Friday, August 28, 2009


"WASHINGTON - Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations could possibly resume without a complete freeze in Israeli building of Jewish settlements, a senior U.S. official suggested on Thursday.

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said it was more important that the scope of a settlement freeze was acceptable to the Israelis and the Palestinians than to the United States.

The Obama administration hopes next month to announce a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been stalled since December, but the pieces have not yet fallen into place, diplomats and U.S. officials said.

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell is trying get Israel to freeze its construction of Jewish settlements, a Palestinian condition for resuming talks. He has also asked Arab states to offer some gestures toward normalization of ties with Israel.

Even if Israel and the Palestinians agree to resume talks, analysts believe chances of a peace agreement any time soon are slim because of divisions among the Palestinians and a fragile, right-wing coalition in Israel.

The Obama administration has taken the public stance that Israel must halt all settlement activity, including so-called "natural growth" under which new homes are built within existing enclaves to accommodate growing settler families.

While saying this was still Washington's position, the U.S. official suggested the United States would not stand in the way if the two sides could agree on something short of that.

"Are we going to argue, if at some point the parties say, 'you know, this is not everything that we hope for but it's enough?" asked the U.S. official. "That would then have us presenting an obstacle to the start of a negotiation."

Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an unusually upbeat statement after meeting in London on Wednesday, saying that their talks were "very productive" and that they had made "good progress."

However, Netanyahu on Thursday denied that they agreed on a temporary halt to settlement building. An Israeli team is due in the United States next week for more talks and Mitchell will return to the region in September".

Arshad Mohammed, "U. S. hints at flexibility on Israeli settlement halt," 27August 2009, in

"Mr Obama is probing the Israeli government’s motives. The US demand that Israel halt the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has become a litmus test of Mr Netanyahu’s intent.

Thus far the US administration has played hardball – insisting on a complete halt to settlement expansion. This is the minimum requirement of Palestinians and Arab governments for reciprocal confidence-building measures. Mr Netanyahu’s response has been to wriggle: in countless sessions with George Mitchell, Mr Obama’s Middle East envoy, the Israelis have sought exceptions and exemptions.

When Mr Netanyahu met Mr Mitchell again in London this week, Israeli diplomats were hinting that the argument was going their way. East Jerusalem would be exempted from the freeze, as would some projects in the West Bank. Whether this gloss represents a real dilution of US demands or an effort to save face we shall see soon enough.

There is much at stake here for Mr Obama. He cannot afford to blink in the face of Mr Netanyahu’s intransigence. The president has placed a revival of the peace process at the heart of a strategic effort to rebuild US influence in the region and across the Muslim world. He has promised a comprehensive approach to Israeli-Arab reconciliation. Above all, he has pledged fairness.

Holding Mr Netanyahu to a settlement freeze has thus become a critical measure of US resolve and presidential prestige as well as of Israeli intent. The war in Iraq cost the US its leadership role in the Middle East. Even-handed peace-making is the only route by which Mr Obama can restore it.

Philip Stephens, "Running to Standstill? The Peace Test for Netanyahu," 28 August 2009, in

From a reading of Reuters article above, it appears that within a few months of the new American administration's stating its position that any expansion of Israeli settlements was a complete non possumus, they have already commenced wavering. This is of course more or less what Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu aimed at all along. Being a master of the diplomatic tactics of stalling and postponement, as evidenced by his last tenure as Prime Minister during the Clinton Administration, it is not surprising that he has already gotten the Americans to climb-down. The only thing surprising is that it has occurred so soon. And, apparently, with little to show for it. At least at this time. My own surmise is that the Americans, frustrated by Tel Aviv's, stalling technique, as well as the Arab governments adamant refusal to offer up any 'confidence building' measures of their own, decided that even an inconclusive mini-summit at the UN meeting in New York in September was better than a complete stalemate. The only issue is of course is that how does the peace process proceed, after the meeting? And, why would such a meeting, per se, produce results any more substantive than those 'achieved', by say the Annapolis Summit of late 2007? To conclude, only can only say that inasmuch as Netanyahu hopes to achieve a repeat of his diplomacy of negation of the Clinton years, he has started off on the right foot. Which makes all the more pathetic the panglossian observations of Mr. Stephens in the Financial Times. Whose comments on the current American Administration have all the hallmarks of his more sycophantic ones when he was the court-journalist for the Blair Government in the earlier part of this decade. Apparently, some people never learn.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


"Russia moved to bolster its ties with Mongolia yesterday, signing deals to mine uranium and manage the railways in the central Asian country.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, signed a five-year agreement transferring to Russia management rights to Mongolia's railways".

Isabel Gorst, "Russia tightens Mongolian ties," The Financial Times, 26 August 2009.

One of the more reassuring aspects of Russian diplomacy in the Putin era (which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary this month), is its emphasis on the pre-Great War style of 'gage diplomacy'. The diplomacy favored by 'legalists', in which everything is up for grabs, everything is to be bargained for. Everything is subject to the proverbial quid pro quo. Et cetera, et cetera. Here we have no Anglo-American nonsense about 'Democracy', 'Human Rights', 'Freedom', et cetera. Instead we are back to the style of what the late Sir Harold Nicolson, called in his splendid biography of his pater (Lord Carnock) 'the Old Diplomacy'. In the case of the today's article in the Financial Times, it would appear that Moskva has stolen a march on Peking, in effect gaining control of the Mongolian Railway system. Among other things. An end-result that I for one have no difficulties with. Indeed, from my own perspective, I infinitely prefer Moskva lording it over Mongolia to Peking doing so. For the self-evident reason that Russia, is relatively weak, vis-`a-vis the 'West' (Western Europe and the Americans), and, in a certain sense, au fond, also part of the same. Neither is true for the PRC. From my perspective one of the great problems of International Diplomacy in the next twenty to fifty years is managing the potential, growing weakness of Matushka Russia. And, while I am not in the habit of making long-term prognostications (because usually they turn out to be nonsense), I do believe that many of the gloomier views of Russia's future (`a la Mr. Biden), do have an element of truth to it. As the American online journal, recently put it:

"Between economic inefficiency — which has only gotten worse since Soviet times — and wretched demographics, Russia faces a future that if anything is bleaker than its past. It sees itself as a country besieged by enemies without: the West, the Muslim world and China. It also sees itself as a country besieged by enemies within: only about three in four citizens are ethnic Russians, who are much older than the average citizen — and non-Russian birthrates are approximately double that of Russians."

Peter Zeihan, "Ten Years of Putin," 4th of August 2009, in

And, indeed this rather depressing future for Moskva may be the correct one. Then again perhaps it will not: history has an amusing way of playing little tricks. It was after all, the then German Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, who on the 7th of July 1914, said:

"Russia is the land of the future: whose great growth and colossal demands, dwell upon us as an ever more terrible nightmare."

Now did that prediction come true dear reader?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


As those who know me quite well are aware of, I am not an enthusiast for science or things scientific. I have always had a great deal of sympathy for Lord Byron's 'Old King Ned Lud', and, have the traditional literary-humanist intelligentsia's contempt for science and scientists `a la Lord Snow's 'Two Cultures'. Regardless of that however, no one who has cared to follow the saga of Persia's pursuit of nuclear weapons, cannot fail to be impressed and thankful for the splendid research done by David Albright's Institute for Science and International Security (hereafter ISIS). They have been closely monitoring the latest developments in Persia and today they have published the newest accounting of how things stand. As per the contents of the report, which will appear below in an abbrevated form, suffice it to say that things most definitly do not appear to be on a favorable trend as it concerns Persia's quest. And, that it would appear the American Administration must come to some conclusions fast, as how it intends to proceed in this matter. The earlier myopic and utopian view that the mere announcement of a willingness to negotiate, as well as the enunciation of the 'respect agenda', et cetera, has not in fact done anything to force Persia off its course for nuclear weapons. If a new course is not arrived at by say the middle of October (and I personally do not see any possibilities of such occurring) then it may very well be the case, that the Netanyahu Cabinet, will throw caution to he wind, and engage in another example of Flucht nach vorn. With all the results that are implied by those horrible words from the summer of 1914. With all that being said, please peruse the report below.

Mysteries Deepen Over Status of Arak Reactor Project
David Albright, Paul Brannan, and Robert Kelley August 11, 2009

"Iran’s IR-40, or Arak, heavy water reactor, which has been under construction since June 2004, has not received as much attention as its gas centrifuge program. The reactor’s operation and potential to produce significant amounts of weapons-grade plutonium are years away, although this timeline is narrowing. Iran recently announced that it has mastered fuel fabrication for the Arak reactor at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) at Esfahan. Last spring, President Ahmadinejad proudly unveiled a fuel assembly, which purportedly is for the Arak reactor. The fuel assembly on display by President Ahmadinejad is of a surprising shape for a small, 40 megawatt-thermal heavy water reactor and raises questions about whether it is indeed a fuel assembly for this reactor. One possibility is that the fuel assembly is not intended for the Arak reactor but was simply used for publicity purposes. In addition to questions about the fuel assembly, questions are also increasing about the status of the reactor’s construction and associated hot cells that could be capable of separating plutonium. Despite the growing questions, Iran has denied the IAEA the ability to scrutinize the Arak reactor, a step that the IAEA has said is inconsistent with Iran’s safeguards obligations. Iran refused to allow the IAEA to undertake a scheduled design information verification (DIV) visit to the Arak reactor and adjacent buildings on October 26, 20082 and again in April of 2009.3 The IAEA has also asked for updated design information about the reactor and its fuel, which was last provided several years ago. So far, Iran has refused to do so. It is imperative that Iran be more transparent about the Arak reactor, its associated hot cells, and fuel manufacturing facilities. By providing such transparency, Iran could go far to address concerns that the true purpose of the reactor is to make weapon-grade plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Did President Ahmadinejad reveal a fuel assembly for the Arak reactor?

Last spring, President Ahmadinejad led an Iranian press tour of the Fuel Manufacturing Plant at Esfahan during which he announced that the plant was operational (although images from this tour indicate that much equipment is missing). His visit was photographed and the pictures widely published on the Internet. In several photos, a fuel assembly is clearly visible. Figure 1 is a photo from that tour showing that fuel element. The IAEA is believed to have inspected this fuel assembly. The IAEA report for June 2009 states:

“On 23 May 2009, the Agency conducted an inspection at the Fuel Manufacturing Plant, at which time it was noted that, with the exception of the final quality control testing area, the process line for the production of fuel assemblies for the heavy water reactor fuel had been completed, and that one fuel assembly had been assembled from previously produced fuel rods.”

As can be seen in Figure 1, this fuel element is extremely long and thin. It closely resembles the fuel used in an RBMK (Reaktor Bolshoy Moshchnosti Kanalniy), Soviet-era reactor. Figure 2 shows a sketch of the RBMK element from a Russian web site and the similar characteristics are obvious, including the length, shape, types of pins and fitting on the ends. The picture also makes clear that this fuel assembly is not the fuel for the pressurized water reactor built by Russia at Bushehr, which has a hexagonal matrix of over 300 pins. The fuel assembly on display during the Ahmadinejad tour is odd for a relatively small heavy water reactor such as the Arak reactor. The RBMK is a commercial descendant of the large Soviet plutonium reactors built in the 1940s and 1950s. It is a graphite moderated reactor cooled by light water. The fuel rods are in a graphite matrix in pressure tubes. This is very different from the Arak reactor in Iran which uses heavy water as both the coolant and moderator. In addition, the RBMK fuel elements are enriched to about 3.5 percent; Arak’s fuel is expected to use natural uranium. RBMK reactors are designed to be refueled while they are operating, using a highly specialized and expensive refueling machine. This accounts for their great length. Perhaps, like the RBMK, the Arak reactor is designed to be re-fueled on-line. In this case, the fuel assembly would be removed from the core while the reactor continues to operate. This possibility, however, seems unlikely, given that the Arak reactor does not appear to have the elaborate water-cooled re-fueling arrangements necessary to safely transport this type of fuel from the reactor to a cooling pond.

Even if this fuel assembly is intended for the Arak reactor, why would Iran seek to build a heavy water reactor around such an inappropriate fuel design? One possible explanation for the unusual shape of a heavy water reactor fuel assembly is if Iran received a significant amount of help from Russia in building the Arak reactor. The U.S. government has reportedly asserted that the NIKIET institute in Moscow helped Iran build a heavy water reactor and sanctioned NIKIET in 1999 for this alleged assistance. The Russians responded that they only answered questions from Iran and did not provide any significant assistance beyond those answers. Based on this explanation, NIKIET could have provided information on RBMK fuel, with which it has extensive experience. NIKIET is a nuclear design institute that is very familiar with graphite-moderated rectors, such as the A and A1 production reactors that produced plutonium for the first USSR nuclear test. NIKIET went on to design the RBMK graphite-moderated power reactors and eventually the VVER family of pressurized light water reactors, including the Iranian Bushehr reactor. However, NIKIET has no known experience in heavy water moderated reactors of which only a few have ever been built in Russia. Another possibility is simply that Iran is not planning to use this fuel assembly in the Arak reactor. Rather, Iran could have displayed a RBMK uranium oxide fuel assembly for publicity purposes, allowing Ahmadinejad to proclaim that Iran had “mastered” this important step of the reactor’s fuel cycle. If this assembly contains uranium, it is likely the one inspected by the IAEA.

Is Iran developing the capability to make natural uranium metal fuel for the Arak reactor?

If the Arak reactor is to be used expressly for plutonium production, a more straightforward method is to use natural uranium metal fuel. If this fuel is clad in aluminum, it can be relatively easily processed in a radiochemical plant to extract plutonium. A reactor such as Arak would require tons of metal fuel per year if it is operated to produce weapons grade plutonium. One question is whether Iran is developing the capability to make uranium metal fuel for the Arak reactor. This possibility is suggested by a statement made by Mohammad Saeidi in his 2005 presentation to the World Nuclear Association meeting where he describes the characteristics of different parts of the Fuel Manufacturing Plant in Esfahan. It is potentially significant that the plant will produce the same amount of natural uranium metal as it does uranium oxide fuel for Arak. The IAEA needs to monitor this activity carefully.

What is the status of construction at the Arak reactor and associated hot cells?

Commercial satellite imagery reveals significant progress at the Arak site. An image from October 7, 2008 showed construction progress since February of 2007.6 A dome had been placed on top of the Arak reactor, construction of the cooling tower appeared completed, and many of the adjacent buildings, one of which contains a thick-walled hot cell facility, appeared externally completed as well.7 Iran’s refusal to allow design information verification visits hampers the IAEA’s ability to verify that the facility will not be used for plutonium separation, as it has declared.

Monday, August 24, 2009


“Past empires that have dared to enter Afghanistan — from Alexander the Great to Great Britain and the Soviet Union — have found initial entry possible, even easy, only to find themselves fatally mired in local resistance.” Which is why that harsh and mountainous country has become known, in the words of his book’s title, as “the graveyard of empires.”

In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan,” by Seth G. Jones (2009).

“It is serious and it is deteriorating....The Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated. Their tactics, just in my recent visits out there and talking with our troops, certainly indicate that Afghanistan is very vulnerable.”

U.S. Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen quoted in: "Mullen says Afghan situation 'serious' Getting worse". 24 August 2009, in

The results of the Presidential elections in Afghanistan are still unknown at this time. However, it appears that as compared to the elections of 2004, there has been a considerable degree of backsliding by the Afghan population, in terms of both popular participation (perhaps as low as 40%, as opposed to the prior elections 70%), and, in terms the security environment for the elections, cynicism about the entire process and the prospective end result. With many contending that the likely victory of the current President, Hamid Karzai, is likely to be more the result of vote rigging more than anything else. The upshot of the entire matter is, as the Financial Times put it recently:

"It is something of a miracle that Afghanistan has been able to hold elections, given the circumstances. These include: a raging insurgency, in which Nato forces have been unable to regain the initiative from a resurgent Taliban; a central government that has failed to provide security, services or jobs, and whose writ barely reaches beyond the boundaries of Kabul".

"Afghanistan Votes and Hopes for the Best," 21 August 2009, in

Notwithstanding the recent 'surge' of American forces into the country (all 21,000 of them), the security situation does on the fact of it, from most indications, the recent elections included appear to be getting worse. And, with an increase in American and British causalities recently, there has been increased criticism of the Anglo-American effort in the country. With some voices once again being raised to argue that NATO forces should be reduced in size, not increased, and, that what is needed is a policy of Afghanistanization. A build-up of the native forces, under Anglo-American tutelage, which would allow the former to properly police the country, and, thus provide a political space for serious socio-economic reform and reconstruction in the countryside. Mr. Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation, quoted above, is perhaps the most cogent advocate of this point of view arguing that:

"There is no clear-cut answer – and certainly no magic number – of U.S. and Afghan forces. However, the current problem that the U.S. faces is that the clock is ticking more than seven years into the Afghan insurgency. Local perceptions of the U.S. have deteriorated over the past several years from high levels in 2001. This suggests that the percentage of Afghan security forces (both national and local) needs to increase in the south and east. A relatively small U.S. and international footprint of, for example, 50,000 forces in the south and east may be more than adequate if they can effectively leverage a mixture of Afghan National Police, Afghan National Army, National Directorate of Security (Afghanistan’s intelligence agency), and tribal forces in urban and rural areas.

Based on the increasing Pashtun aversion to outside forces, it is unlikely that the United States and NATO will defeat the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan through a heavy international military footprint that tries to clear, hold, and build territory. Virtually all counterinsurgency studies – from David Galula to Roger Trinquier – have focused on building the capacity of local forces. Victory is usually a function of the struggle between the local government and insurgents. Most outside forces are unlikely to remain for the duration of any counterinsurgency, at least as a major combatant force. Most domestic populations tire of their forces engaged in struggles overseas, as even the Soviet population did in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In addition, a lead outside role may be interpreted by the population as an occupation, eliciting nationalist reactions that impede success.9 And a lead indigenous role can provide a focus for national aspirations and show the population that they – and not foreign forces – control their destiny.
This reality should lead to a strategy that involves conducting clandestine operations by leveraging local entities and building Afghan capacity – rather than a large U.S. footprint".

Seth Jones, "U. S. Stategy in Afghanistan," Testimony before the House of Representatives, Foreign Affairs Sub-committee for the Middle East and South Asia, 2 April 2009.

The only problem with this analysis is that it has in fact been tried already: it was in essence former American Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld's policy for fighting the war between 2002 and 2006. A very, very light American and NATO footprint (less than 25,000 trooped in all), with an emphasis on the Afghans themselves doing much of the security work. The results of this strategy are all too clear, so that one does not need to even mention it...Which leaves us where you might well inquire? Well from my perspective, the only likely path for success, admittedly not quick success, is for a major build-up, in Anglo-American (meaning mostly American) forces in the country. To a level of at least 120,000. While not by any means the 'ideal' number (Seth Jones in his testimony uses the rather plausible figure of 270,000 Afghan and NATO troops as a minimum). Again, while not a scenario which promises a 'Blitz Victory', it is by far the only likely one which offers some degree of success. In the long-run if not the short term. As per the argument made by Jones, and, other like him, that in such a scenario, the Americans will simply be following in the footsteps of the Russians in the 20th century and the British in the 19th, it is the case now, that the Americans are following in both their footsteps by endeavoring to fight a war on the cheap. So for example: while many accounts of the First Anglo-Afghan War focus (obsessively so in fact), on the annihilation of Elphinstone's army in January of 1842, most neglect to point out, that only this consisted of a small contingent of 4,500 troops, most of which were Indian. Additionally, neglected is that in the aftermath of the destruction of the Kabul occupation army, was the fact that British forces re-entered the country, defeated the Afghan armies in the field, re-captured Kabul and destroyed a portion of the capital. Per se it was the retrenchment policies of Sir Robert Peel's government in London, not the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, which forced the withdrawal of British forces from the country. Similarly forgotten is the fact that via Field-Marshal Lord Robert's military victories, in the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), that London was able to impose a semi-hegemony on the country, which lasted until the end of the Great War.

I am not contending that the past is prologue to the future in Afghanistan. Or that the Americans need copy the tactics employed by Lord Roberts over one hundred years ago. What I am contending is that the only path of a suitable settlement in this country is putting in place, x number of troops, mostly Americans and British and having them engage in operations to 'clear and hold' territory so that a decent opportunity can be made to reconstruct the country. Currently Afghan forces are neither equipped nor motivated, much less ready for anything approaching active duty on this scale. The only alternative is a Vietnam style 'decent interval' of pushing the natives forward and withdrawing prior to the whole structure collapsing like a house of cards. Given the local security situation in the region, any such result will be a disaster of the first magnitude.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


"I shall waive my little finger and there shall be no more Tito".
Iosif V. Stalin, no date.

"I would like to inform you that over Ukraine's anti-Russian policies I have made the decision to delay sending our new ambassador to Ukraine....deep concern at the current, without exaggeration, crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations....

We observe that during the years of your presidency, and it is impossible to see it differently, that the Ukrainian side has withdrawn from the principles of friendship and partnership with Russia....

Ukrainians have from time immemorial been and remain not only neighbors but a fraternal nation toward which we will always have the kindest feelings, with which we are brought closer together by common history, culture and religion, are united by close economic cooperation, strong kindred and human ties....

Bypassing Russia, Ukraine's top political leadership agreed with the European Union's leadership on Russian gas deliveries to Europe, and signed a document completely out of line with January's Russian-Ukrainian agreements....

A year after the tragic events, the issue of how peaceful civilians and Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinvali were killed with Ukrainian weapons is again being pointedly raised. Those in Kiev who supplied armaments to the Georgian armed forces... share the responsibility for committed crimes with Tbilisi...."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, 11 August 2009, in

The Russian President's statement to his Ukrainian counterpart on Tuesday was if nothing else, an endeavor, admittedly an open endeavor, to undo, in its geopolitical aspects the so-called 'Rose Revolution' that brought Yuschenko to power in 2004. Meaning that the Kremlin wishes for the next Ukranian President to give-up any thoughts of Kiev becoming a member of NATO, or (one presumes, although Moskva has not indicated anything openly about this) the European Union as well. Or even becoming diplomatically close to either. For Putin, et. al., the events of 2004, were, and, have been a major threat to not only Moskva's strategic interests but also its internal equilibrium as well. Since, it is not altogether difficult for the ordinary Russian citizen to surmise that any political change which occurs in a neighboring country, may also occur in his own as well. Not of course immediately, but, within the fullness of time. At least, that is the way in which Moskva has chosen since 2004 to regard what has occurred in Kiev: a threat in both its foreign and domestic interests. Which is not to say, that Russia has been totally at fault in its ongoing disputes with Ukraine over the pricing of its natural gas, or even in Ukraine's relationship with Georgia. However, the fact is that in the first, Kiev has not behaved any more differently than say other post-Soviet states who every so often become embroiled in disputes with Moskva over either pricing of natural gas, or the selling of it. Similarly, while no doubt Kiev's relationship with Tbilisi, especially the alleged provision of arms, is no doubt a 'red flag', it is all the same no more egregious than say Kirgzistan's hosting of an American-NATO base for the war in Afghanistan? What ultimately counts for the Kremlin is that fact that an unfriendly Ukraine, a Ukraine outside of its orbit diplomatically, changes the entire Russian idea of 'strategic depth'. An idea which Russia has based its own sense of security since the time of the wars with Charles XII.

There is per se, nothing out of the ordinary or shall we say extra-ordinary in Medvedev's statement and the purposes behind it. What is say we say unfortunate, is that he has to make the statement at all. What such a statement points to, is the fact that Russian 'soft power', even in its 'near abroad', is still tremendously weak. And, this weakness has the end-result that Russia needs to engage in this typical diplomatic equivalent of pyrotechnics, in order to try to advance its interests diplomatically. Perhaps in this case, with a very weak and unpopular incumbent, Medvedev's public relations 'demarche', will work. And, the incoming regime in Kiev, whoever it may be, shall be seriously interested in re-establishing good relations with Moskva. I myself think that the opposite is more likely to be the case: that the mere fact of Medvedev's statement will have an effect which is the opposite what he intends. Something that Tovarish Stalin learned back in 1948 in the case of Josip Broz Tito. Although perhaps the fact that neither the Americans or the EU are at this time, enamoured of becoming more involved with Kiev and its rather chaotic domestic political scene, may force whoever becomes the next Ukrainian President to move closer to Moskva. However time will tell soon enough.

Friday, August 07, 2009


"The question of who started the war may not matter much in Moscow. Russia has changed the facts on the ground: its troops are in control in the two enclaves, and it has shown that it is still the only power that matters in former Soviet space.

For the benighted people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, however, there has been little improvement in their lives. Tskhinvali is still a bomb site. Russian aid appears to have vanished into a notoriously corrupt bureaucracy. Both territories are dependent on subsidies from Moscow.

Georgia may have seen its pride sorely dented, but the economy has held up much better. American and European aid has flooded in. Tbilisi appears to have lost the war, but it is winning the peace".

Quentin Peel, "Tbilisi looks like winning the peace." 6 August 2009, in

The issue of who did or did not start the Russo-Georgia War of last year, is not my concern, nor do I believe that it merits a great deal of attention. The origins of the conflict date back to the very early part of the Putin era, if not in fact earlier. What my concern is what can we analytically, historically and strategically take away from the conflict per se? First: that in essence Russia did in fact 'win'and Georgia 'lost', the war. For Russia of course its victory was a Pyrrhic one, since the mere fact of its having to wage such a war, means that its attempt to re-establish its hegemony over the Kavkaz nation peacefully had failed. Its military victory was a substitute, albeit a second-rate one, for the failure of Russia to use other, more Gramscian means to bring Georgia back into Moskva's hegemonic fold. A failure which points up to a larger problem of Russian foreign policy in the Putin era: its failure to attract other states into its fold, using other than coercive diplomacy of a most primitive variety. `A la its interaction with Ukraine and Georgia. Leaving aside that long-term issue, Russia did most definitely obtain the goals that it probably set-out to acquire when the war began: a) retain and strengthen its hold on South Ossetia and Abkhazia for the foreseeable future; b) defeat as an operational and active force the Georgian military; c) render impossible Georgia's entry into NATO for the immediate and medium-term future; d) and, finally to some extent demonstrate to the other countries in the former Sovietskaya Vlast that falling afoul of Matushka Russia, is something which cannot be done with mere impunity.

And, for all of the reasons mentioned above, Georgia, the other party in the conflict was its 'loser'. And, while President Saakashvili was not overthrown as a result of Georgia's military defeat, the fact of the matter, is that the end result of the conflict is that: i) Georgia's chance of entering into NATO anytime soon has been completely destroyed; ii) Georgia has been both de facto and de jure dismembered; iii) Georgia's independent role, as a diplomatic force and anti-Russian gadfly in both the Kavkaz region and in the CIS has also completely disappeared. While difficult to remember now, the fact was that in the glory years of the 'Rose Revolution' (2004-2007), that Saakashvili emerged as an independent diplomatic force in both the immediate region and in the greater, ex-Sovietskaya Vlast space. With much thinking that where Georgia and Ukraine had gone, Belarus and Russia itself were bound to follow. All of which is now merely past-tense and post-facto. The fact that Saakashvili was not overthrown, either immediately or in the months after the conflict ended, may count as a 'moral victory' of sorts. But, the fact is that 'moral victories', are by definition, poor substitutes for the real article. Something which I am quite sure the Georgia leader would be the very first to admit.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


On Tuesday evening at an event sponsored by the Oxonian Society at the Cornell Club in mid-town Manhattan, General (retired) Anthony Zinni, spoke to a select audience about his experiences and reflections in and out of the military. In terms of the former, he was from 1996 to 2000, first deputy commander, then commander of American forces in the Near East (CENTCOM). Having the advantage of being one of the military's few Arabic speakers. And, in 2002-2003, he was the Bush regime's 'Special Envoy', to the Near East, trying and failing to deal with Israeli and Palestinian dispute. Thereafter, General Zinni has on various occasions has expressed his criticism of (in no particular order) the invasion of Iraq, American policy in dealing with the insurgency and in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

The following are among some of General Zinni comments:

On the Iraq and Afghan wars, qua warfare, both are examples of: 'a new type of war', one 'in the shadows'.

On the late Palestinian leader, Arafat:
He was not 'willing to take risks for peace'. Unwilling to 'make a deal', which would involve his having to make an compromises. Overall though, while he is not entirely pessimistic about the future chances of peace in the area, General Zinni does not see: 'an early resolution' of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It is not the type of dispute that can be resolved via a summit meeting between the two parties with a mediator.

On the Iraqi situation:
The current American administration is following a correct Iraq 'exit strategy', which involves the progressive disengagement of American combat forces from the country. Concerning the Iraqis themselves, General Zinni was not entirely optimistic, in particular the Iraqis ability to govern themselves: the next eighteen months being he said 'critical'.

Concerning the Afghanistan conflict:
General Zinni was impressed with both General Petraeus and with the new American strategy to fight the war. He did though caution that a 'regional approach' was necessary to properly fight the Taliban-Al Qaeda nexus. He also stated that for NATO, the current fight in Afghanistan was a 'defining moment', in terms of the organization's worth, as a military alliance. Overall, though General Zinni cautioned that a success in the Afghan theatre of operations would take from 'three to five years', before the American and their allies can think about withdrawing. The current problems in Afghanistan being due to the fact that with the Iraq debacle, the Americans 'took their eyes off the ball', as it were.

Concerning Pakistan:
Contrary to some stories in the Western press, Pakistan was not 'near collapse', but, it did require in order to solve its current problems much greater resources devoted to both the development and counter-insurgency. The Pakistan army was 'the wrong type of army', for the current conflict in the country. And, in addition India had to co-operate with its former enemy on this effort.

Concerning Syria & Persia:
There was the possibility of isolating Teheran by 'breaking the links', between Damascus and Persia. That Syria could most definitely be 'turned' diplomatically speaking from its alliances with Persia. And, so could Damascus' allies Hezbollah and Hamas.

On the origins of the Iraq War:
That the initial invasion force was 'totally inadequate', and, hence not able to do the job needed and expected initially. That Saddam Hussein was not 'a threat to anyone'. That any weapons, even those of 'mass destruction' that he might ever had, were merely 'tactical' and not 'strategic' in nature. And, that there was never any hard evidence of Iraq having any strategic weapons for mass destruction.

Comment: overall, I found General Zinni, to be a most intelligent, entertaining, broad minded and well-spoken individual. He spoke in a clear, mid-Atlantic voice, without the acronyms that the officers of the American military usually tend to pepper their conversations with. It is a true pity that someone of his experience and outlook is lost to government and the country. A true pity.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


The following is the text of an interview on Russian television with Russian Federation President Dmitri Medvedev which appeared last week. What does one make of the content of the interview? First, the nature of the questions is for the most part, rather gingerly and tame. Certainly perhaps with what one is habituated with Anglo-American televised interviews. But, then again, it is not that much different from what say Jacques Chirac or Francois Mitterand were used to from French television. Second, the responses by Medvedev appear for the most part very very
measured and low-key. Certainly, as compared to say Grazhdanin Putin, Medvedev appears to be a very diplomatic and cautious figure. With very little need to display for the gallery that Putinesque type of stinging assertions and 'put-downs'. And, while at times, Medvedev does make comments and statements that one can well imagine that Putin would make, aka: that the 'Soviet Union was a strong country', or that the Soviet Union was a 'respected country' (by who and by what - North Korea, Cuba or Albania?), they appear to be more aimed at providing some positive balance for the domestic Russian audience, rather than anything deeply felt by Medvedev. And, what does one, in the final analysis make of the interview? Well, I for one, come away relatively impressed and relaxed, because Medvedev and people of his ilk, in the Russian elite circles (however many they are), seem to be much more comfortable with the post-Sovietskaya Vlast era in Russian history, than say Putin and his most immediate circle (Vice-Premier Sechin being a prime example). Which is not to say that Medvedev would for example have behaved differently one year ago, sans Putin leaning over his shoulders. Since he most likely would not have. However, it does appear to be the case, that Medvedev would certainly I would guess, carried off the entire affair, in a less truculent and verbally aggressive manner. However, allow yourselves to make up your own minds, by reading the interview with Russian Federation President, Medvedev.

Conversation with Kirill Pozdnyakov, Anchor of NTV Television Channel’s Current Affairs Programme Itogovaya Programma NTV July 26, 2009 The Kremlin, Moscow

"QUESTION: Mr President, a lot of important international events took place in July, among them the Russian-U.S. talks in Moscow and the G8 summit. Ordinary people often watch such events with interest, but have a hard time getting beyond the feeling that these are all lofty matters far removed from everyday life. And then, suddenly, in L’Aquila you talked about foreign policy decisions that have a subsequent impact on decisions affecting the country’s domestic life. This caught many people’s attention. The natural question that follows is which decisions did you have in mind, and what kind of influence can they be expected to have?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: These were not just chance words spoken for the sake of ending my visit to L’Aquila with a neat turn of phrase. I really do hold this view and think that it reflects the real state of affairs. Why? Because we are all working now to build a modern, developed and competitive country. We will achieve this only if we have normal relations with the outside world. Attempting to build a strong and developed society and economy in isolation from international life is a senseless undertaking. There are examples of countries that have tried to do this, and we know the results.

How well we work and how well integrated we are into the general context of global life will ultimately help to shape the conditions in which we live. In other words, good relations in the high-technology sectors, in finance, in environmental and climate protection, and in international security, including regional security, all have a direct impact on our country’s domestic life. There are some types of technology and services that we cannot obtain on our own, not to mention the general financial context. There are things we cannot create even if we build the most developed society and strongest economy in the world. The economy today is a global economy, and life is global. And so, the way we position ourselves on the international stage, in international life, has a fundamental impact on the situation within our country, ultimately even affecting such basic and perhaps also most important things as living standards and wages. It was this simple message that I was trying to get across in L’Aquila.

QUESTION: Soon it will be one year since Georgia invaded South Ossetia. You visited Tskhinval just recently, after your meeting with [President] Obama. U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden has just visited Kiev and Tbilisi, and said words to the effect that the U.S. is working on ‘reloading’ relations with Russia, but that this will not be at Georgia’s or Ukraine’s expense.

As I understand it, we and the United States have stuck to our positions regarding both the situation in Georgia and NATO’s eastward expansion. Is this the case? Do you see any chance of making progress, of perhaps bringing our positions closer together?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I would put it this way. I do not think it right that a ‘reload’ of relations with Russia, to use the American terminology, should take place at other countries’ expense. What we need are normal working relations with the United States, friendly and mutually beneficial relations – this is what counts above all, and a lot depends on this. But this does not mean that our relations should result in deterioration of our or the United States’ relations with other countries, whether Ukraine or Georgia. They can sort things out on their side, sort out their relations. As for us, we have our own relations with Ukraine, relations that have not been easy over these last years. But much depends on these relations, because these are our close neighbours, fraternal countries, and our people and economies are very closely bound together. Of course we hope that the future will bring a real improvement in our relations.

QUESTION: What is the basis for these relations?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: These relations need a basis, and the basis should be quite simply that of a sense that both sides benefit from them, that our peoples need them. This is something obvious, something without which it is hard to imagine their future.

As for relations with Georgia, this is a more complicated matter. We currently do not have diplomatic relations with Georgia following the aggression launched last year by the Saakashvili regime. In other words, we have practically no intergovernmental relations. But at the same time, we have longstanding warm feelings for each other, warm feelings for the Georgian people, with whom we have gone through hell and high water together. We would like to have the very best kind of relations with Georgia. I have said this before and I say it again now. Regimes such as that of Saakashvili come and go, but feelings between peoples remain. I am sure that the time will come when our relations will be restored on a new basis, taking into account the new situation that has emerged and the tragic episodes our relations have gone through of late. We therefore feel no jealousy when we see other countries building their relations with our partners in the international community, including with important partners such as the United States.

A different matter is the question of countries’ membership in various international alliances and military blocs. This is a matter we are not indifferent to. On this issue our position is straightforward and remains unchanged, and on this we and the United States differ in our views.

Our position is simple: we think it wrong to push this or that country into military-political alliances against the will of their people. In Ukraine’s case the situation is very straightforward – hold a referendum. If the people vote for membership in this or that military-political union it would at least provide a legitimate basis for the decision. There would still be other problems, but the legitimate basis would at least be there.

As for Georgia, the question is one for NATO itself: why should it want a country with so many problems? As I understand it, there has been growing awareness of late that these two esteemed countries are not yet ready for decisions of this kind, and that NATO itself is not ready to take them in. Ultimately, we have no influence on these decisions, but we express our view openly, and I think that this is an honest position.

QUESTION: We will come back to relations with our close neighbours, but let’s look now at our relations with continents further afield.

Your recent visits to Africa, Latin America and so on have made it possible to say that Russian foreign policy is becoming global in scale for the first time since the Soviet period. But not everyone understands why it is worth our investing money and effort in these far-flung parts of the world. So, why does Russia need this, and what do we hope to gain?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: You mentioned the Soviet Union. For all its problems and shortcomings, and for all the difficulties it went through over the various periods of its development, the Soviet Union was a strong country. No one can deny this. You can debate the cost at which this was achieved, and whether or not this strength was necessary, but the fact remains that the Soviet Union was a strong country.

We want the Russian Federation to be a strong country too, not so as to flex our muscles for others to see, and not so as to teach others lessons, but in order to ensure the strong foundation needed to give our own people the best conditions for life and development. Weak countries as a rule have weak economies. You can’t have the one without the other. In this situation we therefore need to make efforts in all areas of international life, all the more so as there are opportunities for earning money, to put things in simple terms, not just in Eurasia. There are other continents offering a mass of interesting investment projects. There are places where our past presence is known and remembered, and where people hope to see us now, have not forgotten us, and even love us. What reason do we have for forgetting these continents, for forgetting Africa and Latin America?

There was a time when domestic circumstances forced us to cut back our foreign policy ambitions in these places simply because we did not have the resources. But now we have new possibilities and so we should build up an active presence on these continents, establish friendly relations with these countries, restore old relations, take part in big investment projects, bid for contracts and tenders, and place our orders there.

QUESTION: In the end, it is this that will have an impact on ordinary people’s lives?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Yes, of course. If we can increase foreign trade earnings we will have more revenue for carrying out our domestic tasks.

What has happened now? Oil prices fell and currency flows into our country also fell as a result, leading to a number of economic problems. But if our foreign trade were more diversified, if it were spread across a wider range of sectors, we would be getting currency flows not just from the countries that buy our oil but also from other countries, where we, say, take part in big contracts, build nuclear reactors, deliver equipment and technology. This is an important part of international cooperation and it has a direct impact on our country’s life. This is to come back to the question you asked at the start.

QUESTION: I see your point. Turning now to our relations with the CIS countries, our closest neighbours, there is no question that we should seek the very best of relations with these countries. We share very close ties with them. But many Russians see the situation in a somewhat different light, namely, that what they need from us they get, but now and then when we ask for something from them we do not get it. I could cite a large number of examples.

What approach do you think we should take to building relations with our closest neighbours?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Our relations should be very good and stable, a real partnership. You raised the issue of who is asking for what, but don’t forget the classic line that you should never ask for anything.

QUESTION: They will give everything of their own accord.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Yes, they will give things of their own accord. When it comes to international relations it is better in general not to think in terms of who owes what to whom. Of course we need to keep track of the figures too, but there are some kinds of long-term strategic relations that do not have a direct monetary value. How can you calculate the value of friendship or of the historical ties that bind our peoples? These are things that cannot be expressed in dry figures. The conclusions would be very unpleasant if we tried to do this, all the more so as today too we do much of benefit for the countries with whom we live together in the Commonwealth of Independent States and with whom we work together in other integration groups.

Ultimately, this area calls for a different behaviour model. We need to think about who lives in these countries. The people living there are people who are very close to us, people with whom we share a common language, often in the most direct sense of the term, people with whom we share common historic roots. Many of them have relatives living in Russia, and many of our people have relatives in these countries. We go there to visit them, they come here to earn money, and some of our businesspeople, some of our citizens, are earning money in these countries. We have very close ties. When dealing with these matters, therefore, we need to get away from the primitive who owes what to whom approach. Of course we need to keep in mind Russia’s national priorities. This is something I spoke about not so long ago. But we need to build our relations with our close neighbours in the strategic perspective, with a view to the future, and based on the friendship and goodwill between us. This is the most important thing.

QUESTION: What kind of image does Russia have in the foreign policy arena today? How does it look in the outside world’s eyes? Is Russia all good and cuddly in others’ eyes, or on the contrary, does it inspire fear?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I would like Russia to have the image of a strong and modern country, pragmatic and restrained, but at the same time able to make its voice heard on the international stage. I want others to see in us a country that is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a country that plays a decisive part in the global balance of power. It is the lot life has given us to take on greater responsibility for ensuring international security, including as a country with one of the biggest nuclear capabilities. Whether we want it or not, this is a fact of life, and it plays a part in guaranteeing international security.

Our image therefore needs to encompass all of these aspects, but at the same time it needs to be comfortable for others in their dealings with us. We should not be prickly and hard to approach, but at the same time we should be able to make a firm response when circumstances call for it. Sometimes tough measures are called for, a very firm response, but only in cases when our people’s interests are in jeopardy. In all other situations we should be a strong, predictable and comfortable partner for our neighbours.

QUESTION: You know that Russia is commonly depicted around the world using the image of the Russian bear.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: It’s an image close to my heart.

QUESTION: We see it frequently in cartoons, in various forms. It’s an image frequently used in writing too.

What do you think we should perhaps change here at home in order to present a different image to the world? Are there any problems getting in the way of giving us a positive image on the international stage?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Well, I think certainly not the image of the bear, anyway. I like this image.

On a serious note, of course, if we want to have a strong image we need to be modern. If we want to present the right image to the world we need to resolve our urgent problems, above all our social and economic problems. If we resolve these problems it will be easier for us to reach our international objectives. This is a reverse of the relation we talked about at the start of our conversation. Just as our foreign policy has a direct impact on living standards here at home, so does our success at home have a direct impact on how others perceive us. This is something we are not indifferent to.

QUESTION: It seems to me that it is important for people to feel that their country is strong and respected.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: That goes without saying. Remember the situation in the 1990s, when many of our people, travelling abroad for the first time, complained that others treated them as citizens of some third-rate country. They were not used to such an attitude and it was hard to accept, because the Soviet Union had been a respected country, and when our passport received a different reaction people felt offended, and this sometimes had direct material and moral consequences.

I won’t go into details, but you know that there are a number of strong and developed countries, and it is enough to present their passport…

QUESTION: For everyone to come running.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Yes, it helps people sort out their problems abroad. It should be the same situation for Russians too.

QUESTION: How can we achieve this?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: By carrying out the work we have just been talking about. If we are a strong country it will be enough to show that you are from the Russian Federation to receive respectful treatment even when simply just crossing borders. This is also important. Even with this whole issue of entering and exiting countries, you either get treated with respect, or quite simply benefit from visa-free entry, or you encounter various obstacles and difficulties, and have to stand in humiliating queues to prove that your country is sufficiently prosperous, that you yourself have money, and that you are a law abiding citizen. The strength we build at home will therefore be reflected in Russia’s place in the world too".