Letters: Putin and the Caucasus

Putin may just favour a federation of the Caucasus
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Mary Dejevsky is probably right that Prime Minister Putin's aim in the southern Caucasus is more one of damage limitation than expansion ("Russia's Georgian enclaves are not assets, but liabilities", 11 August). The Abkhaz and the Ossetians are not Georgian, and President Saakashvili's claim that they are is incendiary. Nor are they, for the most part, Russians. The Caucasus is a kaleidoscope of ethnicities. Putin's claim that Soviet command federalism was better at keeping the peace than the nationalisms that followed is true.

Looking at the wider geopolitics: to the south-east lies the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, on paper a part of Azerbaijan but, like Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Armenia itself, effectively under Russian military protection. Given the dreadful history of the region, these nations could do a lot worse than having Mr Strongman-in-Moscow in the background.

Instead of continuing the foolhardy policy of arming Georgia, Nato countries could consider reviving the old idea, briefly tried after the Russian Revolution, of a Transcaucasian Federation. This might have been a formidable negotiating block at Versailles, with the Federation acting as a buffer in the Great Game between the empires of Russia, Turkey, Persia and, in those days, Britain. Then, as now, the prize was Azeri oil.

Unfortunately, in the spring of 1918, Georgia and Azerbaijan concluded that Turkey and Germany were winning the war, and dumped Armenia, which was forced unwillingly to declare independence. The eventual result was the Bolshevik-Kemalist carve-up, and they all lost.

A Transcaucasian Federation, with open internal borders and freedom of resettlement, just might have attractions for Mr Putin, as well as for the EU.


Leith, Edinburgh

Libyan eyes saw a different scenario

The celebrations in Libya on the return of Megrahi (front page, 21 August) were unfortunate but in their eyes they were not celebrating the return of a terrorist bomber but the return of an innocent man wrongly convicted in a foreign court.

Normally, I have little sympathy for Kenny MacAskill, but on this occasion I think he made the correct decision in releasing Megrahi. It is unfortunate for the relatives of the victims because his conviction to them was a sense of closure, and now his release, for whatever reason, is tearing open the hurt and wounds again. But they might ask themselves, would their loved ones want an innocent man to be incarcerated or would they want full disclosure of who was really responsible?

I believe, like many others, that it is the Scottish justice system that is on trial here, and the release of Megrahi in this way was to circumvent embarrassing facts being revealed during his appeal. At the original trial, there was international pressure to find somebody guilty of this crime, come what may.

As a Scot I am intensely proud that we have our own independent legal system. But I could never accept that we should establish a mini-Scottish region in Holland to try an accused man by a Scottish court without a Scottish jury for a criminal act perpetrated in Scotland.

I have grave doubts over Megrahi's guilt. We have a way to go on the Lockerbie bombing and I hope that the repatriation and death of Megrahi will not prevent the truth finally coming out.

L Johnston

Newport-on-Tay, Fife

The Scottish Justice Secretary's arguments that the Lockerbie convicted terrorist Megrahi was realeased on "compassionate" grounds are not only an insult to those 270 victims and their loved ones but also an excuse.

On CNN, Kenny MacAskill conceded that no murderer had been released on compassionate grounds under his watch. He didn't know if previous Scottish Justice Secretaries had released murders. But, apparently, six people have had their appeals for compassionate release rejected. I doubt if their crimes were as heinous as that of Megrahi.

So, why was a convicted killer of 270 people released? If there were doubts about his conviction, the due process would be for an appeal.

The Scottish National Party want independence for Scotland and want full control of their economy and foreign affairs. Their foray into an issue with foreign policy implications has been an utter disaster. The SNP is to use the common political phrase, "not fit for purpose".

John Boylan

Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Nowhere have I seen a distinction made between justice and revenge. Justice is what is meted out by the courts and may, I believe, include compassion. Revenge is what aggrieved parties may continue to desire for the rest of their lives.

Nowhere did the concepts of justice and revenge overlap more visibly than in the punishment of the disgraced American financier Bernie Madoff, sentenced to 150 years. Thirty years would have had exactly the same effect on the man, but 150 years was totally meaningless, unless seen as revenge.

The desire for revenge is one of those natural and understandable outcomes of violence which is, in the end, self-destructive. I do not see how peace will come to any victim unable to discard the desire for revenge.

Dorothy Spence

Appleby, Cumbria

If Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi had died in Britain and his coffin arrayed and returned home with all due ceremony, he'd have faced a martyr's welcome in Libya, a far more spectacular and horrific event to the victims of Lockerbie than what has happened.

At least, this way they are only dealing with a terminally ill individual who had to be helped off an aircraft, and not the full glory of a state funeral.

Michael Bond

Stockport, Cheshire

At the beginning of the Iraq war, I was in the US and experienced the reaction to all things French because of France's refusal to join in: French businesses were boycotted, even attacked, and, ridiculously, French fries became Freedom fries.

Do we really want a special relationship with this country? Keep your nerve, Scotland. I just wish this storm would blow us nearer to Europe and away from a nation associated with torture, creationism, global pollution, and xenophobia.

Michael J J Day

Settle, North Yorkshire

Democracy worth fighting for

Robert Fisk's article ("Democracy will not bring freedom", 21 August) is a pessimistic view of momentous events in Afghanistan. Democracy, as Winston Churchill said , is not "perfect or all-wise", but it is worth fighting for and worth protecting.

In recent decades, Afghans have lived through periods of horrific violence and destruction, with each successive regime bringing greater deprivation than the last. Despite this, the Afghan people braved rockets, bombs and intimidation and came out to vote. In these elections, as in the entire State-building exercise, Afghans are being asked to choose ballots over bullets.

Although Taliban intimidation appeared to have kept some voters home, officials were already saying that turnout, though not as high as hoped, probably had been sufficient to reflect national sentiment. This surely is a right step in right direction for peace and progress in this troubled region and should be welcomed by the international community.

Equally important, the elections could reinvigorate and improve Afghan governance, an absolute necessity for the success of counter-insurgency, stabilisation and reconstruction efforts. Whatever the election results, the international community needs to make it clear to the incoming President that its assistance to the Afghan government to defeat the Taliban insurgency and to provide security and development is conditional on improved and accountable governance.

Without such reform, the international efforts, no matter how extensive, will be insufficient to achieve the essential security, the withdrawal of foreign troops and a sovereign Afghanistan with its development goals.

Dr Kailash Chand

Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire

Skills shortages in the NHS

As another supporter who cherishes the NHS, I welcome Ian Birrell's heartfelt and balanced article (Opinion, 21 August). After 36 years working within the NHS and, subsequently, eight years as an external observer and recipient of awful complaints about quality, safety and outcomes of care in the NHS, I agree with many of his comments and that there are "arrogant doctors, disinterested nurses, lost files and suchlike" as well as poor managers.

I also know that there are many places where the NHS is working compassionately, effectively and efficiently with the best interests of patients, to whom the NHS belongs, at heart. The key is good doctors, good nurses and good managers working in partnership together. Ian Birrell correctly calls attention to the importance of training in personal skills for all clinical staff.

The House of Commons Health Select Committee Report on Patient Safety concluded that lack of non-technical skills could have lethal consequences for patients and listed examples of these as follows: teamwork/team co-ordination, communication, leadership, decision-making, conflict resolution, assertiveness, coping with stress and fatigue, workload management, prioritisation of tasks and situation awareness. All the significant complaints I have received as a retired physician and MP have been due to lack, or non-appliance, of one or more of these skills.

Dr Richard T Taylor MP


No big boom in debt-collecting

Johann Hari's article ("Cruel and out of control: the new face of debt collecting", 14 August) highlighted important issues about debt, and the public's attitude to credit. But it repeated inaccuracies about the sector and what is, and is not, considered appropriate or legitimate collecting practices.

It states, for example, that "business is booming". Not true. The number of instructions may be increasing, but the amount of debt collected has remained effectively static. The article confuses debt purchase – the acquisition of portfolios of debt – with commission-based debt, and does not state that the original creditor (ie the bank, utility and the government) still retain responsibility for the collectors' actions.

The suggestion that the overworked and under-resourced courts should decide an amount to be repaid is naïve and unworkable.

Kurt Obermaier

Executive Director, The Credit Services Association, London EC1

Read all about it

Following a link to an article on your website, I was amused by a question on the reader survey that popped up, "What type of content would you most like to see more of?" The options were "sport, opinion, environment, celebrity, photojournalism, video, motoring, travel, or business". How about "news"?

Jonathan Jones

Camborne, Cornwall

Ashes of fair play

As an England cricket fan who believes in fair play and honesty I cannot congratulate England on regaining the Ashes. Is there any else, like me, who doubts that Strauss did not catch Hughes cleanly in the second test? Rather than being named Man of The Series he should have been stripped of the captaincy and banned from the game for a long time. English fair play died at Lords and should be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.

John Rogers

London SW16

Just tinkering

Dave Hampton's emphasis on carbon burn rates (lettersgust) doesn't address the real issue. The most vital statistic to worry about is not the "per capita carbon burn rate"; it is the total emission rate irrespective of who does it the most or least. As the world is eliminating fish, productive soils, forests, potable water, nutrients etc,the only way to solve all these deficiencies is to reduce world population. All else is tinkering to no avail.

Dennis Anthony

Hastings, East Sussex

Free BBC TV for all

I was much taken with Richard Ingrams's comments (22 August) over BBC facilities not available to all of us. Having paid (by licence fee) for the huge and excellent back catalogue of BBC comedy, documentary and drama, many of us are denied access to it because most of this back catalogue is being transmitted on channels available only to Sky and Virgin subscribers. Those of us with Freeview or Freeesat can watch only a fraction of the broadcasts. These channels showing BBC content should be available to all of us on Freeview.

Mike Cornick

Caldicot, Gwent

Watch this space

Seeing the picture of the 1866 silver pocket-watch (20 August) prompted me to look again at my late husband's family heirloom, a silver pocket-watch, engraved "Got at the Battle of Waterloo By W.N. June 18th 1815". I wonder if my stepson and I should try to trace the family from whose ancestor it was "Got"?

D Neville

Rugby, Warwickshire