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Topic: US-Russia (Read 22412 times)
British Justice vs. Kremlin Impunity
Reply #150 on:
January 31, 2015, 11:11:57 AM »
British Justice vs. Kremlin Impunity
The polonium-poisoning murder of a Russian exile and Putin critic in 2006 finally gets a public inquest.
By Sohrab Ahmari
Updated Jan. 30, 2015 6:34 p.m. ET
“It has been described as one of the most dangerous post-mortem examinations ever undertaken in the Western world, and I think that’s probably right.”
So testified forensic pathologist Nathaniel Cary on Wednesday, the second day of the inquiry into the 2006 poisoning death of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko. The proceeding, held at the Royal Courts of Justice, aims to examine the circumstances under which Litvinenko was murdered with radioactive polonium-210, a highly unusual poison and one of many Hollywood-ready elements of the case that has made it a tabloid fixture for nearly a decade.
Some aspects of the inquiry have a definite cloak-and-dagger feel. Also on Wednesday, journalists were barred from the room at one point so that “Scientist A1,” whose day job is to help maintain the U.K. nuclear deterrent, could testify about the deadly substance. The press was ushered into a separate annex, where Scientist A1 could be heard but not seen.
The details of the case largely are more prosaic, when they’re not confusing for a lay audience. The top-secret Scientist A1 was there to tell the inquiry that “one gram of polonium-210 emits one-six-six, zero-zero-zero, zero-zero-zero, zero-zero-zero, zero-zero-zero alpha particles per sec—”
“Pausing right there,” an exasperated barrister interrupted, inadvertently triggering laughter in the courtroom and the press annex. “I may be wrong, but 166 quadrillion per second?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” Scientist A1 replied.
Such arcane details are essential to understanding the case. These alpha particles ravaged Litvinenko’s body from the inside out after he drank tea laced with polonium-210 on Nov. 1, 2006.
He’d been meeting at a posh London hotel with a fellow alumnus of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, and a Russian businessman. Later that day Litvinenko fell ill with nausea and diarrhoea. Soon his hair fell out, his lips thinned to nothing and his face shriveled.
After years of loyal service to the FSB and its predecessor, the KGB, Litvinenko and other FSB colleagues in 1998 held a news conference during which they charged that “the FSB is being used by certain officials solely for their private purposes. It’s being used for settling scores and carrying out private and criminal orders for payment.” Here was an insider laying bare the ugly workings of the new mafia state that had replaced Communism.
The FSB response was swift. Litvinenko was expelled from the service, and prosecutors charged him with “exceeding his official authority.” After being jailed for seven months, he was cleared of that charge, then briefly detained again. His phone was tapped. Prosecutors vowed to bring one fabricated charge after another, as his widow, Marina, told me last year.
The family escaped in 2000 to the U.K., where Litvinenko continued his activism and, his widow says, began cooperating with the British secret service, MI6. In 2002, he published a book alleging that Vladimir Putin had staged a series of Moscow bombings in 1999 and blamed Chechen rebels, all as part of a ploy to ascend the Kremlin throne. Four years later, Russian lawmakers enacted laws authorizing the targeting of state enemies abroad.
Just over three weeks after he drank that fateful tea, Litvinenko was dead. Yet as the testimony at the inquiry on Wednesday made clear, the cause eluded his physicians for almost the entire course of his illness, and would have remained a mystery but for toxicologist John Henry ’s hunch that radiation poisoning may have been to blame—a testament to the assassins’ sophistication and determination to hide their craft. (Henry died in 2007.)
Dr. Cary, the pathologist, described the horrors of polonium poisoning. “It gets into your body . . . ,” he said, “it’s distributed round your body; any cell next door to where it’s distributed is badly affected by the continuous bombardment of alpha rays.” Soon after Litvinenko drank the poisoned tea his body ceased producing the white blood cells responsible for fighting infections and tissue damage. Eventually he suffered complete organ failure.
It’s lucky that other visitors to the bar where Litvinenko took his deadly tea weren’t contaminated, since investigators subsequently picked up traces of polonium-210 all along the trail the suspected assassins took back to Russia. Those suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, didn’t attend Wednesday’s hearing and aren’t expected to participate in the nine-week inquiry.
After an investigation involving a hundred or so uniformed officers and another hundred detectives, U.K. prosecutors in 2007 charged Mr. Lugovoi with murder in absentia. Both have repeatedly denied the allegations, and Moscow has refused to extradite them. “I couldn’t care less about what’s happening there,” Mr. Lugovoi, now a member of the Duma, has told Russian media.
The independent inquiry is an effort to provide the comprehensive airing of facts that a criminal trial ordinarily would have done, had the defendants in this case been available to participate in one. Though intended to be painstakingly fair, it will be largely symbolic. And it will help bring closure to Marina, who has been relentless in seeking justice for her late husband.
Yet even this symbolic reckoning with the realities of Mr. Putin’s Russia was delayed at the behest of a British political class that had been eager not to ruffle his feathers. British Home Secretary Theresa May wrote in a 2013 letter to judiciary that “international relations”—a euphemism for relations with Moscow—“have been a factor in the government’s decision-making.”
Now, after the annexation of Crimea, the assault on eastern Ukraine and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, things have changed. The result, if all goes according to plan, will be a complete public record of the Litvinenko case—at last.
Mr. Ahmari is a Journal editorial-page writer based in London.
WSJ: Putin is in trouble
Reply #151 on:
February 04, 2015, 04:30:53 PM »
Putin’s Shaky Hold on Power
Russia’s flagging economy and growing discord over the war in Ukraine are converging to destabilize the regime.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual year-end news conference in Moscow, Dec. 18, 2014. ENLARGE
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual year-end news conference in Moscow, Dec. 18, 2014. Photo: Reuters
Feb. 3, 2015 7:20 p.m. ET
The upsurge in fighting in Ukraine, with Russian troops and equipment pouring across the border, is a sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to engage the West in a dangerous game of “chicken,” the goal of which is to show that the only result of Western pressure on Russia will be renewed slaughter.
Given the objectives of the two sides, a renewal of the fighting was probably inevitable. Russia has fought from the beginning to remove the government in Kiev and prevent Ukraine from acceding to the European Union and NATO. For this purpose rebel control over one-third of the province of Donetsk, with millions of impoverished people and a dysfunctional economy, is clearly insufficient.
The timing of the surge in the fighting, however, in the middle of winter and after weeks of relative calm, is a reflection of a more general situation. The Putin regime needs an end to sanctions not because they are crippling in themselves but because in combination with the growing crisis of the economy and the unpredictable trajectory of the war, they could help lead to the destabilization of Russia.
Hermitage Capital CEO Bill Browder on his new book, “Red Notice,” and getting on the wrong side of the Russian dictator. Photo credit: Getty Images.
The fear that pervades the Russian leadership is reflected in a series of recent statements by the country’s leaders. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Jan. 27 that if Russia is cut off from the Swift international payment system as punishment for its actions in Ukraine, its response “will know no limits.” Andrei Kostin, the head of VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank, said excluding Russia from Swift would mean “war.” Igor Ivanov, the former foreign minister, said that a confrontation could involve nuclear weapons.
In fact, the Russian leaders now face a crisis of their own making. The steady rise in living standards during the 2000s, stemming from high prices for oil and gas, led to euphoria and an implicit deal between the authorities and the population according to which the authorities would be free to steal as long as the income of the population continued to rise. Living standards did rise but corruption crippled normal development. Now that oil prices have collapsed, Russia has no other comparable source of revenue and Western sanctions are preventing badly needed investment.
Under these circumstances, there is a serious danger of social tension. In Russia today, 110 persons, including Mr. Putin’s cronies, control 35% of the country’s wealth while 50% of adults have total household wealth of $871 or lower. In 2014, food prices rose 15.4%. It is a measure of the government’s concern that it has cut the price of vodka, despite the need to fill the treasury. This is a transparent attempt to use vodka to tranquilize the population.
If the economic situation in Russia continues to worsen, many Russians may come to see that the Ukrainian model of a peaceful and spontaneous rebellion against a corrupt regime can have relevance for them. It was because of the potential power of the Ukrainian example for Russia that Mr. Putin began the war in Ukraine in the first place.
The cost of the fighting has been hidden from Russians but, as the death rate climbs, the war may soon become less popular. The Russian authorities state officially that there are no Russian troops fighting in Ukraine but the movement of thousands of troops is impossible to hide and it is similarly impossible to hide soldiers’ funerals.
In St. Petersburg, calls are coming in to the hot line of the Soldiers’ Mothers organization from parents of soldiers who report anonymously that their children are being commanded to sign contracts that enable them to be sent to Ukraine. Such reports are also coming from a number of other regions.
Lev Shlosberg, the chairman of the Pskov regional division of the Yabloko political party, told Radio Liberty that there has been a change in the mood of the army because of the scale of the losses in Ukraine. He said that there have been massive cases of the canceling of contracts by contract soldiers and the termination of their military service because of an unwillingness to fight in Ukraine.
The military is carefully hiding the dispatch of forces from their places of permanent dislocation. If military planes once flew from the Pskov Airport, they now leave from the airport of the neighboring smaller city of Ostrov. Mr. Shlosberg and members of the press became aware of Russian military deaths in Ukraine by attending and reading about the funerals of soldiers from the 76th Airborne Division, which is based in Pskov. Now, there is an attempt to transport the bodies of those killed to unpopulated areas for funerals. But they are nonetheless seen and news of the high cost of the war is spreading.
The war in eastern Ukraine has been turned into a war of attrition in which the Ukrainian military is mostly holding its positions. Such a war could go on indefinitely. The Russians, however, have not used their air force and they have an estimated 52,000 troops just over the border from Ukraine. They could decide to begin an all-out offensive and drop any pretense of nonintervention. Such a course of action, however, carries risks for the Russians.
The pyramid of power in Russia is very unstable. Capital flight is reaching epic proportions ($63.7 billion in the first quarter of 2014, according to the U.S. State Department) and thousands of Russian officials have made contingency plans to escape with their money to the West.
Mr. Putin and his cronies will not take aggressive action if they fear that they could as a result lose their hold on power. This is why the time for maximum deterrence on the part of the West is now.
Mr. Satter is affiliated with the Hudson Institute, Johns Hopkins University and the Henry Jackson Society in London. His books include “It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past” (Yale, 2011).
Reply #152 on:
February 04, 2015, 04:35:00 PM »
American Arms for Ukraine
The arguments against aiding Kiev look increasingly naive.
Feb. 3, 2015 7:44 p.m. ET
The best that can be said about President Obama ’s foreign policy is that he sometimes gets to the right answer after exhausting the other alternatives. The latest example is news that the Administration may finally provide arms to Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression.
This is long overdue, and the need is more urgent than ever amid Russia’s mid-winter siege of Ukraine’s southeast. The Russians are supplying rebels who are bent on taking larger chunks of the country for their breakaway state that would link Crimea with Russia proper. This is a repudiation of the Minsk cease-fire accord that Russia signed in September, and it is part of Vladimir Putin ’s strategy of destabilizing the Kiev government so it will fall back into line as part of Greater Russia.
Most of Mr. Obama’s advisers have come around to arming Ukraine, as have pillars of the liberal foreign policy establishment. A new report from seven such eminences—including former Obama Administration defense official Michele Flournoy—recommends that the U.S. send $1 billion in “lethal defensive arms” to Ukraine in each of the next three years. They suggest in particular light anti-armor missiles to counter the Russian advantage in tanks and armored vehicles.
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region. ENLARGE
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region. Photo: Reuters
The arguments against such aid look increasingly self-deluding. One odd fear is that lethal aid will mislead the Ukrainians into thinking the West will fight with them, but surely they know better after a year of begging for defensive arms that haven’t arrived.
“I am convinced that this conflict cannot be solved militarily,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, embracing another popular claim. But Mr. Putin is proving the opposite every day. The question is whether the West will let him get away with it.
Opponents also argue that arming Ukraine will encourage Russia to escalate, and thus Ukraine can never win. It’s true Russia could defeat Ukraine in any full-fledged war, but Mr. Putin has refrained from such a war so far because he knows the costs would be enormous. He prefers conquest on the cheap and dirty. Arming Ukraine will raise the cost for Mr. Putin and may make him more amenable to diplomacy.
All the more so given the likelihood that continued economic pressure will have political consequences for Mr. Putin at home, as David Satter describes nearby. Splendid little wars have a way of becoming long ordeals that even authoritarians can’t sustain.
Mr. Obama’s foreign policy has suffered, among other things, from a mismatch between grandiose ends and timid means. In Ukraine he claims Russia is threatening the entire post-Cold War security system, yet he’ll send Kiev little more than meals ready to eat. Mr. Putin has escalated his attacks this winter precisely because he sees the lack of will behind Mr. Obama’s words. Now is the time to change Mr. Putin’s calculus about the cost of conquest by arming Ukraine.
WSJ: The View from NATO's Russian Front
Reply #153 on:
February 07, 2015, 03:29:56 PM »
The View From NATO’s Russian Front
The Army commander in Europe on Putin’s new way of war, Russia’s growing arsenal, and coping with U.S. military budget cuts.
Frederick B. Hodges ENLARGE
Frederick B. Hodges Photo: Zina Saunders
By Sohrab Ahmari
Feb. 6, 2015 6:45 p.m. ET
‘I believe the Russians are mobilizing right now for a war that they think is going to happen in five or six years—not that they’re going to start a war in five or six years, but I think they are anticipating that things are going to happen, and that they will be in a war of some sort, of some scale, with somebody within the next five or six years.”
So says Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe. It’s Monday evening at the Army’s Lucius D. Clay garrison near Wiesbaden, a small town in southwest Germany. The air outside is freezing, the ground coated by a thin layer of snow. Moscow lies 1,500 miles east, but Russia comes up almost immediately as I sit down to dinner with Gen. Hodges and one of his aides in a cozy dining room at the base.
“Strong Europe!” reads a sign on one of the walls. Next to it is the U.S. Army Europe insignia, a burning sword set against a blue shield. The two signs represent the strategic framework the three-star general has introduced—building on America’s decades-long role on the Continent—since taking command last year of the 30,000 or so U.S. soldiers stationed in Europe.
The U.S. military presence in Europe is more vital at this moment than it has been in many years. American engagement is essential if the West is to deter a revanchist Russia that has set out to “redraw the boundaries of Europe,” Gen. Hodges says with a native Floridian’s drawl.
He points to the recent increase in violence in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Kremlin forces in January assaulted the Black Sea port of Mariupol, killing 30 civilians, and are now consolidating their gains.
“What’s happening in eastern Ukraine is very serious,” the 56-year-old West Point alumnus says. “When they fired into Mariupol that got my attention. Mariupol is an important place, city of 500,000 on the Black Sea. Russia has to resupply Crimea by sea or air, and that is very expensive, so obviously they would like to do it overland. Mariupol sits right in the way. They would really like to drive right through there.”
What Russian President Vladimir Putin “has done in Ukraine,” he says, “is a manifestation of a strategic view of the world. So when you look at the amount of equipment that has been provided, and the quality and sophistication of the equipment that has been provided to what I would call his proxies . . . they clearly have no intention of leaving there.”
The new weapons Mr. Putin has supplied to these proxies include “some of the latest air-defense systems,” says Gen. Hodges. “They also have brought in some of the latest, most-effective jamming, what we would call electronic-warfare, systems.” This level of assistance suggests Ukraine “is not a foray, not a demonstration. They are deploying capabilities way above and beyond anything that any militia or rebel organization could ever come up with.”
The fact that the political class in the West is still splitting hairs about the nature of the insurgency in Ukraine is testament to the success of the Kremlin’s strategy of waging war without admitting it. “When you saw video of the Spetsnaz [Russian special forces], the so-called little green men” in eastern Ukraine, the general says, “unless you absolutely know nothing about military stuff, how they carry themselves, the fact that they were all perfectly in uniform, that’s hard to do. It’s hard to get soldiers to stay in uniform and everybody carrying their weapon the right way all the time. That’s how you tell the difference between a militia, or rebels who have a variety of uniforms, and this group who are all perfectly in uniform.”
Gen. Hodges then strips his own Ranger badge from a Velcro patch on his uniform sleeve, just as those well-organized soldiers aiding the Ukrainian insurgents are badgeless. “I can take my patch off my uniform and say I’m not in the Army anymore,” he chuckles. “So there’s a reluctance to acknowledge it. I can understand that. This has huge implications. But that’s what so-called hybrid warfare is all about. It’s about creating ambiguity, giving people who don’t want to believe it an excuse to not believe. Or to create enough uncertainty so that the responses are slow, delayed, hesitant.”
Such hesitation has already worked for Mr. Putin, and contrasting Russia’s military buildup with anemic military spending in the West gives the general further reason for concern.
The Russians have “got some forces in Transnistria,” he says of the state that broke away from Moldova in the 1990s. “They’ve got forces in Georgia. And I think they view China as their existential threat, so they’ve got a lot of capacity out there.” The Russian military is thus already somewhat stretched, and Moscow had to carve out from existing units the battalion task groups currently arrayed near eastern Ukraine. Yet “they are clearly on a path to develop, to increase, their capacity,” Gen. Hodges says. Add to this expansion that “they’ve got very good equipment, extremely good communications equipment, their [electronic-warfare] capability, T-80 tanks.” How long will it take for Russia to reach its desired military strength? “I think within another two or three years they will have that capacity,” he says.
Gen. Hodges notes that the Russians already have an advantage in the information battleground: “They’re not burdened with the responsibility to tell the truth. So they just hammer away, and whenever somebody in the West puts out a blog or a tweet, there’s an immediate counterattack by these trolls.”
Russia Today, the Kremlin’s foreign-language television service, is estimated to be within reach of 600 million viewers world-wide. Russia Today’s YouTube channel has received a billion views, making it one of the most-watched channels on the online-video platform.
Then there is the Kremlin’s sheer aggressiveness, not least on the nuclear front. The Pentagon last year announced that it is removing missiles from 50 of America’s underground silos, converting B-52 long-range bombers to conventional use and disabling 56 submarine-based nuclear-launch tubes—all well ahead of the 2018 New Start treaty deadline. Moscow, by contrast, has been simulating nuclear strikes on Western capitals as part of annual exercises.
Gen. Hodges won’t comment on the U.S. strategic-force posture in Europe other than to say he is “confident in that process.” But he adds that the fact that the Russians rehearse nuclear-strike scenarios “shows that they’re not worried about conveying a stark message like that. You know, frankly, you hear this often from many people in the West, ‘Oh, we don’t want to provoke the Russians.’ I think concern about provoking the Russians is probably misplaced. You can’t provoke them. They’re already on a path to do what they want to do.”
Fear of provoking Russia has been part of the recent debate over providing lethal aid to Kiev. As a member of the military, Gen Hodges won’t weigh in directly in the Washington policy debate. “What’s more important is this,” he says. “We have to have a strategy. Just military aid is not a strategy.” Western leaders should first determine what outcome they’d like to see emerge in the region, he says, and then apply a “whole-of-government” approach, including a military dimension, to achieve it.
Before being posted here, and in between multiple post-9/11 deployments to the Middle East, Gen. Hodges served as an Army congressional liaison in Washington. What he learned was that lawmakers’ “interests will tend to be domestic,” he says.
“If you’re the delegation from North Carolina that cares about Fort Bragg, you’re going to want to see as much capability as possible and money spent in North Carolina. Same thing at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Lewis, Washington,” he says. “But there is no congressman for Wiesbaden, no senator for Bavaria.”
Many Americans and their representatives are tempted to regard Crimea as a distant geographical abstraction—and to say that it’s about time Europeans met their own defense needs instead of financing bloated welfare states. “It’s a fair question,” Gen. Hodges says. “Why won’t the Germans do more? Why won’t the Brits do more? You’ll get that from people in the States. I’ve never been bashful about telling allies, ‘Hey, you have a responsibility here, too. You all agreed to spend 2% of your GDP on defense. Right now only four countries are doing it.’”
Yet the failure of many of European leaders to live up to their defense commitments “doesn’t change our interest,” Gen. Hodges says. “And the U.S. economic link to Europe, to the EU, dwarfs any other economic link in the world, anywhere in the Pacific, China, India, you name it. So if for no other reason it’s in our interest that Europe be stable, that people make money so they can buy U.S. products. . . . We provide capability assurance here by being present here.”
Gen. Hodges says there is also a huge payoff in U.S. security from U.S.-European cooperation. The main lesson of the post-9/11 wars is that “we are not going to do anything by ourselves militarily,” he notes. The U.S. “needs the capacity that other countries can bring.” These benefits come “from a relatively small investment—I mean, U.S. Army Europe is 2% of the Army’s budget and about 5% of the Army’s manpower. . . . You can’t sit back in Virginia, Texas or Oregon and build relationships with people here.” He quotes his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell: “You can’t surge trust.”
Nor can the U.S. project national power world-wide, as it has since the end of World War II, with an overstretched Army. “There are 10 division headquarters in the Army,” he says. “Nine of them are committed right now. I’ve never seen that. I don’t think at the height of Iraq and Afghanistan you had nine out of 10 division headquarters committed against some requirement.” That leaves little in reserve if another conflict breaks out.
To a commander like Gen. Hodges, the strain on the Army caused by budget sequestration is palpable. “With the possibility of sequestration hanging over our head, the Army will have to go to 420,000” personnel, he says. “That’s about another 80,000 below where we are now. . . . The strength of the Army at the height of the buildup was about 560,000.”
What Gen. Hodges fears is a “hollow” Army, in which commanders will have to forego a capable and sufficiently large personnel, readiness or modernization to meet budget requirements. To serve its purpose, however, an Army needs a depth of resources at its disposal.
“We’re not a business,” he says. “If you run a Napa [auto parts] franchise, the last thing you want is anything on the shelf. You basically want it coming out of the delivery truck to the customer, so you don’t have money tied up in inventory. In the military, that’s exactly what you want. You want stuff on the shelf, because you can’t possibly know how many customers you might have.”
In the Army, “customers” are global crises. “What are the three biggest things that have been on the news this past year?” Gen. Hodges asks. “Russia in Ukraine. Ebola. ISIL. A year ago, who had that on their list of things that are going to go wrong? Not all the geniuses in the think tanks and in all the agencies. I certainly didn’t.”
Even with supplies on the U.S. military’s shelves thinning, there is no bigger deterrent to Vladimir Putin and other bad actors than the knowledge that men like Gen. Hodges and the forces he commands are working in customer service.
Mr. Ahmari is a Journal editorial-page writer based in London.
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Reply #154 on:
February 24, 2015, 09:13:39 PM »
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