Kiev, Ukraine - When Ukrainians vote today for a president, Reno Domenico of South Jersey will be a poll monitor in Kherson, on the border of occupied Crimea. Ulana Mazurkevich, a mainstay of Philly’s Ukranian-American community, will be poll-watching in Odessa. Marta Fedoriw of Allentown will be checking polls in Dnieperpetrovsk.
All are volunteers, paying their own way. And all agree that Sunday’s presidential election is crucial if Ukraine is to withstand crippling pressures from Russia.”Ukraine desperately needs this election to succeed,” says Domenico, who led training sessions for 222 U.S. pollwatchers organized by the Ukrainian Congress of America.
If this election is credible, as attested to by international observers, this will undercut Russia’s efforts to dismember Ukraine and compel the Kremlin to recognize Ukraine’s elected president. These three monitors from the Philly area are on the front lines.
When former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon died today, after 8 years in a stroke-induced coma, I recalled the many times I had watched him first hand as a correspondent based in Beirut and Jerusalem.
Three memories stand out because they demonstrate Sharon’s long-term vision for securing Israel’s strategic needs, as he defined them. That vision ruled out a sovereign Palestinian state.
This larger-than-life character inspired both adulation and hatred, and a continuing debate over whether he helped or harmed his country, but there is no questioning his ability to adjust to changing circumstances and readjust his strategy when he saw the need.
On Christmas eve, the PBS Newshour discussed President Obama’s foreign policy swerve from war to diplomacy in 2013, and whether or not it was successful. I appeared with former State Dept. head of policy planning Ann-Marie Slaughter, Amb. John Negroponte, and WashPost columnist David Ignatius.
Watch the segment and let me know what you think.
Vladimir Putin stunned the world today by freeing Russia’s most famous political prisoner, and onetime richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
After his sudden and unexpected release from a prison colony in his country’s frigid north. Khodorkovsky went first to Berlin, where he granted his first interview to the crusading Russian journalist Evgenia Albats. He will be reunited with his wife and family – and with his ailing mother, who will fly to him from Moscow.
The move by Putin confirms his tsar-like status in Russia. In his annual press conference at year’s end, he never mentioned his plan to grant Khodorkovsky a pardon, dropping this news bombshell to reporters after the presser was over. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers and his family had no idea this was coming. But a snap of Putin’s fingers, and suddenly he is a free man. This, in addition to an amnesty that Putin’s pliant duma passed that will free other high profile prisoners, like two women from the punk protest group Pussy Riot.
As the Assad air force has been dropping barrel bombs full of TNT and shrapnel on civilians in Aleppo over the past couple of days, I’ve been talking to talented Syrian professionals who have fled to Turkey to save their lives.
These young Syrians are their country’s best and brightest. Unlike the image that’s come to prevail in America of Syrians as Islamists or regime thugs, these men and women are dentists, doctors, lawyers, financial planners, and journalists. They are the country’s future, the human talent it can’t afford to lose.
But, because they believed their country needed to emerge from a corrupt, 43-year-old family dictatorship, because they volunteered in field hospitals, as citizen journalists, or civic activists, their names appeared on lists, they were targeted for arrest, torture and death, and they had to flee. Visit Gaziantep a historic city in southern Turkey, where the Syrian opposition’s transitional government has offices, and you will find these young people working in opposition offices, in aid agencies, as media activists or translators – or just trying to survive.
To visit Youssef Sidhom, editor of Watany, Egypt’s only Coptic Christian newspaper, one must walk through a Cairo alley and up a worn staircase to a warren of offices that look like an American small town U.S. paper of decades ago.
But Sidhom has carried on the tradition of the paper’s founder, his father Anton Sidhom, in informing and promoting Egypt’s Copts, the inheritors of an ancient community predating Islam that now makes up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 85,000 people.
Sidhom clearly believes that the military’s overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, was a blessing. Copts turned out in force for the massive June 28 demo that gave the military it’s excuse to move. “We already led the way in repudiating Islamic politics,” he said.
Talking to someone from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood these days in Cairo leaves one with a strange feeling.
Following a coup against the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, the current military-backed government and the security services have committed gross human rights outrages against Brotherhood members. Hugely disproportional force has been used killing hundreds at demonstrations and encampments; neutral eyewitness reports indicate that, while some Brotherhood members may have had arms, the overwhelming preponderance of force came from security forces.
My column today looks at a paradox: how a general, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who overthrew an elected Egyptian president in July, became a hero to young Tahrir Square revolutionaries who helped over throw the military-backed government of Hosni Mubarak.
Many Egyptians expect Sisi to become their next president, on the model of the 1960s hero Gamal Abdel Nasser.
So it was interesting to read an English transcript of a video, posted by the mostly defunct Freedom & Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood (which Sisi ousted from power). It’s supposedly a leaked (and unused) portion of an interview previously conducted with Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah El Sisi that shows reveals his interest in visions – and in running for president.