Dmitri Simes, writing in Time magazine:
President Obama has presented the new arms control treaty he signed in Prague on April 8 as a “historic accomplishment” in both nuclear security and U.S. relations with Russia. But there are disturbing signs that the Obama Administration is overselling its progress with Russia, raising unrealistic hopes that Moscow would genuinely help in addressing the danger from Iran, the most likely nuclear threat to America and its allies.
The administration, eager to show foreign policy successes, argues that the new treaty with Russia, which calls on both sides to reduce their nuclear forces to 1500 warheads, reflects a significantly improved relationship that will help to deliver Moscow’s support for strong sanctions against Tehran. But it is not clear that ties between the White House and the Kremlin have improved quite that much. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s performance in Argentina, right after the nuclear summit, demonstrates that ties between Washington and Moscow fall well short of partnership. “If somebody is bothered” in America by Moscow seeking a greater role in Latin America, he said, “we want to spit on that.” His statement led the news on Russian state television. Later in his “Spit Speech,” the Russian President made clear that his government does not favor “paralyzing, crippling sanctions” — the only sanctions that could deter an Iranian regime determined to have a nuclear weapons capability.
Despite this, Administration officials describe the arms control talks as a victory for Mr. Obama and a model for winning Russian support for sanctions. As the New York Times reported, they claimed that “Russia backed down” after the President made clear to Mr. Medvedev that the U.S. would not budge on Russia’s insistence to establish a link between offensive and defensive strategic systems. Off the record, Administration officials told reporters in Washington that the successor to the START treaty was so advantageous to the U.S. that the Russian media was hesitant to praise it.
The facts are quite different, however, and the Administration’s handling of the agreement evokes strong echoes of history.
A Senator on Monday asked Washington to cancel U.S. visa privileges for 60 Russian officials and others over the death in jail last year of a lawyer for what was once Russia’s top equity fund, Hermitage.
Senator Benjamin Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the human rights monitoring U.S. Helsinki Commission, asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to scrap visa privileges for those accused of ties to the death of Sergei Magnitsky.
Human rights activists have said Russian authorities subjected Magnitsky to conditions amounting to torture in a failed bid to force him to testify in their favor in a battle with Hermitage over tax fraud allegations.
“While there are many aspects of this case which are impossible to pursue here in the United States, one step we can take, however, is to deny the individuals involved in this crime and their immediate family members the privilege of visiting our country,” Cardin said in a letter to Clinton made public on Monday.
“The United States has a clear policy of denying entry to individuals involved in corruption, and it is imperative that the U.S. Department of State act promptly on this matter.”
Australian Herald correspondent Paul McGeough writing on The Age website:
To better understand the geopolitical dynamic of upheaval in the remote central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, it is instructive to look to Georgia, 2500 kilometres and five national borders to the west.
Both are former Soviet satellites. In the face of clumsy efforts by their leaders to tango with the West, the Kremlin is increasingly agitated by a new American presence on a sprawling dance floor it considered its own.
As the bullet-riddled bodies of protesters were collected from the streets of Bishkek last week and the President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, fled the capital, the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, was pure pantomime: ”Neither Russia, nor your humble servant, nor Russian officials have any links whatsoever to these events.”
That reading does not describe recent events accurately.
The Russian Virus
Writing on the Foreign Policy website, American political science professor Sean Goforth describes what he calls “V.I.Rus” — an acronym which stands for “Venezuela, Iran and Russia.”
Goforth reminds us that three years ago Venezuela and Iran entered into a formal anti-American pact and that their illegal and illicit conduct in support of their “axis of unity” was investigated and reported on by the Manhattan District Attorney. Chavez provides refined oil to Iran in order to help it avoid the impact of international sanctions, and helps Iran funnel money around the world in support of international terror. In return, Iran provides the impoverished Venezuelan regime with mountains of cash.
Then Russia stepped into the picture, willing and able to provide an endless supply of arms and nuclear technology to both rogue states, and to use its veto in the U. N. Security Council to further protect Iran from sanctions. Goforth says that this tripartite alliance is more dangerous to Western security than the sum of its parts.
Russia’s Military Collapse
“So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous and cruel. As you are.”
– Peter O’Toole to Omar Sharif in “Laurence of Arabia”, 1962
Just last week, we editorialized about the shocking collapse of the Russian military. We pointed out that, in being forced to purchase weapons from NATO countries that it cannot manufacture itself, Putin’s Russia was not only humiliating itself before the eyes of the world but exposing itself to grave danger: Its ability to maintain these weapons would depend solely on the good will of countries Russia considers its enemies. Russia is buying ships from France, armored vehicles from Italy and, if you can believe it, drone aircraft from Israel.
Now it’s time to tell the other side of the story, namely the truly devastating impact of the pathetic inability of the Russian Kremlin to make its own weapons on the national economy. The always indispensable Paul Goble reports that even the Russians themselves recognize the horrifying consequences they face.
Sandra Kalniete, the former Latvian ambassador to the United Nations, UNESCO and France, writing on Prague Post (hat tip: Robert Amsterdam):
While Russia has always played a significant role in Europe, relations took a new dimension after European Union expansion. Not only because the EU’s border extended substantially eastward, but also because the 10 new member states have a unique relationship with Russia from a long and often forced coexistence. Now, Western Europe has access to expertise based not only on theoretical assumptions but practical experience. This advantage, if used properly, could benefit the entire EU and contribute to a sound and effective plan of cooperation with Russia.
The EU and Russia are predestined to have a close partnership. Both parties realize this but disagree on the term “partnership.” Russia considers the partnership to be primarily economic, while the EU would like to have a dialogue about values. Lately, there are more voices saying, “We must cooperate with Russia.”
But people forget there are two Russias. European politicians could separate them well during the Cold War era: They pragmatically maintained economic ties with the Brezhnev or Andropov regimes and, at the same time, politically and morally supported Soviet political prisoners and dissidents. Today, international support of Russian democrats and human rights campaigners is just as imperative as during the final decades of the Soviet Empire.
Garry Kasparov, writing in The Guardian with the endorsement of a host of Russian human rights activists (the article has drawn more than 100 comments):
In the capitals of European democracies, leaders are hailing a new era of co-operation with Russia. Berlin claims a “special relationship” with Moscow and is moving forward on a series of major energy projects with Russian energy giant Gazprom, one of which is led by the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi traveled to St Petersburg late last year to join in the celebration of his “great friend” Vladimir Putin’s 59th birthday. And in Paris, negotiations are under way for a major arms sale that would allow Russia to acquire one of the most advanced ships in the French navy.
At the same time, democratic dissent inside Russia has been ruthlessly suppressed. On 31 January, the Russian government refused to allow the peaceful assembly of citizens who demonstrated in support of … the right to free assembly, enshrined in article 31 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation: the right “to gather peacefully and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets”.
A warship deal, a broadcaster and an irritated Kremlin
By Inge Snip
What happens when you pit a major shipbuilding deal between Paris and Moscow alonside the creation of a Russian-language Georgian television channel carried by the French satellite carrier Eutelsat? Simply: the satellite channel loses out.
On January 15, the Georgia-based broadcaster First Caucasian began airing via Eutelsat and was expected to receive a solid contract on February 1. However, in a surprise move, Eutelsat instead opted to discontinue broadcasting, citing an ever-fluctuating list of reasons that have failed to remain consistent. Although First Caucasian remains viewable on cable in Georgia and online, the channel’s satellite broadcasts were a crucial part of its strategy to be available to large parts of Russia to challenge the Kremlin’s near-total media monopoly. Of course, Russia would have none of that. As Russian deputy interior minister Arkady Yedelev stated on January 14, “the TV channel is definitely directed towards planting anti-Russian, anti-State stance and the ideology of extremism.” Right.
James Corum, Dean of the Baltic Defence College in Estonia, has taught at American and British staff colleges and is the author of seven books on military history and counter-insurgency. He is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Reserve and has 28 years’ experience as an army officer. Writing on a blog of The Telegraph, he describes a dangerous, Tsarist Russia bent once again on confrontation with the West:
Western nations and NATO ought to take note. Several events have recently occurred that will embolden Russia to adopt a more aggressive and less cooperative stance in its dealings with the West.
Domestically, Russia has had some good news lately. After disastrous yearly drops in population for two decades, Russia showed a minuscule increase in population (11,000) last year. The Russian inflation rate has dropped to single digits. A rate of 8.8 per cent is high by Western standards, but a huge improvement over the massive inflation suffered by Russia in the last decade. With oil prices holding fairly high, the Russian regime can count on a steady income.
The Missiles of February
Last week yet another nation in Eastern Europe made an emphatic statement of how it feels about Russia: Romania agreed to host an American ballistic missile defense system starting in 2015.
Russia’s representative to NATO Dmitri Rogozin, a crazed nationalist whose nomination itself speaks volumes about whether Russia wants normal relations with the West, sputtered and fumed and demanded “exhaustive explanations” from the USA.
But what Rogozin didn’t do was ask why Romanians hate Russians so much that they would wish to take an action that would so infuriate the Kremlin. Nor did he ask why the Obama administration, whose craven cowardice in regard to Russia is well known, suddenly started getting tough.
Russia’s Thugboat Diplomacy
Last week, Russian military forces opened fire on two defenseless Japanese fishing boats in the Kuril island chain north of Japan. The boats returned home riddled with bullet holes. Any number of the fisherman could easily have been killed.
The lessons to be learned from this atrocity are many.
We Russophobes scored a massive victory late last week when we forced down Vladimir Putin’s throat a laundry list of reforms of the European Court for Human Rights designed to help that court process its massive backlog of charges against Russia more efficiently. Russia was the only one of the 47 participating states which opposed the move, and when it was faced down by the whole of Europe there was only one thing for the cowardly Putin regime to do: Back down.
So Putin blinked.
Paul Goble reports:
Russians who think Barak Obama is a “more suitable” partner for Moscow than George W. Bush was are deceiving themselves, according to a Moscow analyst, because unlike Bush who always took Moscow seriously even if he opposed it, Obama views Russia as a third world country that Washington can largely ignore.
“This was not our year,” Russian commentator Vladimir Pastukhov writes in an essay posted online. “And it was not our president who was featured on the cover of magazines.” Instead, “Obamamania has seized the world,” and one of the places where this has happened is in Moscow. For many in the Russian capital, he continues, “Obama seemed a more suitable partner,” but Pastukhov insists, this is “a deceptive impression” because in fact “Obama relates to Russia not better than Bush but more realistically.” And “in the long term perspective, this does not bode well for [Russia].”
“As a result of inertia, Bush conceived Russia as an equal, even as a competitor, and did so even though the ‘de-industrialization of the 1990s meant that Russia could not in any way pretend” to that status. But Russia linked its greatness to the past, and Washington willingly or not played up to it.”
The Russian Kremlin Hides in Plain Sight
Proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin must be given credit for making two signficant innovations in neo-Soviet Russia as he seeks to recreate the Soviet dictatorship and empire but without its former vulnerabilities.
First, where the USSR saw an enemy in the Orthodox Church, Putin sees only a friend. Installing a fellow proud KGB spy as primate, Putin realized he could use the church as a weapon against dissent, invoking the power of the divinity in much the same way that the institution of the Tsar used to do.
And second, where the USSR saw only risks in the publication of bad news, Putin sees opportunity for further repression. Thus, far from enforcing a total crackdown on news about the brutal killing of Sergei Magnitsky while behind bars in the Kremlin’s custody, Putin actually encouraged both the media and his sidekick Dima Medvedev to spout off about the event.
Putin gains two clear advantages from this coverage.
NATO lays down the Law to Russia
“I made it clear that NATO insists on full respect of Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have long ago taken the decision that Georgia and Ukraine will become NATO members.”
–NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to Echo of Moscow radio during his first visit to Russia
Last week, the head of NATO visited Russia and spit in Dima Medvedev’s eye. He repudiated Medvedev’s call for a new European security pact, fully embracing the continuing role of the United States in European security, and he openly demanded that Russia release both Georgia and Ukraine to the embrace of Europe both economically and militarily.
The crazed propagandistic lie promulgated by Russia’s KGB dictators that Europe secretly loves Russia and despises the United States were blown to smithereens, right along with the parallel fantasy that Europe will stand idly by and watch a neo-Soviet juggernaut roll back into former Soviet space.
Getting Russia Right
Russia’s best weapon against the West continues to be the West itself. Our inability to get Russia right, inexcusable when we have so much more information about the country now than in Soviet days, is Vladimir Putin’s only hope to recreate a new USSR in Russia.
But there are signs that, at long last, this is starting to change. Two Russian academics from the New Economic School blasted the Kremlin over the demise of Sergei Magnitsky in the pages of the Moscow Times earlier this week, and no thinking person can misapprehend their ominous words — words that, we might add, we have been publishing here on this blog for more than three years now.
On Russian Ignorance and Hypocrisy
One of the most striking impressions left upon those of us who have spent time living in Russia is that, while Russians portray and imagine themselves as erudite, cosmopolitan and educated they are in fact among the most crudely ignorant people on the face of the earth. Racism, including open lynchings of blacks, flows through Russia is it were still mired in the last century. The Internet is repressed, political life is non-existent, and the great artists who once characterized the upper echelons of Russian society have long since passed from the scene.
It may be for this reason that Russians hate foreigners so much, and constantly tell themselves that foreigners hate and misunderstand them right back. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, as three news stories from just the last week alone clearly show.
Yulia Latyina, writing in the Moscow Times:
In October, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Rusnano head Anatoly Chubais visited the Mikron factory in Zelenograd, located 37 kilometers outside Moscow, where the newest Russian 180-nanometer microchips are being produced. An agreement was signed there stipulating that if the state invests another 16 billion rubles ($556 million), the plant can begin producing cutting-edge 90-nanometer chips.
Over the last decade, microchip circuit spans have halved every two years. On Sept. 15, two weeks before Putin’s visit to the company, Intel Corporation announced a new 32-nanometer chip. Almost all major companies currently use 45-nanometer chips. That means that by the time Mikron begins producing 90-nanometer chips in four years, Intel will probably be working with chip circuits as small as 5 to 10 nanometers.
That would be like if the fellows at high-tech firm Sitronics showed Putin a newly developed fighter bomber with a top speed of only 100 miles per hour and promised that they could double the speed if the state pumped another $200 million into the program.
The guys at Mikron were not fired on the spot.
Obama Teaches Russia a Lesson
Obama, famous on YouTube for flyswatting says: "This year was a tough one. More and more problems every day." Source: Ellustrator.
Last Tuesday must have been rather disturbing for the denizens of the Russian Kremlin.
American voters helped the Republican Party adminster a “humiliating” beat-down of the Democrats in gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, both states Barack Obama easily carried last year in his presidential bid. The humiliation for Obama was especially intense in New Jersey, an overwhemlingly “blue” state that hadn’t seen Republicans in the statehouse in ages, a state Obama won in a landslide and where he campaigned actively for the Democratic incumbent. And the Republicans didn’t just win, they won in absolutely dominating, blowout fashion. It seems that reports of the GOP’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
These results would have the Kremlin heads spinning for two different reasons.
Here’s something you don’t see every day, a classic bit of Internet adventure. Someone claiming to be Michael McFaul, Barack Obama’s chief Russia advisor, has posted two comments to Oleg Kozlovsky’s Facebook page under a post which Oleg also blogged in which he discussed a report quoting McFaul in the Kommersant newspaper; Kommersant reported that McFaul had said the U.S. would back away from pressuring Russian on human rights. On Facebook (screenshot after the jump for those without Facebook accounts) “Michael McFaul” wrote:
Kommersant grossly misquoted me. See Interfax transcript if you want to see what I really said. And anyone who knows anything about my thinking would be suspicious of such an assessment of my views.
LR founder and publisher Kim Zigfeld has intiated a little dialogue with “McFaul” using our Facebook account, for those who are Facebook members and wish to follow it, for what it is worth. We’ve previously discussed McFaul’s alleged appeasing statements to Kommersant . Obviously, they tended to seriously undermine the impetus to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship, and although McFaul claims not to have made them there is scant evidence of either he or Barack Obama saying anything to the contrary, directly challenging Putin on human rights, since Obama came to power. In other words, perhaps what’s most troubling about the McFaul quote was that it was credible, not whether it was actually true or not.
Putin is our Hitler and Obama is our Chamberlain
“Nothing matters more to Mr. Putin and his oligarchs than the price of oil. Even with oil at $70 a barrel, Russia’s economy is in bad straits. Tension in the Middle East, even an outbreak of war, would push energy prices higher. A nuclear-armed Iran would, of course, be harmful to Russian national security, but prolonging the crisis is beneficial to the interests of the ruling elite: making money and staying in power.”
Garry Kasparov, The Wall Street Journal, 10/18/09
Quite possibly, the single most important point that we in the West need to understand about neo-Soviet Russia under proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin is that the country benefits tremendously from instability, terror and war in the Middle East. Those who would suggest that Russia fears a nuclear-armed Islamic dictatorship in Iran simply do not appreciate how utterly dependent the neo-Soviet state always has been on the price of crude oil, or how much tension in the Middle East works to Russia’s advantage in making oil markets nervous and driving up the price.
Nashi goes to Court
Nashi, Vladimir Putin’s personal Hitler-youth cult, filed suit last week in Moscow accusing a British newspaper (The Independent), two French ones (Le Monde and Le Journal Du Dimanche) and a Germany counterpart (Frankfurter Rundshau) of libel in referring to Nashi as what is, a “Hitler-youth cult comprised of bandits and nationalists.”
It’s telling that Nashi appears to have neither the funds nor the guts to file these lawsuits in Britain, France or Germany where the reports actually occurred. Apparently, Nashi doesn’t think it could win a case in any of those places, and therefore needs to lodge the suit in the corrupt Russia court system, where a ham sandwich could make a case if it had been made by Vladimir Putin.
Also telling is that, once again, Nashi appears to be lying.
The EU Spits in Putin’s Eye
If there was anyone left among the wretched Russophile rabble who still thought Europe was on Russia’s side against Georgia, surely not even they could still believe so after learning that the European Union had awarded its highest honor, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, to one of Vladimir Putin’s most ardent and fearless foes, the Memorial human rights organization.