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Crafty_Dog
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« on: February 14, 2007, 01:39:47 AM »

All:

Once again, Stratfor/Geroge Friedman lay down some deep thinking.  Comments?

Marc

PS:  I am a lifetime subscriber to Stratfor.  What you see here is only a fraction of what they produce.

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Russia's Great-Power Strategy
By George Friedman

Most speeches at diplomatic gatherings aren't worth the time it takes to listen to them. On rare occasion, a speech is delivered that needs to be listened to carefully. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave such a speech over the weekend in Munich, at a meeting on international security. The speech did not break new ground; it repeated things that the Russians have been saying for quite a while. But the venue in which it was given and the confidence with which it was asserted signify a new point in Russian history. The Cold War has not returned, but Russia is now officially asserting itself as a great power, and behaving accordingly.

At Munich, Putin launched a systematic attack on the role the United States is playing in the world. He said: "One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way ... This is nourishing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons." In other words, the United States has gone beyond its legitimate reach and is therefore responsible for attempts by other countries -- an obvious reference to Iran -- to acquire nuclear weapons.

Russia for some time has been in confrontation with the United States over U.S. actions in the former Soviet Union (FSU). What the Russians perceive as an American attempt to create a pro-U.S. regime in Ukraine triggered the confrontation. But now, the issue goes beyond U.S. actions in the FSU. The Russians are arguing that the unipolar world -- meaning that the United States is the only global power and is surrounded by lesser, regional powers -- is itself unacceptable. In other words, the United States sees itself as the solution when it is, actually, the problem.

In his speech, Putin reached out to European states -- particularly Germany, pointing out that it has close, but blunt, relations with Russia. The Central Europeans showed themselves to be extremely wary about Putin's speech, recognizing it for what it was -- a new level of assertiveness from an historical enemy. Some German leaders appeared more understanding, however: Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made no mention of Putin's speech in his own presentation to the conference, while Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, praised Putin's stance on Iran. He also noted that the U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was cause for concern -- and not only to Russia.

Putin now clearly wants to escalate the confrontations with the United States and likely wants to build a coalition to limit American power. The gross imbalance of global power in the current system makes such coalition-building inevitable -- and it makes sense that the Russians should be taking the lead. The Europeans are risk-averse, and the Chinese do not have much at risk in their dealings with the United States at the moment. The Russians, however, have everything at risk. The United States is intruding in the FSU, and an ideological success for the Americans in Ukraine would leave the Russians permanently on the defensive.

The Russians need allies but are not likely to find them among other great-power states. Fortunately for Moscow, the U.S. obsession with Iraq creates alternative opportunities. First, the focus on Iraq prevents the Americans from countering Russia elsewhere. Second, it gives the Russians serious leverage against the United States -- for example, by shipping weapons to key players in the region. Finally, there are Middle Eastern states that seek great-power patronage. It is therefore no accident that Putin's next stop, following the Munich conference, was in Saudi Arabia. Having stabilized the situation in the former Soviet region, the Russians now are constructing their follow-on strategy, and that concerns the Middle East.

The Russian Interests

The Middle East is the pressure point to which the United States is most sensitive. Its military commitment in Iraq, the confrontation with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and oil in the Arabian Peninsula create a situation such that pain in the region affects the United States intensely. Therefore, it makes sense for the Russians to use all available means of pressure in the Middle East in efforts to control U.S. behavior elsewhere, particularly in the former Soviet Union.

Like the Americans, the Russians also have direct interests in the Middle East. Energy is a primary one: Russia is not only a major exporter of energy supplies, it is currently the world's top oil producer. The Russians have a need to maintain robust energy prices, and working with the Iranians and Saudis in some way to achieve this is directly in line with Moscow's interest. To be more specific, the Russians do not want the Saudis increasing oil production.





There are strategic interests in the Middle East as well. For example, the Russians are still bogged down in Chechnya. It is Moscow's belief that if Chechnya were to secede from the Russian Federation, a precedent would be set that could lead to the dissolution of the Federation. Moscow will not allow this. The Russians consistently have claimed that the Chechen rebellion has been funded by "Wahhabis," by which they mean Saudis. Reaching an accommodation with the Saudis, therefore, would have not only economic, but also strategic, implications for the Russians.

On a broader level, the Russians retain important interests in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. In both cases, their needs intersect with forces originating in the Muslim world and trace, to some extent, back to the Middle East. If the Russian strategy is to reassert a sphere of influence in the former Soviet region, it follows that these regions must be secured. That, in turn, inevitably involves the Russians in the Middle East.

Therefore, even if Russia is not in a position to pursue some of the strategic goals that date back to the Soviet era and before -- such as control of the Bosporus and projection of naval power into the Mediterranean -- it nevertheless has a basic, ongoing interest in the region. Russia has a need both to limit American power and to achieve direct goals of its own. So it makes perfect sense for Putin to leave Munich and embark on a tour of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.

The Complexities

But the Russians also have a problem. The strategic interests of Middle Eastern states diverge, to say the least. The two main Islamic powers between the Levant and the Hindu Kush are Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Russians have things they want from each, but the Saudis and Iranians have dramatically different interests. Saudi Arabia -- an Arab and primarily Sunni kingdom -- is rich but militarily weak. The government's reliance on outside help for national defense generates intense opposition within the kingdom. Desert Storm, which established a basing arrangement for Western troops within Saudi Arabia, was one of the driving forces behind the creation of al Qaeda. Iran -- a predominantly Persian and Shiite power -- is not nearly as rich as Saudi Arabia but militarily much more powerful. Iran seeks to become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf -- out of both its need to defend itself against aggression, and for controlling and exploiting the oil wealth of the region.

Putting the split between Sunni and Shiite aside for the moment, there is tremendous geopolitical asymmetry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia wants to limit Iranian power, while keeping its own dependence on foreign powers at a minimum. That means that, though keeping energy prices high might make financial sense for the kingdom, the fact that high energy prices also strengthen the Iranians actually can be a more important consideration, depending on circumstances. There is some evidence that recent declines in oil prices are linked to decisions in Riyadh that are aimed at increasing production, reducing prices and hurting the Iranians.

This creates a problem for Russia. While Moscow has substantial room for maneuver, the fact is that lowered oil prices impact energy prices overall, and therefore hurt the Russians. The Saudis, moreover, need the Iranians blocked -- but without going so far as to permit foreign troops to be based in Saudi Arabia itself. In other words, they want to see the United States remain in Iraq, since the Americans serve as the perfect shield against the Iranians so long as they remain there. Putin's criticisms of the United States, as delivered in Munich, would have been applauded by Saudi Arabia prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But in 2007, the results of that invasion are exactly what the Saudis feared -- a collapsed Iraq and a relatively powerful Iran. The Saudis now need the Americans to stay put in the region.

The interests of Russia and Iran align more closely, but there are points of divergence there as well. Both benefit from having the United States tied up, militarily and politically, in wars, but Tehran would be delighted to see a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq that leaves a power vacuum for Iran to fill. The Russians would rather not see this outcome. First, they are quite happy to have the United States bogged down in Iraq and would prefer that to having the U.S. military freed for operations elsewhere. Second, they are interested in a relationship with Iran but are not eager to drive the United States and Saudi Arabia into closer relations. Third, the Russians do not want to see Iran become the dominant power in the region. They want to use Iran, but within certain manageable limits.

Russia has been supplying Iran with weapons. Of particular significance is the supply of surface-to-air missiles that would raise the cost of U.S. air operations against Iran. It is not clear whether the advanced S300PMU surface-to-air missile has yet been delivered, although there has been some discussion of this lately. If it were delivered, this would present significant challenges for U.S. air operation over Iran. The Russians would find this particularly advantageous, as the Iranians would absorb U.S. attentions and, as in Vietnam, the Russians would benefit from extended, fruitless commitments of U.S. military forces in regions not vital to Russia.

Meanwhile, there are energy matters: The Russians, as we have said, are interested in working with Iran to manage world oil prices. But at the same time, they would not be averse to a U.S. attack that takes Iran's oil off the market, spikes prices and enriches Russia.

Finally, it must be remembered that behind this complex relationship with Iran, there historically has been animosity and rivalry between the two countries. The Caucasus has been their battleground. For the moment, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is a buffer there, but it is a buffer in which Russians and Iranians are already dueling. So long as both states are relatively weak, the buffer will maintain itself. But as they get stronger, the Caucasus will become a battleground again. When Russian and Iranian territories border each other, the two powers are rarely at peace. Indeed, Iran frequently needs outside help to contain the Russians.

A Complicated Strategy

In sum, the Russian position in the Middle East is at least as complex as the American one. Or perhaps even more so, since the Americans can leave and the Russians always will live on the doorstep of the Middle East. Historically, once the Russians start fishing in Middle Eastern waters, they find themselves in a greater trap than the Americans. The opening moves are easy. The duel between Saudi Arabia and Iran seems manageable. But as time goes on, Putin's Soviet predecessors learned, the Middle East is a graveyard of ambitions -- and not just American ambitions.

Russia wants to contain U.S. power, and manipulating the situation in the Middle East certainly will cause the Americans substantial pain. But whatever short-term advantages the Russians may be able to find and exploit in the region, there is an order of complexity in Putin's maneuver that might transcend any advantage they gain from boxing the Americans in.

In returning to "great power" status, Russia is using an obvious opening gambit. But being obvious does not make it optimal.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2007, 06:47:56 PM »

I had hoped for some commentary, but , , , oh well , , ,

Here's another big picture piece on Russia:

================

Putin and Progress
By PADMA DESAI
February 16, 2007; Page A14

Whatever the West's grave misgivings about Vladimir Putin, they are not widely shared by the Russian people, who consistently give their president 70% approval ratings in opinion polls. Even former Presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin, much admired in the U.S., have given a nod of approval to Mr. Putin's "strategic" direction, even though they express reservations about his moves to consolidate federal authority.

Nonetheless, there are two pertinent issues to face. First, would any Russian president succeeding Mr. Putin act differently in foreign policy? Second, is Russia regressing irretrievably into authoritarianism, or is she likely to embrace Western democratic norms despite the zigzags?

The Kremlin's pursuit of national interests in foreign policy, whether we like it or not, reflects a broad agreement among Russians. Indeed, on a whole range of issues ranging from NATO's eastward expansion to Mr. Putin's hardball tactics with the independent states in Russia's neighborhood, the majority of Russians support his decisions. Even Russia's leading reformers regard the neighborhood as Russia's area of interest.

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who successfully carried out a series of reforms during his 2000-2004 tenure, insists that Russians "have special interests and responsibilities" in their immediate neighborhood. "We have a long history of shared problems and common tradition, although the former Soviet republics are now independent states," Mr. Kasyanov told me in a December 2004 interview.

Anatoly Chubais, the legendary privatizer of Russian industry, was even more explicit in his pronouncements, suggesting that Russia should become a "liberal empire." In an interview on Vremya TV, he added, "We must be frank and straightforward and assume this mission of leadership, not just as a slogan but as a Russian state policy. I believe this mission of leadership means that Russia is obliged to support in every way the expansion of its business outside Russia."

In short, unlike Europe and Japan, which share U.S. concerns despite occasional differences, Russia always will have geopolitical interests in its immediate neighborhood, extending its decision-making periphery as far as the Middle East and China. This does not imply that the West should uncritically accept specific decisions in pursuit of these interests, such as the expulsion of Georgians from Russia. But even if Russians were to subscribe to liberal Western values as President Bush desires, their future leaders still might choose to define their interests independently. Moscow would continue to engage the U.S. leadership in win-lose dialogues over Russia's determined foreign policy.

But never mind the likelihood that a liberal, democratic Russia might change its foreign-policy style: What are the prospects of such a Russia emerging in the first place? If it's correct to say that a prospering middle class -- dare one call it a bourgeoisie? -- inevitably leads to the rise of democracy, then Russia fits the bill admirably. The transformative changes in Russia, a remarkable development since Mr. Gorbachev's glasnost, are phenomenal. Russians are acquiring private housing, automobiles and fixed and mobile telephones at a dizzying speed. The overall poverty rate has declined from around 35% in the mid-1990s to about 10% today, and 70% of college-age youngsters receive a higher education.

There has been much angst over Russian muscle-flexing on the pricing and supply of oil and gas. However ham-handed, Moscow has simply used its bargaining power to extract better economic terms in situations of bilateral monopoly. Gazprom, the Russian gas supplier, has sought maximum possible terms from its European customers before they switch to alternative energy sources. At the same time, Ukraine and Belarus have bargained with Gazprom over transit charges because Russian gas must pass en route to Europe via pipelines located in their territories.

Russian industry and energy sectors will increasingly adopt market-economy rules and practices as they learn to interact and integrate with Western business. Recognizing this, German Chancellor Angela Merkel signed with Mr. Putin a 2006 agreement in which Wintershall, the energy unit of German chemical giant BASF, and Gazprom exchanged equivalent stakes in early 2006. More contracts are proliferating with French and Italian partners. Russia's giant power company is poised to raise $10 billion in the next two years and to invite Western companies to supply power generating units, technology and management know-how. Gazprom, according to some reports, is set to raise $75 billion in the next decade for financing a variety of projects. Will American businesses be sidelined from lucrative contracts and a liberalizing, market-oriented mission in a fast growing and diversifying Russian economy?

"There is a definite consensus among Russian society and the elite that Russia needs a market economy," Yegor Gaidar, Mr. Yeltsin's young reforming prime minister told me in October 2004. "By contrast, our struggle to form a robust, functioning democracy has not brought decisive results. . . . I do not think that the educated, urban populations in large countries such as Russia can put up with undemocratic regimes for long."

Ms. Desai, Harriman professor of comparative economic systems and director of the Center for Transition Economies at Columbia, is the author of "Conversations on Russia: Reform from Yeltsin to Putin" (Oxford, 2006).
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2007, 08:28:02 AM »

All:

Although this piece is principally about Poland, I have decided to put it here in this thread about Russia.  Stratfor has been very big for a couple of years ago on the subject of Russia and its interpretation of and reaction to US influence in its "near abroad" especially the Ukraine.   

I've seen some mention in the news in the last few days about the Russians making noises about pulling out of some sort of missile treaty with the US because of the missile defense missiles that the US is seeking to put in eastern Europe to defend Iranian capabilities (referenced in this article here)

Marc
==================================

stratfor.com

Geopolitical Diary: Trying to Redefine Poland

Polish President Lech Kaczynski on Feb. 17 released a 374-page report on the workings of the recently liquidated Military Intelligence Service (WSI). The report betrays the country's intelligence apparatus of the past 15 years, outing its practices, people, connections and expertise. Opposition leaders have said the report is a guidebook to Poland's national security. Kaczynski dissolved the WSI in October 2006, saying the agency had overstepped its jurisdiction and infiltrated every aspect of Polish life with agents in political parties, media and businesses. The report is intended to make public the problems that led to the WSI's demise; instead, its opponents are calling it one of the largest breaches of Polish national security.

Uproar over the report is increasing, and former Polish President Lech Walesa has called the move political suicide for the president and his identical twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. However, the move fits into their proclaimed agenda of rooting out all old (communist) institutions, protecting Poland against Russia, solidifying Poland on the international stage and becoming the key European ally for the United States.

But this all assumes that the Kaczynski twins do in fact have such an agenda in mind and have not completely fallen off the wagon, as many of their opponents like to believe. The Kaczynskis are internationally known for making brash choices. Since late 2005, the Kaczynskis have gone through myriad Cabinet ministers, collapsed the government and gone head-to-head with the European Union on many substantial policies. Though these moves have given them an unpredictable reputation, they control enough of the government to ensure they cannot be ousted by a vote of no confidence. The twins are clearly consolidating their power in order to reshape the very definition of what Poland is today.

What the Polish fear most is a Russian resurgence as a great power -- an assertion that has recently become more apparent. Russia has been consolidating power at home, expanding its influence through its energy infrastructure and getting involved in international disputes, such as that with Iran. If the Polish are going to consolidate their power, effectively purge Soviet influence and become weighty enough to be the front line against Russia, then this is the time to do it -- not after Russia fully awakens. And the new government has been swift to both restructure itself and gain influence.

In reshaping Poland, Lech Kaczynski is not only purging the old members of government, but also is ensuring that they can never return. Like his predecessors, Kaczynski vowed to root out communists and their collaborators from the government. But unlike his predecessors, he has actually taken the drastic moves to do so, turning the purge into a virtual communist witch-hunt. The move both rids Soviet influence and consolidates the twins' power in the government. The release of the WSI report is one of the largest and most decisive moves along these lines. By naming people in the WSI who are connected to Soviet intelligence, Kaczynski ensures their names will forever be known for -- alleged or true -- Soviet-ties. The move undermines the entire structure of the WSI and all of its former personnel, ensuring that it and those attached to it can never recover.

Now Poland must create a new, and inevitably non-Russian, model of government and security. This will take years to accomplish and leaves Poland highly vulnerable in the short term. In the meantime, Poland is counting on the United States for protection. However, if this plan is executed, then Poland will be a key -- if not the key -- U.S. ally in continental Europe to counterbalance the Russians. In recent decades this role has been Germany. This is not to say that Poland will replace Germany as the U.S. partner against Russia, especially not in the next few years. However, Poland could become the core of those countries once on the "wrong" side of the Iron Curtain and increase its influence in Europe. And though this would protect Germany, Berlin would still loathe Poland's regional influence.

This all said, it is still just the Kaczynskis' agenda in a government that could be consolidating, but that is still shaky and unpredictable. A shakeup to this degree is very difficult to pull off even under a stable government. And Poland is keeping with its traditional tactic of looking to a power that is not geographically nearby to deal with those near. The last time Poland did this was in World War II, when it looked to the French to help prevent the Germans from invading, which did not work out too well. This time it is looking to the United States. And though it has promised protection to many of its NATO allies, Washington has never had to prove itself. Poland certainly is pushing for a U.S. guarantee since it is inking the deal for a U.S. national missile defense interceptor base to move in as soon as possible.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2007, 08:36:53 PM »

Second post of the day:

The INF Treaty: Implications of a Russian Withdrawal
By Nathan Hughes and Peter Zeihan

Russia is poised to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in December 1987. The treaty prohibits development and deployment of all land-based short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles, as well as all ground-launched cruise missiles. Inspections verifying the treaty were completed in 2001, although elimination was effectively concluded nearly a decade earlier.

Moscow has been dropping hints that it might withdraw from the INF since at least late August. However, two looming developments make this appear to be more of a certainy than rhetoric. First, U.S. basing agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic for ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations now look quite likely to be approved. Second, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START 1, is set to expire in 2009, and Washington has failed to respond to Moscow's numerous offers to launch negotiations on a replacement treaty. Having benefited from the decay in Russia's military strength since the end of the Cold War, the United States clearly has no interest in such a treaty.

As the odds of having a basic U.S. BMD system in Europe increase, Russian statements alluding to a withdrawal from the INF have become more frequent. For example, speaking before the Duma on Feb. 8, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov (who at the time was defense minister) characterized Russian signing of the treaty in 1987 as a mistake. On Feb. 19, Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, went even further, threatening that Russian nuclear missiles could be targeted any U.S. BMD installation in Europe. He stopped short of actually threatening to load targeting data into Russia's missile guidance systems, but his meaning was clear.

In a certain sense, Solovtov's implicit threats are meaningless. Russia has no leverage to actually prevent the construction of BMD facilities in Europe, and it would not benefit from mounting a direct military challenge to the United States. But that does not mean the general's statements are completely without sense: If Moscow has a means to legitimately threaten European states -- likely using intermediate-reach ballistic missiles, as during the Cold War -- it retains influence within the region and can leverage that against the United States, as Russia attempts to reassert itself as a great power.

With that in mind, then, let's consider the escape clause that is written into the INF: To withdraw, a signatory must provide six months' notice along with a statement explaining "extraordinary events" that endanger the withdrawing party's "supreme interests." Though there is no defined threshold for "extraordinary events," Moscow has been laying the groundwork for withdrawal by characterizing the emplacement of U.S. BMD installations in Europe as just that.

The Purpose of a Treaty

The 1987 INF treaty was implemented to remove a direct, overwhelming threat to the NATO and Warsaw Pact allies in Europe, drastically reducing the chances and consequences of a conflict between NATO and Warsaw Pact states -- but that was hardly the only reason it was negotiated, signed, ratified and implemented.

For the Soviets, the INF was not to be viewed as simply a stand-alone treaty by either negotiating team. Behind the Iron Curtain, it represented a fundamental break with past ideology. Before 1982, the leadership had been convinced of the Soviet Union's permanence. But with the rise of Yuri Andropov and, later, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leadership realized it was losing the Cold War and needed to reach out to the West in a way that would achieve understanding as well as pave the way for future collaboration. The INF treaty was the first crowbar used to pry open the door for Western-Soviet negotiations on everything from troop levels to energy deals to, of course, more arms control treaties.

In the West, the rationale for the treaty was more complex. The conventional military balance in Europe always favored the Soviets; it must be remembered that it was NATO, not the Soviet Union, that maintained a nuclear first-strike doctrine. So on the surface, removing intermediate nuclear weapons seemed to be a self-defeating move. But most of NATO's weapons, then and now, were of American origin -- and for the Americans, the INF served a number of purposes. Removing nuclear weapons with short flight times from hair-trigger alert was a no-brainer for the United States' European allies, but the corresponding calculus in the United States went much deeper.

First, Soviet propaganda in the 1970s had proved quite successful in stirring up European public opinion against the presence of U.S. nuclear forces on the Continent. Because the United States possessed a robust ICBM capability, eliminating intermediate forces not only raised the level of European security but also removed an irritant in trans-Atlantic relations.

For Washington, the second purpose behind the treaty built upon the first. When U.S. weapons systems were stored on allies' territory, those allies often wanted to have a say in how or when those weapons were used. Removing the intermediate missiles from service left the United States fully reliant on its home- and submarine-based ICBMs -- weapons over which no one but Washington could claim influence. The INF treaty technically might have limited U.S. options, but a more holistic evaluation reveals that it actually laid the foundation for a truly unfettered U.S. strategic policy. It is noteworthy that officials who were instrumental in shaping sovereignty-maximizing U.S. strategic policy in recent years, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, served in the Reagan administration's diplomatic service at the time the INF treaty was being patched together.

Third, ICBMs were expensive. Ironically, the Americans saw this as a good thing. The United States possessed the economic gravitas to maintain an ICBM arms race if it needed to; it was an open question at the time whether the Soviets could do the same. In hindsight, of course, the answer was "no." Nor did this come as a shock in Moscow: During the Khrushchev era, in the early 1960s, the Soviets had sought to avoid bearing the cost burden of an ICBM capability. Instead, the Kremlin stationed intermediate-range missiles in Cuba in order to achieve strategic parity with Washington on the cheap. Only after the Cuban missile crisis ended, with the Soviet climb-down, did the Soviets begin making the appropriations necessary to fund a full ICBM program. Now fast-forward to the 1980s: in implementing INF, the Americans locked the Soviets into the most expensive weapons regime available at the time.

Strategic Rocket Forces and Decay

Ultimately, the Russian decision to leave the INF is grounded in these last two factors in American thinking -- as well as the simple fact that the rest of the world has pushed past the Cold War mentality.

For Washington, the war against jihadists has become an overwhelming priority. But even outside of that context, the United States, its NATO allies and indeed, the rest of the world, have already plunged into a pervasive post-Cold War restructuring that is indicative of a shift in defense priorities.

Western European states are far more concerned with domestic matters -- many of them with the rising Arab Muslim demographic in the populace -- than with anything Russians might do. The United States and the Chinese are watching each other warily and taking steps to prepare for what both fear will be a new clash of titans down the road. Only the Central Europeans remain preoccupied with Moscow. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it is Central European states that have been inordinately willing to cooperate with the United States on a missile defense system. Though the system ostensibly is designed to protect the United States against a theoretical missile strike from a state like Iran, the system could target Russian ballistic missile launches -- though only a tiny fraction of any nuclear barrage.

For the Central Europeans, that is reason enough in and of itself to participate in the BMD system; for the Americans, this is merely a side benefit.

Because it anticipates a strategic competition with China eventually, the United States sees limitations on its nuclear arsenal as impractical. Washington almost certainly will walk away from the START I treaty -- which places specific limits on the size and type of nuclear forces the United States and Russia are permitted to possess -- when it comes up for renegotiation in 2009. This would leave it free to force China into the same sort of crushing arms race that so damaged the Soviet Union.

And that means Russia is doing the only thing it realistically can: rattling its nuclear saber.

Russia's problem is that its nuclear arsenal is precisely the problem. Despite its best efforts, Russia's aging nuclear deterrent has continued to crumble, without adequate maintenance. Nor are replacements being made at anything close to a sufficient rate. The fielding of the new SS-27 Topol-M ICBM -- the only fundamentally new missile system that Russia has operationalized since the Cold War's end -- has been excruciatingly slow, with only 45 fielded in nearly a decade and a mere seven new missiles slated for deployment in 2007. The Topol's submarine-launched equivalent, the Bulava, has been so plagued by technical difficulties and delays that it still has not been deployed.

The one thing in all of this that has softened the blow for Russia has been START I. With this treaty in force, Moscow could cling to the hope of one day again achieving some semblance of parity with Washington -- indeed, the treaty was the very embodiment of the Cold War balance of power. But the only way to perpetuate that balance today would be to implement a replacement treaty for START I that allows Russia to retire even more of its expensive, aging arsenal while still maintaining the psychological high-ground of "equality" with the United States. Moscow now understands that this option is not in the cards.

We expect START I to fall by the wayside, discarded in the face of U.S. strategic needs. In order to mitigate the damage, Russia will have no choice but to abandon the INF treaty in response.

The Nuclear Saber and Marginalization

Yet nuclear weapons remain Russia's one trump card. The scale and reach of its Soviet-era Strategic Rocket Forces -- the very heart of Russia's strategic nuclear missile forces -- give Moscow entry to the premier class of world powers (meaning those possessing nukes on the world-smashing level). The nuclear deterrent remains Russia's best means of guaranteeing is territorial integrity (which, given its vast land mass and longest border in the world, cannot be done with conventional ground forces alone).

In the last 16 years, Russia has watched helplessly as the Strategic Rocket Forces eroded, along with Moscow's control over the states of Eastern Europe and along its periphery in the Caucasus. Moscow has attempted to wield its energy supplies as a means of control and to reassert itself diplomatically on the world stage, and it will continue to do so. However, these steps have not been sufficient to prevent U.S. encroachment into Russia's traditional sphere of influence. In fact, some of the countries along its periphery have been quite blunt in citing such tactics as reasons for their decisions to join the U.S. missile shield.

And now, the United States is poised to deploy BMD assets on Russia's doorstep.

From Russia's perspective, the establishment of the new BMD system in Europe would represent the worst of all possible worlds. Its very existence not only would spotlight Moscow's declining diplomatic prowess, but also would testify to Russia's marginalization in the international system.

It is true that any BMD base would not pose a challenge to a Strategic Rocket Forces strike against the West in the near term. The system, assuming it works, at best would be able to shoot down only a handful of missiles at a time, and Russia (despite its many problems) still has hundreds of ICBMs in working order. The long-term picture is rather different: Russian military technological advancements have slowed to a crawl since 1992, while the United State continues to incrementally improve. Therefore, it is entirely possible that the BMD system of 2020 might pose a realistic threat to Russia's strategic ICBM deterrent.

The IRBM Option

Having withdrawn from the INF, Russia would be free to once again begin construction of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) as a means of leveling the playing field. With Russia unable to challenge the United States directly, the establishment of a new Missile Army made up of IRBMs would threaten NATO in a way it has not known since the Cold War.

Russia pioneered "cold launch" technology -- an advanced launch technique -- and has fielded several land-based solid-fuel IRBMs since the 1970s. Though these systems date back 20 years or more, it makes little difference to the populations of the cities within their range whether the nuclear warhead that hits them was designed in 1960 or in 2005. Most important, these IRBMs are much cheaper than the ICBMs of the Strategic Rocket Forces. Intercontinental strike capability is priced at a premium.

Though a direct arms race with the United States remains out of the question, a lopsided race in which the Russians focus on IRBMs could change the game entirely. A barrage of several dozen IRBMs easily could overwhelm a small squadron of BMD interceptors based in Europe -- as well as any system that the United States conceivably might field in the next 20 years.

To be clear, this is not an option that would buy Russia parity with the United States. But it would be a stout reminder to Europe -- and to the United States by extension -- that even a weakened Moscow is not to be trifled with. Unable to reclaim the global power it wielded during the Soviet era, Russia nevertheless could use a new IRBM force to threaten Europe and, in so doing, resurrect a host of diplomatic options that served Kremlin interests very well in the past.

Such a step might not mark Russia as a resurgent world power, but it certainly would reforge perceptions of Russia as a power that is impossible to ignore.
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« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2007, 08:40:11 AM »

Doesn't sound like the Russians can be counted on to help our efforts to stop Iran from going nuclear , , ,

=====================================================

stratfor.com
Geopolitical Diary: Syria's Russian Connection

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday that Syria is strengthening its army "in an unprecedented way" and massing troops near the border with Israel along the Golan Heights. Syrian lawmaker Mohammed Hasbah denied the report, saying Syria has not redeployed its troops to the front lines but is prepared for any situation. Hasbah warned that Israel would "pay a heavy price" if it should "decide to do something stupid."

This heated war of words between Israel and Syria likely was sparked by the Israelis catching wind of a Russian arms transfer to Damascus; Haaretz also reported that Syria is close to sealing a deal with Russia to procure thousands of advanced anti-tank missiles.

Russia currently sees a prime opportunity to return to its Cold War policies in the Middle East. From the mid-1950s to the fall of the Soviet empire, Moscow's principal clients in the Arab world included Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Yemen. Supplying these regional allies with military assistance and training under long-term loan arrangements that were unlikely to be paid back -- or even, in some cases, for free -- bought the Soviet Union leverage against the United States in the region. Eventually, Moscow's financial constraints caught up with its geopolitical ambitions, and military expenditures in the Middle East dropped low on its list of priorities.

Now, with the United States trapped in a thorny standoff with Iran over the future of Iraq, Russia has a chance to edge itself back into the sandbox. Moscow once again is trying to make friends in the region, with a particular focus on the two countries with the greatest ability to aggravate Washington and undermine U.S. policies: Iran and Syria.

While there have been some rumors about shipments of modern Russian air defense equipment to Syria, many reports are unconfirmed and are, at best, being debated in defense establishment circles. Of major concern is the S-300 long-range air defense system, considered to be among the most capable air defense asset in the world. The latest version of this system, the S-300PMU2, is unlikely to be in Syrian hands -- but the mere discussion of such a sale would be enough to put Israeli and U.S. policymakers on edge.

That said, there are plenty of other Russian military goodies that could be used to add some muscle to Syria's air defense. The summer 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah was a major gut check for the Syrian defense establishment. As Israel Defense Forces (IDF) engaged Syria's militant proxy in Lebanon, the Syrian regime had little choice but to play nice and stay out of the fray for fear of a devastating strike by the Israeli air force (IAF) -- which used two F-16s to buzz Syrian President Bashar al Assad's Latakia palace in June 2006. The relative ease with which the IAF penetrated Syrian airspace -- without fearing a response -- reinforced the need for Syria to improve on its Soviet-era air defense capabilities. Syria knows that the denial of airspace to Israel or the United States is a key strategic priority.

A likely Russian sale of upgraded SA-9 and SA-13 Strela surface-to-air missiles to Syria would fit into this strategy. New acquisitions and deployment of Iranian-built Chinese C-802 anti-ship missiles also are rumored to be under way. The Syrian navy has badly decayed in the last 10 years, and the acquisition of significant quantities of these missiles would be a serious improvement.

But while it makes perfect sense that Syria is taking advantage of the regional dynamic to rebuild its military capabilities, the Syrian regime is not looking for a fight with Israel. Rather, the acquisitions are meant to signal to Israel and the United States that the cost of engaging Syria militarily would be too high. Damascus would much rather work through its militant proxies as it remains focused on re-establishing itself in Lebanon.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, is busily evading U.N. troops in southern Lebanon and rebuilding its own military capabilities -- with Iranian and Syrian assistance -- in preparation for round two of the summer's conflict with Israel. Recent Syrian imports of AT-14 Kornet-E and AT-13 Metis-M anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) likely are making their way into Hezbollah arsenals in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Hezbollah employed these advanced missiles against Israeli tanks during the 2006 conflict, when it successfully delayed an IDF advance near the Saluki River. The guerrilla tactics Hezbollah used against Israeli armor were not lost on Syria, which almost certainly will be deploying any new ATGMs it acquires near the Israeli border -- except for the ones that slip across the Lebanese border to Hezbollah.

Sources in Lebanon also say Hezbollah fighters in the Bekaa have been sighted at least twice carrying what appear to be SA-18s. The SA-18 is a shoulder-launched, infrared-guided missile akin to the U.S. FIM-92A Stinger (which was used to great effect against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan). While it will not stop the IAF, it will be especially useful in the Bekaa against low-flying close-air-support sorties and IDF helicopters.

Hezbollah has an interest in demonstrating that it possesses these weapons in order to dissuade Israel from launching commando raids against its forces in their Bekaa stronghold. After the 2006 summer conflict, Israel knows it will have little chance of crippling Hezbollah's militant arm unless it thrusts into the Bekaa; but the transfer of these weapons from Syria will make such an offensive more costly.

A concerted effort by Russia and Iran is clearly under way to exploit the U.S. position in the region and upset the regional balance in their favor -- which falls directly in line with Syrian interests. As long as Russia can take advantage of this geopolitical opening, it can stir up enough regional cyclones to make money for the Russian defense establishment, and more important, win back influence to barter with the United States. In the end, lesser powers like Syria stand to gain a great deal.
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« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2007, 12:33:30 PM »

VLAD'S NEW BAD
By RALPH PETERS


March 14, 2007 -- AN old joke runs that even paranoids have enemies. But what can we make of the quasi-dictator of a middleweight state who insists on making enemies of those who'd hoped to be his country's friends?
Russian President Vladimir Putin reminds me of the old Soviet Inturist organization: Instead of figuring out how to make a thousand bucks from happy tourists tomorrow, Inturist went to absurd extremes to squeeze an extra fiver out of disgruntled visitors immediately.

Putin just can't wait to restore Russia's great power status. Good luck. Great powers don't exist in isolation. Rather than building useful alliances, Putin has frightened his neighbors into closer relations with NATO and the West, alienated Europeans who longed to hug him - and made even the most gullible Americans wary.

Putin is a classic bully who aches to beat the pocket money out of the class wimp, who judges the entire world by the size of its biceps. He just can't get beyond his KGB past. To him, strategy is a zero-sum game and everybody secretly wants to harm Russia.

In fact, no country in recent history enjoyed as much foreign good will as Russia did after the Soviet Union dissolved. And no country has made more stupid decisions that appalled those who sincerely wanted to help.

If he sees enemies everywhere (and he does), Putin's also impatient and clumsy, though he thinks he's wonderfully clever. For all his icy exterior, he's a calculating, short-sighted peasant out of Gogol. His recent rant at a defense symposium in Germany only reminded the Europeans that the United States really isn't all that bad.

Instead of waiting to completely addict Europe to Russia's natural-gas supplies, he turned off the flow to Ukraine and then Georgia in fits of political pique - interrupting European supplies in the first instance. And leftist posturing is one thing, but no French café philosopher or German professor wants his heat turned off in mid-winter.

Oh, and Russia's selling arms to Iran's mullahs, Syria's Baathists and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Brilliant move, Vlad. You're really betting on the all-stars.

The Kremlin's also encouraging Serbia to take a hard line against formal independence for Kosovo. Belgrade's been there and done that, but Serbs, like Russian bureacrats, tend to be slow learners.

Thanks for getting the Balkans stirred up again, Vlad. Maybe Russian troops can replay the atrocity-riddled Chechnya war?

The only bright spot is that Russia has stopped supplying nuclear fuel for Iran's reactors. Officially, it's about Tehran's failure to make on-time payments, but it appears that somebody finally showed Vlad a map and pointed out that Russian territory lies within slingshot range of Iran. And Persians and Russians haven't always been pals.

Domestically, Putin has censored the media, staged purge trials of businessmen whose politics he didn't like, hounded out western investors, murdered journalists and dissidents (abroad, as well), done his best to turn the new Russia into a besotted, AIDS-ridden mockery of an Arab oil sheikhdom, moved to stifle academic freedom and generally made a joke of his country's fledgling democracy.

The latest phase in the Kremlin's campaign to restrict political freedom came in the build-up to last Sunday's regional elections. In an Orwellian move, Putin's henchmen built a tame opposition party, Fair Russia, that's allowed to politely criticize certain policies, but whose real purpose is to draw off votes from the old political left, especially the Communists, and to hasten the demise of the half-strangled liberal parties.

Putin does want a two-party system - with his cabal controlling both parties.

Conditioned to do what the czar desires, Russians went for it. Preliminary results show that Putin's United Russia garnered almost two-thirds of the vote, while Putin's Fair Russia finished about even with the Communists, undercutting their base.

Putin isn't a Communist - but, then, neither were any of his predecessors: Russia has always been ruled by autocrats, and one starts to suspect it always will be.

The dream of a free Russia is over. Vladimir Putin destroyed it as we watched, sucking our thumbs (to put it politely). The best for which we now can hope is that, once the Kremlin's done killing democracy, it won't start killing masses of human beings again.

Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit The Fight."


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« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2007, 11:44:44 PM »

Little Sweaty Fist
Why is Putin now getting tough on Iran?

BY BRET STEPHENS
WSJ
Tuesday, March 27, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

"This is very easy to understand," said Russian President Vladimir Putin last year, explaining his idea of an energy policy. "Just think back to childhood when you go into the street with a sweet in your hand and another kid says, Give it to me. And you clutch your little sweaty fist tight around it and say, What do I get then?"

So why, when it comes to the Iranian nuclear file, has Mr. Putin finally opened his little sweaty fist, signing on--with no apparent compensations--to additional U.N. sanctions on the Islamic Republic while calling a halt to Russia's construction of the nuclear reactor at Bushehr?

That's the $64,000 question to which nobody seems to have anything better than a partial answer. Nearly from day one of his presidency, Mr. Putin has been Iran's best friend at the U.N. and, not so coincidentally, the leading supplier of its advanced conventional weapons. In 2000, the Kremlin tore up the so-called Chernomyrdin Agreement, a secret protocol negotiated by then Vice President Al Gore, in which Russia pledged to stop selling arms to Iran within five years. In 2002, deputy foreign minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov went out of his way to state that "Russia does not accept President George W. Bush's view that Iran is part of an 'axis of evil.'"

Since then, Russia has openly supplied Iran with sophisticated surface-to-air missiles. There are reliable reports that Russia has also assisted Iran covertly with its ballistic-missile technology. The Bushehr deal, itself valued at $1 billion, was intended as just the first of five planned reactors, worth $10 billion. Russian diplomats have diluted to near-insignificance the sanctions imposed so far by the U.N. In January, Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov paid a call on Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It seems the meeting went well: "The Islamic Republic," said the Ayatollah, "welcomes all-out promotion of relations with Russia, believing the capacity for expansion between the two sides is higher than expected."

And then, on March 19, Iranian, European and U.S. sources reported that Russia had informed Iran that it would not supply the reactor with the uranium it needs to function unless Iran complied with U.N. resolutions calling on it to suspend its enrichment program. And citing a payment dispute, the Russians also began pulling some of their 2,000 personnel from the site, while officially claiming it was a routine staff rotation. At the Security Council, U.S. diplomatic sources confirmed that Russia had been remarkably cooperative in negotiating Saturday's unanimous resolution on Iran, going so far as to blunt an attempt by some of the nonpermanent members to insert language calling for a nuclear-free Middle East--code for disarming Israel.





What gives? Past experience suggests the answer may yet turn out to be not much at all. At the 2003 G-8 summit in Evian, France, Mr. Putin reportedly assured other leaders that Russia would not supply the Iranians with nuclear fuel unless they agreed to snap U.N. inspections of their nuclear facilities. A later "clarification" from Russia's atomic energy minister indicated that Russia would provide the fuel no matter what Iran chose to do about the inspections. Similarly, Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the U.N., has recently insisted that "there has been no Russian ultimatum to Iran of any kind," while adding that the deal with the Iranians "was on track." Put simply, the (easily resolved) payment dispute may be all the "fire" there is here, and not smoke to cover a sweeping change in Russian policy.
 For their part, U.S. diplomats are sticking to their story that the Russian-Iranian split is real--as do the Iranians, who in the last week have publicly accused Russia of being an "unreliable partner" practicing "double-standard stances." The words are carefully chosen. As Victor Yasmann of Radio Free Europe writes, "Russia cares about its commercial supplier . . . [and] in preserving its political reputation within the Islamic world." That's especially the case now that Russia's once-failing military exporters are doing a thriving business selling bottom-of-the-shelf weapons to Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Yemen, Algeria and other bottom-of-the-shelf states. If Russia is seen to succumb to international pressure on Iran, other dubious regimes may be less inclined to attach themselves to it as clients.

Yet another reading of events suggests the mixed signals coming from Russia reflect policy schizophrenia within the Kremlin itself. "There is clearly an active pro-Iranian lobby in Moscow," says Pavel Felgenhauer, defense correspondent for Novaya Gazeta. He adds, however, that Moscow's change of policy is "the result of an assessment that a nuclear Iran is a major danger to Russia and its national interests." Among other indicators, Mr. Felgenhauer points to Russia's naval buildup in the oil- and gas-rich Caspian Sea.

The Russian leadership may also have started to notice that it is increasingly in bad odor with a West that, at some level, it longs to be considered a part of. "There is a compact pro-Western group who think that cooperation with the major industrial states, primarily the United States, could benefit Russia much more than murky dealings with questionable partners like China, Iran, Iraq or Libya," writes former Russian diplomat Victor Mizin in a perceptive analysis in the Middle East Review of International Affairs.





Finally, there is the "little sweaty fist" hypothesis. Critics of the Putin government were dismayed last year when the Bush administration agreed to Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, apparently for nothing in return. The Bushehr volte face may be the delayed (and disguised) payoff. Alternatively, Russia may expect that its sudden pliancy on the Iranian file may yield dividends on the things it cares about most, particularly in what it considers its rightful sphere of influence. In a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed that may have also served as a trial balloon, the Nixon Center's Dimitri Simes proposes two prospective giveaways: The breakaway Georgian "republics" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Mr. Putin has long regarded as rightfully Russian, and the looming question of Kosovo's independence, to which Russia is vehemently opposed.
In the meantime, the Kremlin preserves all its options, a reminder, as Glen Howard of the Jamestown Foundation observes, of an old KGB maxim: First create a problem, and then offer to be part of the solution. On that score, at least, Mr. Putin is nothing if not true to type.

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: April 03, 2007, 08:19:17 PM »

Ukraine: A Gathering Storm
Summary

Ukraine appeared to be heading toward another crossroads April 3 as some 100,000 people from opposing political camps gathered outside the Rada in the wake of President Viktor Yushchenko's April 2 dissolution of parliament and call for early elections. With rumors of imminent troop deployments swirling, attention now turns to the most critical of players in Ukrainian politics: Russia.

Analysis

Some 100,000 people supporting either Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko or Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich were gathered outside the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev on April 3, as tensions flared again in the country in the wake of the pro-Western Yushchenko's dissolution of parliament and call for new elections a day earlier. Although no violence has been reported, rumors surfaced in Kiev that the military would arrive by evening.

The two sides, evenly divided with about 50,000 supporters each, have set up opposing tent cities outside the parliament, and the pro-Yanukovich supporters are vowing to "protect parliament and the parliamentarians from the Orange forces." In a reversal of the 2004 Orange Revolution, supporters of pro-Russian Yanukovich are calling for Yushchenko to bend to the prime minister and end threats of early elections.

Defense Minister Anatoly Gritsenko seemed to confirm the rumors of an imminent troop arrival when he said April 3 that Ukrainian military forces would carry out Yushchenko's orders to dissolve parliament. Members of the National Unity coalition are expected to protect the road leading to the Supreme Rada in Kiev from Orange Coalition forces to allow parliament members to enter the Rada. The Pora youth movement also announced plans to mobilize members to patrol areas around administrative buildings to prevent attacks.

Yanukovich, meanwhile, has said that he does not accept the dissolution of parliament or the call for early elections, and that parliament will block this move by "interrupting the powers of the Central Electoral Commission," suggesting he will ensure there is no money for new elections. Yanukovich also said he will hold a referendum in parliament to overturn the president's decree. The referendum also could remove the president if passed, though Yanukovich would need 300 votes in parliament to pass it -- and at most he currently has 262 votes.

The issue now goes to the Constitutional Court -- which is split almost evenly between Yanukovich and Yushchenko supporters -- though the court has not yet ruled whether it will even hear the case.

Yanukovich has been steadily whittling away at Yushchenko's power, both institutionally and in the public mind, for months. Yushchenko believed that his choice was simple: either become a figurehead with no real power or risk new elections in hopes of shaking up the system. (His party is doing badly in the polls and performed dismally in the last elections.)

This move put the ball into the hands of Yanukovich, who faced several, more complex choices: He could go to elections and likely trounce Yushchenko again, but this would essentially put him back where he was April 1. He also could take a risk and ignore the order, to see whether that would succeed in getting Yushchenko either to back down or be forced down -- thus putting Yushchenko prematurely into a purely ceremonial role. It appears Yanukovich has taken the latter option.

And not to be left out, opposition leader Yulia Timoshenko -- the country’s most famous oligarch-turned-political-power-broker -- has her own plans. She allied with Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution, then again in government and now once more in opposition to Yanukovich. In fact, she has been urging -- to the point of breathing new life into the tools of protest that made the Orange Revolution possible -- Yushchenko to dissolve parliament. However, now that it has been done and people are starting to pour onto the streets, she has told her masses to stay home and has instead called for a meeting of all the opposition members of parliament to discuss the situation. This raises the possibility that she has struck a deal with Yanukovich to get rid of Yushchenko as a power player once and for all, which would allow her to be the sole voice at the national level for pro-Westernism.

What is certain is that Yushchenko is playing a weak hand and Yanukovich is acting boldly and confidently. If Yanukovich's gambit at marginalizing or even ousting Yushchenko succeeds, then the pro-Western impulse in Ukraine will have been wholly reduced to Timoshenko. Yes, Yushchenko technically holds the constitutional right to dissolve parliament and, yes, the European Union supports him -- and he will meet with their ambassadors shortly to ask for support. And yes, he holds full legal command over the intelligence and military apparatus. But Ukraine's legal institutions are of questionable use, the European Union is not ready for a bruising fight with the Russians, and Ukraine's security apparatus is shot through by the final -- and critical -- player in this equation: Russia.

Ukraine's path is of paramount importance to Moscow. During the election campaign that ultimately led to the 2004 Orange Revolution, Russian President Vladimir Putin personally campaigned for Yanukovich and still informally supports the man who is now prime minister. So it should come as no surprise that immediately after a, shall we say, heated meeting between Yushchenko and Yanukovich the evening of April 3, Yanukovich's next move was to call Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss options.

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« Reply #8 on: April 04, 2007, 07:30:08 AM »

More from Stratfor on this-- is Russia's apparent new firm attitude on Iran's nukes the quid pro quo of which Strat speaks?
=============

Geopolitical Diary: The Grab for Ukraine

The last time Ukraine was in play was in 2004, when there was an electoral fight between would-be presidents Viktor Yanukovich and Viktor Yushchenko that featured Russian President Vladimir Putin campaigning directly for the former -- with the entire West backing the latter. By the time the dust settled, Yushchenko had grabbed the presidency, while subsequent elections landed Yanukovich in the prime minister's chair.

Yanukovich has managed to use his more powerful position as head of government to steadily whittle down Yushchenko's institutional power and popularity. Unwilling to be sidelined, Yushchenko on Monday invoked his most powerful constitutional ability, dissolving the Yanukovich-dominated parliament and ordering fresh elections.

But unlike in 2004, when Yushchenko could count on the West to provide him with financial and technical assistance, this time he might be on his own.

For Moscow, Ukraine is the single most valuable territory in the former Soviet empire. It is more than the homeland of the Russian ethnicity or the home of more than 10 million ethnic compatriots; it was one of Soviet Russia's few warmwater ports, the location of its bulk of infrastructure links to the West, a breadbasket integrated into the Russian heartland and 1,000 miles of buffer. With Ukraine in Russia's sphere of influence, a Russian resurgence is possible. Without Ukraine, the idea of Russia as a global power is ridiculous, and its role as even a regional power is no longer guaranteed. Hence, now that Kiev's perennial political instability has provided an opening, the Russians undoubtedly will make what they can of it.

And they will probably get exactly what they want. The Russians have a lot of power in Ukraine -- whether due to plants in the Ukrainian government, infrastructure links or cultural ties -- but it really all comes down to one fact: The United States does not want a fight with the Russians right now.

It is not simply that the Americans are bogged down in Iraq and lack the bandwidth or appetite for a fight. It is that the Russians wield considerable influence in the Middle East -- specifically in Iran and Syria -- and have demonstrated time and again that unless the United States is in tip-top shape, Moscow retains the ability to sabotage most U.S. efforts in the region. The one thing the United States certainly does not need right now is a Russian monkey wrench in its negotiations with Iran over the future of Iraq.

Other sponsors of Ukraine's Orange Revolution are similarly occupied. For example, the United Kingdom and France are both up to their necks in domestic transfers of power and lack the time to attempt to influence Kiev.

That really only leaves two powers with the motive and opportunity to make a meaningful difference: Poland and Germany. For both, prying Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence is an unabashed goal that would turn Russia's buffer into their buffer. And, now more than ever, both would love to act. Under the Russophobic Kaczynski twins, Poland is likely to fall over itself in its enthusiasm to deal Russia a defeat, while Germany -- under Chancellor Angela Merkel -- is determined to rediscover its voice on the international stage after 60 years of absence.

But neither will do so, and the reason again goes back to Washington.

The United States is ultimately Poland's only noteworthy security guarantor, so no matter how desperately Warsaw wants to act, it cannot do so in the face of a red light from Washington. And that is exactly the order the Bush administration will give, since it knows that if the Russians perceived Polish interference in Ukraine, Russia would hold the United States responsible.

Germany under Merkel has steadily been pushing the envelope of German actions that will be tolerated -- expected, even -- in Europe, and Berlin cares little about what ultimately happens in Iran and Iraq. But Germany too will stay its hand, simply because no matter how far Berlin has come in the past few months and years, it is not yet prepared to stand up to both Russian and American pressure.

In essence, the Russians have delivered a message to Washington: Control your people, and we will control ours -- and the Ukrainians are our people.

Yushchenko and his camp are on their own. This means their thin reed of hope lies in making Ukraine's institutions -- the constitutional court and civilian control of the security and intelligence services -- work as they are supposed to -- not the way they traditionally do in a former Soviet republic.
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« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2007, 09:29:23 AM »


Pentagon Invites Kremlin to Link Missile Systems
by THOM SHANKER
Published: April 21, 2007
NY Times

WASHINGTON, April 20 — The Bush administration is offering Russia a new package of incentives to drop its strong opposition to American missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, including an invitation to begin linking some American and Russian antimissile systems, according to senior administration and military officials.

The package includes American offers to cooperate on developing defense technology and to share intelligence about common threats, as well as to permit Russian officials to inspect the future missile bases.

American officials said the initiatives were proposed at least in part at the urging of European allies, and reflected an acknowledgment at the highest levels of the Bush administration that it had not been agile in dealing with Russia — and with some NATO allies — on its plan to place defensive missiles and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The initiatives include offers that are “deeper, more specific and concrete” than any previous proposal for cooperation from the Bush administration to the Kremlin, according to one senior official involved in planning talks with the Russians.

In military terms, the American initiative to the Russians on missile defense will include an invitation “toward fundamental integration of our systems,” said a senior military officer involved in the discussions. This concept of linking some American and Russian military systems for common missile defense would be at a level that exists in no other area of United States-Russia military relations.

The offers of cooperation will be laid out for Russian officials in the coming weeks in a series of high-level meetings being scheduled by senior American officials, in particular Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. If those talks go well, they will continue over the summer and fall between President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin.

Despite a series of bilateral sessions and meetings under NATO sponsorship to explain the American missile defense plan, Mr. Putin and his inner circle have expressed deep resentment about it, voicing their anger in caustic public comments that have greatly worried some close American allies in Europe.

The German government, in particular, has urged the administration to pull together the exact sort of initiative on missile defense cooperation and transparency that will be presented to Russia. The administration has also heard complaints from other allies, including France, that it must do better at managing the relationship with Russia if the United States wants allied support for the missile defense effort, American officials said.

“In the past, the Russians have not taken our offers of cooperation seriously, whether because they view them as insufficient or because they are obstinate on missile defense,” said another senior administration official involved in planning the initiatives.

“So Gates and then Rice will put their weight behind this new offer,” the official added. “We will not give Russia a veto over our program, but this goes well beyond ‘passive’ cooperation to new and active ways we can work together against common threats.”

Another senior administration official, explaining the accelerated effort to reach out to Russia on the issue, conceded: “We were a little late to the game. We should have been out there making these arguments, making the case more forcefully before people began framing the debate for us — and in false terms.”

The offer would include an invitation to open a joint effort at “research and technical development” of future missile defenses that could protect the territories of the United States and Russia, and their allies, the senior military officer said.

Beyond that, with the permission of the Polish and Czech governments, any eventual American missile defense bases on their territories would be open to Russian inspection, akin to the guarantees that Washington and Moscow negotiated to inspect each other’s missile silos to assure compliance with past arms control treaties, officials said.

“We are committed to the maximum level of transparency, not only with our citizens but with our neighbors,” said Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister, who was in Washington this week for talks with American officials on missile defense.

Details about the new package of invitations for Russia to cooperate on missile defense were described by civilian administration officials and military officers who said they believed that the initiative was a major step forward in calming Russian objections to the American plans.

In its proposals on missile defense, the Bush administration is asking Poland to base 10 antimissile interceptors on its territory and the Czech Republic to be host to a tracking radar. Both systems are designed to defend European territory from missile attack by Iran, but have threatened to rupture ties with Moscow and have upset some NATO allies.
----------------

Nevertheless, the Bush administration and the military are showing unusual unanimity about proceeding with missile defense, in sharp contrast to bitter internal disagreements over issues like Iraq strategy and rules for detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects.

The groundwork for upcoming talks with Russia by Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice has been laid over recent weeks by quiet but intensive travels to Moscow and NATO capitals by a group of civilian and military officials. They include the under secretary of defense for policy, Eric Edelman; two assistant secretaries of state, Daniel Fried and John Rood; Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, and his deputy, Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly; and the American ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland.

American officials hold no illusions that the new incentives will guarantee Russia’s assent to the missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, as the Kremlin’s opposition to missile bases is wrapped up in domestic politics as well as its view of national security policy in Washington and its NATO allies.

To date, Russian officials have scoffed at any suggestion that Moscow’s objections to American missile defense bases in former Soviet states would be eased by offers of cooperation.

“As for possible cooperation in strategic antimissile defense, honestly speaking, I see no reasons for that,” said Sergei B. Ivanov, a first deputy prime minister who previously served as Russia’s minister of defense, in remarks quoted by the Interfax news agency.

American officials have sought to counter Russian rebukes by pointing out that the limited missile defense system envisioned for Europe — 10 interceptors whose warheads are designed to collide with approaching missiles, and do not even carry an explosive — is numerically no threat to Moscow’s vast strategic rocket force.

The proposed system, Americans say, is a prudent deterrent against a potential Iranian attack on American allies in Europe and on American forces based there.

American officials concede that part of the Russian motivation to block American missile defense is a fear that the United States, over time, might develop a bold, new “breakout” technology that could some day neuter the Russian strategic arsenal.

The concept of sharing antimissile technology with the Russians is hardly new. In fact, even when President Ronald Reagan proposed his grand plan for a leakproof missile shield under the so-called Star Wars program, he pledged that the new technology could be shared with the Kremlin in order to assure Russia that it had nothing to fear from American defenses.

The missile defense proposals for central Europe also have become a proxy issue for Russian officials who still rankle at American and NATO expansion east after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet even among some officials in Poland and the Czech Republic, support for the two missile defense bases has more to do with binding the United States closer to their capitals against a future Russian threat than about deterring a future Iranian missile threat.

American officials have not announced the timetable for the coming talks. But in Moscow, Igor Ivanov, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said that Mr. Gates was due there for Kremlin meetings on Monday and that Ms. Rice would visit in May.
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« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2007, 10:27:35 AM »

April 22, 2007
50% Good News Is the Bad News in Russian Radio
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
NY Times

MOSCOW, April 21 — At their first meeting with journalists since taking over Russia’s largest independent radio news network, the managers had startling news of their own: from now on, they said, at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive.”

In addition, opposition leaders could not be mentioned on the air and the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy, journalists employed by the network, Russian News Service, say they were told by the new managers, who are allies of the Kremlin.

How would they know what constituted positive news?

“When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive,” said one editor at the station who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.”

In a darkening media landscape, radio news had been a rare bright spot. Now, the implementation of the “50 percent positive” rule at the Russian News Service leaves an increasingly small number of news outlets that are not managed by the Kremlin, directly or through the state national gas company, Gazprom, a major owner of media assets.

The three national television networks are already state controlled, though small-circulation newspapers generally remain independent.

This month alone, a bank loyal to President Vladimir V. Putin tightened its control of an independent television station, Parliament passed a measure banning “extremism” in politics and prosecutors have gone after individuals who post critical comments on Web chat rooms.

Parliament is also considering extending state control to Internet sites that report news, reflecting the growing importance of Web news as the country becomes more affluent and growing numbers of middle-class Russians acquire computers.

On Tuesday, the police raided the Educated Media Foundation, a nongovernmental group sponsored by United States and European donors that helps foster an independent news media. The police carried away documents and computers that were used as servers for the Web sites of similar groups. That brought down a Web site run by the Glasnost Defense Foundation, a media rights group, which published bulletins on violations of press freedoms.

“Russia is dropping off the list of countries that respect press freedoms,” said Boris Timoshenko, a spokesman for the foundation. “We have propaganda, not information.”

With this new campaign, seemingly aimed at tying up the loose ends before a parliamentary election in the fall that is being carefully stage-managed by the Kremlin, censorship rules in Russia have reached their most restrictive since the breakup of the Soviet Union, media watchdog groups say.

“This is not the U.S.S.R., when every print or broadcasting outlet was preliminarily censored,” Masha Lipman, a researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said in a telephone interview.

Instead, the tactic has been to impose state ownership on media companies and replace editors with those who are supporters of Mr. Putin — or offer a generally more upbeat report on developments in Russia these days.

The new censorship rules are often passed in vaguely worded measures and decrees that are ostensibly intended to protect the public.

Late last year, for example, the prosecutor general and the interior minister appeared before Parliament to ask deputies to draft legislation banning the distribution on the Web of “extremist” content — a catch phrase, critics say, for information about opponents of Mr. Putin.

On Friday, the Federal Security Service, a successor agency to the K.G.B., questioned Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion and opposition politician, for four hours regarding an interview he had given on the Echo of Moscow radio station. Prosecutors have accused Mr. Kasparov of expressing extremist views.

Parliament on Wednesday passed a law allowing for prison sentences of as long as three years for “vandalism” motivated by politics or ideology. Once again, vandalism is interpreted broadly, human rights groups say, including acts of civil disobedience. In a test case, Moscow prosecutors are pursuing a criminal case against a political advocate accused of posting critical remarks about a member of Parliament on a Web site, the newspaper Kommersant reported Friday.

State television news, meanwhile, typically offers only bland fare of official meetings. Last weekend, the state channels mostly ignored the violent dispersal of opposition protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Rossiya TV, for example, led its newscast last Saturday with Mr. Putin attending a martial arts competition, with the Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme as his guest. On the streets of the capital that day, 54 people were beaten badly enough by the police that they sought medical care, Human Rights Watch said.

Rossiya and Channel One are owned by the state, while NTV was taken from a Kremlin critic in 2001 and now belongs to Gazprom. Last week, a St. Petersburg bank with ties to Mr. Putin increased its ownership stake in REN-TV, a channel that sometimes broadcasts critical reports, raising questions about that outlet’s continued independence.

The Russian News Service is owned by businesses loyal to the Kremlin, including Lukoil, though its exact ownership structure is not public. The owners had not meddled in editorial matters before, said Mikhail G. Baklanov, the former news editor, in a telephone interview.

The service provides news updates for a network of music-formatted radio stations, called Russian Radio, with seven million listeners, according to TNS Gallup, a ratings company.

Two weeks ago, the shareholders asked for the resignation of Mr. Baklanov. They appointed two new managers, Aleksandr Y. Shkolnik, director of children’s programming on state-owned Channel One, and Svevolod V. Neroznak, an announcer on Channel One. Both retained their positions at state television.

Mr. Shkolnik articulated the rule that 50 percent of the news must be positive, regardless of what cataclysm might befall Russia on any given day, according to the editor who was present at the April 10 meeting.

When in doubt about the positive or negative quality of a development, the editor said, “we should ask the new leadership.”

“We are having trouble with the positive part, believe me,” the editor said.

Mr. Shkolnik did not respond to a request for an interview. In an interview with Kommersant, he denied an on-air ban of opposition figures. He said Mr. Kasparov might be interviewed, but only if he agreed to refrain from extremist statements.

The editor at the news service said that the change had been explained as an effort to attract a larger, younger audience, but that many editorial employees had interpreted it as a tightening of political control ahead of the elections.

The station’s news report on Thursday noted the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Moscow metro. It closed with an upbeat item on how Russian trains are introducing a six-person sleeping compartment, instead of the usual four.

Already, listeners are grumbling about the “positive news” policy.

“I want fresh morning broadcasts and not to fall asleep,” one listener, who signed a posting on the station’s Web site as Sergei from Vladivostok, complained. “Maybe you’ve tortured RNS’s audience enough? There are just a few of us left. Down with the boring nonintellectual broadcasts!”

The change leaves Echo of Moscow, an irreverent and edgy news station that often provides a forum for opposition voices, as the only independent radio news outlet in Russia with a national reach.

And what does Aleksei Venediktov, the editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, think of the latest news from Russia?

“For Echo of Moscow, this is positive news,” Mr. Venediktov said. “We are a monopoly now. From the point of view of the country, it is negative news.”

 
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« Reply #11 on: April 27, 2007, 07:38:55 PM »

Estonia: Baiting the Bear
Summary

The Estonian government arrested some 300 protesters April 27 during the removal of a Soviet monument commemorating the end of World War II. For the most vulnerable member of the NATO alliance, the action is not so much waving the flag as it is testing the winds.

Analysis

A Soviet-era monument called the Bronze Soldier, located in downtown Tallinn, Estonia, was dismantled the night of April 26-27, despite the protests by some 500 ethnic Russians. The Russian Duma and Foreign Ministry immediately responded, calling the action "blasphemy" and "disgusting." The Duma recommended Russian President Vladimir Putin immediately sever all economic and diplomatic contact with Estonia. The Estonian government plans to exhume and remove the remains of Soviet soldiers interred under the monument as well for reburial in a cemetery.

Estonia sees the monument, constructed during what Estonians call the "Soviet occupation," as a lingering sign of Russia's overbearance. Yet, of the three Baltic states, Estonia is the one that tends to have the best relationship with Moscow and prefers to keep the lowest profile. This raises a question: Why dismantle the Bronze Solider now?

Controversy over the statue is nothing new; it has been simmering ever since Estonia achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia's biggest holiday -- the celebration of the anniversary of victory in World War II, a conflict in which at least 20 million Russians died -- is just around the corner on May 9. After 15 years of relatively harmless sniping, it seems the Estonians have chosen this precise moment to step on the Kremlin's most sensitive nerve.

That might be precisely the case.

On April 26, Putin gave his state of the union address, in which he essentially lambasted everything the United States stands for. For Estonia, such a speech is the equivalent of an air raid siren. Aside from Luxembourg, Estonia is the smallest NATO member, and none is more strategically exposed. If Russia is about to go on a strategic tear, no one faces the prospect of more suffering -- and more quickly -- than does Estonia.



But rather than cowering in silence, the Estonians might have struck upon a rather interesting strategy: Test the waters to see just how real this Russian change of tune is. After all, if it is real, it is best to know soon. And if it is just rhetoric for public consumption, it is best to continue with business as usual without developing an ulcer.

By this logic, no matter how much Estonia's actions annoyed the Russians, those actions are not of a magnitude to make Moscow rapidly shift its entire military strategic and foreign doctrines. But dismantling the monument will force the Russians to show at least some of their cards.

Whether or not the Estonian strategy is truly to tell the Russians to "Put up or shut up," the world will know the Russian mind very soon. Estonia provoked the Duma and the Russian Foreign Ministry into their expected responses and, in doing so, placed the issue squarely on Putin's desk. His response will be Russia's policy.

It is a response Putin will weigh very carefully. While the Kremlin thinks of Estonia as an ungrateful, malcontented speck on its western border, it is an ungrateful, malcontented speck that also happens to be a full member of the NATO alliance and the European Union. The former grants Estonia the nuclear umbrella, and the latter means any economic sanctions against Estonia would immediately draw retaliation from all of Europe. If Putin is going to call Estonia's bluff, it will not be a simple overreaction -- it will be a calculated move that will have repercussions far beyond a mere stump of broken rock in a Tallinn traffic circle.
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« Reply #12 on: May 15, 2007, 12:11:42 PM »



Russia's Succession Crisis
By LEON ARON
May 15, 2007; Page A17

After Boris Yeltsin died on April 23, all Russian television networks waited for almost three hours to break the news. They were afraid to say anything before the Kremlin did. Three days later, in the state-of-Russia address to the Duma, Vladimir Putin announced the unilateral "suspension" by Russia of the 1990 treaty governing the size and positioning of conventional forces in Europe. A few days before, an estimated 4,000 policemen set upon a few hundred protesters in Moscow with a ferocity that shocked even some government officials and legislators.

Even by the standards of Mr. Putin's Russia, these episodes stand apart in the shrillness of their authoritarian insolence and disregard for public opinion inside and outside the country. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Moscow for talks, she might see for herself the reason for the increasingly tense relations between the two countries, and the increasingly harsh climate inside: the jitters that next year's presidential succession is already generating in the Kremlin.

 
Despite an official propaganda barrage daily proclaiming orderly change after the presidential election in March 2008, the succession is far from a done deal. The erosion or outright eradication of what might be called shock-absorbers of democracy that endow the process and the result of a transition with legitimacy -- elected local authorities, independent parliament and mass media, and genuine opposition -- has ushered in uncertainty and risk. The foundation of the much-touted "vertical of power," as the new system of the Kremlin's dominance over the country's politics and key sectors of the economy is known, is shallow. The stairs going down are gnarled and perhaps unable to bear much weight.

To these generic handicaps to succession in an authoritarian regime, today's Russia adds two serious complications. The first is the tradition of Russian and Soviet political culture -- which Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin tried so hard to overcome, but which Mr. Putin (who has bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century") seems to admire and emulate. Successions were hardly smooth even under the tsars, with quite a few legitimate claimants to the throne (or even those already sitting on it by right) strangled, drowned, stabbed or forced to retire into monasteries. In the Soviet era, not one putative heir apparent came to power. Lenin never wished for Stalin to succeed him; Stalin would not have wanted Khrushchev; Khrushchev, ousted by a coup, did not anoint Brezhnev; Brezhnev, Andropov; Andropov, Chernenko; and Chernenko, Gorbachev.

The other obstacle to a smooth transition is the sheer enormity of the stakes. Even after the centuries of the patrimonial state, in which political power has translated into ownership or control of much of the country's natural wealth, never has the jackpot been so huge: Every day more than 19,000 barrels of oil flow through the pipeline for sale abroad, bringing $500 billion a year.

No matter how many promises are being made to presidential hopefuls and their salivating retinues about sharing in the riches, the vertical of power is a sparse, even austere piece of political architecture. There are simply not enough top rent-generating offices in Russian politics, and in the daily expanding state-controlled sector of the economy, to be handed over to all current claimants: not enough Duma committee chairmanships (where the going rate for introducing a law reportedly is $1 million), regional governorships, top positions in the extremely lucrative tax police and customs, company chairmanships and directorships in the oil, gas, metals, armaments, automotive and aviation industries.

In the winner-take-all regime Mr. Putin has forged, his probable decision to hand over the power hardly presages a period of certainty and tranquility. In the words of one of the most astute Russian political observers, Mark Urnov, "those who have failed to become heirs will have nothing to lose. The bets have been placed, the only thing to do is to fight."

There are no lame ducks in Putin's Russia -- only dead ones. Thus, the appointment of the successor must be withheld for as long as possible, to prevent those passed over from coalescing and perhaps even reaching out to the pro-democracy opposition. Such an alliance would be the Kremlin's worst nightmare: a potentially escalating popular movement for unmanaged, free and fair elections, akin to the Ukrainian "Orange Revolution" of 2004-05. The succession games may last well into this fall, and one could do worse, investment-wise, than betting a modest amount in rubles, steadily appreciating against the dollar, that neither of the current front-runners, First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, will get the nod.

Yet managing the succession by keeping the elites off balance is only one source of the Kremlin's nervousness. The other is a slew of potential economic and social crises stemming from subverted, frozen or entirely abandoned structural reforms to redress the commodity dependence, the neglect of "human capital" and the disrepair of the worn-out industrial infrastructure. Camouflaged by the oil wealth and passed over in silence by the re-nationalized or intimidated mass media, these political time bombs are ticking louder and louder.

Despite regular, almost-ritual official calls to shift away from commodity exports to a knowledge-based, high-tech modern economy, the goal has been subverted by the ideologically-motivated turn toward greater state control and the fear of private initiative and wealth-creation. Instead, Russia's expanding economy (and thus the "stability" on which Putin's popularity is founded) remains extremely vulnerable to oil-price fluctuations. At least one-third of the Russian state budget today comes from oil revenues. A World Bank study has concluded that the GDP growth of 5% or higher was "realized in Russia only at times when the oil price has increased." It is widely assumed among independent Russian experts that a precipitous decline to $40 a barrel (not to mention, below) will have immediate and profoundly negative consequences for economy and the standard of living.

Apart from much-needed salary increases for teachers and doctors, the "national projects" on health and education, unveiled by the government with great fanfare in 2005, have done very little to reform the state-based, impoverished, rigid and backward health-care and education systems inherited from the Soviet Union. Amid the oil price boom, Russia spent less on health-care as percentage of GDP in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available) than in the first year of the fragile post-Soviet economic recovery in 1997. In an August 2006 national survey, 70% of respondents said that they and their families could not count on getting "good" medical care.

The hydrocarbon windfall has done nothing to increase life expectancy, which at 65 years is still below that of China or India. Russia also is a world leader in industrial, aviation and traffic accidents. Crime is rising; over the past six years, there has been a 10% increase in the number of murders and a 73% rise in drug-related crimes.

With the number of working adults, especially males, diminishing precipitously, the worker-to-retiree ratio is estimated by Russia's leading economists to drop to 1 to 1 "in the very near future." Yet already today, the average pension is 25% of the average salary -- the lowest proportion in Europe. Such a pension is 3,000 rubles ($115), whereas the minimal food expenditures ("just not to starve" as a Russian newspaper puts it) is 1,500 rubles. Some in the government have already begun to talk about raising the pension age as the only solution -- something that the estimated 17 million men and women who expect to retire in the next 10 years are most likely to resent and protest, perhaps violently.

Yet the dwindling number of Russians who want to work and make a go of it are daily disheartened and handicapped by corruption. Both in its reach and the amount of money involved, the bribery and sleaze today makes the graft of the 1990s look like the child's play. In the ranking by Transparency International Russia is 121st out of 163 countries, behind Albania, Kazakhstan and Zambia, and on a par with Benin, Gambia, Honduras and Rwanda. The growing independence of courts, one of the most promising achievements of the 1990s, has been reversed by the travesty of the Yukos-Khodorkovsky and spy trials. Not just entrepreneurs, who are now fair game for shakedowns, but even ordinary Russians, are less and less capable of seeking protection in courts against rapacious and incompetent bureaucrats at every level.

Nor is the Russian state capable of providing broad and effective protection in a more immediate sense. While Chechnya is for now "pacified" by the former Islamic guerillas who switched sides, the multi-ethnic North Caucasus is virtually ungovernable, especially its largest "autonomous republic," Dagestan. The conventional armed forces are utterly incapable of dealing with new threats. A dysfunctional relic of the tsarist and Soviet past, for today's conscripts the Russian army is a combination of a prison and torture chamber.

With every family doing everything they can to shield their boys from the army, increasingly it is the bottom of the barrel that the army gets: the functionally illiterate and those with criminal records or a history of drug addiction. There is more than enough money to effect a transition to a modern, lean, mobile, well-equipped, well-trained and motivated force, supported by millions of Russians. President Putin himself promised in the beginning of his first term, but the reform has been abandoned.

Each of these simmering crises may quickly boil over. The prospect of several unfolding in concert is troubling. In combination with falling oil prices, they may cause a political equivalent of a "perfect storm." Yet with the deliberate weakening of the mediating institutions of democracy, the center of political gravity in Putin's Russia has shifted to the very top, making the Kremlin responsible for anything that goes wrong anywhere in the country.

Everything that the Russian authorities do in the next 12 months will be informed by this sense of vulnerability, and aimed at making sure that vagaries of succession are not multiplied or even made unmanageable by the corrupt state's obsessive quest for control in pursuit of ever greater share of the country's oil wealth.

Mr. Aron, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Russia's Revolution: Essays 1989-2006," released by AEI Press on April 25.
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« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2007, 12:03:22 AM »

From The Sunday Times

May 20, 2007

Putin spy war on the West
Mark Franchetti, Moscow, and Sarah Baxter, Washington

IT IS time to send for George Smiley. Russia’s covert foreign intelligence operations against America have reached cold war levels under President Vladimir Putin, according to Washington officials.

White House intelligence advisers believe no other country is as aggressive as Russia in trying to obtain US secrets, with the possible exception of China.

In particular the SVR, as the former KGB’s foreign intelligence arm is now known, is using a network of undercover agents in America to gather classified information about sensitive technologies, including military projects under development and high-tech research.

Yuri Shvets, a former KGB agent, said: “In the days of the Soviet Union, the number of spies was limited because they had to be based at the foreign ministry, the trade mission or the news agencies like Tass. Right now, virtually every successful private company in Russia is being used as a cover for Russian intelligence operations.” Related Links

Intelligence experts believe that since Putin became president in 2000, the Russians have rebuilt a network of agents in the United States that had been depleted during the country’s transition from communism.

Putin served 16 years in the KGB, including a spell in foreign intelligence in East Germany. He became head of the FSB, the domestic security service. According to Shvets, the FSB has been operating widely in America because of its favoured status with Putin. Agents, some acting under diplomatic cover, are said to be trying to recruit specialists in American facilities with access to sensitive information.

A rare insight into the SVR’s methods was gained six months ago when the authorities in Canada deported a Russian man who had been masquerading as a Canadian citizen.

The alleged SVR agent had been living under a false identity as Paul William Hampel and was detained carrying a fake birth certificate, £3,000 in five currencies and several encrypted pre-paid mobile phone cards.

He claimed to be a lifeguard and travel consultant but counter-intelligence officers believe he based himself in Montreal because the city is the centre of the Canadian aerospace industry. Carrying a Canadian passport, he would have been able to travel freely to the United States.

In another incident last year, the Americans arrested Ariel Weinmann, a former US navy submariner, on charges of spying for the Russians. Weinmann was accused of making electronic copies of classified information which he sought to pass on to his handlers. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail.

John Pike, a military and security analyst who runs GlobalSecurity.org, said a surge in recruitment of US intelligence operatives since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 had presented great opportunities for the Russians to penetrate the CIA and other agencies. Shvets believes Russian agents are also entering America legally as immigrants, a rarity in the strictly controlled Soviet era.

The increase in Russian intelligence activity abroad is in step with Moscow’s more aggressive stance since Putin came to power and turned the country’s lagging economy around on the back of record high oil prices.

Putin’s abrasive style has frustrated Washington. Relations between Russia and the United States are worse than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Comparisons with the tension of the cold war years have become commonplace.

“President Putin thinks the United States has been weakened by Iraq,” said Richard Holbrooke, a former US ambassador to the United Nations. “He thinks he has been strengthened by recent events and high-priced oil and he is trying to put Russia back on the international map.”

Estonia, the Baltic state, appeared last week to have become the target of a cyber attack after a row with Moscow over its decision to relocate a Soviet-era military monument. The Estonians claim professional hackers from Russia targeted the internet sites of ministries, parliament, banks, the media and large companies, causing their systems to crash.

The attack followed Russian calls to impose sanctions on Estonia, cuts in Moscow’s oil and gas deliveries and a campaign of intimidation by a Kremlin-backed youth group against the Estonian ambassador. Nato has sent a cyber-crime expert to help the Estonians, fearing that it could be next.

These concerns were raised last week at a European summit attended by Putin and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, at Samara in southern Russia. Merkel traded barbs with Putin over Russia’s human rights record and complained that critics of the Kremlin, including Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion, were prevented from attending a protest march.

Moscow and Brussels are due to start talks on an agreement to cover trade, energy and foreign policy but Poland has been blocking the negotiations as a result of a Russian ban on its meat exports. The Kremlin’s relations with Lithuania are also tense following Moscow’s decision to cut oil supplies to the Baltic state.

In February Putin accused America of imposing its will on the rest of the world. He said that Washington’s plans to install 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic — part of an anti-missile shield bitterly opposed by the Russians — “could provoke nothing less than the beginning of a nuclear era”.

 
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« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2007, 09:33:17 AM »

stratfor.com

Geopolitical Diary: Understanding Putin's Missile-Defense Offer

Russia and the United States have had some tense exchanges this week regarding a U.S. plan to create a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system based in Central Europe -- with Russian President Vladimir Putin at one point even threatening to point missiles at Europe if such a system were built. But on Thursday, Putin offered U.S. President George W. Bush what, on the surface, would appear to be a mutually beneficial alternative: Moscow and Washington could cooperate on the project, but base it in Azerbaijan instead.

The U.S. plan -- to construct BMD facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic in order to defend against a potential Iranian missile strike -- has run into many complications. Within NATO there are concerns that the system will not protect all of Europe, and that it unnecessarily provokes the Russians. Moscow, meanwhile, certainly does not want any system in Europe that at all impedes delivery of its own nuclear deterrent, even obliquely.

At first glance, a system based in Azerbaijan would appear to remove all of these problems. Its location on Iran's northern border would enable earlier warning of launches, and would provide a bigger arc of protection that could shield all of Europe and most of Russia. And, since Azerbaijan is not located between Russia and the West, such a system would not threaten the Russian deterrent.

Sounds like a great deal, right?

That's what we thought until we took a closer look at U.S. BMD technology.

The U.S. missile-defense system uses specially equipped ground-based radar stations to identify a missile launch, track it and coordinate an intercept. Getting an interceptor to the target takes time, so the sooner a BMD radar can pick up the missile and start tracking it, the more time the system as a whole has to spin up and engage it. In practice, this means that any Polish/Czech system would really be intended to guard the mainland United States and maybe the United Kingdom, but certainly not mainland Europe.

It's true that pushing the system closer to the Middle East would give interceptor sites in Europe more time to react -- but Azerbaijan is actually too close to Iran to be a base for interceptors. It is much easier to predict where a missile will go once it establishes its ballistic path -- that is, after its final booster cuts out. If Iran could launch from its northwest, the missile would already be ahead of the Azerbaijan site before Azerbaijan-based interceptors could engage it or even plot its course. Even for the most advanced interceptors, it would be a tail-chase from the start, which would require essentially near-instantaneous response time to the initial launch for any chance of success at all.

Think of a BMD system like a baseball field. In essence, the Polish/Czech facility would serve as an outfielder trying to "catch" a missile after watching to see where it is going. The Russians want the outfielder to stand in Azerbaijan, which would be essentially right next to home plate. Catching anything at such short range is difficult -- and, while the United States does have systems in development to operate at such distances, even when they are deployed they would only work as one component of a larger system. That means a functional BMD system would have to be based in Central Europe, where it could engage any missiles in mid-flight, not in Azerbaijan where it would have to target the missile's boost phase. It also means that Tehran can rest easy -- there is no U.S. military facility coming to Iran's northern border.

Thus, Putin's offer is really about shifting the European BMD system's coverage toward central Asia and into irrelevance. It is a political offer that -- though it will play well in international media as a show of friendliness -- has little real value. An Azerbaijani-hosted BMD radar would certainly have its uses, but only as a complement to a larger BMD system in Europe. It cannot function alone.

Besides all this, Putin's offer will come with strings attached that will make this deal a non-starter for the United States:


Moscow's specific offer is for the United States to use Russia's own radar base at Qabala, Azerbaijan. The problem here is that Russia knows a thing or two about espionage. Closely guarded American technological developments will be at risk, as will communication signals with any larger BMD system.


These communications and the site itself will remain exceptionally vulnerable to Russian interference -- anything from toying with locally obtained supplies to physically destroying key facilities. And a BMD system is just the sort of thing that must be at its best at the height of a crisis.


While Iran's military capabilities are a pale shadow compared to those of a first-world power, even Tehran could probably jam signals in and out of southern Azerbaijan -- making the whole exercise useless.


Washington certainly realizes all this. So why would Putin make the offer if he knows it will be practically useless to the United States?

The real goal is to turn Washington's BMD plan into a wedge issue for NATO. Many European states are concerned about BMD for myriad reasons, but the one commonality is a fear that the plan will unnecessarily provoke Moscow into being more aggressive with Europe. By being "reasonable" and "offering" to "cooperate" with BMD, Moscow can snarl Washington's European policy in a way that has not been done since the Cold War.

We do not make that comparison lightly. In the Cold War days, the Soviets regularly made offers that seemed quite reasonable at first glance, but would have gutted Western defense capabilities in practice. For example, while working fervently to develop nuclear weapons, Josef Stalin proposed putting all nuclear weapons -- which at the time meant Washington's -- under U.N. control. It sounded nice in a speech, but in reality would have opened up Europe to the Soviet Union's overwhelmingly superior conventional military capabilities.

Such Soviet positioning was regularly effective at hurling intra-Western relations into the thresher -- and that was back when there were only a dozen NATO members.

Now there are 26.
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« Reply #15 on: July 28, 2008, 05:03:33 PM »

Summary
Russia plans to upgrade its Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and eventually to build a small fleet of new aircraft carriers, the chief of the Russian navy said July 27. Russia has slowly been turning its military fortunes back from the decay and decline of the 1990s, and may now be reaching the point at which such plans, while ambitious, could be attainable.

Analysis
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Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the Russian navy.

Russia plans to begin upgrading its Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), starting with the next hull to be laid down, which will be the fourth, Russian senior naval officer Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky said at the opening of the annual Navy Day parade July 27. Vysotsky also promised a new concept for Russia’s next generation of aircraft carrier groups, calling for half a dozen carriers to be constructed beginning in 2012.

Vysotsky’s statements in some ways smack of the ambitions of the Soviet old guard (among whom talk of a return to the glory days with large fleets of nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers is common). His vision is more restrained and realistic in other important ways, however — he is, for example, calling not for 12 carriers, but for six. In his comments, he also focused on pointing out that a fundamental re-evaluation of the functions and composition of carrier task forces is under way and that questions of actual carrier design are further down the road.

Many scholars and military officers continue to dismiss the Russian military offhand, based on its decay in the 1990s and its decrepit state at the turn of the century. Russia’s armed forces after the fall of the Soviet Union suffered a comprehensive decline that is difficult to overstate — ranging from widespread inefficiency and bloating of the officers’ ranks, to poor maintenance and neglect of equipment, to a lack of proper training and deployment — culminating in the at-sea accident that led to the loss of the Kursk, the pride of the Russian Northern Fleet. Indeed, U.S. intelligence has said that in 2007, Russia’s ballistic missile submarines conducted only three strategic deterrent patrols, even fewer than the year before. But changes are afoot under the leadership of Prime Minister (and former President) Vladimir Putin.

To begin with, Russia has been working to replenish its fleet. Corruption and incompetence at Russian naval shipyards remain problems, but ones that are recognized and are being addressed. Managers are now being held responsible (and fired when appropriate), while new umbrella entities are being formed to consolidate the defense sector — such as the United Shipbuilding Corp., whose objective is to fashion a competent, efficient shipbuilding industry. Though it seems ambitious now, the goal of a Russian shipbuilding industry able to crank out ships at a reasonable rate — and of a passable quality — is not without precedent in Soviet times. The need to contain costs is another challenge, but recent construction of surface combatants has suggested a remarkable pragmatism in terms of focusing on obtainable and affordable designs.

This is not to say that a few new hulls will solve all of Russia’s problems. The navy’s deteriorating institutional knowledge — especially in areas like carrier operations and anti-submarine warfare — is a valuable commodity, and one that will be difficult and time-consuming to reconstitute. The first step in this direction is simply getting ships and sailors back to sea on a sustained basis, where they can hone their skills. Though this is hardly being done across the board (especially in the submarine corps), there has been some increase in deployments — and newer ships and submarines would at least facilitate this change.

Yet a crucial time for Russia is at hand. Putin, as a former intelligence officer, is well aware of the value of military might (though he has often favored economic and political means of coercion in his foreign policy). During his two terms as president, Putin worked to consolidate the Kremlin’s control over the military (along with most other strategic sectors). A key part of this process has consisted of reining in the military and preventing it from overreaching with too-ambitious plans and, at the same time, halting the decline of the 1990s. These dual imperatives for Putin have been compounded by the continued leadership of old-guard Soviet officers, stubbornly committed to a return to the glory of the Red Army — many of whom Putin has forced out.

Guiding the navy now is Vysotsky, who was personally appointed by Putin. He is as much the prime minister’s man as a military man can be. Under him, a focus on Russia’s nuclear submarine fleet will continue, and incremental upgrades are under way for ship and boat classes already under construction. Many obstacles still remain, but the potential foundation for a revitalized Russian navy is beginning to emerge.

As the Kremlin further solidifies its grip over the military, it will accelerate its reforms of both the military and the defense industry, expanding the recent moves toward professionalization, continuing to trim the fat (especially in the officer ranks) and quickening the pace of construction and delivery of new equipment to the armed forces. None of these moves are necessarily new, but their pace thus far has been halting and their effectiveness uneven. Now, however, they may be reaching a critical mass at which their effectiveness might begin to improve.

If these changes can be maintained, it appears likely that the next few years will see more hulls coming on line: new ships and submarines that have not suffered badly under the neglect and wear of the 1990s. Though Russian naval doctrine has not traditionally favored the comparatively high deployment pace of the U.S. Navy, Moscow will soon potentially have that option, should it choose to use it.

Significant challenges remain, but Putin’s careful and impressive reversal of fortunes for the Russian military cannot be denied. At the same time, there are no guarantees that it will last. In a larger geopolitical sense, Moscow now needs to consolidate its gains and begin to build a military that can demonstrate to the world that Russia remains a global power.

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« Reply #16 on: August 05, 2008, 08:28:27 PM »


Solzhenitsyn and the Struggle for Russia's Soul
August 5, 2008
By George Friedman

The Russian Resurgence

There are many people who write history. There are very few who make history through their writings. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died this week at the age of 89, was one of them. In many ways, Solzhenitsyn laid the intellectual foundations for the fall of Soviet communism. That is well known. But Solzhenitsyn also laid the intellectual foundation for the Russia that is now emerging. That is less well known, and in some ways more important.

Solzhenitsyn’s role in the Soviet Union was simple. His writings, and in particular his book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” laid bare the nature of the Soviet regime. The book described a day in the life of a prisoner in a Soviet concentration camp, where the guilty and innocent alike were sent to have their lives squeezed out of them in endless and hopeless labor. It was a topic Solzhenitsyn knew well, having been a prisoner in such a camp following service in World War II.

The book was published in the Soviet Union during the reign of Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev had turned on his patron, Joseph Stalin, after taking control of the Communist Party apparatus following Stalin’s death. In a famous secret speech delivered to the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his murderous ways. Allowing Solzhenitsyn’s book to be published suited Khrushchev. Khrushchev wanted to detail Stalin’s crimes graphically, and Solzhenitsyn’s portrayal of life in a labor camp served his purposes.

It also served a dramatic purpose in the West when it was translated and distributed there. Ever since its founding, the Soviet Union had been mythologized. This was particularly true among Western intellectuals, who had been taken by not only the romance of socialism, but also by the image of intellectuals staging a revolution. Vladimir Lenin, after all, had been the author of works such as “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.” The vision of intellectuals as revolutionaries gripped many European and American intellectuals.

These intellectuals had missed not only that the Soviet Union was a social catastrophe, but that, far from being ruled by intellectuals, it was being ruled by thugs. For an extraordinarily long time, in spite of ample testimony by emigres from the Soviet regime, Western intellectuals simply denied this reality. When Western intellectuals wrote that they had “seen the future and it worked,” they were writing at a time when the Soviet terror was already well under way. They simply couldn’t see it.

One of the most important things about “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” was not only that it was so powerful, but that it had been released under the aegis of the Soviet state, meaning it could not simply be ignored. Solzhenitsyn was critical in breaking the intellectual and moral logjam among intellectuals in the West. You had to be extraordinarily dense or dishonest to continue denying the obvious, which was that the state that Lenin and Stalin had created was a moral monstrosity.

Khrushchev’s intentions were not Solzhenitsyn’s. Khrushchev wanted to demonstrate the evils of Stalinism while demonstrating that the regime could reform itself and, more important, that communism was not invalidated by Stalin’s crimes. Solzhenitsyn, on the other hand, held the view that the labor camps were not incidental to communism, but at its heart. He argued in his “Gulag Archipelago” that the systemic exploitation of labor was essential to the regime not only because it provided a pool of free labor, but because it imposed a systematic terror on those not in the gulag that stabilized the regime. His most telling point was that while Khrushchev had condemned Stalin, he did not dismantle the gulag; the gulag remained in operation until the end.

Though Solzhenitsyn served the regime’s purposes in the 1960s, his usefulness had waned by the 1970s. By then, Solzhenitsyn was properly perceived by the Soviet regime as a threat. In the West, he was seen as a hero by all parties. Conservatives saw him as an enemy of communism. Liberals saw him as a champion of human rights. Each invented Solzhenitsyn in their own image. He was given the Noble Prize for Literature, which immunized him against arrest and certified him as a great writer. Instead of arresting him, the Soviets expelled him, sending him into exile in the United States.

When he reached Vermont, the reality of who Solzhenitsyn was slowly sank in. Conservatives realized that while he certainly was an enemy of communism and despised Western liberals who made apologies for the Soviets, he also despised Western capitalism just as much. Liberals realized that Solzhenitsyn hated Soviet oppression, but that he also despised their obsession with individual rights, such as the right to unlimited free expression. Solzhenitsyn was nothing like anyone had thought, and he went from being the heroic intellectual to a tiresome crank in no time. Solzhenitsyn attacked the idea that the alternative to communism had to be secular, individualist humanism. He had a much different alternative in mind.

Solzhenitsyn saw the basic problem that humanity faced as being rooted in the French Enlightenment and modern science. Both identify the world with nature, and nature with matter. If humans are part of nature, they themselves are material. If humans are material, then what is the realm of God and of spirit? And if there is no room for God and spirituality, then what keeps humans from sinking into bestiality? For Solzhenitsyn, Stalin was impossible without Lenin’s praise of materialism, and Lenin was impossible without the Enlightenment.

From Solzhenitsyn’s point of view, Western capitalism and liberalism are in their own way as horrible as Stalinism. Adam Smith saw man as primarily pursuing economic ends. Economic man seeks to maximize his wealth. Solzhenitsyn tried to make the case that this is the most pointless life conceivable. He was not objecting to either property or wealth, but to the idea that the pursuit of wealth is the primary purpose of a human being, and that the purpose of society is to free humans to this end.

Solzhenitsyn made the case — hardly unique to him — that the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself left humans empty shells. He once noted Blaise Pascal’s aphorism that humans are so endlessly busy so that they can forget that they are going to die — the point being that we all die, and that how we die is determined by how we live. For Solzhenitsyn, the American pursuit of economic well being was a disease destroying the Western soul.

He viewed freedom of expression in the same way. For Americans, the right to express oneself transcends the content of the expression. That you speak matters more than what you say. To Solzhenitsyn, the same principle that turned humans into obsessive pursuers of wealth turned them into vapid purveyors of shallow ideas. Materialism led to individualism, and individualism led to a culture devoid of spirit. The freedom of the West, according to Solzhenitsyn, produced a horrifying culture of intellectual self-indulgence, licentiousness and spiritual poverty. In a contemporary context, the hedge fund coupled with The Daily Show constituted the bankruptcy of the West.

To have been present when he once addressed a Harvard commencement! On the one side, Harvard Law and Business School graduates — the embodiment of economic man. On the other side, the School of Arts and Sciences, the embodiment of free expression. Both greeted their heroic resister, only to have him reveal himself to be religious, patriotic and totally contemptuous of the Vatican of self-esteem, Harvard.

Solzhenitsyn had no real home in the United States, and with the fall of the Soviets, he could return to Russia — where he witnessed what was undoubtedly the ultimate nightmare for him: thugs not only running the country, but running it as if they were Americans. Now, Russians were pursuing wealth as an end in itself and pleasure as a natural right. In all of this, Solzhenitsyn had not changed at all.

Solzhenitsyn believed there was an authentic Russia that would emerge from this disaster. It would be a Russia that first and foremost celebrated the motherland, a Russia that accepted and enjoyed its uniqueness. This Russia would take its bearings from no one else. At the heart of this Russia would be the Russian Orthodox Church, with not only its spirituality, but its traditions, rituals and art.

The state’s mission would be to defend the motherland, create the conditions for cultural renaissance, and — not unimportantly — assure a decent economic life for its citizens. Russia would be built on two pillars: the state and the church. It was within this context that Russians would make a living. The goal would not be to create the wealthiest state in the world, nor radical equality. Nor would it be a place where anyone could say whatever they wanted, not because they would be arrested necessarily, but because they would be socially ostracized for saying certain things.

Most important, it would be a state not ruled by the market, but a market ruled by a state. Economic strength was not trivial to Solzhenitsyn, either for individuals or for societies, but it was never to be an end in itself and must always be tempered by other considerations. As for foreigners, Russia must always guard itself, as any nation must, against foreigners seeking its wealth or wanting to invade. Solzhenitsyn wrote a book called “August 1914,” in which he argues that the czarist regime had failed the nation by not being prepared for war.

Think now of the Russia that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev are shaping. The Russian Orthodox Church is undergoing a massive resurgence, the market is submitting to the state, free expression is being tempered and so on. We doubt Putin was reading Solzhenitsyn when reshaping Russia. But we do believe that Solzhenitsyn had an understanding of Russia that towered over most of his contemporaries. And we believe that the traditional Russia that Solzhenitsyn celebrated is emerging, more from its own force than by political decisions.

Solzhenitsyn served Western purposes when he undermined the Soviet state. But that was not his purpose. His purpose was to destroy the Soviet state so that his vision of Russia could re-emerge. When his interests and the West’s coincided, he won the Noble Prize. When they diverged, he became a joke. But Solzhenitsyn never really cared what Americans or the French thought of him and his ideas. He wasn’t speaking to them and had no interest or hope of remaking them. Solzhenitsyn was totally alien to American culture. He was speaking to Russia and the vision he had was a resurrection of Mother Russia, if not with the czar, then certainly with the church and state. That did not mean liberalism; Mother Russia was dramatically oppressive. But it was neither a country of mass murder nor of vulgar materialism.

It must also be remembered that when Solzhenitsyn spoke of Russia, he meant imperial Russia at its height, and imperial Russia’s borders at its height looked more like the Soviet Union than they looked like Russia today. “August 1914” is a book that addresses geopolitics. Russian greatness did not have to express itself via empire, but logically it should — something to which Solzhenitsyn would not have objected.

Solzhenitsyn could not teach Americans, whose intellectual genes were incompatible with his. But it is hard to think of anyone who spoke to the Russian soul as deeply as he did. He first ripped Russia apart with his indictment. He was later ignored by a Russia out of control under former President Boris Yeltsin. But today’s Russia is very slowly moving in the direction that Solzhenitsyn wanted. And that could make Russia extraordinarily powerful. Imagine a Soviet Union not ruled by thugs and incompetents. Imagine Russia ruled by people resembling Solzhenitsyn’s vision of a decent man.

Solzhenitsyn was far more prophetic about the future of the Soviet Union than almost all of the Ph.D.s in Russian studies. Entertain the possibility that the rest of Solzhenitsyn’s vision will come to pass. It is an idea that ought to cause the world to be very thoughtful.
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« Reply #17 on: August 15, 2008, 11:07:00 AM »

Georgia May Not Be Last To Fall If Dominoes Tip Back Other Way
By DANIEL McGROARTY | Posted Thursday, August 14, 2008 4:20 PM PT

In a week when we have been dusting off the old Cold War phrase book to characterize Russia's rapid-fire roll across tiny Georgia, make room for one more:  the domino theory.

It's back, with a vengeance.

In the mid-1950s version, the domino theory warned that failure to contain any given communist insurgency would lead to the toppling of anti-communist governments elsewhere, in a kind of chain-reaction regime change.

By 1992, when the Soviet Union imploded, freeing the captive nations of the Warsaw Pact and the non-Russian "Soviet Republics" — Georgia among them — the domino theory seemed to be working in reverse.

Indeed, as the first President Bush put it in his Naval Academy commencement address in 1992:  "Today the dominoes fall in democracy's direction."

That was then.


View larger image
Russia, prostrate for much of the 1990s — an era in which oil prices sank as low as $11 per barrel — had little power to resist the Westward-rush of its former vassal states in Eastern Europe, or even the return of the Baltic nations to their European roots.

Then came Russia's revival.  Emerging as an energy superpower — with oil surging to $140 per barrel — a more muscular Russia was eager to reassert its foreign policy presence, particularly among the nations it lovingly calls its near-abroad.

Early events in 2008 set the stage for the Georgian guns of August. First came a re-interpretation of the "Kosovo precedent": Initially insisting that Kosovo's independent ambitions must be denied, Russia drew a line in the sand. Kosovo declared independence, knowing that what Russia decried the U.S. and Europe would bless.

Faced with this fact, Russia came to see Kosovo as a glass half-full: If Russia must live with Kosovo's break-away desires in the center of Europe, then Europe and the U.S. will have to learn to live with Russia's embrace of break-away regions along its border.

Second came the April NATO Summit in Romania, at which the U.S. and former Warsaw Pact nations backed a NATO invitation for Georgia and Ukraine, over the go-slow position of France and Germany.  No invitation was issued; NATO's red light to Georgia was a green light for the Russians.   

Beyond Georgia, who is vulnerable?  Start with Ukraine, which has its own simmering South Ossetia, only far larger:  Crimea, with more than 20 times the population of Georgia's breakaway region, a strategic peninsula sitting atop the Black Sea.

Crimea itself is merely a portion of the eastern swath of Ukraine that has millions of ethnic Russians only too happy to look to Moscow for deliverance.

Expect pressure to mount on Ukraine's Western-minded president to walk back his often-expressed desire to be the next nation to join NATO. 

Warning signs are already evident.  Even as the Russians rolled into Georgia, a leading Communist Party politician in Ukraine declared that, should his country be "dragged into NATO," Crimea will secede. 

Consider also the Baltic nations — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.  While the trio, unlike Georgia and Ukraine, enjoy NATO and European Union membership, ethnic Russians comprise one-quarter to one-third of the populations of Latvia and Estonia. 

Elsewhere among the nations of the former Soviet Bloc, some of NATO's newest members are intent on staying off the domino list.  With images of smoldering apartment blocks in Georgian cities playing on TV screens, Poland, for instance, intensified talks with the U.S. to obtain a security guarantee in the form of permanent Patriot anti-missile installations.

Romania's president laid down a rhetorical marker that "Transnistria is not Ossetia" — a reference obscure to American ears but clear in regional context that Romania will not countenance a Georgian-style putsch in the heavily Russian-ethnic enclave in eastern Moldova.   

As for Georgia, America's early responses — shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, humanitarian aid air convoys and talk of "sanctions" including a U.S. boycott of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, a short fighter-bomber flight from Abkhazia — serve only to underscore the West's limited repertoire when a military response is off the table. 

For now, the geopolitical game shifts to other Eastern European nations, which will seek stronger assurances from the U.S. and Europe that they will not fall prey to a resurgent Russia.  Meanwhile, Georgia's Rose Revolution goes the way of Prague Spring.

After decades in which the dominoes fell democracy's way, Georgia has fallen.  Will the U.S. and Europe take steps to shore up security relationships among the former nations of the Warsaw Pact — even as we ready for the next domino scenario in Kiev, Tallinn, Riga or Vilnius?

McGroarty, a former White House speechwriter, is principal of Carmot Strategic Group, a Washington-based international business advisory firm.

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« Reply #18 on: August 23, 2008, 08:53:47 AM »

A friend whom I have found to be an intelligent student of these matters writes me as follows-- I find the article to be very interesting a worthy of considerable reflection:

==================

Incidentally, last weekend in NY I had a chance to spend time with some politically
"kulturny" people, including a lady who is Georgian - and is involved in that
countrie's politics.  She thought that the very worst possible scenario for the
Georgian people would be if Russia and NATO would decide to fight out this issue on
Georgian soil.  That would cause devastation.
 
Found this article by "Spengler".  Along with Stratfor analyses, I think this is one
of the more insightful essays on this subject.  If the graphs do not show up, use
the link.
 
..................................
 
Central AsiaAug 19, 2008Americans play Monopoly, Russians chessBy SpenglerOn the
night of November 22, 2004, then-Russian president - now premier - Vladimir Putin
watched the television news in his dacha near Moscow. People who were with Putin
that night report his anger and disbelief at the unfolding "Orange" revolution in
Ukraine. "They lied to me," Putin said bitterly of the United States. "I'll never
trust them again." The Russians still can't fathom why the West threw over a
potential strategic alliance for Ukraine. They underestimate the stupidity of the
West.American hardliners are the first to say that they feel stupid next to Putin.
Victor Davis Hanson wrote on August 12 [1] of Moscow's "sheer diabolic brilliance"
in Georgia, while Colonel Ralph Peters, a columnist and television commentator,
marveled on August 14 [2], "The Russians are alcohol-sodden barbarians, but now and
then they vomit up a genius ... the empire of the czars hasn't produced such a
frightening genius since [Joseph] Stalin." The superlatives recall an old
observation about why the plots of American comic books need clever super-villains
and stupid super-heroes to even the playing field. Evidently the same thing applies
to superpowers.The fact is that all Russian politicians are clever. The stupid ones
are all dead. By contrast, America in its complacency promotes dullards. A deadly
miscommunication arises from this asymmetry. The Russians cannot believe that the
Americans are as stupid as they look, and conclude that Washington wants to destroy
them. That is what the informed Russian public believes, judging from last week's
postings on web forums, including this writer's own.These perceptions are dangerous
because they do not stem from propaganda, but from a difference in existential
vantage point. Russia is fighting for its survival, against a catastrophic decline
in population and the likelihood of a Muslim majority by mid-century. The Russian
Federation's scarcest resource is people. It cannot ignore the 22 million Russians
stranded outside its borders after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, nor, for
that matter, small but loyal ethnicities such as the Ossetians. Strategic
encirclement, in Russian eyes, prefigures the ethnic disintegration of Russia, which
was a political and cultural entity, not an ethnic state, from its first origins.The
Russians know (as every newspaper reader does) that Georgia's President Mikheil
Saakashvili is not a model democrat, but a nasty piece of work who deployed riot
police against protesters and shut down opposition media when it suited him - in
short, a politician in Putin's mold. America's interest in Georgia, the Russians
believe, has nothing more to do with promoting democracy than its support for the
gangsters to whom it handed the Serbian province of Kosovo in February.Again, the
Russians misjudge American stupidity. Former president Ronald Reagan used to say
that if there was a pile of manure, it must mean there was a pony around somewhere.
His epigones have trouble distinguishing the pony from the manure pile. The
ideological reflex for promoting democracy dominates the George W Bush
administration to the point that some of its senior people hold their noses and
pretend that Kosovo, Ukraine and Georgia are the genuine article.Think of it this
way: Russia is playing chess, while the Americans are playing Monopoly. What
Americans understand by "war games" is exactly what occurs on the board of the
Parker Brothers' pastime. The board game Monopoly is won by placing as many hotels
as possible on squares of the playing board. Substitute military bases, and you have
the sum of American strategic thinking.America's idea of winning a strategic game is
to accumulate the most chips on the board: bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a
pipeline in Georgia, a "moderate Muslim" government with a big North Atlantic Treaty
Organization base in Kosovo, missile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic,
and so forth. But this is not a strategy; it is only a game score.Chess players
think in terms of interaction of pieces: everything on the periphery combines to
control the center of the board and prepare an eventual attack against the
opponent's king. The Russians simply cannot absorb the fact that America has no
strategic intentions: it simply adds up the value of the individual pieces on the
board. It is as stupid as that. But there is another difference: the Americans are
playing chess for career and perceived advantage. Russia is playing for its life,
like Ingmar Bergman's crusader in The Seventh Seal.Dull people know that clever
people are cleverer than they are, but they do not know why. The nekulturny Colonel
Ralph Peters, a former US military intelligence analyst, is impressed by the
tactical success of Russian arms in Georgia, but cannot fathom the end-game to which
these tactics contribute. He writes, "The new reality is that a nuclear, cash-rich
and energy-blessed Russia doesn't really worry too much whether its long-term future
is bleak, given problems with Muslim minorities, poor life-expectancy rates, and a
declining population. Instead, in the here and now, it has a window of opportunity
to reclaim prestige and weaken its adversaries."Precisely the opposite is true: like
a good chess player, Putin has the end-game in mind as he fights for control of the
board in the early stages of the game. Demographics stand at the center of Putin's
calculation, and Russians are the principal interest that the Russian Federation has
in its so-called near abroad. The desire of a few hundred thousand Abkhazians and
South Ossetians to remain in the Russian Federation rather than Georgia may seem
trivial, but Moscow is setting a precedent that will apply to tens of millions of
prospective citizens of the Federation - most controversially in Ukraine.Before
turning to the demographics of the near abroad, a few observations about Russia's
demographic predicament are pertinent. The United Nations publishes population
projections for Russia up to 2050, and I have extended these to 2100. If the UN
demographers are correct, Russia's adult population will fall from about 90 million
today to only 20 million by the end of the century. Russia is the only country where
abortions are more numerous than live births, a devastating gauge of national
despair.Under Putin, the Russian government introduced an ambitious natalist program
to encourage Russian women to have children. As he warned in his 2006 state of the
union address, "You know that our country's population is declining by an average of
almost 700,000 people a year. We have raised this issue on many occasions but have
for the most part done very little to address it ... First, we need to lower the
death rate. Second, we need an effective migration policy. And third, we need to
increase the birth rate."Russia's birth rate has risen slightly during the past
several years, perhaps in response to Putin's natalism, but demographers observe
that the number of Russian women of childbearing age is about to fall off a cliff.
No matter how much the birth rate improves, the sharp fall in the number of
prospective mothers will depress the number of births. UN forecasts show the number
of Russians aged 20-29 falling from 25 million today to only 10 million by
2040.Russia, in other words, has passed the point of no return in terms of
fertility. Although roughly four-fifths of the population of the Russian Federation
is considered ethnic Russians, fertility is much higher among the Muslim minorities
in Central Asia. Some demographers predict a Muslim majority in Russia by 2040, and
by mid-century at the latest.Part of Russia's response is to encourage migration of
Russians left outside the borders of the federation after the collapse of communism
in 1991. An estimated 6.5 million Russians from the former Soviet Union now work in
Russia as undocumented aliens, and a new law will regularize their status. Only
20,000 Russian "compatriots" living abroad, however, have applied for immigration to
the federation under a new law designed to draw Russians back.That leaves the 9.5
million citizens of Belarus, a relic of the Soviet era that persists in a
semi-formal union with the Russian Federation, as well as the Russians of the
Western Ukraine and Kazakhstan. More than 15 million ethnic Russians reside in those
three countries, and they represent a critical strategic resource. Paul Goble in his
Window on Eurasia website reported on August 16:..............Moscow retreated after
encountering fierce opposition from other countries, but semi-legal practices of
obtaining Russian citizenship that began in former Soviet republics in the early
1990s continue unabated. There is plenty of evidence that there are one to two
million people living in the territory of the former Soviet Union who have de facto
dual citizenship and are reluctant to report it to the authorities. Russia did
little to stop the process. Moreover, starting in 1997, it encouraged de facto dual
citizenship................Russia has an existential interest in absorbing Belarus
and the Western Ukraine. No one cares about Byelorus. It has never had an
independent national existence or a national culture; the first grammar in the
Belorussian language was not printed until 1918, and little over a third of the
population of Belarus speaks the language at home. Never has a territory with 10
million people had a sillier case for independence. Given that summary, it seems
natural to ask why anyone should care about Ukraine. That question is controversial;
for the moment, I will offer the assertion that partition is the destiny of
Ukraine.Even with migration and annexation of former Russian territory that was lost
in the fracture of the USSR, however, Russia will not win its end-game against
demographic decline and the relative growth of Muslim populations. The key to
Russian survival is Russification, that is, the imposition of Russian culture
andRussian law on ethnicities at the periphery of the federation. That might sound
harsh, but that has been Russian nature from its origins.Russia is not an ethnicity
but an empire, the outcome of hundreds of years of Russification. That Russification
has been brutal is an understatement, but it is what created Russia out of the
ethnic morass around the Volga river basin. One of the best accounts of Russia's
character comes from Eugene Rosenstock-Huessey (Franz Rosenzweig's cousin and
sometime collaborator) in his 1938 book Out of Revolution. Russia's territory
tripled between the 16th and 18th centuries, he observes, and the agency of its
expansion was a unique Russian type. The Russian peasant, Rosenstock-Huessey
observed, "was no stable freeholder of the Western type but much more a nomad, a
pedlar, a craftsman and a soldier. His capacity for expansion was tremendous."In
1581 Asiatic Russia was opened. Russian expansion, extending even in the eighteenth
century as far as the Russian River in Northern California, was by no means
Czaristic only. The "Moujik", the Russian peasant, because he is not a "Bauer" or a
"farmer", or a "laborer", but a "Moujik", wanders and stays, ready to migrate again
eventually year after year.Russia was never a multi-ethnic state, but rather what I
call a supra-ethnic state, that is, a state whose national principle transcends
ethnicity. A reader has called my attention to an account of the most Russian of all
writers, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, of his own Russo-Lithuanian-Ukrainian
background:..........I suppose that one of my Lithuanian ancestors, having emigrated
to the Ukraine, changed his religion in order to marry an Orthodox Ukrainian, and
became a priest. When his wife died he probably entered a monastery, and later, rose
to be an archbishop. This would explain how the Archbishop Stepan may have founded
our Orthodox family, in spite of his being a monk. It is somewhat surprising to see
the Dostoyevsky, who had been warriors in Lithuania, become priests in Ukraine. But
this is quite in accordance with Lithuanian custom. I may quote the learned
Lithuanian W St Vidunas in this connection: "Formerly many well-to-do Lithuanians
had but one desire: to see one or more of their sons enter upon an ecclesiastical
career." ............................Dostoyevsky's mixed background was typically
Russian, as was the Georgian origin of Joseph Stalin.Russia intervened in Georgia to
uphold the principle that anyone who holds a Russian passport - Ossetian, Akhbaz,
Belorussian or Ukrainian - is a Russian. Russia's survival depends not so much on
its birth rate, nor on immigration, nor even on prospective annexation, but on the
survival of the principle by which Russia was built in the first place. That is why
Putin could not abandon the pockets of Russian passport holders in the Caucusus.
That Russia history has been tragic, and its nation-building principle brutal and
sometimes inhuman, is a different matter. Russia is sufficiently important that its
tragedy will be our tragedy, unless averted.The place to avert tragedy is in
Ukraine. Russia will not permit Ukraine to drift to the West. Whether a country that
never had an independent national existence prior to the collapse of communism
should become the poster-child for national self-determination is a different
question. The West has two choices: draw a line in the sand around Ukraine, or trade
it to the Russians for something more important.My proposal is simple: Russia's help
in containing nuclear proliferation and terrorism in the Middle East is of
infinitely greater import to the West than the dubious self-determination of
Ukraine. The West should do its best to pretend that the "Orange" revolution of 2004
and 2005 never happened, and secure Russia's assistance in the Iranian nuclear issue
as well as energy security in return for an understanding of Russia's existential
requirements in the near abroad. Anyone who thinks this sounds cynical should spend
a week in Kiev.Russia has more to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran than the United
States, for an aggressive Muslim state on its borders could ruin its attempt to
Russify Central Asia. Russia's strategic interests do not conflict with those of the
United States, China or India in this matter. There is a certain degree of rivalry
over energy resources, but commercial rivalry does not have to turn into strategic
enmity.If Washington chooses to demonize Russia, the likelihood is that Russia will
become a spoiler with respect to American strategic interests in general, and use
the Iranian problem to twist America's tail. That is a serious risk indeed, for
nuclear proliferation is the one means by which outlaw regimes can pose a serious
threat to great powers. Russia confronts questions not of expediency, but of
existence, and it will do whatever it can to gain maneuvering room should the West
seek to "punish" it for its actions in Georgia.One irony of the present crisis is
that Washington's neo-conservatives, by demanding a tough stance against Russia, may
have harmed Israel's security interests more profoundly than any of Israel's
detractors in American politics. The neo-conservatives are not as a rule Jewish, but
many of them are Jews who have a deep concern for Israel's security - as does this
writer. If America turns Russia into a strategic adversary, the probability of
Israel's survival will drop by a big
notch.http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/JH19Ag05.html
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« Reply #19 on: August 24, 2008, 09:46:19 AM »

Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
---------------------------

 

GEOPOLITICAL DIARY: THE IMPLICATIONS OF A RUSSO-SYRIAN PARTNERSHIP

Syrian President Bashar al Assad arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for a two-day visit
during which he will meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Al Assad's
invitation to Moscow was announced shortly after Russia began its military offensive
against Georgia. The timing was no coincidence, and Damascus fully intends to ride
Russia's wave of resurgence into regional prominence.

Russia and Syria had a close defense relationship during the Cold War, when the
Soviet Union maintained a naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian
coast and facilities at Syrian ports. In those days, Syria used its relationship
with Russia to protect itself from the threat of Israel. But that patronage dried up
even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Syrian defense structures -- its
air defense network, for example -- began falling into disrepair.

Syria's relationship to Russia under former President Vladimir Putin was not nearly
as accommodating as it was during the Cold War, and the Syrians have spent a great
deal of energy chasing armament deals with Russia, with no luck. For years -- but
especially after the September 2007 Israeli air raid that essentially sidestepped
the entire Syrian air defense network -- Damascus has grown more desperate for a
comprehensive upgrade to its air defense network. But talks with Russia have failed
to gain traction, and the Syrians have grown weary of being strung along. With
Russia's assertion of power in the Caucasus, however, Syria sees a chance to break
out of its diplomatic isolation.

Given U.S. sensitivity to developments in the Middle East, Syria is well positioned
to give Russia ways to meddle in Washington's affairs. The threat of increased
Russian weapons sales to Iran and Syria, coupled with Wednesday's hints of a Russian
carrier returning to the Mediterranean, are all useful tactics in sending Washington
a very clear message: Russia is a great power capable of influencing matters well
beyond its own borders.

For Damascus, Russia's resurgence is a great opportunity to strengthen its security
relationship with Moscow. Primarily, by reviving its ties with Russia, Syria could
compel Israel, the United States and Turkey to accelerate efforts to pull Damascus
out of the diplomatic cold. This would give Syria the political recognition and
influence that it has long craved; more importantly, Syria would gain physical
security.

Thus far, there have been no concrete reports of any major deals struck during al
Assad's trip to Moscow. However, Newsru.com, a subsidiary of Russia's NTV news
group, reported that al Assad has said he is ready to host a Russian base off the
Syrian coast again. Though the establishment of such a base of operations so far
beyond Russia's periphery would certainly be dramatic, there are limits to how far
Russia can go in the Middle East. Tactically speaking, a Russian fleet based in the
Mediterranean would essentially be surrounded by NATO allies, and hemmed in by
Turkish territory. The sheer superiority of U.S., Turkish, NATO and Israeli naval
assets in the region puts any small deployment at a severe disadvantage.

Furthermore, any extension of Russian influence in the Middle East must balance the
needs of several actors -- all of whom are in delicate negotiations with one
another. For instance, the Russians and the Israelis have their own ongoing
negotiations in which Israel has reportedly appealed to Moscow to continue
restricting weapons sales to Syria and Iran in exchange for Israel's restraint in
providing military assistance to Georgia. This is a significant barrier to a real
Damascus-Moscow security deal, as Russia is heavily invested in maintaining control
in Georgia.

But Syria's hopes for a real alignment with Russia are only part of the cascade of
reactions as nations internalize Russia's renewed assertiveness. First and foremost,
of course, are the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iran over the
future of Iraq. Iran is currently calculating its options; obviously, it must
carefully balance its relations with Russia and its talks with the United States.
And Iran would like to expand its arms deals with Russia dramatically, but fears
Russia's resurgence in the Caucasus. Turkey is also in play. As a NATO member and
neighbor of Georgia, Turkey finds itself right in the middle of the U.S.-Russian
rivalry and must seek a balance.

More than anything else, Syria's ability to exploit the Russian comeback in the
Caucasus will depend on just how drastically Russia plans to upset U.S. foreign
policy at this stage in the game. Syria certainly has assets to offer Moscow, but
Russia will be considering much more than just Syria as it moves forward from this
point. 

Copyright 2008 Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
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« Reply #20 on: September 02, 2008, 11:17:34 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: The Medvedev Doctrine
September 2, 2008 | 0202 GMT
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gave an extraordinary interview on Russian television’s Channel One over the weekend. In the course of the interview, Medvedev unveiled a five-point doctrine that would govern Russia’s foreign policy going forward. It came in the course of an interviewer’s questions, but the statement was obviously well thought out and planned. It is to be seen as a statement of Russian national policy and is worth presenting here verbatim in translation by the Kremlin:

“I will make five principles the foundation for my work in carrying out Russia’s foreign policy.

First, Russia recognizes the primacy of the fundamental principles of international law, which define the relations between civilized peoples. We will build our relations with other countries within the framework of these principles and this concept of international law.

Second, the world should be multipolar. A single-pole world is unacceptable. Domination is something we cannot allow. We cannot accept a world order in which one country makes all the decisions, even as serious and influential a country as the United States of America. Such a world is unstable and threatened by conflict.

Third, Russia does not want confrontation with any other country. Russia has no intention of isolating itself. We will develop friendly relations with Europe, the United States, and other countries, as much as is possible.

Fourth, protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestionable priority for our country. Our foreign policy decisions will be based on this need. We will also protect the interests of our business community abroad. It should be clear to all that we will respond to any aggressive acts committed against us.

Finally, fifth, as is the case of other countries, there are regions in which Russia has privileged interests. These regions are home to countries with which we share special historical relations and are bound together as friends and good neighbors. We will pay particular attention to our work in these regions and build friendly ties with these countries, our close neighbors. These are the principles I will follow in carrying out our foreign policy.

As for the future, it depends not only on us but also on our friends and partners in the international community. They have a choice.”

The interviewer then asked for greater definition of the Russian areas of interest. Medvedev replied, “The countries on our borders are priorities, of course, but our priorities do not end there.”

The most important points to take away from this, from our point of view, are as follows. First, the events in Georgia are not to be seen as isolated, but as part of a general shift in Russian policy. Second, the Russians are claiming responsibility for Russian citizens anywhere. This is particularly important in the Baltics, where Russian citizens constitute substantial minorities, and in Ukraine. Russia is making it clear that the treatment of Russians in other regions is a fundamental interest in its foreign policy. Third, the Russians are declaring a sphere of interest in the former Soviet Union, and saying that friendly relations with these countries is essential to Russia. This also means that these countries may not have the option of pursuing policies that Russia regards as unfriendly. Finally, Russian interests are not confined to the former Soviet Union. That obviously means that they extend to Eastern Europe and, in all likelihood, the Middle East as well.

We see this interview as not quite a formal doctrine, but a clear indication of Russian thinking. It is clear that the Russians have now publicly announced what is obvious: Russia has a new foreign policy, and it is ambitious and will unfold quickly rather than slowly.
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« Reply #21 on: September 09, 2008, 11:22:29 PM »

Russia's Next Target
Could Be Ukraine
By LEON ARON
September 10, 2008; Page A15
WSJ

Perhaps the most urgent question in the world affairs today is whether Russia's invasion and continuing occupation of Georgia was a singular event. Or was it the onset of a distinct, and profoundly disturbing, national security and foreign policy agenda?

Much as one would like to cling to the former theory, the evidence favors the latter. A European delegation led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy did manage this week to get assurances that Russian troops would withdraw from Georgia (excepting Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose independence Moscow says is "irrevocable"). But ultimately, this short war is likely to be remembered as the beginning of a decisive shift in Russia's national priorities. The most compelling of these new priorities today seems to be recovery of the assets lost in the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, which Vladimir Putin has called the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

 
How does Russia achieve this goal? By dominating the domestic politics and, more importantly, economic- and foreign-policy orientation, of the former Soviet republics. Anything considered antithetical to Russia's interests, as interpreted by the current Kremlin leadership, must be discarded -- be it democratization, oil and gas exports that bypass Russia, and, especially, the membership in the Western organizations such as the European Union and NATO. And if, in the process, Russia must sacrifice most or even all of the fruits of the post-Soviet rapprochement with the West -- including membership in the G-8, entry to the World Trade Organization or ties to the EU -- so be it.

Russia's "targets of opportunity" include simmering border disputes (and virtually all Russia's borders with newly independent states could be disputed, since they are but the very badly demarcated internal borders of the Soviet Union), and the presence of the ethnic Russian or Russian-speaking minorities in neighboring countries.

Apart from Estonia and Latvia -- where ethnic Russians constitute over a quarter of the population, but where NATO membership raises the risk for the Kremlin -- by far the most likely target is Ukraine. Kiev has repeatedly defied and angered Russia by the domestic politics of democratization, a decidedly pro-Western orientation, and the eagerness of its leadership to join NATO. Nearly one in five Ukraine citizens are ethnically Russian (a total of almost eight million) and live mostly in the country's northeast, adjacent to the Russian border.

Mr. Putin has made his contempt for Ukrainian sovereignty clear, most notably at the NATO summit in Bucharest last April when, according to numerous reports in the Russian and Ukrainian press, he told President Bush that the Ukraine is "not even a real state," that much of its territory was "given away" by Russia, and that it would "cease to exist as a state" if it dared join NATO. Clearly, Vice President Cheney's trip to Ukraine this past weekend, where he expressed America's "deep commitment" to this "democratic nation" and its "right" to join NATO, was intended as a message to Moscow.

Still, there is no better place to cause a political crisis in Ukraine and force a change in the country's leadership, already locked in a bitter internecine struggle, than the Crimean peninsula. It was wrestled by Catherine the Great from the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 18th century. Less than a quarter of the Crimeans are ethnic Ukrainians, while Russians make up over half the inhabitants (the pro-Ukrainian Crimean Tatars, one-fifth).

Ever since the 1997 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, signed by President Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, a solid majority of the Russian parliament has opposed the recognition of the Crimea as Ukrainian territory. Russian nationalists have been especially adamant about the city of Sevastopol, the base for Russia's Black Sea fleet and the site of some of the most spectacular feats of Russian military valor and sacrifice in World War II and the Crimean War of 1854-55.

Nationalist politicians, including Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, have repeatedly traveled to Crimea to show the flag and support the Russian irredentists -- many of them retired Russian military officers who periodically mount raucous demonstrations. In 2006, their protests forced the cancellation of the joint Ukraine-NATO Sea Breeze military exercises. Sevastopol was and should again be a Russian city," Mr. Luzhkov declared this past May, and the Moscow City Hall has appropriated $34 million for "the support of compatriots abroad" over the next three years. On Sept. 5, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Vladimir Ogryzko accused the Russian consulate in the Crimean capital of Simferopol of distributing Russian passports to the inhabitants of the peninsula.

With almost three-quarters of Sevastopol's 340,000 residents ethnically Russian, and 14,000 Russian Navy personnel already "on the inside" (they've been known to don civilian clothes and participate in demonstrations by Russian Crimean irredentists), an early morning operation in which the Ukrainian mayor and officials are deposed and arrested and the Russian flag hoisted over the city should not be especially hard to accomplish. Once established, Russian sovereignty over Sevastopol would be impossible to reverse without a large-scale war, which Ukraine will be most reluctant to initiate and its Western supporters would strongly discourage.

A potentially bolder (and likely bloodier) scenario might involve a provocation by the Moscow-funded, and perhaps armed, Russian nationalists (or the Russian special forces, spetznaz, posing as irredentists). They could declare Russian sovereignty over a smaller city (Alushta, Evpatoria, Anapa) or a stretch of inland territory. In response, Ukrainian armed forces based in the Crimea outside Sevastopol would likely counterattack. The ensuing bloodshed would provide Moscow with the interventionist excuse of protecting its compatriots -- this time, unlike in South Ossetia, ethnic Russians.

Whatever the operational specifics, the Russian political barometer seems to augur storms ahead.

Mr. Aron, director of Russian studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author, most recently, of "Russia's Revolution: Essays 1989-2006" (AEI Press, 2007).
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« Reply #22 on: November 06, 2008, 10:11:35 AM »

Russia: More Central Asian Energy Under the Kremlin's Thumb
Stratfor Today » November 5, 2008 | 1950 GMT

ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) and Kazakh President Nursultan NazarbayevSummary
Russia increased its share in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) to 31 percent after buying a 7 percent stake from Oman, Russian daily Kommersant reported Nov. 5. The Kremlin has now reached its objective in controlling a key east-west oil pipeline in Central Asia, giving Russia even greater leverage in tampering with Caspian crude exports to the West in accordance with the Russian geopolitical agenda. With CPC under its belt, Moscow’s eyes will now turn to the only remaining Central Asian pipeline outside its control: the Kazakhstan-China pipeline.

Analysis

The Russian government bought a 7 percent stake in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) from Oman, raising its share in the project to 31 percent, Russian daily Kommersant reported Nov. 5, citing sources from Russia’s Transneft, which operates the CPC. The deal is believed to have been struck during an Oct. 30 meeting between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Kommersant sources claim that Russia bought the stake from Oman for around $350 million — about half the starting price that Hungarian energy group MOL had offered. The hefty discount that Russia apparently got on this deal was in all likelihood thanks to a number of political and energy levers Moscow used to gain the approval of Nazarbayev and the other consortium members.

Related Special Topic Pages
Russian Energy and Foreign Policy
Central Asian Energy: Circumventing Russia

Russia’s acquisition of the Omani stake in CPC is no ordinary business deal. The negotiations with Oman over this stake were rooted in Russia’s core geopolitical interest in monopolizing Kazakhstan’s export routes and bullying Astana’s energy clients, in yet another move to consolidate Russia’s control in its Central Asian periphery. The 935-mile CPC pipeline runs from the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, carrying around 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from the Caspian Sea region across the Caucasus to the global crude market. There are plans for the pipeline’s capacity to be expanded to 1.3 million bpd by 2010.

The CPC pipeline has been a challenge for the Russians since it was first commissioned in 2001. Prior to the deal with Oman, the consortium was run by three governments (Russia, Kazakhstan and Oman) and 10 companies representing seven countries, including U.S. energy giant Chevron.

The Russians previously tried a number of heavy-handed tactics to cripple the consortium so they could then swoop in and take full possession of the largely U.S.-funded and privately owned pipeline. Those tactics included having Transneft try to drive the consortium into bankruptcy by charging millions of dollars in transit fees and back taxes, halting Russian crude shipments to the pipeline and delaying the CPC’s expansion plans for years.

All these moves backfired, however, and pushed Astana closer to entertaining energy deals with the West and especially the Chinese, who have long been yearning to get a strong energy foothold in Central Asia. The more Russia bullied, the less Kazakhstan felt compelled to maintain a commitment to Soviet-era pipelines and railroads to ship its crude, and the more interested it became in trying to strike a balance among Russia, China and the West.

Though Kazakhstan has notably increased its energy independence in recent years, it still has not been able to break free from Moscow, particularly when it has much to fear from the Russian Federal Security Service’s strong presence in the country. Now that Oman and Russia have struck this deal over CPC, Russia has a lot more leverage in influencing how Astana manages its future energy relations.

Russia previously held a 24 percent stake in the consortium, which was not enough for the Kremlin to use the pipeline as a tool in its foreign policy arsenal. According to Russian law, a stake of at least 25 percent is required to veto management decisions of any company or consortium. Now that it holds a 31 percent stake, the Kremlin can control the CPC’s actions and block any decisions made by the consortium that go against Russian interests. This means Russia can raise transit fees and block crude shipments at will in accordance with its political preference while consolidating control over Western-extracted oil from Kazakh oilfields.

In addition, Russia now has more leverage over Russian oil producers who have opted to load more of their crude into the CPC pipeline as opposed to the Atyrau-Samara pipeline, which is linked to Russia’s state-owned oil transport monopoly Transneft to save on transit fees. Transneft will be much relieved to see Russia gain a bigger chunk of the CPC, and thus more control over the pipeline’s pricing to direct which way Kazakh crude will flow.

With the CPC locked down, Russia will now be freed up to target the last remaining Central Asian pipeline that has escaped the Kremlin’s grip: the Kazakhstan-China pipeline. China has watched carefully as Kazakh-Russian ties have eroded since the fall of the Soviet Union. Planning its moves into Central Asia carefully, China has built up a strong relationship with Astana and has signed a series of deals to fund new roads, railroads, and oil extraction and production. Most importantly, energy-hungry China is in the process of building a 200,000 bpd pipeline that runs across the entire width of Kazakhstan, and it also plans to construct a natural gas pipeline from Kazakhstan to Turkmenistan.

The last thing Russia wants to see is some 2 million bpd of crude and 70 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year diverted away from Russian-controlled energy networks. Not only would such an outcome deal a heavy blow to the Russian economy, it would also constrain Russia in supplying European energy contracts — an area key to Russia’s ability to bully Europe on political matters — and seriously undermine Russia’s influence in Central Asia.

The Chinese, therefore, have much to be concerned about. They can expect to be hit with all the usual Russian pressure tactics, including delays on construction, monopolizing consortiums and pressure on Astana to hike expenses. Many of these tactics are already in play, but the geopolitical balance is now tilting more strongly in Moscow’s favor. With the CPC deal, Russia has taken care of a huge obstacle in monopolizing Kazakhstan’s energy export options to the West. Russia’s attention can now be expected to turn eastward to China’s energy networks in Central Asia.

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« Reply #23 on: November 07, 2008, 05:41:24 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Medvedev's Carefully Timed Address
November 6, 2008
On Wednesday, as the entire world took in the idea of having Barack Obama as the next U.S. president, one of the greatest challengers to American power, Russia, decided to make itself immediately clear on its views of the current U.S. administration, Obama’s election and the global U.S. agenda.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gave his long-awaited first State of the State address (the equivalent of the U.S. president’s State of the Union address) on Nov. 5. The speech was much more than a nationalist appeal liberally sprinkled with Soviet-era rhetoric; it was a declaration of Russia’s return to the ranks of the world’s great powers. In effect, Medvedev not only tossed the gauntlet for Russia’s rivals in the West, but he also is not waiting around to see how they respond.

It must be understood that Medvedev — while he is certainly coming into his own under the sponsorship of his mentor, former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin –- did not write this speech himself. The author is the Kremlin’s gray cardinal, Vladislav Surkov, who has played the role of backroom dealer, enforcer, planner and puppet master for Putin for most of the past eight years. Surkov does not control Putin — far from it -– but in many ways is the brains behind much of what happens in the Kremlin these days.

It was Surkov who recommended that Medvedev’s speech, originally scheduled for Oct. 23, be postponed. Ostensibly, the delay was meant to allow Russia more time to deal with its deepening financial crisis, but in reality, Surkov wanted to know which presidential candidate the Americans were going to elect. The speech was already written. In fact, according to Stratfor sources, two speeches had been written — one for each possible outcome of the U.S. election. In waiting for a clear picture on whom Moscow would be dealing with in Washington, Russia underscored the central role the United States plays in the international system, and that Moscow views Washington as its main counterweight.

Unlike many previous State of the State addresses, Medvedev’s Nov. 5 speech contained few veiled threats or simple proclamations. Instead, it announced hard actions, including the following statements:

Russia will deploy Iskander short-range ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave sandwiched between NATO and EU states Lithuania and Poland, in order to directly target the fledgling U.S. ballistic missile defense installations slated for Poland and the Czech Republic. (The Iskanders’ limited range will allow them to put only the Polish site at risk.)
Russia will return to a more Soviet-style system of term limits in order to more firmly entrench the power of the Putin team.
Moscow will not even consider negotiations with the lame-duck administration of President George W. Bush, preferring instead to wait for President-elect Barack Obama’s team, which Moscow thinks will be easier to manipulate (whether or not this proves true).
The United States is to blame not only for Russia’s war with Georgia, but also for the global financial crisis.
Russia will not make any concessions on its international position; the United States can take it or leave it.
All in all, these statements bear a degree of boldness that has long been present in Russian propaganda, though not necessarily backed up by any particular actions. Russia’s goal is simple: Use the three-month U.S. presidential transition period to impose a reality on the regions Moscow considers of core interest, presenting soon-to-be President Obama with a fait accompli. Most of Russia’s efforts will focus on Ukraine, but attention also will be spread throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as the Baltics, Belarus, Poland and the Czech Republic.

These states are already nervous about Obama’s ability to stand up to Russia’s new swagger, especially since he has never outlined a firm stance against Moscow and will be embroiled in other critical affairs, like Iraq and Iran. Now, Medvedev has told these states outright that Russia is about to act while the Americans can’t. He is playing on the states’ fears to push them into making a choice: Continue to depend on the United States (whether its support comes through or not), work with Moscow, or get crushed in the process.

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« Reply #24 on: November 20, 2008, 09:41:02 AM »

Russia to build nuclear reactor for Chávez

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev expected to sign a nuclear agreement next week

Rory Carroll in Caracas
Luke Harding in Moscow
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday November 18 2008 20.55 GMT


Russia's deepening strategic partnership with Venezuela took a dramatic step forward today when it emerged that Moscow has agreed to build Venezuela's first ever nuclear reactor.

President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez, during a visit to Latin America next week, part of a determined Russian push into the region.

The reactor is to be named after Humberto Fernandez Moran, a late Venezuelan research scientist and former science minister, Chávez has announced. It is one of many accords he hopes to sign while hosting Medvedev in Caracas next week.

The prospect of a nuclear deal between Moscow and Caracas, following a surge in Russian economic, military, political and intelligence activity in Latin America, is likely to alarm the US and present an early challenge to the Obama administration.

"Hugo Chávez joins the nuclear club," Russian's Vedomosti newspaper trumpeted today.

Venezuela's socialist leader said the reactor may be based in the eastern state of Zulia. He stressed that the project would be for peaceful purposes. As if to underline that point, four Japanese survivors from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs visited Venezuela this week at the government's invitation.

The energy ministry, which is scouting locations, said the project was at a very early stage. A report which mooted a nuclear reactor long before Chávez came to power has been dusted off.

Despite abundant oil reserves, Venezuela's energy infrastructure is creaking and prone to blackouts. A nuclear reactor would enable the country to utilise its rich uranium deposits and allay criticism that the government has neglected energy investment.

More importantly for Moscow and Caracas, a nuclear deal will showcase a partnership which advocates creating new "poles" of power to check American hegemony.

Nick Day, a Latin American specialist, said the nuclear deal was deliberately timed to pile pressure on the US administration during a moment of transition and weakness.

"Russia is manoeuvring hard in the time between Obama's election and his inauguration. What the Russians are trying to do is to set up a chessboard that gives them greater mobility in negotiations when he [Obama] comes to power," Day said.

He added: "Russia's message is: 'We can exert influence in your backyard if you continue to exert influence in our backyard. If you don't take your missiles out of Poland and end Nato expansion we're going to increase our influence in Latin America and do things to provoke you.'"

According to Sergei Novikov, spokesman for Russia's federal nuclear agency, no reactor can be built until both countries have signed a preliminary agreement on nuclear cooperation. This will be signed next week, Novikov told Vedomosti.

Both presidents are also expected to firm up details of a Russian-Venezuelan energy consortium to jointly produce and sell oil and gas.

Russian companies which are already exploring oilfields in Venezuela could then extend their reach to fields in Ecuador and Bolivia.

Venezuela has bought $4bn of Russian arms, including Sukhoi fighter jets, making it one of Moscow's best clients. Chávez has spoken of also buying Project 636 diesel submarines, Mi-28 combat helicopters, T72 tanks and air-defence systems.

Despite the spending spree, Venezuela's military has not tipped the regional balance of power.

Chávez's armed forces lag behind that of Brazil, Chile and Colombia and analysts question Venezuelan effectiveness.

For Russia's president, however, Caracas is a valuable springboard into Latin America. In addition to Venezuela, Medvedev will visit Peru, Brazil and Cuba — the first trip by a Russian leader to Havana in eight years.

Moscow has spoken of reviving Soviet-era intelligence cooperation with the communist island and in a sign of dramatically improved ties, President Raul Castro last month attended the opening of a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Havana.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008...ssia-venezuela
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« Reply #25 on: January 12, 2009, 02:27:37 AM »

By GARRY KASPAROV
Those looking for a bright side in the global economic meltdown are fond of invoking the old line about finding opportunity in a crisis. But also keep in mind that there are those who will incite a new crisis to escape or distract from the current one. This is the scenario looming in Russia as the Kremlin faces increasing pressure on multiple fronts.

 
APRussia and its fellow petrodictatorships are in dire need of a way to ratchet up global tensions to inflate the sagging price of oil. Petrodictators, after all, need petrodollars to stay in power. The war in Gaza and the otherwise inexplicable skirmish with Ukraine over natural gas have helped the Kremlin in this regard, but $50 a barrel isn't going to be nearly enough. It will have to reach at least $100 and it will have to happen soon.

The effects of the financial crisis are rapidly reaching every level of Russian society. With no avenue for political expression left open to us, Russians are ready to take to the streets. Vladimir Putin has reacted true to form, ramming through new "anti-extremism" laws, building up the interior ministry's paramilitary police forces, and increasing the volume of the xenophobic propaganda in state-controlled media.

The natural place for the Kremlin to find its new crisis is the Middle East. Open hostilities between Iran and Israel would lift the price of oil back to a level that would allow Mr. Putin and his gang to keep funding the crackdown. Israel's anxiety over Iran's nuclear-weapon ambitions is the most vulnerable link in a very weak chain.

There persists a very damaging myth in the West, spouted by politicians and the press, that says Russia's assistance is needed with Iran and other rogue states. In fact, the Kremlin has been stirring this pot for years and has a vested interest in further increasing turmoil in the region. The Hamas/Hezbollah rockets, based on the Russian Katyusha and Grad, are not delivered via DHL from Allah. It doesn't require the guile of a KGB man like Mr. Putin to imagine a way to accelerate Iran's nuclear program, which has been aided by Russian technology and protected by the Kremlin from meaningful international action.

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So the question for Western leaders is whether they doubt Mr. Putin would hesitate to provoke a war in the Middle East. If his regime falls, he and his cronies will face the loss of their immense fortunes and criminal prosecution when their looting is exposed. What are thousands of lives in the Middle East to a Kremlin mob that is openly preparing for the day when they will have to open fire on their own citizens to stay in power?

This "mad bear" theory is even more plausible when you consider how tolerant the current cohort of Western leaders has been regarding the destruction of democratic rights around the world. There appears to be no line the world's despots -- and would-be despots -- cannot cross with impunity.

It is time to bury the failed model of dealing with the world's antidemocratic and bloodthirsty regimes. The real change we must effect in 2009 is toward a new global emphasis on the value of human life. Anything less confirms to the enemies of democratic civilization that everything is negotiable. For Mr. Putin that means democracy; for Hamas it means Israel's existence. The Free World must take those chips off the table.

Israel has the capability to annihilate Gaza to secure the safety of its people, but it chooses not to do so because the Israelis value human life. Does anyone doubt for a moment what Hamas would do if it had the power to wipe out every one of the five-and-a-half million Jews in Israel? Hamas should not be considered less a villain simply because it does not as yet possess the means to fulfill its genocidal agenda.

Terror suspects such as the United Kingdom's "liquid-bomb" plotters and the recently convicted group plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at the Fort Dix military base were arrested before they were able to carry out their lethal plans. Those who call Israel's assault on Gaza disproportionate should write down on a piece of paper exactly how many Israelis should die before the Israeli Defense Forces respond.


The leaders of Europe and the U.S. are hoping that the tyrants and autocrats of the world will just disappear. But dinosaurs like Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chávez and Iran's ayatollahs are not going to fade away by natural causes. They survive because the leaders of the Free World are afraid to take a stand.

Years from now, when Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe is either dead or deposed, his legacy will lead to another genocide trial in The Hague. Why don't Western powers, many of whom are condemning Israel's action in Gaza, take action now to stop the extermination in Zimbabwe instead of waiting a decade for a trial? Criticizing Israel is easy while rescuing Zimbabwe is hard. Choosing the path of least resistance is moral cowardice. It does not avoid difficult decisions, it only postpones them.

Mr. Putin's Russia has invaded one neighbor and is threatening to freeze much of Europe by shutting down natural gas pipelines that flow through Ukraine. But since confronting Mr. Putin would take courage, Western leaders pretend his help is needed. This policy of self-deception will have disastrous consequences.

The futile pursuit of balance and neutrality by Western leaders and the media has become nothing more than a cover-up for the gravest of crimes. No doubt they would have judiciously considered the "legitimate grievances" of Stalin, Hitler and bin Laden. The time to stand up to such monsters is before they have achieved their horrific goals, not after.

Mr. Kasparov, leader of The Other Russia coalition, is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal.
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« Reply #26 on: January 20, 2009, 10:19:51 AM »

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office released a letter Monday revealing Russia’s readiness to provide “broad” military assistance to Afghanistan. The letter, written by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, was Moscow’s response to a request for aid that Karzai had reportedly made in November 2008.

Medvedev’s letter was intentionally vague, simply stating that defense cooperation between Moscow and Kabul would be “effective for both countries” and “for establishing peace in the region.” The letter also calls for Moscow and Kabul to specify the grounds for cooperation moving forward. Though the letter itself didn’t say much, the timing of its release is absolutely critical.

Russia was sending a very deliberate message to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on the eve of his inauguration. The top issues on Obama’s foreign policy agenda will involve turning the war around in Afghanistan and dealing with a resurgent Russia. The Russians are essentially signaling to Obama that if he expects any progress on the former, he is going to have to concede quite a lot on the latter.

Whether Russia is working to tear down a pro-Western government in Ukraine or sabotage Europe’s alternative energy projects, trying to reduce the United States’ military presence in Central Asia or finding new ways to damage NATO’s credibility, Moscow would much rather Washington stay out of its way — or better yet, facilitate Moscow’s moves — as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin methodically works to tighten the Kremlin’s grip on the former Soviet sphere of influence. The Russians recognize that the war in Afghanistan is not going well for the Americans, and that the United States is prepared to invest considerable time and resources for a revised military campaign led by Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus. If the Russians can insert themselves into the Afghanistan equation, where U.S. military interests are currently concentrated, the more leverage Moscow will gain relative to the United States on issues deemed vital to Moscow’s interests.

The Russians already have a number of options in Afghanistan. For a variety of reasons, Pakistan has become more and more difficult for the United States to rely on as a military supply route into Afghanistan. Consequently, the U.S. military has little choice but to develop an alternative. While there are several variations on the theme, the alternative route likely would traverse Central Asian territory that is under Moscow’s control — if not Russian territory itself. Petraeus is currently on a tour through Central Asia to work out details on this alternate supply line, but if the White House wants Petraeus’ Afghanistan strategy to bear fruit, it will need Russian cooperation, which will not come for free.

But Putin isn’t stopping at the Afghan border. Afghanistan is familiar territory for the Russians – territory that they have viewed as part of their geopolitical cordon. Even after Russia fought its own bloody war with the Afghans, Moscow developed close ties with members of the Northern Alliance — an ethnic Tajik-dominated coalition that Russia and Iran have supported against the Pashtun-dominated Taliban. The Russians, who have a strong interest in containing the Taliban and preventing the spread of radical Islamist doctrine into the Muslim-populated regions of Russia, relied heavily on the Northern Alliance to retain a foothold in this region while the Taliban was still in power. Moreover, Russia has expanded its influence in Afghanistan to include links to some Pashtun tribes between Kabul and Kandahar that belonged to the secular Communist movement, which ruled Afghanistan for 14 years before Islamist forces took over in 1992.

It was not too long ago that the United States was forced to recognize Russian influence in Afghanistan. During preparations for the U.S. invasion in 2001, Washington relied on Moscow and the Russian-supported Northern Alliance to facilitate the invasion and topple the Taliban. But at that time, Putin’s resurgence strategy was still in its infancy. More importantly, Putin believed that the Americans would turn a blind eye to Moscow’s strategy in the former Soviet Union in return for its help in Afghanistan. Eight years later, Russia is more unified, stronger, determined and better positioned to demand much more from the Americans in return for its cooperation.

Through Medvedev’s letter to Karzai — which, not by coincidence, comes as the United States and NATO are publicly criticizing Karzai for not doing enough to support the war effort against the Taliban — Russia is showcasing its influence in Afghanistan, as well as its goal of increasing cooperation with a regime in Kabul that is on shaky ground with the West. Russia has enough of a foothold in Afghanistan to make things difficult for Washington should the need arise. And the last thing the United States needs is for a hostile power like Russia, upon which it must rely for supply lines into Afghanistan, to cause more friction in a critical region at a time when Washington is desperately trying to reduce friction.

Russia has issued a veiled threat for Obama to ponder in the early days of his presidency. It is a threat that deliberately lacks details about what the Russians can or plan to do in Afghanistan, but it will make Washington think twice about moves that would impede Moscow’s resurgent path. For the moment, that is probably enough for Moscow to make its point in Washington.
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« Reply #27 on: January 28, 2009, 11:40:29 AM »

What follows is quite a bit different from our usual fare here-- but then our mission is to Search for Truth.  Not saying this piece doesn't have deception, misdirection, and outright lies too, but I do find it interesting.  Comments?
===============

http://www.russiatoday.com/guests/detail/1801


Dmitry Rogozin

American missiles to be deployed in Poland are capable of hitting Moscow in just four minutes, which makes them totally provocative weapons, says Russia’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin.

Dmitry Rogozin: I was a State Duma deputy for 11 years. I know very well the work of parliamentarians in the West. In the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I was the leader of a political group. What is going on in the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO is something quite uncommon and not customary for western parliamentarianism. Usually, they try to invite both sides to discussions, even if it’s just for the sake of appearances. They might have concealed some aspects while emphasizing others, but flatly declining the presence of an official Russian representative at a discussion with Saakashvili on a matter they call the “Russian-Georgian conflict” is just plain wrong. This is why I considered it impossible to accept the invitation to attend the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Valencia. In turn, I invited leaders of national delegations to the Assembly to our mission in Brussels. We’ll talk there.

Sometimes I get the impression that we and they live on different planets. At first, even before the dust had settled after the bombing of Tskhinval, we heard “It does not matter who attacked whom”. I wish they had tried to tell the same to the U.S. after 9/11.

A while later, when human rights activists such as Human Rights Watch started reporting military crimes, our Western counterparts slowly began to change their point of view. But even that is admitted only in their internal discussions, while they keep telling us that Russia’s intrusion in Georgia is unacceptable, as is Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

It’s a Biblical situation: they are looking at a splinter in our eye while refusing to notice the log in theirs.

Frankly, I don’t believe it. We’ve discussed it repeatedly with many influential European politicians, and the picture looks as follows: Europe is a neighbor of Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia. Imagine that you live in an apartment next to a Ukrainian flat, where a girl called Yulia is running back and forth, yelling and shouting, between two men named Viktor. It’s a Brazilian soap opera, the several-hundredth episode of it.

In another apartment, an insane maniac is running around with a knife, threatening to stab everyone he sees. That’s the Georgian apartment. Hearing all this racket from behind a wall is one thing; breaking down the wall between apartments and inviting everyone to your place is quite different. There are different people in Europe, but they are not crazy, especially the politicians. I doubt they will take any such steps.

It is clear that neither Albania, nor Croatia, nor Macedonia, nor Bosnia and Herzegovina, nor Ukraine, nor Georgia can be considered powers in a military sense. Their military potential is zero. It’s even lower than that, I would say. So it’s not about acquiring valuable military allies, it’s purely a political matter. As the westerners themselves admit, it’s a matter of a new political identity for the newly admitted countries. And this is the anti-Russian thing. This is why, when anybody in the Ukraine tries to change identity, to change Ukraine’s historical choice, or, to put it simply, to tear Ukraine away from Russia, we are anxious. How else should we feel when there are so many ties with Russia? 40% of Russian families have immediate relatives in Ukraine, and 80% of Ukrainian families have relatives in Russia. This connection is impossible to break up. This is why such plans should be viewed as breakaway and aimed against Russia.

The same is true about Georgia. You see, guys like Saakashvili come and go, but there is still a history of relationships between our two countries, and it is far richer than what has happened over the last few years. Again, this breaking away from Russia is a strange attempt to legalise Georgia’s territorial gains in the form of Abkhazia and Ossetia, which were never part of the state of Georgia. I think that all this is just an attempt to isolate the Russian bear, to force it into its lair. There is one problem, though, and every hunter knows that. You can hunt a bear down, you can badger it, but it’s dangerous to come close to it. Therefore, NATO closing in on Russia is dangerous: any hunter can tell you that.

The chances are pretty low so far. It’s due to the inertia of the Cold War mentality. In general, what Russia is suggesting is very good. We suggest principles that are really hard to object to. Who is going to deny that security should be equal, indispensable and indivisible for all? Who could be against demilitarizing the entire centre of the European continent using military force solely to defend our common borders in the Pacific area? Who could be against ruling out military planning, especially nuclear planning, against each other? These things are totally reasonable; it’s a new world outlook. It’s a new vision of collective security for everyone. Therefore, what Medvedev is offering is hardly questionable.

The problem is a different matter altogether. The problem is that employees of all international organizations think, “What’s going to happen to me personally?” I refer to employees of the NATO Secretariat, employees of the European Commission, and employees of the OSCE headquarters in Vienna - they all think this. “Will I keep getting my several-thousand-euro paycheck if that Medvedev guy realizes his concept?” They are afraid that a moment will come when people will simply sweep those lardy European bureaucrats out of their cozy seats. It’s that selfish, small-minded, paltry psychology of Euro-Atlantic bureaucrats that can ruin such a great initiative. Well, I still believe this concept will win through sooner or later.

For example, what they are discussing now is the unacceptability of Russia’s plan to deploy its Iskander missile systems in the Kaliningrad Region. As for the fact that the U.S. has already began deploying its launch systems in Poland and is about to press the Czechs into approving the deployment of a radar station there, nobody in Europe seems to care about that. Everybody would rather believe the fairy-tales of bad Iranian guys or some Bin Laden having snatched a missile somewhere and running around with it, preparing to fire it at the civilized European world. This is rubbish. Nobody can steal a strategic missile. No Bin Laden can do that. But nevertheless, since this myth is being touted by America, Europe prefers to stay silent. That flaccid, spineless reaction of Europe to America’s actions and to Russia’s responses to them only proves one thing: Europe still doesn’t have its own political face. It’s wealthy, but politically spineless. It’s like a big, thick, but very flexible, pencil.

Let’s just hope Russia’s deployment of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad will influence Europe’s attitude towards America’s missile defence plans. For us, it is important to have the military means to counterbalance those plans, which indeed threaten our security. You see, the thing is that the American missiles to be deployed in Poland can be used in several ways. They can not only shoot down descending ballistic missiles, but they can also engage surface targets. That is, they can be fired at Moscow from Poland, and they are so quick and accurate that a missile can get to Moscow in just four minutes and fly into Russian Prime Minister’s office through the window! I am not joking! This is a destabilising, misbalancing, and totally provocative weapon.

===========

How can we stand for that? Of course, we will find an adequate military response. That is, unless we find a political response first. Well, we so hope that they are sensible enough to realise that we are not like we used to be. If we are offended, we can hit back, and do it more than once.

Until things get really tough, they are going to keep pretending that Russia is their opponent. I think that in the XXI century, the real threat is posed by a certain bunch of people who think that you and I are second-class people. Those close-minded people simply don’t recognize our right to live. They don’t care who they are dealing with - Russians, Jews, Tatars, French, or British, or whoever, - they are all the same to them. To them, we are just a worthless civilization that must be destroyed. Let’s hope our Western counterparts realise that those guys threaten us all in equal measure and that this plague advancing on the European continent will engulf us while we are all arguing. Today, we talk about existing threats such as terrorism, extremism (political or religious), drug trafficking, and piracy.

As for piracy, there are pirates rampant in Somalia, and tomorrow, I think, the entire African coast will be swarming with pirates, and there will not be enough warships to keep them at bay. There is an enormous distance between Europe and the Third World. There is a new civilization emerging in the Third World that thinks that the white, northern hemisphere has always oppressed it and must therefore fall at its feet now. This is very serious

If the northern civilization wants to protect itself, it must be united: America, the European Union, and Russia. If they are not together, they will be defeated one by one.

Of course, the resumption of the work of the Russia-NATO council is possible. It will surely happen, because there are too many bureaucrats in NATO who are responsible for contact with Russia. They are afraid of losing their jobs after the freezing of the Russia-NATO council, so they are among the most zealous lobbyists for resuming our good relationship. Well, kidding aside, the scope of strategic matters that unites us is so vast that we can pretend as long as we want that we don’t communicate, but we can’t help communicating. In Brussels, I have regular meetings with the leaders of the NATO secretariat, political leaders, ambassadors, and so on. It’s just that they are afraid of meeting with me in what is called the Russia-NATO council. It will happen this December at the earliest, or next March at the latest. This is my forecast, and you will see that I am right.
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« Reply #28 on: March 03, 2009, 10:52:02 AM »

The Financial Crisis and the Six Pillars of Russian Strength
March 3, 2009




By Lauren Goodrich and Peter Zeihan

Related Link
The Russian Resurgence
Putin’s Consolidation of Power
Russian Energy and Foreign Policy
Russia’s Military

Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has been re-establishing much of its lost Soviet-era strength. This has given rise to the possibility — and even the probability — that Russia again will become a potent adversary of the Western world. But now, Russia is yet again on the cusp of a set of massive currency devaluations that could destroy much of the country’s financial system. With a crashing currency, the disappearance of foreign capital, greatly decreased energy revenues and currency reserves flying out of the bank, the Western perception is that Russia is on the verge of collapsing once again. Consequently, many Western countries have started to grow complacent about Russia’s ability to further project power abroad.

But this is Russia. And Russia rarely follows anyone else’s rulebook.

The State of the Russian State

Russia has faced a slew of economic problems in the past six months. Incoming foreign direct investment, which reached a record high of $28 billion in 2007, has reportedly dried up to just a few billion. Russia’s two stock markets, the Russian Trading System (RTS) and the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange (MICEX), have fallen 78 and 67 percent respectively since their highs in May 2008. And Russians have withdrawn $290 billion from the country’s banks in fear of a financial collapse.

One of Moscow’s sharpest financial pains came in the form of a slumping Russian ruble, which has dropped by about one-third against the dollar since August 2008. Thus far, the Kremlin has spent $200 billion defending its currency, a startling number given that the currency still dropped by 35 percent. The Russian government has allowed dozens of mini-devaluations to occur since August; the ruble’s fall has pushed the currency past its lowest point in the 1998 ruble crash.

The Kremlin now faces three options. First, it can continue defending the ruble by pouring more money into what looks like a black hole. Realistically, this can last only another six months or so, as Russia’s combined reserves of $750 billion in August 2008 have dropped to just less than $400 billion due to various recession-battling measures (of which currency defense is only one). This option would also limit Russia’s future anti-recession measures to currency defense alone. In essence, this option relies on merely hoping the global recession ends before the till runs dry.

The second option would be to abandon any defense of the ruble and just let the currency crash. This option will not hurt Moscow or its prized industries (like those in the energy and metals sectors) too much, as the Kremlin, its institutions and most large Russian companies hold their reserves in dollars and euros. Smaller businesses and the Russian people would lose everything, however, just as in the August 1998 ruble crash. This may sound harsh, but the Kremlin has proved repeatedly — during the Imperial, Soviet and present eras — that it is willing to put the survival of the Russian state before the welfare and survival of the people.

The third option is much like the second. It involves sealing the currency system off completely from international trade, relegating it only to use in purely domestic exchanges. But turning to a closed system would make the ruble absolutely worthless abroad, and probably within Russia as well — the black market and small businesses would be forced to follow the government’s example and switch to the euro, or more likely, the U.S. dollar. (Russians tend to trust the dollar more than the euro.)

According to the predominant rumor in Moscow, the Kremlin will opt for combining the first and second options, allowing a series of small devaluations, but continuing a partial defense of the currency to avoid a single 1998-style collapse. Such a hybrid approach would reflect internal politicking.

The lack of angst within the government over the disappearance of the ruble as a symbol of Russian strength is most intriguing. Instead of discussing how to preserve Russian financial power, the debate is now over how to let the currency crash. The destruction of this particular symbol of Russian strength over the past ten years has now become a given in the Kremlin’s thinking, as has the end of the growth and economic strength seen in recent years.

Washington is interpreting the Russian acceptance of economic failure as a sort of surrender. It is not difficult to see why. For most states — powerful or not — a deep recession coupled with a currency collapse would indicate an evisceration of the ability to project power, or even the end of the road. After all, similar economic collapses in 1992 and 1998 heralded periods in which Russian power simply evaporated, allowing the Americans free rein across the Russian sphere of influence. Russia has been using its economic strength to revive its influence as of late, so — as the American thinking goes — the destruction of that strength should lead to a new period of Russian weakness.

Geography and Development

But before one can truly understand the roots of Russian power, the reality and role of the Russian economy must be examined. From this perspective, the past several years are most certainly an aberration — and we are not simply speaking of the post-Soviet collapse.

All states economies’ to a great degree reflect their geographies. In the United States, the presence of large, interconnected river systems in the central third of the country, the intracoastal waterway along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, the vastness of San Francisco Bay, the numerous rivers flowing to the sea from the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains and the abundance of ideal port locations made the country easy to develop. The cost of transporting goods was nil, and scarce capital could be dedicated to other pursuits. The result was a massive economy with an equally massive leg up on any competition.

Russia’s geography is the polar opposite. Hardly any of Russia’s rivers are interconnected. The country has several massive ones — the Pechora, the Ob, the Yenisei, the Lena and the Kolyma — but they drain the nearly unpopulated Siberia to the Arctic Ocean, making them useless for commerce. The only river that cuts through Russia’s core, the Volga, drains not to the ocean but to the landlocked and sparsely populated Caspian Sea, the center of a sparsely populated region. Also unlike the United States, Russia has few useful ports. Kaliningrad is not connected to the main body of Russia. The Gulf of Finland freezes in winter, isolating St. Petersburg. The only true deepwater and warm-water ocean ports, Vladivostok and Murmansk, are simply too far from Russia’s core to be useful. So while geography handed the United States the perfect transport network free of charge, Russia has had to use every available kopek to link its country together with an expensive road, rail and canal network.

One of the many side effects of this geography situation is that the United States had extra capital that it could dedicate to finance in a relatively democratic manner, while Russia’s chronic capital deficit prompted it to concentrate what little capital resources it had into a single set of hands — Moscow’s hands. So while the United States became the poster child for the free market, Russia (whether the Russian Empire, Soviet Union or Russian Federation) has always tended toward central planning.

Russian industrialization and militarization began in earnest under Josef Stalin in the 1930s. Under centralized planning, all industry and services were nationalized, while industrial leaders were given predetermined output quotas.

Perhaps the most noteworthy difference between the Western and Russian development paths was the different use of finance. At the start of Stalin’s massive economic undertaking, international loans to build the economy were unavailable, both because the new government had repudiated the czarist regime’s international debts and because industrialized countries — the potential lenders — were coping with the onset of their own economic crisis (e.g., the Great Depression).

With loans and bonds unavailable, Stalin turned to another centrally controlled resource to “fund” Russian development: labor. Trade unions were converted into mechanisms for capturing all available labor as well as for increasing worker productivity. Russia essentially substitutes labor for capital, so it is no surprise that Stalin — like all Russian leaders before him — ran his population into the ground. Stalin called this his “revolution from above.”

Over the long term, the centralized system is highly inefficient, as it does not take the basic economic drivers of supply and demand into account — to say nothing of how it crushes the common worker. But for a country as geographically massive as Russia, it was (and remains) questionable whether Western finance-driven development is even feasible, due to the lack of cheap transit options and the massive distances involved. Development driven by the crushing of the labor pool was probably the best Russia could hope for, and the same holds true today.

In stark contrast to ages past, for the past five years foreign money has underwritten Russian development. Russian banks did not depend upon government funding — which was accumulated into vast reserves — but instead tapped foreign lenders and bondholders. Russian banks took this money and used it to lend to Russian firms. Meanwhile, as the Russian government asserted control over the country’s energy industries during the last several years, it created a completely separate economy that only rarely intersected with other aspects of Russian economic life. So when the current global recession helped lead to the evaporation of foreign credit, the core of the government/energy economy was broadly unaffected, even as the rest of the Russian economy ingloriously crashed to earth.

Since Putin’s rise, the Kremlin has sought to project an image of a strong, stable and financially powerful Russia. This vision of strength has been the cornerstone of Russian confidence for years. Note that STRATFOR is saying “vision,” not “reality.” For in reality, Russian financial confidence is solely the result of cash brought in from strong oil and natural gas prices — something largely beyond the Russians’ ability to manipulate — not the result of any restructuring of the Russian system. As such, the revelation that the emperor has no clothes — that Russia is still a complete financial mess — is more a blow to Moscow’s ego than a signal of a fundamental change in the reality of Russian power.
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« Reply #29 on: March 03, 2009, 10:53:11 AM »



The Reality of Russian Power
So while Russia might be losing its financial security and capabilities, which in the West tend to boil down to economic wealth, the global recession has not affected the reality of Russian power much at all. Russia has not, currently or historically, worked off of anyone else’s cash or used economic stability as a foundation for political might or social stability. Instead, Russia relies on many other tools in its kit. Some of the following six pillars of Russian power are more powerful and appropriate than ever:

Geography: Unlike its main geopolitical rival, the United States, Russia borders most of the regions it wishes to project power into, and few geographic barriers separate it from its targets. Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states have zero geographic insulation from Russia. Central Asia is sheltered by distance, but not by mountains or rivers. The Caucasus provide a bit of a speed bump to Russia, but pro-Russian enclaves in Georgia give the Kremlin a secure foothold south of the mountain range (putting the August Russian-Georgian war in perspective). Even if U.S. forces were not tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States would face potentially insurmountable difficulties in countering Russian actions in Moscow’s so-called “Near Abroad.” Russia can project all manner of influence and intimidation there on the cheap, while even symbolic counters are quite costly for the United States. In contrast, places such as Latin America, Southeast Asia or Africa do not capture much more than the Russian imagination; the Kremlin realizes it can do little more there than stir the occasional pot, and resources are allotted (centrally, of course) accordingly.

Politics: It is no secret that the Kremlin uses an iron fist to maintain domestic control. There are few domestic forces the government cannot control or balance. The Kremlin understands the revolutions (1917 in particular) and collapses (1991 in particular) of the past, and it has control mechanisms in place to prevent a repeat. This control is seen in every aspect of Russian life, from one main political party ruling the country to the lack of diversified media, limits on public demonstrations and the infiltration of the security services into nearly every aspect of the Russian system. This domination was fortified under Stalin and has been re-established under the reign of former President and now-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. This political strength is based on neither financial nor economic foundations. Instead, it is based within the political institutions and parties, on the lack of a meaningful opposition, and with the backing of the military and security services. Russia’s neighbors, especially in Europe, cannot count on the same political strength because their systems are simply not set up the same way. The stability of the Russian government and lack of stability in the former Soviet states and much of Central Europe have also allowed the Kremlin to reach beyond Russia and influence its neighbors to the east. Now as before, when some of its former Soviet subjects — such as Ukraine — become destabilized, Russia sweeps in as a source of stability and authority, regardless of whether this benefits the recipient of Moscow’s attention.

Social System: As a consequence of Moscow’s political control and the economic situation, the Russian system is socially crushing, and has had long-term effects on the Russian psyche. As mentioned above, during the Soviet-era process of industrialization and militarization, workers operated under the direst of conditions for the good of the state. The Russian state has made it very clear that the productivity and survival of the state is far more important than the welfare of the people. This made Russia politically and economically strong, not in the sense that the people have had a voice, but in that they have not challenged the state since the beginning of the Soviet period. The Russian people, regardless of whether they admit it, continue to work to keep the state intact even when it does not benefit them. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia kept operating — though a bit haphazardly. Russians still went to work, even if they were not being paid. The same was seen in 1998, when the country collapsed financially. This is a very different mentality than that found in the West. Most Russians would not even consider the mass protests seen in Europe in response to the economic crisis. The Russian government, by contrast, can count on its people to continue to support the state and keep the country going with little protest over the conditions. Though there have been a few sporadic and meager protests in Russia, these protests mainly have been in opposition to the financial situation, not to the government’s hand in it. In some of these demonstrations, protesters have carried signs reading, “In government we trust, in the economic system we don’t.” This means Moscow can count on a stable population.

Natural Resources: Modern Russia enjoys a wealth of natural resources in everything from food and metals to gold and timber. The markets may take a roller-coaster ride and the currency may collapse, but the Russian economy has access to the core necessities of life. Many of these resources serve a double purpose, for in addition to making Russia independent of the outside world, they also give Moscow the ability to project power effectively. Russian energy — especially natural gas — is particularly key: Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas for a quarter of its demand. This relationship guarantees Russia a steady supply of now-scarce capital even as it forces the Europeans to take any Russian concerns seriously. The energy tie is something Russia has very publicly used as a political weapon, either by raising prices or by cutting off supplies. In a recession, this lever’s effectiveness has only grown.
Military: The Russian military is in the midst of a broad modernization and restructuring, and is reconstituting its basic warfighting capability. While many challenges remain, Moscow already has imposed a new reality through military force in Georgia. While Tbilisi was certainly an easy target, the Russian military looks very different to Kiev — or even Warsaw and Prague — than it does to the Pentagon. And even in this case, Russia has come to rely increasingly heavily on its nuclear arsenal to rebalance the military equation and ensure its territorial integrity, and is looking to establish long-term nuclear parity with the Americans. Like the energy tool, Russia’s military has become more useful in times of economic duress, as potential targets have suffered far more than the Russians.
Intelligence: Russia has one of the world’s most sophisticated and powerful intelligence services. Historically, its only rival has been the United States (though today the Chinese arguably could be seen as rivaling the Americans and Russians). The KGB (now the FSB) instills fear into hearts around the world, let alone inside Russia. Infiltration and intimidation kept the Soviet Union and its sphere under control. No matter the condition of the Russian state, Moscow’s intelligence foundation has been its strongest pillar. The FSB and other Russian intelligence agencies have infiltrated most former Soviet republics and satellite states, and they also have infiltrated as far as Latin America and the United States. Russian intelligence has infiltrated political, security, military and business realms worldwide, and has boasted of infiltrating many former Soviet satellite governments, militaries and companies up to the highest level. All facets of the Russian government have backed this infiltration since Putin (a former KGB man) came to power and filled the Kremlin with his cohorts. This domestic and international infiltration has been built up for half a century. It is not something that requires much cash to maintain, but rather know-how — and the Russians wrote the book on the subject. One of the reasons Moscow can run this system inexpensively relative to what it gets in return is because Russia’s intelligence services have long been human-based, though they do have some highly advanced technology to wield. Russia also has incorporated other social networks in its intelligence services, such as organized crime or the Russian Orthodox Church, creating an intricate system at a low price. Russia’s intelligence services are much larger than most other countries’ services and cover most of the world. But the intelligence apparatus’ most intense focus is on the Russian periphery, rather than on the more expensive “far abroad.”
Thus, while Russia’s financial sector may be getting torn apart, the state does not really count on that sector for domestic cohesion or stability, or for projecting power abroad. Russia knows it lacks a good track record financially, so it depends on — and has shored up where it can — six other pillars to maintain its (self-proclaimed) place as a major international player. The current financial crisis would crush the last five pillars for any other state, but in Russia, it has only served to strengthen these bases. Over the past few years, there was a certain window of opportunity for Russia to resurge while Washington was preoccupied with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This window has been kept open longer by the West’s lack of worry over the Russian resurgence given the financial crisis. But others closer to the Russian border understand that Moscow has many tools more potent than finance with which to continue reasserting itself.

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« Reply #30 on: March 05, 2009, 12:27:33 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Russia's Sleight of Hand
March 4, 2009
Speaking at a press conference in Madrid on Tuesday, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said that it was “not productive” to link talks over a U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Europe with the perceived security threat from Iran, as proposed by Washington.

The topic came up as Medvedev spoke alongside Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at a press conference about a number of unrelated topics. The question he was responding to seemed to come out of left field, suggesting that the Kremlin planted the question, and perhaps the journalist. The question concerned a secret letter exchange between U.S. President Barack Obama and Medvedev — an exchange that was made public on Tuesday after a leak to The New York Times.

For the Russians, a quid pro quo on BMD and Iran is simply unacceptable. It isn’t because the Russians have heightened sensibilities — they are the masters of linking otherwise unrelated topics together for discussion and action — but because they are thinking much bigger these days. They want a grand bargain with the Americans, and they want it now.

Ever since it became clear in late 2003 that the war in Iraq would serve as more of a sandbag than a springboard for U.S. policy, the Russians have enjoyed the light streaming through a window of opportunity. Pretty much all U.S. ground forces are spoken for by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if both wars were declared over today, it would be more than two years before all forces could be withdrawn, rested and re-equipped for future deployments. U.S. expeditionary capability is currently limited to the Air Force and naval aviation – tools that are hardly small fry, especially when you are on the receiving end, but which are not particularly useful for blocking Russian moves in states that were part of the Soviet Union, like Ukraine or Georgia. Blocking such actions can be done only with ground forces, and those forces simply are not available right now.

Thus, from the Russian perspective, the time to negotiate with the Americans about the broad spectrum of relations is now. They do not want a short list of quid pro quo arrangements that will let the Americans push off the bigger issues until another day. They want everything — and they mean everything — settled now, when their power is at a relative high compared to that of the United States.

The Russians do not want a simple rejiggering of existing disarmament treaties; they want fundamentally new ones that extend the current nuclear parity with the United States, codifying it to the finest detail possible. They want to shoot down the plans for BMD, a technology that one day could render the Russian nuclear deterrent obsolete. They want the United States to publicly recognize Russian dominance throughout the former Soviet Union, and — again, publicly — put an end to Western military, political and economic encroachment into Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia.

Part of the ability to get such a grand bargain at such a fortuitous time, of course, rests in the ability to convince the other side that your own tools are even more robust than they may seem. You must convince the other side your rise to power is inevitable. It comes to shaping perceptions, and in this the Russians are peerless.

Remember Cold War propaganda? It was certainly on parade in Spain, not just in the shaping of a press conference where the quid pro quo comments garnered such attention, but in a phalanx of “deals” that the Russian delegation signed.

Most notable was a supposedly ironclad natural gas swap deal between state energy firm Gazprom and Spain’s Repsol. Under the deal, Repsol would gain access to Russian production sites in exchange for Russian access to the Spanish retail market. The centerpiece of the agreement involves liquefied natural gas (LNG), which would come from the offshore Shtokman field. Again the message was dramatic: Even European states that do not currently receive Russian energy are lining up to get access! There is one glitch: Shtokman is a pipe dream. Gazprom possesses neither offshore nor LNG expertise. Shtokman will be realized only if Gazprom pays someone to develop it — and that certainly isn’t going to happen during a global credit crunch.

Not to be outdone, the Russian state press had its own response to the New York Times leak on the quid pro quo of BMD for Iran. Editorials expounded that there was no deal to be had because the Russians had already suspended their plans to deploy nuclear-tipped Iskander missiles to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Since the Russians had unilaterally declared this, there was no need for BMD.

This issue is primarily one of fine print. While the Iskanders have been tested, there is no evidence that any have actually been deployed — to Kaliningrad or elsewhere — and even less evidence that the Russians have figured out how to mate a nuclear warhead to the missiles. Put simply, the Russian “concession” sounds great to the untrained ear — no nukes in Europe — but the Iskanders are not yet a reality, let alone a bargaining chip.

Propaganda and disinformation are as much part of Russia’s negotiating package as its nuclear capabilities and Latin American populist movements. Russia never really abandoned the tool, but we haven’t seen such aggressive message-planting for quite some time. Then again, the stakes haven’t been this high in a while.
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« Reply #31 on: March 17, 2009, 12:26:20 PM »

March 18, 2009

Russia Is Planning a ‘Large-Scale Rearming’

By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
MOSCOW —


President Dmitri A. Medvedev said on Tuesday that Russia would begin a “large-scale rearming” in 2011 in response to what he described as threats to the country’s security.

In a speech before generals in Moscow, Mr. Medvedev cited encroachment by NATO as a primary reason for bolstering the armed and nuclear forces.

Mr. Medvedev did not offer specifics on how much the budget would grow for the military, whose capabilities deteriorated significantly after the fall of Soviet Union.

Russia has increased military spending sharply in recent years, but with the financial crisis and the drop in the price of oil, the country’s finances are under pressure, suggesting that it would be hard to lift these expenditures further.

Even so, Mr. Medvedev’s timing was notable. He is expected to hold his first meeting with President Obama in early April in London on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 industrialized and developing countries.

In recent weeks, he has said he is looking forward to the meeting, and both he and Russia’s paramount leader, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, have been expressing some optimism about improving relations with the United States under the new administration.

Mr. Medvedev’s comments on Tuesday, though, indicated that Kremlin did not want the United States and its NATO allies to presume that Russia was coming to the table from a position of weakness.

“An analysis of the military-political situation in the world shows that there are a range of regions where there remain serious potential for conflicts,” Mr. Medvedev said. “Threats remain that can bring about local crises and international terrorism. NATO is not halting its efforts to widen its military infrastructure near the borders of our country. All of this demands a quality modernization of our armed forces.”

Mr. Medvedev emphasized that Russia would not be deterred in this plan by the financial crisis.

His announcement comes as the Kremlin has already begun an effort to overhaul the operations of the armed forces, which are still run largely according to Soviet-style dictates.

While Russia’s far larger military easily triumphed over Georgia’s in the conflict in August, the fighting exposed what many experts described as flaws in training, weapons and equipment.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/wo...dvedev.html?hp
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« Reply #32 on: November 09, 2009, 10:06:57 PM »

Stratfor
---------------------------

 

TWENTY YEARS AFTER THE FALL

By George Friedman

We are now at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning
of the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. We are also nearing the 18th
anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union itself. This is more than simply a
moment for reflection -- it is a moment to consider the current state of the region
and of Russia versus that whose passing we are now commemorating. To do that, we
must re-examine why the Soviet empire collapsed, and the current status of the same
forces that caused that collapse.

Russia's Two-Part Foundation

The Russian empire -- both the Czarist and Communist versions -- was a vast,
multinational entity. At its greatest extent, it stretched into the heart of Central
Europe; at other times, it was smaller. But it was always an empire whose
constituent parts were diverse, hostile to each other and restless. Two things tied
the empire together.

One was economic backwardness. Economic backwardness gave the constituent parts a
single common characteristic and interest. None of them could effectively compete
with the more dynamic economies of Western Europe and the rest of the world, but
each could find a niche within the empire. Economic interests thus bound each part
to the rest: They needed a wall to protect themselves from Western interests, and an
arena in which their own economic interests, however stunted, could be protected.
The empire provided that space and that opportunity.

The second thing tying the empire together was the power of the security apparatus.
Where economic interest was insufficient to hold the constituent parts together, the
apparatus held the structure together. In a vast empire with poor transportation and
communication, the security apparatus -- from Czarist times to the Soviet period --
was the single unifying institution. It unified in the sense that it could compel
what economic interest couldn't motivate. The most sophisticated part of the Russian
state was the security services. They were provided with the resources they needed
to control the empire, report status to the center and impose the center's decisions
through terror, or more frequently, through the mere knowledge that terror would be
the consequence of disobedience.

It was therefore no surprise that it was the security apparatus of the Soviet Union
-- the KGB under Yuri Andropov -- which first recognized in the early 1980s that the
Soviet Union's economy not only was slipping further and further behind the West,
but that its internal cohesion was threatened because the economy was performing so
poorly that the minimal needs of the constituent parts were no longer being
fulfilled. In Andropov's mind, the imposition of even greater terror, like Josef
Stalin had applied, would not solve the underlying problem. Thus, the two elements
holding the Soviet Union together were no longer working. The self-enclosed economy
was failing and the security apparatus could not hold the system together.

It is vital to remember that in Russia, domestic economic health and national power
do not go hand in hand. Russia historically has had a dysfunctional economy. By
contrast, its military power has always been disproportionately strong. During World
War II, the Soviets crushed the Wehrmacht in spite of their extraordinary economic
weakness. Later, during the Cold War, they challenged and sometimes even beat the
United States despite an incomparably weaker economy. The Russian security apparatus
made this possible. Russia could devote far more of its economy to military power
than other countries could because Moscow could control its population successfully.
It could impose far greater austerities than other countries could. Therefore,
Russia was a major power in spite of its economic weakness. And this gave it room to
maneuver in an unexpected way.

Andropov's Gamble

Andropov proposed a strategy he knew was risky, but which he saw as unavoidable. One
element involved a dramatic restructuring of the Soviet economy and society to
enhance efficiency. The second involved increased openness, not just domestically to
facilitate innovation, but also in foreign affairs. Enclosure was no longer working:
The Soviet Union needed foreign capital and investment to make restructuring work.

Andropov knew that the West, and particularly the United States, would not provide
help so long as the Soviet Union threatened its geopolitical interests even if doing
so would be economically profitable. For this opening to the West to work, the
Soviet Union needed to reduce Cold War tensions dramatically. In effect, the Soviets
needed to trade geopolitical interests to secure their economic interests. Since
securing economic interests was essential for Communist Party survival, Andropov was
proposing to follow the lead of Vladimir Lenin, another leader who sacrificed space
for time. In the Brest-Litovsk Treaty that ended Russian participation in World War
I, Lenin had conceded vast amounts of territory to Germany to buy time for the
regime to consolidate itself. Andropov was suggesting the same thing.

It is essential to understand that Andropov was a Party man and a Chekist -- a
Communist and KGBer -- through and through. He was not proposing the dismantling of
the Party; rather, he sought to preserve the Party by executing a strategic retreat
on the geopolitical front while the Soviet Union regained its economic balance.
Undoubtedly he understood the risk that restructuring and openness would create
enormous pressures at a time of economic hardship, possibly causing regime collapse
under the strain. Andropov clearly thought the risk was worth running.

After Leonid Brezhnev died, Andropov took his place. He became ill almost
immediately and died. He was replaced by Konstantin Chernenko, who died within a
year. Then came Mikhail Gorbachev -- the true heir to Andropov's thinking -- who
implemented Andropov's two principles. He pursued openness, or glasnost. He also
pursued restructuring, or perestroika. He traded geopolitical interests, hard-won by
the Red Army, for economic benefits. Contrary to his reputation in the West,
Gorbachev was no liberal. He actually sought to preserve the Communist Party, and
was prepared to restructure and open the system to do so.

As the security apparatus loosened its grip to facilitate openness and
restructuring, the empire's underlying tensions quickly went on display. When unrest
in East Germany threatened to undermine Soviet control, Gorbachev had to make a
strategic decision. If he used military force to suppress the uprising, probably
restructuring and certainly openness would be dead, and the crisis Andropov foresaw
would be upon him. Following Lenin's principle, Gorbachev decided to trade space for
time, and he accepted retreat from East Germany to maintain and strengthen his
economic relations with the West.

After Gorbachev made that decision, the rest followed. If Germany were not to be
defended, what would be defended? Applying his strategy rigorously, Gorbachev
allowed the unwinding of the Eastern European empire without intervention. The
decision he had made about Germany amounted to relinquishing most of Moscow's World
War II gains. But if regime survival required it, the price had to be paid.

The Crisis
The crisis came very simply. The degree of restructuring required to prevent the
Soviet Union's constituent republics from having an overarching interest in economic
relations with the West rather than with Russia was enormous. There was no way to
achieve it quickly. Given that the Soviet Union now had an official policy of ending
its self-imposed enclosure, the apparent advantages to the constituent parts of
protecting their economies from Western competition declined -- and with them, the
rationale for the Soviet Union. The security apparatus, the KGB, had been the engine
driving glasnost and perestroika from the beginning; the advocates of the plan were
not going to shift into reverse and suppress glasnost. But glasnost overwhelmed the
system. The Soviet Union, unable to buy the time it needed to protect the Party,
imploded. It broke apart into its constituent republics, and even parts of the
Russian Federation seemed likely to break away.

What followed was liberalization only in the eyes of Westerners. It is easy to
confuse liberalism with collapse, since both provide openness. But the former Soviet
Union (FSU) wasn't liberalizing, it was collapsing in every sense. What remained
administratively was the KGB, now without a mission. The KGB was the most
sophisticated part of the Soviet apparatus, and its members were the best and
brightest. As privatization went into action, absent clear rules or principles, KGB
members had the knowledge and sophistication to take advantage of it. As individuals
and in factions, they built structures and relationships to take advantage of
privatization, forming the factions that dominated the FSU throughout the 1990s
until today. It is not reasonable to refer to organized crime in Russia, because
Russia was lawless. In fact, the law enforcement apparatus was at the forefront of
exploiting the chaos. Organized crime, business and the KGB became interconnected,
and frequently identical.

The 1990s were a catastrophic period for most Russians. The economy collapsed.
Property was appropriated in a systematic looting of all of the former Russian
republics, with Western interests also rushing in to do quick deals on tremendously
favorable terms. The new economic interests crossed the new national borders. (It is
important to bear in mind that the boundaries that had separated Soviet republics
were very real.) The financial cartels, named for the oligarchs who putatively
controlled them (control was much more complex; many oligarchs were front men for
more powerful and discreet figures), spread beyond the borders of the countries in
which they originated, although the Russian cartels spread the most effectively.

Had the West -- more specifically the United States -- wanted to finish Russia off,
this was the time. Russia had no effective government, poverty was extraordinary,
the army was broken and the KGB was in a civil war over property. Very little
pressure could well have finished off the Russian Federation.

The Bush and Clinton administrations made a strategic decision to treat Russia as
the successor regime of the FSU, however, and refused to destabilize it further.
Washington played an aggressive role in expanding NATO, but it did not try to break
up the Russian Federation for several reasons. First, it feared nuclear weapons
would fall into the hands of dangerous factions. Second, it did not imagine that
Russia could ever be a viable country again. And third, it believed that if Russia
did become viable, it would be a liberal democracy. (The idea that liberal
democracies never threaten other liberal democracies was implanted in American
minds.) What later became known as a neoconservative doctrine actually lay at the
heart of the Clinton administration's thinking.

Russia Regroups -- and Faces the Same Crisis
Russia's heart was the security apparatus. Whether holding it together or tearing it
apart, the KGB -- renamed the FSB after the Soviet collapse -- remained the single
viable part of the Russian state. It was therefore logical that when it became
essential to end the chaos, the FSB would be the one to end it. Vladimir Putin, whom
the KGB trained during Andropov's tenure and who participated in the privatization
frenzy in St. Petersburg, emerged as the force to recentralize Russia. The FSB
realized that the Russian Federation itself faced collapse, and that excessive power
had fallen out of its hands as FSB operatives had fought one another during the
period of privatization.

Putin sought to restore the center in two ways. First, he worked to restore the
central apparatus of the state. Second, he worked to strip power from oligarchs
unaligned with the apparatus. It was a slow process, requiring infinite care so that
the FSB not start tearing itself apart again, but Putin is a patient and careful
man.

Putin realized that Andropov's gamble had failed catastrophically. He also knew that
the process could not simply be reversed; there was no going back to the Soviet
Union. At the same time, it was possible to go back to the basic principles of the
Soviet Union. First, there could be a union of the region, bound together by both
economic weakness and the advantage of natural resource collaboration. Second, there
was the reality of a transnational intelligence apparatus that could both stabilize
the region and create the infrastructure for military power. And third, there was
the reversal of the policy of trading geopolitical interests for financial benefits
from the West. Putin's view -- and the average Russian's view -- was that the
financial benefits of the West were more harmful than beneficial.

By 2008, when Russia defeated America's ally, Georgia, in a war, the process of
reassertion was well under way. Then, the financial crisis struck along with
fluctuations in energy prices. The disparity between Russia's politico-military
aspirations, its military capability and its economic structure re-emerged. The
Russians once again faced their classic situation: If they abandoned geopolitical
interests, they would be physically at risk. But if they pursued their geopolitical
interests, they would need a military force capable of assuming the task. Expanding
the military would make the public unhappy as it would see resources diverted from
public consumption to military production, and this could only be managed by
increasing the power of the state and the security apparatus to manage the
unhappiness. But this still left the risk of a massive divergence between military
and economic power that could not be bridged by repression. This risk re-created the
situation that emerged in the 1970s, had to be dealt with in the 1980s and turned
into chaos in the 1990s.

The current decisions the Russians face can only be understood in the context of
events that transpired 20 years ago. The same issues are being played out, and the
generation that now governs Russia was forged in that crucible. The Russian
leadership is trying to balance the possible outcomes to find a solution. They
cannot trade national security for promised economic benefits that may not
materialize or may not be usable. And they cannot simply use the security apparatus
to manage increased military spending -- there are limits to that.

As a generation ago, Russia is caught between the things that it must do to survive
in the short run and the things it cannot do if they are to survive in the long run.
There is no permanent solution for Russia, and that is what makes it such an
unpredictable player in the international system. The closest Russia has come to a
stable solution to its strategic problem was under Ivan the Terrible and Stalin, and
even those could not hold for more than a generation.

The West must understand that Russia is never at peace with itself internally, and
is therefore constantly shifting its external relationships in an endless, spasmodic
cycle. Things go along for awhile, and then suddenly change. We saw a massive change
20 years ago, but the forces that generated that change had built up quietly in the
generation before. The generation since has been trying to pull the pieces back
together. But in Russia, every solution is merely the preface to the next problem --
something built into the Russian reality.


This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to
www.stratfor.com.

Copyright 2009 Stratfor.

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« Reply #33 on: January 26, 2010, 08:52:46 AM »

   
Ukraine's Election and the Russian Resurgence
January 26, 2010




By Peter Zeihan

Ukrainians go to the polls Feb. 7 to choose their next president. The last time they did this, in November 2004, the result was the prolonged international incident that became known as the Orange Revolution. That event saw Ukraine cleaved off from the Russian sphere of influence, triggering a chain of events that rekindled the Russian-Western Cold War. Next week’s runoff election seals the Orange Revolution’s reversal. Russia owns the first candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, outright and has a workable agreement with the other, Yulia Timoshenko. The next few months will therefore see the de facto folding of Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence; discussion in Ukraine now consists of debate over the speed and depth of that reintegration.

The Centrality of Ukraine
Russia has been working to arrest its slide for several years. Next week’s election in Ukraine marks not so much the end of the post-Cold War period of Russian retreat as the beginning of a new era of Russian aggressiveness. To understand why, one must first absorb the Russian view of Ukraine.

Related Special Topic Page
The Russian Resurgence
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, most of the former Soviet republics and satellites found themselves cast adrift, not part of the Russian orbit and not really part of any other grouping. Moscow still held links to all of them, but it exercised few of its levers of control over them during Russia’s internal meltdown during the 1990s. During that period, a number of these states — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the former Czechoslovakia to be exact — managed to spin themselves out of the Russian orbit and attach themselves to the European Union and NATO. Others — Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine — attempted to follow the path Westward, but have not succeeded at this point. Of these six, Ukraine is by far the most critical. It is not simply the most populous of Russia’s former possessions or the birthplace of the Russian ethnicity, it is the most important province of the former Russian Empire and holds the key to the future of Eurasia.

First, the incidental reasons. Ukraine is the Russian Empire’s breadbasket. It is also the location of nearly all of Russia’s infrastructure links not only to Europe, but also to the Caucasus, making it critical for both trade and internal coherence; it is central to the existence of a state as multiethnic and chronically poor as Russia. The Ukrainian port of Sevastopol is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and Ukrainian ports are the only well-developed warm-water ports Russia has ever had. Belarus’ only waterborne exports traverse the Dnieper River, which empties into the Black Sea via Ukraine. Therefore, as goes Ukraine, so goes Belarus. Not only is Ukraine home to some 15 million ethnic Russians — the largest concentration of Russians outside Russia proper — they reside in a zone geographically identical and contiguous to Russia itself. That zone is also the Ukrainian agricultural and industrial heartland, which again is integrated tightly into the Russian core.

These are all important factors for Moscow, but ultimately they pale before the only rationale that really matters: Ukraine is the only former Russian imperial territory that is both useful and has a natural barrier protecting it. Belarus is on the Northern European Plain, aka the invasion highway of Europe. The Baltics are all easily accessible by sea. The Caucasian states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are on the wrong side of the Caucasus Mountains (and Russia’s northern Caucasus republics — remember Chechnya? — aren’t exactly the cream of the crop of Russian possessions). It is true that Central Asia is anchored in mountains to the south, but the region is so large and boasts so few Slavs that it cannot be controlled reliably or cheaply. And Siberia is too huge to be useful.

Without Ukraine, Russia is a desperately defensive power, lacking any natural defenses aside from sheer distance. Moscow and Volgograd, two of Russia’s critically strategic cities, are within 300 miles of Ukraine’s eastern border. Russia lacks any natural internal transport options — its rivers neither interconnect nor flow anywhere useful, and are frozen much of the year — so it must preposition defensive forces everywhere, a burden that has been beyond Russia’s capacity to sustain even in the best of times. The (quite realistic) Russian fear is that without Ukraine, the Europeans will pressure Russia along its entire western periphery, the Islamic world will pressure Russia along its entire southern periphery, the Chinese will pressure Russia along its southeastern periphery, and the Americans will pressure Russia wherever opportunity presents itself.

Ukraine by contrast has the Carpathians to its west, a handy little barrier that has deflected invaders of all stripes for millennia. These mountains defend Ukraine against tanks coming from the west as effectively as they protected the Balkans against Mongols attacking from the east. Having the Carpathians as a western border reduces Russia’s massive defensive burden. Most important, if Russia can redirect the resources it would have used for defensive purposes on the Ukrainian frontier — whether those resources be economic, intelligence, industrial, diplomatic or military — then Russia retains at least a modicum of offensive capability. And that modicum of offensive ability is more than enough to overmatch any of Russia’s neighbors (with the exception of China).

When Retreat Ends, the Neighbors Get Nervous
This view of Ukraine is not alien to countries in Russia’s neighborhood. They fully understand the difference between a Russia with Ukraine and a Russia without Ukraine, and understand that so long as Ukraine remains independent they have a great deal of maneuvering room. Now that all that remains is the result of an election with no strategic choice at stake, the former Soviet states and satellites realize that their world has just changed.

Georgia traditionally has been the most resistant to Russian influence regardless of its leadership, so defiant that Moscow felt it necessary to trounce Georgia in a brief war in August 2008. Georgia’s poor strategic position is nothing new, but a Russia that can redirect efforts from Ukraine is one that can crush Georgia as an afterthought. That is turning the normally rambunctious Georgians pensive, and nudging them toward pragmatism. An opposition group, the Conservative Party, is launching a movement to moderate policy toward Russia, which among other things would mean abandoning Georgia’s bid for NATO membership and re-establishing formal political ties with Moscow.

A recent Lithuanian power struggle has resulted in the forced resignation of Foreign Minister Minister Vygaudas. The main public point of contention was the foreign minister’s previous participation in facilitating U.S. renditions. Vygaudas, like most in the Lithuanian leadership, saw such participation as critical to maintaining the tiny country’s alliance with the United States. President Dalia Grybauskaite, however, saw the writing on the wall in Ukraine, and feels the need to foster a more conciliatory view of Russia. Part of that meant offering up a sacrificial lamb in the form of the foreign minister.

Poland is in a unique position. It knows that should the Russians turn seriously aggressive, its position on the Northern European Plain makes it the focal point of Russian attention. Its location and vulnerability makes Warsaw very sensitive to Russian moves, so it has been watching Ukraine with alarm for several months.

As a result, the Poles have come up with some (admittedly small) olive branches, including an offer for Putin to visit Gdansk last September in an attempt to foster warmer (read: slightly less overtly hostile) relations. Putin not only seized upon the offer, but issued a public letter denouncing the World War II-era Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty, long considered by Poles as the most outrageous Russian offense to Poland. Warsaw has since replied with invitations for future visits. As with Georgia, Poland will never be pro-Russian — Poland is not only a NATO member but also hopes to host an American Patriot battery and participate in Washington’s developing ballistic missile defense program. But if Warsaw cannot hold Washington’s attention — and it has pulled out all the stops in trying to — it fears the writing might already be on the wall, and it must plan accordingly.

Azerbaijan has always attempted to walk a fine line between Russia and the West, knowing that any serious bid for membership in something like the European Union or NATO was contingent upon Georgia’s first succeeding in joining up. Baku would prefer a more independent arrangement, but it knows that it is too far from Russia’s western frontier to achieve such unless the stars are somewhat aligned. As Georgia’s plans have met with what can best be described as abject failure, and with Ukraine now appearing headed toward Russian suzerainty, Azerbaijan has in essence resigned itself to the inevitable. Baku is well into negotiations that would redirect much of its natural gas output north to Russia rather than west to Turkey and Europe. And Azerbaijan simply has little else to bargain with.

Other states that have long been closer to Russia, but have attempted to balance Russia against other powers in hopes of preserving some measure of sovereignty, are giving up. Of the remaining former Soviet republics Belarus has the most educated workforce and even a functioning information technology industry, while Kazakhstan has a booming energy industry; both are reasonable candidates for integration into Western systems. But both have this month agreed instead to throw their lots in with Russia. The specific method is an economic agreement that is more akin to shackles than a customs union. The deal effectively will gut both countries’ industries in favor of Russian producers. Moscow hopes the union in time will form the foundation of a true successor to the Soviet Union.

Other places continue to show resistance. The new Moldovan prime minister, Vlad Filat, is speaking with the Americans about energy security and is even flirting with the Romanians about reunification. The Latvians are as defiant as ever. The Estonians, too, are holding fast, although they are quietly polling regional powers to at least assess where the next Russian hammer might fall. But for every state that decides it had best accede to Russia’s wishes, Russia has that much more bandwidth to dedicate to the poorly positioned holdouts.

Russia also has the opportunity. The United States is bogged down in its economic and health care debates, two wars and the Iran question — all of which mean Washington’s attention is occupied well away from the former Soviet sphere. With the United States distracted, Russia has a freer hand in re-establishing control over states that would like to be under the American security umbrella.

There is one final factor that is pushing Russia to resurge: It feels the pressure of time. The post-Cold War collapse may well have mortally wounded the Russian nation. The collapse in Russian births has halved the size of the 0-20 age group in comparison to their predecessors born in the 1970s and 1980s. Consequently, Russian demographics are among the worst in the world.

Even if Russia manages an economic renaissance, in a decade its population will have aged and shrunk to the point that the Russians will find holding together Russia proper a huge challenge. Moscow’s plan, therefore, is simple: entrench its influence while it is in a position of relative strength in preparation for when it must trade that influence for additional time. Ultimately, Russia is indeed going into that good night. But not gently. And not today.

 
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« Reply #34 on: March 08, 2010, 11:06:13 AM »

Summary

The United States’ involvement in the Middle East — wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a standoff with Iran over its nuclear program — has given Russia an opportunity to expand its influence in the former Soviet Union. Moscow has already had some success in consolidating control over what it considers the four most crucial countries, but it would like to push back against the West in several other countries if it has time to do so before Washington’s attention returns to Eurasia.

Editor’s note: This introduction launches a four-part series in which STRATFOR will examine Russia’s efforts to exert influence beyond its borders.

Analysis

U.S. Weakness and Russia’s Window of Opportunity

Russia today is vastly different from the Russia of 10 or 20 years ago. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the West began a geopolitical offensive in Russia’s near abroad, and met with some success. However, the past two months have seen a drastic rollback of Western influence in the former Soviet Union, with Russia forming unions with Kazakhstan and Belarus and a pro-Russian government returning to Ukraine. Moscow is making progress in its grand scheme to solidify its position as a regional power in Eurasia once again, reversing what it sees as Western infiltration. The question now is how far Russia wants to go — or how far it feels it must and can go — in this quest.

The Inherent Russian Struggle
Russia’s defining problem stems from its geographic indefensibility. Russia has no rivers, oceans, swamps, mountains or other natural features truly protecting it. To compensate for these vulnerabilities, Russia historically has had to do two things: Consolidate forces at home while purging outside influences, and expand in order to create buffers around its borders. At times, Russia reached out too far and collapsed, which forced it to start over. But Russia has only been a stable, strong power — regionally and globally — when it had a buffer zone surrounding its core. The best example of this was the Soviet Union, in which Russia surrounded itself with a sphere of countries under its control, from Central Asia to the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. This gave Moscow the insulation it needed to project influence far beyond its borders.





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But in 1989, the Soviet Union lost control of Eastern Europe and had disintegrated by 1991, returning Russia essentially to its 17th century borders (except for Siberia). Russia was broken, vulnerable and weak.

The United States, on the other hand, emerged from the Cold War with a huge opportunity to contain Russia and prevent its re-emergence as a great power in Eurasia. The Soviet disintegration did not in any way guarantee that Moscow would not resurge eventually in another form, so the West had to neuter Russia both internally and externally. First the United States nudged the pro-democratic and capitalist forces inside Russia to try to change the nature of the Kremlin. Theoretically, this led to the democratic experiment of the 1990s that ended in bitter chaos, rather than democracy, within Russia. Yet it did prevent the Russian government from becoming a consolidated (let alone powerful) entity.

The United States also began working to contain Russia’s influence inside its borders and pick away at its best defense: its buffer. The United States and Western Europe carried out this strategy in several ways. The West used its influence and money quickly after the fall of the Soviet Union to create connections with each former Soviet state. It also fomented a series of color revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan that solidified Western influence in those countries. NATO and the European Union also expanded into former Soviet territory to include Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Washington and NATO even opened military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to facilitate moving supplies into Afghanistan.

Moscow saw this as a direct and deliberate challenge to Russian national security. But before it could even consider reaching across its borders to counter the West’s geopolitical encroachment, Russia had to clean house. Under former Russian President (and current Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin, Russia’s internal consolidation began with the Kremlin regaining control over the country politically, economically and socially while re-establishing its control over Russia’s wealth of energy reserves. The Kremlin also put an end to the internal volatility created by the oligarchs, organized crime and wars in the Caucasus. The recentralization of the Russian state under Putin’s rule, coupled with high energy prices bringing in exorbitant amounts of money, made Russia strong again, but it still needed to reclaim its buffer zone.

The Window of Opportunity
While Russia reconsolidated, the United States became preoccupied with the Islamic world. As the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have developed, they have absorbed Washington’s focus, presenting Russia with an opportunity to push back against the West’s increased influence in Eurasia. It remains unclear whether Russia would have been able to counter the Western infiltration of the former Soviet states if the United States had not been looking elsewhere. But Russia has taken advantage of Washington’s preoccupation to attempt to re-establish its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union.

The U.S. absorption on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan has not occurred without Russian involvement. Russia has used its connections in the Middle East and Afghanistan as leverage in its negotiations with the United States for years, demanding that Washington outright abandon moves to solidify Western influence in the former Soviet states. Furthermore, Moscow’s plan to expand its influence into the former Soviet sphere depends on Washington’s preoccupation. Thus, Russia has openly supported Iran with political, nuclear and military deals, and has made negotiations for military supply routes into Afghanistan more difficult for the United States and NATO.

The geopolitical tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow has not been easy. But while Washington has been preoccupied with its wars, Russia has been able to reconsolidate its influence in countries that never strayed far from Moscow’s hand, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan. Russia proved that the West could not stop it from militarily rolling back into its former territory during the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Russia’s most crucial victory to date has been in Ukraine, where the top four candidates in the country’s January presidential election were all pro-Russian, thus ensuring the end of the pro-Western Orange movement.

The question now is: What does Russia feel it must accomplish before the United States is freed up from its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or its standoff with Iran?

The Russian Plan
The Kremlin is not looking to re-establish the Soviet Union. Rather, Moscow has stepped back and looked at its former Soviet sphere and determined what is imperative to the future of Russia’s regional power and stability. Essentially, Russia has placed the countries of its former sphere of influence and other regional powers into four categories:





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First are four countries where Russia feels it must fully reconsolidate its influence: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Georgia. These countries protect Russia from Asia and Europe and give Moscow access to the Black and Caspian seas. They are also the key points integrated with Russia’s industrial and agricultural heartland. Without all four of them, Russia is essentially impotent. So far, Russia has reconsolidated power in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and part of Georgia is militarily occupied. In 2010, Russia will focus on strengthening its grasp on these countries.
Next are six countries where Moscow would like to reconsolidate its influence if it has the opportunity to do so before Washington’s attention turns back to Eurasia: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Russia does not need these countries in order to remain strong, but without them the West is too close to the Russian core for comfort. These countries have either strategic geographic locations, links to Russia or valuable assets. Estonia could almost be put into the first category, as some forces inside Moscow consider it more important because of location near Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, and on the Baltic Sea. Russia will attempt to deal with these countries only after its four top priorities are met.
The third group on Russia’s list consists of countries that are not critical to the Kremlin, but Moscow feels could easily be controlled because of their own inherent vulnerabilities. These countries — Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia — are not geographically, politically or economically important and are so unstable that Moscow could consolidate control over them rather quickly. Some of these countries are already under Russian control, through no concerted effort on Moscow’s part, but their natural instability and weakness can make them more trouble than they are worth.
The final group on Russia’s list consists of countries that are not former Soviet states or countries Russia thinks it can pull in under its influence. These last countries — Germany, Turkey, France and Poland — are regional powers (or future powers) in Eurasia that could complicate Russia’s efforts. Moscow feels it needs to form a strong relationship, or at least an understanding, with these countries about Russia’s dominance in the former Soviet sphere. These countries are all NATO members, and each has its own complex relationship with the United States. But Moscow again is taking advantage of the United States’ distraction to leverage its own relationship with these countries. Moscow will have to play a very delicate game with these regional heavyweights to make sure it does not turn them into enemies.
A Closing Window
Russia has had some success in meeting its goals while the United States has been preoccupied, but it also knows Washington is attempting to wrap up its affairs in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and have a freer hand in other areas. For Russia, the clock is ticking.

Russia does have the advantage, in that it is easier for the United States to prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon than to control one that has already emerged. The United States’ focus will return to Eurasia after Russia has already made significant progress on its to-do list. But this is not to say that Russia is the definite winner. Russia’s geopolitical imperatives remain: The country must expand, hold together and defend the empire, even though expansion can create difficulties in the Russian core. This is already a difficult task; it will be made even harder when the United States is free to counter Russia.

In this series, STRATFOR will break down exactly how Russia will be tackling its to-do list of countries, examining the different levers Moscow holds over each country and what bumps it may experience along the way.
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« Reply #35 on: March 11, 2010, 06:24:20 AM »


Part Two of this series from Stratfor:

Summary
After Russia consolidates control over the countries it has deemed necessary to its national security, it will turn its focus to a handful of countries that are not as important but still have strategic value. These countries — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — are not necessary to Russia’s survival but are of some importance and can keep the West from moving too close to Russia’s core.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a four-part series in which STRATFOR examines Russia’s efforts to exert influence beyond its borders.

After years of work, Moscow has made significant progress in regaining control over the former Soviet states that are crucial to Russia’s security. Russia’s window of opportunity to exert control in its near abroad is a narrow one, however, and so Moscow has prioritized its list of countries where it is trying to consolidate influence. After reining in the four countries imperative to Moscow’s interests — Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Georgia — Moscow will turn its attention to a group of countries where it would like to have more influence.





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There are six countries — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — where Moscow would like to reconsolidate its influence if it has the opportunity. Although these countries are not crucial to Russia’s survival, as long as they remain outside Moscow’s control, the West has the ability to get too close to the Russian core for comfort. All these countries know how serious Russia is about its grand plan of expansionism. The 2008 Russo-Georgian war revealed Moscow’s willingness to militarily intervene on its former Soviet turf and sent the message to these countries that they must obey or cut a deal with Moscow, or else risk being crushed. Since then, these countries have watched Russia consolidate Kazakhstan and Belarus into a customs union (with the promise of becoming a formal union) and have seen a pro-Russian wave engulf Ukraine.

The Baltics
Out of the six countries on this shopping list, the Baltics (particularly Estonia and Latvia) are the most critical to Russia’s plan. Estonia and Latvia are a stone’s throw from Russia’s most important cities, with Tallinn just 200 miles from St. Petersburg and eastern Latvia just 350 miles from Moscow. The Baltics lie on the North European Plain, Europe’s easiest route for marching into Russia — something Moscow knows all too well.

Each Baltic state has its own importance to Russia. Whoever controls Estonia also controls the approach to the Gulf of Finland, Russia’s main access to the Baltic Sea. Estonia is also mainly ethnically Ugro-Finnish, which means that Russians are surrounded by Ugro-Finns on both sides of the Gulf of Finland. Latvia has the largest Russian population in the Baltics and the port of Riga, which Russia covets. Lithuania is different from its Baltic brothers since it does not border Russia proper, although it does border Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave, which is home to half of Russia’s Baltic Fleet and more than 23,000 troops. Lithuania is the largest of the Baltic states, both in terms of territory and population. It also had been a key industrial center under the Soviet Union.

The Baltic states were the only countries in the former Soviet Union to be shuffled into the Western set of alliances, being admitted into the European Union and NATO in 2004. This put the Western alliances right on Russia’s doorstep. Estonia and Latvia are fervently anti-Russian, while Lithuania is more pragmatic, feeling less threatened by Moscow since it does not actually border mainland Russia.

The Russian administration is split over whether the Baltics belong on Russia’s “must have” or “would like to have” list. The Kremlin is especially torn over how aggressively to go after Estonia, which is geographically isolated sharing land borders only with Russia and Latvia, and thus in a particularly sensitive position.

Russia’s Levers
Russia holds many levers within the Baltic states, making their future highly uncertain.

Geography: The Baltics are virtually indefensible, lying on the North European Plain. Their small size also makes them incredibly vulnerable. Furthermore, they are bordered by Russia to the east, Kaliningrad to the west and Russian ally Belarus to the south.
Population: Each Baltic state has a sizable Russian population: Russians or Russian speakers make up 30 percent of the population in Estonia, 40 percent in Latvia and nearly 10 percent of Lithuania. Roughly 15 percent of Estonians and 30 percent of Latvians are Orthodox, with many loyal to the Moscow Patriarchy.
Economic: The most critical economic lever for Russia in the Baltics is energy. The Baltics rely on Russia for 90-99 percent of their natural gas supplies and most of their oil. Russia has proven in the past that it is willing to cut these supplies (for example, through the breaking of the Druzhba pipeline). Russia also owns a third of Estonia’s natural gas company and has been in talks to purchase Lithuania’s main refinery. Russia’s economic levers are mainly in Latvia, which relies on Russia for one-third of its energy imports
Military: Russia has 23,000 troops in Kaliningrad and recently moved 8,000 troops to just outside St. Petersburg, near the Estonian border. Russia has also regularly held military exercises in Belarus and Kaliningrad under the guise of contingency planning for an invasion of the Baltics (should one ever be necessary).
Security: Russia’s nationalist youth movements, like Nashi, have continually crossed the border into Estonia and Latvia in order to commit vandalism or stir up pro-Russian sentiments. Estonia has also been one of the prime targets for cyber attacks from Russia, especially at politically heated times.
Political: This is the weakest link for Russia in the Baltics, since each country is pro-Western and a member of the European Union and NATO. However Russia does have some small footholds in Latvia and Lithuania. In 2009, the Harmony Center coalition — comprising parties that mainly represent Latvia’s Russian population — placed second in the country’s European Parliament elections and was as recently as January ranked as the most popular Latvian party, with 16.5 percent approval. There has also been a tradition of pro-Russian parties in Lithuania, though this has tapered off in recent years. The Labor Party, funded by Russian-born billionaire Viktor Uspaskich, was the strongest party in Lithuania in the mid-2000s. However, Uspaskich’s fortunes turned when he was charged with corruption and tax evasion, forcing him to flee to Russia in 2006 to avoid arrest. He has since returned to Lithuania and assumed leadership of the Labor Party, which came fifth in the October 2008 elections.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Moscow has not yet made much progress in consolidating its influence in the Baltics. Estonia and Latvia are still vehemently anti-Russian. They have taken refuge in Western alliances, but after watching what happened to NATO ally Georgia in 2008, both countries — particularly Estonia — are unsure about the West’s ability to come to their aid should Russia actively target them. Instead, Estonia and Latvia tend to look to Sweden and Finland as patrons. These countries hold unique relationships with Russia that could help them curb any Russian action in Latvia and Estonia.

Lithuania has been more pragmatic about its relationship with Russia, counting on its location away from the Russian border to protect it but not wanting to test Moscow’s patience. In recent weeks, Lithuania has been more open to NATO discussions with Russia and negotiations on Russian involvement in the country’s energy sector.

Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is important to Russia for many reasons. The Caucasus state does not border Russia and historically has been rather independently minded. However, it could be drawn in not only by the West but by other regional powers, like Turkey and Iran (Azerbaijan borders Iran, which has a sizeable Azerbaijani population). For Russia, controlling Azerbaijan is about preventing other powers from gaining a foothold in the Caucasus.

Azerbaijan also has access to vast amounts of energy wealth — not only because of its own oil and natural gas resources but also because of its geographic location between Central Asia and the West. Many countries want to tap into Azerbaijan’s energy potential. The West has developed Azerbaijan’s resources in order to have an alternative to Russian energy supplies, while Russia wants to control the flow of Azerbaijan’s oil and natural gas supplies.

Russia’s Levers
Geographic: Azerbaijan’s location is a blessing and a curse. It is near many regional powers, but is torn between them. Russia is skilled in playing the regional powers off each other in order to gain more leverage in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s main energy route also transits Georgia — and Russia proved its willingness to cut that route during the 2008 war.
Political: Azerbaijan and its neighbor Armenia have been locked in a political conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh since a war over the region from 1988-1994. Russia is the key power influencing all parties involved in the negotiations and can easily complicate or keep calm this complex standoff.
Security: Besides the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, Azerbaijan is also highly concerned with militants from Russia’s Muslim regions coming into the country. Baku has complained that Moscow could easily send down militants from Dagestan or Chechnya to destabilize the country if needed.
Military: Russia has 5,000 troops stationed inside Armenia and has an agreement with Yerevan that it can move the troops to the borders as it pleases. Russia also has a military radar base in Gabala, Azerbaijan, but this is in the process of being shut down.
Economic: Azerbaijan is in the process of reviving its energy ties to Russia with deals for natural gas purchases to start this year. Russia has also offered to purchase all of Azerbaijan’s natural gas. Baku has attempted to diversify where it sends its energy, with links to Europe, Iran and now Russia. But as Russia has proven, it is willing to cut some of these links for its own needs.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Russia has been quite successful in the past year in re-establishing its influence over Azerbaijan. Though it traditionally has sought to balance itself among the region’s three powers, Azerbaijan is now reconsidering its relationship with Turkey and becoming more worried about keeping ties with Iran due to Western pressure. This is beginning to leave Russia as Baku’s only option, and Moscow knows it. Furthermore, as the political dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia heated up due to a proposed political deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan’s traditional ally Turkey, Baku felt abandoned by Ankara, and Russia stepped in to console Azerbaijan. Russia has skillfully played each party in this disagreement — Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey — off each other, and gained leverage to use on each one.

Azerbaijan is still very wary of Russian control, but understands it must deal carefully with Moscow. Unfortunately for Baku, besides other powers’ interest in the country and its geographic location, Azerbaijan has few tools at its disposal to counter Russian pressure.

Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan acts as a buffer for Russia between the critical state of Kazakhstan and the regional power of Iran. It also stands between the former Soviet sphere and the highly unstable South Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Turkmenistan is strategically important to Russia for two other reasons: energy and Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas supplies and sizable oil supplies —something sought by the West, the Far East and the Middle East. Russia wants to ensure that these supplies only go where it wants and do not become competition for Russia’s supplies.

Turkmenistan also flanks most of the southern portion of Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s natural leader and a country Russia wants to control. Russia has been able to use the long-standing tensions between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to its advantage.

Russia’s Levers
Turkmenistan’s sparse population and economy makes it difficult to influence, but Russia has some very specific levers in the country.

Geography and population: Turkmenistan does not border Russia, but its geography and lack of consolidation give Russia easy access. Turkmenistan lacks any geographic protective features, except for its size and the large desert that crosses most of the country. Furthermore, its population is split between the Caspian coast and its border with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Russia holds influence over the population in the southeast mainly because the clan that runs that area allegedly is involved in the drug trade, and Russia is said to oversee exports from Turkmenistan through Russia and on to Europe.
Political and security: As mentioned above, Russia holds great political leverage over the southern Turkmen population because of its control over this area’s main economic staple: drugs. This population, led by the Mary Clan, does not run the country politically but could easily challenge the government if it wanted, since it comprises a large percentage of the population. Russia has yet to play this card, but it would not be difficult to do so.
Military: Russian military influence in Turkmenistan has increased. The country cannot defend itself, especially from its neighbor Uzbekistan, so Russia has supplied the Turkmen military and security forces with arms and training. Russia has placed a small contingent of troops inside Turkmenistan as well in order to deter Uzbekistan.
Economic: Fifty percent of Turkmenistan’s gross domestic product comes from energy, with 90 percent of Turkmen energy supplies transiting Russia. Moscow has proven in the past that it is willing to cut these energy supply routes if politically necessary and knows that doing so would crush Turkmenistan economically.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Russia has been able to keep Turkmenistan under its thumb via energy and security. The country understands that it is beholden to Russia for the bulk of its economy and for protection from Uzbekistan. However, part of this equation is changing, since Turkmenistan has expanded its energy infrastructure into China — a major energy consumer. These links depend on the transit of supplies via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan but are the start of a diversification of energy shipments and funding for Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is the heart of Central Asia, holding a large bulk of its population and many of its resources. Uzbekistan’s population, 27 million, dwarfs that of its neighbors. It holds the world’s 11th-largest natural gas reserves and is Central Asia’s major electricity exporter. Uzbekistan is self-sufficient in food as well, controlling the fertile Fergana Valley. Its size, resources and location grant Uzbekistan a greater degree of independence than the other Central Asian states.

This independence is something Russia wants to curb. Russia is not so concerned with other powers influencing Uzbekistan — though the West, China, Turkey and Iran have tried. Instead Moscow is worried about Uzbekistan becoming a regional leader in its own right, commanding the other Central Asian states. Such a move would shift the whole of Central Asia away from Russian control. Losing Uzbekistan would mean losing half of Kazakhstan (including the critical southern region around Almaty), Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and half of Kyrgyzstan. These areas would end up isolated from Russia.

Russia’s Levers
Geographic: Uzbekistan is surrounded by former Soviet states. It has no borders with the non-Soviet world, save a very small border with Afghanistan. As long as Russia controls the other states it can influence Uzbekistan to some extent.

Security: Uzbekistan has faced a great number of security concerns, from its own militant movements in the Fergana Valley to the insurgency in Afghanistan crossing the border. Russia has placed its troops in neighboring countries to counter these militants and can help mold their movements. Moscow also has deep connections with many militant movements in Afghanistan left over from the war in the 1980s.
Economic: Roughly 21 percent of all Uzbek exports — mainly energy, cotton and cars — go to Russia. Natural gas accounts for nearly 32 percent of Uzbekistan’s exports, and 75 percent of that goes to Russia. Uzbekistan may be self-sufficient in energy and food, but all refined energy products (like lubricants) and most processed foods come from Russia. Russia also controls much of the drug flow out of Central Asia and Afghanistan into Russia and Europe. This drug flow is key to the Uzbek economy and many of the power circles in the country.
Military: Russia currently has troops near the Uzbek border in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and has trained Turkmen troops that are stationed on the Turkmen-Uzbek border.
Russia’s Success and Roadblocks
Russia was briefly successful in pulling Uzbekistan back into the Russian fold in 2005, pushing Tashkent to evict the United States from a military base it was using to get supplies to troops in Afghanistan.

But as Tashkent has seen its neighbors and other former Soviet states grow closer to Russia, it has moved in the opposite direction. Uzbekistan’s reaction to the Russian resurgence has been to become increasingly independent and hostile toward Russia. Tashkent feels it should be the natural and independent leader of Central Asia and does not want Russia ruling the region. Uzbekistan has continued to buck Russia’s demands on energy supplies and military locations, and has joined the trend of building pipelines heading to China. In Central Asia, Uzbekistan is Moscow’s biggest and most important challenge.

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« Reply #36 on: March 12, 2010, 11:31:04 AM »

Summary
Russia is working to form an understanding with regional powers outside the former Soviet sphere in order to facilitate its plans to expand its influence in key former Soviet states. These regional powers — Germany, France, Turkey and Poland — could halt Russia’s consolidation of control if they chose to, so Moscow is working to make neutrality, if not cooperation, worth their while.

Editor’s note: This is part four of a four-part series in which STRATFOR examines Russia’s efforts to exert influence beyond its borders.


Today’s Russia cannot simply roll tanks over the territories it wants included in its sphere of influence. Its consolidation of control in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia would be difficult, if not impossible, if Moscow faced opposition from an array of forces. Moscow’s resurgence in its old Soviet turf is possible because the United States is distracted with issues in the Islamic world, but also because regional powers surrounding Russia are not unified in opposition to the Kremlin.

Moscow is working to cultivate an understanding with regional powers outside the former Soviet Union that are critical to its expansion: Germany, France, Turkey and Poland. If these countries committed to halting Russia’s resurgence, Moscow would be stymied. This is why Russia is determined to develop an understanding — if not also a close cooperative relationship — with each of these countries that will clearly delineate the Russian sphere of influence, give each country incentive to cooperate and warn each country about opposing Moscow openly.

This is not a new policy for Russia. Especially before the Cold War with the West, Moscow traditionally had a nuanced policy of alliances and understandings. Germany and Russia have cooperated many times; Russia was one of the German Empire’s first true allies, through the Dreikaiserbund, and was the only country to cooperate with post-Versailles Germany with the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo. Russia was also France’s first ally after the 1870 Franco-Prussian war — an alliance whose main purpose was to isolate Germany.

Russia’s history with modern Turkey (and its ancestor the Ottoman Empire) and Poland admittedly has far fewer examples of cooperation. Russia throughout the 19th century coveted territory held by the crumbling Ottoman Empire — especially around the Black Sea and in the Balkans — and had plans for dominating Poland. Currently, however, Moscow understands that the two regional powers with most opportunities to subvert its resurgence are Poland (in Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states) and Turkey (in the Caucasus).





(click to view map)

Germany
Germany is the most important regional power with which Russia wants to create an understanding. Berlin is the largest European economy, an economic and political leader within the European Union and a key market for Russian energy exports — with Russian natural gas exports filling 47 percent of Germany’s natural gas needs. German opposition to Russian consolidation in Eastern Europe would create problems, especially since Berlin could rally Central Europeans wary of Moscow to oppose Russia’s resurgence. However, Germany has offered little resistance to Russia’s increasing influence in Eastern Europe. In fact, it has primarily been Germany’s opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia that stymied Washington’s plans to push NATO’s boundaries further eastward.

If it chose to, Germany could become Russia’s greatest roadblock. It is geographically more of a threat than the United States, due to its position on the North European Plain and the Baltic Sea, and it is a leader in the European Union and could offer Ukraine and Belarus substantial political and economic alternatives to their ties to Russia. With this in mind, Russia has decided to make cooperation worthwhile for Berlin.

Russia’s Levers
Russia’s obvious lever in Germany is natural gas exports. Germany wants a reliable flow of energy, and it is not willing to suffer blackouts or freezing temperatures for the sake of a Western-oriented Ukraine or Georgia. Germany initially fumed in 2005 over Russian gas cutoffs to Ukraine, but later realized that it was much easier to make an arrangement with Russia and back off from supporting Ukraine’s Western ambitions. Moscow carefully managed subsequent Russian gas disputes with Ukraine to limit German exposure, and Berlin has since fully turned against Kiev, which it now sees as an unreliable transit route.

Germany is expanding its energy relationship with Russia, since the upcoming Nord Stream pipeline will not only make more natural gas available to German consumers and industry, it will also make Germany a key transit route for Russian gas. The Nord Stream pipeline project also suggests that Germany does not just want Russia’s gas; it wants to be Russia’s main distributor to Central Europe, which would give Berlin even more political power over its neighbors.

Russia has also very directly offered Germany a key role in the upcoming privatizations in Russia. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally has invited German businesses to invest in Russia. Putin also personally intervened in the General Motors Corp.-Opel dispute in 2009, offering to save Opel and German jobs — a move designed to curry favor with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before Germany’s September 2009 general elections.

Another prominent example of the budding economic relationship between Berlin and Moscow is German industrial giant Siemens’ decision to end its partnership with French nuclear giant Areva, to which it felt it would always be a junior partner, and begin cooperating with Russia’s Atomenergoprom. Siemens and Atomenergoprom will work together to develop nuclear power plants in Russia, Germany and other countries.

France
France and Germany are important partners for Russia because Moscow needs guarantees that its resurgence in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus will not face opposition from a united EU front. Initiatives such as the Swedish-Polish “Eastern Partnership” — which seeks to upgrade relations between the EU states and most former Soviet Union states — are seen as a threat to Moscow’s sphere of influence. The Kremlin feels it can keep these Central European initiatives from gaining steam by setting up informal understandings with Paris and Berlin.

France is a key part of this effort because Russia considers it — rightfully so — as the political leader of the European Union. Moscow therefore wants to secure a mutually beneficial relationship with Paris.

Russia’s Levers
Russia has less leverage over France than over any of the other regional powers discussed. In fact, Russia and France have few overlapping geopolitical interests. Historically, they have intersected occasionally in North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, but contemporary Moscow is concentrating on its near abroad, not global dominance. France does not depend on trade with Russia for export revenue and is one of the few continental European powers not to depend on Russia for energy; 76 percent of France’s energy comes from nuclear power.

This is why Moscow is making every effort to offer Paris the appropriate “sweeteners,” many of which were agreed upon during Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s visit to France on March 2. One of the most recent — and most notable — is a deal to purchase the $700 million French Mistral-class helicopter carrier. This would be the Russian military’s first major purchase of non-Russian technology and would give Russia a useful offensive weapon to put pressure on the Baltic states and the Caucasus (via the Black Sea). Russia has suggested that it may want to purchase four vessels in total for $2.2 billion — something that recession-hit Paris would be hard pressed to decline.

Russia has worked hard on getting energy-independent France involved in its energy projects. French energy behemoth Total owns a quarter of the enormous Barents Sea Shtokman gas field and on Feb. 5 reiterated its commitment to the project despite announced delays in production from 2013 to 2016. French energy company EDF is also negotiating entry into the South Stream natural gas pipeline, while energy company GDF Suez signed an agreement with Gazprom for a 9 percent stake in Nord Stream on March 2. Furthermore, France’s Societe Generale and Renault both have interests in Russia through ownership of Russian enterprises, and French train manufacturer Alstom has agreed to invest in Russia’s Transmashholding.

Finally, Russia knows how to play to France’s — particularly French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s — need to be the diplomatic center of attention. Russia gives France and Sarkozy the respect reserved for Europe’s leader, for example by allowing Sarkozy to negotiate and take credit for the peace deal that ended the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008. This is no small gesture from Paris’ perspective since France is constantly under pressure to prove its leadership mettle compared to the richer and more powerful Germany.

Turkey
Turkey is a rising regional power looking to expand its influence mainly along the lines of the former Ottoman Empire. Like an adolescent testing his or her own strengths and limitations, Turkey is not focused on any one area, but rather surveying the playing field. Moscow has allowed Turkey to become focused, however, on the negotiations with Armenia, presenting itself as a facilitator but in reality managing the negotiations behind the scenes.

Russia wants to manage its relationship with Turkey for two main reasons: to guarantee its dominance of the Caucasus and assure that Turkey remains committed to transporting Russia’s — rather than someone else’s — energy to Europe. Russia also wants to make sure that Turkey does not use its control of the Bosporus to close off the Black Sea to Russian trade, particularly oil exports from Novorossiysk.

Russia’s Levers
Moscow’s main lever with Ankara is energy. Turkey depends on Russia for 65 percent of its natural gas and 40 percent of its oil imports. Russia is also looking to expand its investments in Turkey, with refineries and nuclear power plants under discussion.

The second key lever is political. Moscow has encouraged Russian-dominated Armenia to entertain Turkish offers of negotiations. However, this has caused a rift between Turkey and its traditional ally Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan does not want to see Armenia and Turkey conclude their negotiations without first winning concessions from Armenia over the de facto Armenian controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region. The negotiation process — openly encouraged by Moscow — therefore has forced energy-rich Azerbaijan into Russia’s arms and strained the relationship between Ankara and Baku.

Russia has plenty of other levers on Turkey, trade being the most obvious. Turkey’s exports to Russia are considerable; 5 percent of its total exports in 2008 went to Russia (though that number dipped in 2009 due to the recession). Russia has cut this trade off before — like in August 2008, when Turkey and NATO held maneuvers in the Black Sea — as a warning to Ankara. Russia is also considering selling Turkey its advanced air defense system, the S-400.

Poland
The final regional power with which Russia wants an understanding is Poland. Poland may not be as powerful as the other three — either economically or politically — but it has considerable influence in Ukraine and Belarus and has taken it upon itself to champion expansion of the European Union eastward. Furthermore, the U.S. military could eventually use Poland as a base from which to threaten the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad along with Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic Sea. Moscow thus sees the U.S. plan to position a Patriot air defense battery — or any part of the BMD system — in Poland as a key threat.

Russia does not want to see the U.S.-Polish alliance blossom, allowing the United States — once it extricates itself from the Middle East — to reposition itself on Russia’s borders.

Russia’s Levers
The most obvious lever Russia has in Poland is energy. Poland imports around 57 percent of its natural gas from Russia, a number that is set to rise to more than 70 percent with the new Polish-Russian natural gas deal signed in January. Poland is also planning on switching a considerable part of its electricity production from coal to natural gas — in order to meet EU greenhouse gas emission standards — thus making Russian natural gas imports a key source of energy. Poland also imports more than 90 percent of its oil from Russia.

Poland, as a NATO member state, is under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. However, as Polish politicians often point out, NATO has offered very few real guarantees to Poland’s security. Russia maintains a considerable military presence in nearby Kaliningrad, with more than 200 aircraft, 23,000 troops and half of Russia’s Baltic fleet stationed between Poland and Lithuania. Russia has often used military exercises — such as the massive Zapad military maneuvers with Belarus in September 2009 — to put pressure on Poland and the Baltic states.

But despite a tense relationship, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has launched something of a charm offensive on Warsaw, and particularly on Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is seen as much more pragmatic than the anti-Russian President Lech Kaczynski. Putin made a highly symbolic gesture by being present at the September 2009 ceremonies in Gdansk marking the 70th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland. He also addressed the Polish people in a letter published by Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza in which he condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, a nonaggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Putin has also made a point to smooth relations between Poland and Russia on the issue of the Katyn massacre of Polish officers by Soviet troops in World War II, inviting Tusk to attend the first ever Russian-organized ceremonies marking the event.

The charm offensive is intended to outmaneuver the knee-jerk anti-Russians among the Polish elites and to make sure that Poland does not create problems for Russia in its efforts to expand influence in its near abroad. It is similar to the charm offensives the Soviet Union used that intended to illustrate to the European left and center-left that the Kremlin’s intentions were benign and that the right-wing “obsessions” about the Kremlin were irrational.

Ultimately, Moscow’s strategy is to assure that Germany, France, Turkey and Poland stay out of — or actively support — Russia’s consolidation efforts in the former Soviet sphere. Russia does not need the four powers to be its allies — although it certainly is moving in that direction with Germany (and possibly France). Rather, it hopes to reach an understanding with them on where the Russian sphere ends, and establish a border that is compatible with Russian interests.

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Rarick
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« Reply #37 on: March 13, 2010, 06:06:02 AM »

Russia is perhaps racing against time- they have an exposed southern and eastern border. Maybe they want to secure the Europeon area with trade agreements that provide economic strength to handle the other threats?  Maybe the eastern border has the largest threat, while the southren one is more problematic?  That is China making a land/ resource grab, Vs. a Islamist Insurgency in the south.
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« Reply #38 on: April 13, 2010, 02:12:30 PM »

by Lauren Goodrich

This past week saw another key success in Russia’s resurgence in former Soviet territory when pro-Russian forces took control of Kyrgyzstan.

The Kyrgyz revolution was quick and intense. Within 24 hours, protests that had been simmering for months spun into countrywide riots as the president fled and a replacement government took control. The manner in which every piece necessary to exchange one government for another fell into place in such a short period discredits arguments that this was a spontaneous uprising of the people in response to unsatisfactory economic conditions. Instead, this revolution appears prearranged.

A Prearranged Revolution
Opposition forces in Kyrgyzstan have long held protests, especially since the Tulip Revolution in 2005 that brought recently ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to power. But various opposition groupings never were capable of pulling off such a full revolution — until Russia became involved.

In the weeks before the revolution, select Kyrgyz opposition members visited Moscow to meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. STRATFOR sources in Kyrgyzstan reported the pervasive, noticeable presence of Russia’s Federal Security Service on the ground during the crisis, and Moscow readied 150 elite Russian paratroopers the day after the revolution to fly into Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan. As the dust began to settle, Russia endorsed the still-coalescing government.

There are quite a few reasons why Russia would target a country nearly 600 miles from its borders (and nearly 1,900 miles from capital to capital), though Kyrgyzstan itself is not much of a prize. The country has no economy or strategic resources to speak of and is highly dependent on all its neighbors for foodstuffs and energy. But it does have a valuable geographic location.

Central Asia largely comprises a massive steppe of more than a million square miles, making the region easy to invade. The one major geographic feature other than the steppe are the Tien Shan mountains, a range that divides Central Asia from South Asia and China. Nestled within these mountains is the Fergana Valley, home to most of Central Asia’s population due to its arable land and the protection afforded by the mountains. The Fergana Valley is the core of Central Asia.





Click image to enlarge
To prevent this core from consolidating into the power center of the region, the Soviets sliced up the Fergana Valley between three countries. Uzbekistan holds the valley floor, Tajikistan the entrance to the valley and Kyrgyzstan the highlands surrounding the valley. Kyrgyzstan lacks the economically valuable parts of the valley, but it does benefit from encircling it. Control of Kyrgyzstan equals control of the valley, and hence of Central Asia’s core.

Moreover, the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek is only 120 miles from Kazakhstan’s largest city (and historic and economic capital), Almaty. The Kyrgyz location in the Tien Shan also gives Kyrgyzstan the ability to monitor Chinese moves in the region. And its highlands also overlook China’s Tarim Basin, part of the contentious Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Given its strategic location, control of Kyrgyzstan offers the ability to pressure Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Kyrgyzstan is thus a critical piece in Russia’s overall plan to resurge into its former Soviet sphere.

The Russian Resurgence
Russia’s resurgence is a function of its extreme geographic vulnerability. Russia lacks definable geographic barriers between it and other regional powers. The Russian core is the swath of land from Moscow down into the breadbasket of the Volga region. In medieval days, this area was known as Muscovy. It has no rivers, oceans or mountains demarcating its borders. Its only real domestic defenses are its inhospitable weather and dense forests. This led to a history of endless invasions, including depredations by everyone from Mongol hordes to Teutonic knights to the Nazis.

To counter this inherent indefensibility, Russia historically has adopted the principle of expansion. Russia thus has continually sought to expand far enough to anchor its power in a definable geographic barrier — like a mountain chain — or to expand far enough to create a buffer between itself and other regional powers. This objective of expansion has been the key to Russia’s national security and its ability to survive. Each Russian leader has understood this. Ivan the Terrible expanded southwest into the Ukrainian marshlands, Catherine the Great into the Central Asian steppe and the Tien Shan and the Soviet Union into much of Eastern and Central Europe.

Russia’s expansion has been in four strategic directions. The first is to the north and northeast to hold the protection offered by the Ural Mountains. This strategy is more of a “just-in-case” expansion. Thus, in the event Moscow should ever fall, Russia can take refuge in the Urals and prepare for a future resurgence. Stalin used this strategy in World War II when he relocated many of Russia’s industrial towns to Ural territory to protect them from the Nazi invasion.

The second is to the west toward the Carpathians and across the North European Plain. Holding the land up to the Carpathians — traditionally including Ukraine, Moldova and parts of Romania — creates an anchor in Europe with which to protect Russia from the southwest. Meanwhile, the North European Plain is the one of the most indefensible routes into Russia, offering Russia no buffer. Russia’s objective has been to penetrate as deep into the plain as possible, making the sheer distance needed to travel across it toward Russia a challenge for potential invaders.

The third direction is south to the Caucasus. This involves holding both the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges, creating a tough geographic barrier between Russia and regional powers Turkey and Iran. It also means controlling Russia’s Muslim regions (like Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan), as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The fourth is to the east and southeast into Siberia and Central Asia. The Tien Shan mountains are the only geographic barrier between the Russian core and Asia; the Central Asian steppe is, as its name implies, flat until it hits Kyrgyzstan’s mountains.

With the exception of the North European Plain, Russia’s expansion strategy focuses on the importance of mountains — the Carpathians, the Caucasus and Tien Shan — as geographic barriers. Holding the land up to these definable barriers is part of Russia’s greater strategy, without which Russia is vulnerable and weak.

The Russia of the Soviet era attained these goals. It held the lands up to these mountain barriers and controlled the North European Plain all the way to the West German border. But its hold on these anchors faltered with the fall of the Soviet Union. This collapse began when Moscow lost control over the fourteen other states of the Soviet Union. The Soviet disintegration did not guarantee, of course, that Russia would not re-emerge in another form. The West — and the United States in particular — thus saw the end of the Cold War as an opportunity to ensure that Russia would never re-emerge as the great Eurasian hegemon.

To do this, the United States began poaching among the states between Russia and its geographic barriers, taking them out of the Russian sphere in a process that ultimately would see Russian influence contained inside the borders of Russia proper. To this end, Washington sought to expand its influence in the countries surrounding Russia. This began with the expansion of the U.S. military club, NATO, into the Baltic states in 2004. This literally put the West on Russia’s doorstep (at their nearest point, the Baltics are less than 100 miles from St. Petersburg) on one of Russia’s weakest points on the North European Plain.

Washington next encouraged pro-American and pro-Western democratic movements in the former Soviet republics. These were the so-called “color revolutions,” which began in Georgia in 2003 and moved on to Ukraine in 2004 and Kyrgyzstan in 2005. This amputated Russia’s three mountain anchors.

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine proved a breaking point in U.S.-Russian relations, however. At that point, Moscow recognized that the United States was seeking to cripple Russia permanently. After Ukraine turned orange, Russia began to organize a response.

The Window of Opportunity
Russia received a golden opportunity to push back on U.S. influence in the former Soviet republics and redefine the region thanks to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the crisis with Iran. Its focus on the Islamic world has left Washington with a limited ability to continue picking away at the former Soviet space or to counter any Russian responses to Western influence. Moscow knows Washington won’t stay fixated on the Islamic world for much longer, which is why Russia has accelerated its efforts to reverse Western influence in the former Soviet sphere and guarantee Russian national security.

In the past few years, Russia has worked to roll back Western influence in the former Soviet sphere country by country. Moscow has scored a number of major successes in 2010. In January, Moscow signed a customs union agreement to economically reintegrate Russia with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Also in January, a pro-Russian government was elected in Ukraine. And now, a pro-Russian government has taken power in Kyrgyzstan.

The last of these countries is an important milestone for Moscow, given that Russia does not even border Kyrgyzstan. This indicates Moscow must be secure in its control of territory from the Russian core across the Central Asian Steppe.

As it seeks to roll back Western influence, Russia has tested a handful of tools in each of the former Soviet republics. These have included political pressure, social instability, economic weight, energy connections, security services and direct military intervention. Thus far, the pressure brought on by its energy connections — as seen in Ukraine and Lithuania — has proved most useful. Russia has used the cutoffs of supplies to hurt the countries and garner a reaction from Europe against these states. The use of direct military intervention — as seen in Georgia — also has proved successful, with Russia now holding a third of that country’s land. Political pressure in Belarus and Kazakhstan has pushed the countries into signing the aforementioned customs union. And now with Kyrgyzstan, Russia has proved willing to take a page from the U.S. playbook and spark a revolution along the lines of the pro-Western color revolutions. Russian strategy has been tailor-made for each country, taking into account their differences to put them into Moscow’s pocket — or at least make them more pragmatic toward Russia.

Thus far, Russia has nearly returned to its mountain anchors on each side, though it has yet to sew up the North European Plain. And this leaves a much stronger Russia for the United States to contend with when Washington does return its gaze to Eurasia.
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« Reply #39 on: July 22, 2010, 05:08:18 AM »

Some inconvenient truths in here , , ,

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Russia: The ICJ's Kosovo Opinion
July 19, 2010 | 2100 GMT

VALERIE KUYPERS/AFP/Getty Images
International Court of Justice President Hisashi Owada (C) opens the Dec. 9, 2009, hearing on Kosovo’s secession from SerbiaSummary
The U.N. International Court of Justice is set to present its opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. While Russia is publicly siding with the Serbs against Kosovo’s independence, Moscow stands to gain — at least rhetorically — no matter how the court rules.

Analysis

At 3 p.m. local time July 22 in The Hague, the U.N. International Court of Justice (ICJ) will present its advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s February 2008 unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) from Serbia. The opinion will not be legally binding — it is an advisory opinion requested by the U.N. General Assembly at the behest of Belgrade — but will in essence determine whether, according to international law, Kosovo’s declaration of independence was legal.

Regardless of the ICJ opinion, the circumstances surrounding Kosovo’s UDI remain unchanged. Kosovo is still a de facto Western protectorate with explicit security guarantees from NATO, and Serbia has neither the military capacity to change the status quo nor the desire to try to do so, in light of its efforts to become an EU member state.

Russia, Serbia’s main ally on the Kosovo matter, has stated that it hopes the ICJ ruling will force new talks between Serbs and Kosovars. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said July 15 that Russia continues to oppose Kosovo’s independence and supports Belgrade’s position that Kosovo is a sovereign part of Serbia. But Moscow stands to benefit no matter the outcome of the ICJ deliberations.


The Intertwined Crisis of Kosovo and Georgia

Kosovo’s UDI came 9 years after NATO’s 1999 war against what was then known as Yugoslavia forced Belgrade to relinquish its physical control over the province. The stated reasons for NATO’s military campaign in 1999 were atrocities committed by Yugoslav military and paramilitary forces against the Albanian population of Kosovo. Serbia had waged a number of military conflicts throughout the 1990s, the purpose of which were to expand Belgrade’s influence in the Balkans. Thus, the West wanted to eliminate Serbia — and its leader, Slobodan Milosevic — as a regional threat and rival.





(click here to enlarge image)
But the underlying geopolitical context was also NATO’s evolution from a regional security grouping with no mandate to act outside of its membership’s immediate defense to an organization with a mandate to keep order in Europe, and, eventually, beyond. NATO took action in Kosovo without U.N. Security Council (UNSC) approval and despite strong Russian and Chinese opposition. The precedent was set for the U.S. and its allies to act without addressing the interests of other fellow UNSC permanent members (as the U.S. would later repeat in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion).

For Russia, NATO’s actions in Kosovo were untenable. Since Russia is not part of NATO — in fact, the alliance had been created to defend Europe against Soviet invasion — Moscow realized that Kosovo established an extraordinary precedent. NATO determined that an intervention was necessary in a matter of European security, intervened militarily and then resolved the post-conflict environment according to its interests. It did so against a stated Moscow ally, with dubious evidence and reasoning. The West did not stop there either; Kosovo was followed by NATO expansion into the former Soviet sphere in Eastern Europe and the defeat of a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian government.

In this context, the 2008 Kosovo UDI was just another in a line of decisions on European security taken by the West in which Moscow’s protests were ignored. Russia, therefore, formulated a response to the West.

On Feb. 15, 2008, two days before the Kosovo UDI, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the presidents of Georgian breakaway republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After the meeting, the Russian foreign ministry released a statement stating, “The declaration of sovereignty by Kosovo and its recognition will doubtlessly be taken into account in [Russia’s] relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” The West did not heed the warning, doubting Russia’s resolve to respond, and Russia used supposed Georgian atrocities against South Ossetians in August 2008 to parallel the West’s actions against Serbia and justify a military intervention that led to Moscow-supported independence for the two breakaway republics.


Russia and the ICJ Opinion

Moscow now stands to benefit, at least rhetorically, no matter what opinion the ICJ supports. A ruling that the UDI was legal also legitimizes Russia’s support for the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. While the West has made the legal argument that the Kosovo case is unique and sets no precedent, the non-Western opinion on the matter (with very few exceptions) is that it does. In theory, it also opens the possibility that more countries will recognize the two republics, as Moscow would have a case that Kosovo and the two Georgian territories are not different.

However, Moscow does not need South Ossetia and Abkhazia to gain international recognition for its control of the two provinces to pay dividends. Moscow already controls the two provinces economically, politically and militarily and can use them to pressure Georgia — still a U.S. ally — if need be. Therefore, if the ICJ rules that the UDI was illegal, Moscow will not fret much about the legal implications. Instead, it will be able to show that its support for Belgrade has, from the beginning, been justified and that the West, led by the United States, broke international law by encouraging Kosovo to declare independence unilaterally and without recourse to the UNSC. Moscow will use the ICJ opinion in that case to show that it has been a supporter of international law and sanctity of sovereignty.

Kosovo was a redline issue for Moscow in 2008 because it set a precedent that allowed the West to intervene militarily and redraw European borders without asking Russia for its opinion. Russia’s 2008 war against Georgia was the response Moscow used to counter the West’s perceived belligerence. The ICJ opinion, whichever way it goes, will be an added boon for Moscow.



Read more: Russia: The ICJ's Kosovo Opinion | STRATFOR
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« Reply #40 on: January 07, 2011, 04:35:26 AM »

Russia and its Foreign Policy Dance

The Kremlin announced Wednesday that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is going to visit the Palestinian territories in a few weeks, just as Medvedev’s trip to Israel has been canceled. Medvedev had planned to go to Israel on Jan. 17-19, but his trip was postponed due to a strike at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. While this may just seem like a logistical and technical issue, there is a shifting Russian foreign policy strategy, giving Moscow freer capability to act against the Israelis and increase support for the Palestinians.

Russia and Israel have had ongoing tense and complex relations. After a post-World War II alliance in the late 1940s, Soviet-era Moscow was a patron of Israel’s enemies — Egypt and Syria. At the time, this was not really about Russia siding against Israel as much as it was about pressuring the United States’ interests in the Middle East.

After the Cold War, Israeli and Russian relations were tolerable. Moscow had to pull its support from the Middle East as its empire crumbled and it fought to keep the Russian state together. All this changed in the past decade when Russia began to consolidate, and announced that Russia was on its way back and would soon return as a major player on the international stage.

During this time, Moscow accused Israel of meddling in Russia’s interests by financially and politically backing the anti-Kremlin oligarchs, and militarily supporting Georgia and Russian Muslim republics of Dagestan and Chechnya. Since then, it has been a tit-for-tat between Russia and Israel with Moscow countering those Israeli moves by supporting Iran and Syria in recent years.

“…Russia is working with all players in the region — keeping everyone dizzy and guessing what it will do next.”
This was part of Russia’s overall foreign policy at the time to unilaterally retaliate for moves made against its interests. One of the larger examples of this was the West’s recognition of an independent Kosovo, followed by Russia’s recognition of independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia — after its war with Georgia. But Russia’s resurgence has now entered a new stage, in which Moscow feels comfortable in its sphere of influence. Naturally, Moscow is still mindful of foreign moves in its surrounding regions, but is confident such moves do not threaten its overall control in the region. Moscow is not only secure enough in its power over Georgia that the issue isn’t a red line in Russian-Israeli relations; Moscow retains options for escalation in Israel’s neighborhood that can deter Israeli actions in Georgia.

This new shift has allowed Russia to be able to play more ambiguously than unilaterally in all its foreign policy issues. With Russia in a comfortable status, it feels it can make bolder moves outside of Eurasia. Such alterations have been seen in Russia’s policies in the Middle East, where Moscow has been striking military deals with anyone it can — Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

This time, increased Russian activity around the world could go beyond theatrics and translate into further support for the Palestinians. There are rumors that Russia is considering actually recognizing an independent Palestinian state. There has already been a change in some weightier countries, like Brazil, supporting Palestine. The Russians could be the next in line. The difference is the Russians have a history of not just diplomatically supporting the Palestinians, but through military, financial and intelligence support.

Moscow’s motivations behind supporting the Palestinians at this time are not clear, since it has been making so many deals with so many countries in the region. Russia could be attempting to make a show against one of Washington’s closest allies — Israel — and the timing of the cancellation of Medvedev’s trip to Israel is suspicious. Russia could be choosing to make this move because of increased discussion of Palestinian support in the European Union — and Russia is looking for agenda issues in which to align. Russia could be in coordination with Brazil, as both countries are strangely side-by-side on myriad foreign policy issues. Additionally, it could be Russia simply wanting to make a global statement that it isn’t worried about repercussions for taking sides on such a controversial issue.

Even if Moscow’s reasoning or endgame is unknown at this time, it’s plain that Russia is working with all players in the region — keeping everyone dizzy and guessing what it will do next.

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« Reply #41 on: March 17, 2011, 01:56:01 AM »

Russia Rises Amid Geopolitical Events

The first three months of 2011 have had a steady flow of geopolitically relevant events. A youth named Mohamed Bouazizi, protesting corruption and government harassment in Tunisia, set more than himself alight on Dec. 17: He set an entire region on fire. Soon after, Tunisia and Egypt saw their long-time rulers fall. Libya essentially descended into civil war, and exit is uncertain. On Monday, almost exactly three months after Bouazizi’s self-immolation, the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council’s forces entered the tiny island nation of Bahrain to prevent Iran from exploiting the anti-government protests there. The region’s unrest continues with almost daily action in North Africa and the Middle East. Around the globe, the March 11 Japan Tohoku earthquake rocked the world’s third largest economy and has caused the most serious nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Among all this global consternation, Russia is the one power that has the luxury to take stock of it all in relative comfort. Russia has no reason to fear Middle East-style revolutionary activity. Its leadership is genuinely popular at home and safe from populist uprisings, at least for the time being. Russia is not embroiled in any war in the Middle East — unlike the United States, which is involved in two wars and trying hard to avoid a third one in Libya. Russia fears no migration exodus of North African refugees on its borders, as do the Europeans. Even the nuclear accident in Japan seems to be without negative effect for Russia, as the prevailing winds are blowing the radiation toward the Pacific Ocean and away from Russia’s eastern city of Vladivostok.

“Among all this global consternation, Russia is the one power that has the luxury to take stock of it all in relative comfort.”
In fact, Russia may be the one country that stands to gain from the various calamities in 2011. First, the general unrest in the Middle East has increased the price of oil by 18.5 percent. As the second largest oil exporter — and one not bound by OPEC production quotas — the increase in price goes directly into the Kremlin’s swelling coffers and is a welcome addition after the severe economic recession in 2009. Second, the Libyan unrest has cut off the 11 billion cubic-meter natural gas (bcm) Greenstream pipeline to Italy, causing Europe’s third largest consumer of natural gas to turn to Russia to make up the difference. Similarly, Japan’s nuclear imbroglio has forced Tokyo to turn to Russian emergency shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to fuel its natural gas-burning power plants.

But the most beneficial of all events for Russia may be the psychological effect that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crisis is having on Western Europe. Germany’s government announced on Tuesday that it would close seven nuclear reactors during a three-month period, reassessing the future of Germany’s nuclear power industry. A looming Italian referendum on the government’s decision to unfreeze nuclear reactor construction now seems all but guaranteed to fail. Criticism of nuclear power has swept throughout the Continent with the European Union energy ministers deciding on Tuesday to subject the bloc’s nuclear reactors to a number of stress tests.

Europe’s hydropower capabilities are at capacity, while coal-burning power plants are perceived as incompatible with the bloc’s drive to reduce greenhouse emissions. The only alternatives left are renewable energy, which is slowly inching up in terms of overall electricity generation; nuclear power; and natural gas, which is seen as the much cleaner fossil fuel option to coal and oil. With fears about nuclear power returning to the Continent, it seems natural gas will be favored to fill the gap until renewable energy can become a larger part of the electricity generating mix.

As the world’s number one exporter of natural gas — and with the world’s largest reserves — this is very welcome news for the Kremlin. But for Russia, natural gas exports are about a lot more than just added revenue. For Russia, the natural gas exports are about control and political influence. Luring Western Europe toward greater energy dependency on Russia is ultimately about wrestling the region away from its post-WWII alliance with the United States. As the Middle East and North Africa continue to wrestle with unrest — again reminding Europe of the region’s political uncertainty and fallibility as an energy exporter — and as Europe’s populations are reminded of their fears of nuclear power, Moscow is taking stock of it all.

But Moscow is also interested in how the crises around the world are politically beneficial outside of the energy realm. First, the devastation in Japan has allowed Moscow and Tokyo to have a rare conversation about cooperation after years (if not more) of declining relations over an island dispute. Russia is magnanimously trying to show that it isn’t such a bad neighbor to have, and is sending some of the larger amounts of aid, energy and rescue assistance.

The crises could also give Russia something it holds very precious — time. One of the reasons Russia grew so strong over the past decade is that its rival, the United States, was focused elsewhere. Moscow has been growing nervous in the past year knowing that Washington is starting to wrap up its commitments in the Middle East and South Asia. There is a discussion now rumbling through the Kremlin whether the events in the Middle East may keep the United States focused there a while longer, giving Russia even more time to cement its nearly dominant position in Eurasia. Thus far, the Kremlin must be satisfied with what the first three months of 2011 have brought in terms of its own strategic interests.

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« Reply #42 on: March 17, 2011, 10:36:55 AM »

"Stratfor:  Russia's Great Power Strategy"

 - Imagine if AMERICA had a great power strategy...

"Russia may be the one country that stands to gain from the various calamities in 2011. First, the general unrest in the Middle East has increased the price of oil by 18.5 percent. As the second largest oil exporter..."

  - If the US strove to be the world's number one in oil (and natural gas) from now until the end of the brief fossil fuel era, a number of things would happen, energy prices would drop and stabilize, America's standard of living would actually increase, employment would improve, the global economy would improve, poverty would decline, reliance on Saudi would decrease, Russia would drop to 3rd and have to increase production to a fall in revenues and experience a decrease in 'power' over its trading partners and bullied neighbors.  Who would want any of that?


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« Reply #43 on: July 15, 2011, 08:52:09 AM »

A re-emerging Russia is restoring its global influence without taking on the burden of an empire. In the second of his series on global pressure points, STRATFOR CEO Dr. George Friedman applauds Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s achievements and examines the Russian-U.S. relationship.   

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Colin: Ronald Reagan used to call the Soviet Union, as it then was, “the evil empire.” Today, modern Russia presents differently. No longer an empire of course, but a huge country regaining a powerful influence.

Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman. George, last year the premiership of Vladimir Putin was characterized by various attempts — some effective, some less so —to claw back under Russia’s influence, some parts of the old Soviet empire.

George: Let’s begin by trying to explain what it was that Putin in particular created. What he recognized was the problem of the Soviet empire, the problem with the czarist empire, was that they totally controlled surrounding territories. As such, they benefited from them, but they were responsible for them as well, and so that wealth was transferred into them to maintain them, to sustain the regimes, and so on and so forth. Putin came up with a new structure in which he had limited desires from countries like Ukraine. These were irreducible, that is to say, they could not be part of NATO, could not have hostile forces there, they had to cooperate on a bunch of issues. But Russia was not responsible for their future, and it was really a brilliant maneuver because it gave them the benefit of the Russian empire, of the Soviet Union, without the responsibilities, without the drain on the Russian treasury.

And what he has created in Ukraine, in Kazakhstan, in Belarus, is sovereignty for these nations and yet alignment with Russia. And this has made Russia a very powerful player because its house is in order at the same time that, for example, as the European house is in massive disorder. And a country like Germany, for example, living in a very disorderly house now, begins to question whether or not that’s the house it wants to live in, and given the dependence they have on Russian natural gas, given the opportunities they have for investment and technology transfer in Russia, when they look at their relationship with Greece, for example, and they look at the opportunities available within the Russian sphere, they’re attracted to it. But what you’ve really seen the Russians do is a brilliant re-thinking of what it means to have an empire: how to get rid of the liabilities, maintain the benefits and then from a position of strength, deal with countries like Germany and the United States.

Colin: So, STRATFOR was perhaps a little unkind in its forecast for 2011 when it said that Russia would play a double game, ensuring it can reap benefits from having warm relations with countries, such as investment and economic ties, while keeping the pressure up on them. It’s been a clever game, hasn’t it?

George: Well, a double game is a clever game, particularly when no one realizes you’re playing a double game. I have to say that I don’t regard duplicity among nations as a critique of nations, it’s the lifeblood of international affairs. The Russians have said many things in many ways. Right now, they have moved out of the period of confrontation. Until really the Georgian invasion, which thoroughly startled the region and shocked Washington that Moscow would act in such a way, they have been very busy trying to reassert the level of control that they want, to reassert their rights in their sphere of influence and to confront the West. They’ve become much more accommodating because they’ve achieved, within the former Soviet Union, the goals they wanted to achieve by and large. They have become more than just first among equals, they have become the dominant political force in the region, worrying about countries like Tajikistan, worrying about Kyrgyzstan. This has been a transformation and so now they don’t have to be confrontational. Now they’re operating from a position of strength and therefore they don’t have to assert their strength. Now they’re being courted by the Americans, they’re being courted by the Germans and this is the position that Putin wanted to get them into, and he did.

Colin: Now the next president — Putin seems very much in charge and probably wouldn’t bother too much about regaining the presidency this time around anyway.

George: Well, we just spoke about duplicity and double games and I suspect that Medvedev and Putin are playing a double game. I’ve never doubted for a moment that Putin was in charge. He’s the man who masterminded it. But I will also say this: had Putin been hit by a car in 2000, another Putin would have emerged. The direction in which Putin took Russia, rebuilding the security apparatus to control the state, rebuilding the state to control Russia, rebuilding Russia to dominate the former Soviet Union — this was a natural course for any Russian president to follow. This Russian empire, the Soviet Union, were not accidents of history. They didn’t just happen. They were structures that grew naturally from the underlying economic and political relationships.

So as much as I admire Putin for doing what is necessary, I don’t think that Putin as an individual defined what was going to happen. And I don’t think that if Medvedev comes to power, and the White House may like Medvedev more than they like Putin, I don’t think it will change very much. Russia is far too vast to simply be the whim of a given personality. In my view even Stalin represented the vast czarist and Leninist tradition, to an extreme perhaps, but still the idea of the personalization of rule.

Colin: Do we think that relations between the United States and Russia are trending better and if so, is this likely to continue?

George: The media tends to think of better and worse relations — I don’t think of that. Russia has its interests; the United States has its interests. There are times when these interests coincide; there are times when these interests diverge. There are times when one country or the other is too preoccupied with other things to be worried about the other. At the moment, the truth of the matter is that the United States remains deeply concerned with Iraq and Afghanistan and the uprising in the Arab world. The United States doesn’t have that much time to worry about Russia and so you can say that relations have become better. But you can equally say that when they come worse, it’s not so much that a decision was made to make them worse, it’s just natural tensions arising.

Colin: George, thank you. And in next week’s Agenda, George will look at China.

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DougMacG
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« Reply #44 on: July 15, 2011, 10:33:05 AM »

Good analysis IMO.  I see that I already wrote my reaction to it from the last Strat on Russia: America artificially drives up the power and influence of Putin and Russia with our own declinist policies of refusing to produce sufficient energy.
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« Reply #45 on: February 07, 2012, 07:04:22 PM »

The Next Stage of Russia's Resurgence: Introduction
February 7, 2012
 

Stratfor has long followed and chronicled Russia's resurgence, which has included bolder foreign policy moves and resuming the role of regional power. In particular, Moscow has focused its energy in its former Soviet periphery: the Eastern European states of Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova; the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; the Caucasus states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan; and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

In recent years, Russia has increased its influence in many of these states politically, economically, militarily and in the area of security, with the most obvious sign of its return to power coming in the August 2008 war with Georgia. Now, Moscow is preparing for the next stage of its resurgence. This new phase will include the institutionalization of Russia's position as the regional hub, but will also include the use of more subtle levers and influence in areas Moscow wants to bring into its fold -- though not all of these efforts will go unchallenged.

The Geopolitics of the Russian Resurgence

In many ways, Russia's geopolitical strength is derived from its inherent geographic weaknesses. There are few natural barriers protecting Russia's core, and this has required Russia to expand into and consolidate territories around its core to acquire buffers from external powers. With the Arctic Ocean serving as the only natural barrier for Russia to the north, this expansion historically has required Russia to push to the west toward Europe (consolidating Eastern Europe and the Baltics), to the south toward the Islamic world (consolidating the Caucasus), and to the east toward Asia (consolidating Central Asia and Siberia). As Russia absorbed peoples and resources, it grew from a small Eastern European principality in the 13th century to the Grand Duchy of Moscow, which became the Russian Empire and then grew to become the Soviet Union, one of the largest contiguous states in history.

However, this expansion created two fundamental problems for any Russian state: It brought Moscow into conflict with numerous external powers and gave it the difficult task of ruling over conquered peoples (who were not necessarily happy to be ruled by Russia). Russia's geography requires it to expand to stay strong, but paradoxically, the more Russia pushes outward the more difficult and costly it becomes to rule its immense territory. Meanwhile, Russia's lack of access to the wider oceans has cemented its position as a land power but doomed it economically and weakened its position compared to other powers that have ready access to the world's oceans. Such factors have created a cycle in which Russia's power rises and collapses. When Russia is on the rise, it becomes a major regional if not global player, and when it falls it is only a matter of time before it rises again.

So when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 at the end of the Cold War and Moscow lost control of its constituent republics and fell into internal chaos, those circumstances did not guarantee that Russia was permanently removed from the international scene and that a unipolar world dominated by the United States would last forever. Certainly by the end of the 1990s, Russia was severely weakened as a geopolitical power; its economy was in chaos and it faced a military defeat in Chechnya, which gained de facto independence and threatened to spur similar movements within Russia proper.

But things began to change with the beginning of the new millennium. Starting with Vladimir Putin's presidency in 2000, Russia was able to reverse its losses in another more successful war in Chechnya, and Russia's position in its former Soviet periphery began to rise steadily. Numerous factors play into this, including the internal consolidation led by Putin to overcome the chaos of the 1990s, high global energy prices and the U.S. involvement in the Islamic world. In the past few years, most of the pro-Western color revolutions that swept the former Soviet Union in the early 2000s have been reversed. Russia has increased its military footprint in many of these states and is in the process of creating economic institutions to match (most notably its customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan that is set to become the Eurasian Union). In short, Russia has returned to its traditional status of legitimate regional power, and its influence is increasing in its historic geographic buffer zones, which are currently made up of more than a dozen independent states.

Gauging Russia's Resurgence and Looking Ahead

In the context of its resurgence, Russia's broad imperative has been to prevent foreign influence while building and ingraining its own. Of course, Russia's plans for carrying out this imperative differ in each sub-region of the former Soviet Union -- Eastern Europe, the Baltics, the Caucasus and Central Asia -- and in each state.

Russia's resurgence has not been seamless. Since gaining independence, each former Soviet state has developed its own imperatives: consolidating power internally and maintaining some sort of sovereignty. Also, different external powers are competing with Russia for influence in each former Soviet country. Therefore, the imperatives of Russia and the other former Soviet states often clash, which sometimes leads to dynamic and occasionally volatile relations, even with some of Moscow's most loyal allies.

But power is a relative concept, and right now most former Soviet states are too weak to independently stand up to Russia and most external powers cannot match the strength Russia wields in its periphery. And with Putin set to return to the presidency and begin a new chapter for the Russian state, it is important to gauge the progress Moscow has made in its resurgence in the former Soviet Union and what this projection of Russian power will mean in the future.
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« Reply #46 on: December 05, 2012, 10:04:20 AM »



 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------




Summary
 


STR/AFP/GettyImages
 
A Collective Security Treaty Organization summit in Moscow on May 15
 


Russia is expanding its efforts to solidify and institutionalize its influence in the former Soviet states that are most politically aligned with Moscow. On Dec. 4, Russian military chief Col. Gen. Valery Gerasimov said that the Collective Security Treaty Organization military alliance has plans to construct an integrated air and missile defense system among security bloc members. His announcement came a day after Kyrgyz Economy Minister Temir Sariev said that Kyrgyzstan would join the Moscow-led Customs Union in 2014.
 
Increasing economic and security integration with these countries will be key to Russia's goal of forming a Eurasian Union by 2015 and, more important, bolstering the country's presence in its periphery as its regional neighborhood evolves and becomes more unpredictable.
 


Analysis
 
The Collective Security Treaty Organization and Customs Union have been important institutions for gauging Russian power since Moscow re-emerged as a formidable regional player in the mid-2000s. The military alliance -- which has consisted of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and, until recently, Uzbekistan -- is responsible for security integration and cooperation, while the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan deals with economic integration.
 
The military alliance saw substantial activity in the late 2000s, when it began to hold more frequent training exercises and expanded its size and scope to include the military alliance's Rapid Reaction Force. In 2010, Russia established the Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan with the aim of gradually phasing out customs duties and increasing trade among member states. In November 2011, Russia announced that it would seek to form the Eurasian Union by 2015, which would essentially merge the security and economic blocs and possibly expand membership in the unified organization to other states.
 
However, challenges and setbacks faced by each bloc in recent years have impeded the formation of the Eurasian Union. According to its charter, the Collective Security Treaty Organization could have deployed peacekeepers to defend the security of its member states on several occasions, including the ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2011 and the instability in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan in 2012. But Russia opted against intervention in such cases, raising questions about the intent and capabilities of the bloc. Moreover, Uzbekistan suspended its membership in the security alliance in June and officially left soon thereafter over what it says was politicization of the group by Russia. This dealt a blow to the bloc's image and caused concern in Moscow that Tashkent might be considering strengthening security ties with other powers, including some in the West.
 
The Customs Union has also produced mixed results. While trade among Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan has grown since the union was established, it is behind schedule in phasing out some duties, and disagreements persist regarding what to do about existing duties on energy and certain key goods, particularly between Russia and Belarus. The anticipated expansion of the Customs Union to include countries such as Ukraine also has not materialized, despite Russia's persistent attempts to convince Kiev to join. Kyrgyzstan had officially expressed interest in joining the Customs Union, but the time frame for its accession was until recently unclear.
 
In addition to the operational challenges each bloc has experienced, Russia's attempts to expand the Customs Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization into other former Soviet states have also run into problems. Regional divisions have been so rife that Uzbekistan -- long the region's most independent-minded country -- decided to act out against Russia's integration plans and leave the bloc. Ukraine, another country with which Russia is trying to integrate economically, was alarmed by Moscow's attempt to take control of Ukrainian state energy firm Naftogaz, and Kiev has consequently grown resistant to joining the Customs Union.
 
In this context, the announcements about the joint anti-aircraft/anti-missile shield and Kyrgyzstan's Customs Union timetable are notable. Russia appears to be shifting its focus from expanding the membership of these blocs to cementing its ties with the existing members that have proven most willing to work with Moscow. With 2015 approaching rapidly, Russia wants to make sure it is as integrated as possible with these states in both the economic and security realms. In addition, Russia's push for an integrated air and missile defense system is intended to send a message to NATO and the United States, which are trying to secure partners for NATO's Central European missile defense system over Russia's objections.
 






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Member states in each bloc are the most obvious candidates for the Eurasian Union. Kyrgyzstan's membership in the Customs Union in 2014 would open the door for Tajikistan shortly thereafter. The only outlier would be Armenia -- a complicated case given that the country does not share a border with Russia or any other Customs Union member. However, this is more of a technical question, since Armenia's economy is already dominated by Russia and the country is closely aligned with Moscow on security and military matters, even hosting 5,000 Russian troops.
 
This is not to say that Russia is content with its institutionalized influence being limited to these countries. Indeed, Moscow has officially laid out an ambitious agenda for its Eurasian Union. However, due to the changing regional dynamics surrounding many of these member states -- such as China's increased economic presence and influence in Central Asia and Europe's efforts to diversify its energy sources away from Russian energy -- it has become imperative for Moscow to try to lock down these states now.
 
Even these countries occasionally pose challenges for Russia -- a consequence of internal instability in some cases and bilateral disputes with Moscow in others. But Russia knows that without a solid foundation for economic and security collaboration with countries already in the Customs Union or the military alliance, attracting other regional powers would become even more difficult.


Read more: Russia Moves to Reinforce its Alliances | Stratfor
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #47 on: February 19, 2013, 10:54:09 PM »

Editor's note: This is part one of a four-part series that examines Russia's efforts to exert influence beyond its borders.
 
Summary
 
As Russia seeks to expand its influence outside its borders, it has identified four countries that are crucial to its plan to become a major power again. Of those four countries -- Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Georgia -- the first three are already under Russian control. The last one, Georgia, will be the center of Russia's very focused attention until it too is back in the Russian fold.
 
Analysis
 
Russia has been working on consolidating its affairs at home and re-establishing the former Soviet sphere for many years now and has recently made solid progress toward pulling the most critical countries back into its fold. For Russia, this consolidation of control is not about expansionism or imperial designs; it is about national security and the survival of the geographically vulnerable Russian heartland, which has no natural features protecting it.
 
Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, most of Russia's buffer (made up mainly of former Soviet states) fell under pro-Western influence and drifted away from Moscow. But the past few years have seen a shift in global dynamics in which much of the West -- particularly the United States -- has been preoccupied by events in the Middle East and Afghanistan, leaving little time and energy to devote to increasing its influence in the former Soviet sphere. Russia has used this time to begin rolling back such influence. But Moscow knows that this opportunity will not last forever, so it has prioritized the countries involved. This essentially has created four tiers: countries Russia has to consolidate, countries it wants to consolidate, countries it can consolidate but are not high priority and regional powers with which Russia must create an understanding about the new reality in Eurasia.
 
The countries in the first category -- Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Georgia -- are the most critical to Moscow's overall plan to return as a Eurasian power. For Russia, these countries became a major focus even before the Kremlin was done consolidating power at home. These countries give Russia access to the Black and Caspian seas and serve as a buffer between Russia and Asia, Europe and the Islamic world. So far, Russia has consolidated its influence in three of the four countries; Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine all have pro-Russian leaders, and the last country -- Georgia -- is partially occupied by Russia. Solidifying plans for these countries will be Moscow's main focus in 2010.
 
Ukraine
 
Ukraine is the cornerstone to Russia's defense and survival as any sort of power. The former Soviet state hosts the largest Russian community in the world outside of Russia, and is tightly integrated into Russia's industrial and agricultural heartland. Ukraine is the transit point for 80 percent of the natural gas shipped from Russia to Europe and is the connection point for most infrastructure -- whether pipeline, road, power or rail -- running between Russia and the West.
 
Ukraine gives Russia the ability to project political, military and economic power into Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Black Sea. Ukrainian territory also pushes deep into Russia's sphere, with only a mere 300 miles from Ukraine to either Volgograd or Moscow. To put it simply, without Ukraine, Russia would have fewer ways to become a regional power and would have trouble maintaining stability within itself. This is why Ukraine's pro-Western 2004 Orange Revolution was a nightmare for Russia. The change in government in Kiev during the revolution brought a president that was hostile to Russian interests, and with him a slew of possibilities that would harm Russia, including Ukraine's integration into the European Union or even NATO.
 
Russia's Levers
 
After 2004, Russia was content to merely meddle in and destabilize Ukraine in order to ensure it never fully fell into the West's orbit. However, the West's distraction outside of Eurasia has given Russia a limited amount of time to decisively break Ukraine's pro-Western ties. Ukraine is one of the countries where Russia has the most leverage to increase its influence.
 ■Population: Russia's greatest tool inside of Ukraine is that the population is split dramatically, and half the population has pro-Russian leanings. A large Russian minority comprises about 17 percent of the total population, more than 30 percent of all Ukrainians speak Russian as a native language, and more than half of the country belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow patriarch. Ukrainians living east of the Dnieper River tend to identify more with Russia than the West, and most of those in the Crimean peninsula consider themselves Russian. This divide is something Russia has used not only to keep the country unstable, but to turn the country back toward the Russian fold.
 

■Politics: Russia has been the very public sponsor of a pro-Russian political movement in Ukraine mainly under newly elected President Viktor Yanukovich and his Party of Regions. But Russia has also supported a slew of other political movements, including outgoing Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and her eponymous party. According to polls, Ukraine's only outwardly pro-Western political party -- that of outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko -- has support in the single digits.
 ■Energy: Russia currently supplies 80 percent of Ukraine's natural gas, and 2-3 percent of Ukraine's gross domestic product (GDP) comes from transiting natural gas from Russia to the West. This has been one of Moscow's favorite levers to use against Kiev; it has not shied away from turning off natural gas supplies at the height of winter. Such moves have created chaos in Ukraine's relations with both Russia and Europe, forcing Kiev to negotiate on everyone else's terms.
 ■Economics: Russia controls quite a bit of Ukraine's strategic sectors other than energy. Most important, Russia controls a large portion of Ukraine's metal industry, owning factories across the eastern part of the country while influencing many Ukrainian steel barons. The steel industry makes up about 40 percent of Ukrainian exports and 30 percent of its GDP. Russia also owns a substantial portion of Ukrainian ports in the south.
 ■Oligarchs: Ukraine's oligarchs are much like Russia's in the 1990s in that they wield enormous power and wealth. Quite a few of these oligarchs pledge allegiance to Russia based on relationships left over from the Soviet era. These oligarchs allow the Kremlin to shape their business ventures and have a say in how the oligarchs influence Ukrainian politics. The most influential of this class is Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who not only does the Kremlin's bidding inside Ukraine, but also has aided the Kremlin during the recent financial crisis. Other notable pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs include Viktor Pinchuk, Igor Kolomoisky, Sergei Taruta and Dmitri Firtash.
 ■Military: One of Russia's most important military bases is in Ukraine, at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol -- the Russian military's only deep-water port. Russia's Black Sea naval fleet in Crimea is many times larger than Kiev's small fleet. The Russian Black Sea Fleet also contributes to the majority of Crimea's regional economy -- something that keeps this region loyal to Russia.
 ■Intelligence: Ukraine's intelligence services are still heavily influenced by Russia; not only did they originate from Moscow's KGB and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), but most of the officials were trained by the Russian services. The descendant of the KGB, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), has a heavy presence within Ukraine's intelligence agencies, making the organization a major tool for Russia's interests.
 ■Organized crime: Russian and Ukrainian organized crime have a deep connection that has lasted more than a century. Russia has been especially successful in Ukraine's illegal natural gas deals, arms trade, drug and human trafficking, and other illicit business.
 
Russia's Success and Roadblocks
 
The tide of Western influence in Ukraine was officially reversed in early 2010, when Ukraine's presidential elections brought the return of a pro-Russian government to Kiev. Furthermore, all the top candidates in the election were pro-Russian or at least had accommodating attitudes toward Russia. This was not Russia taking hold of Ukraine via some revolution or by force, but the Ukrainian people choosing a pro-Russian government, with the majority of independent and European observers calling the election free and fair. Ukraine chose to return to Russia, proving that all the levers Moscow used to influence the country were effective.
 
Russia still has work to do, in that half of Ukraine still believes the country can still be tied to the West. Also, Ukraine's inherent instability -- mainly due to its demographic split -- can make controlling Kiev problematic. Furthermore, the West's ties to Ukraine grew stronger after the Orange Revolution. The West has infiltrated Ukraine's banking, agricultural, transportation and energy sectors. Russia may have had solid success in Ukraine recently, but it will have to keep focusing on the critical state to keep Western influence from pulling Kiev away from Moscow again.
 
Belarus
 
Belarus is the former Soviet state that has stayed closest to Russia. The Belarusian identity has strong ties to Russia; most Belarusians are Russian Orthodox, and Russian is one of the country's official languages (the other being Belarusian). Belarus, along with Ukraine, links Russia to Europe, and the distance between Minsk and Moscow is merely 400 miles. Belarus lies in one of Russia's most vulnerable areas, in that it is on the North European Plain -- the main invasion route from the west, used by both the Nazis in World War II and by Napoleon in 1812.
 
Belarus is different from the other former Soviet states in that it did not flirt too much with the West after the fall of the Soviet Union, creating a Commonwealth of Russia and Belarus in 1996 -- an alliance that transformed into the present-day vague partnership of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. Belarus rushed to strengthen ties with Russia because Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko believed that if the two countries integrated, he would naturally become vice president -- and next in line for the Russian presidency.
 
Instead, Russia used Lukashenko's ambition to keep Belarus tied to Russia without providing any real integration between the countries. Russia and Belarus have independent governments, militaries, foreign policies, economies (for the most part) and national symbols. Belarus has never been reintegrated into Russia because Russian Prime Minister (and former President) Vladimir Putin, like most Russians, believes Belarusians to be naturally inferior. Moreover, Putin openly loathes Lukashenko on a personal level.
 
But this does not mean that Russia does not want to secure Belarus as a buffer between it and the European Union, or risk allowing Belarus to become seduced by the West. Russia simply wants Minsk to know that in any formal alliance between the countries, Belarus will not be an equal partner.
 
Russia's Levers
 ■Population: Belarus' demographic makeup is Russia's greatest lever. Russians make up roughly 11 percent of Belarus' population. More than 70 percent of the population speaks Russian, and some 60 percent of the population belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church.
 ■Political: Belarus is politically consolidated under the authoritarian Lukashenko. Though he has regular spats with Moscow, Lukashenko is manifestly pro-Russian and even aspires to be part of the Kremlin's leadership. Russia and Belarus have their own union state, though the definition of this alliance is extremely vague. The countries have discussed sharing a common foreign and defense policy, monetary union and even a single citizenship.
 ■Economic: Belarus is heavily tied to Russia economically, with the latter providing more than 60 percent of Belarus's imports, 85 percent of its oil and nearly all of its natural gas. Belarus also transports 20 percent of Russia's natural gas to Europe. Russia is deeply integrated into Belarus' industrial sector, which makes up 40 percent of the country's GDP. During the financial crisis, Russia has also supplied Belarus with loans totaling more than $1 billion.
 ■Military: During the Soviet era, the Russian and Belarusian military and industrial sectors were fully integrated. Those ties still exist; the Belarusian military is armed exclusively with Russian or Soviet-era equipment. Belarus is a member of the Russian-led military alliance of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which allows Russian soldiers access to Belarus at Moscow's will. Russia and Belarus also share a unified air defense system, something that has led Russia to consider stationing its Iskander missile system along Belarus' European borders.
 ■Intelligence: The Russian and Belarusian intelligence services are nearly indivisible. The Russian KGB is parent to the Belarusian KGB, and today's Russian FSB and SVR are still deeply entrenched in Belarus.
 
Russia's Success and Roadblocks
 
Russia has long kept Belarus close, but ties grew even stronger on Jan. 1 when the two countries, along with Kazakhstan, launched an official customs union. This is the first step in creating a single economic space. The union is also beginning to consider expanding to include security issues, like border control. Such a move would nearly completely integrate Belarus with Russia politically, economically and in security matters. Russia is formally reassimilating Belarus, preventing Minsk from having any meaningful relationship with the West.
 
But Russia will have to watch out for Lukashenko's argumentative tendencies. Belarus' erratic behavior hardly ever creates real breaks between the two countries, but does allow a very public display of Russia's lack of control over Minsk's theatrics. The second thing for which Russia must account is increased attention from the European Union; trade with the union accounts for one-third of Belarus' total trade. Many EU states have pushed for closer ties to Belarus through the union's Eastern Partnership program, though there is hardly a consensus in Europe or any agreement from Minsk as to what the EU partnership deal should mean. Belarus wants expertise and funding, while the European Union wants concrete political changes -- and neither is likely to get any significant portion of what it wants. Belarus has never worried Russia too much, but Russia is taking precautions to keep Belarus pro-Russian, if not part of Russia.
 
Kazakhstan
 
Kazakhstan protects Russia from the Islamic and Asian worlds. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has been the most important of the Central Asian states. It is the largest and most resource-rich of the region's five countries and tends to serve as a bellwether for the region's politics. Kazakhstan is strategically and geographically the middleman between its fellow Central Asian states (all of which it borders except Tajikistan) and Russia.
 
Moscow intentionally made Kazakhstan the center of the Central Asian universe during the Soviet era. The reason for this was twofold. First, Russia did not want Central Asia's natural regional leader, Uzbekistan, continuing in this role since it rarely followed orders from Moscow. Second, Russia knew Kazakhstan would be much easier to keep handle than the other Central Asian states, since Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian state Russia borders. Ease of control aside, Kazakhstan is critical to the Russian sphere for myriad reasons. Kazakhstan possesses plentiful oil and natural gas resources, and is a key access route for Russia to the rest of Central Asia and Asia proper. Furthermore, Kazakhstan abuts Russia's transportation links to the rest of Siberia and Russia's Far East. Essentially, losing Kazakhstan could split Russia in two.
 
Russia's Levers
 ■Geography and population: Kazakhstan's size -- nearly one third the size of the continental United States, but with 5 percent of the population -- makes it a difficult country to consolidate. Kazakhstan and Russia share a nearly 5,000-mile border that is almost completely unguarded. The population is split between the north and south with vast barren stretches in between. Russians make up nearly 20 percent of the Kazakh population. Around 25 percent of all Kazakhs work abroad, mostly in Russia, and 6 percent of Kazakh GDP comes from remittances.
 ■Politics: Kazakhstan has been ruled by a single dynasty under Nursultan Nazarbayev since before the fall of the Soviet Union. Of all the leaders of non-Russian former Soviet states, Nazarbayev was the most vocal about not wanting the Soviet Union to disintegrate. Since then, Kazakhstan has flirted with the possibility of forming a political union state with Russia as Belarus has done.
 ■Economics: Most of Kazakhstan's economic infrastructure -- pipelines, rails and roads -- is linked into Russia. Ninety-five percent of all natural gas and 79 percent of all oil from Kazakhstan is sent to Russia for export. Kazakhstan's exports to China are increasing and it sends a few sporadic shipments to Europe via Azerbaijan, but Russia still controls most of Kazakhstan's energy exports. During the recent financial crisis, Russia penetrated Kazakh business, buying up banks and industrial assets.
 ■Military and security: Kazakhstan and Russia are heavily militarily integrated; Kazakhstan is a member of the CSTO, and nearly all of the Kazakh military uses Russian or Soviet-era equipment. Roughly 70 percent of Kazakhstan's military officers are ethnically Russian and trained by Russia. Kazakhstan's largest security concern is from its regional rival, Uzbekistan. Russia is Kazakhstan's main protector.
 ■Intelligence: The Kazakh security apparatus KNB was born out of the Soviet KGB and is closely linked into Russia's present day FSB and SVR. Most Kazakh security chiefs were trained by and are loyal to Moscow.
 
Russia's Success and Roadblocks
 
Though Russia and Kazakhstan have shared a close relationship since the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow solidified its hold on its southern neighbor by creating the aforementioned customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus on Jan. 1. For Kazakhstan, this union makes it generally more expensive to purchase non-Russian goods and weakens the indigenous Kazakh economy. It essentially starts the re-creation of a single economic sphere for the three states under Moscow, which they have pledged to complete by 2012. As mentioned before, the customs union is also considering expanding into security.
 
But unlike Belarus, Kazakhstan has yet to agree to any political union with Russia. There are two large problems that Russia must watch in order to keep Kazakhstan in its fold. The first is China. Kazakhstan has flirted with the West, but Western infiltration has been limited to energy projects and has not entered the political realm. However, this is not true for Chinese influence. China has been slowly and quietly building ties with Kazakhstan on energy, politics and economics and on the social level. Russia will have to keep the Chinese in check just as it must with the West in the other former Soviet states. The other potential problem for Russia's plan would arise if there were a leadership change in Astana. It is not clear what the result of a succession crisis would be in Kazakhstan or if it would change the country's willingness to work with Russia. Such an unknown is something Moscow must consider.
 
Georgia
 
Of the four countries Russia believes it has to pull back into its orbit, Georgia is the one with which Russia has the most problems and is the least consolidated. Georgia borders Russia on the strip of land known as the Caucasus -- a region between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The Caucasus is critical for Russia to protect itself from all those regions. Georgia, as the northernmost country in the Caucasus (besides the Russian republics), is an Achilles' heel for Russia. Georgia also flanks Russia's southern Caucasus republics -- including Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan -- and acts as a Christian buffer between Islamic influences from the south and Russia's Muslim regions.
 
Though Russia and Georgia share many social attributes, such as the Orthodox religion, this state was one of the first former Soviet states -- after the Baltics -- to formally move toward the West. In 2003, the first of the pro-Western color revolutions swept into the former Soviet states with Georgia's Rose Revolution. Since then, Georgia has sought formal membership in several Western institutions like NATO and the European Union.
 
Because of the decisive break from Russia, Georgia and Russia do not formally share official diplomatic ties; the countries' leaders are not even on speaking terms.
 
Russia's Levers
 ■Geography: Russia formally occupies the two main secessionist regions of Georgia: South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The two regions, which make up a third of Georgian territory, have declared their independence with Russian recognition. Russia also heavily influences Georgia's southern secessionist regions of Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti.
 ■Population: Though there is no sizable Russian population in Georgia, nearly 80 percent of the Georgian population is Orthodox with close ties to the Moscow Patriarch. The Russian Orthodox Church does not formally preside over the Georgian Orthodox Church, unlike in Ukraine and Belarus, but the ties between the two groups have long helped Russia to push into Georgia socially.
 ■Politics: The Georgian government is led by vehemently anti-Russian President Mikhail Saakashvili, but more than a dozen opposition groups have tried to destabilize the Rose Revolution president -- something that Russia has sought to take advantage of in the past year. Moreover, Russia is just now starting to organize a formally pro-Russian opposition movement in Georgia.
 ■Military: This is the main lever Russia holds in Georgia mainly due to the large Russian military presence inside of Georgia and flanking the country's southern border. Russia proved in its 2008 war with Georgia that it can quickly invade the country should the need arise.
 
Russia's Success and Roadblocks
 
Russia may have many levers in Georgia, but none has allowed Russia to consolidate control over the country. Instead, Russia has had to prove to Georgia (and the West) that it would never be allowed to stray from its former master. Essentially, Russia had to very publicly break the country. In 2008, Russia carried out a five-day war with Georgia, pushing the Russian military nearly to the capital of Tbilisi. Though Georgia was an ally of the United States and NATO, the West did not involve itself in the conflict. Georgia ended up having a third of its territory split from the country and declared "independent," with Russian forces formally stationed in the regions.
 
This war has had enormous repercussions not only for Georgia, but for the entire Soviet sphere and the West. Russia proved that it could do more than use its political, economic or energy levers in former Soviet states to influence their return to the Russian fold; it could force them back into submission.
 
But Russia has a long way to go in getting Georgia under control. Tbilisi still openly defies Moscow and has asked the West for any kind of support possible, especially military support.
 
With the other three imperative countries falling back into Russia's orbit, Georgia will have Russia's most focused attention. Russia must have all four countries under its control in order to succeed with any other part of its plan to become a major power in Eurasia once again.
 
Introduction: The Targets
 
Part 2: The Desirables
 
Part 3: The Extras
 
Part 4: The Major Players


Read more: Russia's Expanding Influence, Part 1: The Necessities | Stratfor
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #48 on: April 01, 2013, 04:29:39 PM »

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a massive series of surprise military exercises in the Black Sea on Thursday, only the second time in 20 years Russia has ever conducted unscheduled drills. Putin ordered the snap war games before boarding his plane to return to Moscow from South Africa. The order was delivered by letter at 4 a.m. to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who then alerted the approximately 7,000 Russian troops in Crimea, Ukraine, to be woken and rushed to the drills. Those troops are reportedly engaged in operations with hundreds of armored vehicles, dozens of fighter jets and helicopters and approximately 30 warships.
 

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman explains.
 
It is a common axiom of warfare that training should be as close to actual combat as possible to facilitate a military's ability to practice what they would actually be asked to do in combat. This realistic practice should theoretically require the multiple actors in the process to coordinate and perform as seamlessly as possible. Ideally, this will make a military more successful in war. Militaries routinely accomplish this practice through large exercises that encompass multiple branches, command levels and weapons platforms.
 
But not all military exercises are created equal. The larger, more impromptu and complex an exercise is, the more dangerous, potentially embarrassing and expensive that exercise becomes. Exercises also cause wear and tear on equipment and can give away valuable intelligence to potential enemies. Therefore, many countries hedge the reality of these exercises. This can be done in many ways, but the most common is to plan the exercises months or years in advance. Doing so allows for scheduling and rehearsing tasks that amount to a performance rather than a realistic assessment of an actual military drill. Compromises exist between reality and the potential negatives associated with practicing actual capabilities.
 
Russia's decision to start launching snap exercises -- as with the Black Sea Fleet on Thursday and a drill in February that involved ground forces in the Russian Caucasus -- shows a new seriousness in military preparedness. A state commits to such public exercises on this scale for only two reasons. First, because it is serious about qualitatively improving its forces for combat, and second, because it anticipates a threat. Both are relatively true for Russia at this time.
 
Russia is undergoing a substantial restructuring and re-arming of its military. In recent months, the Russian Defense Ministry conducted a series of inspections, which have shown abysmal results, ranging from inadequate training to decaying supplies. For example, it was reported that two-thirds of the Black Sea Fleet's ships will not be fit for service by 2015 since most are more than 30 years old. Russia will start to replace ships and other equipment in 2013, but Putin went further and ordered an "urgent" improvement of the quality of the armed forces, which sparked the first unscheduled exercise in the Russian Caucasus. Russia understands that its military won't be made effective by simply replacing equipment; it knows it must increase its realistic training for a more qualitative improvement.
 
The second reason for a state to hold snap wargames is if it sees an imminent threat, which is why the location of these two unscheduled exercises in Russia is important. The first exercise was held in the Russian Caucasus, and the second was just to its west, in the Black Sea. This neighborhood is one of Russia's most sensitive, volatile and vulnerable regions. The Russian Caucasus continue to be volatile even with the war in Chechnya over. The region will also host the world's delegations at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in just 10 months.
 
The Russian Caucasus and Black Sea also border Georgia, with whom Russia went to war in 2008. The Black Sea is Russia's only warm water port, making it highly strategic. It is also open to a host of players, including Turkey, NATO-members Romania and Bulgaria, and Ukraine, which is engaged in a series of disputes with Russia. Russia does not see war as imminent with any of these players, though it does not exclude the growing competition amongst them.
 
Overall, for Russia to undergo such public and potentially dangerous or humiliating exercises shows a shift in Moscow's thinking. The Kremlin is serious about improving the quality of its military in both a functional and a realistic way. It is beginning with its most sensitive geographic military zone, though the Kremlin has hinted that this is just the start of a new series of drills for the entire military. Holding such snap exercises won't fix all of Russia's problems. The Russian military has issues rooted deeply in its demographic decline, massive corruption, competence and capacity in the military-industrial sector and more. This is just one component of many improvements that must take place.
 
These exercises obviously will not go unnoticed in the region. Since Russia has so far limited the number of troops taking part in the drills, it did not have to notify its neighbors that the exercises would be taking place. Already, the Ukrainian government has requested an explanation from the Russian Foreign Ministry. Ministers are expected to talk by phone Friday. Countries like Turkey will also take notice, particularly since it has been in contention with Russia (the most recent spat stemming from the 2008 Russia-Georgia war) over who gets to use the Black Sea for military purposes. The message that Russia is conveying to the region with these exercises is that it is willing to undergo such a risk in order to prepare its military for the future.


Read more: Russia's Surprise War Games | Stratfor
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #49 on: June 25, 2013, 04:37:17 PM »


Analysis

Editor's Note: This is the second part of a three-part series on Russia's leadership after President Vladimir Putin eventually leaves office. Part 1 revisited Putin's rise to power; Part 2 will examine Russia's demographics, energy sector and Putin's political changes; and Part 3 will explore whether the political systems Putin has built will survive him.

Russia is experiencing major changes affecting its demographics and its energy sector. To address these and other challenges, Russian President Vladimir Putin is instituting changes to Russia's political system.

Demographic Shifts

Russia's population of 143 million is expected to decline by nearly 10 percent by 2030, according to most estimates. The drop is mainly among ethnic Russians. By contrast, the population of Muslims, both indigenous and immigrant, is actually increasing. The decline of ethnic Russians and the increase in the Muslim population means Muslims will comprise 16 percent of the population by 2030. Some estimates put this figure at more than 20 percent due to illegal immigration.

The increasing Muslim share of the Russian population has spawned an ultranationalist backlash. Over the past three years, large nationwide protests have demanded immigration reform and an end to subsidies for Muslim parts of the North Caucasus. A rise in ultra-Orthodoxy played into this, with religious-based vigilante groups trying to take responsibility for Russian security. The decline in the population of ethnic Russians has also put the Russian military under pressure. Moscow is having to downgrade its ambitions of maintaining a 1 million-man army to maintaining an 800,000-strong military. The country's demographic changes have also prompted debate inside the Kremlin regarding whether and how Muslims should be integrated into the army.

In another major demographic change, the first generation born after the fall of the Soviet Union is coming of age. Approximately 21 percent of Russians were born after the fall of the Soviet Union. This shift has changed the mind-set of the population. The new generation never knew a world dominated by Russia and the United States during the Cold War, and they were too young to understand much of the chaos of the Yeltsin era. Most of this generation's experiences occurred under a stable and relatively strong Russia under Putin. Thanks to the Internet, the younger generation also has had many more opportunities for exposure to the outside world than were previously possible. Russia's Levada polling unit estimates that more than 50 percent of Russians now use the Internet, up from less than 10 percent in 2006.

Because of these changes, political discourse has become much more varied inside Russia -- something that has put extraordinary pressure on the Kremlin. Anti-Muslim sentiment, the generational changes and the expanded political consciousness all came to a head in 2011 and 2012, when large anti-Kremlin protests swept the country. The protests seemingly caught the Kremlin off guard. Moscow scrambled to respond, instituting a series of sweeping changes to government policy, demoting or purging key government members, and then cracking down on the protesters. In light of the new situation, the Kremlin has reconsidered how best to maintain control.
Energy Shifts

At the same time as these demographic changes, global energy fluctuations deeply affected Russia's stability. The Russian economy is mostly based on energy, with half of government revenues coming from oil and natural gas. And one of the primary sources of the Russian government's political leverage abroad is via energy relationships with other countries.

Energy as an economic base and revenue mainstay has served the current Russian government well. One of the reasons Putin was able to consolidate the country so effectively in the 2000s is because global oil prices were so high, giving the Kremlin plenty of cash to implement its plans. Meanwhile, Russian dominance of the natural gas market in Europe gave Moscow the wherewithal to re-expand its influence into the former Soviet sphere, rolling back Western influence in many cases.

But when energy prices or demand drops, the Kremlin loses government revenues and much of its influence on its western neighbors. This occurred in 2009, when the global financial crisis was underway and the price of oil fell to approximately $60 a barrel. The Russian economy slumped, with gross domestic product dropping 8 percent, and Kremlin finances were saved only because the government tapped into its massive reserve funds. Currently, the Russian budget is based on the assumption that oil will remain above $90 a barrel. The Kremlin has essentially decided to gamble the future stability of the country on that assumption, though its currency reserves still stand at approximately $530 billion and it has various rainy day funds of approximately $171 billion.

Another uncertainty on top of oil prices is whether Europe will remain Russia's primary consumer of natural gas. After years of seeing Moscow use its natural gas supplies to manipulate them politically, many European states have created ways to diversify away from Russian supplies, such as by building liquefied natural gas import terminals. The possibility of a glut of liquefied natural gas on the market and further developments in shale gas technology threaten Russia's position, particularly in Europe. Because of this, Russia is altering its aggressive stance on energy in Europe in favor of more consumer-friendly arrangements. Russia is also trying to buffer falling European demand by finding customers in Asia, where Moscow is striking deals with China and Japan. Historically, it has not succeeded in this regard, however.

Many challenges remain that threaten the Russian energy sector, which in turn could destabilize the government and country. Many reforms must be considered, such as the liberalization of the natural gas sector, ending Gazprom's present monopoly. In addition, Russia must continue its consumer-friendly policies to maintain its customers. All of this will require changes to the Kremlin's strategy, something that is creating ripples throughout Russia's political elite.

A 'New' Political System

With so many fundamental changes impacting Russia, the old arrangement of government decision-making has fallen apart. Putin is revamping the system with four main goals. First, he wants to create a system in which personalities can be interchanged more easily so he is not reliant on specific people to keep the system afloat. Second, he wants a system that is not vertically built of two clans, but instead be defined in collective sectors. This is so that should one person fail, then other sectors will not be affected. Third, the system should have neutral players popular with the Russian people, or at least to whom the Russian people can relate. And fourth, the system must have a method by which a new generation can rise to the top, creating a succession plan for the elite.

This new system has been dubbed the Politburo 2.0, a title initially used by a Russian consulting group called Minchenko but now common in the Russian media. Politburo 2.0 has some similarities to the Soviet Politburos of old, specifically during the Stalin era. At that time, Politburos were rarely formal entities, but more a collection of Stalin's most trusted elites able to make decisions and policy in their respective fields. Acting as decision-maker over this elite, Stalin ultimately shaped Soviet strategy.

Currently, the Politburo 2.0 system is bifurcated into an internal elite that serves as the primary decision-maker inside the country and an outside tier of technocrats. Including Putin as arbitrator, the Politburo has 10 members, though this number is not fixed.

Russia's Kremlin Politburo

As under Stalin, this Politburo is not a formal organization. Its members' roles can be shifted to deal with changes in Russia. Currently, the 10 people on the Politburo are not technocrats, but overall strategists for Russia's social, political, economic, military, security and business interests. The technocrats under the Politburo do not hold true power or play roles in decision-making. In place of two clans with their own hierarchy, Putin is creating an overarching group of people, each of whom has his own portfolio where they make their decisions, creating a balancing effect, but none of whom is competing with each other.

The current Politburo is made up of those Putin trusts most who have proven themselves to be competent strategists, though the personalities can be interchanged by Putin as needed. Each Politburo member has a base of power to draw on. For example, Igor Sechin oversees the oil sector, Sergei Shoigu the military and Sergei Ivanov the security circles. The one exception is Dmitri Medvedev, who is more of a representative of a series of second- and third-tier reformers (such as Arkady Dvorkovich, Igor Shuvalov, and at one time Alexei Kudrin) who are not powerful enough on their own, but under Medvedev collectively hold weight.

Power Players Outside of Politburo

Three Politburo members oversee decision-making in energy: Igor Sechin, Dmitri Medvedev and Gennady Timchenko. Sechin mainly oversees the oil sector, but is attempting to expand into natural gas; Medvedev's loyalists (such as Alexei Miller) head up Gazprom, which is expanding into oil; and Timchenko is an oil and natural gas trader with interests in private natural gas firm Novatek. These three men see the energy sector in very different ways, with Putin as top decision-maker and arbiter.

There are a few outliers within the Politburo: Chief of the Presidential Staff Sergei Ivanov, who keeps the intelligence sectors in check, and current Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin who oversees the running of Moscow. Ivanov has long been one of Putin's most trusted loyalists, and has been willing to step back when needed. Sobyanin is currently jockeying to succeed Putin and is attempting to remain neutral among all the circles.

Politburo Power Balances

Unlike the clan system, there are potential replacements outside the Politburo keeping pressure on those within. Under the 10 within the Politburo are a series of second-tier main players who are all vying to move up. As mentioned, the existence of these people pressures the elite to keep to Putin's agenda and perform their jobs competently. Putin can swap out the Politburo members with those from the second tier as needed. For example, Medvedev's power is currently diminishing and his loyalists have been falling away. Medvedev could be swapped out by someone like former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who could make decisions as a prime minister and in the financial and energy sectors. Alternatively, Medvedev's roles in the political sector could be filled by someone like Vladislav Surkov, who once was a civiliki leader before falling out of favor.

As other people in Russia prove themselves as competent technocrats or strategists, they can move up into the second tier, meaning that this group is constantly changing and shifting, especially as a new generation begins to be groomed for the future.

Read more: Russia After Putin: The Demographic Challenge | Stratfor
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