Tuesday, April 26, 2016

THE COMING 'END OF THE PUTIN REGIME'?

"Russia’s current regime will not last long. The tumultuous events in Ukraine in 2014 reduced the country’s possible trajectories to a single one – a path that will quickly lead to the collapse of the Putin government if there is no radical change in its course. Before the Crimea–Ukraine affair, it looked as though President Vladimir Putin’s political regime was fairly stable and could last for several years without profound change. However, there was a qualitative shift in the regime’s character after 2014. Now, it draws its legitimacy from military action, rather than from the ballot box. The roots of this shift go back to the political crisis of 2011–2012, when mass anti-government protests and poor electoral results for the ruling party showed that the old form of politics was coming to an end. Today, the regime derives its legitimacy not from the bottom up, through elections, but from the top down, by placing the country on a permanent war footing. Although Putin stayed in power, his role changed fundamentally – now, he is more like a tsar than the chair of a board. The regime has moved from a hybrid system that still maintained the outward trappings of a democracy to a full-scale authoritarian state, while the shifting balance of power has made the elites more dependent on the president. Although Putin’s popularity skyrocketed after the annexation of Crimea, he has been trapped by his choices. His regime is addicted to military action and now needs a series of ever-stronger hits of foreign conflict in order to maintain its legitimacy. This position is unsustainable, given shrinking financial resources, the waning patience of elites who don’t want to live in a military camp forever, and Russia’s fast-deteriorating administrative and political systems. The country is being held hostage by the regime; the regime is a hostage of Putin, and Putin is a hostage of his own actions, which have drastically narrowed his range of options. Given all this, Russia’s current trajectory is that of a plane in a tailspin".
Nikolay Petrov, "Putin's Downfall: the Coming Crisis of the Russian Regime". European Council on Foreign Relations. 19 April 2016, in www.ecfr.eu.
"Evidently we have reached the sad point where the idea of power is no longer connected with either a doctrine, the personality of a leader or a tradition, but only with power itself. Every governmental institution and position is sustained by no other force than the realization that it is an essential part of the existing system. Naturallv, self-preservation is bound to be the only aim of such a regime, at least in its domestic policy. This has come to mean the self-preservation of the bureaucratic elite. In order to remain in power, the regime must change and evolve, but in order to preserve itself, everything must remain unchanged. The contradiction can be noted particularly in the case of the "economic reform," which is being carried out so slowly and yet is so vital to the regime. Self-preservation is clearly the dominant drive. The regime wants neither to "restore Stalinism" nor to "persecute the intelligentsia" nor to "render fraternal assistance" to those who have not asked for it, like Czechoslovakia. The only thing it wants is for everything to go on as before: authorities to be recognized, the intelligentsia to keep quiet, no rocking of the system by dangerous and unfamiliar reforms".
Andrey Amalrik, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? (1969).
Dr. Petrov's analysis of the coming collapse of the Putin Regime is one that I whole heartily agree with. First as he correctly points out both the seizure and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine were prima facie examples of Primat der Innenpolitik policies. While per se Russia's naval bases in Sevastopol were and are an important strategic asset, there was no sign from the new regime in Kyiv that they intended to end the agreement which allowed Russia to maintain said bases. The agreement lasting for another thirty-years. Unless one were to adhere to Kremlin propaganda that the new regime in Kyiv were made up of 'fascists' who were engaging in and or about to engage in persecution of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine (of which there were no evidence of course), then the true reasoning behind both the annexation and the subsequent contriving and backing for the uprising in Eastern Ukraine becomes readily apparent. And while there was and is more than a soupcon of geopolitical reasoning in Moskva's military intervention in Syria, the fact of the matter is that the Putin regime has used the apparently successful (and I for one would be quite willing to admit that Russia's intervention in Syria has on the whole proved to be 'succesful', nay perhaps even remarkably successful) intervention in Syria to further buttress is internal, domestic legitimacy. Something which given the now year and half decline in oil and gas revenues is increasingly replacing economic growth as a source, perhaps to an increasing degree the only source of political legitimacy that the regime possesses. The upshot of this state of affairs is as Dr. Petrov cogently points out:
The use of military mobilisation rhetoric to keep the regime going is fraught with serious risks. The line between real and imagined foreign enemies is thin, and perceptions shift as the elites and society are increasingly indoctrinated. It could even lead to a real international armed conflict, either through a gradual slide or a sudden rush into direct confrontation. However, the regime has to maintain its military legitimacy at all costs: it is not capable of switching back to electoral legitimacy, except by replacing its leader.
Even with the apparent successes of Putin's foreign policy, the economic damage that the regime has undergone in the past two and half years as a result of both Western sanctions and the decline in oil and gas prices has wreaked havoc to not only the regime's economic planning and goals (such as they were), but also to its own internal cohesion and effectiveness. With the 'clans' or factions who form the heart of the regime increasingly quarrelling over the sharing out of the ever smaller pie of goodies (in fact 'loot'). As Dr. Petrov observes:
"The clashes between elites are aggravated by Russia’s confrontation with the West, which increases the exhaustion of the regime’s political-economic base, and makes the political environment increasingly febrile. The Kremlin’s aggression abroad, and the resulting damage to Russia’s economy from sanctions, have forced the elites to live a more modest lifestyle – something they won’t tolerate for long. Whether disgruntled elites opt for exit or revolt, both pose great risks to the system".
Unfortunately, as Dr. Petrov pessimistically but realistically notes, even 'changes' to the existing regime such a palace coup d'état (the ouster of Putin) or a rapprochement with the West would not necessarily alleviate the existing state of things in Matushka Russia in the absence of either a major resurgence of commodity prices (something only possible in three to five years time), or the appearance of a political personality of Charles de Gaulle-like qualities. Russia lacks to-day just as she lacked in 1917 and in 1991-1992, that combination of state and society institutions and groupings which allowed for example Germany to resurrect itself in 1919, after the collapse of the Kaiserreich. Unfortunately, Russia has not been very fortunate in its supply of political leaders in the past one-hundred years. Just as she has singularly failed to evolve in such a fashion that would allow the coming collapse of Putinism to not cause a wider societal crisis as well. As per Dr. Petrov the end-result will be a complete collapse of the regime akin to what occurred to the Sovietskaya Vlast circa 1990-1992 or (less likely) another February Revolution of 1917 with the concomitant collapse of the state apparatus in the following seven-months preparatory to the Bolshevik coup d'état of October 1917. As Dr. Petrov notes sardonically: "Russia is a country where everything can change in five years, and nothing in 100".

Friday, April 22, 2016

THE BREXIT DEBATE REDIVIVUS: IS THERE ANY POINT?

"George Osborne, chancellor, has challenged Brexit campaigners to name a single major world leader — apart from Russian president Vladimir Putin — or a big international body backing a British exit from the EU. The lopsided nature of this battle for international endorsements became more awkward for the Leave camp on Wednesday, with news that French National Front leader Marine Le Pen is joining the fight for a Brexit.... The intervention of foreign politicians can be counter-productive but Mr Cameron has little doubt that an intervention by Mr Obama this week will be helpful to his cause. The US president is expected to make his view known that Washington would prefer Britain to be a leading figure in the EU, both in the interests of promoting a liberal free-trading Europe and for security reasons.... Mr Cameron is relishing the prospect of Mr Obama making the case for staying in Britain. The issue is expected to arise at a Downing Street press conference on Friday and at a “town hall meeting” on Saturday. Boris Johnson, the pro-Brexit London mayor, has accused Mr Obama of “hypocrisy” ahead of the visit, claiming that the US would never share its sovereignty with a body like the EU. But Malcolm Rifkind, former foreign secretary, said: “What Boris and his colleagues have to come to terms with is that there is nobody in the world — apart from Putin — who wants us to leave. 'Leaders of the old Commonwealth like Australia and New Zealand have urged the UK to stay in the EU, so have all our colleagues in Nato. Putin is the only one in favour — he would be delighted if western Europe fell apart'."
George Parker & Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, "Obama to back UK staying in EU on London visit". The Financial Times. 20 April 2016, in www.ft.com
"Barack Obama’s decision to visit Britain during an election campaign was controversial enough. His writing an article against Brexit in the Daily Telegraph was more controversial still. But to stand in Downing Street and threaten his host country with being dumped “at the back of the queue” for trade talks should it choose to leave the EU is, I think, too much. It’s precisely the comment that could backfire, and spark indignation. And make people ask: who on earth is Obama to come to Britain and speak to us in this way?"
Fraser Nelson, "Will Barack Obama’s “back of the queue” threat backfire?" The Spectator. 22 April 2016, in www.spectator.co.uk.
The answer to the usually ultra-intelligent Fraser Nelson is actually rather simple: the campaigners for the United Kingdom exiting the European Union have been rather promiscuous about stating that a Great Britain outside of the European Union will be able to forge new or stronger relationships with two sorts of countries: i) those in the Anglo-sphere such as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand; ii) the so-called 'upcoming' countries of the Far East and the Third World in general (some of which: Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, are now longer very 'upcoming' these days...). The blunt but accurate statement of the American President to-day clearly shows that as per the first group of countries this is very far from the case. To put it mildly. None of these countries has any interest in the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. As per the second group of countries: they have also not indicated any particular interest in London leaving the European Union. There is in the case of these countries the added matter that the United Kingdom does not in fact have much to offer by way of exports to these countries. Nor given their rather hard-nosed tendencies as per trade negotiations, any expectations that they will be especially interested in giving the Britain an easy time of it, if it were to leave the European Union. In short the truism cogently pointed out by the former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind that aside from Mr. Putin no world leader or country is supporting a British Exit. Does not this simple fact make obvious that the whole concept of a British exit from the European Union is nonsensical in the extreme?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

WHY JOHN McCAIN IS RIGHT ABOUT CHINA AND THE SOUTH CHINA SEAS

"Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of US Pacific Command, was recently asked in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about China’s strategic goals. “China seeks hegemony in East Asia. Simple as that,” he responded. Admiral Harris concluded: “China is clearly militarising the South China Sea and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise.” But despite the Obama administration’s “three no’s” — no reclamation of land, no militarisation and no use of coercion — Beijing has pressed ahead with all three. The administration’s aversion to risk has resulted in a policy that has failed to deter China’s pursuit of maritime hegemony, while confusing and alarming America’s regional allies and partners. It is time to change course as we enter a critical two-month period for US policy in the Asia-Pacific region. The Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to rule by early June in a case brought by the Philippines concerning China’s claims in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Confronted with the possibility of an unfavourable ruling, China may use the coming months to secure its existing gains or pursue new forms of coercion to expand them. This could include further reclamation and militarisation at strategic locations such as Scarborough Shoal, attempts to expel another country from a disputed territory or the declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone in all or part of the South China Sea. In response, the US will need to consider fresh policy options. As part of the annual Balikatan military exercise with the Philippines this month, the administration should consider having a carrier strike group patrol the waters near Scarborough Shoal in a visible display of US combat power. Ashton Carter, US defence secretary, should emphasise on his trip to the Philippines that Manila is a treaty ally of the US. And the administration should urgently work with the Philippines and other regional allies and partners to develop strategies to counter Chinese behaviour that is in violation of international law. If China declares a South China Sea ADIZ, the US must be prepared to challenge this claim immediately by flying military aircraft inside the area affected under normal procedures, including not filing a flight plan, radioing ahead or registering frequencies. It is also time for the US to move beyond symbolic gestures and launch a robust “freedom of the seas campaign”. It should increase the pace and scope of the Freedom of Navigation programme to challenge China’s maritime claims, as well as the number of sailing days that US warships spend in the South China Sea. Joint patrols and exercises should be expanded and ocean surveillance patrols to gather intelligence throughout the western Pacific continued".
Senator John McCain, "America needs more than symbolic gestures in the South China Sea". The Financial Times. 12 April 2016, in www.ft.com.
"Recent events related to the South China Sea (SCS) reveal Chinese thinking about its maritime strategy in that important area. First, China believes that establishing sub-regional hegemony is achievable. Second, it has a coherent maritime strategy with a two-pronged approach: modernizing and restructuring its military to allow for naval power projection, along with consolidating diplomatic and economic relations with ASEAN. Restructuring the military is in sync with Chinas “One Belt, One Road” initiatives as they require a strong blue-water navy to protect China’s expanding overseas maritime interests. Simultaneously, a strong navy with asymmetrical capabilities can mitigate US military technological advantages, keeping it at a distance from China’s territorial expansion in the SCS".
Preeti Nalwa, "China's “undeterred” strategy on the South China Sea: a “challenge” for the US". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 7 January 2016, in www.csis.org.
Notwithstanding his sometimes illogical and overly emotional view of politics and diplomacy, in the case of the Peoples Republic of China (hereafter the 'PRC') and the South China Seas, Senator John McCain, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is most definitely accurate in his assessment of the overall situation as it relates to the aims of the regime in Peking. There can be very little doubt that as the academic expert from the American 'think-tank', the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows, that the PRC is indeed seeking to establish some type of hegemonic position in the South China Seas. The only question for American and Western statesman is: will they undertake to take the necessary steps to prevent this fraught event from occurring? Once one ignores the completely illusory idea that the PRC is a 'responsible stakeholder' (in the mots of former American Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick), then it is self-evident that Peking's goals in its immediate neighborhood are coercive and hegemonic in nature 1. Such goals can only be resisted by a mixture of forceful diplomacy and containment `a la George Kennan and Paul Nitze 2. Any other type of strategy is merely an encouragement of those elements in Peking who seek to overturn by hard-edge diplomacy and force the status quote ante bellum in the Orient.
1. See on this topic, ten-years after Zoellick coined the phrase: Evan A. Feigenbaum, "China as a Responsible Stakeholder? A Decade Later". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 23 March 2016, in www.carnegieendowment.org
2. See on the different, if not necessarily antagonistic styles of containment by Kennan and Nitze: John Lewis Gaddis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War. Revised Edition. (2005). And: Melvyn Leffler. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War. (1993).

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

THE MASSACRE IN BRUSSELS: A COMMENT

"The bomb atrocities in Brussels are a reminder, if any were needed after last November’s jihadi assault on Paris, of how easy it is for terrorist cells to attack neuralgic targets in European cities and bring them to a standstill.... Such horror calls out for firm but measured conclusions. Europe cannot cocoon itself from the arc of fire to its east and south, the killing fields that run from Iraq and Syria to Libya. That is made obvious not just by terror attacks but the European Union’s inability to act together to deal with the waves of refugees from these and other countries — a dispiriting response that betrays the values of the union.... There are obvious practical measures that need urgently to happen, chief among them better intelligence-sharing about jihadi networks. Belgium, with multiple and overlapping layers of government that do not talk to each other, presents a particular problem. The federal government warned after Mr Abdeslam’s arrest that it might trigger an attack, but was powerless to stop it. But there needs to be far greater pooling of information in real time across the EU and with its allies. After Paris, remember, Mr Abdeslam’s car was checked by police at the French border with Belgium but they seem to have had no idea who he was. Member states need also to learn more about minority communities and what motivates their members. This is not just about ostensible religious affiliation but the search for identity of some Muslim youth, disaffected and directionless but offered a deranged superhero status by Isis and its ilk. It is chastening to learn Mr Abdeslam, pursued across the continent, was hidden by neighbours for four months. Above all, the EU and the west need constantly to demonstrate the values they defend, eschewing simplistic bombast and knee-jerk repression. For Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner to contest the US presidency, Brussels is another brick in the wall he purports to believe will keep Muslims and Mexicans out of the US. For Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right Front National, an attack on the EU capital is an excuse to call for a Battle of Algiers-style razzia — a vast armed police raid — on immigrant “neighbourhoods on the fringes of the Republic”. Such policies undermine our open societies, built on individual and collective freedoms and religious tolerance. Together they would run up the white flag of surrender. Isis and its acolytes are learning how to tear apart our civic fabric. We need to make that civility more resilient, not do their work for them.
Leader, "An assault on Brussels, and on European values". The Financial Times. 22 March 2016 in www.ft.com.
"During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man....No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".
Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. Part I, Chapter 13. (1651).
The massacre in Brussels follow form in that they repeat the pattern shown previously in Paris back in November 2015. It is readily apparent that the terrorists of the odious ISIS network have had close to free reign to engage in this type of terrorism. As the Economist correctly states the rationale for to-day's terrorist outrage is three-fold:
Large numbers of young men have gone from Europe to fight in Syria with IS[IS] and other militant groups. Some of them have returned with the aim of carrying out attacks in Europe, like those seen in Brussels and Paris. The terrorists’ goals were threefold. First was the propaganda coup of dominating the world’s headlines for several days, distracting from news of the setback of the arrest of Salah Abdeslam. Second, if the attacks were already being planned, the terrorists might have feared that Abdeslam was spilling information under interrogation from Belgian authorities and decided to act quickly. Last, they aim to inspire other young Europeans to support jihadists. Though IS appears to be weakening in Syria and Iraq, its ideas continue to inspire young men to strike fear at the heart of Europe 1.
The key question is the eternal: what is to be done? If the authorities are to stand-pat and in essence recapitulate the failed and failings strategies and tactics of yesteryear then we can fully expect more of the very same that occurred in Brussels on Monday. If and only if, the authorities were to employ new, iron-fist tactics akin to what the admittedly not very admirable Mme. Le Pen advocates, can we see some light at the end of this currently very very dark tunnel. The truth of the matter is that our contemporary problem of terrorism in Europe springs from the presence of its existing Muslim / Arab population. Only by massive police presence, expulsions and other tactics employed so successfully in Israel, can we hope to remedy successfully the plague of Islamic fanaticism and violence. The late Albert Einstein once stated that: "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". The mindset of our bien-pensant elites, as represented in the leader in yesterday's Financial Times, is it must be said akin to insanity as defined by Einstein: doing the same things over and over again and expecting different (successful) results. Only when our elites realize the errata of their ways can we expect to achieve some real progress in the struggle with Islamic fanaticism. Otherwise in the not too distant future, we can fully expect large parts of Europe to revert to the type of Hobbesian existence of bellum omnium contra omnes.
1.The Economist. "Days after the arrest of Europe’s most-wanted terrorist, Islamic State has struck back". 22 March 2016 in www.economist.com

Monday, March 21, 2016

BORIS JOHNSON AND THE 'CHURCHILL TEST'

Mr Johnson has put his shirt on a horse called Euroscepticism. He is clearly hoping that his bet will also “come off in spectacular fashion” and carry him, like Churchill, all the way into 10 Downing Street — preferably without the added bonus of a world war. The mayor of London’s decision is certainly a significant moment in the referendum campaign. A Vote Leave group that was in danger of being led by cranks, nobodies and octogenarians will now be headed by one of the country’s most popular politicians.... But there is more than one way of being on the right side of history. The first is simply to anticipate the direction of events. The second, more important, way is to align yourself with the right causes and values — those that the history books will ultimately vindicate. Churchill’s decision to oppose the appeasement of Hitler was right in both senses. He saw how events were unfolding — and, yes, he ultimately benefited politically from his prescience. But he also stood up against evil.... In failing to appreciate the wider international context for his actions, Mr Johnson is following a distinctly un-Churchillian path. Churchill was the very opposite of a Little Englander. That is why he understood so quickly what the rise of Hitler meant for Britain, Europe and the world. It is also why he was one of the first politicians to understand the significance of Soviet actions in eastern Europe after 1945 — leading him to coin the term “iron curtain”. A modern Churchill, which is what Boris clearly aspires to be, would immediately understand that Britain’s decision about whether to stay in the EU has to be seen as part of a wider global picture. And that big picture is very worrying — with Russia rediscovering its taste for war, the Middle East disintegrating, violent jihadism on the rise, China flexing its muscles in the Pacific and the US flirting with the lunacy of “Trumpism”.... When Mr Johnson made his name as a journalist in the 1990s, campaigning against the follies of Brussels was fun. It was even possible to argue, back then, that the ambitions of the EU represented a serious threat to British self-government. But it would be absurd to look around today’s world and identify the EU as the biggest threat to British democracy or national security. The times have changed. Sadly, it seems that Mr Johnson has not changed with them
.
Gideon Rachman, "Boris Johnson has failed the Churchill test". The Financial Times. 22 February 2016, in www.ft.com.
Per contra to Gideon Rachman, Boris Johnson has not in fact 'failed the Churchill test'. If by 'Churchill' he means Winston Spencer-Churchill, then yes he has. But, if by 'Churchill' he means Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill then Johnson has passed the 'Churchill test' with flying colors. Why so? Simply put the 'Randolph Churchill test', is that of the youngish, high-achieving, meteoric politician who unaccountably decides for reasons which never quite make sense, to (in the dogmatic expression) 'chuck it all in' and resign office or engage in actions which result in the very same. The list of those who have 'passed' the Randolph Churchill test include not only Lord Randolph, but Sir Oswald Moseley, and Enoch Powell. Note that all three were great orators who seemed to be cresting towards the very top of the 'greasy pole'. When each in an endeavor to reach the top of that pole in record time, did something which had the end result of ensuring that they not only never reached said pole, but were soon enough ousted from the very top rank of parliamentary politics. In the case of Johnson, given the fact that if he had succeeded to joining the 'in' campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, he would have had almost any office of state that he could possibly desire, including that of Foreign Secretary, one may only conclude that Johnson is not serious about parliamentary politics. About the drab and boring work needed and necessary to make a success in British politics. That instead of the 'long hard slog' of ministerial office, Johnson hopes and desires that by decapitating the Conservative Party and Government by leading a successful 'out' campaign he will force out the current Prime Minister, David Cameron and be a 'shoe-in' to succeed him. Regardless of the rights and the wrongs of whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union, the fact of the matter is that the upheaval which will ensue if Britain votes to exit the European Union, with the likely resignation of the current Prime Minister makes staying in, the very much the lesser of two evils. Especially, given the fact that by voting to exit, Britain would be faced with another referendum on Scottish independence. Au fond, the point of being a Tory, a member of the Conservative Party is to 'conserve' what exists. By joining the 'out' campaign, Johnson not only fails the Winston Spencer-Churchill test but the Burkean test of being a true conservative. Quelle dommage I say as like him or not, Johnson is one of the most, if not the most entertaining figures in British politics.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

PUTIN'S TURN-ABOUT IN SYRIA: A COMMENT

"Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered his armed forces to start pulling out of Syria on Tuesday after a six-month campaign, saying that they had largely met their objectives and it was time to focus on peace talks. The announcement comes as external powers seek common ground for turning a tentative cessation of hostilities in the civil war into a political solution, efforts long hampered by Moscow’s support for Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s military intervention, which began in September, changed the course of the Syrian conflict. Before the Kremlin sent in its bombers, Mr Assad’s forces were losing ground to various armed rebel groups. Russian air power was often deployed indiscriminately, according to Syrian activists, and in the early stages did not target Isis positions despite Moscow saying that its mission was to destroy the jihadi group. Speaking at a meeting with Sergei Shoigu, minister of defence, and Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, Mr Putin said that his objectives had “overall been fulfilled”, adding: “Therefore I order the ministry of defence to start the pullout of the basic part of our military group from the Syrian Arab Republic.” The Russian announcement appeared to take much of the Obama administration by surprise. The state department initially declined to comment and said that John Kerry, secretary of state, had last spoken to Mr Lavrov on Thursday".
Kathrin Hille, Geoff Dyer and Erika Solomon, "Putin orders Russian forces to start pulling out of Syria". The Financial Times. 14 March 2016, in www.ft.com.
An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work.” So said U.S. President Barack Obama when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his military campaign in Syria to support the country’s authoritarian ruler. There’s just one problem, though: A day after Putin announced a Russian withdrawal from Syria, it’s clear that his gamble has turned into a major win for Moscow. Here’s what Russia achieved — and why it was so successful.... Russia entered Syria with one overriding objective: Preserve the Assad regime. To avoid another Afghanistan-style quagmire, Russia relies on fighters from its Shi’ite allies, including Assad, Hezbollah and Iran. By picking a clear and achievable goal and then ensuring that Moscow and its allies all rowed in one direction, Putin enacted a textbook proxy strategy".
Josh Cohen, "Why — and how — Russia won in Syria". Reuters. 15 March 2016 in www.reuters.com
Putin's announcement, regardless of whether or not he keeps to his promises to withdraw Russian forces in Syria, puts paid to the idea (never held by me) that Russian forces would become bogged down in an Afghanistan-like stalemate or morass. In keeping with Putin's ability to keep his enemies (and one can well imagine his allies and followers) off-balance, his announcement does the following: a) shows or endeavors to show, whether true or not, that Russia and its protégé Assad Fils, is sincerely interested in the upcoming peace talks which are about to commence in Genève; b) puts pressure on Assad himself to tow the Russian-line in the upcoming talks. As has been widely reported in the Western press, Moskva has not been entirely happy with backing Assad to the hilt, and the Russian announcement is further evidence that this is in fact the case 1; c) puts pressure on the Americans to in effect climb-aboard the policy train labeled 'Russia in Syria', and if not abandon the 'moderate' opposition, then at the very least to begin to distance itself from them. Which given the weakness and ineffectiveness of the moderates, a both being partly a result of Russian military operations in Syria in the past six-months and their own ineffectiveness, it would not be entirely surprising if it does in fact begin to do so. If nothing else, Putin's policies in Syria in as well as in Ukraine in the past few years has shown him to be a master tactician. Something which no one can say of his Western opponents.
1. Max Fisher, "Putin withdrawing Russian forces from Syria: why now and why it matters". Vox World. 14 March 2016 in www.vox.com

Monday, March 14, 2016

THE PROPOSED EU AGREEMENT WITH TURKEY: MERKEL'S FOLLY

"For a politician renowned for the caution and the scientific precision she brings to every policy debate, it was an uncharacteristic gamble. Behind the backs of some her closest European allies, Angela Merkel, German chancellor, struck a deal with her Turkish counterpart that could very well end the influx of refugees washing up on Europe’s shores — but at a very high price, including an extra €3bn in aid and a visa-free travel scheme. There are already signs that her new swashbuckling style has its costs. EU diplomats have been left bruised and angered by being cut out of her bilateral dealmaking and risk turning on her when the deal goes before another summit next week for final approval. Some senior officials say the disorderly process belies a potentially transformative outcome. Others are more downcast. “This was one of the lowest points of my time in the EU, an indictment of the way we operate and the way we act,” said one EU ambassador. Her own political allies at home on Tuesday hinted at rebellion over the Turkey pact. It started with a normal, even promising EU process. On Sunday afternoon EU ambassadors in Brussels put the final touches to a summit deal that Donald Tusk, European Council president, saw as a turning point. The western Balkan migration route would be closing and Turkey had agreed to take back non-Syrian migrants. Europe’s tougher approach was taking shape. A few hours later, and a kilometre down the road, Ms Merkel met Ahmet Davutoglu and Mark Rutte, her Turkish and Dutch counterparts, and blew that deal apart. During six hours of talks fuelled by a 1am take-out of Turkish pide, or pizza, the trio explored a bigger idea to turn back every migrant reaching Greek islands. Unlike Mr Tusk’s version, that came with a higher Turkish pricetag: money, visas, and large-scale resettlement of Syrians from Turkey to Europe. Ms Merkel’s bet was that the deal’s arresting potential would help her at home in state elections next week. In the event, only a half-deal was possible, mixing parts of the old and new proposal and leaving details to be sorted. During the process, confusion reigned in the corridors; presidents and premiers bristled at being confronted with Turkey’s “new ideas” as they arrived; frustrations were palpable".
Alex Barker & Peter Spiegel, "Angela Merkel takes big gamble on migration deal with Turkey". The Financial Times. 8 March 2016, in www.ft.com.
"On March 7, the political stunt will be for both sides to manage vastly diverging expectations. Europeans, Germans in particular, are obsessed with seeing the numbers of refugee arrivals go down immediately. But the price for making this happen—German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others continuing to publicly forget about fundamental issues in Turkey—is a mistaken strategy that will haunt the EU for decades. It’s high time for European leaders to grasp the bigger picture and act accordingly. The Turkish leadership may see a historic opportunity to play hardball with a weakened Europe and attempt to weaken it further. This is exactly the strategy Russia is following. Such a short-term calculus based on domestic political considerations poses a massive risk for Turkey. The country’s economic, financial, and technological anchor remains Europe, and recent history has proved that Turkey has nowhere else to go in this respect. Will Ankara draw the right lessons? Or will biased analyses, religious considerations, and hubris push Turkey in a riskier and lonelier direction? Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (4th L), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (4th R) and other European leaders attend the lunch of a European Union leaders' summit with Turkey on the migrant crisis at the European Council in Brussels, on March 7, 2016. EU leaders held a summit with Turkey's prime minister on March 7 in order to back closing the Balkans migrant route and urge Ankara to accept deportations of large numbers of economic migrants from overstretched Greece. The European Union is hardening its stance in a bid to defuse the worst refugee crisis since World War II by increasingly putting the onus on Turkey and EU member Greece in return for aid. The EU institutions that have spearheaded membership talks with Turkey for two decades felt badly undercut. One senior European diplomat directly involved in Turkey discussions said they had 'never seen a situation where the EU institutions were so undermined and stabbed in the back'".
Marc Pierini, "Will Turkey and the EU See the Bigger Picture?" Carnegie Europe. 3 March 2016, in www.carnegieeurope.eu
Angel Merkel's handling of the negotiations with Ankara are of a piece with her handling of the entire Migrant crisis: hand to mouth, lacking completely in substance and in concrete planning. In the case of the negotiations with Ankara, greatly needing to be seen as being in control of the migration avalanche from Turkey, she offered up ridiculous concessions (in particular that relating to the visa issue), in the futile hope that the ultra-opportunistic Turkish government would abide by their promises. Given the authoritarian instincts and policies of the regime in Ankara it is (to quote Neville Chamberlain) 'the very mid-summer of madness' to expect anything else. The only mitigating factor in the entire affair is that there is a very good likelihood that Cyprus will veto the agreement (and if not Cyprus then other countries due to the visa aspect of the agreement) 1. Regardless, one can only hope that the catastrophic results of the German regional elections will finally prompt Merkel to abandon her disastrous policy on Migration 2.
1. Peter Spiegel, "Cypriot leader threatens to scupper Merkel’s refugee pact". The Financial Times. 10 March 2016 in www.ft.com.
2. Deutsche Welle. "Germany assesses shake-up following election gains for AfD". 14 March 2016, in www.dw.com.