1992: The Great Russian Withdrawal from the Near Abroad

Flag_of_Russia_(1991-1993)-200pxA while back I posted the story of the experiences of the Soviet cosmonauts who were in space as the Soviet Union was breaking up.

While that was a pretty extreme situation, I just came across this article from 1997 about Soviet military units deployed in the non-Russian republics of the USSR (the “Near Abroad”) as it was breaking up. What were they supposed to do: withdraw immediately — hold in place? It was a logistical and political nightmare.

In many cases, ethnically Russian Soviet troops suddenly found themselves under Russian national command hundreds if not thousands of miles outside of the new country they were serving. Some units immediately started marching and driving back toward Russia, overland, abandoning in place any equipment they couldn’t take with them. Other units found themselves completely cut off and trapped in deployment locations as long-dormant ethno-religious and political conflicts broke out around them.
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Court: Dutch troops liable in Srebenica massacre

18 years later, Dutch UN Peacekeepers who served at Srebenica have been found liable by the Dutch Supreme Court for having ordered refugee men and boys out of the sanctuary of their base and into the waiting ranks of the Serb paramilitaries outside who then massacred them. Although their non-Dutch UN commanders gave the orders, the Court found they should not have followed the orders and that the Dutch government and commanders back home could have and should have intervened. The liability finding means the Netherlands will have to pay reparations to victim families in Bosnia. Meanwhile, in a just irony, the paramilitary commander who led the massacres is on trial now in the Hague (also in the Netherlands).

More on Pat Robertson’s blood diamonds

New revelations in the dormant Pat-Roberton-used-to-mine-conflict-diamonds-with-Charles-Taylor scandal. It was already known that he had used religious funds for an illegal blood diamond mining operation in Liberia (after President Taylor was indicted by the UN for war crimes!), but there was less evidence regarding longstanding allegations about his operations in the DR Congo. Now humanitarian mission air pilots from the Rwanda mission are coming forward to confirm that he was diverting planes from Rwandan Genocide aid efforts to carry mining equipment into the Congo. To give credit where it’s due, as I noted in my 2010 piece linked above, local Virginia reporters had figured a lot of this out as early as 1999 but there wasn’t as much evidence to confirm they were on the right track and also no one pays attention to local news unfortunately. The new information from the pilots and others also tells us used a failed farm in the Congo as a cover for the donations he was raising and diverting into mining.

The State of Virginia continues to refuse to investigate because he has consistently made huge donations to GOP candidates for attorney general.

Watching the USSR break up, from Space

mir-orbit-rkk-energiaIt just occurred to me that the Soviet/Russian space program was flying active missions to the Mir space station during the entire collapse of the Soviet Union over the course of 1991, so I decided to do some research to see how that played out.

It must have been totally insane experiencing your home country’s collapse and dissolution from space.
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A legacy of the Rwandan Genocide

It can be tough to criticize the liberators, the people who stop a genocide. They are heroes to many, and it’s easy to disregard the people who disagree as the oppressors. Hell, it took us long time in the United States to begin coming to terms with some of the inhuman military actions we took in World War II while liberating Europe and Asia from brutal, genocidal regimes. Rarely are the liberators perfect or unsullied.

In late October 1990, the “Rwandan Patriotic Front,” a ethnic Tutsi minority rebel army suddenly stormed the Rwandan border from Uganda. Once the invasion began Uganda felt compelled to support it. The rebels were largely Rwandan only by parentage and were seeking the right of return and political control of the country after what they saw as decades of injustice by the Hutu majority in the post-colonial period. The authoritarian Hutu-controlled government of Rwanda went into a state of emergency and began crackdowns and reprisals, and elite Zairian and French troops quickly arrived to back the Hutu government. The invasion was a failure and the rebels retreated, with their leadership disintegrating especially as Uganda’s government arrested some of them. Another RPF leader, Major Paul Kagame, was immediately recalled from the United States, where he had been receiving extensive military training during the preceding months, and he took command, planning out a guerrilla long-war strategy. By 1992, the Rwandan regime had been forced to enter a cease-fire settlement with the rebels, although the rebels remained in a weak position. After several months the RPF invaded again because the government was allegedly conducting “small” massacres, but French troops arrived again to arm and support the regime, which ended the invasion and resulted in another cease-fire, this time with UN peacekeepers and a plan for power-sharing. It must be noted that well over a million Hutu civilians had become displaced during the conflict due to RPF massacres.

In April 1994, the presidential plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile of unknown source and the Hutu generals initiated a violent coup within hours and began political purges. Within days, the general massacres of Tutsi civilians were rolling along as the Hutu hardliners had planned for months, and around a dozen Belgian UN troops were killed, prompting Western nations to send in rescue troops to evacuate all their personnel, leaving the ordinary Tutsis (and moderate Hutus) to their fate. Over the course of the next three months, the Rwandan military and an extremist militia committed systematic genocide, killing one person approximately every five minutes on average. (The final victim count was estimated at 800,000 to well over a million. The RPF puts the figure at 937,000).
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Legal Underpinnings for a Papal Resignation

The New York Times published an interesting article by Daniel Wakin titled, “Do Popes Quit?” on the issue of whether a Roman Catholic Pope can resign, which is different from whether a Pope should resign. The issue has arisen in recent weeks as mounting evidence suggests Pope Benedict XVI (a.k.a. former Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich) improperly handled sexual abuse allegations against priests under his jurisdiction in Munich for many years.

At least two previous Popes have resigned, but the most recent was in the early 15th century, when the position was as much a secular European monarch as spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. In fact (I went and looked this up), Gregory XII’s resignation in 1415 was arguably done entirely for the sake of political consolidation of the Church at the end of the Great Schism, during a period of great systematic upheaval in Europe as the concept of sovereign states was emerging in parallel to the existing Church geo-political structure. However, even though he “resigned” and left office, Gregory was not replaced until after his death in 1417, probably to ensure that there was absolutely no question of who was Pope, since he had resigned to conclude a dispute between several factions of “rival Popes.”

As the Times points out, especially with Popes living to be older and older these days, there would be serious questions as to the legitimacy of a new Pope if the previous one had resigned but was not deceased yet. The problem from 1415 would be repeated and potentially worse now for the Church. An ex-Pope would still have a very large following, especially among many of the Cardinals who elected him, and unless he went off into solitude like Gregory XII, an ex-Pope’s public statements would be taken as the word of God and official Church doctrine by his remaining adherents, even if it contradicted or undermined the positions of the sitting replacement Pope. It’s like a former US President openly criticizing the new administration endlessly because he’s around and available for comment, except about a hundred times worse, since devout followers believe the Pope is speaking as God’s own corporeal representative on Earth.

But what about the legal doctrine and precedent? Can a Pope really just resign? Here is what Wakin found:

While it does not apply to Benedict, another reason for papal resignation was widely discussed in the Vatican in the years before John Paul II’s death in 2005. Several cardinals openly raised the possibility in the event John Paul became too ill to govern.

One of those cardinals was Joseph Ratzinger. If John Paul “sees that he absolutely cannot do it anymore, then certainly he will resign,” the cardinal was quoted as saying in the weekly publication of his old archdiocese, back in 2002.

 
That would be ironic if he helped set up the justification for his own resignation, but Wakin notes that he walked that back later…

Two years later, he gave some insight into his conception of the papacy in an interview with the Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana. “The pope is chosen for life because he is a father, and his paternity goes beyond his function,” he said, paraphrasing Pope Paul VI.

John Paul himself entertained thoughts about resigning. In his last will and testament, he wrote, “Providence has seen fit for me to live in the difficult century that is departing into the past, and now in the year in which I reach my 80s, one needs to ask oneself if it is not the time to repeat with the biblical Simeon, ‘Nunc dimittis.’ ” The Latin was a reference to a Gospel passage in which Simeon says, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”

John Paul was responsible for two recent but fleeting references to papal resignation in official church policy. A revision of the code of canon law issued under him, in 1983, says, “If it happens that the Roman pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.”

In John Paul’s 1996 constitution on papal succession, “Universi Dominici Gregis,” he made a reference to “the death or valid resignation of the pope” as he set limits on the College of Cardinals’ actions after either event. In any case, it might be no surprise that the leader of a worldwide church of one billion people would at least think about throwing in the towel. Pius XII reportedly planned to resign if the Nazis invaded the Vatican, and some believed that Paul VI, weighed down by the office, contemplated the idea, according to “101 Questions and Answers on Popes and the Papacy,” by Christopher M. Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in Union, N.J.

 
So it sounds like John Paul II clearly laid forth the legal possibility for a Pope to resign and even established some procedure for that. But other than defining “valid resignation” as legally equivalent to death, he didn’t explain any circumstances, I guess. And functionally, of course, as I explained above, resignation is very different from death, in that the person is still around even if no longer legally in the position. One wonders if Benedict would have to go back to being Ratzinger or if he’d be like an ex-President who gets many of the trappings of the office and an elevated “former” status.
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