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Kasparov: Appease Putin and He’ll Come Back for More.

Image: Kasparov: Appease Putin and He'll Come Back for More


By Elliot Jager

Vladimir Putin is neither a modern-day Hitler nor a master strategist. He is best understood as a bellicose poker player up against a bunch of docile opponents, Garry Kasparov writes in Politico.

Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation in New York, who was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet Union, writes that he has dedicated himself “to opposing Vladimir Putin’s campaign to destroy democracy and civil liberties in Russia.”

What Putin has going for him that his Soviet precursors did not is unhindered entrée to international markets and institutions, Kasparov says. “Putin’s oligarchs bank in London, party in the Alps, and buy penthouses in New York and Miami, all while looting Russia under the auspices of a reborn KGB police state.”

European authorities have enabled Putin by facilitating his regime’s access to Western capital. Western banks helped underwrite the Kremlin takeover of dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos oil empire, Kasparov writes.

Putin rules like an authoritarian communist dictator but acts like a Western mogul. He is no Hitler, but “turning the other cheek” to him “just gets you slapped again,” Kasparov writes.

President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are mistaken to worry about possible “instability” and “high costs” in confronting Putin. What “could be worse than the instability caused by the partial annexation of a European country by a nuclear dictatorship, carried out with impunity?”  Kasparov asks.

Merkel seems to now appreciate the urgency of standing up to Putin, he notes.

Kasparov’s conclusion is that “Putin is no master strategist. He’s an aggressive poker player facing weak opposition from a Western world that has become so risk-averse that it would rather fold than call any bluff, no matter how good its cards are.”

He’s no Hitler, but Kasparov writes the instructive analogy is that “appeasing a dictator” and “greedily grabbing at an ephemeral peace” in the face of aggression is a recipe for war in the long run.

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Appeals Judge in Azerbaijan to Decide Fate of Church.


A Christian congregation in Azerbaijan is waiting pensively to see if a judge will uphold a court order that banned its right to meet and “liquidated” the church.

“They are upset, but at the same time they continue coming out hoping for the best,” said Mechti Suleymanov, an elder at Greater Grace Church in Baku, Azerbaijan, which has been meeting for roughly 20 years.

Judge Tahira Asadova of Baku’s Administrative Economic Court on April 25 ordered the Greater Grace Church to be “liquidated” after the State Committee on Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO) filed suit against it for failing to register with the committee. The liquidation rendered all activities of the church illegal.

The church appealed the decision on May 24 and is waiting for another ruling, scheduled for July 17, from a judge at the Baku Court of Appeals.

“If the court upholds the decision, we will have no right to assemble,” Suleymanov said. “If we continue to meet, then they will come and start harassing us.”

The Greater Grace Church registered with the Justice Ministry in 1993 and gave copies of its registration papers to the SCWRO. According to Forum 18 News, the committee never sent the church a request to re-file a registration with the committee.

Church leaders also said the committee informed them of the need to register only after a committee-set deadline had already passed.

Saving Face Greater Grace’s problems are part of a larger crack-down on religion in Azerbaijan, according to members of the church.

The population of Azerbaijan is 87.6 percent Muslim, according to Operation World, though the government is secular and freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. But in 2009 the SCWRO required all religious groups to register with the government.

Matti Sirvio, one of the founders of Greater Grace, said he sees the crack-down on Christians as an attempt by the government to save face with Islamic groups within the country.

In December 2011, authorities arrested the pastor of a church in Neftechala that was not registered with the SCWRO. Authorities seized Bibles, books, magazines, audio recordings and videotapes. Initially, authorities also sealed the church building the congregation used. Police interrogated members of the congregation.

Pastor Telman Aliev was fined but has declined to pay it. He is still leading the congregation.

Only two Protestant churches in Azerbaijan have had their registrations approved. The overwhelming majority of the registrations have been granted to Shia Muslim groups.

Both Sirvio and Suleymanov said recent changes on SCWRO’s board of directors will result in the positive resolution of the court case. Until then, Suleymanov said, his church will wait.

“For the most part, people are quiet,” he said. “They know there is nothing to be done about it. They are just trusting God.”


By Compass Direct News

Sweden triumphs in controversial Eurovision.

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Swedish star Loreen beat off a challenge from dancing Russian pensioners to win a spectacular Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan that the host hoped would banish qualms over its rights record.

She brandished the glass microphone trophy in a shower of gold ticker-tape at a post-contest news conference.

“It’s just a question of taste. This year it happened to me,” she modestly explained her victory.

She hugged her mother and smiled, referring back to the title of her song as she explained she felt at her win: “I know this sounds corny, but euphoric.”

The victory brings Eurovision back to one of its heartlands. Sweden’s most famous band Abba gained worldwide fame after winning the contest in 1974 with “Waterloo” — for many the song that defined the kitschy contest for all time.

“Hallelujah!” exlaimed the head of the Swedish delegation in Baku, Christer Bjorkman at the news conference.

Loreen’s win took Sweden’s total of Eurovision trophies to five, making it one of the most successful countries at winning the quirky contest. But it last struck gold more than a decade ago in 1999.

Second place on Saturday went to Russia’s heartwarming Buranovskiye Babushki, a choir of elderly women from a village who performed a disco song “Party for Everybody” in English and their local Finno-Ugric language with a stove and a tray as props.

Third was Serbian Eurovision veteran Zelijko Joksimovic who had already competed in three previous contests, once as a singer and twice as a composer.

Eurovision is the biggest event ever hosted by energy-rich Azerbaijan as it seeks to present a glitzy front to the world despite the intolerance of dissent and opposition under the rule of the Aliyev dynasty.

The final’s 26 acts lit up the spectacular Crystal Hall built to host the contest in barely half a year on the Caspian Sea, with an audience of some 20,000 inside the venue and 100 million television viewers.

The host entry Sabina Babayeva was not all that far from securing a repeat of Azerbaijan’s 2011 success that earned the nation the right to host the contest with her “When the Music Dies” coming in fourth.

Loreen ran into controversy during the contest by meeting local rights activists who briefed her on the lack of democratic freedoms in the tightly controlled ex-Soviet state.

However at a post-contest news conference she sidestepped a question about how she would support the people of Azerbaijan further, saying simply that: “I will support the Azerbaijan people from my heart.”

She had earlier declined to comment on her views at a news conference on Thursday, while local opposition media reported that Azerbaijan state television gave a bland mistranslation of the question.

The show itself included the usual range of the weird and exotic including a Norwegian rapper of Iranian origin who came last, half-naked French gymnasts and an Albanian entry with a song solely in her native language and a truly terrifying top note.

There was disappointment for Britain after veteran crooner Engelbert Humperdinck — brought in to revive its notoriously bad Eurovision fortunes — scored just 12 points and came second last with his ballad “Love Will Set You Free”.

In Baku, the festive atmosphere was clouded by the detentions of dozens of opposition activists who attempted to hold several peaceful demonstrations calling for democratic freedoms in the tightly-controlled state.

The Public Chamber opposition alliance said that more than 60 protestors were detained Friday in the latest protest and a court sentenced three protesters to jail terms of five or six days.

Azerbaijan is run by strongman President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his late father Heidar Aliyev in 2003.

His wife Mehriban Aliyeva heads the organising committee of Eurovision and his son-in-law, Emin Agalarov, a Moscow-based businessman with a budding pop career, sang in a black leather jacket in a musical interlude after the voting.

Radio Liberty reported this month that a construction company involved in the project to build the Crystal Hall venue in a city-commissioned project had links to the Aliyev family.

The event was also far beyond the reach of ordinary Azerbaijanis, with tickets for the final starting at 160 manat ($204), half the monthly income of the average Azeri according to World Bank statistics.

With political sensitivities never far from this Eurovision, the promotional videos shown included landscapes from Nagorny Karabakh, which Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized from Azerbaijan in a war in the 1990s.

Armenia had pulled out of the contest saying it feared hostile treatment and Azerbaijan barred those who had visited Nagorny Karabakh from travelling to the contest.


AFPBy Anna Malpas | AFP

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