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Showing posts from December 30, 2013

An Assassination in Lebanon

Security forces and firefighters at the scene of a car bomb in Beirut that killed former finance minister Mohamed Chatah and at least four others, Dec. 27. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary


Moderate Lebanese Sunni politician Mohamad Chatah, a highly outspoken critic of Syria and Hezbollah, was killed in a car bombing Dec. 27 in Beirut's upscale central business district. The bombing was similar to the attack that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005; in fact, it occurred just a few blocks from where Chatah's own motorcade was struck. The prevailing assumption is that Hezbollah conducted the attack as a show of force against Lebanon's Saudi-backed Future Movement, which is led by the al-Hariri family. Indeed, the sophistication of the attack does suggest the involvement of a professional organization such as Hezbollah. Either way, the Dec. 27 attack may create more problems at home for Hezbollah as the group tries to hold its ground in Syria.

Analysis


A…

Hungary's Motivation in an Energy Dispute

A worker checks the refinery plant at the Druzhba oil pipeline receiving station south of Budapest in 2007. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary


The long-running dispute between Hungarian oil and natural gas group MOL and Croatian energy firm INA is more than a simple battle of attrition. Full control of INA is a key component in Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's plan to give his country greater latitude in the delicate balancing act it must maintain with Russia and to develop Budapest's role as an emergent leader in Central Europe.

Analysis


In the cataclysm of World War I, Hungary lost a significant portion of its territory in the Pannonian Plain. Perhaps more strategically damaging, it lost direct access to the Adriatic when it was stripped of the territories that roughly correspond to modern Slovenia and Croatia.

The importance of Hungary's sea access cannot be overstated. By 1914, Hungary had invested the equivalent of nearly $4 billion to develop the coast…

Russia, Iran and U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Plans

The primary goal of the European Phased Adaptive Approach project, or EPAA, is to defend the United States and Europe against ballistic missiles from Iran. Given that, Russia's opposition does not seem to make sense. The trajectory of Russian ballistic missiles aimed at the United States is farther to the north, an arc closer to Iceland than Scotland and completely out of range of current European-based systems. Russia can also fire enough missiles to overwhelm the anticipated capacity of the European defensive shield, thereby rendering it ineffective.

Indeed, Russia was initially willing to cooperate with Europe and the United States in developing the missile defense shield, but such a liaison was unpalatable to the United States and much of NATO. The only other alternative to partnership, for Russia, is the cancellation of the program entirely. Iran's predicted detente with the West provides further fuel for Moscow's argument to do away with European ballistic missile def…

A Troubled Greece to Assume the EU Presidency

Greek and European union flags flutters in front of the Acropolis in Athens on Nov. 5. Greece will assume the presidency of the EU in 2014. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary


Greece will take on the rotating presidency of the European Union during the first half of 2014, the fifth time Athens has held this position since it joined the continental bloc in 1981. Athens will focus its agenda on several political and economic issues, most notably the EU plans for a banking union and the immigration crisis in Mediterranean Europe.

Because of Greece's domestic, economic and political situation, Athens' semester at the front of the European Union will have a very limited impact on the bloc. Political fragmentation in Europe coupled with the declining influence of the EU rotating presidency will also ensure that the most important decisions are still made in Berlin, Paris and Brussels.

Analysis


The rotating presidency was born in the late 1950s, created by the founding members…

Sochi Olympics To Be Shadowed by Latest Suicide Bombing in Russia

Russian firefighters and security officials at the Volgograd train station after a suicide bombing Dec. 29. (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Analysis


A suicide bomber, reportedly female, blew herself up in the entrance hall of a train station in Russia's southern city of Volgograd on Dec. 29, killing between 13 and 18 people according to early estimates. With just 42 days until the Winter Olympics start in Sochi -- a mere 430 miles (692 kilometers) from Volgograd -- this attack further compromises Russia’s ability to show it can keep the country safe before the international event.

The blast occurred near the metal detectors at the Volgograd-1 train station’s front entrance at 12:45 p.m. local time, according to Russian officials. Surveillance footage of the blast shows an explosion in the train station’s central hall. It is common for an attacker in Russia to hit passenger lines before the metal detectors at the front of a train station or airport since this is where large crowds tend…