Friday 2 October 2015

Why the West should listen to Putin on Syria

By Simon Jenkins

As everyone knows, the only way to stop the slaughter in Syria is for the US and its allies to work with President Assad – and to stop worrying about what looks good

Putin is right. Everyone knows Putin is right, that the only way forward in Syria, if not to eternal slaughter, is via the established government of Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese and Iranian allies.

That is the realpolitik. That is what pragmatism dictates. In the secure west, foreign policy has long been a branch of domestic politics, with added sermonising. “What to do”, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, even Ukraine, has been dictated not by what might work but what looks good. The megaphone is mightier than the brain.

The result of American and British grandstanding at the UN this week – seeing who can be ruder about Assad – is that Vladimir Putin has gathered ever more cards to his pack. Putin has already performed the two primary duties of a Russian leader, bringing stability and pride. He now faces turbulent Russian minorities across his European frontier and a serious menace from Muslim states to his south. He is perforce becoming a player on a wider stage. He has read Iran, India and Syria correctly. He is no fool.

Friday 18 September 2015

Putin shifts fronts in Syria and Ukraine

By Jackson Diehl

Throughout the summer, Russia’s forces in eastern Ukraine kept up a daily drumbeat of attacks on the Ukrainian army, inflicting significant casualties while avoiding a response by Western governments. On Sept. 1, following a new cease-fire, the guns suddenly fell silent. Optimists speculated that Vladi­mir Putin was backing down.

Then came the reports from Syria: Russian warplanes were overflying the rebel-held province of Idlib. Barracks were under construction at a new base. Ships were unloading new armored vehicles. Putin, it turns out, wasn’t retreating, but shifting fronts — and executing another of the in-your-face maneuvers that have repeatedly caught the Obama administration flat-footed.

It’s not yet clear what Russia’s intentions are in Syria — or, for that matter, in Ukraine, where it continues to deploy an estimated 9,000 regular troops and 240 tanks on top of more than 30,000 irregulars. Some analysts claim that a floundering Putin is meddling in the Middle East out of desperation because his bid for Ukraine has failed. But another way to see it is this: Putin’s use of force succeeded in inducing the West to accept his Ukraine demands — and he is trying to repeat his triumph in a second theater.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Russian Hawks Win in Failed Warship Deal

By Leonid Bershidsky

The saga of the two Mistral helicopter carriers France built for Russia, but refused to hand over because of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, is finally over. The net result is that a French shipyard has been saved at the French taxpayer's expense, while Russian taxpayers will pay to retool the country's wharves so the country can build more of its own warships.

The Kremlin said Wednesday night that Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande have agreed to terminate the 2011 contract; that Russia has already received compensation for its expenses; and that it is preparing to dismantle Russian equipment installed on the ships. Russia, according to the statement, considers "the Mistral matter fully settled."

The Kremlin didn't say how much France paid to break its contract, the subject of months of back-and-forth, but the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that "more than 1.1 billion euros" ($1.2 billion) has landed in the Russian government's account. This fits with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian's statement that the compensation was less than the contract's initial 1.2 billion euro price tag.

Russia had so far paid 785 million euros for the warships, one of which was to be delivered last fall and the other later this year. Last September, Hollande suspended the deal under pressure from North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, as Russia looked increasingly involved in the eastern Ukraine fighting. Russia initially talked of a multi-billion-dollar indemnity prescribed by the contract. In April, however, Putin said he wouldn't demand "any indemnities or over-the-top punitive damages." Instead, Russia asked France to compensate its outlay for new port infrastructure and the upkeep and training of the ships' crews.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Russian veto of U.N. resolution on Srebrenica infuriates U.S.

By Karen DeYoung

Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution Wednesday commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys and recognizing it as an act of genocide.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, called the resolution a “confrontational and politically motivated” attempt by its sponsors, including the United States and Britain, to blame one side for the many atrocities committed during the 1990s Balkans conflict.

The vote was the latest controversy between Russia and the United States and its European allies. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement that the veto was “a further stain on this Council’s record” and called it “madness” to deny what happened in Srebrenica.

The Security Council has never formally recognized the massacre as a genocide. Previous U.N. statements and member states have done so, and they have taken responsibility for the failure to protect Srebrenica, which had been declared a U.N. safe zone and was protected by peacekeeping forces.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Are European Companies Ignoring E.U. Sanctions On Russia?

By Kenneth Rapoza

It’s been nearly a year since sectoral sanctions were slapped on Russia for its involvement in helping create a frozen conflict in Eastern Ukraine. European and American companies banned financing of Russian energy firms, and banks. They banned any joint venture deals with Russian oil and gas companies that involved exploration and production, or the selling of technologies used in E&P. But if a string of memorandum of understandings signed during last week’s St. Petersburg International Forum puts anything in the spotlight this week it is this: some very powerful entities in the E.U. have had it with sanctions.

For example, Gazprom, Shell, E.ON and Austria’s OMV Group signed a memorandum last Thursday for a joint venture deal involving a new pipeline that will hopefully one day have the capacity to ship 55 billion cubic meters to European each year. That is bigger than the existing Nord Stream pipeline that takes Russian gas westward.

“Extra gas transmission facilities along the shortest route connecting gas fields in Russia’s north to European markets will provide for higher security and reliability of supplies under new contracts,” Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller said in a statement last week.

Thursday 21 May 2015

Nazis Triumph Over Communists in Ukraine

By Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg

It's goodbye Lenin, hello Nazi collaborators in Ukraine these days. Laws signed into effect by President Petro Poroshenko require the renaming of dozens of towns and hundreds of streets throughout the country to eliminate Soviet-era names. At the same time, Ukraine will begin to honor groups that helped Hitler exterminate Ukrainian Jews during World War II.

Ukrainians' desire for a European identity and a break with the country's Soviet past is Poroshenko's biggest political asset, but these latest steps should worry the country's Western allies.

A law Poroshenko signed May 15 bans all Soviet and Nazi symbols, even on souvenirs, and criminalizes "denying the criminal character" of both totalitarian regimes. It bans place names, monuments and plaques glorifying Soviet heroes, Soviet flags and communist slogans. Statues of Lenin have been toppled in many Ukrainian cities since the "revolution of dignity" last year, but the new law goes further.

Big regional centers such as Dnipropetrovsk (named after Grigory Petrovsky, who ran Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s) and Kirovograd (bearing the name of Sergei Kirov, a Bolshevik leader whose popularity rivaled Stalin's, causing the latter to have him killed), as well as dozens of smaller towns, will need new names. Lots of towns have streets named after Lenin and Soviet saints, and these will also be erased in the next few months, creating lots of confusion for anyone using old maps (or Google maps, for that matter). Soviet emblems will be removed from buildings and bridges, murals in the subway will be altered.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Something Truly Amazing Happened at the V-Day Parade

Never before has a Russian Defense Minister done anything like it 

By The Saker

Today will go down in Russian history, as a truly historical celebration of the victory over Nazi Germany.  The parade – by far the most beautiful I have seen (alas, only on video, not in person) – was superb and for the first time included the Chinese PLA [People’s Liberation Army].  Clearly, we see history in the making.  But something else, no less amazing, also happened today: Defense Minister Shoigu made the sign of the Cross before the beginning of the celebrations:

This is an absolutely momentous moment for Russia.  Never in the past history had any Russian Minister of Defense done anything like it.  True, the old tradition was to make the sign of the Cross when passing under the Kremlin’s Savior Tower, if only because there is an icon of the Savior right over the gate.  However, everybody in Russia immediately understood that there was much more to this gesture than an external compliance to an ancient tradition.

The Russian journalist Victor Baranets puts it very well when he wrote:”At that moment I felt that with his simple gesture Shoigu brought all of Russia to his feet.  There was so much kindness, so much hope, so much of our Russian sense of the sacred [in this gesture]“.  He is absolutely correct.  To see this Tuvan Buddhist make the sign of the Cross in the Orthodox manner sent an electric shock through the Russian blogosphere: everybody felt that something amazing had happened.

For one thing, nobody in his right mind would suspect Shoigu of ever doing anything just “for show”.  The man has an immense capital of popularity and credibility in Russia and he has no need for political hypocrisy.  Furthermore, those who saw the footage will immediately see that Shoigu was very concentrated, very solemn, when he did this.  Personally, I believe that Shoigu quite literally asked for God’s help in one of the most dangerous moment in Russian history in which he, the Russian Minister of Defense, might be called to take momentous decisions from which the future of the planet might depend.

For centuries Russian soldiers have knelt and asked for God’s blessing, before going into battle and this is, I believe, what Shoigu did today.  He knows that 2015 will be the year of the big war between Russia and the Empire (even if, due to the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides, this war will remain 80% informational, 15% economic and 5% military)

Does that mean that Shoigu converted to Orthodoxy?  Not necessarily.  Buddhism is very accepting of other religions and I don’t see much of a contradiction here.  But the fact that the first Russian government official to begin the historical Victory Day parade by making the sign of the Cross and appealing for God’s help is a Buddhist, is, in itself, quite amazing (even if it shames his nominally “Orthodox” predecessors who never did so).

I can only imagine the horror, outrage and despair Shoigu’s gesture will trigger in the pro-Western Russian “liberal intelligentsia” and in the western capitals.  In placing himself and all of Russia in God’s hands, Shoigu declared a spiritual, cultural and civilizational war on the Empire.  And just for that, he will go down in history as one of Russia’s greatest men.