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Author Topic: Russia  (Read 52051 times)
Power User
Posts: 42466

« on: December 13, 2006, 08:29:40 AM »


Herewith we begin a thread dedicated to Russia with a piece from today's WSJ:




December 13
• Putin Puzzle Revisited
December 6
• The Market to End All Markets
November 29
• Buy This Newspaper!



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1. What You Need to Know About Dining Out
2. Goldman Net Rises 93% in Record Year
3. Holiday Season a Wild Ride for Nintendo
4. How Backdating Affected Taxes
5. Fed Holds Interest Rates Steady


Holman W. Jenkins Jr. is a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and writes editorials and the weekly Business World column.
Mr. Jenkins joined the Journal in May 1992 as a writer for the editorial page in New York. In February 1994, he moved to Hong Kong as editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal's editorial page. He returned to the domestic Journal in December 1995 as a member of the paper's editorial board and was based in San Francisco. In April 1997, he returned to the Journal's New York office. Mr. Jenkins won a 1997 Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished business and financial coverage.
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Jenkins received a bachelor's degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and studied at the University of Michigan on a journalism fellowship.
Mr. Jenkins invites comments to

Putin Puzzle Revisited
December 13, 2006; Page A19
You have to admire the perseverance of Western energy investors in Russia, whom no amount of homicide, arbitrary contract abrogation or naked shakedowns can discourage.

Though Shell is being muscled out of a $20 billion deal to develop a Far East oil and gas field, and though American minority shareholders got wiped out along with Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the seizure of Yukos, Western money continues to take its chances on Russia out of desperation more than anything else. The world may be rich in hydrocarbons but opportunities for Western corporations are vanishing behind closed nationalist doors in country after country, where governments increasingly monopolize the development and production of oil.

Western investors have gotten accustomed to overlooking a lot in Russia, but they may be unwise to overlook the sensational polonium murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a critic of Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Putin's presidency is constitutionally mandated to end in 2008 when new elections will be held. But who is Putin's Putin? Mr. Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin by promising that, whatever purges Mr. Putin might carry out, Mr. Yeltsin and his family would be shielded. Mr. Yeltsin was old, ill, alcoholic and Mr. Putin's offer must have seemed one he couldn't refuse. Mr. Putin is young and vigorous, and has no reason to put his fate in the hands of a successor or successors who wouldn't be able to guarantee his lifelong immunity even if they wanted to.

In turn, if Mr. Putin amends the constitution to keep himself in power, it could provoke international repercussions that could undermine the assumptions on which much international investment is based.

To wit: For a lot of reasons, investors have been able to assume that, whatever happened in Russia, their home governments would at least be supportive of their investment efforts. President Bush pronounced Mr. Putin a friend, and needs Russian support for U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan. German politicians have pushed and cajoled energy firms to increase ties to Russia. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder even sits on the supervisory board of a Gazprom affiliate. All this reflects a Western calculation that Russia has nuclear weapons; Russia is a potential nightmare; Russia has energy the world needs. We must cling to Mr. Putin as an acceptable partner and hope for the best.

The Litvinenko murder, rightly described as the first case of nuclear terrorism, opens up a can of worms. The world media is enthralled with the story. Several British and German bystanders show traces of polonium poisoning. The heat will be on investigators to get to the bottom of the matter, and such investigations have a way of running beyond the power of governments to keep the lid down.

More threatening to Mr. Putin, Litvinenko wrote a book linking him to the original sin of modern Russian politics, a string of apartment bombings in 1999 in Moscow and other cities that killed hundreds. The bombings were blamed on Chechen terrorists, letting acting President Putin launch the second Chechen war and helping him win election in his own right. There soon followed a series of homicides and arrests and constitutional moves that shut down prospects of journalistic and legislative investigation into whether the bombings had actually been a government provocation.

Now, there was some eye-rolling when this column two years ago noted parallels between Mr. Putin's career and Saddam Hussein's. Saddam came to power after the early retirement of his mentor, who (like Mr. Yeltsin) promptly became invisible. Saddam's first act was to start a war. Etc.

But the real point was that Saddam became a hostage of his miscalculations, especially overestimating the power Iraq's oil gave him to manipulate other governments. Mr. Putin's best option, perhaps his only option, is to play out his hand, putting his chips on Western governments to cover up for him. Last week the Duma gave preliminary approval to a law that would directly grant the president power to impose economic sanctions on foreign nationals. The Jamestown Foundation, which monitors Russian politics, reports: "The proposed legislation, 'On Special Economic Measures in Case of an International Emergency Situation,' would let the president freeze trade contracts, stop financial transactions, prohibit tourism, and impose other economic sanctions."

Sen. Richard Lugar, who sees which way events are moving, late last month gave a speech in Latvia warning NATO urgently to adopt the position that energy sanctions imposed on a member state are an act of war against NATO itself.

Put yourself in Mr. Putin's shoes. It's hard to see how, except by holding onto power and trying to use it to control his circling enemies, he could hope to avoid becoming a target of political or legal retribution sooner or later. He's riding high in domestic polls, thanks to a recovering economy, no small thing. But the Litvinenko murder may have been the thread that begins the unknitting. The real threat has always been Ryazan. That's the Russian city where, on Sept. 22, 1999, a resident noticed men unloading bags of "sugar" into the basement of a large apartment block. The sugar was the explosive RDX; the men were Russian federal security agents. Moscow claimed the incident was a training exercise, but the apartment bombings, which had killed 300 of Mr. Putin's subjects, suddenly stopped.

Western governments have been nothing if not resolute in turning away from Ryazan and the evidence of the crime that allegedly underwrote Mr. Putin's rise to power. Western leaders might prefer, all things considered, to see him remain in power rather than deal with the consequences of Ryazan. But it is not in the nature of the world that such a mystery can be concealed forever, or its consequences ducked.
Power User
Posts: 42466

« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2007, 01:25:17 PM »

Geopolitical Diary: Russia's Vulnerable Strategic Position

Russian Deputy Prime Minster and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov addressed the Duma on Wednesday. During his speech, he called the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union -- which banned short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles -- a mistake. Ivanov first raised the midrange missile issue in August 2006 when he visited Alaska with then-U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. During the trip, Ivanov reminded Rumsfeld that a Russian withdrawal from the INF would not be unprecedented since the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002.

Another such treaty, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (known as START 1) is set to expire in 2009. The Russians have been calling for a replacement for some time. Realizing that they are not going to get one -- given the shift from the Cold War dynamic and the atrophy of Russian forces, the United States has no interest in a new treaty limiting its nuclear forces -- Moscow has attempted to paint Washington as the bad guy.

START 1 placed specific limitations on the size and type of nuclear forces the two nations were allowed to possess. These limitations have helped Russia hold onto the hope of obtaining numerical parity with the United States for years. Its nuclear forces have nevertheless crumbled and are only now beginning to recover: The fielding of Russia's newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the SS-27 Topol-M, is proceeding, but at an excruciatingly slow pace. The development of the new sub-launched Bulava also is extremely behind schedule, and Russia no longer is able to maintain a constantly patrolling sea-based deterrent. In the midst of this deterioration, START 1 has helped Moscow keep its dreams of parity alive. Therefore, from the Russian perspective, a new START agreement that further reduces the number of deployable weapons would be ideal.

But from the U.S. perspective, the reduction in Russia's deployable weapons was effectively carried out by the Soviet Union's demise. Despite Moscow's sincerest efforts, Washington has watched it repeatedly fail to rebuild its strategic forces into something that could compete with the U.S. strategic deterrent. The United States is no longer threatened by Russia in the way it once was. As such, it does not feel at all compelled to enter into a new treaty that would limit its future strategic options. And it is greatly looking forward to 2009, when the United States will be able to grow or shrink its nuclear arsenal as it sees fit -- with no treaty constraints.

Furthermore, if Russia were ever again to realistically attempt parity, the U.S. could expand its forces faster and essentially out-spend the Russians, just as it did to the Soviet Union. Or, if it ever appeared that Russia was getting too close to its goal, the U.S. could propose a new treaty while it still had the upper hand.

Russia has had to come to terms with the fact that it cannot achieve parity with the United States. Its one real strategic option is to threaten nuclear war with its neighbors and enemies. Re-embracing midrange weapons, while it would not achieve parity, would drastically expand Russia's strategic options.

Midrange missiles have always made more sense for Russia than for the United States. Russia is literally surrounded by them -- in Iran, Pakistan, India, China and North Korea. With Russia's massive, indefensible land border, they are useful. Whereas, with no one but Canada and Central America in range, the United States slowly has abandoned such systems.

But given START 1's looming expiration date, Ivanov's statements make sense. A new generation of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) is well within the grasp of Russian engineers and industry. While the Russians have a long and storied history of trouble with -- and often complete failure of -- solid-fueled submarine-launched ballistic missiles, they mastered solid-propellant land-based systems some time ago. The SS-18 was the last great liquid-fueled ICBM. The SS-24, -25 and -27 have all used solid fuel. It would not be a stretch for Russia to re-develop and re-deploy road-mobile IRBMs. (Of course, the country really only needs to crank out new copies of older proven systems that are perfectly useable but prohibited under the INF.) They also are much cheaper and could serve as a new tool with which to directly threaten Europe.

The Russian grand strategy has always been to divide and conquer. With this new ability to threaten the Europeans in a much more tangible way, Moscow could re-assert a certain degree of influence over its crumbling periphery and potentially drive a wedge between the United States and the Europeans. This is an especially relevant consideration as Russia watches the talks about a potential U.S. ballistic missile defense base in the Czech Republic and Poland progress at an uncomfortable rate.

A limited U.S. missile shield is not a real threat to Russia. A Russian barrage of intercontinental missiles would travel over the North Pole and would completely overwhelm the current defenses. But this is not to say it makes Russia particularly comfortable.

A Europe-based U.S. ballistic missile defense base might ultimately be the last straw for Russia and the INF. Ivanov believes it is a capability Russia should never have agreed to go without, and now he seems set on correcting this "mistake."
Power User
Posts: 42466

« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2007, 07:19:36 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: A Russian Charm Offensive

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered what some have been calling the boldest condemnation of the United States -- by a Russian leader -- since the Cold War. Speaking over the weekend at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, Putin said the United States had "overstepped its national borders in every way" and that Washington was engaging in "an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations." Among other remarks, he also said that Washington's frequent, unilateral use of force encourages smaller states to develop nuclear weapons, and that U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Central Europe could trigger a new arms race.

Though there is nothing intrinsically new in Putin's criticisms, the bluntness and the venue in which they were delivered clearly signal the end of the relative quiescence that has characterized Moscow's relations with the United States since the Gorbachev era. With his speech, Putin was asserting Russia's claim to "great power" status and challenging what he called the "unipolar" world of American power.

The challenge, it appears, did not go unnoticed: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking on Sunday at the same conference, remarked that one Cold War "was quite enough."

Significantly, while Putin was challenging the United States in Munich, Moscow also was mounting a charm offensive with some of Washington's most important allies elsewhere.

For instance, speaking at an informal gathering of NATO defense ministers in Seville, Spain, on Feb. 9, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Moscow would be happy to provide assistance to help ensure the success of NATO's mission in Afghanistan. Ivanov noted that Russia allows German and French troops and equipment to cross its territory en route to Afghanistan, and would allow Spain the same access. He also offered Russian assistance with reconstruction and intelligence work, but understandably stopped short of contributing troops to the combat effort.

Ivanov's remarks were well-timed. NATO forces currently are experiencing some of the most severe fighting in Afghanistan since 2001, and bracing for what promises to be a violent spring and summer. His words may have resonated with some countries, as the alliance considers deploying still more troops to Afghanistan.

Gates, who was making his first official trip to Europe as the U.S. defense secretary, was left trying to water down Putin's remarks in Munich. Though diplomatically couched, his "Cold War" remark was a reminder to listeners that it was Moscow that was to blame for the last arms race. Gates also acknowledged, however, that some U.S. policies had been misguided and said Washington should do a better job of explaining its foreign policy decisions. He also made a veiled reference to his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld -- who had alienated some European countries by categorizing them as the "old Europe" and "new Europe" -- in saying that, "All of these characterizations belong to the past."

As Gates was doing damage control on Sunday, however, Putin was already picking up the next leg of the Russian charm offensive -- kicking off a tour of the Middle East that, again, will bring him into direct contact with several traditional allies of the United States.

On Sunday, Putin flew to Saudi Arabia -- becoming the first-ever Russian head of state to visit the kingdom -- and was received at the Riyadh airport by King Abdullah. During the visit, Putin -- who brought dozens of Russian businessmen along on the trip -- will discuss increased political and economic cooperation as well as military assistance to the Saudis. The issues of Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, the Lebanese political crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were also high on the agenda.

Other stops on the regional tour will include visits with Jordanian King Abdullah II and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, as well as a trip to Qatar. Though Russia long has had strong ties to Middle Eastern states like Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Putin's current tour is notable in that he will be visiting countries that historically have been well within Washington's sphere of influence -- rather than Moscow's. Such a move, particularly following the remarks in Europe, can be viewed as a direct Russian challenge to the United States in yet another region that Washington considers vital.
Power User
Posts: 42466

« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2007, 08:31:15 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Russia's Ambitions in the Middle East

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday during a visit to Saudi Arabia that Moscow is willing to help Riyadh develop a nuclear program. Though Russian-Saudi nuclear cooperation is unlikely to happen any time soon, Putin's visit to the kingdom is significant. Putin's remarks at a major international security conference in Germany on Sunday serve to clarify Moscow's motives.

In his speech at the Munich conference, Putin said the United States is responsible for growing instability and insecurity in the international system. By lashing out at the United States, Russia hoped to appeal to a latent perception among the United States' Arab allies that Washington is playing with fire in their region.

Moscow hopes to exploit these concerns to infiltrate the region, which has been firmly in the U.S. sphere of influence. The Russians hope to counter U.S. moves in its own neighborhood and contain U.S. power overall; the Kremlin has already started this process with Iran. But the Kremlin knows it must position itself among the Arabs to really use the Middle East as a lever in its struggle with the United States. This explains Putin's recent visits to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, all major U.S. allies.

Russia has correctly realized the potential for an opening in the Middle East. The Russians know that the Arabs, despite their continued close relations with Washington, are unhappy with U.S. policies in the region and are looking for leverage in dealing with the United States.

Jordan, since it relies financially on Washington, might not be willing to warm up to Russia. That said, Putin's trip to Amman includes a meeting with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Russia wants to use its membership in the Middle East Quartet to create problems for the U.S. calculus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Putin's meeting with Abbas could therefore prove instrumental. As for Qatar, good relations with Russia are in keeping with its goal to enhance its role as a regional player. Moscow hopes to capitalize on this in order to get close to Doha, where U.S. Central Command is headquartered.

But the most significant relationship that the Russians are looking to develop in the Middle East is that with the Saudis, especially given Riyadh's close relations with the United States. The Russians are aware the Saudis think the U.S. position in the region is weakening, and that Riyadh has grown wary of U.S. policies there, which have empowered rival Iran. In fact, Putin's visit to Saudi Arabia is in part the result of Riyadh's assistance to Moscow to help quell the jihadist insurgency in the Caucasus.

Under King Abdullah, the Saudis are trying to diversify their foreign policy options. They see the decline of the U.S. position in the region and want to have other choices for security. Moreover, Riyadh is concerned about U.S.-Israeli ties upsetting its calculus regarding the Palestinian situation, especially since the Saudis have assumed a more direct role in mediating the conflict. The Saudis also want to counter Iran and Syria, which they hope will be possible by engaging the Russians, who have backed both Tehran and Damascus.

Though the Russians and Saudis hope to benefit from their relationship, energy and the sale of military hardware limit the extent to which they can cooperate. Russia and Saudi Arabia do not see eye to eye on oil production -- Saudi moves to increase production lead to a drop in oil prices, financially hurting Russia. And though Moscow wants to sell Riyadh military hardware, it is unlikely since Riyadh can purchase superior U.S. weapons.

Despite Moscow's ambitions in Saudi Arabia, Putin's visit there has not gone quite as well as it might seem. Mintimer Shaimiev, president of the constituent republic of Tatarstan, is a member of Putin's delegation. Shaimiev is the leader of the only republic in which Putin has not been able to install his choice of governor; Shaimiev's influence does not end in Tatarstan -- he is the most influential of Russia's 30 million Muslims. On Monday Putin had to sit through a ceremony in which the Saudis awarded Shaimiev a cash award for his service to Islam -- a religion and ideology that is seen in Russia as weakening Moscow's hold. Furthermore, ethnic Tatars and Russia's other Muslim minorities have among the world's highest birth rate, and Russians among the lowest, making the end of Putin's visit perhaps not as pleasant as the media suggest.
Power User
Posts: 42466

« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2007, 06:44:31 PM »

Russia lays claim to the North Pole - and all its gas, oil, and diamonds

Last updated at 17:15pm on 28th June 2007
Russian leader Vladimir Putin has made an astonishing bid to grab a vast chunk of the Arctic, giving himself claim to its vast potential oil, gas and mineral wealth.
His audacious argument that an underwater Russian ridge is linked to the North Pole is likely to lead to an international outcry.
Some commentators have already observed it is further evidence of growing Russian assertiveness under its authoritarian president.
The Russian media trumpeted the findings of a Moscow scientific mission to the region which boasts "sensational" geological discoveries enabling the Kremlin to make the territorial claim.
Populist newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda - a cheerleader for Putin - printed a map of the North Pole showing a "new addition" to Russia, a triangle five times the size of Britain with twice as much oil as Saudi Arabia.
The six-week mission on a nuclear ice-breaker claimed that the underwater Lomonsov ridge is geologically linked to the Siberian continental platform - and similar in structure.
The detailed findings are likely to be put to the United Nations in a bid to bring it under the Kremlin noose, and provide the bonanza of an estimated 10 billion tonnes of gas and oil deposits as well as significant sources of diamonds, gold, tin, manganese, nickel, lead and platinum.
Under current international law, the countries ringing the Arctic - Russia, Canada, the US, Norway, Denmark (Greenland) - are limited to a 200 mile economic zone around their coastlines.
Currently, a UN convention stipulates that none of these countries can claim jurisdiction of the Arctic seabed because the geological structure does not match that of the surrounding continental shelves.
The region is administered by the International Seabed Authority - the authority now being challenged by Moscow.
A previous attempt to claim the oil and gas resources beyond its 200 miles zone five years ago was rejected - but this time Moscow intends to make a far more serious submission to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
The head of the government-funded expedition Valery Kaminsky, director of the All-Russian Oceanic Scientific Research Institute, said he has key photographic evidence to prove the geological claims. "These are very interesting facts for the world community," he said.
Yuri Deryabin, head of the Institute of North European Countries, said: "I estimate Russia's chances to gets its piece of the Arctic pie highly enough - but the main battle is just starting." He acknowledged the negotiations would be "complicated".
The claim is likely to provoke an outcry from green groups but there is also Russian opposition.
Sergei Priamikov, of Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, said the notion was "strange" and warned other countries could make counter claims.
Canada "could say that the Lomonosov ridge is part of the Canadian shelf, which means Russia should in fact belong to Canada, together with the whole of Eurasia", he observed drily.
A diplomatic source said that Russia was "seeking to secure its grip on oil and gas supplies for decades to come. Putin wants a strong Russia, and Western dependence for oil and gas supplies is a key part of his strategy. He no longer cares if his strategy upsets the West".
Power User
Posts: 42466

« Reply #5 on: July 03, 2007, 08:18:17 AM »

NY Times
Published: July 3, 2007

KENNEBUNKPORT, Me., July 2 — Announcing that he was “here to play,” President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said Monday that after two days of meetings with President Bush, he was ready to expand on his proposal for a shared missile-defense system with the United States, a step he said would take American-Russian relations to “an entirely new level” of cooperation.

Video: News Conference With Bush and PutinBut the system he described would be mostly under Russian control and built on Russian terms. And, even as Mr. Putin portrayed the proposal as a compromise, it represented a continued rejection of an American plan to base a missile-defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland, which Mr. Bush says is necessary to combat potential new threats from nations seeking nuclear weapons, like Iran.

Mr. Putin sees that system as a potential threat to Russia, and he proposed that his alternative system be developed jointly by the NATO-Russia Council, a cooperative formed in 2002.

The proposal surprised the Americans and seemed likely to lead to still more haggling after a set of meetings here that had been portrayed mostly as an attempt to smooth over differences both sides consider to be the most daunting since Mr. Bush took office.

Mr. Putin’s new plan would continue to include a site in Azerbaijan that he proposed last month as an alternative to the American system and that the Americans have described as insufficient. But Mr. Putin said he was prepared to modernize the Azerbaijan radar and include another early-detection system in southern Russia, along with information-sharing sites in Moscow and Brussels.

“In this case, there would be no need to place any more facilities in Europe — I mean, these facilities in Czech Republic and the missile base in Poland,” Mr. Putin said as he and Mr. Bush fielded questions after their meetings.

American and NATO officials have said that the Azerbaijan site is less useful than those selected for Poland and the Czech Republic because it is too close to Iran to intercept missiles fired from there.

Mr. Bush indicated that Mr. Putin’s new plan did not at first glance satisfy his concerns. “I think it’s innovative, I think it’s strategic,” Mr. Bush said. “But as I told Vladimir, I think that the Czech Republic and Poland need to be an integral part of the system.”

Speaking later, Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said Mr. Putin’s new proposal was a good sign that he was willing to work with the United States and NATO to create a missile-defense system.

Mr. Bush had never before met as president with a foreign leader here at Walker’s Point, the serene seaside vacation property of his parents.

The location was a reminder of the presidency of Mr. Bush’s father, during which the cold war ended and Russia and the United States heralded a new era of cooperation. Mr. Putin’s discussion of a strategic defense partnership would have been unimaginable at the start of the senior Bush’s term.

But the subtext of disagreement about the system was a reminder of the new complications between the United States and Russia as they continue to jockey for global position. So, too, were jabs by Mr. Putin at Mr. Bush for questions about the intelligence leading up to the Iraq war, and the issue of torture, raised recently by the CNN host Larry King, among others, while interviewing George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director.

“If you remember how Larry King tortured the former C.I.A. director, you would also understand that there are some other problems and issues, as well, in this world,” Mr. Putin said in a reflection of his reported frustration with what he views as American lecturing on democracy. “We have common problems.”

Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin initially approached reporters with an air of stiff determination that dissipated when they discussed their morning fishing trip, during which Mr. Putin caught a striped bass — Mr. Bush and his father caught no fish in three outings this visit.

The leaders did not announce any breakthroughs on independence for Kosovo, though Mr. Hadley said the United States and Russia would announce this week that they had finalized the details of a pact on sharing nuclear materials that they agreed on last year.

They also did not announce any agreement on new sanctions against Iran for its uranium enrichment program, with Mr. Bush saying he and Mr. Putin agreed that they needed to send a forceful message together, but with Mr. Putin pointing to possible new signs of Iranian cooperation with international inspectors.

But neither side expected Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin to announce any big breakthroughs. The radar proposal, however, did come as a surprise to the Americans, who were caught off guard last month when Mr. Putin first announced his Azerbaijan plan.

Late Sunday night, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said there would be no surprise announcements from Kennebunkport.

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a private research group in Washington, called the new proposal “a minor modification” of that earlier plan, saying it appeared to have similar shortcomings.

But other experts said it was still a positive sign that Mr. Putin was engaged and looking for alternatives. “We’re beyond the point where Putin shows up and says, ‘Over my dead body,’ ” said Julianne Smith, a Europe expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The Americans said the whole point of inviting Mr. Putin here was to bring the leaders together in a way that would discourage that sort of loggerheads from either side. And in that respect both sides said the trip went well.

Chatting with reporters, the first President Bush said Mr. Putin rode around on a Segway standing vehicle — which Mr. Bush once famously fell off here — and that the Bushes gave it to him as a gift.

Then there was the fishing. Though Mr. Putin showed up his hosts, he was gracious: “That was a team effort, and we let it go to the captain,” he said, later correcting himself to say they threw the fish back.

Nicholas Kulish contributed reporting from New York.
Power User
Posts: 42466

« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2007, 02:44:57 AM »

'For the Sake of One Man'
Getting the facts straight about the old-new Russia.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

In the six or seven years in which they interacted on a regular basis, Vladimir Putin's police state and journalist Fatima Tlisova had a mostly one-way relationship. Ms. Tlisova's food was poisoned (causing a nearly fatal case of kidney failure), her ribs were broken by assailants unknown, her teenage son was detained by drunken policemen for the crime of not being an ethnic Russian, and agents of the Federal Security Services (FSB) forced her into a car, took her to a forest outside the city of Nalchik and extinguished cigarettes on every finger of her right hand, "so that you can write better," as one of her tormentors informed her. Last year, the 41-year-old journalist decided she'd had enough. Along with her colleague Yuri Bagrov, she applied for, and was granted, asylum in the United States.

Ms. Tlisova and Mr. Bagrov are, as the wedding refrain has it, something old, something new: characters from an era that supposedly vanished with the collapse of the Soviet Union 16 years ago. Now that era, or something that looks increasingly like it, seems to be upon us again. What can we do?

The most important task is to get some facts straight. Fact No. 1: The Bush administration is not provoking a new Cold War with Russia.
That it is seems to be the view of Beltway pundits such as Anatol Lieven, whose indignation at alleged U.S. hostility to Russia is inversely correlated with his concerns about mounting Russian hostility to the U.S., its allies and the likes of Ms. Tlisova. In an article in the March issue of the American Conservative, the leftish Mr. Lieven made the case against the administration for its "bitterly anti-Russian statements," the plan to bring Ukraine into NATO and other supposed encroachments on Russia's self-declared sphere of influence. In this reading, Mr. Putin's increasingly strident anti-Western rhetoric is merely a response to a deliberate and needless U.S. policy of provocation.

Yet talk to actual Russians and you'll find that one of their chief gripes with this administration has been its over-the-top overtures to Mr. Putin: President Bush's "insight" into the Russian's soul on their first meeting in 2001; Condoleezza Rice's reported advice to "forgive Russia" for its anti-American shenanigans in 2003; the administration's decision to permit Russian membership in the World Trade Organization in 2006; the Lobster Summit earlier this month at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport (which Mr. Putin graciously followed up by announcing the "suspension" of Russia's obligations under the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty).

This isn't a study in appeasement, quite. But it stands in striking contrast to the British government's decision yesterday to expel four Russian diplomats over Mr. Putin's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the former FSB man suspected of murdering Alexander Litvinenko in London last November with a massive dose of polonium. "The heinous crime of murder does require justice," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said yesterday. "This response is proportional and it is clear at whom it is aimed." Would that Dick Cheney walked that talk.

Now turn to Fact No. 2. Russia is acting with increasingly unrestrained rhetorical, diplomatic, economic and political hostility to whoever stands in the way of Mr. Putin's ambitions.

The enemies' list begins with Mr. Putin's domestic critics and the vocations they represent: imprisoned Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky; murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya; harassed opposition leader Garry Kasparov. It continues with foreign companies which have had to forfeit multibillion-dollar investments when Kremlin-favored companies decided they wanted a piece of the action. It goes on to small neighboring democracies such as Estonia, victim of a recent Russian cyberwar when it decided to remove a monument to its Soviet subjugators from downtown Tallinn. It culminates with direct rhetorical assaults on the U.S., as when Mr. Putin suggested in a recent speech that the threat posed by the U.S., "as during the time of the Third Reich," include "the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world."

None of these Kremlin assaults can seriously be laid at the White House's feet, unless one believes the lurid anti-Western conspiracy theories spun out by senior Russian officials. And that brings us to Fact No. 3. Russia has become, in the precise sense of the word, a fascist state.

It does not matter here, as the Kremlin's apologists are so fond of pointing out, that Mr. Putin is wildly popular in Russia: Popularity is what competent despots get when they destroy independent media, stoke nationalistic fervor with military buildups and the cunning exploitation of the Church, and ride a wave of petrodollars to pay off the civil service and balance their budgets. Nor does it matter that Mr. Putin hasn't re-nationalized the "means of production" outright; corporatism was at the heart of Hitler's economic policy, too.

What matters, rather, is nicely captured in a remark by Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin regarding Britain's decision to expel the four diplomats. "I don't understand the position of the British government," Mr. Kamynin said. "It is prepared to sacrifice our relations in trade and education for the sake of one man."

That's a telling remark, both in its substance and in the apparent insouciance with which it was made: The whole architecture of liberal democracy is designed primarily "for the sake of one man." Not only does Mr. Kamynin seem unaware of it, he seems to think we are unaware of it. Perhaps the indulgence which the West has extended to Mr. Putin's regime over the past seven years gives him a reason to think so.

Last night, Ms. Tlisova was in Washington, D.C., to accept an award from the National Press Club on behalf of Anna Politkovskaya. "She knew she was condemned. She knew she would be killed. She just didn't know when, so she tried to achieve as much as she could in the time she had," Ms. Tlisova said in her prepared statement. "Maybe Anna Politkovskaya was indeed very damaging to the Russia that President Putin has created. But for us, the people of the Caucasus, she was a symbol of hope and faith in another Russia--a country with a conscience, honor and compassion for all its citizens."
How do we deal with the old-new Russia? By getting the facts straight. That was Politkovskaya's calling, as it is Ms. Tlisova's, as it should be ours.

Mr. Stephens is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. His column appears in the Journal Tuesdays.

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« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2007, 09:39:07 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Russia Tries to Re-Treaty the Present

In the grand tradition of the Cold War, Russia staged a press conference on Wednesday to lambaste Western security structures. The star of the show was Yevgeny Buzhinsky, head of the Russian Defense Ministry's international legal department. Buzhinsky's tongue practically danced in response to journalists' questions. Honestly, we've seen Broadway productions that are less scripted than this "press conference."

During the presentation, Buzhinsky proposed a number of possibilities to replace the current strategic formats between Russia and NATO. The three documents that make up the bulk of Russian-Western security understandings are the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE).

START places an absolute limit on the number of intercontinental nuclear weapons both Russia and the United States can field, and the INF does the same for intermediate-range missiles, while the CFE restricts how many troops individual NATO states and Russia can maintain -- as well as where Russia can station them. Taken together, the three treaties form the framework for Western-Russian relations, and it is that very framework that a strengthening Russia is now challenging. To a certain degree, this is understandable.

The three treaties locked into place the military realities of November 1990. Since then, not only has the Soviet Union collapsed, but the entire Soviet bloc (sans Russia of course), plus the three Baltic states and Slovenia, also has jumped the fence, taking its militaries with it. Add in more than a decade of Russian military decline and the result is a treaty-mandated system that puts the Russians at a grave disadvantage. It is this that the Kremlin seeks to change.

Such logic -- colored by the rhetoric and minutiae of the day -- is the core rationale for Russia's recent decision to halt its implementation of the CFE Treaty, by far the treaty with which Moscow is most dissatisfied. In addition to justifying this action, Buzhinsky also noted during Wednesday's press conference that the INF should be expanded and a successor to START determined.

Russia is not simply trying to amend the security structures that govern its relationship with the West; it is trying to convince the West to help it lock in a new system that is more representative of Russian fears and strengths. The INF currently applies only to the United States and Russia, but because it was signed during the Reagan administration, other states on Russia's borders have since developed respectable missile programs.

However, it will be START that really gets Russian engines revving in the near future. START is the only treaty that seriously limits Washington's defense spending on the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Since the Russian deterrent is one of the very few assets that guarantee Russia an international voice, Moscow desperately wants to preserve it at a level equal to that of the American program. With Washington looking over the Russian horizon toward a possible arms race with the more financially capable Chinese, there is no way any U.S. administration would agree to renew START in order to make the Russians feel better about themselves. The Russians know this, and it is pushing them to threaten to leave the INF altogether in order to maintain at least a semblance of parity: Intermediate-range missiles, while they cannot reach the United States, are much cheaper to produce.

During the Cold War, the Soviets regularly bandied about similar proposals in attempts to use treaties and Western opinion to lock U.S. force structures into untenable positions. As during the Buzhinsky conference, concepts of fairness and partnership were used liberally in an effort to make Moscow's position seem reasonable. This resulted in peace movements across Europe that greatly complicated alliance management for the Americans. After all, the last thing NATO needed -- and precisely what Moscow was after -- was splits in the alliance that could be exploited.

This time around, that does not seem to be happening. Europe is perhaps more awash than ever in anti-American sentiment due to the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, but there have been no mass rallies against U.S. weapons systems or Western parliamentary spectacles against U.S. policy. Most Central European states, such as Poland and Romania, are not buying the Russian line at all, and recent government changes in France and Germany have largely killed the idea of any broad Russian-European rapprochement.

There are structural limitations as well. Disarmament treaties typically only work when there is parity -- and very expensive parity at that -- that forces the two sides to talk. Despite Russia's resurgence, that parity does not exist, so the Americans see no reason to be particularly worried. And, to be perfectly honest, while Europeans -- at a minimum -- remain as nervous about Russia's rhetoric as its hardware, Russia's military degradation is perceived to have been so catastrophic that the Europeans are not breaking ranks. Then again, maybe it is simply that it is hard to play the victim when you are the one who walked away from the CFE Treaty in the first place.

The alliance might be wobbling somewhat, but it has held -- and done so with a much more diverse member list than it boasted in the 1980s. If Russia is going to split NATO and push through a new treaty regime, it will need to do more than simply dust off some old rhetoric.
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« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2007, 08:29:01 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: The Return of Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin broke out an old supply of bile on Wednesday when he called for permanent increases in the capabilities of both the military and the FSB -- the Russian successor to the Soviet KGB.

Stratfor never takes such statements from people who possess nuclear capabilities lightly. But, in this case, the apparent militancy behind the comment is sadly funny. Russia has had a hard run since the end of the Cold War, facing military, social, economic, medical and political declines. But all of these pale in comparison to -- and feed into -- the worst disaster of all: Russia's demographic collapse.

Low birth rates, combined with soaring death rates -- particularly among men between the ages of 30 and 55 -- have saddled the country with the worst demographic picture in centuries of any nation that is not at war. Even Russian government demographers admit the population is dropping by about 750,000 people per year, just as the average Russian grows older and, therefore, less productive. Most independent demographers estimate that by 2050 Russia's population will have decreased by one-third of its current total, approximately 140 million. The only reason Russia lacks a pension crisis like those many other developed states are experiencing is that, a few years back, Moscow moved the retirement age past the (falling) average age of death. As a country, Russia is -- quite literally -- dying.

So why the chest beating and saber rattling? What does Russia have to worry about? Is the Cold War not over? Well, yes and no.

While it is certainly true that NATO lacks the military force even to contemplate an invasion of Russia, this does not mean NATO is not perceived as aggressive. In the Russian mind, NATO and the European Union have willfully expanded to absorb all of the former Soviet satellites, as well as the Baltic countries and Slovenia. Now the West is perceived by the Russians to be in the process of tossing away or creatively reinterpreting agreements such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, slowly but irrevocably reshaping the European landscape to suit its needs.

For the Europeans, it is about reknitting the European fabric after two generations of separation. For the Americans, it is about leaving the Cold War behind and preparing for the conflicts of tomorrow. The ever-expanding U.S. nuclear missile defense network -- which made headlines Wednesday when the British offered up the Royal Air Force base at Menwith Hill -- is only one part of the U.S. effort to fashion a world in which Russia is an afterthought.

For the Russians, it is about being told in a rather absentminded and oblique way that they and their interests no longer matter.

But matter they do, and while the Russians are indeed dying, they are not dead yet. Acting as if they were is tantamount to discussing a grandmother's past marital infidelities before she finalizes her will, and expecting her to be oblivious to it.

On the same day Putin demanded better military and FSB capabilities, the military made it clear that the president's call is not just talk, installing in Moscow one of the few new pieces of military hardware the Russians have perfected since the end of the Cold War: the S-400 air defense missile battery. Russia's other new technologies include the Topol and Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); the former is land-launched and already entering service, while the latter is sub-launched and in the final stages of development. Between them, these ICBM designs will make up the backbone of Russia's nuclear deterrent in a decade's time.

While it has not exactly turned a corner, the Russian defense industry is undergoing a massive overhaul that can only make things better. On Wednesday, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov -- a bean counter who the army hates -- was named to the seemingly obvious position of board chairman of Russia's military shipbuilding operations. And much of the rest of the military-industrial complex is being taken over by Sergei Chemezov, Putin's point man for defense reforms and the one in charge of Rosoboronexport, the government's weapons export arm.

Beyond defense, high energy prices have allowed the country to claw its way back from the destitution of the 1998 ruble collapse and helped it accrue one of the world's largest foreign reserves accounts. Russia is actually so cash-rich that has a budget surplus, despite having increased defense spending by double-digit percentages for seven years in a row. Moscow's energy and resources exports give it direct influence throughout Europe and Turkey. Its people feel more secure than they have in a generation, and they have a leader who most are willing to follow, despite his merely passing fancy with democratic institutions.

No state with Russia's capabilities has ever gone down easily. (Honestly, the real surprise is that Moscow has been so quiescent for so long.) Why should anyone expect that the Russians -- in spite of all their problems -- will "go gentle into that good night?"

While it might not last, Russia is coming back. It has a mark yet to make on this world.
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« Reply #9 on: July 26, 2007, 09:24:11 AM »

Second post of the morning- another long one:

Don Putin
July 26, 2007; Page A13

When Vladimir Putin took power in Russia in 2000, the burning question was: "Who is Putin?" It has now changed to: "What is the nature of Putin's Russia?" This regime has been remarkably consistent in its behavior, yet foreign leaders and the Western press still act surprised at Mr. Putin's total disregard for their opinions.

Again and again we hear cries of: "Doesn't Putin know how bad this looks?" When another prominent Russian journalist is murdered, when a businessman not friendly to the Kremlin is jailed, when a foreign company is pushed out of its Russian investment, when pro-democracy marchers are beaten by police, when gas and oil supplies are used as weapons, or when Russian weapons and missile technology are sold to terrorist sponsor states like Iran and Syria, what needs to be asked is what sort of government would continue such behavior. This Kremlin regime operates within a value system entirely different from that of the Western nations struggling to understand what is happening behind the medieval red walls.

Mr. Putin's government is unique in history. This Kremlin is part oligarchy, with a small, tightly connected gang of wealthy rulers. It is partly a feudal system, broken down into semi-autonomous fiefdoms in which payments are collected from the serfs, who have no rights. Over this there is a democratic coat of paint, just thick enough to gain entry into the G-8 and keep the oligarchy's money safe in Western banks.

But if you really wish to understand the Putin regime in depth, I can recommend some reading. No Karl Marx or Adam Smith. Nothing by Montesquieu or Machiavelli, although the author you are looking for is of Italian descent. But skip Mussolini's "The Doctrine of Fascism," for now, and the entire political science section. Instead, go directly to the fiction department and take home everything you can find by Mario Puzo. If you are in a real hurry to become an expert on the Russian government, you may prefer the DVD section, where you can find Mr. Puzo's works on film. "The Godfather" trilogy is a good place to start, but do not leave out "The Last Don," "Omerta" and "The Sicilian."

The web of betrayals, the secrecy, the blurred lines between what is business, what is government, and what is criminal -- it's all there in Mr. Puzo's books. A historian looks at the Kremlin today and sees elements of Mussolini's "corporate state," Latin American juntas and Mexico's pseudo-democratic PRI machine. A Puzo fan sees the Putin government more accurately: the strict hierarchy, the extortion, the intimidation, the code of secrecy and, above all, the mandate to keep the revenue flowing. In other words, a mafia.

If a member of the inner circle goes against the Capo, his life is forfeit. Once Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky wanted to go straight and run his Yukos oil company as a legitimate corporation and not as another cog in Mr. Putin's KGB, Inc. He quickly found himself in a Siberian prison, his company dismantled and looted, and its pieces absorbed by the state mafia apparatus of Rosneft and Gazprom.

The Yukos case has become a model. Private companies are absorbed into the state while at the same time the assets of the state companies move into private accounts.

Alexander Litvinenko was a KGB agent who broke the loyalty code by fleeing to Britain. Worse, he violated the law of omertà by going to the press and even publishing books about the dirty deeds of Mr. Putin and his foot soldiers. Instead of being taken fishing in the old-fashioned Godfather style, he was killed in London in the first recorded case of nuclear terrorism. Now the Kremlin is refusing to hand over the main suspect in the murder.

Mr. Putin can't understand Britain doing potential harm to its business interests over one human life. That's an alien concept. In his world, everything is negotiable. Morals and principles are just chips on the table in the Kremlin's game. There is no mere misunderstanding in the Litvinenko case; there are two different languages being spoken.

In the civilized world, certain things are sacrosanct. Human life is not traded at the same table where business and diplomacy are discussed. But for Mr. Putin, it's a true no-limits game. Kosovo, the missile shield, pipeline deals, the Iranian nuclear program and democratic rights are all just cards to be played.

After years of showing no respect for the law in Russia, with no resulting consequences from abroad, it should not come as a surprise that Mr. Putin's attitude extends to international relations as well. The man accused of the Litvinenko murder, Andrei Lugovoi, signs autographs and enjoys the support of the Russian media, which says and does nothing without Kremlin approval. For seven years the West has tried to change the Kremlin with kind words and compliance. It apparently believed that it would be able to integrate Mr. Putin and his gang into the Western system of trade and diplomacy.

Instead, the opposite has happened -- the mafia corrupts everything it touches. Bartering in human rights begins to appear acceptable. The Kremlin is not changing its standards: It is imposing them on the outside world. It receives the stamp of legitimacy from Western leaders and businesses but makes those same leaders and businesses complicit in its crimes.

With energy prices so high, the temptation to sell out to the Kremlin is an offer you almost can't refuse. Gerhard Schröder could not resist doing business with Mr. Putin on his terms and, after pushing through a Baltic Sea pipeline deal while in office, he had a nice Gazprom job waiting for him when he left the chancellorship. Silvio Berlusconi also became a Putin business partner. He even answered for Mr. Putin at an EU meeting, vigorously defending Russian abuses in Chechnya and the jailing of Mr. Khodorkovsky and then joking to Mr. Putin, "I should be your lawyer!" Now we see Nicolas Sarkozy boosting the interests of French energy company Total in the Shtokman gas field.

Can Mr. Sarkozy possibly speak out strongly in support of Britain after making big deals on the phone with Mr. Putin? He should know that if Gordon Brown gets Mr. Putin on the line and offers to drop the case against Mr. Lugovoi, perhaps Total will find itself pushed out to make room for BP.

We in the Russian opposition have been saying for a long time that our problem would soon be the world's problem. The mafia knows no borders. Nuclear terror is not out of the question if it fits in with the Kremlin business agenda. Expelling diplomats and limiting official visits is not going to have an impact.

How about limiting the Russian ruling elite's visits to their properties in the West? Ironically, they like to keep their money where they can trust in the rule of law, and so far Mr. Putin and his wealthy supporters have every reason to believe their money is safe. They've been spending so much on ski trips to the Alps that they recently decided to bring the skiing to Russia by snapping up the Olympic Winter Games.

There is no reason to cease doing business with Russia. The delusion is that it can ever be more than that. The mafia takes, it does not give. Mr. Putin has discovered that when dealing with Europe and America he can always exchange worthless promises of reform for cold, hard cash. Mr. Lugovoi may yet find himself up for sale.

Mr. Kasparov, former world chess champion, is a contributing editor to The Wall Street Journal and chairman of the United Civil Front of Russia, a pro-democracy opposition organization.
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« Reply #10 on: August 10, 2007, 12:06:08 AM »

Young Russia's Enemy No. 1
Anti-Americanism Grows

Vladimir Putin's belligerent rhetoric and actions toward the United States and its allies have begun prompting pundits to debate whether a new Cold War is afoot. But how has the Russian president's message played to his home audience? A survey we commissioned by the Levada Analytic Center of 1,802 Russians ages 16 to 29 offers some insight. We focused on this "Putin generation" because it is Russia's political and economic future. In the days after the Soviet collapse, it seemed reasonable to hope, even expect, that this generation, as the collective beneficiaries of a putative post-Soviet transition to economic prosperity and political freedom, would embrace the United States as a friend of Russia. Yet our survey, conducted in April and May, found that a majority of young Russians view the United States as enemy No. 1. And while Putin's rhetoric is driving this development, human rights violations associated with U.S. counterterrorism policies have played a role.

Putin has become increasingly vocal in his accusations that the United States seeks to impose its ideas and interests on the rest of the world, going so far as to liken American policies to those of the Third Reich. He frequently cites the "dangers" of foreign influence, suggesting that Russia is encircled by enemies and that foreign governments finance Russian organizations to meddle in Russia's affairs. Putin virulently rejects any foreign criticism of episodes from Russia's Soviet past or of such current policies as media restrictions, brutality in the North Caucasus and the persecution of Kremlin opponents. This campaign seems motivated by domestic political considerations; the creation of foreign "enemies" is a tactic long used to distract people from the shortcomings of their own government, rally support for authoritarian measures, or both.

But these themes resonate with young Russians. Nearly 80 percent agreed that "the United States tries to impose its norms and way of life on the rest of the world," we found. Nearly 70 percent disagreed that the United States "does more good than harm." Three-quarters agreed that the "United States gives aid in order to influence the internal politics of countries."

When asked which of five words best described the United States in relation to Russia, 64 percent chose either "enemy" or "rival." We asked the same question in regard to six other countries. Georgia, another target of Putin's, ranked second in terms of the percentage who chose these words -- but that was only at 44 percent. The other countries were less likely to be viewed as enemies or rivals, even though some represent an arguably equal or greater threat: China (27 percent), Iran (21 percent), Ukraine (21 percent), Germany (13 percent) and Belarus (12 percent). Substantially more than the 18 percent who described America as a "partner" or "ally" used these positive terms to characterize the other countries. Putin's rhetoric is an influence on these and two other findings: 54 percent agreed that Stalin "did more good than bad" and 63 percent agreed that the Soviet collapse was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century."

We also found that Bush administration counterterrorism policies have helped the Kremlin cultivate this hostility toward America. Critics of certain U.S. policies assert that practices departing from long-standing international law -- such as indefinite detention and extraordinary rendition -- are linked to the worldwide decline of America's reputation and moral sway, key elements of "soft" power. Our data support these claims. Respondents tended to believe that the United States tortures terrorism suspects (52 percent), renders them to countries that practice torture (44 percent) and detains them without due process or legal representation (46 percent). Very few respondents -- 9 to 13 percent -- believed these allegations to be false; the rest found it "hard to say."

Generally, respondents condemned these practices (42 to 57 percent, with only 15 to 29 percent approving). Moreover, our statistical modeling demonstrates that perceptions of American human rights violations relate directly to anti-American sentiment: Young Russians who believed that the United States tortures or unlawfully detains terrorist suspects had considerably more negative views of the U.S. government than those who did not.

The legacy of a new generation of Russians who are nostalgic for the Soviet Union, ambivalent about Stalin and hostile toward the United States may jeopardize U.S.-Russian relations long after Putin is gone. Thus, in addition to countering Putin's aggressive stance in the short term, this U.S. administration and the next needs to develop longer-term strategies to reverse the tide of growing anti-American sentiment among young Russians. Changing U.S. counterterrorism policies is a good place to start. The goal should be to restore the vision of America expressed by Andrei Sakharov: "In fact, we don't idealize America and see a lot that is bad or foolish in it, but America is a vital force, a positive factor in our chaotic world."

Sarah E. Mendelson directs the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Theodore P. Gerber is a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
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« Reply #11 on: August 10, 2007, 09:01:46 AM »

Second post of the morning:

Geopolitical Diary: Russian 'Smiles'

The commander of Russia's strategic bomber force, Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov, announced with a bit of flair Thursday that two of his Tu-95 bombers had ventured down to the U.S. military base at Guam during the Valiant Shield 2007 exercises involving nearly 100 U.S. aircraft in the Western Pacific, and had "exchanged smiles" with U.S. fighter pilots before turning back toward home. The incident actually happened Wednesday; the U.S. military only rarely comments on Russian forces buzzing U.S. assets, in order to minimize Russian public relations buzz. True to form, the U.S. Department of Defense issued a two-sentence statement downplaying the entire incident.

Wednesday's flight came amid an annual training exercise for the Russian 37th Air Army, and in the wake of several similar incidents this summer north of Fife, Scotland. Post-Cold War Russian military posturing and testing of foreign airspace is nothing new. But the flight to Guam is noteworthy nonetheless.

The incident is only the most recent in a long line of aggressive Russian actions. In the summer to date, similar intrusions have occurred off Alaska, Norway, the United Kingdom, Iceland and Japan. Russian "youth movements" have sparked riots in Estonia, the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces has threatened to put nuclear weapons back in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, the navy has mused about a permanent base in Syria, and Russian jets stand accused of firing a missile on Georgia. Taken together, all of this is simply normal Russian behavior.

For 1985, that is.

Since 1989, Russian military assets have on occasion challenged a maritime border or buzzed an aircraft carrier, but such developments have not been weekly events since the Cold War. This sort of activity is a new -- or perhaps we should say, "old" -- chapter in Russian strategic thinking.

The story of Russia in the 17 years since the Cold War ended has been one of precipitous decline economically, politically, militarily and demographically. However, during President Vladimir Putin's two terms, Russia has arrested -- and haltingly reversed -- the first three declines. This does not mean the Russians have truly turned the corner -- the economy is more addicted to commodity exports than ever before, the Kremlin is closer to political ossification than the "efficiency" of a true autocracy, and new or well-maintained military equipment is certainly not the norm -- but a floor has definitely been inserted under the country, halting the fall.

Military reform has been under way for some time. That the Russian army has professionalized itself down below 200,000 conscripts is, in and of itself, an amazing achievement. But while deliberate, the task remains daunting, and the pace slow. Yet even if Russia had stopped its military research and development programs -- which it did not -- even late-Soviet military technology would leave Russia in a unique military position. And as the recent military adventurism vividly demonstrates, there is a pattern in Russian actions: the incidents are not isolated, and there is no direction in which the Russians are not pushing out. This is a strategy that has an excitingly (and disturbingly) familiar feel to it.

The American Cold War strategy of "containment" was not something dreamed up on some idle Tuesday. The geography of the former Soviet Union is hostile not just to economic and political development, but also to military expansion. Vast interior distances make the transport of armies as difficult as that of goods, while natural maritime choke points like the Japanese Islands, the Turkish straits and "The Sound" between Sweden and Denmark naturally limit Moscow's naval reach -- and have for centuries. The bottom line for the United States was that by aligning with all of Russia's neighbors, it could force the Soviet Union to focus on building tanks to defend is mass -- because Moscow never knew from which direction an attack (or multiple attacks) would come.

Yet just as Eurasia's geography dictated the containment strategy, that same geography predetermined the Russian counterstrategy. Russia's one advantage in fact mirrors its greatest disadvantage: its huge expanse is difficult to defend -- the source of the paranoia that most associate with all things Russian -- but it also grants whoever rules Russia a wealth of options in terms of where to strike out. Russia's counterstrategy was simple: push out everywhere until a weak spot appears in the containment cordon.

Though the Cold War ended, containment never really did, and it has been nearly a generation since the Russians tested their cage. Russia -- and the world -- has changed in fundamental ways. But ultimately the biggest difference between now and 1991 is not so much Russia's relative weakness or America's relative preoccupation with Iraq, but Washington's list of allies. It is longer -- and less militarily capable -- than ever.

And therein lies the rub. The real key to containment was not the belt of Russian border states, but the American commitment to guarantee their security. What ultimately made containment work was the belief that the United States would be willing to meet Russia on the field of battle wherever and whenever Moscow pushed. Washington utterly lacked the freedom to decline any fight for fear that the entire alliance structure of containment would unravel. The most famous examples of these tests of American resolve are the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

Weak spots aplenty can be found on the Russian periphery these days. Georgia is a failed state even on the brightest of days; the Baltic states are no less defensible against the Red Army now than they were when they broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991; the entire Russian-Kazakh border is more of a joke than the U.S.-Canadian border in terms of security; Washington's once-solid relations with Russian borderlands such as Turkey and Korea are not what they once were; and Germany, France and the United Kingdom are, if anything, even less interested in going to bat for Lithuania than Washington is.

Ultimately, the disparity between Androsov's announcement and the Pentagon's bureaucratic reply is symptomatic of the way each nation sees its old Cold War adversary. Pentagon planners do not talk about Russia like they used to. They do -- and not without some cause -- crack jokes, something that is actually rather easy to do when one considers that the propeller-driven Tu-95s, designed in the early 1950s, were "intruding" on the newest fighter jets in the world, zipping supersonically around Guam.

But the simple truth of the matter is that Russia is one of only two countries in the world that can casually move strategic offensive weapons like the air-launched AS-15 cruise missiles across the face of the planet. The Tu-95 is certainly not a top-shelf plane these days -- but when it's carrying a highly accurate cruise missile with an 1,800-mile range and a nuclear warhead, it doesn't have to be.

The credibility of containment comes down to perception as much as the hard and fast details of competing military hardware. And managing perception -- as the "exchanged smiles" over Guam indicate -- remains a Russian skill second to none.
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« Reply #12 on: August 17, 2007, 08:00:04 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: The Limits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

The annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) broke in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday after several hours of photo-ops and grandstanding. On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend military exercises in the Chelyabinsk region in Russia's Ural Mountains. Some 6,000 Russian and Chinese troops, dozens of aircraft and hundreds of armored vehicles and other heavy weapons will participate -- the first such joint drills on Russian soil.

Moscow is most certainly on the move. In the past few months, Russia has pushed against the Baltics and the Caucasus, and it is spinning up for a major effort to bring Ukraine firmly back into its orbit. The United States is distracted by Iraq and unable to act as a check on Russian ambition. The political battle lines along Russia's western frontier are hardening; the question there is, will the United States will be too distracted to push back? And will anyone in Europe dare move against Russia without the Americans at their back?

But looking eastward, as the cities of Europe give way to the steppes of Asia, the grand geopolitic of the Russian resurgence becomes less clearly defined. Unlike Europe, Russia's other border regions are not made up of relatively hostile alliances and economic groupings. The players are more opaque and resistance to Russia's whims is mushy.

Enter the SCO. The grouping was originally formed between China, Russia and a handful of former-Soviet Central Asian autocracies in order to manage the tangle of new borders resulting from the Soviet Union's demise. That the SCO achieved peacefully and successfully. Since then, the organization has groped about for a reason to exist. At times it seems a step away from becoming a framework for a Central Asian alliance; at other times it seems doomed to be reduced to a talk shop.

Thursday's summit -- at which bland promises about law enforcement cooperation and forming a common university were the main takeaways -- seems to fall into the latter category. About the only thing that the SCO can reliably agree on -- and this has become the SCO's perennial anchor point -- is that it does not want the United States mucking around in Central Asia.

Russia's problem in harnessing organizations such as the SCO to its needs are simple: There is another major power poking around in the region. That power, of course, is China. And as Moscow and Washington settle into dangerously familiar patterns, the question inevitably will be: which side is China on?

Russia and China are hardly hostile to one another, but there is certainly an inbuilt tension. The Chinese consider part of the Russian Far East to be their territory, and many of the native Central Asian and Siberian cultures are far more closely tied to Beijing than to Moscow. China needs masses of resources in order to continue developing -- resources that lie just across the border with Russia.

It is in Central Asia -- specifically under the aegis of the SCO -- where these two Asian giants meet and compete. While Russia is clearly the more aggressive power, it has been coasting on its imperial and Soviet links to maintain influence in the region, while the Chinese have been steadily and unobtrusively asserting their influence in subtle but effective ways. Nearly all of the Central Asian road, rail and energy infrastructure built before 1991 accesses the outside world via Russia -- nearly all built since then accesses the world via China.

The Russia-China disconnect is more than "simple" competition, and is both geopolitical and strategic in nature. Russia wants to push out and re-establish its empire; China wants to keep its head down and deal with its internal problems quietly.

But ultimately, the two cannot form a functional alliance because of a fundamental difference in mindset: Russia feels it is destined for a conflict with the United States, while China wants to avoid one at all costs. So long as that remains the case, the United States maintains the freedom to play the two powers against each other as the politics of the day demand -- just as it did for the last generation of the Cold War -- and the SCO will remain a place where Russian and Chinese differences are peaceably compared, but never really resolved.
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« Reply #13 on: August 22, 2007, 08:42:19 AM »

Window of Opportunity; Window of Vulnerability
August 21, 2007 18 54  GMT

All U.S. presidents eventually become lame ducks, though the lameness of any particular duck depends on the amount of power he has left to wield. It not only is an issue of the president's popularity, but also of the opposition's unity and clarity. In the international context, the power of a lame duck president depends on the options he has militarily. Foreign powers do not mess with American presidents, no matter how lame one might be, as long as the president retains military options.

The core of the American presidency is in its role as commander in chief. With all of the other presidential powers deeply intersecting with those of Congress and the courts, the president has the greatest autonomous power when he is acting as supreme commander of the armed forces. There is a remarkable lot he can do if he wishes to, and relatively little Congress can do to stop him -- unless it is uniquely united. Therefore, foreign nations remain wary of the American president's military power long after they have stopped taking him seriously in other aspects of foreign relations.

There is a school of thought that argues that President George W. Bush is likely to strike at Iran before he leaves office. The sense is that Bush is uniquely indifferent to either Congress or public opinion and that he therefore is likely to use his military powers in some decisive fashion, under the expectation and hope that history will vindicate him. In that sense, Bush is very much not a lame duck, because if he wanted to strike, there is nothing legally preventing him from doing so. The endless debates over presidential powers -- which have roiled both Republican and Democratic administrations -- have left one thing clear: The courts will not intervene against an American president's use of his power as commander in chief. Congress may cut off money after the fact, but as we have seen, that is not a power that is normally put to use.

The problem for Bush, of course, is that he is fighting two simultaneous wars, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. These wars have sucked up the resources of the U.S. Army to a remarkable degree. Units are either engaged in these theaters of operation, recovering from deployment or preparing for deployment. To an extraordinary degree, the United States does not have a real strategic reserve in its ground forces, the Army and the Marines. A force could probably be scraped up to deal with a limited crisis, but U.S. forces are committed and there are no more troops to scatter around.

The United States faces another potential theater of operations in Iran. Fighting there might not necessarily be something initiated by the United States. The Iranians might choose to create a crisis the United States couldn’t avoid. That would suck up not only what little ground reserves are available, but also a good part of U.S. air and naval forces. The United States would be throwing all of its chips on the table, with few reserves left. With all U.S. forces engaged in a line from the Euphrates to the Hindu Kush, the rest of the world would be wide open to second-tier powers.

This is Bush's strategic problem -- the one that shapes his role as commander in chief. He has committed virtually all of his land forces to two wars. His only reserves are the Air Force and Navy. If they were sucked into a war in Iran, it would limit U.S. reserves for other contingencies. The United States alone does not get to choose whether there is a crisis with Iran. Iran gets to vote too. We don’t believe there will be a military confrontation with Iran, but the United States must do its contingency planning as if there will be.

Thus, Bush is a lame-duck commander in chief as well. Even if he completely disregards the politics of his position, which he can do, he still lacks the sheer military resources to achieve any meaningful goal without the use of nuclear weapons. But his problem goes beyond the Iran scenario. Lacking ground forces, the president's ability to influence events throughout the world is severely impaired. Moreover, if he were to throw his air forces into a non-Iranian crisis, all pressure on Iran would be lifted. The United States is strategically tapped out. There is no land force available and the use of air and naval forces without land forces, while able to achieve some important goals, would not be decisive.

The United States has entered a place where it has almost no room to maneuver. The president is becoming a lame duck in the fullest sense of the term. This opens a window of opportunity for powers, particularly second-tier powers, that would not be prepared to challenge the United States while its forces had flexibility. One power in particular has begun to use this window of opportunity -- Russia.

Russia is not the country it was 10 years ago. Its economy, fueled by rising energy and mineral prices, is financially solvent. The state has moved from being a smashed relic of the Soviet era to becoming a more traditional Russian state: authoritarian, repressive, accepting private property but only under terms it finds acceptable. It also is redefining its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union and reviving its military.

For example, a Russian aircraft recently fired a missile at a Georgian village. Intentionally or not, the missile was a dud, though it clearly was meant to signal to the Georgians -- close allies of the United States and unfriendly to Russian interests in the region -- that not only is Russia unhappy, it is prepared to take military action if it chooses. It also clearly told the Georgians that the Russians are unconcerned about the United States and its possible response. It must have given the Georgians a chill.

The Russians planted their flag under the sea at the North Pole after the Canadians announced plans to construct armed icebreakers and establish a deepwater port from which to operate in the Far North. The Russians announced the construction of a new air defense system by 2015 -- not a very long time as these things go. They also announced plans to create a new command and control system in the same time frame. Russian long-range aircraft flew east in the Pacific to the region of Guam, an important U.S. air base, causing the United States to scramble fighter planes. They also flew into what used to be the GIUK gap (Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom) probing air defenses along the Norwegian coast and in Scotland.

Most interestingly, they announced the resumption of patrols in the Atlantic, along the U.S. coast, using Blackjack strategic bombers and the old workhorse of the Russian fleet, the Bear. (The balance does remain in U.S. favor along the East Coast). During the Cold War, patrols such as these were designed to carry out electronic and signal intelligence. They were designed to map out U.S. facilities along the Eastern seaboard and observe response time and procedures. During the Cold War they would land in Cuba for refueling before retracing their steps. It will be interesting to see whether Russia will ask Cuba for landing privileges and whether the Cubans will permit it. As interesting, Russian and Chinese troops conducted military exercises recently in the context of regional talks. It is not something to take too seriously, but then they are not trivial.

Many of these are older planes. The Bear, for example, dates back to the 1950s -- but so does the B-52, which remains important to the U.S. strategic bomber fleet. The age of the airframe doesn't matter nearly as much as maintenance, refits, upgrades to weapons and avionics and so on. Nothing can be assumed from the mere age of the aircraft.

The rather remarkable flurry of Russian air operations -- as well as plans for naval development -- is partly a political gesture. The Russians are tired of the United States pressing into their sphere of influence, and they see a real window of opportunity to press back with limited risk of American response. But the Russians appear to be doing more than making a gesture.

The Russians are trying to redefine the global balance. They are absolutely under no illusion that they can match American military power in any sphere. But they are clearly asserting their right to operate as a second-tier global power and are systematically demonstrating their global reach. They may be old and they may be slow, but when American aircraft on the East Coast start to scramble routinely to intercept and escort Russian aircraft, two things happen. First, U.S. military planning has to shift to take Russia into account. Second, the United States loses even more flexibility. It can't just ignore the Russians. It now needs to devote scarce dollars to upgrading systems along the East Coast -- systems that have been quite neglected since the end of the Cold War.

There is a core assumption in the U.S. government that Russia no longer is a significant power. It is true that its vast army has disintegrated. But the Russians do not need a vast army modeled on World War II. They need, and have begun to develop, a fairly effective military built around special forces and airborne troops. They also have appeared to pursue their research and development, particularly in the area of air defense and air-launched missiles -- areas in which they have traditionally been strong. The tendency to underestimate the Russian military -- something even Russians do -- is misplaced. Russia's military is capable and improving.

The increased Russian tempo of operations in areas that the United States has been able to ignore for many years further pins the United States. It can be assumed that the Russians mean no harm -- but assumption is not a luxury national security planners can permit themselves, at least not good ones. It takes years to develop and deploy new systems. If the Russians are probing the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic again, it is not the current threat that matters, but the threat that might evolve. That diverts budget dollars from heavily armored trucks that can survive improvised explosive device attacks, and cuts into the Air Force and Navy.

The Russians are using the window of opportunity to redefine, in a modest way, the global balance and gain some room to maneuver in their region. As a result of their more assertive posture, American thoughts of unilateral interventions must decline. For example, getting involved in Georgia once was a low-risk activity. The risk just went up. Taking that risk while U.S. ground forces are completely absorbed in Iraq and Afghanistan is hard for the Americans to justify -- but rather easy for the Russians.

This brings us back to the discussion of the commander in chief's options in the Middle East. The United States already has limited options against Iran. The more the Russians maneuver, the more the United States must hold what forces it has left -- Air Force and Navy -- in reserve. Launching an Iranian adventure becomes that much more risky. If it is launched, Russia has an even greater window of opportunity. Every further involvement in the region makes the United States that much less of a factor in the immediate global equation.

All wars end, and these will too. The Russians are trying to rearrange the furniture a bit before anyone comes home and forces them out. They are dealing with a lame duck president with fewer options than most lame ducks. Before there is a new president and before the war in Iraq ends, the Russians want to redefine the situation a bit.
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« Reply #14 on: August 23, 2007, 08:12:46 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Russia Rewrites the Post-Cold War Rule Book

Georgia has accused Russia of violating its airspace again. According to Georgia, its radar recently tracked a Russian aircraft penetrating Georgian airspace near Abkhazia -- a pro-Russian breakaway region and an area of substantial Georgian-Russian tension. The first incursion allegedly took place Aug. 6 and involved a missile fired at a Georgian village. Whether intentional or not, the missile didn't explode. That incursion occurred near another Georgian breakaway region, South Ossetia.

The Russians have denied both incidents, claiming the first was a Georgian provocation. Ignoring the fact that parts of the missile could be identified, Georgia has little reason to create a crisis. It is fully aware that U.S. intervention against Russia is unlikely at this point, and that anything more than rhetorical support from European countries is equally unlikely. At least for now, a crisis would leave Georgia alone. Therefore, antagonizing the Russians at this point really doesn't make a great deal of sense.

But increasing Georgian insecurity does make sense for Russia. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow withdrew from most of the Caucasus region, leaving behind Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan -- all former Soviet republics that are now independent states. It also left behind a series of dispute fragments in a region where ethnic and religious strife is endemic. Russia lost its secure frontier with Turkey, replacing it with an unstable and frequently violent border.

The direct threat to Russia was the part of the Northern Caucasus that it continued to control, which included Chechnya. If Russia had abandoned Chechnya, it would have lost its foothold in the Caucasus and, along with it, any natural defensive position. But the Russians decided disintegration stopped there and fought to hold their position.

The Russians believed, with substantial reason, that arms were reaching the Chechen guerrillas via Georgia through the Pankisi Gorge. The minimal Russian charge was that the Georgians, closely aligned with the United States, were not doing enough to stop the flow of weapons. The maximum Russian claim was that the Georgian government was facilitating arms smuggling, supported by the United States, which wanted to see the Russian Federation disintegrate.

The Russians therefore have historically viewed Georgia, allied as it is with Washington, as a direct threat to their national security. First, there was the Chechen issue. Second -- and far more important in the long run -- was the entire matter of the Russian frontier in the Caucasus. The old Soviet-Turkish frontier allowed Russia to secure the Caucasus and limit insurgencies among ethnic groups. The current frontier is an invitation to insurgency and constantly threatens to draw Russia into conflicts in the region.

Russia is aligned with Armenia, which is afraid of the Turks. It has good relations with Azerbaijan, having military facilities there, as well as trade relations. Georgia is Moscow's problem. It destabilizes Russia's southern frontier and is seen as facilitating instability in Russia itself. Georgia's close relationship with the United States has in the past made it immune to Russian pressure, but close relationships with the United States are not worth what they used to be, or what they might be in the future.

We have spoken before of Russia's current window of opportunity. The two incursions into Georgia -- both of which we believe were intended to be noticed -- put the Georgians on notice that, in Russia's mind, Georgian autonomy is no longer a settled matter. Russia might not be planning to occupy Georgia, but it is letting the Georgians know that it believes they have freedom of action. The moves were designed to make the Georgians extremely concerned -- and it is working.

The Russians want to see an evolution in Georgia in which Tbilisi acknowledges that it is within the Russian sphere of influence and, as such, retains its independence to the extent that it is prepared to accommodate Russian interests. Those obviously include collaboration on the issue of Chechen weapons -- now a bit of a dated subject. But this specifically means Georgia should shift its relationship with the United States. The Russians do not want to see Washington using Georgia as a foothold in the Caucasus.

Russia is rewriting the post-Cold War rule book. Georgia is one of the places that matter to Russia, and Russia is signaling the Georgians to reconsider their national security interests. It will be interesting to see what the Georgians do, and -- assuming they maintain their current stance -- what the Russians do next. Moscow did not carry out these incursions without a plan. The Russians have started small. We would be surprised if they restrained themselves in the face of a continuation of Georgian policies toward the United States and the region.
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« Reply #15 on: August 25, 2007, 06:27:22 AM »

FSU: Georgia on Moscow's Mind

Georgia's recent accusations that Russia has violated its airspace are symptomatic of deteriorating relations between the two countries. Whether or not Georgia's accusations are true, Russia sees the subjugation of Georgia as a vital part of a Russian resurgence in the region.


On Aug. 7 Georgian authorities accused Russia of violating Georgian airspace and dropping a bomb near the village of Tsitelubani, a charge Georgia has repeated vehemently and Russia has denied. On Aug. 22, Georgia claimed to have suffered another airspace violation, this one in the vicinity of the Upper Abkhazia region. On Aug. 24, Georgian authorities first said they had fired on the jet, and then later claimed to have actually shot it down. At the time of this writing no hard evidence to substantiate the latest claim has been brought forward.

Relations between Russia and Georgia -- never better than frigid -- have plummeted to a level not seen since Russia quietly assisted anti-Georgian forces in the 1993 Abkhaz and South Ossetian secessionist wars.

The logic of the two sides is simple. Russia sees Georgia as a wayward province of the worst sort. Not only has it stubbornly refused to yield to a resurgence of Russian power, but its attempts at a close alliance with NATO and the United States have, in Moscow's view, unnecessarily complicated Russia's efforts to control its southern border. Russia blames Georgia for supporting the Chechen insurrection and feels that if Georgia is folded back into Russia proper, the instability in the Northern Caucasus could finally be quelled. Put another way, the subjugation of Georgia is a key early step for Russia not just to secure its borders, but to stage a general resurgence throughout the region. But Russia would rather do this without provoking a larger confrontation with the West. If there has to be a war, Russia would rather fight over a more important country.

On the flip side, the Georgians have lived in fear of a Russian invasion since 1993. Tbilisi is unwilling to sue for peace due to a mixture of nationalism, stubbornness and hope. The hope springs primarily from seeing the Chechens bloody Russia's nose so badly, yet the Georgians know that should Russia begin reasserting its strength, Georgia is doomed without outside help. Thus, Georgia's entire military and foreign policy strategy is predicated upon gaining that outside help. So Georgia's strategy is to appear the victim whenever possible, even if -- particularly in Russia's mind -- that involves embellishing (or even fabricating) the truth.

The truth of the current developments, therefore, is murky. Obviously, Russia has an interest in intimidating Georgia, but would prefer for it to remain unseen by others. Conversely, Georgia has an interest in being intimidated and wants to share such actions with the wider world in an attempt to build up support. Russia's refusal to certify whether the bomb dropped Aug. 6 (Georgia's initial accusation occurred the day after the bombing) came from its stockpiles is of course suspicious, but no more so than Georgia's inability to produce wreckage from a crash that supposedly happened two days ago.

What is clear, however, is this: Russia is resurging and Georgia is in its way. Russia also has more levers to deal with Georgia -- allies in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Armenia, corruption at every level in Georgia, and a Georgian military that is charitably described as slapdash -- than it does with nearly any other state. This will be the site of a major confrontation as Russian power grows. The only question is whether the events of the past month are the spark that lights the flame.
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« Reply #16 on: August 27, 2007, 09:11:40 PM »


Georgia on His Mind
The former Soviet republic is becoming a shining star. But will Russia drag it back into darkness?

Saturday, August 25, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

TBILISI, Georgia--On Aug. 8, a missile the size of a bus struck near a village some 50 miles north of this Eurasian country's capital city, Tbilisi. It failed to explode. In all likelihood the missile came from Russian jet fighters violating Georgian airspace, as Georgians quickly claimed--the incident was eerily similar to one in March, when Russian attack helicopters flew at night and, without provocation, fired missiles into Georgian territory.

In both cases, Georgian authorities showed the world radar flight path data as proof. The world did nothing the first time, and will likely do nothing again. Meanwhile, unexplained incursions continue daily. This is the kind of near-lethal brinkmanship which Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili believes will only encourage more belligerence from Russia.

Mr. Saakashvili has spent his first 3 1/2 years in office impelling his country forward economically, courting NATO and European Union membership, eradicating corruption and trying to woo Russian-supported secessionists back into the fold. Above all, he strives daily to keep his country, with a population of four million, on the mind of Western nations so its security and success will seem synonymous with theirs--and keep the Russians at bay. The Russians still seem to perceive post-Soviet Georgian independence as a kind of betrayal, responding with an array of destabilizing policies, such as the imposition of embargoes on Georgian goods.

Earlier this summer, I spent some time with Georgia's president, checking on his progress. He has quite a story to tell, particularly about the economy. According to Mr. Saakashvili, Georgia's GDP was less than $3 billion five years ago. It's now $8 billion and will double in three years, and he is straightforward about his inspiration.
"I finally met Margaret Thatcher in London this year," he shouts over the noise of helicopter engines as we fly adjacent to the snow-peaked Caucasus mountains. "I always admired her, and I always thought, if I could do in Georgia a fraction of what she did in the U.K., I would be very happy. . . . And she said to me, 'You are doing all the things in Georgia that I wanted to do in the U.K. and more . . .' "

It's a strange place for an interview, but Mr. Saakashvili keeps a merciless schedule. On this day, after a speech in the main square of Tbilisi, he is presiding over five separate ribbon-cutting ceremonies around the country.

We begin the tour with a three-kilometer visit down a coal mine that has sat unused for 15 years, with the mining community above it going to ruin. It is now being revitalized with German money and machinery. We end the tour past midnight, at a new Turkish-built airport at the resurgent Black Sea resort of Batoumi.

Just four years ago, before the nonviolent Rose Revolution disposed of the Shevardnadze regime and soon voted in Mr. Saakashvili, Georgia was widely considered a failed state on a par with Zimbabwe--with corruption rampant, a stagnant economy and several civil wars smoldering.

That's changing. Three years ago, Mr. Saakashvili famously fired 15,000 traffic policemen and dissolved the pervasive bribery ethos in one stroke. The country is booming: Everywhere new hotels, factories and well-lit roads proclaim the changes. Even the old Soviet tower blocks look festive and newly painted. Foreign investment flows in from every quarter: Kazakhstan to the east, Turkey to the south, Europe and the U.S., the Gulf States, even from Russia, despite all of Mr. Putin's embargoes--and despite the shadow of two secessionist "black holes" inside Georgia backed by Russian arms and money: Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr. Saakashvili points out a little town in the distance, Tskhinvali, the disputed heart of South Ossetia, nothing more than a sprinkling of houses on a rise of farmland deep inside Georgian territory. "We've offered them everything they want . . . language rights, their own political structures, cross-border rights to their fellow Ossetians. . . . They probably would agree if they were free to do so."

I point down to the terrain beneath us and comment that if the well-regulated squares of green fields down below are any indication, Georgia's agriculture is doing well. "In Soviet times," he says, "all this was a chaotic mess. In contrast, you'd fly over Western Europe and see miles of perfectly cultivated land. . . . Now Georgia is the same. It's beautiful to look at. That's the aesthetic look of the free market."

A day or two later, at a dinner for Georgian businessmen, the president delivers a speech hammering home his well-honed message of self-help. "The government is going to help you in the best way possible, by doing nothing for you, by getting out of your way. Well, I exaggerate but you understand. Of course we will provide you with infrastructure, and help by getting rid of corruption, but you have all succeeded by your own initiative and enterprise, so you should congratulate yourselves."
Mr. Saakashvili's style of leadership feels like a permanent political campaign--which it is, in a way. He seems determined to show citizens how it's being done, visibly to demonstrate accountability, transparency and political process, so they grow accustomed to the sight of politicians answering to them--in short, to Western political habits. All the while, he's exhorting and explaining, striving to change attitudes ingrained through decades of Soviet rule and 15 years of stagnation, strife and corruption. "I keep telling people that this is not a process like some silver-backed gorilla leading them to new pastures. They must do it themselves, and they are."

Mr. Saakashvili famously gets very little sleep, calling his aides at 2 a.m. to remind them of neglected tasks. During the day, he never stops moving.

On one occasion, a sudden onset of severe bad weather forces down both his helicopter--and the one behind it that is full of his security--in farmland beside a small town. No matter. His aides borrow what conveyances they can, and we end up with the president driving a 1956 Volga modeled on a postwar American Dodge. As the sleet and hail hammer down, the car lurches along and we all double up in helpless laughter because the windshield wipers don't work. Mr. Saakashvili sticks one free arm out the driver's-side window to wipe the windshield manually while he drives.

At one point I ask him if security and dealing with Russian threats are a top priority. "We have two limbs of Georgia which are currently detached," he says, careful not to sound provocative, "and we have a hostile, powerful northern neighbor, even more powerful every day with oil money. But we can't be living in a state of gloom and paranoia. . . . When the Russians imposed the embargo on our wines, we simply found new markets. Like-minded countries such as Poland and the Baltic states actively sought out our products.

"When Russia cut off gas supplies, we had to work on developing new sources. So we're developing hydro-power and coal and nuclear energy. Next year, we'll be fully supplied by Azerbaijani power. . . . Everyone said we'd never survive but our success gives confidence to everyone else."

Mr. Saakashvili notes that his country had to diversify its markets anyway. "Georgia's natural strength is its role as a crossroads both culturally and geographically. It was always a kind of bridge on the old Silk Road. So we're building up our highway system; we're completing our rail link from Batoumi to Istanbul through to Europe; we've got the new international airport there.

"Eastwards we're connecting all the way to China via a ferry across the Caspian. It will offer an alternative to the trans-Siberian railway. And of course, the same goes for pipelines such as the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline which goes through Georgia."

I ask him if the Russians are making a big push now with maximum pressure while they can, realizing that before long, consumer countries will develop alternate supply routes to avoid Russian strategic pressure. "No, I don't think the Russians are calculating logically or strategically," he says. "I think it's an emotional and volatile process for them. Logically, they should realize that stable relations all around will pay off for them more in the long run. Instead they're driving countries to find alternative partners . . ."

He also speaks about Russia's domestic anti-Georgian campaign. "It wasn't working very effectively until they actually went to all the schools and asked for a list of all the children with Georgian names. Suddenly, the parents realized this was serious. That and the endless corruption of the Russian system became unbearable for them--so now we have tens of thousands of qualified Georgians . . . coming back and repatriating their money to Georgia."

There is a general sense in Georgia that the U.S. could be more supportive but badly needs Russian help over such critical areas as Iran, North Korea and the fight against terror. Does Mr. Saakashvili think that the U.S. could do more? "All we ask for is moral support," he answers. "It's all about shared values. You can see that the U.S. has a lot of moral authority here. We have a historic sympathy for the U.S. and the West. America should know how strong it still is and keep up the pressure at the highest levels. It should help enhance stability and serve as a deterrent to Russian adventurism."

Mr. Saakashvili also says that "Europe is waking up. After the French election, I was invited on a full state visit. That did not happen in the time of [former President Jacques] Chirac--he had other priorities. Europe is becoming aware that it must engage with the 'near abroad' region between itself and Russia. Europe is ending its false pragmatism.

"In return," he continues, "we are doing our utmost to stay engaged in the international community and to fulfill our obligations. Georgia has 2,000 troops in Iraq now deploying to the Iran border . . . to interdict arms smuggling across the border and we have told them not to be passive--[instead] to be active and get results. Before now they were in the Green Zone but now they will be acting as part of the surge, going wherever US troops can go. . . . failure in Iraq will be a disaster for everyone.

"For us it's also a matter of national pride. Georgian soldiers have always been famous for their courage but they've never fought as Georgians--they've always fought in others' armies. We've had generals in Mameluke, Russian and Soviet armies--even top U.S. generals. Now they will be serving in our name and for our country. In the 1920s Georgian officers fought for Polish independence to keep out the Bolsheviks (Retired U.S. Gen. John Shalikashvili's father was one.) Poland has just put up a monument to those officers (to the chagrin of Mr. Putin)."

Nearing the end of our time together, I ask Mr. Saakashvili, whose administration will surely be remembered for the number and pace of its reforms, if he feels he can let up. Is he on schedule, and what's left undone?
Mr. Saakashvili responds by stressing the importance of integrating Georgia's ethnic minorities. "There used to be areas where only Russian was spoken and the central government had no influence. Now they are all voluntarily learning Georgian. It's important that we show an example to secessionist zones, that they have nothing to fear, that in fact their identity will be better protected by us than Russia."

He also speaks about the vital importance of "ridding ourselves of corruption," of reaching "the point of irreversibility. That's why we are in a hurry. If you relax on corruption it will come back in two months."

Mr. Saakashvili notes of his own country as well as many others emerging from the shadows of communism: "These are not societies with much experience in democratic processes. In parts of Eastern Europe they keep electing useless populists who are corrupt. So far the people here have made the right choices but we must govern in a way that's instructional and symbolic so it settles in the public's consciousness, and they learn to evaluate you by achievement. Democracy means constantly outperforming yourself or you are out on your backside. That's as it should be."

As night falls, back in the sky, we fly close enough to the Abkhazia border to see the contrast between well-lit Georgia and Russian darkness over the secessionist zone. From up above, and on the ground, the symbolism is clear enough.

But to Mr. Saakashvili, the more important issue might be: Is this distinction clear to his friends in the West--and how far will they go to stop the darkness from spilling over into Georgia?

Mr. Kaylan is a writer living in New York.

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« Reply #17 on: August 29, 2007, 02:44:01 PM »

GEORGIA: The Georgian Defense Ministry's budget is being increased, continuing reforms meant to bring the armed forces to NATO standards, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli said. Media reports vary about the actual amount of the increase, but most say the current defense budget of around $193 million will increase to between $600 million and $783 million. With the increase, Georgia's defense spending is expected to reach between 4 percent and 4.5 percent of gross domestic product. Nogaideli said he expects parliament to approve the budget increase in defense as well as other sectors by late September.
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« Reply #18 on: August 30, 2007, 07:37:03 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Russia's Attempt to Redefine Regional Relationships

Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov said Aug. 27 that Russia might consider basing nuclear weapons in Belarus if the United States deployed its missile defense system in Poland. A day later, Surikov backed away from the statement and Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Russian Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said Surikov's comment was purely "theoretical." He went on to say that, from a legal standpoint, there is nothing to prevent the deployment of nuclear weapons in any country that agrees to have them.

Russia is engaged in a systematic campaign to both reassert its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union and take advantage of U.S. preoccupation in the Middle East in order to redefine regional relationships. The Russians have objected to the U.S. anti-missile shield and are demonstrating that they have options in response to the missiles. These statements were designed to rattle Washington's nerves without actually committing Russia to any course.

As a practical matter, the Russians don't really care about the anti-missile system the United States is building; Moscow retains more than enough nuclear-armed missiles to saturate the missile shield. Nor is the transfer of nuclear weapons to Belarus a particularly frightening idea to Washington; whether these missiles are in Russia proper or in Belarus really makes very little difference. This conversation is not about missile defense or nuclear missiles.

It is, rather, about the status of Poland and the Baltic countries -- Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- which are all part of NATO. The Russians see the extension of NATO to within 80 miles of St. Petersburg as a direct threat to their national interest and security. They see the placement of an anti-missile system in Poland as important because it is a military commitment by Washington to Poland that goes beyond mere formal membership in NATO. If there is a missile defense system there, it must be defended. The more confident Poland is about Washington's commitment to its security against the Russians, the more confident the Baltic countries will be. Russia does not see a confident Poland as in its national interest.

The threat to place missiles in Belarus is of little consequence. However, if missiles are placed there, then other military force can be based there as well. Where missiles go, so do troops. It is the same principle as is at work in Poland. The return of Russian troops to Belarus and the integration of the Belarusian military with that of Russia in some alliance framework is of very great importance. Belarus is a buffer between Russian forces and NATO. If Belarus were prepared to accept Russian troops, then the balance of power in northern Europe would shift a bit. Poland doesn't have to worry about the Russian army right now, and Poland is fairly assertive about its interests. With Russian troops on the Belarusian-Polish border and all along the Baltic frontiers, the real and psychological dynamics would start to shift.

There is little doubt that Belarus would accept the troops. In spite of recent friction over trade and other issues, Belarus is the least reformed country in the former Soviet Union, and it is probably most in favor of recreating some sort of alliance system -- or even something closer. If Russia wanted to position troops there, Belarus would allow it.

In our view, Russia intends to do precisely that. Given President Vladimir Putin's unfolding strategy, the forward deployment of the Russian army in western Belarus makes a great deal of sense. But the Russians want to be very careful about how those forces are deployed. By warning the United States and Poland that there will be consequences for constructing a missile defense system, the Russians can portray their re-entry into Belarus as a response to Polish recklessness.

The Russians are not planning to invade anyone. But they want to make the region very nervous and aware that Russian power is near, while American power is far away and busy with other things. By configuring this move as a response to missile defense systems, they want to create movements in Poland and in the Baltic states that will constrain some of the more self-confident and assertive leaders in the region. In other words, they want to scare the dickens out of the Poles and the Balts, hoping they will become much less confident in the United States and less likely to give Washington a meaningful foothold -- and undermine the national leaders who got these countries into such a mess.

The strategy makes sense, and it might even work. In any event, all this talk about nuclear weapons and missile defenses has much more conventional geopolitical meanings.
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« Reply #19 on: September 04, 2007, 10:07:25 PM »

Ukraine: The Viktors' Parliamentary Struggle

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko warned some 300 members of parliament Sept. 4 that any decisions they adopted would lack legal force. While technically true, that does not necessarily mean the representatives will not get their way.


Some 300 representatives of the Ukrainian parliament loyal to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich met Sept. 4 and passed a document barring the scheduled Sept. 30 national parliamentary elections.

The events of Sept. 4 are simply the latest in a now three-year power struggle between Yanukovich and President Viktor Yushchenko, who are themselves the local representatives of a wider conflict between Russia and the West over the future of Ukraine.

The reason for the sudden meeting of Ukraine's parliament, known as the Rada, is simple: Yanukovich fears public opinion has turned against him and that his party will lose in the Sept. 30 elections. Such an electoral defeat would be crippling not just for him, but for Moscow, which sees Yanukovich as Russia's point man in Ukraine. With Russia gunning to restore its influence throughout the former Soviet space, Ukraine is critical. Ergo, Yanukovich -- almost certainly with extensive Russian backing -- struck deals with enough opposition parliamentarians to get a two-thirds majority to suspend the elections.

Yanukovich's problem is that his Rada lacks a legal standing. In April, the pro-Western Yushchenko dissolved the parliament and ordered new elections. Legally and technically, Yushchenko is in the right, as dissolving the Rada is something well within his powers as president.

Technically, the Rada is not even the Rada right now -- it is merely around 300 former parliamentarians meeting to discuss opinion. The reality of the situation, however, is somewhat different from what is legally correct. Yushchenko is not confident in his legal authority. Such insecurity is what prompted him to dissolve the Rada in the first place.

Ukraine has a split government -- and not split in the U.S. sense of executive vs. judiciary vs. legislative -- but rather split between personalities and loyalties to other countries. Put another way, Ukraine's institutions are so weak that even its constitution has very little impact on how the country's political life is led. Instead, charisma is the currency of the nation, and the country's power brokers negotiate among themselves to determine the country's path. Right now, the three most critical are Yanukovich, Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, who is looking to play the kingmaker in the current round of instability.

So will there be elections on Sept. 30? Probably. But not certainly. The next step in the Ukrainian drama will be another meeting of the three to hash out what to do now that the Rada and the presidency have spoken on the issue.

Just as in the Orange Revolution of 2004, the same three people are dominating the country's political life. And just as in 2004, outside powers are destined to play a critical role. But unlike in 2004, the United States is distracted and locked into a bitter internal feud over the future of Iraq
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« Reply #20 on: September 12, 2007, 07:22:51 AM »

Reports: Putin Dissolves Government
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

DEVELOPING STORY: Russian news agencies cite the Kremlin as saying that President Vladimir Putin dissolved the government Wednesday.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov asked the Kremlin to dissolve his government, Russian news agencies reported, with less than three months remaining before parliamentary elections.

• FOX Facts: Russia's Government

Fradkov made the decision based on "the approaching major political events in the country and a desire to give the president full freedom in making decisions, including personnel," Fradkov was quoted by ITAR-Tass as saying. A Kremlin spokesman could not immediately comment on the report.
« Reply #21 on: September 12, 2007, 02:02:46 PM »

 In electoral maneuver, Putin appoints a new prime minister
By C.J. Chivers
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin accepted the resignation of the Russian prime minister Wednesday, and nominated Viktor Zubkov, a low-profile head of a financial crimes agency and confidante of Putin's, to assume the post.

The moves signaled the beginning of an internal Kremlin rearrangement before Parliamentary elections in the late autumn and Putin's expected transfer of presidential power next year.

But an aura of Kremlin mystery filled the day. Analysts and diplomats said they were perplexed by what Putin's pick meant for the pressing and intriguing question of who might succeed him if he steps down next spring at the end of his second term, as he has repeatedly said he would.

And the instant rise to prominence of Zubkov, a previously unheralded insider, added a new element of suspense that had unclear implications for the two Russian officials long regarded as the principal presidential contenders: First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Neither of the men was elevated by the shifts, nor were they pushed aside.

Although in principal Russia holds elections by popular vote, including for president, in practice they are carefully managed by the Kremlin, and are won handily by sanctioned candidates who receive support from the government and state-controlled news media.

Analysts and the Kremlin's own spokesman have said a public endorsement from Putin, who has had durably high public-approval ratings in Russia, will be a prerequisite for a candidate to win the presidency next year. But Putin did not make any signals about whom he might support.

Instead, there was choreographed stagecraft that introduced a new name to the top of Russia's government. And while Putin, in televised remarks, made clear that the shifts were related to the elections, he spoke cryptically about what they would ultimately mean.

"We all together have to think about how to build the structure of power and management so that they would better correspond to the pre-election period and prepare the country for the period after the March presidential election," he said.

The prime minister, Mikhail Fradkov, offered his resignation on national television, using the scripted format to say that Putin could now build "a power structure in light of the upcoming political events."

The move had not been unexpected. Fradkov, a technocrat who had managed government affairs for more than three years without showing ambition for higher office, had been expected to step aside to make way for a presidential contender at some point this autumn.

He had also quarreled publicly with other ministers, which had been regarded by analysts as an unwelcome sign in a government that seeks to show unity as elections draw near. The Wednesday edition of the daily Vedomosti newspaper here had said his resignation was imminent, and that Ivanov would likely succeed him.

But a series of finely timed moves followed the resignation that surprised analysts, diplomats and even political commentators who have close connections to the Kremlin.

Putin gave Fradkov a prestigious government award and directed him to remain at his post until a successor was confirmed. He then promptly nominated Zubkov.

Under the Constitution, the Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament, has one week to consider his choice. Parliament is firmly under Putin's control, and Boris Gryzlov, the Duma's speaker, expressed support for Zubkov within 20 minutes of his nomination.

Gryzlov said a date for debate on the appointment would be set on Thursday. A senior legislator from the Duma's United Russia faction, a party unequivocally loyal to Putin, quickly announced that Zubkov could be confirmed as soon as Friday afternoon.

Putin is barred by the Constitution from seeking reelection when his second term expires next year, and speculation has swirled through much of his term about whether - and how - he would step down, and who might replace him.

Whether Zubkov had been nominated to serve strictly as a prime minister, as Fradkov had, or was now a presidential contender himself, was an open question. There were signs, however, that at least Ivanov remained confident.

In the evening, he appeared before reporters, looking upbeat and at ease, and said that he expected the nominee would be confirmed. "I think the Duma will review favorably the candidacy of Zubkov," he said.

Zubkov, 65, is relatively unknown; a survey of political experts in 2006 of Russia's 100 most influential politicians, conducted by the Center for Public Opinion Research, ranked him 84th.

But he is a long-time associate of Putin's and has roots in the same political circles in St. Petersburg that Putin and many of his confidantes share.

In 1992 and 1993 he was Putin's deputy at the External Relations Committee of the St. Petersburg mayor's office, and since 1993 he was worked as a supervisor of tax inspectors and financial crimes, first in St. Petersburg, and since 2001 in Putin's federal government.

It was not clear whether his résumé fully matched those of the officials in Putin's inner circle, which is dominated by former officers of the KGB.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences who studies the current Russian elite and the KGB backgrounds of politicians, said by telephone that she knew of no clear evidence suggesting Zubkov had been in the Soviet Union's intelligence services. She added that that did not mean that he did not have a KGB affiliation.

Zubkov made no public announcement immediately after his nomination.

Andrew Kramer, Serge Schmemann and Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting.
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« Reply #22 on: September 13, 2007, 08:05:08 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Putin's Most Recent Surprise Move

Russian President Vladimir Putin nominated Viktor Zubkov as prime minister on Wednesday, catching many off guard following leaks that First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov would replace acting Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Ivanov -- widely seen as a front-runner to replace Putin as president in March 2008 -- was expected to take the post as a stepping stone to the top of the Russian leadership, just as former President Boris Yeltsin anointed Putin his successor by naming him prime minister in January 2000.

But Putin, always a master at keeping people off balance, instead promoted Zubkov, chairman of the Finance Ministry's financial monitoring committee, Rosfinmonitoring. Zubkov and Putin have worked together since the president's days in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, and after he was called to Moscow, Zubkov was instrumental in Putin's early assault on Russia's oligarchs.

Perhaps not coincidentally, there is a close connection between Zubkov -- who apparently supplanted Ivanov -- and Anatoly Serdyukov, the civilian tax official who replaced Ivanov as defense minister in the February Cabinet reshuffle. It was Serdyukov who took over Zubkov's position in St. Petersburg when the latter was initially called to Moscow, and Serdyukov is also married to Zubkov's daughter.

The surprise appointment of Zubkov as prime minister, like Ivanov's unexpected replacement with Serdyukov, reflects a key principle of Putin's leadership style: Always keep people guessing. Suddenly, the rising star of Ivanov seems somewhat dimmer, and it is anybody's guess who will succeed Putin. The Kremlinologists are going crazy. But the frothing waves on the surface of the Russian political sea distract from the deeper current.

The story of Russia in the near two decades since the Cold War ended is one of precipitous and disastrous economic, political, military and demographic decline. This led to the perception by most (including some in Russia) that the country could be ignored and was no longer an influential global power. Putin's own rise to power was unexpected and created a certain amount of confusion and chaos -- leaving those at home and abroad scrambling to discover just who this new Russian leader was. This uncertainty gave Putin some room to maneuver, since no one was quite sure what he would do.

Putin's goal since taking power has been to reverse the crisis of confidence in Russia and restore the country to the status and "respect" that he (and many Russians) feels it deserves. As Putin settled into his new role, he began taking on the very legs of Russian power that had helped bring him to power and maintain the old system. He attacked the oligarchs, picking them off one by one. He reasserted Russia's power inside its own borders, launching a major offensive against the Chechens. And he began tampering with the energy industry, then the defense industry and the military.

Each time Putin moved, it shook the system, creating uncertainties and insecurities among the entrenched interests and overseas observers. This element of surprise worked to Putin's advantage, keeping opponents and allies alike off balance and leaving the president with the initiative, rather than the response.

Underneath this froth and noise, Putin has relentlessly pursued his core goal -- restoring Russia's "Great Power" status. This has required a significant reshuffling of the domestic deck, and we can now clearly see Russia's efforts in the international arena -- from resumed long-range bomber flights along the European and Pacific coastlines to the very public testing of the "father of all bombs," a much larger version of the United States' Massive Ordnance Air Blast (the "mother of all bombs" meant to inspire shock and awe in the Afghan battlefields and beyond).

These efforts were all designed to obfuscate and distract international observers. All the while, Putin is acting on what he sees as Russia's geopolitical imperatives. As Kremlinologists scramble to decipher the meaning of Zubkov's appointment, they are missing the more significant reality: Russia is back, and it no longer accepts its decline into obscurity. If Zubkov was a surprise, there are many more -- and much more significant ones -- yet in store.
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« Reply #23 on: September 21, 2007, 08:30:00 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Belarus' Problem with Polish Priests

Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Kosinets said on Thursday that all foreign Catholic priests would be banned from the country, with the ban taking effect over the next few years. Of the roughly 350 Catholic priests in the country -- it is predominantly Russian Orthodox -- the majority are foreign and almost all of those are Polish. Belarus has been targeting foreign Catholics since last year, deporting all those without papers. Now the campaign is extended to all foreign Catholic priests, regardless of their legal status. Kosinets said "foreign priests cannot conduct religious activities in Belarus because they do not understand the mentality and traditions of the Belarusian people."

What makes this interesting is the strategic position of Belarus. Belarus is the buffer between Russia and Poland. Buffer overstates it. Though there recently have been some tensions between Russia and Belarus, Belarus is as close to an unreformed Soviet republic as still exists. More than any of the former Soviet republics, it would appear eager to welcome back the Soviet Union. In general Russia has, until recently, kept Belarus at arm's length precisely for this reason. Russian President Vladimir Putin had his own problems with Russians nostalgic for the "good old days" and did not need the addition of an unreconstructed Belarus added to the mix.

However, as we already have discussed, the Russians have recently become much more assertive, and the internal disposition of Belarus is less of a barrier to good relations. Indeed, in order for Russia to regain its sphere of influence, Belarus plays a critical strategic role. Russia must have Belarus in its camp if it is to use the window of opportunity available to it to redefine its relations with the Baltics. In particular, Russia has no border with Lithuania. For that, it needs Belarus.

Russia sees Poland as a critical problem. The Poles have been deeply involved in Ukraine before and after the Orange Revolution, and have been particularly vocal in their support of the Baltics against Russian pressure. In addition, the Poles have been eager to host the U.S. anti-missile shield.

Belarus and Russia both remember the role of the Catholic Church, working with the labor union Solidarity, in overthrowing the Polish communist government. For both countries, the disintegration of the Soviet empire started in Poland and was driven by the Catholic Church. The Vatican and Russia have had relatively good relations since the fall of the Soviet Union, but that does not mean much in this climate. Neither Minsk nor Moscow trusts the Catholic Church, or in particular, Polish priests.

Therefore, the decision to begin their expulsion -- even if only over the course of a few years -- is designed not only to get rid of what might be troublesome priests, but also to make certain the Polish population of Belarus, small though it might be, does not become a center of Polish nationalism in Belarus. Perhaps more important, it is a signal to Poland that it will be blocked if it tries to engage Belarus in any way. In addition, it plays to mutual Russian Orthodox sentiment, which ties together nationalists in both Belarus and Russia.

In and of itself, this is a small matter. But in the current context of relations in the region, small matters point to more serious issues. There is increasing tension between Poland and Russia. If Russia wants to regain its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union, it will have to deal with the Baltics, which are now part of NATO. It cannot do that without aligning with Belarus or without blocking Polish influence. Russia must intimidate Poland as well. The Poles have an element of comfort so long as Belarus is genuinely separate from Russia. It is their buffer zone on the northern European plain.

Therefore, any sign of tension between Poland and Belarus -- particularly coupled with closer alignment between Belarus and Russia -- matters. Normally, the expulsion of foreigners, priests or not, would not register. But now, the expulsion of Polish priests from Belarus does matter, particularly when the Russian Orthodox Church is involved. It points to closer collaboration with Russia and growing tension with Poland. And that can matter a great deal over the coming months.
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« Reply #24 on: October 02, 2007, 07:31:19 PM »

There has been extensive speculation about what will happen in Russia after next spring's presidential elections. It has long been assumed that Vladimir Putin, although constitutionally prevented from running for re-election, will somehow find a way to continue running Russia. Finding such a way would not be unpopular. Putin has a great deal of support in Russia, and there is serious concern about what would happen if he transferred power to someone else. This is a case in which an extra-constitutional solution would calm public fears rather than excite them.

Putin on Monday gave the first direct indication of how he is planning to cope with the problem. Rather than trying to hold power without having a formal position in the government, Putin suggested that he would become prime minister after leaving office. Putin said the idea "is quite a realistic proposal," though he added that it is too early to think about this option. Since it is but half a year from election time, it is hardly too early to think about these things -- and Putin is not a man given to idle speculation in public -- so it is reasonable to assume that Putin is letting the country know that he will be changing jobs but neither leaving government nor abandoning power.

The Russian Constitution has, like all constitutions, ambiguities; and being quite new, it has few legal precedents. There is minimal constitutional reason why effective power couldn't rest with the prime minister's office while the president serves as the head of state and ceremonial figurehead. The way this would work is relatively simple. United Russia, a leading Russian political party, nominated Putin for one of its leading positions. Until now Putin has not formally belonged to any party (although he is clearly part of United Russia), saying the president should be beyond politics.

At a party congress, party member Sergey Borisov pleaded with Putin to take a leadership position and lead the party, saying, "So long as the state is outside a party, our party system is bulky and, to be honest, a somewhat decorative institution with little influence. I believe that by participating in one of the parties, you, Vladimir Putin, would make a large contribution to a stronger democracy and a multiparty system." Putin replied, saying, "I thankfully accept your proposal that I should head the United Russia ticket." And so it was done.

In our opinion, Putin had both the authority and the informal levers to dominate Russian politics without holding any formal office, simply working in the background. However, this maneuver makes things simple. Whoever replaces Putin as president will be head of state; Putin will be head of government. Putin moves his desk, or he might not even bother, keeping it right where it is.

We would say this is the end of democracy in Russia, except for the fact that it is going to be a very popular move and it doesn't clearly violate the constitution in any way. What it does do is promise Russia long-term continuity in leadership by a popular leader. It also means that there will not be an extended period of uncertainty in Russia about the political future, and it will cut off speculation outside of Russia about whether a post-Putin Russia would be less assertive, or at least whether a transition would provide some breathing room.

The answer is now in, although it is not surprising. There will be no post-Putin Russia, at least for the foreseeable future. There will be no transitional period. There will be no breathing space. Russia will continue to assert itself without interruption.
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« Reply #25 on: October 05, 2007, 07:57:33 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Georgia and Ukraine's Russian Problem

The former Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine appear to be slipping further away from Russian control, but a closer look reveals that the opposite may well be occurring.

Georgia is in the midst of a fresh bout of political instability, this time due to dissatisfaction with President Mikhail Saakashvili, who rose to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution, a regime change that has greatly vexed Moscow. Saakashvili's popularity has plummeted to numbers that would elicit a policy change out of George Bush, and the opposition is beginning to organize. Just as the Rose Revolution ousted an anti-Russian, President Edward Shevardnadze, in favor of an even more anti-Russian, Saakashvili, the new opposition is yet more anti-Russian.

Ukraine seems to be emerging from instability for the first time since the primordial ooze retreated. Final results from the Sept. 30 parliamentary elections gave the two parties that spawned the 2004 Orange Revolution -- President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and the eponymous Bloc Yulia Timoshenko -- the seats they need to eject pro-Russian forces from government again.

Yet all is not as it seems.

In Georgia, the Secretary-General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer himself, visited on Thursday, and while warning unnamed countries not to interfere in NATO's expansion efforts, flatly stated that Georgia was not going to be on the alliance's candidate list any time soon. De Hoop Scheffer went on to indirectly criticize some of Saakashvili's policies, implying that not only were they slowing Georgia's accession efforts, but also unnecessarily souring relations with Russia.

Back in Ukraine, Yushchenko landed his own surprise by opining that once he and Timoshenko hammer out a coalition deal, several key posts should be reserved for his pro-Russian archrival, Party of Regions' Viktor Yanukovich. The (unspoken) logic was that Timoshenko is an overbearing, vindictive harpy who uses government office to enrich her allies and punish her enemies, and Yushchenko would rather have his enemies right where he can see them.

So NATO is giving Georgia the cold shoulder even as Yushchenko -- albeit for his own reasons -- is offering the Russians a say in how the Ukrainian government is run. Added together, two of the most critical states to the Russian effort to reassert its influence seem to be shifting to a more neutral stance, despite public developments to the contrary.

Russia now has an interesting decision to make. Both states are ameliorating the pain they have regularly caused the Kremlin in the past four years, and Moscow could well sit on its laurels. But the Russians have more fish to fry. With the United States military obsessed with Iraq, Moscow will never have a better opportunity to retake influence in its near abroad, so quiet realignments may not quite be enough for opportunity-rich Russia. The Kremlin may well insist on more public capitulations.

1146 GMT -- GEORGIA, RUSSIA -- The former chief of the Georgian Defense Ministry's procurement unit, an official with access to top secret information, has fled to Russia from Turkey, Georgia's interior minister told President Mikhail Saakashvili during a televised government session Oct. 4, online magazine Civil Georgia reported Oct. 5. The official, Iason Chikhladze, is wanted for misuse of power and embezzlement in a case that also involves charges against former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, according to the General Prosecutor's Office.
1123 GMT -- RUSSIA -- The presidents of Russia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia planned to meet in Moscow on Oct. 5 to discuss the situations in Georgia and their regions, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh told Interfax. Bagapsh and Georgian President Eduard Kokoity will meet to coordinate their moves, "given the growing tensions in Georgia and the latest attempts to further stoke the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts," Bagapsh was quoted as saying.

« Last Edit: October 05, 2007, 08:02:53 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #26 on: October 12, 2007, 01:11:40 PM »

Russia urges US missile 'freeze'

Russia has called on the US to "freeze" plans to employ missile defense facilities in eastern Europe.
After high-level talks in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia saw the shield as a "potential threat" and wanted to "neutralize" it.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied any threat to Russia, saying she wanted both countries to work together.
Earlier, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled he would not support American plans.
He urged Washington "not to force" a planned deployment - of a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland - on Russia.
Mr Putin also threatened to abandon a key nuclear missile treaty which he said was outdated.
Map of US missile defense systems
After meeting President Putin Ms Rice went into a "2+2" meeting with her counterpart, Mr Lavrov, and the two countries' defense secretaries, Robert Gates and Anatoly Serdyukov.
The atmosphere afterwards was glum, says the BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow. It was clear the two sides had made little progress in tackling the increasing number of problems dogging their relationship.
Mr Gates said he and Ms Rice had put several new ideas to the Russians, but indicated that they had not yet been accepted.
"Our talks reflected the complex, multi-faceted relationship the US and Russia have," he said.
"We remain eager to be open and full partners with Russia in missile defense... we discussed a range of proposals we hope they will accept."
The US says it needs a missile defense system to counteract "rogue states" like Iran and North Korea.
The Kremlin has asked the US why it cannot instead use Russian-operated early warning radar in Azerbaijan.
Mr Gates said while that radar might be used, it was not capable of guiding interceptor missiles.
President Putin said at the start of the talks that it would be difficult to remain part of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty unless it was expanded to include more countries than just the US and Russia.
The reason, he said, was that other countries were developing these kinds of weapons systems - including those close to Russia's borders.
Analysts say President Putin's threat to withdraw from the treaty is yet another diplomatic move to pressurize the Americans.
The treaty, which limits US and Russian short and medium range missiles, was signed 20 years ago and led to the elimination of almost 3,000 Russian and American missiles.
Split on Iran
Russia has also threatened to leave the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe if it is not ratified by all Nato nations.
Russian defense analyst Alexander Goltz said this military agenda for the talks suited Mr Putin as it distracts his Western critics from the subjects of democracy and human rights.
Mr Putin does not want any Western interference into his plans for continued political involvement when he has to stand down as president next March, Mr Goltz said.
The US-Russian talks also covered the Iranian nuclear issue, after which Mr Lavrov criticized US sanctions and US hints about using military force against Iran, which he said "contradict our collective efforts" to negotiate a solution.
Ms Rice and Mr Gates were in Moscow for two days of talks, which were also expected to cover Kosovo and a nuclear weapons treaty to succeed START, which expires in 2009.       


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« Reply #27 on: October 15, 2007, 11:26:42 AM »

Putin's visit to Iran to go ahead

Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed that he will visit Iran on Monday as planned, despite reports of a possible plot to kill him there.
"Of course I'm going," Mr Putin told a news conference, ending earlier uncertainty about the visit.
The Interfax news agency on Sunday cited unnamed Russian security service sources as saying suicide bombers were plotting to kill Mr Putin in Tehran.
Iran's foreign ministry dismissed the reports as "completely baseless".
Foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Mr Putin was due to arrive in Tehran on Monday evening, before attending a summit of Caspian Sea heads of state on Tuesday.
Mr Putin would be the first Russian leader to visit Iran since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin went there in 1943.
Nuclear concerns
Mr Putin said he would discuss Iran's controversial nuclear programme with Iranian leaders. "It is futile to frighten Iran and its people. They are not scared," Mr Putin said.
He called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute over Iran's nuclear research and urged the international community to show patience in the matter.
He was speaking at a news conference in Wiesbaden, Germany, following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The US accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons - but Iran insists its programme is entirely peaceful.
Mrs Merkel said Iran must show "greater transparency" on the nuclear issue and abide by UN resolutions. "In our view it's also clear that if the Iranian leadership does not do this, then there must be a round of new sanctions," she said.
'Erroneous reports'
Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the earlier uncertainty about the president's visit to Iran was linked to the alleged assassination plot.
"These reports were very serious but I can't give you any detail on the nature of what our security services found out because it's all very sensitive", he told the BBC.
Interfax said that according to Russian security service sources, several groups of suicide bombers had been preparing for an attack in Tehran.
The services had relied on information received from several unnamed sources outside the country, the agency said.
Meanwhile, Mr Hosseini said the reports were "part of a psychological war waged by enemies to disrupt relations between Iran and Russia".
"Such erroneous reports will have no effect on the programme already decided upon for Mr Putin's visit to Tehran," he said.
Correspondents say Moscow and Tehran have good relations. Russia is helping to build the controversial Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran.
'Radical organisations'
A member of the Russian parliament's security committee, Gennady Gudkov, said the assassination plot reports were likely to have a "fairly high level of reliability".
"There are enough radical organisations, forces and movements of an extremist nature, oriented against Russia, which would like to settle a score with the Russian president," he told the state-owned Russian news channel, Vesti TV.
"There are certainly organisations of this kind in Tehran," he said.
Russian officials have said several plots to assassinate Mr Putin on foreign trips have been uncovered since he became president in December 1999.
Shortly after his election, Ukrainian security services said they had foiled an attempt to kill Mr Putin at an informal summit of former Soviet republics in the Black Sea resort of Yalta.
In 2003, police in London said they had arrested two men in connection with another plot to assassinate him.       


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« Reply #28 on: October 17, 2007, 10:59:59 AM »

Russia: How Iran Figures in Talks with the West
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Oct. 11 that not only is a nuclear-armed Iran not in Russia's interest, but it would pose a greater threat to Russian national security than to European or U.S. security. This is not just meant to serve as fodder in Moscow's upcoming negotiations with the West; it also happens to be true.

The Russian government is engaging the United States in a series of high-level summits this week and this coming weekend involving officials from the countries' respective Foreign and Defense ministries. Among the many personalities involved are U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov. The nature of these talks is as broad as it is central to the states' grand strategies for dealing with the size and disposition of both countries' military forces, as regulated by the Conventional Forces in Europe and the Strategic Arms Reduction treaties. Considering the Americans' preoccupation with Iraq and the rising prominence of anti-missile defenses in Russian-American talks, the status of the Iranian military and of its nuclear program are sure to play a central role.

Putin's public statement that Russia is concerned about a potential Iranian nuclear weapon is an excellent way to steer the talks in a direction favorable to Moscow's interests.

Putin knows full well that a nuclear-armed Iran would greatly complicate everything the United States is attempting to accomplish in the Middle East, and it is always useful to remind the Americans that the Russians are in the position to either grant or deny the Iranians that capability on the eve of grand strategic talks. After all, it is Russia that is building a nuclear power plant for the Iranians at Bushehr.

But this is not all just posturing before a major round of talks.

Putin is perfectly capable of looking at a map. Russia -- not the United States or Europe -- is Iran's neighbor, and the demonstrated 900-mile range of Iran's Shahab-3 missile brings a great many of Russia's industrial and population centers into potential striking distance. Should the Iranian missile actually reach the 1,500 miles that Tehran claims, it could even hit Moscow. Of the Western states, only those in the eastern Balkans are potentially at risk (and only if the 1,500-mile figure proves true). It is not so much that Russia believes an Iranian attack is imminent -- this would be suicidal for Iran, to say the least -- but rather that the shifts in the balance of power that a nuclear-armed Iran would cause would be far more detrimental to Moscow than to Washington.

There are very good reasons why the Russians have been dragging their feet at Bushehr, a project that was supposed to become operational nearly a decade ago. Putin is perfectly happy to take Iran's money, but if he can get a better deal from Washington on the broader dispensation of U.S. forces in the Eurasian theater, he is perfectly willing to throw Tehran under the American bus. Beep beep.

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« Reply #29 on: October 17, 2007, 11:01:33 AM »

Second post of the morning

Geopolitical Diary: The Price of Russian Cooperation

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to travel to Moscow on Friday for three days of talks with Russian First Deputy Prime Minster Sergei Ivanov on the minor topic of the future of the post-Cold War treaty structure. We say "minor" because all the talk of conventional forces placement and nuclear weapons limitations is but the tip of the iceberg. The two and their respective negotiating teams will in fact be hashing out the deepest Eurasian security realignments since the end of the Cold War in 1989.

Formally, three independently large topics are on the agenda. The first is the status of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which governs the size and disposition of non-nuclear nuclear hardware in the NATO and former Warsaw Pact states and their successors. The second is the future of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which caps the number of long-range nuclear weapons the United States and Russia can field. The final is what will or will not be done about rising U.S. interest in building an anti-ballistic missile system, which would have much of its hardware in Central Europe.

All of these issues are obviously of critical interest to both Moscow and Washington, but in reality they are not what the crux of the discussions will be. The United States has decided to dedicate all of its spare military resources to Iraq, largely stripping it of its ability to ride to the assistance of any of its allies. The Russians -- having been the target of U.S. political, economic and military pressure for the better part of the past two generations -- have obviously noticed this. (They can breathe, for a change.) This is a situation that they greatly wish to take advantage of.

Russia certainly can make the U.S. experience in Iraq even more unpleasant. Both Syria and Iran would dearly love to enjoy full access to Russia's top defense hardware, and the political cover of the Russian U.N. Security Council veto is not something to be scoffed at.

But Russia's interests in the long run are not in the Middle East -- they are in the former Soviet Union. Russian interests involve amendments to the CFE to prevent that treaty from being used as a basis for the expansion of U.S. military deployments in Eurasia. Those interests require an extended START treaty that locks the United States out of launching another nuclear arms race in which Moscow cannot afford to compete. Those interests include undoing any U.S. missile defense program in which Russia is not inseparably involved.

Simply put, the price of Russian cooperation in the Middle East is the United States granting Russia much of what it needs in the former Soviet space to reformulate the foundations of the Soviet Union. That might sound like a very tall order -- and it is -- but it is no less dramatic than what the United States is attempting to do in Iraq: fundamentally alter the balance of power in the Persian Gulf. If Washington is to fundamentally rewire one part of the world to serve its interests, it might just have to let Moscow rewire another part of the world.

Situation Reports

1131 GMT -- RUSSIA -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that unless the treaty becomes global, it will be hard for Moscow to remain in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, media reported Oct. 12. Putin cited neighboring countries' development of missiles banned by the treaty as a factor in Russia's viewing the treaty's restrictions as difficult.

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« Reply #30 on: October 17, 2007, 11:36:12 AM »

Third post of the morning:

The Russia Problem
By Peter Zeihan

For the past several days, high-level Russian and American policymakers, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Russian President Vladimir Putin's right-hand man, Sergei Ivanov, have been meeting in Moscow to discuss the grand scope of U.S.-Russian relations. These talks would be of critical importance to both countries under any circumstances, as they center on the network of treaties that have governed Europe since the closing days of the Cold War.

Against the backdrop of the Iraq war, however, they have taken on far greater significance. Both Russia and the United States are attempting to rewire the security paradigms of key regions, with Washington taking aim at the Middle East and Russia more concerned about its former imperial territory. The two countries' visions are mutually incompatible, and American preoccupation with Iraq is allowing Moscow to overturn the geopolitics of its backyard.

The Iraqi Preoccupation

After years of organizational chaos, the United States has simplified its plan for Iraq: Prevent Iran from becoming a regional hegemon. Once-lofty thoughts of forging a democracy in general or supporting a particular government were abandoned in Washington well before the congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus. Reconstruction is on the back burner and even oil is now an afterthought at best. The entirety of American policy has been stripped down to a single thought: Iran.

That thought is now broadly held throughout not only the Bush administration but also the American intelligence and defense communities. It is not an unreasonable position. An American exodus from Iraq would allow Iran to leverage its allies in Iraq's Shiite South to eventually gain control of most of Iraq. Iran's influence also extends to significant Shiite communities on the Persian Gulf's western oil-rich shore. Without U.S. forces blocking the Iranians, the military incompetence of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar could be perceived by the Iranians as an invitation to conquer that shore. That would land roughly 20 million barrels per day of global oil output -- about one-quarter of the global total -- under Tehran's control. Rhetoric aside, an outcome such as this would push any U.S. president into a broad regional war to prevent a hostile power from shutting off the global economic pulse.

So the United States, for better or worse, is in Iraq for the long haul. This requires some strategy for dealing with the other power with the most influence in the country, Iran. This, in turn, leaves the United States with two options: It can simply attempt to run Iraq as a protectorate forever, a singularly unappealing option, or it can attempt to strike a deal with Iran on the issue of Iraq -- and find some way to share influence.

Since the release of the Petraeus report in September, seeking terms with Iran has become the Bush administration's unofficial goal, but the White House does not want substantive negotiations until the stage is appropriately set. This requires that Washington build a diplomatic cordon around Iran -- intensifying Tehran's sense of isolation -- and steadily ratchet up the financial pressure. Increasing bellicose rhetoric from European capitals and the lengthening list of major banks that are refusing to deal with Iran are the nuts and bolts of this strategy.

Not surprisingly, Iran views all this from a starkly different angle. Persia has historically been faced with a threat of invasion from its western border -- with the most recent threat manifesting in a devastating 1980-1988 war that resulted in a million deaths. The primary goal of Persia's foreign policy stretching back a millennium has been far simpler than anything the United States has cooked up: Destroy Mesopotamia. In 2003, the United States was courteous enough to handle that for Iran.

Now, Iran's goals have expanded and it seeks to leverage the destruction of its only meaningful regional foe to become a regional hegemon. This requires leveraging its Iraqi assets to bleed the Americans to the point that they leave. But Iran is not immune to pressure. Tehran realizes that it might have overplayed its hand internationally, and it certainly recognizes that U.S. efforts to put it in a noose are bearing some fruit. What Iran needs is its own sponsor -- and that brings to the Middle East a power that has not been present there for quite some time: Russia.

Option One: Parity

The Russian geography is problematic. It lacks oceans to give Russia strategic distance from its foes and it boasts no geographic barriers separating it from Europe, the Middle East or East Asia. Russian history is a chronicle of Russia's steps to establish buffers -- and of those buffers being overwhelmed. The end of the Cold War marked the transition from Russia's largest-ever buffer to its smallest in centuries. Put simply, Russia is terrified of being overwhelmed -- militarily, economically, politically and culturally -- and its policies are geared toward re-establishing as large a buffer as possible.

As such, Russia needs to do one of two things. The first is to re-establish parity. As long as the United States thinks of Russia as an inferior power, American power will continue to erode Russian security. Maintain parity and that erosion will at least be reduced. Putin does not see this parity coming from a conflict, however. While Russia is far stronger now -- and still rising -- than it was following the 1998 ruble crash, Putin knows full well that the Soviet Union fell in part to an arms race. Attaining parity via the resources of a much weaker Russia simply is not an option.

So parity would need to come via the pen, not the sword. A series of three treaties ended the Cold War and created a status of legal parity between the United States and Russia. The first, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), restricts how much conventional defense equipment each state in NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, and their successors, can deploy. The second, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), places a ceiling on the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles that the United States and Russia can possess. The third, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), eliminates entirely land-based short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles, as well as all ground-launched cruise missiles from NATO and Russian arsenals.

The constellation of forces these treaties allow do not provide what Russia now perceives its security needs to be. The CFE was all fine and dandy in the world in which it was first negotiated, but since then every Warsaw Pact state -- once on the Russian side of the balance sheet -- has joined NATO. The "parity" that was hardwired into the European system in 1990 is now lopsided against the Russians.

START I is by far the Russians' favorite treaty, since it clearly treats the Americans and Russians as bona fide equals. But in the Russian mind, it has a fateful flaw: It expires in 2009, and there is about zero support in the United States for renewing it. The thinking in Washington is that treaties were a conflict management tool of the 20th century, and as American power -- constrained by Iraq as it is -- continues to expand globally, there is no reason to enter into a treaty that limits American options. This philosophical change is reflected on both sides of the American political aisle: Neither the Bush nor Clinton administrations have negotiated a new full disarmament treaty.

Finally, the INF is the worst of all worlds for Russia. Intermediate-range missiles are far cheaper than intercontinental ones. If it does come down to an arms race, Russia will be forced to turn to such systems if it is not to be left far behind an American buildup.

Russia needs all three treaties to be revamped. It wants the CFE altered to reflect an expanded NATO. It wants START I extended (and preferably deepened) to limit long-term American options. It wants the INF explicitly linked to the other two treaties so that Russian options can expand in a pinch -- or simply discarded in favor of a more robust START I.

The problem with the first option is that it assumes the Americans are somewhat sympathetic to Russian concerns. They are not.

Recall that the dominant concern in the post-Cold War Kremlin is that the United States will nibble along the Russian periphery until Moscow itself falls. The fear is as deeply held as it is accurate. Only three states have ever threatened the United States: The first, the United Kingdom, was lashed into U.S. global defense policy; the second, Mexico, was conquered outright; and the third was defeated in the Cold War. The addition of the Warsaw Pact and the Baltic states to NATO, the basing of operations in Central Asia and, most important, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine have made it clear to Moscow that the United States plays for keeps.

The Americans see it as in their best interest to slowly grind Russia into dust. Those among our readers who can identify with "duck and cover" can probably relate to the logic of that stance. So, for option one to work, Russia needs to have leverage elsewhere. That elsewhere is in Iran.

Via the U.N. Security Council, Russian cooperation can ensure Iran's diplomatic isolation. Russia's past cooperation on Iran's Bushehr nuclear power facility holds the possibility of a Kremlin condemnation of Iran's nuclear ambitions. A denial of Russian weapons transfers to Iran would hugely empower ongoing U.S. efforts to militarily curtail Iranian ambitions. Put simply, Russia has the ability to throw Iran under the American bus -- but it will not do it for free. In exchange, it wants those treaties amended in its favor, and it wants American deference on security questions in the former Soviet Union.

The Moscow talks of the past week were about addressing all of Russian concerns about the European security structure, both within and beyond the context of the treaties, with the offer of cooperation on Iran as the trade-off. After days of talks, the Americans refused to budge on any meaningful point.

Option Two: Imposition

Russia has no horse in the Iraq war. Moscow had feared that its inability to leverage France and Germany to block the war in the first place would allow the United States to springboard to other geopolitical victories. Instead, the Russians are quite pleased to see the American nose bloodied. They also are happy to see Iran engrossed in events to its west. When Iran and Russia strengthen -- as both are currently -- they inevitably begin to clash as their growing spheres of influence overlap in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In many ways, Russia is now enjoying the best of all worlds: Its Cold War archrival is deeply occupied in a conflict with one of Moscow's own regional competitors.

In the long run, however, the Russians have little doubt that the Americans will eventually prevail. Iran lacks the ability to project meaningful power beyond the Persian Gulf, while the Russians know from personal experience how good the Americans are at using political, economic, military and alliance policy to grind down opponents. The only question in the Russian mind pertains to time frame.

If the United States is not willing to rejigger the European-Russian security framework, then Moscow intends to take advantage of a distracted United States to impose a new reality upon NATO. The United States has dedicated all of its military ground strength to Iraq, leaving no wiggle room should a crisis erupt anywhere else in the world. Should Russia create a crisis, there is nothing the United States can do to stop it.

So crisis-making is about to become Russia's newest growth industry. The Kremlin has a very long list of possibilities, which includes:

Destabilizing the government of Ukraine: The Sept. 30 elections threaten to result in the re-creation of the Orange Revolution that so terrifies Moscow. With the United States largely out of the picture, the Russians will spare no effort to ensure that Ukraine remains as dysfunctional as possible.

Azerbaijan is emerging as a critical energy transit state for Central Asian petroleum, as well as an energy producer in its own right. But those exports are wholly dependent upon Moscow's willingness not to cause problems for Baku.

The extremely anti-Russian policies of the former Soviet state of Georgia continue to be a thorn in Russia's side. Russia has the ability to force a territorial breakup or to outright overturn the Georgian government using anything from a hit squad to an armored division.

EU states obviously have mixed feelings about Russia's newfound aggression and confidence, but the three Baltic states in league with Poland have successfully hijacked EU foreign policy with regard to Russia, effectively turning a broadly cooperative relationship hostile. A small military crisis with the Balts would not only do much to consolidate popular support for the Kremlin but also would demonstrate U.S. impotence in riding to the aid of American allies.

Such actions not only would push Russian influence back to the former borders of the Soviet Union but also could overturn the belief within the U.S. alliance structure that the Americans are reliable -- that they will rush to their allies' aid at any time and any place. That belief ultimately was the heart of the U.S. containment strategy during the Cold War. Damage that belief and the global security picture changes dramatically. Barring a Russian-American deal on treaties, inflicting that damage is once again a full-fledged goal of the Kremlin. The only question is whether the American preoccupation in Iraq will last long enough for the Russians to do what they think they need to do.

Luckily for the Russians, they can impact the time frame of American preoccupation with Iraq. Just as the Russians have the ability to throw the Iranians under the bus, they also have the ability to empower the Iranians to stand firm.

On Oct. 16, Putin became the first Russian leader since Leonid Brezhnev to visit Iran, and in negotiations with the Iranian leadership he laid out just how his country could help. Formally, the summit was a meeting of the five leaders of the Caspian Sea states, but in reality the meeting was a Russian-Iranian effort to demonstrate to the Americans that Iran does not stand alone.

A good part of the summit involved clearly identifying differences with American policy. The right of states to nuclear energy was affirmed, the existence of energy infrastructure that undermines U.S. geopolitical goals was supported and a joint statement pledged the five states to refuse to allow "third parties" from using their territory to attack "the Caspian Five." The last is a clear bullying of Azerbaijan to maintain distance from American security plans.

But the real meat is in bilateral talks between Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the two sides are sussing out how Russia's ample military experience can be applied to Iran's U.S. problem. Some of the many, many possibilities include:

Kilo-class submarines: The Iranians already have two and the acoustics in the Persian Gulf are notoriously bad for tracking submarines. Any U.S. military effort against Iran would necessitate carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf.

Russia fields the Bal-E, a ground-launched Russian version of the Harpoon anti-ship missile. Such batteries could threaten any U.S. surface ship in the Gulf. A cheaper option could simply involve the installation of Russian coastal artillery systems.

Russia and India have developed the BrahMos anti-ship cruise missile, which has the uniquely deadly feature of being able to be launched from land, ship, submarine or air. While primarily designed to target surface vessels, it also can act as a more traditional -- and versatile -- cruise missile and target land targets.

Flanker fighters are a Russian design (Su-27/Su-30) that compares very favorably to frontline U.S. fighter jets. Much to the U.S. Defense Department's chagrin, Indian pilots in Flankers have knocked down some U.S. pilots in training scenarios.

The S-300 anti-aircraft system is still among the best in the world, and despite eviscerated budgets, the Russians have managed to operationalize several upgrades since the end of the Cold War. It boasts both a far longer range and far more accuracy than the Tor-M1 and Pantsyr systems on which Iran currently depends.

Such options only scratch the surface of what the Russians have on order, and the above only discusses items of use in a direct Iranian-U.S. military conflict. Russia also could provide Iran with an endless supply of less flashy equipment to contribute to intensifying Iranian efforts to destabilize Iraq itself.

For now, the specifics of Russian transfers to Iran are tightly held, but they will not be for long. Russia has as much of an interest in getting free advertising for its weapons systems as Iran has in demonstrating just how high a price it will charge the United States for any attack.

But there is one additional reason this will not be a stealth relationship.

The Kremlin wants Washington to be fully aware of every detail of how Russian sales are making the U.S. Army's job harder, so that the Americans have all the information they need to make appropriate decisions as regards Russia's role. Moscow is not doing this because it is vindictive; this is simply how the Russians do business, and they are open to a new deal.

Russia has neither love for the Iranians nor a preference as to whether Moscow reforges its empire or has that empire handed back. So should the United States change its mind and seek an accommodation, Putin stands perfect ready to betray the Iranians' confidence.

For a price.
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« Reply #31 on: October 17, 2007, 11:39:07 AM »

Fourth post of the morning.  In my opinion, all of them are quite important.

Geopolitical Diary: Russia Warns Against U.S. Military Action in Iran

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday finally arrived in Tehran for meetings with Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He also met with leaders from Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Putin's meetings with Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his visit to Iran the center of discussion rather than the Caspian summit that was taking place. Leaks of assassination threats had already called attention to the visit. In order to thwart such threats and showcase his bravery, Putin arrived late from Germany and his time of arrival was not announced; this helped bring global attention to the meeting.

What came out of the meeting was not surprising but it was very important. Putin made it known that Russia would oppose any U.S. military action against Iran. More significant, he reached an agreement with the leaders of Caspian states that none of them would permit their soil to be used by the United States for such an attack. Putin was quoted as saying, "We should not even think of using force in this region. We need to agree that using the territory of one Caspian Sea [state] in the event of aggression against another is impossible."

The immediate target of the comments was Azerbaijan, where there has been discussion of U.S. use of airfields in the event of war against Iran. Putin made it clear -- and there did not seem to be much dissent -- that general cooperation by former Soviet Union nations with the United States in a war against Iran would place them on a collision course with Russia. This was not Russia's position in Afghanistan or Iraq. Moscow is taking a different tack on Iran.

Two themes have now merged. Until this point, the Russians have used U.S. preoccupation with Iraq to increase their influence in the former Soviet Union. Now Putin has upped the ante, making it clear that Russia can dictate the parameters of acceptable behavior to at least the countries around the Caspian and, by logical extension, in the former Soviet Union. It is certainly important that Putin does not want a U.S. attack against Iran. It is extremely important that Putin is now openly limiting the freedom of action of former Soviet republics. He is making Iran a test case.

Putin has a range of levers to use against these countries, the most important being the fact that their ministries, police and military forces are deeply penetrated by the Russian FSB, the successor to the KGB. Put differently, as Soviet states, these countries' regimes were intimately tied to the KGB. Following independence, that relationship did not atrophy. Apart from economic and military options, the Russians know what is happening in these countries, and can influence their affairs with relative ease. In Tehran Putin read the riot act to Azerbaijan, and we expect that it heard it.

The Russians did not give Tehran everything it wanted. No apparent breakthrough was reached on the question of Russian support for construction of an Iranian nuclear reactor in Bushehr. Putin refused to give guarantees on resumption of fuel deliveries, but did agree to discuss it with the Iranians during a planned visit by Ahmadinejad to Moscow. But Putin did give two important things: he said Russia would oppose military intervention and that it would work to prevent any Caspian state from participating in such intervention.

This of course leaves the question of what Russia might do. Its ability to protect Iran is negligible. However, during the Cold War the Soviets practiced linkage. During the Cuban missile crisis, the United States expected Russia to do nothing in Cuba, but to act against Berlin in response to an invasion. Russia will not do anything directly to help Iran. But Moscow is interested in countries in the former Soviet Union, where Russia wants to redefine its status and the United States has few military options. Georgia in the Caucasus and the Baltic countries are of interest to the United States and very vulnerable to Russian response.

Putin did two things at the meeting. First, he opposed a U.S. attack against Iran. He then implicitly claimed primacy within the former Soviet Union, imposing solidarity among Caspian states. It is the second thing that is the most striking. In doing this, Putin implicitly broadened the range of responses possible if the United States does attack Iran.
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« Reply #32 on: October 17, 2007, 11:41:08 AM »

And a fifth post-- also important!

ISRAEL, RUSSIA: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will travel to Russia on Oct. 18 for surprise talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and will return to Israel the same day, Olmert's office said. The discussions reportedly will focus on the Palestinian peace process and Iran's nuclear program and regional ambitions.

RUSSIA, IRAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is serious about finishing Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, IranMania reported. Putin said there are some minor issues that need to be resolved before the plant's completion and asserted that delays have been because of technical and legal issues and are not politically motivated. Putin said Russia and Iran have signed an agreement that the nuclear fuel from Bushehr must be returned to Russia, an issue "on top of the agenda in meeting between experts from the two sides."
« Last Edit: October 17, 2007, 11:53:42 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #33 on: October 18, 2007, 08:10:14 AM »

To me this reads like we just caved in big time, and then got sodomized by Putin in his statements while in Iran:

1149 GMT -- RUSSIA, UNITED STATES -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Russian President Vladimir Putin during their recent meeting that the United States would be willing to delay operationalizing a missile defense system in Europe until Washington and Moscow have jointly validated that Iranian ballistic missiles posed a threat, the Financial Times reported Oct. 17, citing a Pentagon spokesman.

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« Reply #34 on: October 18, 2007, 07:44:50 PM »

"...reads like we just caved in big time"

Here's another look and excerpt:
"A senior US defense official said Washington would continue negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic towards building the missile defense installations. But he said the US was willing to leave the system switched off until the US and Russia had jointly validated that Iranian ballistic missiles posed a threat. "It is our intention to proceed with the construction of missile defense in Europe," said Geoff Morrell, Pentagon spokesman. "But the pace at which it becomes operational could be adjusted to meet the threat."

Who snowed whom? a) Putin is adamant about no bases in those locations.  America is apparently going to begin construction.  This looks like a wink of face saving - we won't flip on the switch - while we go right ahead and build.  b) The delay could fit with our process of perfecting the technology. c) It puts an incentive on Putin to keep Iran unready and non-nuclear. d) Ahmadinejad has a big-mouth.  He isn't going to achieve full nuclear readiness without shouting it from the rooftops. It will be meaningless to wait for 'validation' from Moscow after Iran declares itself ready, willing and able. Switch it on.

Meanwhile, most of what those meetings in Russia should have been about was the restraint we need right now from them.  We'll see in time if we received any.
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« Reply #35 on: October 18, 2007, 11:54:21 PM »

To make them operational reqjuires Moscow's agreement though , , WTF?
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« Reply #36 on: October 23, 2007, 07:40:54 PM »

Russia: Stepping into the Ukrainian-Tatar Energy Scuffle
The battle between Ukraine and Tatarstan over some important energy assets has put Russia in the peculiar position of having to choose which of the two strategic regions it is more interested in controlling.


Ukraine and the government of Russia's Tatarstan region have been battling for control of an unusual company called UkrTatNafta for more than a year. The company, created in 1994, controls Ukraine's largest refinery -- Kremenchug -- and accounts for one-third of Ukraine's oil production. Ownership of the company is split; Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz Ukrainy holds 43 percent, Tatarstan holds 38 percent and a handful of small companies have miniscule shares.

Kiev's -- and Moscow's -- problem was that the Tatars controlled UkrTatNafta's operations. Tatarstan is Russia's largest autonomous region, with a population of 1 million Muslim Tatars. It also is fiercely independent and oil-rich. The region is somewhat contained because the Kremlin leaves it alone and it is geographically surrounded by Russia proper. But Russia loathes Tatarstan's receiving funds from projects outside Russia.

In May, Ukraine's then-prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich, attempted to usurp the Tatar government's influence and placed Naftogaz Ukrainy's 43 percent of UkrTatNafta directly under the premiership's control. Afterward, he banned all Ukrainian administrators from meetings and began "reorganizing" UkrTatNafta to favor the pro-Russian premier and his faction's interests. He named a Russian, Vladimir Fedotov, as UkrTatNafta's director. Naturally, Yanukovich's moves incensed the Tatar shareholders, who have also faced fraud cases that started popping up in recent months.

But things have changed in Ukraine; Yanukovich and his faction lost the Sept. 30 elections and the pro-Western Orange Coalition returned to power -- and control over UkrTatNafta now is up in the air. It is not known whether ownership of the crucial company falls to the outgoing Yanukovich, the incoming premier Yulia Timoshenko or the original consortium of Naftogaz Ukrainy and Tatarstan. Moreover, on Oct. 19, armed men seized the refinery -- though it is unclear whether they belong to Timoshenko or Yanukovich.

What is clear is that Yanukovich's changes mean that the office of Ukraine's prime minister will have the most say, and the anti-Russian Timoshenko will almost certainly hold that office.

Though this seems like a mere property squabble, it has put Russia in a unique position. Russia has geopolitically significant interest in making sure that neither Tatarstan nor Ukraine under Timoshenko holds UkrTatNafta and its assets.

Yanukovich's moves against Tatarstan most likely were spurred by the Russians, who have a strategic interest in denying Tatarstan access to money -- especially from energy -- from outside Russia. Moscow planned on preventing the situation by using the pro-Russian Ukrainian government to usurp control of UkrTatNafta.

However, Russia now has a strategic interest in not allowing Ukraine's pro-Western Orange Coalition to control large energy assets that also give Ukraine more independence from Russian energy.

In the midst of Russia's internal consolidation and international resurgence, it must choose whether to aid Ukraine or Tatarstan in the squabble. Moscow will have to choose between allowing one of its most self-determining regions (and a Muslim one at that) access to funds from outside Russia and allowing its most vital periphery states access to further energy independence.

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« Reply #37 on: October 25, 2007, 11:42:01 AM »

October 25, 2007, 7:45 a.m.

Red Army Dreams
You’re getting colder.

By Michael Ledeen

If you were Vladimir Putin, what would you think of Iran? You’d worry a lot about it, that’s what. Your own Russia is losing Russians, due to the usual grim demography that characterizes most of Europe. And, like the others, you’ve got a Muslim problem, with surging birthrates both within Russia and all along its borders, from Chechnya to the ‘stans. Lots of those Muslims are under Iranian sway. You know that well, having been trained in, and elevated by, the KGB, which was horrified to see radical mullahs and imams receiving money, Korans, and even weapons from the Islamic Republic. When Osama bin Laden claims that the defeat of the Soviet Empire was an Islamic victory, there’s a certain element of truth to his words, and you know that the Iranians want to build on that foundation to extend their power deeper into your domain.

You therefore want to see this regime destroyed. The last thing in the world that you want is a gigantic Chechnya, armed with nuclear weapons, launching waves of fanatical terrorists against infidels like you.

But you don’t have much of an army any more, and anyway you don’t want a war with the mullahs. Direct attack is not your way; you prefer cunning. You’d rather have someone else do your dirty work for you. Someone like Israel, or better yet, the United States. And best of all would be to get the Americans to do it in such a way that the whole world condemns them for it.

The first step is to convince the Iranians that you’re their most reliable ally and their smartest friend. So you stand up for them in the big assemblies of global public opinion, you decry the sanctions aimed against them, and you — whose country after all has provided the Iranians with nuclear technology ever since Clinton and Gore approved it — swear up and down that there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. You organize regional conferences to flatter the mullahs, you even fly to Tehran to meet with the Supreme Leader, thereby elevating his status. And all the while, you whisper to them that they are strong while the Americans are weak, that they can do anything they wish to the West, for the West has no stomach for further confrontation. You famously sell them an advanced air defense system with which they can protect their nuclear facilities in the event the Israelis or the Americans lash out.

You assure them of your unqualified support, and urge them on to intensify their war against the Americans. This is not just a matter of diplomatic tactics.  Unlike the Americans, your people have long operated inside Persian borders. Some of those bearded and beturbaned fanatics depend on you for money and opium, and for the blonde haired women in your embassy and consulates. You have real influence, and you use it to advance the careers of the most fanatical zealots, people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, people who do not want to charm the Americans, but antagonize them. Ali Larijani was too charming, and you managed to move him out to be replaced by the monotonous Jalili, renowned for his lack of elegance and his aggressive strategy of enlisting Latin American leftists to encircle the Americans.

Since you want the mullahs destroyed, you take care to sell them defensive systems that will not really defend them against either the greater or the lesser Satan. Since you do not want them to have a workable atomic weapon, you manage to have your Tehran-based nuclear physicists repeatedly find new problems. You know that the Iranians will eventually build the accursed thing, but there, too, you have a stratagem. You will find a way to provide your great admirer, Condoleezza Rice, with the hard evidence so that she and her president will do your dirty work for you before they head back to California and Texas, leaving you with new challenges in Washington.

To be sure, life being what it is, there are problems. The Persians are clever; they have been practicing deceit far longer than your people, and their long memories include centuries of Russian exploitation and trickery. They do not trust you, and they are constantly alert to signs of your treachery.  The Israeli attack on Syria in September was therefore a serious blow to you, because it exposed the hollowness of your vaunted anti-aircraft defense system, the same one deployed across Iran. The mullahs were alarmed, and not entirely assuaged by your assurances that their system was far better than the outmoded stuff you dumped on the Arabs. Your remonstrance to the supreme leader — “if you’d only told us about this secret plan of yours, we’d of course have made sure it was invulnerable to the Israelis” — had good effect, but many of the ruthless men around Khamenei and Ahmadinejad may suspect the truth. Not that they have anywhere to go, as you happily chuckle to yourself.

Your complicated stratagem can easily derail. You want the sanctions to fail, because you want the Americans to face the choice so elegantly stated by Sarkozy and Kouchner: Iran with the bomb, or bomb Iran. Sanctions deflect the momentum driving Washington and Paris toward that fateful choice, thus delaying the day of reckoning. But many good things may well happen en route to decision day. The mullahs are licking their wounds from the turnaround in Iraq, and may try something melodramatic to show that their vaunted “insurgency” is still a potent force. On the other hand, even if that happens they may well have preserved credible deniability, in keeping with their mastery of deception.  Perhaps they will instead strike in Afghanistan, but there too they would have to show themselves, and even so the Americans have shown amazing restraint. What does it take to galvanize the Americans? A nuke in Las Vegas?

At such times, you wryly remind yourself of something a KGB station chief once told you: “We’re supposed to tell the Kremlin what the Americans are going to do next. But it’s impossible to know that, since the Americans don’t know themselves.”

It’s not easy to manipulate the world. All in all it was easier when there was a Red Army.

National Review Online -
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« Reply #38 on: November 01, 2007, 09:18:51 AM »

Garry Kasparov, Dissident
Running for president in Russia is a dangerous enterprise.

Thursday, November 1, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

One of the current truisms of the news business is that the Internet has shrunk the world, and that everyone knows everything from the Web the moment it happens. Yet sometimes, we know nothing. Last month, the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov announced his candidacy for the presidency of Russia, to be decided in March. The world shrugged at the Kasparov candidacy, and went back to surfing the Web.

Is this because we in the wired world already know all there is to know about what's up in 21st century Russia? Or in fact are we clueless about the place Churchill described as the deepest enigma? Garry Kasparov believes the latter, and so as leader of a grab-bag coalition called Other Russia, he has undertaken his doomed effort to succeed Vladimir Putin. He works hard to get his message out in the West, but he is given relatively short shrift by the professional skeptics among the Western media and its intellectuals. Yes, he has no chance, but the inattention is a mistake.

I believe Garry Kasparov should be regarded as Russia's first post-Soviet dissident. Starting in the 1960s, deep in the Cold War, the world essentially put under its protective custody a generation of anti-Soviet dissidents. Their names became household names--Sakharov, Sharansky, Bukovsky, Medvedev, Sinyavsky, Kopelev, others. Solzhenitsyn, too hot to handle, was exiled in 1974.

The primary reason for analogizing Mr. Kasparov to these dissidents is not for his opposition to the Putin government and his views on Mr. Putin, though these are worth listening to. The more relevant reason is that he believes his life is in danger.

In an interview this past weekend for "The Journal Editorial Report" on Fox cable news, Mr. Kasparov spoke with his characteristic force and animation about what he believes are the underlying weaknesses of a Russia that looks to be thriving under Mr. Putin. Mr. Kasparov was scheduled to fly back to Russia a few days after the interview, and at the end he was asked if he feared for his safety. One could not help but notice that his answer came after a brief but obvious hesitation.
"Yes," he said, "I am. I'm afraid, my family's afraid. It's our greatest concern."

Why? Logic argues against killing Mr. Kasparov. The street demonstrations in Moscow by his group number in the low thousands (though they attract truncheon attacks by a small army of police agents). A murder would make him a martyr in Russia, where he is still revered as a Soviet and Russian hero. As a political threat, he is a fly on the back of the Putin rhinoceros.

But this is Russia. For all the same reasons one could have said the same of the Russian journalists killed or mysteriously dead there in recent years. Their names are also a "dissident" list: Ivan Safronov of Kommersant, Iskandar Khatloni of Radio Free Europe, Paul Klebnikov of Forbes Russia, Anna Politkovskaya of Novaya Gazeta. Freedom House estimates some two dozen journalists have been killed since Mr. Putin came to power. Earlier this month, in Prague and Washington, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty held symposiums on the status of Russian media, tied to the first anniversary of Ms. Politkovskaya's murder. Mr. Kasparov was there. Other than the Washington Times, the symposiums received virtually no press coverage in the West.

Mr. Kasparov is no political dilettante. His first article on the status of democracy in Russia appeared on this page in August 1991. He was 28 years old. He came to our offices near the World Trade Center for lunch, and one has to say that at first it was hard to set aside that the fellow discoursing over Chinese food on the West's unseemly affection for Mikhail Gorbachev possessed the most mammoth chess brain in history.

We made him a contributing editor to the Journal editorial page, and in the years since he has written often for these pages on Russia's wild ride to its current state. Across 16 years, Mr. Kasparov's commitment to democratic liberty in Russia and in its former republics has been unstinting. At that September 1991 lunch, Mr. Kasparov proposed an idea then anathema to elite thinking in Washington and the capitals of Western Europe: The West should announce support for the independence of the former Soviet republics--the Baltics, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and the rest.

One suspects that Vladimir Putin noticed what the young chess champion was saying in 1991 about the old Soviet empire. The Russian president has famously said, "The demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."

Russia today is not what it was. Mr. Kasparov, however, has not stopped analyzing what it has become. Briefly, he argues that Mr. Putin's internal and external politics should be seen almost wholly as a function of oil prices, the primary source of revenue for the Russian state and the prop beneath the extended Putin political family. Mr. Putin's "unhelpful" policies on Iran and the like, Mr. Kasparov argues, keep the oil markets boiling--but not boiling over. Money in the bank, at $94 a barrel. He says Mr. Putin is the glue that binds this fabulously wealthy family, and if he left politics in any real sense they would start killing each other.

As to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's argument that the West needed Mr. Putin inside the G-7 structure so it could "influence" him, the former chess champion replies: "Occasionally you have to look at the results of your brilliant theories." Bringing Mr. Putin in as G No. 8, he says, "jeopardized the whole concept of this club, seven great industrial democracies."
Arguably these views make Mr. Kasparov a dissident even in the increasingly cynical, "pragmatic" West. To their credit, the West's political elites in the 1970s protected the Soviet Union's dreamers. Today Mr. Putin wants Russia to be seen again as dangerous. It is that. Garry Kasparov deserves protection. He stands for something important. A word from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be a start.

Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Thursdays in the Journal and on

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« Reply #39 on: November 26, 2007, 02:41:14 PM »

The Holodomor
November 26, 2007


Seventy-five years ago the Ukrainian people fell victim to a crime of unimaginable horror. Usually referred to in the West as the Great Famine or the Terror Famine, it is known to Ukrainians as the Holodomor. It was a state-organized program of mass starvation that in 1932-33 killed an estimated seven million to 10 million Ukrainians, including up to a third of the nation's children. With grotesque understatement the Soviet authorities dismissed this event as a "bad harvest." Their intention was to exonerate themselves of responsibility and suppress knowledge of both the human causes and human consequences of this tragedy. That is reason enough for us to pause and remember.

During the long decades of Soviet rule it was dangerous for Ukrainians to discuss their greatest national trauma. To talk of the Holodomor was a crime against the state, while the memoirs of eyewitnesses and the accounts of historians like Robert Conquest and the late James Mace were banned as anti-Soviet propaganda. Yet each Ukrainian family knew from bitter personal memory the enormity of what had happened. They also knew that it had been inflicted on them deliberately to punish Ukraine and destroy the basis of its nationhood. It is to honor the victims and serve the cause of historical truth that independent Ukraine is today working to promote greater understanding and recognition of the Holodomor, both at home and abroad.

We are not doing so out of a desire for revenge or to make a partisan political point. We know that the Russian people were among Stalin's foremost victims. Apportioning blame to their living descendents is the last thing on our minds. Our only wish is for this crime to be understood for what it truly was. That is why the Ukrainian Parliament last year passed a law recognizing the Holodomor as an act of genocide and why I am asking our friends and allies to endorse that position. A world that indulges historical amnesia or falsification is condemned to repeat its worst mistakes.

Genocide is a highly charged term, and there are those who still dispute its applicability in the case of Ukraine. It is therefore worth looking at how the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention legally defines the issue. It describes genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group" including "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." The Holodomor falls squarely within the terms of this definition. Significantly, that was also the opinion of Raphael Lemkin, the legal scholar who conceived the Genocide Convention.

There is now a wealth of historical material detailing the specific features of Stalin's forced collectivization and terror famine policies against Ukraine. Other parts of the Soviet Union suffered terribly as well. But in the minds of the Soviet leadership there was a dual purpose in persecuting and starving the Ukrainian peasantry. It was part of a campaign to crush Ukraine's national identity and its desire for self-determination. As Stalin put it a few years earlier: "There is no powerful national movement without the peasant essence, the national question is a peasant question." In seeking to reverse the policy of "Ukrainianization" that promoted limited cultural and political autonomy during the 1920s, Stalin decided to target the peasantry, representing as it did 80% of the population. His solution to the national question in Ukraine was mass murder through starvation.

Stalin's cruel methods included the allocation of astronomic grain requisition quotas that were impossible to meet and which left nothing for the local population to eat. When the quotas were missed, armed units were sent in. Toward the end of 1932, entire villages and regions were turned into a system of isolated starvation ghettos called "black boards." Throughout this period, the Soviet Union continued to export grain to the West and even used grain to produce alcohol. By early 1933, the Soviet leadership decided to radically reinforce the blockade of Ukrainian villages. Eventually, the whole territory of Ukraine was surrounded by armed forces, turning the entire country into a vast death camp.

The specifically national motive behind Stalin's treatment of Ukraine was also evident in the terror campaign that targeted the institutions and individuals that sustained the cultural and public life of the Ukrainian nation. Waves of purges engulfed academic institutions, literary journals, publishing houses and theaters. Victims included the Ukrainian Academy of Science, the editorial board of the Soviet Ukrainian Encyclopedia, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and ultimately the Ukrainian Communist Party. This was a systematic campaign against the Ukrainian nation, its history, culture, language and way of life.

The Holodomor was an act of genocide designed to suppress the Ukrainian nation. The fact that it failed and Ukraine today exists as a proud and independent nation does nothing to lessen the gravity of this crime. Nor does it acquit us of the moral responsibility to acknowledge what was done. On the 75th anniversary, we owe it to the victims of the Holodomor and other genocides to be truthful in facing up to the past.

Mr. Yushchenko is Ukraine's president.

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« Reply #40 on: November 27, 2007, 09:01:40 AM »

Russian Justice
November 27, 2007; Page A18
Vladimir Putin's not-so-secret political weapon is the courts. The Kremlin's control over the judiciary keeps Russia an illiberal state and comes in handy against Mr. Putin's enemies.

Two new cases again show the Putin legal method at work. A Moscow court on Saturday sentenced Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who leads a coalition of opposition parties, to five days in prison for leading an "unauthorized" demonstration in the capital the same day. If forced to serve out the term this week, Mr. Kasparov, who was arrested Saturday and remains in jail, would be out of the picture in the lead-up to Sunday's parliamentary elections.

A day earlier, prosecutors indicted one of the last liberal government ministers, Sergei Storchak, on embezzlement and fraud charges. His arrest the previous week fueled speculation about the government's motives -- none of which concerned the merits of the case against the deputy finance minister and chief debt negotiator.

Mr. Storchak, who also helps manage Russia's $148 billion oil windfall fund, seems to be caught in Kremlin crossfire. A prosecutor close to Mr. Putin went after him, suggesting to some that the security services wanted to pressure Mr. Storchak's boss, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin. Mr. Kudrin had sparred with this important Kremlin faction over the best way to spend the energy billions and was also mentioned among possible successors to Mr. Putin, should the president honor the Constitution and step down next year. In an unusual move, Mr. Kudrin vouched for Mr. Storchak's innocence.

Russia made halting progress in establishing rule of law and an independent judiciary in the years after the Soviet Union's collapse. But Mr. Putin has reversed course. The pivotal event was the Yukos prosecution, when the Kremlin used a tax evasion charge to destroy Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and its biggest oil company.

Yukos's choicest bits were sold to a state-owned oil company for a song, as part of the Kremlin effort to control Russian energy assets. Mr. Khodorkovsky, a Putin rival, is serving a 10-year sentence in Siberia. In subsequent years, the courts were instrumental in forcing Royal Dutch Shell out of a multibillion dollar energy exploration project and to pressure other international majors.

Russia's beleaguered democratic politicians, denied access to the media and prevented from freely campaigning, are finding no relief from the judiciary. Mr. Kasparov, a contributing editor to these pages, isn't surprised, calling his conviction Saturday "a symbol of what has happened to justice and the rule of law under Putin."

With the decks stacked in favor of the Putin-backed United Russia party, the opposition's only recourse is to take to the streets. Another pro-democracy rally was violently broken up in St. Petersburg on Sunday. About 200 were arrested, including former deputy prime minister and reformist, Boris Nemtsov, who plans to contest the March presidential election. He was later released.

Pliant courts and crooked bureaucrats are almost as old as Russia itself. In its early years, post-Soviet Russia had a chance to build a legal system that could one day become a healthy check on the state. But this promise of liberal society, as so many others, has been torpedoed by Mr. Putin.

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« Reply #41 on: December 11, 2007, 09:39:24 AM »

Post by C-Bad Dog moved from another thread:

Heavy Metal Fanatic To Succeed PUTIN As Russian Leader

Russia's RIA Novosti reports: The man backed by Vladimir Putin for next year's presidential election is a heavy-metal-loving 42-year-old whose surname comes from the Russian word for 'bear'.

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was nominated by the ruling United Russia party and three other smaller pro-Kremlin parties on Monday afternoon. President Putin later said on national television: "I have known Dmitry Medvedev well for over 17 years, and I completely and fully support his candidature."

The man who may well become leader of the largest nation on Earth said he had spent much of his youth compiling cassettes of popular Western groups, "Endlessly making copies of BLACK SABBATH, LED ZEPPELIN and DEEP PURPLE."

All these groups were on state-issued blacklists during Medvedev's Soviet-era schooldays.

"The quality was awful, but my interest colossal," he said.

Medvedev went on to boast of his collection of DEEP PURPLE LPs, saying that he had searched for the albums for many years.

"Not reissues, but the original albums," he added, concluding that, "If you set yourself a goal you can achieve it."

Read more RIA Novosti. 
Woof Russ:

That is some fascinating personal data on the new man, who may not be his own man.

Geopolitical Diary: The Course of Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ended the mystery by formally endorsing First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev as his successor. Given Putin's genuine popularity with a majority of the population, along with his hammerlock to the levers of power, his endorsement is tantamount to Medvedev's election. Now the speculation has turned to precisely whether Putin will continue to pull the strings, and if so how he will do it.

We suspect that Putin will continue to pull the strings and that he is smart enough to figure out how he will do it. These are interesting but ultimately not important questions. The reason is that the process Putin initiated when he replaced Boris Yeltsin was inevitable. If Putin had not done it, someone else would have. And given the dynamics of Russia during that period, the only place that person would have come from was the intelligence community. To take control of the catastrophic reality of Russia, you had to be closely linked to at least some of the oligarchs, have control of the only institution that was really functioning in Russia at the time -- the security and intelligence apparatus -- and have the proper mix of ruthlessness and patience that it took to consolidate power within the state and then use state power to bring the rest of Russia under control.

The Soviet Union was a disaster. The only thing worse was Russia in the 1990s. The situation in Russia was untenable. Workers were not being paid, social services had collapsed, poverty was endemic. The countryside was in shambles. By the end of the 1990s Russia was either going to disintegrate or the state would reassert itself. The functional heart of the Soviet system, the KGB, now called the FSB, did reassert itself, not in a straight line. Much of the FSB was deeply involved in the criminality and corruption that was Russia in the 1990s. But just as the KGB had recognized first that the Soviet system was in danger of collapse, so the heirs of the KGB had recognized that Russia itself was in danger of collapse. Putin acted and succeeded. But it was the system reacting to chaos, not simply one man.

Which means that while the personal fate of Putin is an interesting question, it is not an important one. The course has been set and Medvedev, with or without Putin, will not change it. First, the state is again in the hands of the apparatus. Second, the state is in control of Russia. Third, Russia is seeking to regain control of its sphere of influence. Medvedev, or any Russian leader who could emerge, is not going to change this, because it has become institutionalized; it became institutionalized because there was no alternative course for Russia, the fantasies of the 1990s notwithstanding.

It is important to remember one of the major factors that propelled Putin to power -- the Kosovo war. The United States went to war with Serbia against Russian wishes. Russia was ignored. Then at the end, the Russians helped negotiate the Serb capitulation. Under the agreement the occupation of Kosovo was not supposed to take place only under NATO aegis. The Serbs had agreed to withdraw from Kosovo under the understanding that the Russians would participate in the occupation. From the beginning that did not happen. Yeltsin's credibility, already in tatters, was shattered by the contemptuous attitude toward Russia shown by NATO members.

It is interesting to note that on the same day Putin picked Medvedev, the situation in Kosovo is again heating up. NATO is trying to create an independent Kosovo with the agreement of Serbia. The Serbs are not agreeing and neither is their Russian ally. Putin, who still holds power, is not going to compromise on this issue. For him, Kosovo is a minor matter, except that it is a test of whether Russia will be treated as a great power.

Whether Putin is there, Medvedev is there, or it is a player to be named later, the Russians are not kidding on Kosovo. They do not plan to be rolled over as they were in 1999. Nor are they kidding about a sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union. They are certainly not kidding about state domination of the economy or of the need for a strong leader to control the state.

The point is that the situation in Russia, down to a detail like Kosovo, is very much part of a single, coherent fabric that goes well beyond personalities. The response that Russia made to its near-death experience was pretty much its only option, and having chosen that option, the rest unfolds regardless of personalities. Putin has played his role well. He could continue to play it. But the focus should be on Russia as a great power seeking to resume its role, and not on the personalities, not even one as powerful as Putin, and certainly not Medvedev. 
Looks like the new boss is , , , the old boss.  This just in from the NY Times:

Russia's Dmitri Medvedev Says Putin Should Become Prime Minister

MOSCOW, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Dmitri A. Medvedev, named by
President Vladimir V. Putin as his preferred successor, said
on Tuesday that he would propose that Mr. Putin become prime
minister in a future government.

Mr. Medvedev also made clear in a brief televised statement
that his nomination was linked to the need for continuity of
Putin's policies.

Read More:
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« Reply #42 on: December 12, 2007, 10:46:11 AM »

You have to admit.... any post grouping BLACK SABBATH, LED ZEPPELIN and DEEP PURPLE together deserves its own thread, but I digress.

Stratfor is good, but considered "alarmist" in professional intel circles.

Which indicates two things:

1) Medvedev's musical "obsessions" indicate that he has good taste and that he is discernibly human from most politicians... which is much more than we learn from the "expert" analysts.


2)  We think we know much more than we do, which is indicated by our constant categorizing that tries to place the "unknown" into a neat pile, when in reality we have no way of predicting what will, or might take place.

I submit that Medvedev's musical tastes are equally as pertinent to getting to know what he might do, and whom he is, as anything else we may read.  And, fortunately for us, they are good!   afro

As for Medvedev being his own man.... many times, a U.S. President has picked a Supreme Court Justice precisely because of the way he felt the Justice would vote on matters, and has been sadly mistaken by the impartiality of the Justice once a member of the Court.

I am excited to have a fellow music lover potentially in a position of great world power.  As my Father wrote: "At least its not Wagner!"

C-Bad Dog, Lakan Guro DBMA
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« Reply #43 on: December 12, 2007, 11:09:03 AM »

Woof C-Bad Dog:

Allow me to clarify-- I too think it worthy of notice and find it good news that Medvedev likes these bands.

Trivia:  I saw LZ at at the Anderson theater ( a block south of what was later to be the Fillmore East) in 1966 or '67.  I had snuck out of the house and got down to the East Village around 0200.  The guy at the door simply let me walk in because the show had already been on for quite a while and he dug that I was out and about at 14 years of age, and I walked right down the aisle and kneeled in front of the stage.  There, about 6 feet away from me, was Jimmy Page playing his guitar with a violin bow and making sounds like I had never heard.

Trivia2:  I saw DP around 1971 with a 9 man band that I was in at the time (piano and rhythm guitar).  I was the only white guy in the band, but they were all heavily into it.  We did interpretations of the Funkadelics (George Clinton), Santana, Jimi Hendrix and original tunes (I contributed two to the band's repertoire.)

So yes it will be interesting to see what kind of man Medvedev is and what kind of actions he takes.
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« Reply #44 on: December 13, 2007, 07:49:55 AM »

A Friend Writes:

'A young man trudges along the frozen streets of Moscow, wrapping his scarf and coat tighter about himself. Looking around, he sees the homeless and the poor - people swilling home-made potato vodka and standing in long lines for toilet paper, and he vows to himself: "As god as my witness, I WILL own Machine Head."'


C-Bad Dog, Lakan Guro DBMA
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« Reply #45 on: December 26, 2007, 07:23:47 AM »


Putin's Cold War
Confrontation with America satisfies a domestic agenda.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

Last Saturday Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, chief of Russia's General Staff, issued an ominous warning. Were the U.S. to launch a rocket from the missile defense system it plans to deploy in Poland to intercept Iranian rockets, it might accidentally trigger a retaliatory attack by Russian nuclear ballistic missiles.

This was only the most recent of a series of provocative and disturbing messages from Moscow. In fact, at no time since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 has the direction of Russian policy been as troubling as it is today.

What accounts for this change? And where will it lead?

Let's first discard simplistic clichés. The most common of them postulates that when the post-Soviet, proto-democratic, anti-communist, revolutionary Russia of the 1990s was poor, it was also meek and peaceable and willing to be a friend of the West. Now that the accursed "period of weakness" and "chaos" of the 1990s is behind it, the same explanation goes, Russia has "recovered," is "off its knees," and is "back." Back, that is, to spar and bicker with the West because . . . well, because this is what a prosperous and strong Russia does.
Nonsense. A country's behavior in the world, its choice of truculence or accommodation, is not decided by accountants who calculate what the country can or cannot afford. Rather it is determined by the regime's fears and hopes, and by the leaders' notions of what their countries should strive for.

As Germany and Japan recovered from the devastation of World War II and became many times richer than they were in 1945, they grew more, not less, peaceful. They also devoted puny shares of their national income to the military--and only after intense debate. Western Europe's equally spectacular economic resurgence has not brought back squabbling, jingoism and militarism--and neither did South Korea's, after communist aggression and decades of authoritarianism.

In the past seven years, the trajectory of Russian foreign policy under Vladimir Putin mirrored, and changed with, the domestic ideological and political order. It has morphed from the Gorbachev-Yeltsin search for the "path to the common European home" and integration into the world economy, to declaring that the end of the Soviet Union was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

Soon the Kremlin's paid and unpaid propagandists were extolling "sovereign democracy"--a still rather "soft" authoritarianism, increasingly with nationalistic and isolationist overtones. Such exegeses, an independent Russian analyst noted, "would have been labeled as fascist, chauvinistic, anti-democratic or anti-Western during Yeltsin's term. Now such texts have become mainstream."

As the Kremlin's pronouncements grew darker and more fanciful--including warnings that foreign evildoers are plotting to break up Russia--Moscow's foreign policy, too, evolved: first to a cynical and omnivorous pragmatism, and then an assertive and pointedly anti-Western, especially anti-American, posture.

The formerly diverse bilateral U.S.-Russian agenda--energy security, nuclear nonproliferation, the global war on terrorism, the containment of a resurgent, authoritarian China, Russia's integration in the global economy--has been systematically whittled down by Moscow to where it was in the Soviet days and where the Kremlin now wants it: arms control. Suddenly pulled out of mothballs and imbued with the gravest concern for Russia's safety are all manner of the Cold War detritus.

Some of Moscow's concerns (for instance, NATO deployments increasingly close to Russia's borders) are legitimate. But the alarmist and uncompromising rhetoric, and the mode of its delivery--shrill, public and from the very top of the Russian power structure--have been utterly disproportionate to the rather trivial and easily resolved military essence of the issues.

The evolution of Moscow's Iran policy is particularly troubling. Until about a year ago, the Moscow-Tehran quid pro quo was straightforward. Russia defended Iran in the U.N.'s Security Council, while Iran refrained from fomenting fundamentalism and terrorism in Central Asia and the Russian North Caucasus, and spent billions of dollars on Russian nuclear energy technology and military hardware, including mobile air defense missiles, fighter jets and tanks. (At the request of the U.S., Boris Yeltsin suspended arms sales to Tehran in 1995.)

Then Russia's strategy changed from money-making, influence-peddling and diplomatic arbitrage to a far riskier brinksmanship in pursuit of a potentially enormous prize. The longer Moscow resists effective sanctions against an Iran that continues to enrich uranium--and thus to keep the bomb option open and available at the time of its choosing--the greater the likelihood of the situation's deteriorating, through a series of very probable miscalculations by both the U.S. and Iran, toward a full-blown crisis with a likely military solution.

As Iran's patron, Moscow would be indispensable to any settlement of such a conflict, as was the Soviet Union when it sponsored Egypt in the 1993 Yom Kippur war. And through that settlement it would get its prize.
In one fell swoop, Russia could fulfill major strategic goals: to reoccupy the Soviet Union's position as a key player in the Middle East and the only viable counterbalance to the U.S in the region; to keep oil prices at today's astronomic levels for as long as possible by feeding the fears of a military strike against Iran (and see them go as far as $120-$130 a barrel and likely higher if Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz and disrupts the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf); and to use the West to prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran a few hundred miles from Russia's borders.

Especially frustrating for the White House is Russian foreign policy's intimate connection to the Kremlin's all-out effort to ensure a smooth transition of power, which, Dimitry Medvedev's appointment to the presidency notwithstanding, looks more and more like it will be from a presidency to a kind of Putin regency.

Creating a sense of a besieged fortress at a time of domestic political uncertainty or economic downturn to rally the people around the Kremlin and, more importantly, its current occupant, is part and parcel of the Soviet ideological tradition, which this regime seems increasingly to admire.

So between now and at least next spring, Russian foreign policy is likely to be almost entirely subservient to the Putin's regime's authoritarian, ambitious and dicey agenda. This will likely result in more nasty rhetoric from the Kremlin and further damage relations with the West, and the U.S. in particular.

Until the succession crisis is resolved (meaning, until Mr. Putin's effective leadership of the country is renewed and secured) no amount of importuning, begging or kowtowing--or emergency trips by Condoleezza Rice to Moscow and heart-to-heart chats in Kennebunkport--are likely to produce an ounce of good.

Let us, therefore, refrain from the ritual, silly hand-wringing and accusations on the subject of "losing" Russia. Russia is not (and never has been) ours to lose.

Back on "the never altered circuit of its fate," to borrow from one of Robert Graves's finest poems, Russia under Mr. Putin has been doing a fine job of losing itself on its own. Resuming the Gorbachev-Yeltsin heroic labor of dismantling this circuit, and thus altering Russia's relations with the West, could be Mr. Medvedev's job--if he wants it and is allowed to proceed.

Mr. Aron is resident scholar and director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of "Russia's Revolution: Essays 1989-2006" (AEI Press, 2007).
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« Reply #46 on: January 14, 2008, 05:25:29 PM »

British-Russian Tension Escalates

MOSCOW — A British cultural organization on Monday defied a Russian government order to close offices in two cities, creating a fresh strain in the already tense relations between Russia and Britain.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to Russia to its offices and threatened a series of punitive measures, including refusing to renew the visas of the organization’s staff and opening tax proceedings against the group.

The ambassador, Anthony Brenton, remained publicly defiant after the meeting, saying that the organization planned to continue operating all of its offices. Mr. Brenton also said that Russia’s demands violated international law on consular activities.

The two governments have been at odds over a series of espionage and extradition disputes.

The latest disagreement centers on the operations of the British Council, an organization that is operated and financed by the British government to encourage cultural exchange between the two countries.

The council has offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, the three Russian cities where Britain maintains diplomatic missions.

Late last year, as part of a continuing tension between Russia and Britain since the poisoning death in 2006 of former K.G.B. officer Alexander V. Litvinenko in London, Russia demanded that the British Council offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg close by Jan. 1.

Russia contends that the offices operate illegally and that the council has permission to maintain offices only in Moscow.

Russia celebrates New Year’s and Orthodox Christmas in an extended holiday. The dispute flared again on the first Monday after the holiday, when both offices reopened.

The Foreign Ministry immediately released an angry statement, saying it had told Mr. Brenton to comply with Russian demands or risk straining relations further.

“The ambassador was informed that the Russian side considered the action a deliberate provocation, directed at complicating the relationship between Russia and Britain,” the statement said.

Britain has denounced the order to close the offices, saying that the council’s activities comply with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and that it should be immune from political disputes.

James Barbour, a spokesman for the British Embassy, said that Mr. Brenton had been handed a letter by the Russian Foreign Ministry and was reviewing its contents. But the council, he said, would continue to operate.

“My understanding, and the understanding of the British government, is that the offices of the British Council will remain open,” he said.

Russia has also threatened to close the British Council’s main office, in Moscow, as one of its retaliatory measures.
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« Reply #47 on: February 12, 2008, 12:50:44 PM »

Putin's Torture Colonies
February 12, 2008; Page A16
"The protest began after OMON [riot police] had been brought to correctional colony No. 5 (Amur Oblast, Skovorodino Rayon, village Takhtamygda) and started massive beatings of the prisoners. People in camouflage and masks were beating with batons inmates taken outside undressed in the freezing cold. . . . As a protest, 39 prisoners immediately cut their veins open.

"Next day, on 17 January, the 'special operation' was repeated in an even more humiliating and massive form. At that time, about 700 inmates cut their veins open. . . ."

The description here comes from a report received by the Moscow-based Foundation for Defense of Rights of Prisoners. The time reference is to 2008 -- that is, last month. This is not Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Russia. It's Vladimir Putin's. And correctional colony No. 5, located not far from the Manchurian border, does not even make the list of the worst penal colonies in the country.

That distinction belongs to the newly revived institution of Pytochnye kolonii, or torture colonies. After all but disappearing in the 1990s under the liberal regime of Boris Yeltsin, there are now about 50 pytochnye kolonii among the roughly 700 colonies that house the bulk of Russia's convict population, according to FDRP cofounder Lev Ponomarev. And while they cannot be compared to the Soviet Gulag in terms of scope or the percentage of prisoners who are innocent of any real crime, they are fast approaching it in terms of sheer cruelty.

The cruelty to prisoners often begins prior to their actual sentencing. "When people are transported from prisons to courts to attend their hearings, they are jammed in a tiny room where they can barely stand. There's no toilet; if they have to relieve themselves, it has to be right there," says Mr. Ponomarev. "Then they are put on trucks. It's extremely cold in winter, extremely hot in summer, no ventilation, no heating. These are basically metal containers. They have to be there for hours. Healthy people are held together with people with tuberculosis, creating a breeding ground for the disease."


To see footage taken from inside a pytochnye kolonii, click here.
And for a list of known torture colonies in Russia, click here.Once sentenced, prisoners are transported in packed train wagons to distant correctional colonies that, under Russian law, range from relatively lax "general regime" colonies to "strict," "special," and (most terrifying of all) "medical" colonies. Arrival in the camps is particularly harrowing. According to prisoner testimonies collected by Mr. Ponomarev, in the winter of 2005 convicts from one torture colony in Karelia, near the Finnish border, were shipped to the IK-1 torture colony near the village of Yagul, in the Udmurt Republic, about 500 miles east of Moscow.

"The receipt of convicts 'through the corridor' takes place in the following manner," Mr. Ponomarev reports. "From the [truck] in which a newly arrived stage [of prisoners] is brought... employees of the colony line up, equipped with special means -- rubber truncheons and dog handlers with work dogs. . . . During the time of the run, each employee hits the prisoner running by with a truncheon. . . . The convicts run with luggage, which significantly complicates the run. At those [places] where employees with dogs are found, the run of the convict is slowed by a dog lunging from the leash."

The prison gantlet is just the welcome mat. At IK-1, a prisoner with a broken leg named Zurab Baroyan made the mistake of testifying to conditions at the colony to a staff representative of the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation. "After this," Mr. Baroyan reported, the commandant of the colony "threatened to rot me in the dungeon. They did not complete treating me in the hospital. The leg festers [and] pus runs from the bandage. . . The festering has crossed over to the second leg."

Not surprisingly, suicide attempts at these colonies are common. One convict, named Mishchikin, sought to commit suicide by swallowing "a wire and nails tied together crosswise." As punishment, he was denied medical assistance for 12 days. Another convict, named Fargiyev, was held in handcuffs for 52 days after stabbing himself; he never fully recovered motor function in his hands.

Even the smallest of prisoner infractions can be met with savage reprisals. In one case, authorities noticed the smell of cigarette smoke in a so-called "penalty isolator" cell where seven convicts were being held. "A fire engine was called in. . . . The entire cell, including the convicts and their personal things, was flooded with cold water." The convicts were left in wet clothes in 50 degree Fahrenheit temperatures for a week.

As a legal matter, the torture colonies don't even exist, and Mr. Ponomarev doubts there has ever been an explicit directive from Mr. Putin ordering the kind of treatment they mete. Rather, for the most part the standards of punishment are determined at the whim of colony commandants, often in areas where the traditions of the Gulag never went away.

That doesn't excuse the Kremlin, however. Under Yeltsin, the prison system had operated under a sunshine policy, as part of a larger effort to distance Russia from its Soviet past. "But when Putin came to power, a new tone was set," Mr. Ponomarev says. "The sadists who had previously been 'behaving' simply stopped behaving."

Now reports of torture are systematically ignored or suppressed while regional governments refuse to act on evidence of abuse. Commandants at "general regime" colonies can always threaten misbehaving convicts with transfer to a torture colony -- a useful way of keeping them in line. The Kremlin, too, benefits from the implied threat. "The correct word for this is Gulag, even if it's on a smaller scale," warns Mr. Ponomarev. "This is the reappearance of totalitarianism in the state. Unless we eradicate it, it will spread throughout the entire country."

Readers interested in a closer look at what is described above may do a YouTube search for "Yekaterinaburg Prison Camp." The short video, apparently filmed by a prison guard and delivered anonymously to Mr. Ponomarev's organization, is a modern-day version of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." It isn't easy to watch. But it is an invaluable window on what Russia has become in the Age of Putin, Person of the Year.

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« Reply #48 on: February 16, 2008, 06:05:24 PM »

This might be what the previous post is talking about:
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« Reply #49 on: February 20, 2008, 03:43:22 PM »

Stratfor has had its eye on the Kosovo situation for some time now (see the Balkans thread, closely related to this post here) and regards it as having some serious implications for Russian behavior e.g. note my post regarding Georgia in the Balkan thread today.
George Friedman

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday. The United States and many, but not all, European countries recognized it. The Serbian government did not impose an economic blockade on — or take any military action against — Kosovo, although it declared the Albanian leadership of Kosovo traitors to Serbia. The Russians vehemently repeated their objection to an independent Kosovo but did not take any overt action. An informal summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was announced last week; it will take place in Moscow on Feb. 21. With Kosovo’s declaration, a river was crossed. We will now see whether that river was the Rubicon.

Kosovo’s independence declaration is an important event for two main reasons. First, it potentially creates a precedent that could lead to redrawn borders in Europe and around the world. Second, it puts the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany in the position of challenging what Russia has defined as a fundamental national interest — and this at a time when the Russians have been seeking to assert their power and authority. Taken together, each of these makes this a geopolitically significant event.

Begin with the precedent. Kosovo historically has been part of Serbia; indeed, Serbs consider it the cradle of their country. Over the course of the 20th century, it has become predominantly Albanian and Muslim (though the Albanian version of Islam is about as secular as one can get). The Serbian Orthodox Christian community has become a minority. During the 1990s, Serbia — then the heart of the now-defunct Yugoslavia — carried out a program of repression against the Albanians. Whether the repression rose to the level of genocide has been debated. In any case, the United States and other members of NATO conducted an air campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 until the Yugoslavians capitulated, allowing the entry of NATO troops into the province of Kosovo. Since then, Kosovo, for all practical purposes, has been a protectorate of a consortium of NATO countries but has formally remained a province of Serbia. After the Kosovo war, wartime Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic died in The Hague in the course of his trial for war crimes; a new leadership took over; and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia itself ultimately dissolved, giving way to a new Republic of Serbia.

The United Nations did not sanction the war in Kosovo. Russian opposition in the U.N. Security Council prevented any U.N. diplomatic cover for the Western military action. Following the war — in a similar process to what happened with regard to Iraq — the Security Council authorized the administration of Kosovo by the occupying powers, but it never clearly authorized independence for Kosovo. The powers administering Kosovo included the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and other European states, organized as the Kosovo Force (KFOR).

While the logic of the situation pointed toward an independent Kosovo, the mechanism envisioned for the province’s independence was a negotiated agreement with Serbia. The general view was that the new government and personalities in Belgrade would be far more interested in the benefits of EU membership than they would be in retaining control of Kosovo. Over nearly a decade, the expectation therefore was that the Serbian government would accede to an independent Kosovo in exchange for being put on a course for EU membership. As frequently happens — and amazes people for reasons we have never understood — nationalism trumped economic interests. The majority of Serbs never accepted secession. The United States and the Europeans, therefore, decided to create an independent Kosovo without Serbian acquiescence. The military and ethnic reality thus was converted into a political reality.

Those recognizing Kosovo’s independence have gone out of their way specifically to argue that this decision in no way constitutes a precedent. They argue that the Serbian oppression of the late 1990s, which necessitated intervention by outside military forces to protect the Kosovars, made returning Kosovo to Serbian rule impossible. The argument therefore goes that Kosovo’s independence must be viewed as an idiosyncratic event related to the behavior of the Serbs, not as a model for the future.

Other European countries, including Spain, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus, have expressly rejected this reasoning. So have Russia and China. Each of these countries has a specific, well-defined area dominated by a specific ethnic minority group. In these countries and others like them, these ethnic groups have demanded, are demanding or potentially will demand autonomy, secession or integration with a neighboring country. Such ethnic groups could claim, and have claimed, oppression by the majority group. And each country facing this scenario fears that if Kosovo can be taken from Serbia, a precedent for secession will be created.

The Spanish have Basque separatists. Romania and Slovakia each contain large numbers of Hungarians concentrated in certain areas. The Cypriots — backed by the Greeks — are worried that the Turkish region of Cyprus, which already is under a separate government, might proclaim formal independence. The Chinese are concerned about potential separatist movements in Muslim Xinjiang and, above all, fear potential Taiwanese independence. And the Russians are concerned about independence movements in Chechnya and elsewhere. All of these countries see the Kosovo decision as setting a precedent, and they therefore oppose it.

Europe is a case in point. Prior to World War II, Europe’s borders constantly remained in violent flux. One of the principles of a stable Europe has been the inviolability of borders from outside interference, as well as the principle that borders cannot be redefined except with mutual agreement. This principle repeatedly was reinforced by international consensus, most notably at Yalta in 1945 and Helsinki in 1973.

Thus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia could agree to separate, and the Soviet Union could dissolve itself into its component republics, but the Germans cannot demand the return of Silesia from Poland; outsiders cannot demand a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland; and the Russians cannot be forced to give up Chechnya. The principle that outside powers can’t redefine boundaries, and that secessionist movements can’t create new nations unilaterally, has been a pillar of European stability.

The critics of Kosovo’s independence believe that larger powers can’t redraw the boundaries of smaller ones without recourse to the United Nations. They view the claim that Yugoslavia’s crimes in Kosovo justify doing so as unreasonable; Yugoslavia has dissolved, and the Serbian state is run by different people. The Russians view the major European powers and the Americans as arrogating rights that international law does not grant them, and they see the West as setting itself up as judge and jury without right of appeal.

This debate is not trivial. But there is a more immediate geopolitical issue that we have discussed before: the Russian response. The Russians have turned Kosovo into a significant issue. Moscow has objected to Kosovo’s independence on all of the diplomatic and legal grounds discussed. But behind that is a significant challenge to Russia’s strategic position. Russia wants to be seen as a great power and the dominant power in the former Soviet Union (FSU). Serbia is a Russian ally. Russia is trying to convince countries in the FSU, such as Ukraine, that looking to the West for help is futile because Russian power can block Western power. It wants to make the Russian return to great power status seem irresistible.

The decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence in the face of Russian opposition undermines Russian credibility. That is doubly the case because Russia can make a credible argument that the Western decision flies in the face of international law — and certainly of the conventions that have governed Europe for decades. Moscow also is asking for something that would not be difficult for the Americans and Europeans to give. The resources being devoted to Kosovo are not going to decline dramatically because of independence. Putting off independence until the last possible moment — which is to say forever, considering the utter inability of Kosovo to care for itself — thus certainly would have been something the West could have done with little effort.

But it didn’t. The reason for this is unclear. It does not appear that anyone was intent on challenging the Russians. The Kosovo situation was embedded in a process in which the endgame was going to be independence, and all of the military force and the bureaucratic inertia of the European Union was committed to this process. Russian displeasure was noted, but in the end, it was not taken seriously. This was simply because no one believed the Russians could or would do anything about Kosovar independence beyond issuing impotent protestations. Simply put, the nations that decided to recognize Kosovo were aware of Russian objections but viewed Moscow as they did in 1999: a weak power whose wishes are heard but discarded as irrelevant. Serbia was an ally of Russia. Russia intervened diplomatically on its behalf. Russia was ignored.

If Russia simply walks away from this, its growing reputation as a great power will be badly hurt in the one arena that matters to Moscow the most: the FSU. A Europe that dismisses Russian power is one that has little compunction about working with the Americans to whittle away at Russian power in Russia’s own backyard. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko — who, in many ways, is more anti-Western than Russian President Vladimir Putin and is highly critical of Putin as well — has said it is too late to “sing songs” about Kosovo. He maintains that the time to stop the partition of Kosovo was in 1999, in effect arguing that Putin’s attempts to stop it were ineffective because it was a lost cause. Translation: Putin and Russia are not the powers they pretend to be.

That is not something that Putin in particular can easily tolerate. Russian grand strategy calls for Russia to base its economy on the export of primary commodities. To succeed at this, Russia must align its production and exports with those of other FSU countries. For reasons of both national security and economics, being the regional hegemon in the FSU is crucial to Russia’s strategy and to Putin’s personal credibility. He is giving up the presidency on the assumption that his personal power will remain intact. That assumption is based on his effectiveness and decisiveness. The way he deals with the West — and the way the West deals with him — is a measure of his personal power. Being completely disregarded by the West will cost him. He needs to react.

The Russians are therefore hosting an “informal” CIS summit in Moscow on Friday. This is not the first such summit, by any means, and one was supposed to be held before this but was postponed. On Feb. 11, however, after it became clear that Kosovo would declare independence, the decision to hold the summit was announced. If Putin has a response to the West on Kosovo, it should reveal itself at the summit.

There are three basic strategies the Russians can pursue. One is to try to create a coalition of CIS countries to aid Serbia. This is complex in that Serbia may have no appetite for this move, and the other CIS countries may not even symbolically want to play.

The second option is opening the wider issue of altering borders. This could be aimed at sticking it to the Europeans by backing Serbian secessionist efforts in bifurcated Bosnia-Herzegovina. It also could involve announcing Russia’s plans to annex Russian-friendly separatist regions on its borders — most notably the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and perhaps even eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. (Annexation would be preferred over recognizing independence, since it would reduce the chances of Russia’s own separatist regions agitating for secession.) Russia thus would argue that Kosovo’s independence opens the door for Russia to shift its borders, too. That would make the summit exciting, particularly with regard to the Georgians, who are allied with the United States and at odds with Russia on Abkhazia and other issues.

The third option involves creating problems for the West elsewhere. An Iranian delegation will be attending the summit as “observers.” That creates the option for Russia to signal to Washington that the price it will pay for Kosovo will be extracted elsewhere. Apart from increased Russian support for Iran — which would complicate matters in Iraq for Washington — there are issues concerning Azerbaijan, which is sandwiched between Russia and Iran. In the course of discussions with Iranians, the Russians could create problems for Azerbaijan. The Russians also could increase pressure on the Baltic states, which recognized Kosovo and whose NATO membership is a challenge to the Russians. During the Cold War, the Russians were masters of linkage. They responded not where they were weak but where the West was weak. There are many venues for that.

What is the hardest to believe — but is, of course, possible — is that Putin simply will allow the Kosovo issue to pass. He clearly knew this was coming. He maintained vocal opposition to it beforehand and reiterated his opposition afterward. The more he talks and the less he does, the weaker he appears to be. He personally can’t afford that, and neither can Russia. He had opportunities to cut his losses before Kosovo’s independence was declared. He didn’t. That means either he has blundered badly or he has something on his mind. Our experience with Putin is that the latter is more likely, and this suddenly called summit may be where we see his plans play out.
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