In the friendship between Moscow and Havana "there is no place for cold financial calculation or ambition," Sechin wrote.

 Strangely, in the letter, Sechin doesn't seem to deny that there was quid-pro-quo in the other countries that have recognized the breakaway regions, just that such cynical maneuvering would be unthinkable given the long history of Cuban-Russian cooperation. Is he suggesting that there is room for cold financial calculation in the frienship between Moscow and Caracas or Moscow and Managua? I'm not even going to ask about Nauru.

Passport

Has anyone else noticed there was just a coup in Niger?

It's coup season in Africa, apparently, with the third such takeover in just two years. Or that's what it looks like from the first reports streaming in from Niger. Reuters has the best account:

Niger's President Mamadou Tandja was detained by mutinous troops on Thursday after a coup in the west African uranium exporter that left at least three soldiers dead, military sources said.

Three Nigerien military sources said the coup was led by a soldier named Major Adamou Harouna.

"The coup leader has succeeded. It is being led by Major Adamou Harouna," one source said. The president and the ministers are being detained not far from the presidential palace, the sources added.

BBC World Service radio this morning reported gunfire being heard from the presidential palace, now they add the particularly eerie detail: "State radio is playing military music - a similar pattern to two coups in the 1990s."

The coup follows months (actually several years) of political rangling between the government and the opposition. In short, the president extended term limits in August last year. He dissolved Parliament and the Constitutional Court when they ruled his actions illegal. IRIN News has a great summary here.

A coup is  a hell of a way to end a political deadlock. We'll be watching developments here...