Wednesday, June 27, 2007


"I welcome Tony Blair's appointment as the Quartet's Representative to the Middle East. For the past decade, former Prime Minister Blair has been at the forefront of International efforts to promote peace and reconciliation around the world from Northern Ireland to the Balkans and beyond. He is a renowned statesman, respected and listened to by the international community. He will bring tremendous dedication to efforts to create viable and lasting Palestinian government institutions, strengthen the Palestinian economy, and establish law and order for the Palestinian people. I look forward to working closely with him in his new capacity".

Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, 27 June, 2007 in

"Appointing Tony Blair as special envoy for Arab-Israeli peace is like appointing the Emperor Nero to be the chief fireman of Rome".

Rami G. Khouri, "A Peace Envoy we can do Without", [Beirut] Daily Star in

It has been announced today, that one) Mr. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, has resigned as the First Lord of the Treasury aka Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; two) has been appointed at the behest of the United States Government as the Quartet's [USA/EU/Russia/UN] special envoy for the Arab-Israeli peace process (see the announcement in What is one to make of this announcement? Several responses are possible: one, ribald or near-ribald ridicule of the type seen above, especially by Arab commentators and their sympathizers. For them, and, it must be said rightly so for the most part, Blair in his time as Prime Minister as it concerns the Near East, has been merely an adjunct to American power and purposes. For such opinion, id est, the vast majority of 'public opinion' in the Arab World, the whole 'Yo Blair', incident of last summer, was indicative of the fact that under Blair, the UK has indeed become merely America's poodle, rien plus. From 'Operation Desert Fox' of 1998 to the Lebanon War of 2006, and this year's diplomatic boycott of Hamas, the UK had almost continuously towed the American diplomatic line again and again. The time when the UK would pursue or even be seen to pursue a line independent of the Americans in the Near East (or indeed anywhere...) seems to have become a thing of the past under Blair. Consequently, someone of so little independence from Washington and its Israeli ally hardly deserves being taken seriously as an impartial 'mediator'.

The other side of the coin, such as it is, claims that merely the fact that Blair is willing to undertake the heavy burden of being the Quartet's Peace Envoy; especially at the behest of the USA, is an important indication the the Americans are again interested in moving forward, in a serious way with the peace process. And, that Blair himself would scarcely undertake the thankless task of being Near East mediator, unless he had some undertaking from Bush, Rice, et. al., that the Americans are willing to proceed with moving forward the peace process. Even one assumes to the point of exercising some occasional pressure on the Israeli government. Of course on the face of it, the endorsement of the appointment by the American Secretary of State is more of a reason to be skeptical at best, about the underlying rationale for the appointment. Certainly there is nothing in the past ten years to indicate that Blair would ever be willing to exercise either the independence of judgment or decision, which being a mediator seriously interested in pursuing a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. However, it is the case that Blair has, albeit behind the scenes been greatly interested in some forward movement in the peace process, since 2002, if not before. Unfortunately, he has singularly failed to see that to move forward, necessitates active and continuous pressure, diplomatic, economic, moral pressure on Tel Aviv, and its American Ally. Perhaps it is the case, as the UK weekly the Economist, seems to argue, that Blair, eager to wipe out the stain that the Iraq debacle has brought to his reputation and legacy, will for once actively and energetically exercise his undoubted gifts for a truly positive purpose. And, that his American backers will let him do so (see: "No Rest for Tony Blair", in . For the sake of peace in the Near East, one can only hope so.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


"This in my mind is not good enough, because such kind of formula is not going to provide sufficient incentive for the two parties to negotiate seriously".

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, 20 June 2007, in

"What is new is the opening of a debate regarding status, with a given deadline. If the discussions do not result in noticeable progress, then Ahtisaari’s proposals will be taken into consideration. There are also suggestions to propose a new negotiator, but for us this resolution is not acceptable....Personally, I think that the Bush-Putin meeting will be the deciding factor, because that [submitting the draft] would be a big provocation before a such a meeting where Kosovo will not be the only topic, so right now it is hard to say when the UN Security Council might vote on this resolution"

Serbian Ambassador to the United Nations Pavle Jevremović, 20th June 2007 in www.b92net.

After many many months of waiting and expectation, after almost five months from the date in which the United Nations, mediator for the province first announced his plan for modified independence from Belgrade, the diplomatic countdown has begun.With on the one side, the Americans and the British publicly announcing (in the words of the American Secretary of State, Dr. Rice):

"Serbia and Kosovo are not going to be part of the same body again".

Which in turn brought forth comments from Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica that any country which unilaterally recognized Kosovo as independent, would be have their Ambassador sent packing by Belgrade. With Kostunica accusing Washington as being the

"leader of in proposing that another Albanian State be formed on Serbian soil" (for both quotes see today's article on the subject in the International Herald Tribune

With both sides clearly positioning themselves as the United Nation's Security Council prepares to possibly vote on a resolution providing for some type of measured 'independence' for the Serbian province, two questions raise themselves: one) what are the stakes for the various actors? two) how ultimately will 'climbdown'?

It is our surmise that except for the Albanians of the province themselves, none of the other actors in this particular game: Serbs, Americans, Russians, Europeans, UN, et cetera, have any real or deep interest in the underlying question. For the Serbs, retaining, de jure, if not necessarily de fact, the province, is almost entirely about national honor and prestige. Particularly for the current government in power, challenged as it is by ultra-nationalists. Ideally, if Serbia had been brought back into the concert of European nations in the aftermath of the overthrow of the former Milosevic regime, and showered with money, et cetera, than quite possibly we would not be facing this crisis. Of course there would have still have been some resistance by Belgrade to granting the province independence, but, with some sweeteners, such as a readjustment of the Serbian boundaries to take into account the predominance of the Serbs in the northern portion of the province, it would have been possibly to overcome it. Now matters are quite different, thanks to Mme. Carla Da Ponti...

As for the other actors, in all of their cases, prestige, of a particularly empty variety is the only thing that they care about in this crisis. For the Americans and the British, it is a (novel) case where they can pursue a 'pro-Muslim' policy; for the EU, it is a case of bringing forth evidence that a united Europe can and will see through such difficult projects as Kosovo to fruition. In the case of the perhaps the most important actor in this particular drama (most important because its cards have yet to be revealed to all and sundry yet), Russia, the entire questions of Kosovo is purely and absolutely a matter of prestige. To demonstrate that Matushka Roissya under the Putin Regime, unlike its discredited predecessor, is internationally recognized as a great European, indeed world power, whose voice on such matters must be recognized and taken into account. It is quite questionable to argue that Moskva has any real interests in this particular jeu, other than proving this point. Consequently, with none of the other actors besides the Albanians having any real, hard interests in the game, predicting the ultimate outcome, becomes relatively easy.

First, either the Security Council holds back or even fudges the resolution, or better yet (from Moskva's perspective) it is vetoed by Russia; second, there will be either a (failed) attempt at a hastily convened meeting of all the principals to resolve the matter, again allowing all of the respective parties to demonstrate their resolve and bon fides, to their respective constituencies at home or abroad. With the Serbs and the Russians as well as the British and Americans all showing their 'stuff', it will be at that point that the bargaining and the resolution of the crisis will take place. Most likely the outcome will be a negotiated one, in which, in return for some concessions on border adjustments (perhaps), as well as some promises for expedited EU membership for Belgrade, and some billions of Euros in economic assistance, Belgrade will bite the bullet and grudgingly accept the inevitable. An acceptance helped along by the threat of unilateral Anglo-American recognition of an independent Kosovo. With of course Serbian de jure acceptance, Moskva would be let off the hook, and, thus argue that it had secured Serbia important concessions, and, at the same time, prevented the crisis from getting out of hand. For the Europeans, any non-violent solution would be a 'good solution'. Whether it is continued Serbian de jure rule, Kosovo de facto independent, or even de jure independent. What counts is that the province continue to be under European tutelage, without anything in the way of violence to disrupt that situation. For the Albanians of course this solution, while perhaps delayed and probably not their ideal solution, comes close enough to it that they will also be willing to swallow

What is the likelihood of the above coming about? I predict that it is high with the only possible negative variable being that as long as the province remains peaceful, and, as long as the Anglo-Americans do not take the bit between their teeth and unilaterally recognize Kosovo's independence in the near future. Any such step would have a number of negative consequences, including: i) freezing in place the various antagonists; ii) using a counter vis-`a-vis Belgrade, which should only be utilized as a last resort, and, not initially. Hopefully and ideally it is the American State Department, rather than the ideologues at the National Security Council Staff, who will determine American policy in the upcoming crisis. If so, all might conceivably be well. If not: well than heaven help us.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


We are only demanding one thing, that we get back what was taken from us. If Poland had not had to live through the years of 1939-45, Poland would be today looking at the demographics of a country of 66m.”

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Polish Prime Minister, 19 June, 2007, in

In the time that they have been in office the Kaczynski twins, Lech and Jaroslaw, have succeeded, as if on purpose to consistently subvert, even a modicum of intelligent governance and wisdom. From their mean spirited, attempts to 'root out' (at this late date), communist moles or informers, to their consistent maneuvers to destroy any institution which shows the least sign of political independence: the Central Bank, the Foreign Ministry, Public Television, the remaining Nationalized Industries, et cetera. Like clockwork, our twins seem to be unable to understand any point of view, but their own. And, that goes for as well, for international politics, even within the relatively banal and boring world of EU internal politics. Where log rolling this amount of cash subsidies for 2008's wine subsidies for French farmers, in exchange for that amount of subsidies for 2009 for Greek olive oil production is standard fare. Of course, our twins, forever regurgitating their cinematic origins, cannot fail but bring some melodrama to such boring fare. Hence their campaign (seconded in the appropriate Schwekian fashion by the Cech Republic to essentially freeze the voting powers of the various nations in the EU's Council of Ministers. AT present, Poland has twenty-seven (27) votes to Deutschland's twenty-nine (29), notwithstanding the fact that the former has a population of less than half of the latter. Consequently, with an eye to banging the patriotic drum, for electoral purposes, the only activity, diplomatic, and otherwise, the current Polskii government feel adept at doing, the Kaczynski twins, have in the last two weeks or so, pledged to fight to the last, to preserve in one fashion or other Poland's current voting strength in the Council of Ministers. Indeed, as per Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Warsaw is prepared to fight for its revised formula 'to the death'. Hence the popularization in the form of parody: 'the square root or death'!

One is unsure, quite what to make of this almost farcical situation. Perhaps, Europhile though I am, one should applaud the Polskii twins, for exposing with their surrealist antics, the reductio ad absurdum of the current EU, as an institution. Nothing so well demonstrates the meaninglessness of the current European Union, as this eternal horse trading over money, and haggling for votes in the Ministerial Council, as the upcoming European Union Summit. In that sense perhaps (as someone reminded me today) the Poles with their wonderful historical memories, no doubt feel right at home, inasmuch as the EU in its current state, reminds one of nothing so much as the Polskii Sejm circa the late 17th century, early 18th century. An institution which became infamous due to the fact that any motion or proposal, could become blocked by one member, exercising his liberum veto . It would appear that the Kaczynski twins, aim to repeat this history in the upcoming EU Summit unless they get their way on the voting procedure in the Council of Ministers. The sad thing is, that in actual fact, either the Polish proposal or the German one, bear little or no true importance for the average European. It is all a political conjuring trick. An exercise in mystification, in which this increasingly ineffectual institution, this twenty first century version of the Holy Roman Empire in the Voltairian sense, seems to increasingly revolve around. The idea that the EU, could be, could have been, a harbinger of a positive, European idea, of a European identity, based upon Europe's Christian origins, as well as those of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the heritage of the Enlightenment, the Middle Ages, the great epoch of the 18th and 19th century, even the catastrophic years of 1914-1945. Ideally, an institution able to re-establish EUROPEas a grossmachte, to balance off, and indeed on occasion oppose diplomatically, if not necessarily militarily, the United States, and in the future of course, the 'yellow peril' powers of China & India.

Instead what do we have: Polish romanticism (one of the most beautiful and sublime things in the history of Europe) being expended on idiotic ministerial voting powers'the square root or death' indeed. Heaven help us all!

Monday, June 18, 2007


"The devastating consequences of the Quartet position have been well documented, including in UN Security Council briefings....The precipitous decline of the standard of living of Palestinians, particularly but by no means exclusively in Gaza, has been disastrous, both in humanitarian terms and in the perilous weakening of Palestinian institutions....The underpinnings for a future Palestinian state have been seriously undermined, and the capacity of the Palestinian security apparatus to establish and maintain law and order, to say nothing of putting an end to attacks against Israel, has diminished tremendously....Thus the steps taken by the International community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbour Israel have had precisely the opposite effect".

Alvaro de Soto, "End of Mission Report", May 2007, in

As I, and a good number of other individuals have observed and predicted, notwithstanding the International boycott of the Hamas-lead, Palestinian Authority (hereafter 'PA') government, in any open warfare between the Islamist Hamas and the old-line, Nationalist, and corrupt, Fatah, the former would emerge triumphant. Late last week, that is precisely what occurred, as Hamas was able to shatter the remnants of Fatah's armed infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, and, take control of the entire territory. PA President Abbas, has predictably (and not entirely without reason) dissolved the PA unity government, so carefully constructed earlier this year by Saudi Arabia, and instituted a new one, centered on the West Bank, where Fatah still maintains control.

According to the wires, the American & Israeli reaction to these events has been quite predictable: reculer pour le mieux sauter. In essence a repeat of the earlier tactics which have failed so spectacularly. Whereas previously, Fatah affiliated groups, were covertly (in actual fact no so 'covertly') shipped arms by the Americans, in the hopes of destroying Hamas militarily, the end result has been a complete Hamas victory in the Gaza Strip. With many of the self-same arms now being utilized by Hamas (for the background on the American sub rosa effort to arm Fatah and or other elements against Hamas, see Joshua Landis' always brilliant: Now we are told that the Americans and the Israelis, intend to make the Fatah-lead government in the West Bank, a 'shining example' of peace and prosperity, to contrast with the poverty and continuing isolation of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. The fact that any Fatah regime, will be as corrupt and as ramshackled as previously, appears not to occur to either the Americans or the Israelis. Nor does the fact that in the absence of any real progress on both the ground (in terms of stopping the expansion of Israeli settlements) and diplomatically (negotiating a fair and definitive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), any PA regime will soon enough be lacking in legitimacy and hence tottering if not soon suffering a complete collapse (on the American and Israeli thinking about going forward, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Fatah in the Gaza Strip, see: Olmert's interview in the Sunday New York Times, in & also the Financial Times, in

It is precisely to provide a proper background and analysis of the most recent debacle that has occurred for American Near Eastern policy (following in the many footsteps of those of Iraq, the Lebanon War of 2006, et cetera), that we present to our readership, the secret report, leaked to the London Guardian and to Reuters, by the ex-United Nations Near Eastern envoy, Alvaro de Soto. Written up as a coda to his two year's as the UN's representative to the 'Quartet' (USA,EU,Russia & UN) of powers which have fitfully and ineffectually attempted since 2002 to revive the mostly dormant Near Eastern peace process. In his fifty-three (53) page report, Soto lambast both the Quartet's efforts at peace-making, and the United Nations' involvement in the same, as unmitigated farces. Indeed, he quite (to my mind correctly) recommends that in view of the absence of any real progress or even the hint of the same, under current circumstances, that the United Nations should withdraw from the Quartet, de facto if not de jure. As he quite aptly puts it:

"The Middle East [Near East] has substituted the Hindu Kush of the XIX century as the contemporary 'Great Game'. Membership in the Quartet gives the UN the illusion of having a seat at the table where it is being played out. Alas, it isn't being played out there. The Quartet has become a side-show: because it is only partly about the Middle East [Near East], it isn't a very apt mechanism for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and other members don't necessarily use it for that purpose".

Even more damning though, is Soto's opinion of the Israelis, and their American allies:

"Israel has sought refuge in, and locked itself into, an essentially rejectionist stance with respect to dealing with the Palestinians, by insisting on preconditions which they know are unachievable. Experience has made me a sceptic of preconditions, which usually mask a reluctance to negotiate....Unfortunately, the International Community, through a policy hastily laid down, has gone along with Israeli rejectionism, making it very difficult to climb down even if Israel decided to do so....The tendency that exists among US policy-makers and even amongst the sturdiest of politicians to cower before any hint of Israeli displeasure, and to pander shamelessly before Israeli-linked audiences".

Finally, allow me to sign off, by quoting his wise words about the relative merits and demerits of Hamas and Fatah, ones which American policy-makers would do well to read closely and draw certain conclusions from:

"Israel and the US have tended to deal with Hamas as if it were an epiphenomene. It is a mistaken appraisal: Hamas is deep-rooted,, has struck many chords, including its contempt for the Oslo process, and is not likely to disappear. Erroneous treatment of Hamas could have repercussions far beyond the oPt (sic), because of its links to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose millions of supporters Islam-wide might be led to conclude that peaceful and democratic means are not the way to go. Hamas is in effervescence and can potentially evolve in a pragmatic direction that would allow for a two-state solution-but only if handled right.

On the other hand, it is difficult to be sanguine about Fateh (sic). They seem to have lost their compass long before their rout in the January 2006 elections. Abu Mazen (aka President of the PA Abbas) does his level best to keep things on track and to rebuild the broad pre-existing Palestinian consensus in favour of Oslo by trying to lure in Hamas, but is is not clear that he has substantial support among his advisors, let alone the broader Fateh constituency which has been taken for granted for so long".

Thursday, June 14, 2007


With the deepening chaos and disorder engulfing most of Iraq, the one possible bright spot of American politicians and strategists, has been the relative order and peace of Iraqi Kurdistan. In the three northern provinces of the country, where they predominate, Iraq's Kurds have been able to use the sweeping autonomy guaranteed them by the downfall of the Baathist regime to build-up a proto-state for Iraq's Kurdish population. Indeed, so successful has the proto-statelet been, that Turkey, as always opposed to any signs of Kurdish statehood, has been increasingly issuing warnings about possible military intervention to deal with the its own Kurdish problem, as embodied by the Kurdish, nationalist guerrilla group, the PKK. In the last three months, Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish leaders have been trading barbs and threats, with Turkey's Chief of the General Staff, proclaiming publicly, both the need and the desirability of taking military action against PKK elements holed up in Iraqi Kurdistan. Threats seconded by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, who recently informed EU foreign ministers that Turkey reserves

"the right to take measures against terrorist activities directed at us from northern Iraq" (see: Yigal Schleifer's article on this in

For the United States of course, any Turkish military activity in Northern Iraq, would be a disaster of major proportions. Il va sans doute. With Iraqi Kurdistan being the only relatively stable enclave in the entire Iraq debacle, a Turkish military invasion would be a cauchemar of major proportions. Accordingly, the United States, both directly and indirectly has attempted to intervene in the internal Turkish debate between the civilian (Islamist) government, and the secular military. With both parties already at daggers drawn about other issues, and, important elections coming up in July, perhaps it is not surprising that some observers see little chance of no intervention taking place, either prior to or just after the elections (see: Thomas Seibert's article in today's International Herald Tribune, However, I myself believe that if the United States, in conjunction with the European Union, and other elements of the United Nation's Security Council (aka Russia and China), were to issue a diktat to Ankara stating clearly that:

One) Any overt Turkish military incursion into Iraq, is patently illegal and, arguments about 'hot pursuit' of PKK elements have no, repeat no, locus standi.

Two) Any such incursion will be met by immediate International condemnation, up to and including economic sanctions, cutting off of all military ties and assistance, IMF and World Bank loans, as well as commercial loans, air flights into and out of Turkey, et cetera.

Then, it is highly likely, that Ankara, will, notwithstanding military arguments about the need to intervene, will refrain from doing so. Some will argue that Turkey's Kurdish obsession should be to a degree, overlooked and any military incursion merely patted on the wrist. This is absolutely a wrong and indeed dangerous approach. Turkish military adventurism needs to be dealt with resolutely and firmly. It was the failure of the International Community to do so, back in 1974, which resulted in the Cypriot Tragedy which we still have to deal with today. The very last thing that the Near East needs at this point is for Turkey to take the bit between its teeth, and use the presence of the PKK in Iraq, to overlook and in fact ignore its own deep and flawed internal domestic structure and polity. One just hopes that when the time comes, the United States does not make the same mistake as it did in 1974.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


"Today the Americans are still there [Kyrgzstan] and many of the tents have been replaced by concrete buildings. Bush has used his massive military build-up in Central Asia to seal the cold war victory against Russia to contain Chinese influence and to tighten the noose around Iran [Persia]. Most importantly, however Washington - supported by the Blair government - is exploiting the 'war on terror' to further American oil interests in the Caspian region....

In this rerun of the first great game - the 19th-century imperial rivalry between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia - players once again position themselves to control the heart of the Eurasian landmass. Today the US has taken over the leading role from the British. Along with the Russians, new regional powers, such as China, Iran [Persia], Turkey and Pakistan, have entered the arena, and transnational oil corporations are also pursuing their own interests
". "The New Great Game", by Lutz Kleveman, in

Once upon a time, in fact quite recently as 2003, as the above article in the London Guardian makes clear, it was the USA, which was seen as being the big winner of the new version of the 'Great Game', which re-emerged in the 1990's. Now of course that hiatus of American power, seems to be quite illusory. It is Moskva which now has
seemingly emerged as the 'winner' of the contemporary version of the 'Great Game'.
So much so in fact, that as recent talk in Kyrgyzstan about unification with
Moskva points to, it is Russia which is the only real player left in this strategic jeu (See Sergei Blagov's article in The following article confirms the same. And, it would appear that there are no markers indicating that the USA, will be able to battle back, from the strategic hole that it is in, anytime soon.

The battle for Central Asia: As Washington sees a reversal of fortunes in its post-9/11 gains in Central Asia, Russia steps in to fill the gap in its former backyard.

By John C K Daly in Washington, DC for ISN Security Watch (11/06/07)

"Since the peaceful implosion of communism in the USSR in December 1991, both the Russian Federation and the US have been maneuvering to sign up the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as clients.

Moscow watched nervously as the US developed joint military exercises in Central Asia, but after 11 September 2001, Washington managed to secure over-flight rights in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and the use of bases in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for the war in Afghanistan.

While Russia had maintained the 201st Motorized Rifle Division in Tajikistan since 1991, only in October 2003 did it open its first aerial base since 1991 in Kant, Kyrgyzstan outside of the Russian Federation, as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Reversal of fortune

Now events have gone in reverse. The US has lost its basing rights in Tajikistan; has been booted out of Karshi-Khanabad; and the Kyrgyz Parliament is considering shuttering Manas. Russia meanwhile has only boosted its strength in the region, reinforcing Kant and holding discussions with Turkmenistan about possibly returning to facilities there.

Russia currently has 25 bases beyond its borders, mostly radar tracking stations. Eleven are in Central Asian nations (four in Kazakhstan, five in Kyrgyzstan and two in Tajikistan). The Pentagon, by contrast, maintains over 800 foreign military bases, but it now look increasingly likely that it will lose its sole remaining Central Asian base in Kyrgyzstan.

While Moscow managed to maintain forces in Tajikistan even after the implosion of the Soviet Union, the remaining four "Stans" moved swiftly towards neutrality - a fact that Washington was quick to exploit, beginning in 1995 when NATO under its Partnership for Peace (PfP) program began to draw up joint training exercises under US supervision.

The August 1995 Cooperative Nugget exercise at Fort Polk, Louisiana involved US, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek troops. Cooperative Nugget exercises were also held in March 1997 and May 2000. Cooperative Osprey, another NATO PfP program was held in North Carolina in August 1996, where US, Dutch and Canadian troops joined with 16 PfP countries, including Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in training exercises.

The Pentagon then swiftly moved to hold joint exercises in Central Asia, Russia's traditional "backyard." The first were NATO PfP Central Asian Peacekeeping Battalion, or "Centrazbat" joint military exercises in 1997. The maneuvers took place in Chirchik, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in mid-September and involved Kazakh, Uzbek and Kyrgyz paratroops, which had trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina prior to an 18-hour 6,700-mile non-stop flight to Uzbekistan, were along with 500 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division they participated in the largest airborne operation since World War II. The scenario was that the battalion was conducting operations against "dissident elements."

Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Catherine Kelleher said that the US presence in Centrasbat was justified because of the "potential for conflict." In a telling aside illuminating Washington's interest in the region's vast energy reserves Kelleher added "the presence of enormous energy resources" as a justification. In an even more revealing remark as to how the exercise would be interpreted in Moscow, NATO commander four-star Marine General John Sheehan, who led the drop, said simply: "The message I would leave is that there is no nation on the face of the earth where we can't go."

Similar operations were held annually through 2000, when more than 2,000 troops from the US, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Turkey, the UK and Russia participated.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 gave Washington an unparalleled opportunity to move into Central Asia. On 9 February 2002, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House International Relations Committee that "America will have a continuing interest and presence in Central Asia of a kind that we could not have dreamed of before." Within six months of 9/11, the Pentagon established 13 bases in nine nations in and around Afghanistan. Some of the groundwork for the US presence predated 9/11; Central Command General Tommy Franks had first visited Uzbekistan in September 2000, shortly after his appointment as CENTCOM Commander-in-Chief, following the visit up with a trip to Tashkent in May 2001.

Gains and losses

After 9/11, Kazakhstan on 8 December 2001 ratified a Status of Forces agreement with Washington, which allowed for over-flights, increased intelligence sharing and for coalition aircraft involved in Operation Enduring Freedom to be based in the country. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said his country was "ready to fulfill its obligations stemming from UN resolutions and agreements with the United States" to combat terrorism.

Washington still has overflight rights in Kazakhstan and signed a five-year bilateral military agreement in September 2003.

On 4 December 2001, Kyrgyzstan and the US concluded a Status of Armed Forces (SOFA) agreement, allowing the Pentagon to use the Manas airbase for the bargain rent of US$2 million annually. Manas was chosen by the Pentagon for its 14,000-foot runway, which was originally built to handle Soviet bombers, but could handle US C-5 Galaxy cargo planes and 747s in their 1,000-mile flight to Afghanistan. Of Kyrgyzstan's 52 airports, Manas was the only one with a lengthy runway and the only one capable of supporting international flights. An adjacent 32-acre field was designated as the site of a tent city for US personnel.

Relationships between Washington and Bishkek slowly began to deteriorate, however, a pattern that was exacerbated after Kyrgyzstan's March 2007 "Tulip Revolution," when it emerged that a number of American NGOs were actively supporting the opposition. Resentment in the new parliament also grew over the paltry rent paid for the use of Manas and the environmental damage inflicted by the incessant aerial operations.

Things came to a head on 6 December 2006 when US soldier Zachary Hatfield shot and killed 42-year-old Kyrgyz Aleksandr Ivanov, an ethnic Russian Kyrgyz civilian, at the airbase's entry gate. Despite Kyrgyz demands that Hatfield be handed over for trial - as the Main Directorate of Investigations of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry filed charges under Article 97, Part 1 of the Criminal Code dealing with deliberate homicide - the US military spirited Hatfield out of the country on 21 March.

The incident left Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had earlier demanded that American servicemen stationed in the country be stripped of diplomatic immunity, in a difficult position. Kyrgyzstan subsequently raised the leasing fee for Manas to US$150 million annually, but a final agreement with Washington has yet to be finalized.

Four of Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary committees are now agitating to close Manas and expel its 1,200 US personnel. The Defense Committee, headed by Rashid Tagayev, is leading the initiative to force the government to cancel the 2001 military agreement with the US.

On 23 May, Committee for Defense and Security Deputy Hajimurat Korkmazov said in a statement: "The military actions in Afghanistan have ended, and today there is no need for the presence of an American military air base on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. If necessary, I will lead my people out to close the air base at Manas!"

While Bakiyev maintained that the US presence provided an important source of income, it is unclear at this point if he will be able to withstand the mounting parliamentary pressure.

In contrast, Kyrgyz Parliamentary Speaker Marat Sultanov has spoken about increasing military cooperation with Russia, enlarging the Kant air base and even returning Russian border guards to Kyrgyzstan's southern border after an eight-year absence.

Washington was also able to benefit from 9/11 by acquiring basing rights in Tajikistan's Kulob air base, along with France and Italy, about 48 kilometers from the Afghan border. At its height, the Pentagon maintained about 200 personnel with helicopters at Kulob, supported by French and Italian teams, but the endeavor was short-lived and wound up by the end of 2002. The Russians in contrast, never left.

In the aftermath of 9-11, Turkmenistan allowed coalition forces to use Turkmen airspace and refuel at Ashgabat airport. Washington's fumbled opportunity is most noticeable in Turkmenistan, where the death last December of President Saparmurat Niyazov opened up possibilities for a new relationship between Washington and Ashgabat.

It was Russia, however, that moved quickly to consolidate its relationship with Turkmenistan's new president, Gurbangeldy Berdymukhammedov, who visited Moscow on 23-24 April, while many political observers remained focused on the fact that the major item on the agenda was Turkmenistan immense natural gas reserves. The most notable aspect of the summit was that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Berdymukhammedov discussed reopening some Soviet-era military facilities that had been mothballed since the 1991 collapse of the USSR, including airbases.

Following his return to Ashgabat, Berdymukhammedov reportedly ordered the Ministries of Defense and Civil Aviation to coordinate the routes of international passenger airlines with the work of military installations, according to an ISN Security Watch source in the Turkmen Defense Ministry.

The sites under consideration are shuttered underground testing sites under Serkhatabad and west of Mary and several other complexes with military cities, airfields and missile silos.

Uzbekistan moved swiftly to support the Bush administration's so-called war on terror in the form of a Status of Armed Forces (SOFA) signed agreement on 7 October. In a telling moment, the allied air campaign in Afghanistan began an hour later. Under terms of the SOFA agreement, the US was allowed to use Uzbek airspace and base up to 1,500 military personnel at Karshi-Khanabad (K-2) in Sukhandariya province on the border with Afghanistan.

Washington's loss of influence in Uzbekistan can be summed up in a single word: "Andijan," where on 13 May 2005, Uzbek security forces fired into a crowd of demonstrators who were protesting the trial of local Islamic activists. While Tashkent maintained that 187 people, mostly "terrorist organizers," died during the Andijan unrest, tardily producing video shot by the protesters showing hostage taking, armed men, manufacturing of Molotov cocktails etc., human rights groups immediately went on the offensive and maintained that the actual death toll was far higher.

Washington's equivocal response led Tashkent on 29 July 2005 to inform Washington that it was abrogating the agreement permitting the US military to use the Karshi-Khanabad airbase under terms of the bilateral SOFA, giving the Pentagon 180 days to end its activities there.

While the Pentagon put a brave face on the directive, the loss of the army's Camp Stronghold Freedom Karshi-Khanabad logistics base just 96 kilometers from the northern Afghan border was a significant blow, as the 416th Air Expeditionary Group averaged 200 passengers and 100 tonnes of cargo per day on C-130H missions supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

On 21 December 2006, Russia gained the right to use Uzbekistan's Navoi air base in the event of emergencies or "force majeure" contingencies in return for military supplies.

A decade after the peaceful collapse of the USSR, US influence in Central Asia reached its apogee in the months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Since that time, however, Washington's policies in central Asia have led to a gradual withdrawal of support by nearly all the nations involved as they slowly reoriented their priorities again towards Russia.

There are many reasons for this, including local rulers' reluctance to be lectured by Washington on human rights as well as the Pentagon's stinginess in paying prevailing market rates for military facilities.

If the US is to regain a modicum of its former influence in Central Asia, then it is time for Washington to take a long hard look at the reasons for the gradual decline of its influence there

Dr John C K Daly is a Washington DC-based consultant and an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


"We want to be heard, we want our position to be understood. We do not exclude that our American partners might reconsider their decision [on missile defence]".

Vladimir Putin, in "Cold Front: Why the Kremlin is making a stand over missile defence", in the Financial Times, 8 June 2007.

Without stooping to the ignominy of being a psychologist of an entire people or indeed, perhaps just one man, it is not without merit to inquire if in fact the Kremlin's diplomatic offensive (in every sense of the word) over the planned American missile deployment in Poland and the Cech Republic, is not so much the end result of what the worthies at the FT, call:

"The desire to be heeded is a message voiced with surprising unanimity by senior Russian officials. As Russia enjoys an oil-fuelled economic recovery, Moscow seethes that the west still treats it as a vanquished power. Rightly or wrongly, Russia believes it has been forced for 15 years to swallow western foreign policy actions its objections simply trampled on".

And, of course in many instances indeed, the Kremlin was in fact, correct to be aggrieved at the courses of Western, most especially American policies, as they
affected, or seem to affect Russian interests. One can of course go down the list:
from Empire building (admittedly of the 'pocket-size' variety) in Central Asia, from 1995 onwards, the Kosovo War of 1998-1999, the oil-pipeline politik ("Washington to Baku anyone"?) of the entire period, and of course meddling (or as bad) seeming to be meddling in Ukraine and Georgia circa 2003-2005. With the most important cases being the expansion of NATO to incorporate both the ex-members of the Warsaw Pact, as well as ex-members of Sovietskaya Vlast (Baltic Countries). With many in official Washington casting wolves eyes at Kiev and Tbilisi joining the American lead alliance as well. Not to speak of many of the same individuals, as well as quite eminent and indeed ultra-intelligent members of the American pays legal, such as (one hopes!) future American Secretary of State, Richard Holbrooke, disdain if not outright hostility towards the Putin Regime's domestic politics (see any number of articles by Richard Holbrooke in his own occasional column in the Washington Post: href="http://">

Accordingly, for Moskva, the idea of American anti-ballistic missile defence batteries in Poland and the Cech Republic, was for the most part the last straw. Rightly or wrongly. Similarly, the obviously pent-up Western effort to issue a fait accompli over the future status of Kosovo, notwithstanding, rather open and obvious Kremlin hints and indeed lately open statements that any effort to ignore Belgrade's objections and rely upon a force majeure through a UN Security Council resolution, would be opposed, indeed most likely vetoed by Russia. Accordingly, in a rather inept and heavy handed fashion, in the weeks leading up to the G-8 Summit, Putin, rather over played his hand. The childish tit for tat quarrel with Tallin in April and May of this year, as well as issuing statements about re-directing Russian missile targeting at Central & West European cities, is most definitely not the way to win friends and influence people. And, indeed, there are peoples, capitals, foreign ministries to influence and cajole. The Deutsche foreign ministry in particular, has shown itself to be willing to listen to Russian complaints and endeavor to try to smooth away if not alleviate Russian concerns. Much the same is also the case in other Chancelleries in Europe, where the American obsession with anti-ballistic missile defence is not kindly looked upon.

It is only with relief for such audiences, that Putin's G-8 Summit gambit of proposing that the USA, base its anti-ballistic missile defence system in existing
Russian radar bases in Azerbaijan, was heard. Notwithstanding the fact that the scheme is most likely to be technically unfeasible, or at the very least considerably less useful than what the Americans propose to do in Poland and the Cech Republic, is besides the point. What is important is that Putin realizes that just repeating 'HEPT'[NO!], `a la Andrei Gromyko at the United Nations circa 1946, would not work. Accordingly, Putin (or more likely his foreign minister the able Sergei Lavrov) pulled this diplomatic rabbit out of his hat. This is not of course the end of the story. Nor should it be. However Putin's proposal can and should lead the way to some type of modus vivendi, wherein the Americans overcome their tunnel vision of what constitutes their 'vital' interests in Central and Eastern Europe (worrying about Persia it would appear...) and concentrate instead on the more vital concern: keeping Russia within bounds of a possible partnership with the West. The very last thing that the West needs is for a Russia drifting off into permanent 'non-align' status, `a la the PRC or India. That indeed would be a real tragedy: both for Russia and for the West.

To assist in learning more about the background to Putin's Azerbaijan proposal, we present to you, the following article in the American online journal, While not necessarily agreeing with everything said in it, indeed, at times we violently disagree with its author, Mr. George Friedman, we do think that it merits being read and considered. So please read and enjoy.

It is with the intention

Russia: Using Missile Defense as a Geopolitical Lever, By George Friedman.

"Russian President Vladmir Putin threw a classic Cold War curveball during his chat with U.S. President George W. Bush at the G-8 summit. Having totally opposed the creation of a U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Poland and the Czech Republic, Putin suddenly shifted his position, saying he might go along with a BMD system under certain conditions. The system, he said, would be acceptable if the United States used a Russian radar system placed in Azerbaijan and based its interceptor missiles anywhere else, such as on ships or in Turkey or Iraq -- anywhere but in Poland.

By rejecting the proposal, Washington would look hostile and uncompromising. Accepting it would mean basing the missiles near the Iranian border, possibly too close to intercept long-range missiles fired from there. Using Russian radar -- which currently is insufficient for U.S. needs -- would make the entire system dependent on Russian cooperation. And pulling the system from Poland would be a signal to Central Europe that military agreements with the United States are subject to negotiation with the Russians. That, of course, is exactly the signal Putin wants sent.

First, let's consider the BMD system itself. There are two criticisms of it, usually made by the same people. The first is that it won't work, and the second is that it is destabilizing. That the two statements are incompatible does not seem to faze most people. Therefore, it is necessary to begin by explaining the reason the BMD is such a passionate issue.

The foundation of stability during the Cold War was Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD. MAD was based on the certainty that an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), once launched, could not be blocked. With enough ICBMs, land- and submarine-launched, both the United States and Soviet Union could assure the destruction of the other side in the event of a nuclear exchange. That deterred nuclear risk-taking and stabilized the situation.

The introduction of a missile defense system threatened to change this equation. If one side created such a system, its destruction would no longer be assured, and it might choose to launch a nuclear attack against another side. Even if the effectiveness of the BMD system were uncertain, its very uncertainty created an unknown factor. Neither side could be sure the system would work -- one's own or the other's. In the hall of mirrors that constituted nuclear strategic thinking, the possibility that the other side might calculate probabilities different than you might force you to strike pre-emptively. Since the other side wouldn't know what you were thinking, it might strike pre-emptively. Thus, the existence of a BMD system that might not work was seen as increasing the chance of war.

The Soviets, however, had two very real fears when then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed Star Wars. The first was that the United States might just create an effective BMD system. The Soviets had been burned too many times by underestimating U.S. technological capabilities to be as dismissive as Western critics. The second problem was that the Soviets could not match the system financially or technologically. If it failed to work, fine. But if the United States pulled it off, the Soviet Union would be wide open to attack without the ability to field its own system.

Therefore, the Soviets went ballistic because they were uncertain about the system's effectiveness. They carried out diplomatic attacks against the system and encouraged its Western critics -- and critics of the Reagan administration in general -- to do all they could to block the system. As it was, Star Wars couldn't be made to work at the time, but if you were to have listened to the Soviets on the subject in the mid-1980s, you would have thought the United States was on the verge of annihilating the Soviets with Star Wars. By then, the Soviets' nerves were pretty well shot. They were generally on the ropes, and knew it.

Since those days, the concept of a BMD system has been seen as a technical impossibility that nevertheless is dangerous and destabilizing. There might have been an element of truth to that, but it is difficult to describe a system designed to block one or two missiles fired by a rogue state as destabilizing. MAD is not in effect, for example, with an Iranian or North Korean missile launch. There is no balance to destabilize. An argument could be made that the system doesn't work. You also could argue that the cheapest and most effective solution to an Iranian missile launch is a pre-emptive strike against the Iranian missile site. But it is hard to argue that the existence of a small defensive system of uncertain effectiveness and geared to look at a third party increases the probability of an American-Russian nuclear war.

But the complexities of nuclear deterrence against Third World countries with minor nuclear ambitions are not what Putin was thinking about when he made his offer to the United States. Rather, Putin was thinking about Poland, its role in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union (FSU), and its relationship to the United States. That's what really is worrying Putin, and the BMD issue is merely a lever to deal with the larger geopolitical issues. In other words, this isn't about missile defense, but about a U.S. military presence -- no matter how small -- in Poland.

Ever since the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Russians have been shifting their foreign policy to reassert their sphere of influence in the FSU. In their view, the Andropov experiment of trading geopolitical influence for economic benefits with the West has failed. The benefits failed to solve their problems when they materialized, and the geopolitical concessions have created massive insecurity for the Russian Federation. Therefore, reclaiming Moscow's sphere of influence is the primary issue, starting with Ukraine.

The Russians blamed the Americans for Ukraine, but they also have blamed Poland. Of all of the former European satellites, Poland has been the most openly anti-Russian and the most active in supporting forces in the FSU that also are resisting Russian resurgence. This was shown recently in the Baltic states, particularly Estonia, where Russians have been angered over what is portrayed as increasingly repressive moves toward the local Russian population. The relocation of a monument to the Red Army for liberating Estonia from Germany led to riots by ethnic Russians. Moscow deliberately intensified the crisis, warning the Estonians not to take actions against Russians.

The Russians have a particular problem with the Baltic countries, in that they have been admitted to NATO. The Russians believed they had an understanding with NATO and the United States, dating back to the fall of the Soviet Union, that NATO would not be extended into Central Europe -- and certainly never into the FSU. Obviously, though, many Central European countries have joined NATO. The induction of the Baltic countries, which brought NATO within 60 miles of St. Petersburg, angered the Russians but was grudgingly seen as the price of the Andropov doctrine. However, it was post-Orange Revolution talk of including Ukraine in NATO that drove the Russians to reverse policy.

The Poles, given their long history, are not a trustful or secure people. They view the Russians as merely recovering from a setback, not permanently vanquished. They also have no love or trust for the Germans. Historically trapped on the hard-to-defend northern European plain, equally afraid of both Russians and Germans, the Poles have always looked to an outside power as a protector. Even the experience of French and British guarantees in World War II has not soured them on this strategy, since it is the only one they've got. And that means the Poles now are relying on American guarantees.

But the Poles also badly need a buffer between them and the Russians. They want independent Baltic states in NATO. They want Ukraine in NATO. If there was any way to swing it, they would want Belarus in NATO. They want the Russians kept as far from them as possible. So long as they feel they have U.S. guarantees, they will do everything they can to create blocks to a return of Russia to the frontiers of the FSU.

The Russian view is that the Poles are being encouraged and emboldened by the United States. The missile defense system in Poland is not important in and of itself. It certainly doesn't affect Russia's ability to launch a nuclear strike. But as a symbol of a Polish-U.S. alliance that transcends NATO, it is absolutely vital. The Poles wanted the missiles in their country to symbolize the link, and the Americans wanted them there for the same reason. As long as that link exists, the Poles feel secure, and as long as the Poles feel secure, they will be a thorn in the side of the Russians. The Russian goal of exerting a sphere of influence in the FSU has a broader component. Russia does not expect to regain influence in most of Central Europe -- Serbia possibly excepted. It does want the Central Europeans to be sufficiently wary of the Russians as to exercise caution. Most of the rest of Central Europe tries hard not to get in Russia's way. The Russians want to solidify this posture and extend it to Poland while they redefine the status of the Baltics.

If the Russians can get the Americans to withdraw the missiles from Poland, placing them in Azerbaijan, on ships at sea or in downtown Moscow, the Russians will have achieved their goal. The Russians have a lingering distaste for the BMD. But the real issue is to force a U.S. retreat from Poland. That would shake Polish -- and broader European -- confidence in the U.S. commitment, sober the rest of an already cautious Central Europe and certainly cause the Balts to rethink their posture toward Russia.

If the United States refused to shift the system, this would give the Russians a lever with the Germans. Moscow could then go to the Germans (who still are smarting over a couple of brief cut-offs of natural gas from Russia) and argue that the Americans are triggering another Cold War by their inflexible commitment to basing in Poland when Russia has offered a set of workable alternatives. Whatever German Chancellor Angela Merkel's view of geopolitics, the German public does not want a replay of the Cold War -- and wants Poland to be quiet.

There is also, as in all good Cold War games, a domestic political component. The United States has enjoyed meddling in Russian politics for the past 15 years or so. This gives Putin a chance at payback. At a time when the Bush administration is both politically weak and quite distracted, painting the administration as being inflexible and aggressive, courting another ill-conceived confrontation over a weapon that doesn't work anyway, is a low-risk, high-gain proposition. The New York Times already bit on the bait with an editorial praising Russian flexibility.

The administration's geopolitical problem is obvious. It has too many irons in the fire and a couple of them -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- are white hot. The Russians are deliberately raising the stakes over the Polish system because they see the Bush administration's last two years as a golden opportunity to redefine their sphere of influence. If the United States resists Russia's suggestions, Russia can make inroads in Germany and the rest of Western Europe while causing more domestic political pressure on an administration that already is in the red zone when it comes to political weakness. If Washington compromises, the Russians can use that in Central Europe as evidence of the United States' lack of commitment and of a need for the Central Europeans to rethink their position. It particularly puts the Baltic states in a difficult position. Poland alone (or with the tiny Baltic states) certainly is not a sufficient counterweight to Russia.

Putin's move, therefore, was brilliantly timed and conceived. He took an issue that is controversial in its own right and used it as a geopolitical lever, striking hard at a relationship that is most troubling to Moscow. The Washington-Warsaw relationship represents a serious regional challenge to Russian ambitions. If the Russians can get an American retreat on the anti-missile system in Poland, they can begin the process of unraveling the U.S. position in Central Europe. Since the Western Europeans wouldn't mind in the least, there are possibilities here.

But the possibilities are not the same ones that existed during the Cold War, or even as recently as three years ago. Any region with three dozen states -- read: Europe -- is a dynamic place where governments regularly come and go. By the end of June, the three major European leaders who demonstrated the greatest affinity for Russia during their terms -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- will all be gone. Their replacements, and the replacements of similar governments throughout Europe, are largely Russo-skeptic. But they also are not instinctual European federalists.

This both destroys and creates opportunities for Moscow. The Kremlin is now facing a Europe that is actually more hostile to it than a similar pan-European alignment of the 1980s. Simultaneously, the unraveling of the European project means that, though the overall region is certainly more suspicious, Russia's ability to peel off individual states from the whole, either with sweet talk or intimidation, could actually prove easier.

And nowhere will it be easier than Serbia. The Russians have made it clear that they do not favor an independent Kosovo. Friendly with Serbia, and very unhappy with the way the Kosovo war was handled by the United States, the Russians could well choose to create a second confrontation over the future of Kosovo, testing both the Americans and Western Europeans at the same time. The Russians now have very little to lose and quite a bit to gain from confrontation".

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


In the past months, and, now even more so, the past weeks, more has nonsense has been written up about Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, in ages. Indeed, perhaps we have not seen this amount of nonsense since Sovietskaya Vlast was still with us. Which means quite awhile indeed. How does one explain it? Well on the eve of the G-8 Summit, one can break it down to several parts: a) frustrated Russophobia by neo-conservative ideologues and their fellow travelers, such as Anne Applebaum (see: "Putin is playing a dangerous game", in; b) by the current interregnum in Washington DC, which as today's Financial Time notes, has in effect resulted in the (ultra-) lunatics seizing the asylum, id, est., the anti-Russian hardliners, tacking American policy in anti-Russian direction (see:"Hawks swoop to exploit policy vacuum", in; c) genuine concern and even fear about the current direction of Russian policy, which admittedly in the past few weeks has started to resemble in its ineptness that of say American diplomacy circa 2001-2004 (see: any number of recent editorials in the Financial Times, Le Monde, Le Figaro, The [London] Guardian).

Now, admittedly the fears and concerns raised by some of Grazhdanin Putin's statment in the last few weeks are quite legitimate. The talk of aiming Russian theatre nuclear missiles at European cities in retaliation for the placement of American anti-ballistic missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic, was both bombastic, in the worst sort of Khrushchevian style, circa 1958, and, idiotic inasmuch as it managed in one fell swoop to alienate currents of West and Central European opinion, which are not in the least enamoured of American policy in this instance (for Putin's threat see: While there has been differing analyses of the exact nature of Russian policy in this affair, which for this observer, appears to have started to go off the rails recently, I would suggest two which springs to mind as providing the beginnings of an explanation: a) with the upcoming Russian Parliamentary and then Presidential elections both this year and the next, Putin is in essence 'playing for the gallery', id est, stoking Russian domestic opinion, as in the recent case of the Estonia imbroglio; b) seeing that the Bush regime is perhaps mortally weakened due to the Iraq disaster, and, that his likely successor will not be able to summon the necessary degree of stamina to have an active foreign policy, Putin appears to be willing to push the envelope vis-`a-vis the USA, and its 'New Europe' allies, in order to see how far he can go. Not perhaps in any real sense belligerent, much less war-like, Putin's bombast are more a mixture of diplomatic ineptness (one can well imagine how pained Lavrov is by all this), and, calculation that since it is all merely 'words', he can draw safely back, if need be. After all, it is one thing to proclaim that he will re-aim, Russian missiles on various European cities, it is quite another thing to do so, and moreover to do so openly. That we shall wager, is something that he will never, ever do. Come what may.

It is with the hope of providing some needed 'breather', that I present for this audience, the British political commentator, Simon Jenkin's wise words on this current affair, published in today's online edition of the Guardian ( Because in essence, it was the USA in particular and the West in general which made the running vis-`a-vis Moskva. And, not the other way around. It is only with the past few years, that the situation has change somewhat. And, now, 'we', collectively the West, find this return to a more normal situation a bit difficult to take. And, yet it is a more 'normal' situation. The Weimar-like weakness which Russia experienced circa 1992-2001, was hardly expected to continue endlessly. And, yet many it would appear, especially in the American pays legal, do in fact appear to expect it to continue (Senator John McCain & Richard Holbrooke being the best bipartisan examples). Hopefully, ideally if nothing else, perhaps Putin's belligerent outbursts, will force a 'shock of recognition' that such a state of affairs which existed in the Yeltsin years, are gone forever more, and will never return. It is only when this realization sinks in, that American, nay Western policy towards Russia can be made on a solid and enduring basis. One based upon realpolitik and not emotionalism and idealism for what did not, and cannot exist.

Putin's belligerence is the upshot of inept western diplomacy. Following cold war with cold peace may prove a historic error, By Simon Jenkins Wednesday June 6, 2007

"Will history tell us we were fools? We worried about the wrong war and made the wrong enemies. In the first decade of the 21st century the leaders of America and Britain allowed themselves to be distracted by a few Islamist bombers and took easy refuge in the politics of fear. They concocted a "war on terror" and went off to fight little nations that offered quick wins.

Meanwhile these leaders neglected the great strategic challenge of the aftermath of cold war: the fate of Russia and its mighty arsenals, its soul tormented by military and political collapse, its pride undimmed. They danced on Moscow's grave and hurled abuse at its shortcomings. They drove its leaders to assert a new energy-based hegemony and find new allies to the south and east. The result was a new arms race and, after a Kremlin coup, a new war. Is that the path we are treading?

When Keynes returned from Versailles in 1919 he wrote an attack on the treaty that ended the first world war. In The Economic Consequences of the Peace he warned that punishing Germany and demanding crippling reparations would jeopardise Europe's stability and the building of German democracy. He confronted politicians, on both sides of the Atlantic, puffed up with the vanity of victory and convinced that the German menace had been laid to rest. He was right and they were wrong.

For the past six years Washington's whirling dervishes have reduced Anglo-American foreign policy to a frenzy of bullying hatred of anyone to whom they take a dislike. One half of this neoconservative agenda is heading for the rocks, American dominance in the Middle East following a stunning victory over a Muslim state. But the other half is alive and well, pushing ahead with the missile defence system bequeathed by the Reagan administration.

This so-called star wars is militarily unproven and, with the end of the cold war, of no apparent urgency. But it is astronomically expensive and, as such, has powerful support within America's industry-led defence community. When Dick Cheney was finding George Bush a defence secretary in 2000, Donald Rumsfeld's chief qualification was his enthusiasm for space-based defence. Hence America's 2002 renunciation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty. Hence the installation of defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, in defiance of what was promised to Russia at the end of the cold war. Hence Rumsfeld's frequent jibes against old Europe in favour of "new".

Vladimir Putin's reactive threat this week to retarget his missiles at west Europe was reckless and stupid. Just when nuclear disarmament is again a live issue and his old enemy, Nato, faces defeat in Afghanistan, he tossed red meat to the Pentagon (and Whitehall) hawks. He strengthened the case for a new British Trident and encouraged an arms race that he knows his own country can ill afford, just as it can ill afford to send Europe frantically seeking alternative energy supplies.

Yet nations do not always act rationally, especially those with authoritarian rulers. Putin's belligerence was the predictable outcome of a western diplomacy towards Russia whose ineptitude would amaze even Keynes. Nato's dismissal of Moscow's approach for membership, like the EU's similar cold shoulder, wholly misunderstood Russian psychology. The loss of its east European satellites was not just a loss of empire but revived age-old border insecurity. The pretence that Rumsfeld's installations, which could be placed anywhere, were aimed at "rogue states such as North Korea" was so ludicrous that only Tony Blair believed it.

There was a moment after 1990 when Russia was weak, immature and unstable, and longed for the embrace of friendship. Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, even Blair in his pre-poodle phase, understood this. Neither side had an interest in reviving the cold war. Under Bush this has been replaced by an assumption that he should somehow dictate the terms of Russia's conversion to capitalism and democracy, even as western leaders cringingly paid court to the dictators of Beijing. This undermined Moscow's internationalists and played into the hands of Putin's hard-liners. It was repeated in Bush's speech in Germany yesterday.

Putin is throwing down a gauntlet not to the west so much as to his own Kremlin successors. He is warning them never to trust the west. To him it remains incorrigibly imperialist, hypocritical in its global morality and unreliable in its treaties. So he is telling them to cause mischief with oil and gas. Deny help over Iran and Kosovo. Stay armed and on guard.

A new study by Ian Kershaw, Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, examines the options facing world leaders in 1940-41: should Hitler attack Russia; should Japan expand west or south; should America enter the war? The answers now seem embedded in the concrete of history but at the time they might have gone otherwise. Like the 1914 shooting of the Archduke in Sarajevo, the events that trigger conflict are easy to see with hindsight. At the time they might have turned on a penny.

The task of statecraft is to detect the pennies. Were Nato and Europe wise to snub Russia and thus, de facto, dig a new political ravine across Europe? Was America wise to provoke Russia's generals by moving its military presence close to their borders? While defending the west's commercial interests required a firm line, was it wise to visit on Moscow a stream of criticism of its internal regime? Now the west wants to stir Russia's historic ally, Serbia, into nationalist fury by "granting" independence to Kosovo. Why should Russia tell Belgrade to acquiesce and demand from Europe some economic quid pro quo? Why not sit back and laugh as America and Britain find themselves policing yet another Balkan civil war?

We may be witnessing only the paranoid exchanges of three world leaders on their way out. For all its ailments the world is incomparably more stable than it was in 1940. But a strategic risk is being taken with Moscow, and therefore by Moscow in return. Who knows that the Iraq war may seem a footling incompetence alongside the west's misjudgment of Russia over the past decade? Following cold war with cold peace may yet prove a historic error. And it was gratuitously unnecessary


Friday, June 01, 2007


As all the world knows, the United States and Persia, began diplomatic pour parlers this past week. So far the talks appear to have not produced much in the way of results: either negative or positive. Some analysts, myself included do not believe that at this time, without something along the lines of a 'grand bargain', taking into account both Persia's legitimate security concerns, and, the need to stop it producing nuclear weapons, can any such talks either succeed or even have any positive results. It is for purposes of providing a backgrounder of the talks, both in their current phase, and where they are likely to go in the future, that we present for your considered perusal the following article by the American online journal,

Iran [Persia], the United States and Potential Iraq Deal-Spoilers

By Reva Bhalla

After 27 years of frozen relations, the United States and Iran held their first high-level direct talks in Baghdad on May 28 to negotiate a plan on how to stabilize Iraq. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, traded accusations about who was the bigger destabilizing force in Iraq. But by the end of the four-hour meeting, both described the negotiations as a positive first step in bringing the two sides together to stabilize Iraq. Kazemi-Qomi even said there probably would be a follow-up meeting within a month if he gets the OK from Tehran.

Iran and the United States evidently have come a long way since the spring of 2003, when Washington double-crossed Tehran on the two countries' original understanding that a pro-Iranian, Shiite-dominated Iraq would be allowed to emerge in exchange for Iran's help in effecting regime change in Baghdad. When the United States removed two hostile Sunni regimes from Iran's border -- the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- the Iranians knew they had to check the United States on the regional chessboard so Washington understood any U.S. exit strategy from Iraq would have to come through Tehran. Only then, Tehran reasoned, could Iran use Iraq as a launchpad to extend Iranian influence in the Arab world.

Feeling a deep sense of betrayal, the Iranian government carried out a variety of deadly maneuvers that ultimately convinced Washington that neither the Iranians nor the Americans were going to succeed in gluing Iraq back together on their own. The negotiations are still marred by mutual distrust, but after four years of explosive negotiating tactics, Iran and the United States have reached a point at which both sides have acknowledged they cannot afford to avoid each other if they want to avoid their worst-case scenarios in Iraq.

As the negotiations grow in intensity, so does the noise. The lead-up to the May 28 talks was punctuated by a series of interesting jabs as each side sought leverage against the other. While the United States sent nine warships with 17,000 troops into the Persian Gulf (which the U.S. military deliberately referred to as the Arabian Gulf in the official press release on the naval exercises) and stepped up threats of broadening sanctions against Tehran due to the latter's nuclear activities, Iran continued broadcasting its atomic advances and announced it had uncovered Western-run spy rings inside the Islamic republic. The United States is still holding onto five Iranian officials arrested in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil in January as bargaining chips in talks with Iran. Iran has responded with a series of arrests of Iranian-Americans affiliated with think tanks on allegations they are dissidents working to topple the clerical regime. These belligerent tactics are all part of the game, and will flare up even further as the negotiations grow more serious.

The Meat of the Matter

It now becomes all the more critical to cut to the meat of these talks: the negotiating terms put forth by Washington and Tehran over how each plans to fix Iraq.

Iran handed over a proposal to Crocker during a brief encounter at the May 5-6 Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt, but also chose to unofficially publicize its terms for Iraq through the Saudi-owned, British-based daily Al Hayat. The Iranian Foreign Ministry likely chose Al Hayat, a major Arab news outlet, to make a back-channel broadcast of what concessions it is prepared to make to allay Sunni concerns in the region.

In sum, this Iranian proposal called for a non-rushed withdrawal and relocation of U.S. troops to bases inside Iraq, a rejection of all attempts to partition Iraq, a commitment by the Sunni bloc to root out the jihadists and acknowledgement by Washington that the Iranian nuclear file cannot be uncoupled from the Iraq negotiations. In return, Iran would rein in the armed Shiite militias, revise the de-Baathification law and Iraqi Constitution to double Sunni political representation, create a policy to allow for the fair distribution of oil revenues (particularly to the Sunnis) and use its regional influence to quell crises in areas such as Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

The terms put forth by the Iranians are so close to the U.S. position on Iraq that, with little exception, they could have been printed on State Department stationary and no one would have noticed the difference. If these are the terms Washington and Tehran are in fact discussing, then we are witnessing an extraordinary turn in the Iraq war in which the U.S. and Iranian blueprints for Iraq are finally aligning. It does not surprise us, then, that Crocker said after his meeting in Baghdad that the Iranian position "was very close to our own" at the level of policy and principle.

The Spoilers

The prospect of Washington and Tehran warming up to each other, and of the United States potentially regaining its military bandwidth in the not-too-distant future, is enough to put a number of serious actors into a frenzy. With the exception of the jihadists, most of the actors in question see an Iranian-U.S. accommodation over Iraq as inevitable, and have little choice but to strive to shape what would otherwise be an imposed reality in the coming months -- leaving substantial room for error in these negotiations. The Iraqi Sunnis and Arab states, in particular, will not necessarily sabotage the talks, but they will be working to secure Sunni interests and contain the extent to which Iran emerges as the primary beneficiary of any deal it works out with the United States over Iraq.


Within Iraq, the transnational jihadists have the most immediate concerns. A political settlement in Baghdad inevitably would involve a concerted effort by Iraq's Shia and mainstream Sunnis to uproot the jihadists and deprive them of the chaotic security conditions needed for their operations. The apex leadership of al Qaeda hiding out along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is also betting on continued bedlam in Iraq to keep the transnational jihadist movement alive, and will not be happy to see U.S. forces beefed up in the South Asia theater once a deal is sealed in Iraq. Violence aimed at heightening sectarian tensions to derail the negotiations -- particularly attacks aimed at inflaming the Shia -- will escalate substantially over the next few weeks and months in Iraq. High-value political targets also likely will be targeted for assassination in an effort to disrupt the leadership structure of the respective factions.

Iraqi Shia

The Iranians face a daunting task in whipping Iraq's Shiite bloc into shape to follow through with Tehran's commitment to quell sectarian attacks and consolidate Shiite political power in Iraq for the first time in the country's history. Factionalism is already hardwired into the structure of the Iraqi Shiite community, whose loyalties are spread among the three largest political groups -- the (newly named) Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council, Hizb al-Dawah and the al-Sadrite bloc, as well as a number of smaller Shiite groups in southern Iraq, such as the Fadhila party. The intra-Shiite rivalries within and between these groups are enough to give anyone a headache, but Iran is well aware that violence and a good deal of oil money will be needed to bring the Iraqi Shia in line and make these negotiations work. Though the main political groups are more comfortable with the idea of working with Iran, Tehran has to play its cards carefully to ensure it does not trigger nationalist Arab sentiment among the Shiite actors, who already are deeply suspicious of Iran's intentions and have the arms and access to Iraq's southern oil fields to use as tools for stirring up trouble.

Iraqi Sunnis

Though not nearly as fractured as the Iraqi Shia, the Sunni landscape in Iraq has plenty of cracks of its own to make these negotiations troublesome. The Sunni factions in play include:

The existing political blocs, divided between the Islamist Iraqi Accord Front and the secular-leaning Iraqi National Dialogue Front;

The tribal groups, such as Anbar Salvation Council, that are actively fighting transnational jihadists to get a seat at the negotiating table;

The Sunni religious establishment, led by the hard-line Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq that has close links with the insurgent groups and has become increasingly anti-Iranian in recent weeks;

The Sunni nationalist insurgents, who are looking for an acceptable opening into the political process, but remain distrustful of Shiite intentions.

The Iraqi Sunnis know they have to drive a hard bargain in these talks to ensure that Iraq's Sunnis are well-integrated in the state political and security apparatus to counter the Shiite majority. And they will continue to rely on explosives during the talks to make sure their demands are heard. Competing factions within the Sunni bloc and resistance from their former jihadist allies will only further complicate these negotiations, but unlike the jihadists, these Sunni groups are not opposed in principle to a deal that includes the Iranians -- they actually want negotiations.

Iraqi Kurds

By the looks of the Iranian proposal, the Kurds have plenty to worry about. Expanding Sunni political representation and changing the constitution to allow for a more "fair" distribution of oil resources leaves the Kurdish bloc in an all-too-familiar scenario in which Kurdish interests will be sacrificed by the United States to protect the interests of Iraq's neighbors.

Thus far, the Kurds have used the distraction of Sunni-Shiite bloodletting farther south to consolidate power between the two main rival Kurdish blocs (an extremely rare occurrence) and push forward with Kurdish autonomous demands to open Iraq's northern oil fields to foreign business. Once Iraq's Shiite and Sunni blocs reach some level of a political understanding in Baghdad, their attention will soon turn to their common adversary in the north, leaving the Kurds to face familiar moves by the Iraqi government to suppress Kurdish autonomy. The Kurds will need to drive a hard bargain by pushing through a Kirkuk referendum by year's end and resisting radical changes to the constitution and pending hydrocarbons legislation that threaten to put Iraq's undeveloped fields in the north under state control. The biggest threats the Kurds could make to a U.S.-Iranian deal over Iraq would involve withdrawing Kurdish support for U.S. forces or threatening to pull out of the government. But in the end, a compromise looks inevitable simply because the Kurds have nowhere else to turn.

Ultraconservatives in Washington and Tehran

There are ultraconservative factions in both Tehran and Washington that are not nearly as enthused about a U.S.-Iran rapprochement, and could use their influence to complicate the negotiations. Rumor has it that in Iran there are major disagreements brewing between the president and other senior Iranian officials, particularly on foreign policy matters. There are also growing indications that the apex of the clerical establishment is making moves to sideline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and weaken the influence of his ultraconservative faction as a preventative measure to ensure progress in these talks. Though Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has thus far managed the deep divisions within the Iranian establishment between the ultraconservative and pragmatic conservative factions, his ability to contain these divisions is held hostage by his failing health.

Meanwhile, hard-line elements in Washington are actively spreading information in an allegedly covert campaign signed off on by U.S. President George W. Bush to topple the clerical regime. These actors are more interested in effecting a policy of regime change rather than in a rapprochement with Iran, and they view the negotiations as little more than a smoke screen for a covert campaign to rid the Islamic republic of its ruling ayatollahs. These rumors threaten to fuel even more distrust between the two sides while the negotiations are in full swing, especially as Iran's greatest fear is that it will end up being backstabbed all over again once Washington recovers from Iraq and has enough bandwidth to entertain military options.

Sunni Regional Powers

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states are extraordinarily nervous about the idea of having the United States and Iran conduct exclusive meetings over a matter that directly concerns their national security interests. As the leader of the Sunni Arabs, the Saudis believe they have every right to be part of the formal negotiating process, but they also see the inevitability of the United States and Iran working toward an Iraq settlement. With the most at stake, the Saudi government normally would be screeching in protest during these U.S.-Iranian bilateral meetings, but instead it is keeping quiet. For now, the Saudis have to rely on the United States to ensure their demands for Sunni representation and Iranian containment are heard.

Meanwhile, the Iranians evidently are working to allay Sunni Arab fears by publicizing Tehran's Iraq proposal (with considerable concessions to Iraq's Sunnis) in the mainstream Arab press and stepping up diplomatic engagements with Iran's Sunni neighbors in the Gulf. But the more the Iranians speak of arming and training the Iraqi army, the more the Saudis have to worry about. The House of Saud does not want to be looking at a scenario down the road in which U.S. troops have withdrawn from Iraq while Iran uses its militant proxies there to create an excuse to intervene militarily, putting Iranian troops within sight of Saudi Arabia's oil- and Shiite-rich Eastern province. The Saudis are also not looking forward to the day when war-hardened Saudi jihadist veterans in Iraq return home to wage attacks in the kingdom. Though the Saudis might see an Iran-U.S. deal as inevitable, they will keep their ties to the full spectrum of Sunni militants to use as their main deal-breaker should an Iraq settlement fail to address their interests.


Syrian President Bashar al Assad also probably is lying awake at night over these U.S.-Iran talks. The Alawite-Baathist regime in Syria loved the idea of its allies in Tehran expanding Shiite influence while the United States remained far too militarily occupied in Iraq to bother with Syria. The insurgency in Iraq also provided Syria with a vital pressure release valve for Sunni militants in the country. Like Riyadh, the regime in Damascus does not want to see jihadists returning home from Iraq to carry out attacks on native soil.

Despite these concerns, the Syrians are hoping their alliance with Tehran will pay off and result in serious recognition and security assurances from the United States. For this to happen, Syria has to prove it is an integral piece of this Iraq deal by showing it possesses the ability to clamp down on insurgent traffic (by funneling jihadists into Lebanon for now). While Syria offers limited cooperation over Iraq to show its powers, the al Assad regime will become further emboldened to secure its interests in Lebanon, where Syria's priorities are rooted.


But the player with perhaps the most to lose is not even located in the Middle East. That player is Russia. At first glance, Russia is an odd party to even be involved in the Iraqi imbroglio. It has no troops in country and, no matter what happens to Iraq in the long run, Baghdad has no impact on anything Russian. Certainly Moscow was friendly with the previous government, but not to the degree that Saddam Hussein's fall appreciably impacted Russian political or economic interests.

Russia does, however, have two horses in this race.

The first relates to the Iranian nuclear program, which lists the Russian-built Bushehr power plant as its crown jewel. Despite Iranian protestations to the contrary, Tehran's nuclear program is largely a result of Russian technology sharing. And, should the Russians walk away, the Iranian program will have suffered a monumental setback. Similarly, so long as Russia has not finished the reactor at Bushehr, the West cannot ignore Moscow's ability to function as an interlocutor in Tehran. So long as the facility is "under construction," Russia has leverage over both parties. As soon as Russia's technicians finish, however, that leverage evaporates.

Second, and far more important: So long as the bulk of the United States' and Iran's political and military attention is absorbed in Iraq, neither has any bandwidth to deal with other issues. Iran has deep and lasting interests in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan -- states of critical interest to Moscow -- yet Iran's preoccupation with Iraq has prevented Tehran from capitalizing on recent opportunities. Similarly, the United States has faced no foe more challenging than the Soviet Union and its Russian successor. In that vein, there is no country more desirous of challenging Russia's ongoing efforts to rewire European security arrangements in its own favor than the United States. But that requires a Washington not consumed by the black hole Iraq has become.

A Rough Road Ahead

It took four years of heavy-handed negotiating tactics to bring U.S.-Iranian dealings over Iraq out of the back channels and into the public view.

That was half the battle.

The aligning of the U.S. and Iranian proposals for Iraq marks a significant inflection point in the war, but we still question whether the three big players negotiating this deal -- Washington, Tehran and Riyadh -- can trust each other enough and carry enough sway among Iraq's state actors to get them to cooperate and actually produce results on the ground. Once you throw the spoilers into this equation, along with a centuries-old Arab-Persian rivalry centered on containing the very rise that Iran is anticipating this deal will yield, the prospect of a U.S.-Iranian accommodation over Iraq coming to fruition does not look so good. Our hopes are not completely dashed, but we do see a bumpy road ahead.