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« Reply #50 on: November 17, 2013, 08:23:16 AM »

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Russia Warily Eyes a U.S.-Iran Deal
November 14, 2013 | 0528 Print Text Size
Russia Warily Eyes a U.S.-Iran Deal
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Oct. 7. (SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia is concerned that a U.S.-Iranian accord could alter the regional balance of power at Moscow's expense. Even before the possible entente, the Kremlin was worried that the U.S. military withdrawal from much of the Islamic world would give the United States more freedom of action elsewhere. An agreement with Iran could undermine Moscow's influence in the Middle East and open the door to U.S.-Iranian cooperation along Russia's southern borderlands. Like many other global and regional players with a stake in the outcome of the talks, Russia will have to contemplate a world in which Iran and the United States are not at odds.

Over the past two decades, Russia has been one of Iran's primary supporters at a time when Tehran was relatively isolated in the international community and had hostile relations with many Western powers. However, Moscow and Tehran never shared any particular affinity. In fact, Russia and Iran have historically competed for influence in Turkey, the Caucasus and Central Asia. During the imperial periods, Persia and Russia fought several large wars from 1722 to 1828. While the Soviet Union was the first state to recognize the Islamic republic in 1979, relations between the two were cool, in part because Tehran condemned Moscow's restrictions on religion and the Soviets were already allied with Iraq.
Russia and Iran: Competing Spheres of Influence

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, relations between Tehran and Moscow began to warm while Iran's international isolation was growing. Russia committed to take over construction of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant and became a source of military hardware for Iran. Russia has also provided Iran with intelligence on a range of matters, including Israeli networks in Lebanon and U.S. and British plans to destabilize the Iranian government by, for example, taking advantage of the 2009 "Green Revolution" protests.

For much of the 2000s, U.S. attention (military and otherwise) was focused on the Islamic world, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the standoff with Iran. Moscow took advantage of Washington's preoccupation to start rolling back Western influence in Russia's borderlands. In addition, Russia could leverage its ties with Iran in negotiations with Washington on other matters, such as U.S. support for anti-Russian governments in Ukraine and Georgia. The relationship with Iran was also a way for Russia to secure its southern flank and limit Iranian-Russian competition in the region.
George Friedman and Robert D. Kaplan on U.S.-Iran Relations

Indeed, Moscow has found the standoff between Iran and the United States to be a particularly useful foreign policy tool. For example, during Moscow's negotiations with Washington over U.S. missile defense installations in Central Europe, Russia threatened to counter by selling S-300 missile defense systems to Iran. But Russia has been careful not to support Iran too much, both because a strengthened Iran would threaten Russia's southern flank and because it could provoke the United States and its allies into taking action against Moscow.
From Leverage to Liability

Russia is comfortable and familiar with partnering with a U.S. foe, though in the past such relationships have not proved durable. During the Cold War, Moscow assumed that the United States and China would remain adversaries because there were too many constraints on either side to ever reach a compromise. Following the Sino-American entente in 1971, the United States became a swing player in Sino-Soviet relations, and China became the same in Soviet-American relations. A similar phenomenon is now taking place with Iran. Russia knows that any agreement between Iran and the United States does not mean the two will become allies, and a change would not necessarily affect Russia immediately. But Russia's leaders past and present have had to be long-term strategists, and the Kremlin is weighing the ramifications of an U.S.-Iran entente well into the future.

First, should there be a true rapprochement with Iran, it could free Washington to focus more on other parts of the world. Moscow is worried that Washington would expand its attention both in Russia's periphery, where it has been attempting to boost its influence, and inside Russia itself, where the United States has actively supported anti-Kremlin groups. Russia would not be able to use Iran to counter any U.S. activities against Moscow's interests, and it has little else that is comparably effective in negotiations with Washington.

The second concern is how much the U.S.-Iranian relationship warms in the long term. Iran alone cannot threaten Russia in the region, since the Islamic republic is much smaller economically and militarily. However, U.S. backing could allow Iran to weaken Russia's regional position. Moscow cannot be certain that improved U.S.-Iranian ties would not eventually lead to increased military cooperation and support similar to Washington's relationship with Tehran in the decades before Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Moscow's Areas of Concern

A U.S.-backed Iran increases the vulnerability of Russia's southern flank. Specifically, there are three regions that Russia is concerned could once again fall away from its influence: Turkey, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Namely, Iran has the potential to be a regional energy competitor to Russia, and it can act as a land bridge for Eurasian transit through the Russian borderlands to the Persian Gulf.

Turkey is Russia's second-largest energy consumer, as well as another regional rival to Moscow's influence in its borderlands. Ankara has been looking for alternative suppliers for energy in order to reduce its dependence on Russia. Though there are minor alternatives such as Azerbaijan, Iran has the potential to seriously compete with Russia on the energy production front. Iran is already a minor energy exporter to Turkey, but with increased foreign investment and support in Iran's energy sector -- particularly from U.S. firms -- the country could increase its production on a scale that might challenge Russian energy dominance in the region. In addition, the historical geopolitical competition that saw Russia spar with Ottoman Turkey and Persian Iran -- with the countries alternately aligning with and against one another -- could resume.

The second region where Russia's sway could be undermined is the Caucasus, where Russia relatively successfully increased its influence this year. Currently, Armenia is isolated and reliant on its relationship with Russia in nearly every respect. Georgia has ushered in a government that is more cooperative with Russia, and Russian troops are still stationed in the country's breakaway territories. Azerbaijan has become more accommodating to Russian interests to avoid isolation as the rest of the region moves closer to Moscow. Russia will want to solidify its position in the Caucasus in the short term in case Iran (possibly with U.S. backing) attempts to undermine Russia's position. For example, Iran could offer Azerbaijan an alternative land route for transporting energy to Turkey and Europe or the Persian Gulf. Iran could also boost trade and energy exports to Armenia or Georgia, challenging Russian influence there.

Lastly, Moscow's grip on Central Asia -- a region already seeing increased Sino-Russian competition -- could be jeopardized. The current struggle between Moscow and Beijing has centered on the flow of energy out of Central Asia. Russia has strengthened its control over the pipelines that run between Turkmenistan and China through Kazakhstan. However, Turkmenistan's largest natural gas fields are on the border with Iran, making Iran an option for increasing Turkmen energy exports to the Persian Gulf or the West. Iran could become a transit corridor for Kazakh and Uzbek energy as well. For Central Asian states concerned about possible instability in Afghanistan, Iran could also prove to be a useful security partner on intelligence or even military cooperation in the wake of the U.S. military withdrawal.

The Kremlin understands these vulnerabilities, but it also sees that there is little it can do to interrupt the trajectory of U.S.-Iran negotiations. Instead, Russia has to be thinking of how to protect its position in a changing world. If Iran is no longer an option, finding a new tool to counter U.S. actions and shoring up the southern borderlands will be at the top of Moscow's list of priorities.

Read more: Russia Warily Eyes a U.S.-Iran Deal | Stratfor

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« Reply #51 on: February 13, 2014, 09:51:50 AM »

Russia is facing a confluence of strategic challenges in the former Soviet periphery, an area where the Kremlin has worked hard to expand Russian influence over the past decade. An emerging financial crisis in Kazakhstan and the political crisis in Ukraine are threatening Russia's economic and strategic interests. At the same time, progress in Georgia and Moldova's path toward European integration is eroding Russia's leverage in the region.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman explains.

These challenges to Russia's status as a resurgent regional power come at a delicate time because the country faces a growing host of domestic difficulties. Demographic decline, ethnic tensions and a continued dependency on an unreformed extractive industry are looming dark clouds on the horizon for the Kremlin. While not yet threatening Russia's dominance, the current crises in the former Soviet space are a challenge to Moscow's long-term strategy for the region.

Yesterday, the National Bank of Kazakhstan devalued the country's currency, the tenge, by nearly 20 percent in the aftermath of the emerging markets crisis that has been rocking developing economies over the past few weeks. The impact of the devaluation was immediate, with some currency exchanges and shops throughout Kazakhstan shutting down. More important, the devaluation has raised fears of contagion to other regional economies. A financial crisis in the Moscow-led Customs Union -- currently comprising Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus -- would hamper the expansion efforts of the bloc and perhaps even threaten the cohesion of what has been a cornerstone of Russia's strategy to secure its Central Asian hinterland.

The Kazakh move has also placed additional pressure on the already volatile economic and political situation in Ukraine, where Russia faces yet another strategic threat. Constrained in part by its need to maintain its international image during the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia has been unsuccessful in helping President Viktor Yanukovich to end the political standoff and defuse the protests that have been reinvigorated by support from the West as well as from independent domestic actors. The ongoing political stalemate in Ukraine has demonstrated that although Russia has significant levers of influence in the country, it is for now unable to unilaterally shape political outcomes.

Farther west and south, Russia faces growing pressure in maintaining its influence in another two traditional strategic focal points: Georgia and Moldova. While those countries are not as essential to Russia's security as Ukraine, they are the key for the Kremlin's strategy of consolidating its southwestern flank. European incentives have contributed to the development of Moldova and Georgia's Western-leaning trajectory in recent years.

While Georgia's current ruling Georgian Dream coalition has been more open to engagement with Russia than the previous administration of President Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia is developing a strong partnership with NATO and is pursuing a path to European integration that threatens Russia's policy. However, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has balanced Wednesday's announcement that the United States would finance his country's participation in the NATO Response Force with a public statement that he would be willing to meet with Russian leaders. Similarly, Moldova is building stronger ties to Western institutions.

Also on Wednesday, the European Parliament took a step toward visa liberalization for Moldovans, further incentivizing Moldovan leaders to strengthen cooperation with the European Union. Russia's support for breakaway regions, as well as its past economic pressures on Georgia and Moldova, have not been effective in dissuading the countries from pursuing integration with the West.

Much of Moscow's current assertive foreign policy in its periphery has been driven by concerns that its relatively strong position in the region will come under threat, especially when the United States is able to pay serious attention to the former Soviet periphery. The Putin administration is in the process of addressing the delicate question of restructuring the country's energy sector -- the lifeline of the country's economy -- while also managing the country's looming demographic crisis and growing ethnic tensions, which have the potential to spiral into violence.

The confluence of crises in its periphery may not necessarily signify a definite weakening of Russia's global and regional position -- the European Union, for all its rhetoric, remains weak and internally divided while the United States remains relatively distant -- but it adds to Moscow's growing burden.

Read more: Russia Suddenly Feeling Under Siege | Stratfor
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« Reply #52 on: March 16, 2014, 12:57:34 PM »

Very interesting piece
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« Reply #53 on: March 24, 2014, 12:17:35 PM »

Ruchir Sharma
March 23, 2014 5:55 p.m. ET

Vladimir Putin had been named the "world's most powerful person" last year by Forbes magazine well before he annexed Crimea. The land grab added to the string of geopolitical victories credited to the Russian leader—including his rescue of Syria's Bashar Assad in the chemical-weapons standoff and the safe harbor he gave to the American secrets-spiller Edward Snowden. But Mr. Putin's real power base, the economy, is crumbling.

Russia's economic growth rate has plummeted from the 7% average annual pace of the last decade to 1.3% last year. Now the brokerage arm of the country's largest state bank, Sberbank, SBER.MZ -0.23% expects zero growth in 2014.

Sensing trouble, wealthy Russians have been moving money out of the country at one of the fastest rates in two decades—$60 billion a year since 2012—and now foreign investors are pulling out too. The ruble has fallen by 22% against the U.S. dollar since 2011, and the Central Bank of the Russian Federation has been fighting to prevent a ruble collapse since the Crimean crisis began.

The situation is especially revealing because oil—the mainstay of the Russian state—has stayed relatively stable, hovering at $110 per barrel for three years. Yet the Russian economy is stagnating. This suggests deep-seated problems.

After Mr. Putin became president in 2000, he began working to end the political turmoil and inflation that gripped Russia under Boris Yeltsin. He managed the economy responsibly, getting control of the government budget and retiring debts. Rising global oil prices and easy money did the rest. Between 2000 and 2010, growth and per capita income rose to $10,000 from $1,500. Mr. Putin started this decade with an approval rating of 70%.

But he grew complacent and cocky. Former KGB allies replaced economic reformers in his inner circle. As former President George W. Bush told me in an interview, Mr. Putin in private conversations morphed from a leader who worried about Russia's debt to one who by 2008 taunted the U.S. for having too much debt. He went from saving oil profits in a rainy-day fund to spending them to cement his power.

Before 2008, Russia was putting back to work the oil fields, factories and labor force that were idled by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even so, Mr. Putin built little that was new. While Russia has a relatively high rate of investment, 26% of GDP, much of the money gets funneled into dubious projects by the state. Now the spare capacity is shrinking, and the old Soviet roads and railways are deteriorating, as any regular visitors to Russia can attest.

The inflation rate now stands at 6.3%, fourth highest among the major emerging markets, and well above the emerging world average of 3.8%. Russia has become a classic weak-investment, high-inflation economy.

Despite his growing reputation as a geostrategic mastermind, Mr. Putin's economic strategy is increasingly self-defeating, focused on extending Kremlin control. While countries like Mexico are moving to open up the state oil industry, Russia is closing it off, tossing out foreign partners. Rosneft, the large state oil company, is buying out private companies and now controls 40% of the country's oil production. It is launching its own oil field-services company, bringing in-house a service that multinational oil companies have been hiring out to efficient private contractors for years.

Russia grew richer during the last decade but did not develop in the normal sense of building up more sophisticated manufacturing industries. In a vibrant developing economy such as Korea or the Czech Republic, manufacturing accounts for at least 20% of GDP. Manufacturing in Russia accounts for just 15% of GDP, down from 18% in 2005. Small and medium-size companies of any kind, including banks, struggle to gain a foothold alongside state behemoths.

The result is that the Russian state has few new sources of income outside of oil and gas, at a time when it is taking on more dependents. Demographics are putting a squeeze on public finances, as roughly a million Russians are retiring each year, and too few young people are replacing them in a workforce of about 100 million. The situation leaves fewer taxpayers to fund pensions, after a five-year period in which the Kremlin raised pension payouts by an average of 25% a year.

This is a medium-term threat to the federal budget, which is in surplus now but shows a dangerous deficit if oil revenues—$222 billion or around 10% of GDP last year, according to IMF figures—are left out of the equation. Because of slowing growth and deteriorating terms of trade, the non-oil government deficit is now 11% of GDP. The current account is in a similar position: an apparent surplus, dependent on oil. The non-oil current-account deficit is currently running at a whopping 10% of GDP.

To keep its federal budget in balance, Russia requires an oil price of $110 barrel, so it is tiptoeing on the edge. Yet because other commodity prices have fallen, the price of oil, now $107 per barrel, is at a 30-year high compared with industrial metals. This suggests that oil, too, may be poised for a downshift—which would have a crippling impact on the Russian economy.

For now Russians are applauding their president's confident portrayal of the great power player. But that may change if the economy keeps deteriorating. Remember that by late 2011, as the scale of Russia's slowdown was becoming clear, Mr. Putin's approval ratings tanked and he faced protests in Moscow.

Mr. Putin's approval rating has bounced back following the Sochi Olympics and the invasion of Crimea. But the rest of the world should not be fooled. The world's "most powerful man" is scoring his geopolitical victories from an increasingly vulnerable economic position.

Mr. Sharma is head of emerging markets at Morgan Stanley Investment Management and author of "Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles" (Norton, 2012).
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« Reply #54 on: March 28, 2014, 11:26:06 AM »

Noonan: Mr. Putin's Revealing Speech
At the Kremlin, he makes the case for an increasingly aggressive Russia.
By Peggy Noonan
March 27, 2014 7:35 p.m. ET

It is not fully remembered or appreciated—to some degree it's been forced down the memory hole—that a primary reason the American people opposed the Soviet Union and were able to sustain that opposition (and bear its costs) was that the Soviets were not only expansionist but atheistic, and aggressively so. It was part of what communism was about—God is a farce and must be removed as a force. They closed the churches, killed and imprisoned priests and nuns. Wherever communism went there was an attempt to suppress belief.

Americans, more then than now a churchgoing and believing people, knew this and recoiled. That recoil added energy, heft and moral seriousness to America's long opposition. Americans wouldn't mind if Russia merely operated under an eccentric economic system—that was their business. They wouldn't mind if it had dictators—one way or another Russia always had dictators. But that it was expansionist and atheistic—that was different. That was a threat to humanity.

One of the strategically interesting things about Vladimir Putin is that he has been careful not to set himself against religious belief but attempted to align himself with it. He has taken domestic actions that he believes reflect the assumptions of religious conservatives. He has positioned himself so that he can make a claim on a part of the Russian soul, as they used to say, that his forbears could not: He is not anti-God, he is pro-God, pro the old church of the older, great Russia.

That is only one way in which Putinism is different. The Soviets had an overarching world-ideology, Mr. Putin does not. The Soviets had an army of global reach, Mr. Putin has an army of local reach. The Soviet premiers of old, as Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, noted in an interview, operated within "a certain sense of bureaucracy, of restraints." Mr. Putin's Russia is "so concentrated economically and politically that we don't know what constraints there are on his autonomy." There is cronyism, crackdowns on the press. Mr. Putin has weakened formal institutions—and "institutions are inherently conservative" because "they provide checks and balances." Mr. Haass added that "Putin's ambitions and limits are not clear."

I think we got a deep look at Mr. Putin's attitudes and goals in his speech last week at the Kremlin, telling the world his reasons for annexing Crimea. It is a remarkable document and deserves more attention. It was a full-throated appeal to Russian nationalism, and an unapologetic expression of Russian grievance. (The translation is from the Prague Post.)

At the top, religious references. Crimea is "where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the people of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus."

Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia. Yes, in 1954 "the Communist Party head, Nikita Khrushchev" decided to transfer it to Ukraine. "What stood behind this decision of his—a desire to win the support of the Ukrainian political establishment or to atone for the mass oppressions of the 1930s in Ukraine—is for historians to figure out." But Khrushchev headed "a totalitarian state" and never asked the Crimeans for their views. Decades later, "what seemed impossible became a reality. The U.S.S.R. fell apart. . . . The big country was gone." Things moved swiftly. Crimeans and others "went to bed in one country and awoke in other ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former [Soviet] republics." Russia "was not simply robbed, it was plundered." Crimeans in 1991 felt "they were handed over like a sack of potatoes."

Russia "humbly accepted the situation." It was rocked, "incapable of protecting its interests." Russians knew they'd been treated unjustly, but they chose to "build our good-neighborly relations with independent Ukraine on a new basis." Russia was accommodating, respectful. But Ukraine was led by successive bad leaders who "milked the country, fought among themselves for power."

"I understand those who came out on Maidan with peaceful slogans against corruption," Mr. Putin said. But forces that "stood behind the latest events in Ukraine" had "a different agenda." They "resorted to terror, murder and riots." They are "Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites." "They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day." They have "foreign sponsors" and "mentors."

He declared that "there is no legitimate executive authority in Ukraine now," that government agencies are controlled by "imposters," often "controlled by radicals." In that atmosphere residents of Crimea turned to Russia for protection. Russia could not abandon them. It helped them hold a referendum.

"Western Europe and North America" now say Moscow has violated international law. "It's a good thing that they at least remember that there exists such a thing as international law—better late than never." And Russia has violated nothing: Its military "never entered Crimea" but was already there, in line with international agreements. Russia chose merely to "enhance" its forces there, within limits previously set. There was not a single armed confrontation, and no casualties. Why? Because Crimeans wanted them there. If it had been an armed intervention, he said, surely a shot would have been fired.

In the decades since the Soviet Union's fall—or, as Mr. Putin called it, since "the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet"—the world has become less stable. The U.S. is guided not by international law but by "the rule of the gun." Americans think they are exceptional and can "decide the destinies of the world," building coalitions on the basis of "if you are not with us, you are against us"—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya. The "color revolutions" have produced "chaos" instead of freedom, and "the Arab Spring turned into the Arab Winter."

Mr. Putin cleverly knocked down the idea of European integration. The real problem, he said, is that the West has been moving against "Eurasian integration." Russia over the years has tried to be cooperative, but the U.S. and its allies have repeatedly lied and "made decisions behind our backs." NATO expanded to the east; a missile-defense system is "moving forward." The "infamous policy of containment" continues against Russia today. "They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner. . . . But there is a limit to everything."

Russia does not want to harm Ukraine. "We do not want to divide Ukraine; we do not need that." But Kiev had best not join NATO, and Ukrainians should "put their own house in order."

What does this remarkable speech tell us? It presents a rationale for moving further. Ukraine, for instance, is a government full of schemers controlled by others—it may require further attention. It expresses a stark sense of historical grievance and assumes it is shared by its immediate audience. It makes clear a formal animus toward the U.S. It shows Mr. Putin has grown comfortable in confrontation. His speech posits the presence of a new Russia, one that is "an independent, active participant in international affairs." It suggests a new era, one that doesn't have a name yet. But the decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union were one thing, and this is something else—something rougher, darker and more aggressive.

It tells us this isn't about Crimea.

It tells us this isn't over.
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« Reply #55 on: March 28, 2014, 03:14:58 PM »

No worries. Wars never start in Poland.
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« Reply #56 on: April 29, 2014, 01:59:00 PM »
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« Reply #57 on: May 06, 2014, 08:54:49 AM »

Copying Ambassador Basora's piece into this thread by request:

This looks about right to me, "Unless and until the West takes a seriously strong stand against Putin’s undeclared war against Kiev and commits to keeping Ukraine united and independent, Putin will continue on his present path of stealth conquest."

Foreign Policy Research Institute

Putin’s “Greater Novorossiya” - The Dismemberment of Ukraine
Adrian A. Basora, Aleksandr Fisher  
About the Author:  
(more at the link, sources, footnotes)  May 2014

On April 17, Vladimir Putin introduced a dangerously expansive new concept into the Ukraine crisis. During his four-hour question and answer session on Russian TV that day he pointedly mentioned “Novorossiya” – a large swath of territory conquered by Imperial Russia during the 18th century from a declining Ottoman Empire. This historic Novorossiya covered roughly a third of what is now Ukraine (including Crimea).

Subsequent comments and actions by Putin and his surrogates have made it clear that the Kremlin’s goal is once again to establish its dominance over the lands once called Novorossiya. Furthermore, it is clear that Putin hopes to push his control well beyond this region’s historic boundaries to include other contiguous provinces with large Russian-speaking populations.

Most commentators and media are still focusing on Putin’s annexation of Crimea and on the threatened Russian takeover of the eastern Ukraine provinces (oblasts) of Donetsk and Luhansk. But the far more ominous reality, both in Moscow’ rhetoric and on the ground, is that Putin has already begun laying the groundwork for removing not only these, but several additional provincesfrom Kiev’s control and bringing them under Russian domination, either by annexation or by creating a nominally independent Federation of Novorossiya.

Unless the U.S. and its European allies take far more decisive countermeasures than they have to date, Putin’s plan[1] will continue to unfold slowly but steadily and, within a matter of months, Ukraine will either be dismembered or brought back into the Russian sphere of influence.

Putin’s convenient and expansive (though historically inaccurate) ‘rediscovery’ of Novorossiya now appears to include the following provinces in addition to Crimea: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, Mikolaiv and Odessa. If he can turn this vision into a reality, Moscow would dominate the entire northern littoral of the Black Sea and control a wide band of contiguous territory stretching all the way from Russia’s current western boundaries to the borders of Romania and Moldova (conveniently including the latter’s already self-declared breakaway province of Transdnistria).

If all of these provinces are either annexed by Russia or form a nominally independent federation of ‘Greater Novorossiya’, the population of Ukraine would drop from 46 million to 25 million. This would not only subtract nearly 45% of Ukraine’s 2013 population but also roughly two thirds of its GDP, given that the country’s eastern and southern provinces are far more industrialized than those of the center and west.[2]

So far, neither financial sanctions nor international condemnation of Russia’s aggressions against Ukraine have had the slightest deterrent effect against Putin’s strategy. Instead, he is now steadily undermining Kiev’s control of the country’s eastern oblasts in small slices – currently at the rate of two or three strategic centers per day – the same pace and playbook that enabled Russia to establish total control of Crimea within a matter of weeks.

Given its track record so far, the weak government in Kiev and its even weaker military and security forces are obviously powerless to put a stop to Putin’s Novorossiya strategy. Meanwhile, the western powers continue to talk but take actions that are patently having no deterrent value. Unless the U.S. and its European allies can manage a quantum leap in their sanctions and counter-measures, Putin’s strategy seems likely to continue to unfold, slowly but steadily, likely without need for any overt large-scale Russian military intervention other than menacing moves on Ukraine’s borders.

If this happens, not only will the map of Ukraine be dramatically redrawn, but the entire geopolitical balance of Europe will be decisively altered. And, needless to say, the fate of democracy in the region, which has already suffered worrisome erosion in several post-communist countries over the past few years, will be severely compromised.

And, beyond Europe, Putin will have taken a giant step towards creating his new Moscow-dominated Eurasian Union. This is a potentially massive geopolitical and economic bloc stretching through the Caucasus into post-Soviet Central Asia – with obvious negative global repercussions.

Putin’s Vision of “Greater Novorossiya”

Novorossiya (literally, New Russia) refers historically to a very large section of present-day Ukraine lying north of the Black Sea and stretching from Luhansk and Donetsk in the east to Odessa in the west. Russia, and subsequently the USSR, controlled this region from the 18th century until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. But in the Soviet period it was part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic rather than directly part of Russia.

Ominously, however, on April 17, when Putin evoked the memory of historic Novorossiya, he also exclaimed that only “God knows” why Russia surrendered this region in 1922 to Ukraine.

Just a few weeks earlier, Putin had described Nikita Khrushchev’s decision to incorporate Crimea into Ukraine in 1954 in a remarkably similar vein. The analogy seems all too obvious.

Furthermore, as if Putin’s concept of correcting historic anomalies were not sufficiently threatening, he quickly expanded his description of Novorossiya to include territories that lie well beyond its actual historical boundaries, most notably by explicitly including Kharkiv – a major city and important oblast that was never part of that historic region.

Furthermore, Putin and his hard-line Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, along with the Kremlin’s prolific propaganda machine, also regularly attempt to legitimize Russian intervention by focusing on the high number of “Russians” in Ukraine overall. Lavrov has also repeatedly claimed that Moscow has a right to protect Russian “citizens” in Ukraine – thus adding a further argument in favor of defining the new version of Novorossiya quite expansively.

Putin’s Motives and Russian Grand Strategy

Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine strategy is driven by three goals: survival, empire and legacy.

First and foremost, Putin sees the fate of Ukraine as an existential issue both for himself and for the authoritarian regime that he and his inner circle have gradually rebuilt over the past fifteen years. The Orange Revolution of 2004 was a deep shock to Putin because of the echoes it created in Russia and because Ukraine seemed to be on the brink of becoming a major source of longer-term “democratic diffusion” right on Russia’s long southwestern border. Fortunately for Putin, however, the luster of this revolution quickly wore off once its leaders gained office and failed to live up to their reformist promises. From the start there was infighting between Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko; reforms were postponed; the Ukrainian economy spiraled downward and corruption remained rampant.

By the time Yushchenko’s presidency ended in 2010, many voters had come to see Viktor Yanukovych as a preferable alternative. Yanukovich also reportedly benefited from substantial financial and “political technology” support from Moscow. For Putin, Yanukovych was a promising alternative to the western-oriented “Orange” leaders, since he seemed likely to maintain strong trade and financial ties with Russia, show proper deference towards Moscow and, above all, keep Ukraine out of NATO. But it turned out that too many Ukrainians were unwilling to follow the Putin/Yanukovich script.

When Yanukovich fled Kiev on February 21, it must have seemed to the Kremlin that a second wave of the Orange Revolution had taken control of Ukraine. Putin no doubt trembled with fury – but also with fear.

Putin’s second driving motive for going all out to reassert as much dominance as possible in Ukraine combines his goals of restoring a Russian empire and of burnishing his personal legacy. It is abundantly clear that Putin seeks to restore Russia to its former imperial glory, and in so doing to secure for himself a place in history as one of the greatest Russian leaders of all time. In a 2005 speech, Putin famously stated that “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”[3]

Putin’s comments on the Soviet Union, taken together with his current vision of Novorossiya, should make it crystal clear to the West that the crisis in Ukraine is not a small-scale conflict, nor simply an internal political problem between eastern and western Ukraine. Rather, a de facto war for control of Ukraine has begun – and Ukraine, in turn, is only a part (though a very important one) of Putin’s strategic plan to re-establish Russian hegemony over as much as possible of the former Soviet Union, and thus to reassert Russia’s role as a major global power.

Repeating the Crimea Playbook, Province by Province

Although his strategy in Ukraine is highly ambitious, Putin is clearly convinced that the most effective tactic is to proceed one stealthy step at a time. He will avoid overt military intervention if at all possible so as not to shock the western powers into genuinely painful countermeasures. Putin is clearly repeating the Crimea pattern in eastern Ukraine, having already established de facto control of over a dozen key locations in its most important eastern province, Donetsk. This is Ukraine’s most industrialized oblast[4], with a population of 74.9 percent Russian speakers and very strong industrial ties to Russia.

The next three oblasts most immediately threatened by Russian stealth takeovers are Luhansk with 68.6 percent Russian speakers, Zaporizhia with 48.2 percent. Kherson with 24.9 percent also belongs on the immediately endangered list, despite its lower percentage of Russian-speakers, because Russia needs to control it along with Donetsk in order to create a “land bridge” between Russia and Crimea. A further “favorable” factor from Moscow’s viewpoint is that Kherson – along with Donetsk, Zaporizhia and part of Luhansk – falls largely within the boundaries of historic Novorossiya.

Beyond these four provinces, there have already been major Russian incursions into the two contiguous provinces of Luhansk and Kharkiv (which has a 44.3 percent Russian speaking population). And, as mentioned earlier, Putin has also proclaimed publically, even though inaccurately, that Kharkiv is part of Novorossiya.

To the west of the six oblasts mentioned above are Mykolaiv and Odessa, which have 29.4 percent and 41.9 percent Russian speakers, respectively. The strategic port city of Odessa has already seen the same type anti-Kiev agitation and organization of a secessionist movement that are the hallmarks of the Crimea playbook. Christian Caryl, an American journalist and editor of Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab, has recently interviewed Odessans who are excited about the prospect of an autonomous Novorossiya state. He quotes one citizen as exclaiming, "A population of 20 million, with industry, resources. With advantages like that, who needs to become a part of Russia? By European standards that's already a good-sized country.”[5]

Language, Ethnicity and Attitudes

In claiming a Russian right to intervene in these eastern and southern provinces, it is clear that Moscow will use a maximalist definition of “Russians”. This means counting the number of Russian speakers rather than the number of ethnic Russians.[6] This is to Putin’s advantage, since the number of ethnic Russians in these provinces is much lower than the number of Russian speakers. Furthermore, not only do many Ukrainians living in the east and south acknowledge Russian as their native tongue, but an additional significant percentage speak the language fluently, which Moscow could well use as a further rationale either for the annexation of these provinces or to create an enlarged version of Novorossiya that would in fact be subservient to Moscow.

Beyond fueling ethnic and linguistic differences to justify Russia’s incursions into Ukraine, Putin is working systematically to create a permanent rift between eastern and western Ukrainians based on pre-existing differences of perspective and attitude, and by building upon manufactured confrontations and grievances.

Recent public opinion polls conducted by the Baltic Surveys/The Gallup Organization show that the linguistic and ethnic divisions between western and eastern Ukraine also correlate with the two regions’ viewpoints on a variety of issues including: Russia’s military excursion in Crimea, the EuroMaidan protests that ousted Yanukovich, and the upcoming presidential election on May 25.[7] According to the poll, over 94 percent of western Ukrainians believed Putin’s actions in Crimea constituted an invasion, while only 44 percent of eastern Ukrainians believed the same. In fact, 45 percent of eastern Ukrainians believed that the referendum in Crimea on joining Russia is a legitimate right of the residents of Crimea to express their opinion about the future of Crimea.

Sixty-six percent of citizens in western Ukraine said they viewed the Euromaidan events positively while only 7 percent of citizens in eastern Ukraine said the same. While 34 percent of citizens in western Ukraine said they would vote for Petro Poroshenko, the “chocolate oligarch”, in the upcoming presidential election, only 7 percent of eastern Ukrainians agreed, and 11 percent said they would vote for Serhiy Tihipko, a former member of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions who has taken a pro-federalization stance.

Perhaps most importantly, 59 percent of citizens in eastern Ukraine are already in favor of joining Russia’s Customs Union as opposed to 20 percent who are in favor of joining the European Union.

The total population of Putin’s ideal Greater Novorossiya (Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, Dnepropetrovsk, Mykolaiv, Odessa, and Crimea), would be approximately 21 million. This would be a sizable potential addition to the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus, Armenia and Kazakhstan, which would give Putin’s Russia even stronger economic leverage against the European Union.

Russian journalist Yulia Latynina views Putin’s tactics in Crimea and eastern Ukraine as a new military strategy, in which the government controls and distorts information to cast Russia and the pro-Russian separatists as the victims. She argues that this “is far more important than achieving a military victory. To come out the winner in this scenario, you don't have to shoot your enemy. All you have to do is either kill your own men — or provoke others into killing them — and then portray it as an act of aggression by the enemy with all of the attendant media spin.”[8] Due to this media spin, all of the Ukrainian government’s attempts at diffusing the situation in the eastern provinces have horribly backfired.

Implications for Moldova and Beyond

Even assuming that Putin achieves his ambitious vision of a Greater Novorossiya, there is no guarantee that Putin will stop at Odessa. In fact, the contrary seems likely. Moldova would also be directly threatened. In March, the separatist de facto government in Transdniestria asked to be incorporated into the Russian federation.[9] Putin could thus easily repeat the same tactics that were successful in Crimea and are working in eastern Ukraine, in Transdniestria. This breakaway region would become independent from Moldova and possibly join the Novorossiya federation.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss the potential impact of this scenario on the weak remainder state of Moldova or, for that matter of the putative rump state of central and western Ukraine. Suffice it to say that, if Ukraine and the West do not act decisively against Russian “irredentism” in eastern Ukraine, any state in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, or Central Asia with a Russian speaking minority could well be at risk of either dismemberment or of de facto Russian domination as the price of avoiding it.

Can Putin be Stopped?

It is hard to envision any realistic scenario whereby the current Ukrainian government in Kiev might stop this slow and steady dismemberment of the country. Given pro-Russian separatists’ success in seizing government buildings all across eastern Ukraine with impunity, what options does the current Ukrainian government have?

If Ukraine can manage to make serious military efforts to counteract the gradual slicing off of its provinces, Moscow will blame the resultant bloodshed on Western-instigated “fascists” in Kiev and would likely intervene militarily to assure the victory of the pro-Russian separatists whom they are currently instigating and assisting with semi-covert military support. Putin has already expressed indignation towards Ukraine’s miniscule “anti-terrorist operations” in the east and has called these actions a “grave crime.”[10]

Given Ukraine’s likely ineffectiveness in dealing with Russia’s incursions into its territory, what options does the West have in dealing with Russia’s increased aggression and imperialistic ambitions?

The U.S., its NATO allies and the European Union are left with two basic options. The first is to continue the current pattern of de facto acquiescence. The West can continue its current course of public condemnation and minor punitive economic and financial sanctions that stop short of really serious pain on either side. If so, Putin will almost certainly ignore the West’s sanctions, despite their toll on the Russian economy. He will thus move steadily ahead with his plan to either separate and federalize eastern and southern Ukraine, or incorporate it into Russia.

The alternative is for the West to undertake truly deep and thus mutually painful economic sanctions that would sharply reduce Russia’s oil and gas exports and revenues, decimate foreign investment and wreak havoc with that country’s economy. This would require going very far beyond the half-hearted European support for intensified sanctions against Russia that we have seen so far, especially among European countries with strong trade ties to Russia.[11]

And, given the insulation of Putin and his ruling elite from economic pain, there would also need to be a strong show of military resolve. The U.S. would need to at least double the number of its forces stationed in Europe (currently only 66,000 vs. 400,000 during the Cold War) and NATO would have to move several thousand European, Canadian and American troops to the eastern borders of Poland and the Baltic republics, and to northeastern Romania.

As of now, the West has not committed a substantial number of troops to the defense of Eastern Europe, despite its treaty obligations to defend these NATO members. On April 23rd, the U.S. sent 150 American troops, with 450 more expected to join them, to Poland as part of a military exercise.[12] However, these 150 troops are dwarfed by Russia’s 40,000 men stationed at the Ukrainian border.[13] From Putin’s expansive perspective, these micro-exercises are derisory at a time when he has held military exercises near Ukraine involving troops in the tens of thousands.

Putin will not be deterred by anything short of a commensurate show of resolve by the Western powers.

Unless and until the West takes a seriously strong stand against Putin’s undeclared war against Kiev and commits to keeping Ukraine united and independent, Putin will continue on his present path of stealth conquest. He will implement his own vision of Novorossiya as a step towards re-establishing a “Greater Russia” – one that continues its aggressive expansionism well beyond Ukraine and in which he plays a major role on the world stage dedicated to undercutting the West and its democratic values.
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« Reply #58 on: July 21, 2014, 11:50:19 AM »
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« Reply #59 on: September 03, 2014, 09:51:37 AM »

By Robert D. Kaplan and Eugene Chausovsky

Editor's Note: With Russia, Europe and Ukraine continuing negotiations over natural gas supplies this week, Stratfor is republishing this Global Affairs column from November 2013. In addition to detailing the web of energy pipelines that connects the two landmasses, Chief Geopolitical Analyst Robert D. Kaplan and Senior Eurasia Analyst Eugene Chausovsky make the case that the relationship between Russia and Europe revolves around hydrocarbons -- and that Moscow's best option is to preserve as much of its European market share as possible.

At this juncture in history, the fate of Europe is wound up not in ideas but in geopolitics. For millennia, eruptions from Asia have determined the fate of Europe, including invasions and migrations by Russians, Turkic tribes and Byzantine Greeks. Central and Eastern Europe, with their geographical proximity to the Asian steppe and the Anatolian land bridge, have borne the brunt of these cataclysms. Today is no different, only it is far subtler. Armies are not marching; rather, hydrocarbons are flowing. For that is the modern face of Russian influence in Europe. To understand the current pressures upon Europe from the east it is necessary to draw a map of energy pipelines.
Russian-European Natural Gas Networks
Click to Enlarge

One-quarter of all energy for Europe comes from Russia, but that statistic is an average for the whole continent; thus, as one moves successively from Western Europe to Central Europe to Eastern Europe that percentage rises dramatically. Natural gas is more important than oil in this story, but let us consider oil first.

Russia is among the top oil producers worldwide and has among the largest reserves, with vast deposits in both western and eastern Siberia. Crucially, Russia is now investing in the technology necessary to preserve its position as a major energy hub for years and decades to come, though it is an open question whether current production levels can be maintained in the long term. Russia's primary gateway to Europe for oil (and natural gas) is Belarus in the north and Ukraine in the south. The Druzhba pipeline network takes Russian oil through Belarus to Poland and Germany in the north and in the south through Ukraine to Central Europe and the Balkans, as well as to Italy. Russia certainly has influence in Europe on account of its oil, and has occasionally used its oil as a means of political pressure on Belarus and Ukraine. But moving westward into Europe, negotiations over Russian oil are generally about supply and pricing, not political factors. It is really with natural gas that energy becomes a useful political tool for Russia.

Russia is, after the United States, simply the largest producer of natural gas worldwide, with trillions of cubic meters of reserves. Europe gets 25 percent of its natural gas from Russia, though, again, that figure rises dramatically in Central and Eastern Europe; generally, the closer a country is to Russia, the more dependent it is on Russian natural gas. Central Europe (with the exception of Romania, which has its own reserves) draws roughly 70 percent of the natural gas it consumes from Russia. Belarus, Bulgaria and the Baltic states depend on Russia for 90-100 percent of their natural gas needs. Russia has used this dependence to influence these states' decision-making, offering beneficial terms to states that cooperate with Moscow, while charging higher prices and occasionally cutting off supplies altogether to those that don't. This translates into real geopolitical power, even if the Warsaw Pact no longer exists.

The Yamal pipeline system brings Russian natural gas to Poland and Germany via Belarus. The Blue Stream pipeline network brings Russian natural gas to Turkey. Nord Stream, which was completed in 2011, brings Russian natural gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea, cutting out the need for a Belarus-Poland land route. Thus, Belarus and Poland now have less leverage over Russia, even as they are mainly dependent on Russia for their own natural gas supplies by way of separate pipelines.

The next major geopolitical piece in this massive network is the proposed South Stream pipeline. South Stream would transport Russian natural gas across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria, with another line running to Italy via the Balkans and the Adriatic. South Stream could make Central Europe and the Balkans more dependent on Russia, even as Russia does not require Ukraine for the project. This, combined with Nord Stream, helps Russia tighten its grip on Ukraine.

But there is also Caspian Sea oil and natural gas to consider, particularly from Azerbaijan, which inhibits Russia's monopoly. Oil and natural gas pipelines built with the help of Western energy companies in the 2000s bring energy from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku through Georgia to Turkey and onwards to Europe. Furthermore, the Nabucco pipeline network has the potential to bring Caspian Sea natural gas across the Caucasus and Turkey all the way to Austria, with spur lines coming from Iraq and Iran. Obviously, this is a complex and politically fraught project that has not materialized. Winning out over Nabucco has been the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), a far less ambitious network that will bring Azerbaijani natural gas across Turkey to Greece and Italy. Because TAP avoids Central Europe and the Balkans, its selection over Nabucco constitutes a clear victory for Russia, which wants Central and Eastern Europe dependent on it and not on Azerbaijan for energy. In fact, Russian political pressure was a factor in TAP's victory over Nabucco.

The real long-term threat to Russian influence in Europe comes less from Azerbaijan than from the building of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. These are facilities located on coastlines that convert LNG back to natural gas after it has been liquefied to enable transport across seas and oceans. With an LNG terminal, a country is less dependent on pipelines emanating from Russia. Poland and Lithuania are building such terminals on the Baltic Sea and Croatia wants to build one on the Adriatic. The Visegrad countries of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been building pipeline interconnectors, in part to integrate with -- and take advantage of -- these Baltic terminals. This LNG comes from many sources, including North Africa, the Middle East and North America. That is why Russia is deeply concerned about vast shale gas discoveries in the United States and elsewhere in Europe -- natural gas that could eventually be exported with the help of LNG terminals to Central and Eastern Europe.

Russia is also worried about the European Union's attempt to break its energy monopoly through legal means. According to new legislation known as the Third Energy Package, which is still in the process of being implemented, one energy company cannot be responsible for production, distribution and sales, because the European Union defines that as a monopoly. And such monopolistic practices actually describe Russian energy companies like Gazprom. If the European Union gets its way, Russian corporate control will be unbundled.

Therefore, we forecast that Russia's use of energy to extract political concessions will weaken over time, but will nevertheless remain formidable in parts of Central and Eastern Europe. While energy has served as an effective tool for Russia to wield political influence in Europe, Moscow is first and foremost concerned about maintaining the revenue from energy exports that has become so crucial for Russia's own budget and economic stability. In this sense, maintaining European market share (and further developing market share in Asia) takes precedence over political manipulation for Moscow.

Consequently, Russia will have to become even more subtle and sophisticated in the way that it deals with its former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact satellites.

Read more: Pipelines of Empire | Stratfor
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« Reply #60 on: September 10, 2014, 09:56:10 AM »

In the context of Putin running Russia, this seems quite plausible to me:

Russia’s Next Land Grab

WASHINGTON — UKRAINE isn’t the only place where Russia is stirring up trouble. Since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Moscow has routinely supported secessionists in bordering states, to coerce those states into accepting its dictates. Its latest such effort is unfolding in the South Caucasus.

In recent weeks, Moscow seems to have been aggravating a longstanding conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan while playing peacemaking overlord to both. In the first week of August, as many as 40 Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers were reported killed in heavy fighting near their border, just before a summit meeting convened by Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin.

The South Caucasus may seem remote, but the region borders Russia, Iran and Turkey, and commands a vital pipeline route for oil and natural gas to flow from Central Asia to Europe without passing through Russia. Western officials cannot afford to let another part of the region be digested by Moscow — as they did when Russia separated South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, just to the north, in a brief war in 2008, and when it seized Crimea from Ukraine this year.

Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not new. From 1992 to 1994, war raged over which former Soviet republic would control the autonomous area of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region with a large Christian Armenian population of about 90,000 within the borders of largely Muslim Azerbaijan. The conflict has often been framed as “ethnic,” but Moscow has fed the antagonisms. That war ended with an Armenian military force, highly integrated with Russia’s military, in charge of the zone. The war had killed 30,000 people and made another million refugees.

Even today, Armenia controls nearly 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory, comprising most of Nagorno-Karabakh and several surrounding regions. Despite a cease-fire agreement since 1994, hostilities occasionally flare, and Russian troops run Armenia’s air defenses. Moscow also controls key elements of Armenia’s economy and infrastructure.

More to the point, Russia has found ways to keep the conflict alive. Three times in the 1990s, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed peace agreements, but Russia found ways to derail Armenia’s participation. (In 1999, for example, a disgruntled journalist suspected of having been aided by Moscow assassinated Armenia’s prime minister, speaker of Parliament and other government officials.)

An unresolved conflict — a “frozen conflict,” Russia calls it — gives Russian forces an excuse to enter the region and coerce both sides. Once Russian forces are in place, neither side can cooperate closely with the West without fear of retribution from Moscow.

The latest violence preceded a summit meeting on Aug. 10 in Sochi, Russia, at which Mr. Putin sought an agreement on deploying additional Russian “peacekeepers” between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On July 31, Armenians began a coordinated, surprise attack in three locations. Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham H. Aliyev, and defense minister were outside their country during the attack and Mr. Aliyev had not yet agreed to attend the summit meeting. But the Armenian president, Serzh A. Sargsyan, had agreed to; it’s unlikely that his military would have initiated such a provocation without coordinating with Russia. (The meeting went on, without concrete results.)

Before the meeting, Moscow had been tightening its grip on the South Caucasus, with Armenia’s tacit support. Last fall, Armenia’s government gave up its ambitions to sign a partnership agreement with the European Union and announced that it would join Moscow’s customs union instead.

Renewed open warfare would give Russia an excuse to send in more troops, under the guise of peacekeeping. Destabilizing the South Caucasus could also derail a huge gas pipeline project, agreed to last December, that might lighten Europe’s dependence on Russian fuel.

But astonishingly, American officials reacted to the current fighting by saying they “welcome” the Russian-sponsored summit meeting. Has Washington learned nothing from Georgia and Ukraine? To prevent escalation of the Caucasus conflict, and deny Mr. Putin the pretext for a new land grab, President Obama should invite the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia to Washington and show that America has not abandoned the South Caucasus. This would encourage the leaders to resist Russia’s pressure. The United Nations General Assembly session, which opens next week, seems like an excellent moment for such a demonstration of support.

Washington should put the blame on Russia and resist any so-called conflict resolution that leads to deployment of additional Russian troops in the region.

Finally, the West needs a strategy to prevent Moscow from grabbing another bordering region. Nagorno-Karabakh, however remote, is the next front in Russia’s efforts to rebuild its lost empire. Letting the South Caucasus lose its sovereignty to Russia would strike a deadly blow to America’s already diminished ability to seek and maintain alliances in the former Soviet Union and beyond.
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« Reply #61 on: September 10, 2014, 10:39:06 AM »

Excellent find.

Please post here as well:
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« Reply #62 on: December 11, 2014, 07:13:53 PM »

 Russia Refocuses on the Middle East
Geopolitical Diary
December 11, 2014 | 02:49 GMT Text Size Print

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has maintained an active travel schedule in the Middle East recently. Bogdanov, a career Russian diplomat with decades of experience in the Middle East, coordinates closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and is considered a serious behind-the-scenes player in terms of Russia's diplomatic efforts in the region. (Putin named him as his special envoy to the Middle East on Nov. 1.) This is why we took note of Wednesday's announcement by the Russians that they are ready to host a meeting between the United States and Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government in Moscow if both sides request it, although serious impediments to such a scenario remain.

The announcement comes on the heels of high-level Russian moves in Turkey and Iran. Moscow's announced plans to abandon the South Stream natural gas project in favor of a pipeline running directly though Turkey, along with Russia's involvement in the P-5+1 nuclear talks with Tehran in recent weeks, reflect a resurgence of Russian diplomatic activity in the Middle East.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.

Russia's complicated relationship with Iran limits the role Moscow can play in Iranian diplomatic efforts — a reality reinforced by Tehran's announcement on Wednesday that it would not be entering an oil bartering deal with Moscow, despite a recent flurry of Russian media reports claiming that such a deal is imminent.

Moscow understands the limits of reaching a lasting strategic accord with Iran, but Russia's primary goals in its Middle East strategy are not necessarily better bilateral relations with individual states such as Iran, Egypt or Syria. Rather, Russian activities in the Middle East are meant to augment its global strategies, especially with regard to directing U.S. attention away from areas that the Kremlin considers threatened by Washington's actions, such as Ukraine. Russia has been successful in its Middle East activities, most notably in negotiating a chemical weapons destruction plan that deterred direct U.S. military strikes against Syria in 2013.

Russia also aims to limit U.S. opportunities for building more stable relationships in the Middle East. Moscow has been successful in this regard, as illustrated most recently by Turkey and Russia's plans to transit natural gas to Europe, circumventing Ukraine, and in a more limited sense with Moscow's relationship with Tehran. A meeting between the United States and al Assad also risks alienating the United States from regional allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which strongly oppose any policy that could result in the al Assad government staying in place as part of a negotiated settlement.

Over the past month traveling across the Middle East, Bogdanov has hosted representatives from Syria in Moscow and met with the Qataris in Bahrain. Amid mounting domestic economic difficulties and ongoing tensions with the West over Ukraine, Moscow is reverting to what has become a familiar and successful tactic in recent years.

Russia's intentions in the Middle East are hardly altruistic. If Russia wants to mediate for the motley crew of combatants and foreign nations playing supporting roles in the Syrian conflict, the primary goal is unlikely to be peace. However, by refusing to be sidelined in global discussions and by continuing to draw U.S. attention and effort into the traditional quagmire of Middle Eastern conflict, Russia hopes to better secure its own interests in its strategic periphery. Moscow has faced a strong challenge to its position in Ukraine, and its energy-dependent economy will struggle to adjust to the current downtown in global oil prices. Russia is far from down for the count, however, and recent diplomatic moves in the Middle East show that Moscow is still a formidable geopolitical player.

Read more: Russia Refocuses on the Middle East | Stratfor
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