Sunday, April 06, 2014

THE LATEST ROUND OF NEAR-EAST NEGOTIATIONS: KERRY'S FOLLY?

"Washington’s attempts to shepherd Israelis and Palestinians into a so-called framework deal – yet another road map towards ending their conflict – appear to be running out of road. Almost nine months of intense diplomacy, led by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, may have hit a wall this week. Given the way he and his boss, President Barack Obama, have managed this affair, it is surprising this has not happened sooner.... It is not just that Washington is behaving more like a crooked lawyer than an honest broker, bullying the weaker Palestinian party into keeping talks going while Israel continues to settle illegally occupied territory. The Israeli tail is being allowed to wag the US dog. Mr Netanyahu cannot be losing much sleep over reports that President Obama is returning to the talks to back up Mr Kerry. It is hard to see what difference this can make while the US concentrates on process rather than substance. Far from pushing Israel to roll back the occupation enough to enable Palestinians to build a viable state on the occupied West Bank and Gaza, with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital, it looks as though the US is planning to hand Israel almost all the settlement blocs, about three-quarters of East Jerusalem, and the Jordan Valley.... Why any US official dreamt all this might work is a puzzle. It seeks compromise not between Israel and the Palestinians but between factions of Israel’s irredentist right – which means the end of a two-state solution. Unless the US is prepared to push for a real compromise, and a real state of Palestine, Israel’s future could be bleak. ".
David Gardner, "US plays the crooked lawyer in an Israeli-Palestinian drama". The Financial Times. 6 April 2014, in www.ft.com.
"If you follow Clifford's [White House domestic policy advisor] advice [favoring the recognition of the State of Israel] and if I were to vote in the election, I would vote against you".
American Secretary of State George C. Marshall to President Truman, 12 May 1948. The criticisms `a la David Gardner in this week-end's Financial Times, made of American Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry's intensive efforts to 'jump-start' the Near Eastern peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Are of course par for the course. And indeed extremely accurate as far as it goes. By definition, the Americans are and have been for almost the entirety of the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, a biased party. Or to employ the verbiage of Mr. Gardner a 'crooked lawyer'. The issue of course is that the nature of domestic American politics, in a classical case of Primat der Innenpolitik, does not allow for rationale decision-making as per Near Eastern diplomacy. It never has and it certainly is not going to now. As the interaction between the current American administration and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently shown. In almost every past confrontation (such as they were) between the two sides, it is the American side, under domestic political pressures who inevitably gives way. This state of affairs may be sad, it may be maddening and indeed irrational(and I will be the first to admit that it is all of this and more), but it is a empirical fact. And not only is it an empirical fact, it is a empirical factum, which will be change or to use a demotic expression: 'go away', anytime soon. Id. est., the nature of the American polity will not change greatly in the next two to ten years to see marked changes as to how the United States approaches the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. To ask the very intelligent American Secretary of State to do something which people such giants of American history as General George C. Marshall was unable to do back in 1948, is verily to ask the impossible. However unfortunate it may be, Secretary Kerry can only operate within the political parameters allowed for by the nature of American domestic politics. And, while the apparent American political consensus which backs a 'pro-Israel' policy may indeed be much, much weaker than one may suppose on the surface, the current American administration is not going to be the one that will test this hypothesis to see if it in fact true. This in turn may perhaps be a tragedy, but is also a fact which will not change anytime soon. The tragedy being that by the time that the Americans do become 'straight' as opposed to 'crooked' lawyer, it may be too late to influence positively the facts on the ground in the Near East.

Monday, March 31, 2014

RUSSIA'S PROPOSED UKRAINIAN MODUS VIVENDI: A COMMENT

"Two weeks ago, Vladimir Putin completed the annexation of Crimea, the first land grab on the European landmass since 1945. Since then, the west has wondered what the Russian president’s next move might be. Many fear that the seizure of Crimea is merely the first step towards his ultimate goal, the dismemberment of Ukraine. Having alienated Kiev, he may believe such an outcome is necessary in order to block this huge country on Russia’s western border from moving wholesale into the EU or Nato. In a move laden with menace, Mr Putin has massed 40,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. This has created alarm that the Kremlin is planning to seize the eastern and southern regions of the country, which have large Russian-speaking populations. However, Mr Putin has now chosen this moment to launch a new initiative on Ukraine. Russia is not reducing its troop deployment by much. But in what it proclaims to be a potential diplomatic solution to the crisis, the Kremlin has proposed to the US that Ukraine should become a federalised state. Russia’s plan is that Kiev should implement a constitutional reform transferring a wide range of powers to the country’s regions. Ukraine is a highly centralised state that would certainly benefit from some devolution of control from the centre. This could promote effective and accountable government in a state riddled with corruption since independence from the Soviet Union. The interim administration in Kiev, dominated by western and central Ukrainians, needs to be more sensitive to the demands of Russian speakers. But the west should be under no illusion about what the Kremlin means by “federalisation”. Mr Putin wants Ukraine’s Russian-speaking regions to acquire so much autonomy from Kiev that they end up establishing bilateral ties with Moscow. As Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said at the weekend, Moscow proposes that Ukraine’s regions will have “wide powers” to establish “economic and cultural ties with neighbouring countries”..'"
Leader, "Putin’s cynical plan to split Ukraine". The Financial Times. 31 March 2014, www.ft.com.
As the Financial Times leader cogently and correctly points out: the Putin-Lavrov plan to resolve the Crimean-Ukraine crisis is brilliant in both its cynicism and audacity. Having already carved out a good sized portion of Ukraine for itself, Moskva proposes to 'resolve' the crisis engendered by its own actions by pressuring the government in Kyiv and its Western backers to make plans for a balkanization of the entire country. As of course a prelude to further encroachments and future carve-ups of the remainder of the remainder of the country. If one wishes to view the matter from a historical perspective, a perspective which by the bye, Grazhdanin Putin claims shows an unmitigated history of Western invasions and attacks on Matushka Russia, one merely needs to look at the policies of Tsarist Russia under Tsarina Elizabeth I and Catherine II vis-à-vis Poland-Lithuania (the so-called Rzeczpospolita). In which in equal parts cynical and brilliant, both rulers used the Old Polish Republic's liberal and decentralized domestic policies to divide et impera by endeavoring to permanently weakening the Polish State as a prelude to absorbing most of it. Something which St. Petersburg accomplished with the partitions of 1772, 1773 and 1795 1. It is quite transparent that Moskva envisages a similar process at work in present-day Ukraine. As the former Ukrainian Premier, now finally released from prison, Yulia Tymoshenko has aptly commented:
"Russia has put forward a very clear and obvious ultimatum after the annexation of Crimea. Its conditions are evidence of the continuation of Russia’s aggressive policy. [Its demands] are a menu for recolonisation in the post-Soviet space. And to offer this menu in Ukraine, and, God forbid, to implement it is a path to destruction of independent, sovereign Ukraine, and of other post-Soviet states that have achieved their independence. Federalisation is basically a way to create a dozen other Crimeas in Ukraine, opening the way for Putin to annex southern and eastern regions, in the same way as was done in Crimea" 2.
The Russian proposals should be regarded as the ultimate non-starter diplomatically speaking. If nothing else, it gives all who have eyes to see and ears here, what Moskva's ultimate desiderata are in Ukraine, and perhaps even further afield in Moldova and the Baltic States if the Western powers are foolish enough to allow Russia to take the process further by balkanizing Ukraine. The Putin-Lavrov proposals must be rejected and Russian policy towards Ukraine forcefully opposed.
1. On this process, see the best, modern treatment from the perspective of the premier, diplomatic historian on 18th and 19th century European history, Paul W. Schroeder. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848. (1994), pp. 11-22 and passim. See also for the classical treatment: Albert Sorel. The Eastern Question in the eighteen century. (1898).
2. Interview by Neil Buckley, "Yulia Tymoshenko talks to the FT". The Financial Times. 31 March 2014, in www.ft.com.

Friday, March 28, 2014

THE NEW STRATEGIC ARCHITECTURE FOR WESTERN STRATEGY IN THE POST-CRIMEAN WORLD

"Whatever the origins of the events in Ukraine, the United States is now engaged in a confrontation with Russia. The Russians believe that the United States was the prime mover behind regime change in Ukraine. At the very least, the Russians intend to reverse events in Ukraine. At most, the Russians have reached the conclusion that the United States intends to undermine Russia's power. They will resist. The United States has the option of declining confrontation, engaging in meaningless sanctions against individuals and allowing events to take their course. Alternatively, the United States can choose to engage and confront the Russians. A failure to engage at this point would cause countries around Russia's periphery, from Estonia to Azerbaijan, to conclude that with the United States withdrawn and Europe fragmented, they must reach an accommodation with Russia. This will expand Russian power and open the door to Russian influence spreading on the European Peninsula itself. The United States has fought three wars (World War I, World War II and the Cold War) to prevent hegemonic domination of the region. Failure to engage would be a reversal of a century-old strategy. The American dilemma is how to address the strategic context in a global setting in which it is less involved in the Middle East and is continuing to work toward a "pivot to Asia." Nor can the United States simply allow events to take their course. The United States needs a strategy that is economical and coherent militarily, politically and financially. It has two advantages. Some of the countries on Russia's periphery do not want to be dominated by her. Russia, in spite of some strengths, is inherently weak and does not require U.S. exertion on the order of the two World Wars, the Cold War or even the Middle East engagements of the past decade".
George Friedman, "From Estonia to Azerbaijan: American Strategy After Ukraine" Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 25 March 2014 in www.stratfor.com.
"For some frustrated with the complexity of the post-Cold War world, redividing the globe along an East-West axis would be comforting. Yet doing so serves military and defense interests all too well, as George Kennan understood as he watched his original doctrine of containment become an entrenched enmity licensing military adventures in the name of anti-communism. That vision of the world does not reflect present realities. It would become a self-fulfilling prophecy that strengthens autocracy in Russia and increases the likelihood of Russia reverting to what the West considers a rogue state. Other nations that have reason to resent what they see as an imposition of Western values would view Moscow as a leader of an independent coalition of states dedicated to protecting national sovereignty. It will be the world Putin wants. We should not let him have it."
Anne-Marie Slaughter, "The war of words over Ukraine plays into Putin’s hands". The Washington Post. 25 March 2014, in www.washingtonpost.com.
There seems to be a near consensus among the Anglo-American commentariat, that the annexation of Crimea by Putin's Russia requires is both a challenge of sorts, and requires a long-term response. With perhaps the only difference being that some bien-pensant types akin to Mme. Slaughter, are viscerally opposed to 'demonizing' Putin and or his Russia. The fact that the entire Crimean episode was part and parcel of an internalist (in the sense of primat der Innenpolitik) focus, makes this type of criticism illusory. Make no mistake: Putinism it appears requires for domestic political reasons a siege-mentality. Putinism will not it is easy to predict, any longer care to conform to the norms of the Western club of powers. It could have been the case perhaps that in his earlier, more reformist phase in power (2000-2005), that Putin wanted to enter into a co-operative relationship with the West. In the aftermath of the color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, as well as growing hostility to civil society liberalism in Russia itself, such a policy option was put on the shelf, never to return. Perhaps his interim successor, Dmitry Medvedev had initially hopes for a rapproachement with the West. If so, Putin's return to power in 2012 put paid to it forever. Therefore, it is entirely in order to anticipate an extended time period wherein there will be a high level of diplomatic antagonism and competition (to a lesser extent) between the Western powers and Matushka Russia. And however unfortunate that factum is, there is little that one can expect but that this antagonism will continue as long as Putinism rules Russia. Just as it was quite impossible to have a normal relationship with Serbia under Slobodan Milošević. A state of affairs which only ended with Milošević ouster in the first of the 'color' revolutions in anno domini 2000. Whether or not, Western policy should set as its aim a strategy of 'overthrow', is to my mind not very clear and perhaps to a degree unnecessary. The mere fact that the Western powers will show their diplomatic, economic and strategic antagonism towards Russia and its Putin-allied elites with the concomitant costs for Russia will inevitably result, in the downfall of the regime. The mere question being: will this occur sooner rather than later, and will this result in a complete dismemberment of Russia as s sovereign state. Or will the outcome be akin to one of the color revolutions in which the populace of the capital will execute a quick and efficient de-capitation of the regime. Whatever may occur however the point of Western strategy towards Russia should be to quietly, and as diplomatically as possible heighten the economic pressures so that both the Russian populace and Russian elites, particularly in the two capital cities see, that Putinism is not a system of governance which safeguards either its economic or other interests or future. Accordingly, a system of sanctions (much harsher than at present but not to the full extent possibly by any means), which will demonstrate the costs of Russia's current policies are in order. coupled with a step-up level of military build-ups in the periphery surrounding Russia: in the Baltics, Poland, Romania, Moldova, and Georgia. As well as a programme of economic and military assistance to the new (post May 25) Presidential government in Kyiv. In short, Russia will face a curtain of encirclement on its entire European periphery: north, west and south. Intelligently run and with a certain amount of patience, time will soon enough see the crumbling of the Putin regime from within. It is all a matter of waiting and watching.

Friday, March 21, 2014

ON THE THIRD ANNIVERSARY OF THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR: SOME REFLECTIONS ON WESTERN POLICY

The regime's political goals are to remain in power, restore its control over as much of Syria as it can, and render the political opposition an irrelevant exile movement. Its military goal is to reduce the armed opposition to a manageable terrorist threat. This does not imply that the opposition has to be completely eliminated or that every inch of lost ground has to be recovered. Yet the regime has never shown any intention other than to fight, and it fights essentially everywhere in Syria. It does not negotiate with the opposition, and it does not give up on any province. The military strategy to achieve these goals entails use of all elements of military power (air, ground, missile, and irregular) to secure important areas and regain territory lost to the rebels. Specifically, the regime aims to keep its grip on loyal provinces (Tartus, Latakia, al-Suwayda), maintain a presence in key parts of contested provinces (e.g., Damascus city, Deir al-Zour, Idlib, Deraa), and regain important lost territory (Damascus suburbs, Aleppo city, Qalamoun). This approach allows the regime to conserve forces in less important or mostly secure areas while concentrating forces for offensive action in places it deems critical.... A number of factors have contributed to the regime's recent successes. First, the presence of allied forces is crucial, especially in offensive operations. The involvement of Hezbollah forces and Iraqi militants is not a guarantee of success, but it significantly increases the regime's chances.... Accordingly, many are concerned about the rebels suffering potentially substantial defeats in Aleppo and Damascus. While this is unlikely to happen overnight, there is always the possibility of a quick collapse of resistance through the cumulative effects of casualties, logistical problems, loss of will to fight, and declining popular support. The rebels have fought long and hard on many fronts, but their determination may not last indefinitely. It is an open question whether they can respond effectively to the regime's challenge without greater internal unity and significant outside military assistance, including arms, training, advice, and intelligence.
Jeffrey White, "The Assad Regime Winning by Inches?" The Washington Institute. 11 March 2014, in www.washingtoninstitute.org
Hundreds of foreign fighters have abandoned rebel ranks in northern Syria as frustration rises over bloody infighting there – a trend that suggests declining enthusiasm among hardline Sunni Muslim militants participating in Syria’s torturous civil war and raises concerns among western security officials that these combatants may head to other countries. The outflow of foreign militants is still small, rebels and activists say, but illustrates the disillusionment many appear to feel as they spend more time fighting each other than the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. More than 4,000 people have died in three months of rebel-on-rebel clashes across opposition-held territories in northern and eastern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition advocacy group. “These fighters feel they came to fight an oppressive regime, not rebels. The numbers are not huge, but this is important because it shows the level of resentment among foreign fighters over what is happening,” said Rami Abdelrahman, the Observatory’s director. “These fighters are asking, what is this cause I’m dying for?....” The infighting among rebel groups began in January when an alliance of moderate and Islamist units launched a campaign against the radical Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham amid tensions over the control of lucrative border crossings and oilfields. Non-Isis fighters were also angered by the group’s seizure of rebel territory and its focus on building an Islamic statelet between eastern Syria and Iraq rather than fighting Mr Assad.... One source close to Isis, who asked not to be named, said most aligned with the group who “copped out” of Syria were being sent to Iraq instead. Iraqi officials have noticed the rising numbers, according to one western security official, and Isis and Iraqi forces have been battling in majority Sunni areas of the country. Disillusionment is growing among all rebels as they grapple with the increasingly convoluted conflict, argued one Syrian fighter from the Suqur al-Sham brigades in the north. Syria’s civil war now has three fronts: rebels against the government across the country; rebels and the government against separatist Kurds; and now, rebels against each other.
Erika Solomon & Sam Jones, "Disillusioned foreign fighters abandon rebel ranks in Syria." The Financial Times. 18 March 2014, in www.ft.com.
On the third anniversary of the beginnings of the Syrian Civil War should inspire some serious thoughts as to where the conflict is and what is the likely resolution of the same. I would like to endeavor the same herein as follows: the initial uprising was inspired of course by the atmosphere of the so-called 'Arab Spring' in the Winter and Spring of 2011. In retrospect there was a certain amount of naïveté on the likelihood that the regime of Assad Fils would willing reform itself. While it seemed to those unfamiliar with the rule of Assad Père and Fils since 1970, that reform, albeit from the top was possible, of course this was a completely illusory idea. Both Assad Father and Son have never shown the least hint that they would willing abdicate power `a la ex-President Mubarak of Egypt. Accordingly, from the very start the regime responded to first the demonstrations and then the uprising proper with an iron fist. With the only surprise being that the 'iron fist' policy `a la Assad Père in Hama and elsewhere circa 1979-1982 1. Something which was part and parcel of larger socioeconomic changes in the landscape of the country resulting from the embourgeoisement of the inner circles of the regime in the past fifteen years 2. With much if not all of the groundswell of the uprising coming from impoverished rural Sunni masses crowding into the cities and towns. In a short amount of time, the mostly Sunni army splintered into its component parts with the rebels being made up of Sunni foot soldiers and regular army officers fighting the elite, mostly Alawite regime forces and its Alawite volunteer cohorts. At this point in time, notwithstanding the influx of Islamist volunteers from Sunni countries in the Gulf and further abroad, the Assad regime appears to most expert opinion at this point to be safely in the saddle. Marginally, better-off in terms of the military balance than its Sunni adversaries. A state of affairs not that surprising given the very active assistance that Assad has received from his allies in Persia, Russia and the Lebanon. Given his near complete control of the major highways in the centre of the country as well as its sea ports, it would appear almost impossible that Assad will be overthrown anytime soon. Especially given the recent infighting in the opposition and the growing doubts about the likelihood of a rebel victory. Given this fact, it is time to perhaps beg the question if the Western powers should perhaps re-think its hostility to Assad and his regime. Given the fact that extreme Islamist elements are the most successful elements of the armed opposition, one would have to be blind to the dangers of such groups emerging victorious. The simple if sad truth is that Syria under the grip of Assad and his clique, while extremely unpleasant is not by any means a real danger to Western interests. Indeed, if nothing else, the war since 2011, has effectively enfeebled both Assad and his regime as per his regional standing and power. Accordingly to my mind a change in direction in terms of Western policy is something to be seriously considered as it relates to the Syrian conflict. Simply burying one's heads in the sands and hoping that the moderate elements of the opposition will emerge on top at the end of the day is simply la grande illusion.
1. Christopher Dickey, "Assad and his Allies: Irreconcilable Differences". Foreign Affairs. (Fall 1987), pp. 64-65.
2. Raymond Hinnebusch, "Syria: from 'authoritarian upgrading' to revolution". International Affairs. (January 2012), pp. 101-108.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

RUSSIA'S CRIMEAN POLICY: PRIMAT DER AUSSENPOLITIK OR PRIMAT DER INNENPOLITIK?

"Russia’s willingness to violate Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty is the gravest challenge to the European order in over half a century. The conflict pits a vast nuclear power against a state equal in size to France, an autocratic regime against a revolutionary government. The Russian intervention in Ukraine raises questions about the security guarantees that the West made to Ukraine after the country gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, and it flies in the face of many Europeans’ belief that, in recent years, a continental war has become all but impossible. The end result may be the emergence of a third Russian empire or a failed Ukrainian state at the center of Europe. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine should not be understood as an opportunistic power grab. Rather, it is an attempt to politically, culturally, and militarily resist the West. Russia resorted to military force because it wanted to signal a game change, not because it had no other options".
Ivan Krastev, "Russian Revisionism: Putin's Plan For Overturning the European Order." Foreign Affairs. 3 March 2014, in www.foreignaffairs.com.
"The invasion of Crimea cannot be explained with concern for the Russian-speaking people of Crimea either. Russia’s rulers do not even care about their own people, robbing them cynically. Why would they suddenly care about their kinsmen in Crimea? And nobody has oppressed the Russians in Crimea. They are first-class citizens, and the official language in Crimea is Russian. Yes, there are poor Russians in Crimea. But all over Ukraine, the majority of the people live in extreme poverty. I think Mr Putin’s goals are far beyond the Crimean peninsula. First, Moscow’s rulers are terrified that Ukraine’s Maidan protest movement could replicate itself in Russia. The fate of Viktor Yanukovich, the ousted Ukrainian president, frightens them. They are also frightened by the tough anti-communist spirit of the Maidan. The revolution is taking place amid collapsing monuments to Soviet leaders: Lenin, Kirov, Dzerzhinsky. But in neighbouring Russia, 25 years after the ban of the Communist party, Grandpa Lenin is still resting in his mausoleum on Red Square, his monuments still stand. In Russia, we have a metamorphosis of the Communist order; in Ukraine, a decisive parting from it. This scares the KGB officers in charge of Russia today. It is also one of the reasons why the Russian media has branded the Maidan participants “fascists”. It is a logic familiar to many older Russians: if you oppose the Soviet Union, you are a fascist. Such was the custom in the Stalinist era; it has been now reborn. And by demonising the Ukrainian protesters, converting them into enemies of everything sacred to Russo-Soviet man, public opinion will surely turn against the Maidan".
Andrey Zubov, "Vladimir Putin’s goals reach far beyond the Crimean peninsula". The Financial Times. 16 March 2014, in www.ft.com.
There are two possible interpretations of Russian President Vladimir Putin's rationale for his policies vis-`-a-vis Ukraine / Crimea in the past two months. One is that offered by Ivan Krastev, which is a traditional 'Primat der Aussenpolitik' explanation. In which a particular state's foreign policy and its goals and interests, governs its relations with the outside world. The type of explanatory model offered up by 'political realism' in political science and international relations theory. A second, more plausible explanatory model I would argue and have argued here in this column for quite awhile now, not only in the case of Russia but for other powers as well is 'Primat der Innenpolitik'. Andrey Zubov's analysis hits the nail right on the head in highlighting the fact that what frightens the inner circle of Grazhdanin Putin more than anything else is having a Slavic portion of Sovietskaya Vlast, like Ukraine, with a pluralistic and democratic political structure. As this mere fact would underline how odd is Russia's own political structure. Especially since the only similar political regimes would be the states of Central Asia. States and nations which Russian's ordinarily look down upon with something akin to contempt if not worse. A politically transformed Ukraine, raises major questions about the legitimacy of Putinism in Russia. And make no mistake: Putinism is a much weaker political façade than we are lead to believe. This is not to gainsay the fact, that in many respects, Putin's regime enjoys some legitimacy from the Russian narod. Especially in the provinces and regions outside of Moskva and St. Petersburg. It is merely the fact, that this legitimacy and is au fond, quite shallow and in fact not at all strong. It is not the type of support that will prevent the regime from collapsing if there is a major economic crisis in the near-future. Indeed, perhaps the best example of this dynamic is the fact that the anti-Putin, anti-Russian annexation of Crimea demonstration in Moskva this past week-end, had more people than the pro-regime, pro-annexation demonstration 1. In short: do not be surprised in the future, perhaps even in the near-future, that Putinism comes crashing down quite suddenly. Just as Sovietskay Vlast came crashing down, with great suddenness back in 1991 2. Or for that matter the Tsarist regime collapsed tout `a coup in February-March of 1917 3. Putin's policies of annexation of Crimea and brinkmanship vis-`-a-vis Kyiv are endeavors to shore up a failing political legitimacy at home. Unless the Western powers hand him a completely unnecessary political and diplomatic victory in the Crimean crisis, Putin's diplomatic gambit will merely postpone the inevitable. The question is merely for how long?
1. Kathrin Hille, "Thousands attend Putin protest rally in Moscow." The Financial Times. 15 March 2014, in www.ft.com.
2. Stephen Kotkin. Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000. (2003) and Stephen Kotkin & Jan T. Gross. Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment. (2009).
3. Richard Pipes. The Russian Revolution. (1990); George Katkov. Russia 1917: The February Revolution. (1917).

Friday, March 14, 2014

IS THE CRIMEAN CRISIS COMING TO A BOIL?

"Russian companies are pulling billions out of western banks, fearful that any US sanctions over the Crimean crisis could lead to an asset freeze, according to bankers in Moscow. Sberbank and VTB, Russia’s giant partly state-owned banks, as well as industrial companies, such as energy group Lukoil, are among those repatriating cash from western lenders with operations in the US. VTB has also cancelled a planned US investor summit next month, according to bankers. The flight comes as last-ditch diplomatic talks between Russia’s foreign minister and the US secretary of state to resolve the tensions in Ukraine ended without an agreement. Viktor Yanukovich has been ousted but Russia is flexing its military muscle, fearing a threat to its interests in Ukraine Markets were nervous before Sunday’s Crimea referendum on secession from Ukraine. Traders and businesspeople fear this could spark western sanctions against Russia as early as Monday. Yields on Russia’s 10-year government bonds rose close to 9.7 per cent on Friday, compared with less than 8 per cent in January. The rouble hit 36.7 to the dollar, near to its weakest rate on record. It also emerged on Friday that Russia’s top 10 billionaires, led by Alisher Usmanov, had lost a combined $6.6bn of their net worth over the past week, according to research firm Wealth-X. Russian equities, which showed more weakness on Friday, have lost 20 per cent of their value since the start of the year. “You don’t need to have sanctions in place to cause economic turmoil,” said Christopher Granville, managing director of Trusted Sources, an emerging markets research firm. “The expectation is enough.” Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, who served in the State Department under Bill Clinton, said: “The irony is that the Russian banking sector has made quite a lot of progress in plugging into the global system. That means it is vulnerable, and a good lever for applying pressure.” Data published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York sparked speculation that the Russian central bank was also reducing its vulnerability to potential sanctions. The data showed a drop of $105bn in Treasuries held by foreign institutions for the week ending March 12. “We can only speculate about who might have decided to move their securities out of the Fed and into a third-party custodian, but one obvious candidate is Russia,” said Lou Crandall at Wrightson Icap. Russia held $138.6bn in US government debt at the end of December, according to the US Treasury. One senior Moscow banker said 90 per cent of investors were already behaving as if sanctions were in place, adding that this was 'prudent exposure management'".
Patrick Jenkins, Daniel Schafer & Jack Farchy, "Russian companies withdraw billions from west, say Moscow bankers." The Financial Times. 14 March 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Dozens of Russians involved in Russia's gradual takeover of Crimea face U.S. and EU travel bans and asset freezes on Monday, after six hours of crisis talks between Washington and Moscow ended with both sides still far apart. Moscow shipped more troops and armor into Crimea on Friday and repeated its threat to invade other parts of Ukraine in response to violence in Donetsk on Thursday night despite Western demands to pull back. EU diplomats will choose from a long list of 120-130 possible Russian targets for sanctions on Sunday, as pro-Moscow authorities who have taken power in Crimea hold a vote to join Russia in the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War. Several diplomats dismissed a German newspaper report that said the list would include the heads of Russia's two biggest companies, energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia would be guilty of a backdoor annexation of Crimea if its parliament ratified the Crimea referendum, which is taking place after an armed takeover of Crimea and gives voters no chance to say "no". He has warned Moscow that U.S. and EU sanctions could be imposed as soon as Monday if the referendum goes ahead, although U.S. officials said after Kerry's marathon meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London on Friday the door was still open for more talks. Lavrov played down his own ministry's threats, saying Moscow had no plans to invade Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow groups have occupied state buildings. But he said Russia would respect the referendum result. Russia's stock markets tumbled and the cost of insuring its debt soared on the last day of trading before the Crimea vote.... The Russian Foreign Ministry, responding to the death of at least one protester in Ukraine's eastern city of Donetsk, repeated President Vladimir Putin's declaration of the right to invade to protect Russian citizens and "compatriots".
Andrew Osborn & Lina Kushch. "West prepares sanctions as Russia presses on with Crimea takeover." Reuters. 14 March 2014, in www.reuters.com.
With Sunday's forthcoming referendum by the population of Crimea of whether or not to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. It would appear from the lack of results of the Kerry-Lavrov discussions to-day that there is not much room for optimism about what is going to occur in the new few days. Judging from the various tea-readings that one can engage in, when reading comments by 'sources' close to the rulers of the Kremlin, as well as what one hears about Russian activity in the financial markets, Russia will openly welcome Crimea's accession to the Russian Federation. And will perhaps at that time, perhaps engage in open activity to oust and or force the surrender of Ukrainian forces still remaining in Crimea. At that point in time, fighting may spread from the Crimea to other parts of Ukraine, if Russian forces choose to carry things further. I for one, regardless of the affects that Western sanctions might have on Russian businesses and the general Russian economy, refuse to believe that Putin, will engage in a policy of va banque, by invading the rest of Ukraine. For Putin, the whole Crimean imbroglio has been first and foremost one dealing with domestic politics ('primat der Innenpolitik'), with only secondarily the geopolitical aspect (the possible 'loss of Ukraine') 1. It may perhaps be the case, that Putin has no interest in the economic aftermath of crippling economic sanctions on the Russian economy as some have cogently argued 2. However, that argument overlooks the fact that the stability of Putin's regime is au fond, dependent upon having a functioning economy. And if not only the Russian stock market but the banking system and a good number of the heavily leveraged major businesses suffer disruption due to Western sanctions then it is indeed count-down for the continuance of the entire regime. As former Russian Finance Minister, Kudrin recently admitted 3.
1. For the interpretation that Putin's policies would primarily that of primat der Aussenpolitik, see: Wojciech Konończuk, "Russia’s Real Aims in Crimea". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 13 March 2014, in www.carnegieendowment.org For the converse, see: Gordon M. Hahn, "The West's Overplay and Putin's Calculus and mis-calculus". Russia Another Point of View. 12 March 2014, in www.russiaotherpointsofview.com.
2. Philip Hanson, "Forget sanctions: Putin has already traumatised fragile Russia." City A.M. 10 March 2014, in www.cityam.com
3. Courtney Weaver, Jack Farchy and Catherine Belton, "Putin ally warns on cost of sanctions". The Financial Times. 13 March 2014, in www.ft.com

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

'CRIMEAN DIPLOMACY': SOME THINGS TO REMEMBER

"European officials were preparing sanctions against Russia and additional aid for Ukraine as diplomats acknowledged their efforts had not only failed in persuading Russia to calm the conflict but had seen the Kremlin tighten its grip on Crimea. A German-led effort to establish a “contact group” to negotiate a Russian stand-down in the occupied region – which the EU has set as a prerequisite for Moscow to avoid travel bans and asset freezes on top officials – was foundering, with Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, saying western proposals “did not fully satisfy us”. In a meeting with Vladimir Putin, Russian president, Mr Lavrov laid blame for the diplomatic stalemate at the feet of John Kerry, saying the US secretary of state had cancelled a trip to Moscow at the weekend and was insisting Russia recognise the new government in Kiev. A Russian foreign policy official said Moscow did not reject the contact group in principle but refused to tie any start of talks to the question of the Ukrainian government’s legitimacy. “Any attempt at addressing the problems in Ukraine must involve a return to constitutional order in that country,” said the official. With little movement on western demands for de-escalation in Crimea, even officials in Germany, long the most resistant to taking a hard line against Russia, acknowledged sanctions appeared inevitable. “The Russian side has not shown readiness to participate in such a process,” said a spokesman for Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. “We appeal to them to change this position in the near future. The time for a conversation and rapprochement is short....” ".
Peter Spiegel, Jeevan Vasagar & Kathrin Hille, "Europe prepares sanctions against Russia." The Financial Times. 9 March 2014, in www.ft.com.
My task as minister of foreign affairs was to expand the borders of our Fatherland. It seems that Stalin and I coped with this task quite well".
V. M. Molotov in conversation with Felix Chuev, 29 November 1974, in Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. Edited by Albert Resis. (1993), p. 8.
"Don't talk to me about 'socialism.' What we have we hold."
Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev to Alexander Dubček circa July 1968, quoted in Robert Tucker, "Swollen State, Spent Society: Stalin's Legacy to Brezhnev's Russia". Foreign Affairs. (Winter 1981/1982), p. 429.
It would appear that the European powers are slowly, gradually coming to their senses as per what has occurred in Ukraine and why 1. Not one should add that they are entirely au courant as to the reasoning behind Grazhdanin Putin's policies in the past few months, simply that they cannot avoid noticing that the Moskva is no longer interested in playing by the diplomatic rulebook that it appears our good, little, European Union diplomats and politicians swear by. Au fond, the Russian intervention in Crimea is about several things and has several rationales, but none of these can be said to concern Human Rights of Russian language speakers and or Russian passport holders in Ukraine. If that were the case, then Moskva would have intervened in say Kazakhstan or other locations in Central Asia many years ago. Putin's policies are inspired by two intermingled objects: i) a fear that a Democratic, European oriented Ukraine will act like negative reflection as per Putin's own regime in the eyes of his people. Many of course asking: 'if the people of Ukraine can overthrow their corrupt regime, why cannot we do the same to ours'? This was a very, very noticeable aspect of the Russian reaction to the Orange Revolution and Putin's policies in the past few months show no signs that his reactions has changed in the least; ii) a European oriented Ukraine puts paid to the so-called 'Eurasian bloc' which has become Putin's primary foreign policy objective of late. Sans Ukrainian participation the entire project gives the appearance of nothing more than a damp squib. With all that in mind, everything else becomes very simple and understandable as per Moskva's policy in this matter. Correctly anticipating that Western (European and American, especially the former) would be weak and limp at the very best, it is not surprising that Putin decided to recreate on a larger scale his intervention against Georgia in 2008. Accordingly, as we now know, all was laid in readiness for the appropriate time when the Winter Olympics were over to proceed and voila 'take-over', almost by stealth of the Crimea began. The fact that the ostensible cause of this intervention was ludicrously non-existent, did not prevent Moskva from proceeding with its action. Nor for that matter Putin, Lavrov, et al., to concoct and enunciate in public the same specious arguments about 'Fascists' being in power in Kyiv and thousands of Russian-speaking Ukrainians seeking refuge in the Russian Federation. Accordingly, the following needs to be remembered facts need to be remembered and repeated until all and sundry are blue in the face as it pertains to 'Crimean Diplomacy': i) there are no 'Russian interests' which per se require that Russian intervene and as now appears to be the case, establish a puppet regime in Crimea. Prior to Russia's military intervention, no one in Kyiv was seriously considering denouncing the treaty which allows Russia access to its bases in the Black Sea for another thirty years; ii) there were and are no persecutions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians which necessitated Russia's intervention in Crimea; iii) that the diplomatic version of 'sweet reason', which it would appear from the Financial Times , the German government holds greatly too, has had and will have absolutely no point and no effect in this crisis. Grazhdanin Putin understands a good many things, but the force of 'sweet reason' and empty-handed diplomacy is not something he understands much less acts upon. The current case is very much one of facta non verba; iv) And that accordingly, the only means at all of forcing Russia out of Crimea and certainly the only means of preventing Putin from invading the rest of Ukraine is consistent and forceful economic pressure. The seizure of the assets in the USA and in Europe of both Russian businesses and Russian individuals. The curtailment of visa access to the West by regime-connected Russian businessmen and officials. Actions along those lines in conjunction with economic and other assistance to Ukraine will immeasurably assist in ending this crisis without a shot being fired. But this will only occur if the Western powers have the fortitude to proceed along the above lines. As Eugene Chausovksy of the American intelligence outfit, Stratfor has cogently put it:
"As the Ukraine crisis moves into the diplomatic realm, a major test of U.S. willingness and ability to truly stand up to Russia is emerging. Certainly, Washington has been quite vocal during the current Ukrainian crisis and has shown signs of getting further involved elsewhere in the region, such as in Poland and the Baltic states. But concrete action from the United States with sufficient backing from the Europeans will be the true test of how committed the West is to standing up to Moscow. Maneuvering around Ukraine's deep divisions and Russian countermoves will be no easy task. But nothing short of concerted efforts by a united Western front will suffice to pull Ukraine and the rest of the borderlands toward the West 2".
1. See: Carlo Morello & Pamela Constable, "West pledges to impose sanctions on Moscow as Russia tightens hold on Crimea." The Washington Post. 11 March 2014 in www.washingtonpost.com. See also: Chatham House Expert Group, "Western Responses to the Ukraine Crisis: Policy Options". The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 6 March 2014 in www.chathamhouse.org.
2. Eugene Chausovsky. "Ukraine's Increasing Polarization and the Western Challenge." Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 11 March 2014, in www.stratfor.com. The Chatham House group has similar arguments which are equally persuasive, see: Chatham House, op. cit.