Who gets a visit from Putin?

Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't choose his foreign visits lightly. On May 31, Putin makes his first trip abroad since being inaugurated for a third term as president on May 7, to neighboring Belarus. The visit is highly symbolic of Russia's desire to be the leader in the post-Soviet space, as well as Putin's continued support for the authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko (also known as "Europe's Last Dictator"). Afterwards, Putin will head to Germany and France, Russia's major trading partners in the EU. After the European visits, Putin will fly to speak with Uzbek ruler Islam Karimov in Tashkent, to Beijing, and finally to Astana, Kazakhstan, to meet with long-time ruler Nursultan Kazarbayev; countries central to Putin's vision of a Eurasian Union.

Earlier in the month, Putin suddenly declined to attend the G8 Summit in Camp David, under pretext that he was too busy forming a new Cabinet of Ministers, sending instead Prime Minister Medvedev. The move was widely seen as a snub to President Obama, as Putin avoided a meeting with the president, and sidestepped making the U.S. his first foreign visit. A few days later, Obama announced he would not be able to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Vladivostok this September, because it conflicted with the Democratic Party convention.

Putin has now also taken the opportunity to snub the UK, by announcing he will not attend the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, even though the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held on Russian territory in Sochi. Likely, Medvedev will once again be sent in his stead. Russian-British relations have been tense since the 2006 poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Moreover the West has been pressuring Russian officials over the 2009 death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while he was detained in prison. Putin's foreign trip destinations are by no means accidental.

Meanwhile, not everyone in Belarus is enthusiastic for Putin's visit to their country. (More here in Russian.)



States of Emergency

The surprising electoral success of Ahmed Shafiq has many Egyptians worried about the Mubarak-era elite holding on to power, but at least one vestige of that era comes to an end tonight as a 31-year state of emergency, first imposed after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, is finally lifted. 

The law gave authorities extensive powers including the right to detain people indefinitely without charge, prohibit protests and censor the media.[...]

The emergency law was a key feature under ousted President Mubarak, who repeatedly broke promises to lift it.

In January the head of Scaf, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, partially eased the law except in the cases of "thuggery", without explaining exactly what that meant.

The Interior Ministry is currently dealing with at least 188 people under the law at the moment, according to campaign group Human Rights Watch.

States frequently impose state of emergency over part or all of their territory in response to crises -- in recent weeks both Sudan and Peru have implemented them -- but in some parts of the Middle East and North Africa, "states of emergency" can become virtually the norm for decades at a time. Algeria had one for 19 years, which was lifted (with some reservations) in early 2011. Part of Turkey were governed under a state of emergency for 15 years until 2002. Syria's Bashar al-Assad lifted a 50-year state of emergency in April 2011, which may say something about just how significant a development lifting a state of emergncy is. Tunisia imposed a state of emergency after the overthrow of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, which was recently renewed for the sixth time

One of the weirder states of emergency is in Israel. The country has technically been in a state of emergency since 1948, which is renewed anually by the Knesset. The Israeli government's reluctance to end the emergency may actually have less to do with war or terrorism than with preserving its ability to pass "emergency ordinances" ensuring its "continued supervision over such issues as ice cream production, show tickets and amniocentesis tests."