Monday, December 30, 2013


Never before has a country found itself in Russia's position: grappling with a series of terrorist attacks just weeks before it hosts an Olympic Games. Now, six weeks before the opening of the Winter Games in Sochi, twin suicide bombings in two days have rocked the city of Volgograd, killing at least 31 people. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. But early indications suggest that the similarities between the two, and a third suicide bombing in Volgograd in October, make them the handiwork of a single mastermind. Furthermore, no credible motive for the attacks has emerged other than the probability that North Caucasus militant leader Doku Umarov is flexing his muscles ahead of the Olympics. "The terrorists have demonstrated that they can attack the same targets several times, showing that the government is defenseless against them," said Yekaterina Sokirianskaia, head of Russia office of the International Crisis Group, an organization that recently called the unrest in the North Caucasus as "the most violent in Europe today." Umarov, leader of the so-called Caucasus Emirate, which aims to unify the North Caucasus into a single Islamic state, imposed a ban on terrorist attacks following a wave of anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow in 2011 and 2012. But he lifted the ban in July 2013, vowing to disrupt the "satanic" games in Sochi. Three major attacks have occurred outside the North Caucasus since then, and they all have a common link: the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. The first major attack took place in October when a female suicide bomber detonated her explosives in a Volgograd bus, killing six. The bomber turned out to be a convert to Islam and the wife of a Dagestani militant. The likely perpetrator of Sunday's train station attack, which killed 17, has been identified as Pavel Pechenkin, a native of the Mari El republic who converted to Islam and joined an insurgency group in Dagestan in spring 2012. The suspected suicide bomber who struck a trolleybus on Monday, killing 14, has been traced to the same insurgency group. Dagestan is located just a few hours' drive east of Sochi, while Volgograd is located about 700 kilometers to the north of the Black Sea city. Security has been a primary concern for Olympics organizers, with the government allocating more than $2 billion for the purpose. But terrorism still remained rife in the North Caucasus in 2013...."
Ivan Nechepurenko, "Volgograd Terror Raises Olympic Security Fears." The Moscow Times. 30 December 2013 in www.
"Hours after a bomb struck a bus in the city of Volgograd this morning, adding at least 14 deaths to the toll of 17 people killed in an attack the previous night, Russia's official alert level remained yellow, not red. President Vladimir Putin had yet to address the nation. Putin has a history of responding slowly and coldly to public tragedies, but Volgograd -- once known as Stalingrad -- is about half way from Moscow to the site of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which begin in less than 6 weeks. One would have expected a swifter response from the top. A spokesman for investigators on the case said this morning's attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, using the identical TNT explosives to the night before. Some Kremlin loyalists are indeed drawing the connection to the Olympics, and Putin today called for increased security nationwide and a special regime for Volgograd.... The mainly Muslim North Caucasus regions of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya supply most of the fanatical suicide bombers, many of them women, who have launched terrorist attacks in Russia over the years. Volgograd, a city of 1 million, is about 400 miles from these regions and accessible by train or road. It is also an easy target, because uncommonly vicious infighting between local businessmen and politicians make for a weak local government. Sergei Bozhenov is Volgograd's third governor in four years, his two predecessors, both locally-born, were destroyed by the constant struggles for power in the city. Putin sent in Bozhenov, who has a reputation for toughness, from a neighboring region, but now the governor, one of the most unpopular in Russia, appears to be at a loss as to how to deal with the terrorist attacks, promising only to augment the police force with volunteers. "Does the choice of Volgograd as the scene for terrorist attacks have anything to do with the fact that local law enforcement chiefs are seen as participants of the endless political infighting in the city and surrounding region?" editor Vlad Vlovin, a native of Volgograd, wrote in the daily Izvestia. "The law enforcers there have more important business than ensuring public safety...." Putin has allowed the U.S. State Department to overtake him in condemning the Volgograd attacks and sending condolences to the victims' families. Apart from the president's customary lack of empathy, this may hide a slow fuse burning. As soon as the mourning period for the victims ends, the hapless governor and the local security chiefs are likely to be replaced. Sochi will be turned into a veritable fortress. Otherwise, this is business as usual in Russia, where a terrorist underground continues to exist in the North Caucasus, despite the billions of dollars spent to eradicate it".
Leonid Bershidsky. "Why Is Putin Silent on Pre-Sochi Bombings?" Bloomberg. 30 December 2013, in
The essential idiocy of Putinism is perhaps best demonstrated by the goings on in Volgograd in the past few days. Notwithstanding, a terrorist outrage back in October of this year, the authorities appear to be completely clueless and at sea as it relates to stamping out the terrorist gang who is perpetrating this week-end's series of crimes in which complete innocents are being murdered. The fact that Putin himself offers no word of condolence and has said nothing about what has occurred is all of a piece. The fact that the Russian state has spent (allegedly) Two Billion dollars on 'security' prior to the games means one is tempted to say almost absolutely nothing. No doubt x percentage of said Two Billion dollars were pocketed by officials x,y and z and are being stashed away in Cypriot or Swiss banks. Equally typical is the fact that both in Dagestan and Volgograd are being run by recent appointees of Putin personally. And that both appointees are (it would again appear) running both locations into the ground. This is not to gainsay the fact that in this decadent day and age, any country which undertakes to sponsor the Olympic Games would have a difficult time of it. With that being said, the Pharaonic (if not Stalinist) aspect of the entire exercise is rather explicit in the Russian case. For a middle-income country like Russia, with almost severe infrastructural problems set to spend upwards of fifty-billion dollars, is pure almost pure insanity. With the only saving grace being that perhaps fifty percent if not more of the monies in question again being pocketed by corrupt officialdom 1. In short, expect a disaster of truly Russian proportions in the upcoming games in Sochi. Which of course is a tragedy for the poor people of Russia. May the good Lord indeed help them in this type of need.
1. Leader, "Counting the cost of sporting glory." The Financial Times. 30 December 2013, in

Thursday, December 26, 2013


"Vladimir Putin has left the world in no doubt how much he thirsts to return Russia to the global clout it enjoyed under the Soviet Union. This ambition is almost certainly unachievable. But that does not mean the Russian president can be underestimated. For he can look back on 2013 as a year when he has enjoyed clear success in reasserting Russian influence on the world stage. Mr Putin can point to three significant foreign policy achievements this year. First, there was his diplomatic coup in August following the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. Mr Putin proposed to the US that those weapons should be removed. This not only averted a US missile strike. It shored up Russia’s ally, Bashar al-Assad, who remains firmly in power while his country is increasingly mired in bloodshed. Then there was Mr Putin’s protection for Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor. Mr Snowden’s leaks of data showing how the US spies on its allies has severely damaged Washington’s relations with Europe. By harbouring him in Moscow, Mr Putin has prolonged the agony of US intelligence, which badly wants Mr Snowden handed to US justice. Finally, there has been this week’s deal between Russia and Ukraine. For years the EU has sought to bring Ukraine closer to the west by means of a partnership agreement. But in a bold move, Mr Putin has brought Kiev back into the Russian sphere of influence, providing it with $15bn in loans and a steep discount in natural gas prices. As they reflect on Mr Putin’s hardball diplomacy, western leaders might ask themselves some searching questions. The US and Russia are not descending into a rerun of the cold war. There are areas, such as Iran’s nuclear programme, where they continue to act in harmony. But Mr Putin has given the west a sharp reminder this year of how tough and unscrupulous he is prepared to be in the defence of what he perceives to be Russia’s interests. Moreover, his actions have underscored the price the Obama administration is paying for a foreign policy that looks uncertain and disengaged in its approach to the Middle East and Europe. Yet while they might heed these lessons, western leaders ought to keep a sense of perspective. Some will be tempted to overestimate Mr Putin’s diplomatic successes and assume they reflect fundamental strengths. They do not. In reality, Mr Putin’s Russia is a house built on sand. There are several reasons for stating this. First, there is the economy. Russia requires oil prices to remain high to maintain current levels of public spending. There is no guarantee this will be the case. With a projected economic growth rate of 2.5 per cent next year, Russia is still the odd man out among the Brics countries. This is not a rising power but one which, having picked itself up from the political and economic collapse of the Yeltsin era, struggles to maintain its rate of growth. Second, Russia is not a global player with a strategic vision that in any way rivals the US. Its influence is limited to a few areas of the globe. Russia has sway in parts of eastern Europe and the Middle East, but little in Africa, Latin America or Asia. Mr Putin’s Russia cannot remotely be regarded as a strategic competitor to the US. It is no more than a diplomatic spoiler on issues of its choosing. Finally, we must be clear about why Mr Putin was able to pull off his diplomatic coups this year. The Russian president did not outfox the west. Instead, it was the west which, by its own actions, allowed itself to be outfoxed. If Mr Obama had gone ahead with a missile strike on Syria, the Kremlin could not have stopped him. It was only Mr Obama’s decision to consult Congress on the matter that gave the Kremlin its opportunity.... The US and its allies should be wary of Mr Putin. His strength lies in his very good understanding of the limits of Russian power and of the tools that are available to him in order to defend it. But we should be in no doubt of his fundamental weakness either. The president of Russia is a man who is looking backwards not forwards".
Leader, "Putin is a spoiler, not a strategist." The Financial Times. 19 December 2013, in
"It is going to make the Russian people recognize that the only future for Russia is to become part of Europe, and the only way that Russia can ever become part of Europe is if it becomes a democracy."
Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski: Interview." The World Today. December 2013 / January 2014, p. 32.
On a surface level Grazhdanin Putin surely has the right to be named, if not perhaps 'man of the year', than certainly the 'statesman of the year'. Meaning that 2013, saw Putin, for better or for worse (to my mind the latter), pile up a series of diplomatic successes. Which while perhaps not meaningful in themselves (after all, Russian power is not fundamentally affected by what occurs in Syria), has had the added affect of re-legitimizing Putin both domestically and internationally. Something that the (so far) further successes of his Ukrainian policy and his recent release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has surely reinforced. But the gist of the Financial Times critique of Putin's policies are au fond certainly correct: Putin, notwithstanding his recent tactical successes, is far from being a strategist, and thus a real statesman `a la Graf Witte or Pyotr Stolypin, the two last great statesman of Tsarist Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. Insofar as one can make out, Putin tactical abilities consist of living hand to mouth. Any real attempts to restructure the Russian economy and the Russian state apparatus to make Russia into a genuine and formidable Great Power are conspicuous by its absences. As Roy Allison has amply shown in a fine article in the Royal Institute of International Affairs, house journal, International Affairs, primat der Innenpolitik is at the heart of most of Putin's foreign policy decision making both concerning the Syrian Crisis and in general 1. And of course the dead hand of 'Putinism', that mishmash of populist, authoritarianism, crony State capitalism and State Socialism, with huge amounts of capital flight and deferred investment continues to strangle Russia's chances to escape the vise that it is in. As the usually wrong Zbigniew Brzezinski for once aptly points out, sans Russia joining Europe, Russia will continue to occupy an increasingly negligible limbo-land between a menacing China and a mistrustful West. For it is the former, and not the Americans, nor the EU, nor the NGO's of the world which is the real threat to Russia's future 2. But that is something that Vladimir Putin refuses to contemplate. And therein lies his crowning default as both a statesman, politician and diplomat. Truly a 'strategist' he is not.
1. Roy Allison, "Russia and the Syrian Crisis." International Affairs. (July 2013), pp. 815-823.
2. On this theme, see the splendid article by Andrew Monaghan, "Putin's Russia: shaping a 'grand strategy'? International Affairs. (September 2013), pp. 1230-1236. For the essences of 'Putinism', see: Alena Ledeneva, "Cronies, economic crime and capitalism in Putin's sistema." International Affairs. (January 2012), pp. 149-157.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


"If the Geneva peace conference scheduled for January 22, 2014 features a credible proposal by the Syrian opposition for a transitional governmental alternative to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the conference itself can contribute to the end of corruptly brutal clan rule in Syria. If the opposition presents a national unity roster featuring prominent people—including Alawites—who have served honorably and competently as senior civilian officials and military officers, it might set in motion the rapid unraveling of a regime that has wrecked Syria and brought nothing but hardship, sorrow, and pain to all Syrians, including the community from which it springs. Currently, the Assad regime is riding Iranian-raised militias to a series of tactical victories north of Damascus. Syrian military forces loyal to the regime—predominantly Alawite in composition—have suffered heavy losses over the past two years. Some of these units are spent. Tehran needs the Assad-Makhlouf clan to sustain its Lebanon-based strategic deterrent against Israel (Hezbollah). Yet within the Alawite community there is anguished questioning about the sacrifice already rendered and suffering still required to sustain the clan and its employees. The absence of a credible, attractive alternative is all that binds this community (and some other minorities) to the regime. The Syrian opposition can, at Geneva, loosen those shackles. Will it do so? There is little ground for optimism. The Syrian National Coalition has roots in Syria that are shallow at best. Dubbed the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and designated as the leader and heart of the Syrian Geneva delegation by those calling themselves the Friends of the Syrian People, the Coalition never received the support it needed to establish a governmental alternative inside Syria. Sensitive to accusations that it is useless, dysfunctional, and disrespected by the West, the Coalition is understandably reluctant to go out on a limb with a transitional government roster that might anger activists inside Syria who have borne the brunt of regime atrocities. Like political parties everywhere, the Coalition must be attentive to its base. Sadly, and for reasons not entirely of its own making, the Syrian National Coalition has no base. Recent events have highlighted the extent to which respectable Syrian nationalists in the opposition have been sidelined, and the recent suspension of non-lethal assistance to the Free Syrian Army by the United States further attests to this reality. Fighters affiliated with the recently formed Islamic Front—a coalition of armed, non-al-Qaeda Syrian Islamist groups opposed to the Assad regime—recently seized some US-supplied, non-lethal materiel from the Free Syrian Army. Personnel of the Islamic Front can now dine on meals-ready-to-eat and communicate with one another using equipment paid for by US taxpayers. General Salim Idris, the very capable officer through whom the United States wanted all weaponry and equipment for the armed Syrian opposition funneled, has seen forces he had hoped to command migrate to Islamist formations whose sponsors and supporters deliver arms, ammunition, and money, as opposed to rations, medical kits, radios, and pickup trucks. The Coalition-affiliated Supreme Military Council and the disparate units of the Free Syrian Army loosely associated with it are now essentially out of business. This state of affairs means, in essence, that the Obama administration can be tempted now to abandon altogether its awkward pretense of supporting the Supreme Military Council. That support, such as it was, never amounted to anything important despite the good intentions of Secretary of State John Kerry and the hard work of some dedicated US operatives. Even if the administration were to decide now that the persistence of the Assad regime and the rise of Islamism in the armed opposition are developments that threaten regional stability and therefore US interests, it would be an operational challenge of the first order to resuscitate an entity gradually starved to death while on periodic, ineffective life support. The effort may well be worth making, if for no other reason than political Islamism of the variety transcending the Muslim Brotherhood has scant popular support in Syria. Yet things that should have been done in 2012 are now so much harder in 2013, much to the detriment of vulnerable populations in Syria."
Frederic C. Hof, "Syria: Geneva and the Alternative to the Assad Regime." The Atlantic Council. 11 December 2013, in
"Zahran calls for cleansing Damascus of all Shiites and Nusayris. (“Nusayris” is the old term that referred to the Alawites prior to the adoption of “Alawite.” It is considered a term of abuse by Alawites. “Nusayri” refers to the founder of the religion, Ibn Nusayr, and is used by rebels to underscore the assertion that the Alawite religion is man-made and not sent from heaven. For the same reason, Muslims object to the old Christian appellation, Muhammadans, because it suggests that Islam was founded by Muhammad and not God. Christians, of course, believe there is no problem being named after their founder, Christ – but, of course, Christ is considered to be God. Not so Muhammad or Ibn Nusayr by their followers.) Alloush calls for ridding Damascus and Greater Syria of the evil works and impure deeds of the Nusayris, using Qur’anic language throughout to underline their deviant ways. Such language makes Assad’s effort to demonize the revolutionaries and rebels easy. On hearing this sort of talk from the leaders of the revolution, Alawites and other non-Sunni sects worry that their struggle is a fight for their very existence. Unfortunately, the regime treats the opposition with the same sort of extreme language, calling them terrorists, takfiris, and al-Qaida who are not true Syrians. Bigotry and religious intolerance has become a hallmark of the Syrian struggle as both sides try to annul the humanity of the other and completely dismiss each other’s concerns as conspiracies derived from evil. Iranian Ayatollahs have recently issued fatwas of their own, legitimizing religious war in Syria. See: Prominent Shiite Cleric Backs Fighting in Syria about Iran-based Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, one of the mentors of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr."
Joshua Landis, "Zahran Alloush: His Ideology and Beliefs." Syria Comment. 15 December 2013, in
The analysis of Frederic Hof, is rather standard of the bien-pensant, neo-liberal, Anglo-American intelligentsia as per the Syria conundrum. The fact of the matter is that at this stage, there are per se for the Western Powers, no 'good' alternatives. Merely shades of 'bad' or 'worse' alternatives. Given what has gone on in Syria in the past three plus years, the early hopes of circa the late Spring of 2011, that an 'Arab Spring' uprising would sweep the regime from power and see a secular, semi-democratic and pluralist leaning, majority coalition in power is completely and absolutely gone. In retrospect of course it could be argued that the Western powers should have intervened and swept the Assad regime from power in say July 2011. But of course given the exhaustion of the Anglo-Americans in particular with the various conflicts in the Near and Middle East, such a scenario was and is possible to realistically contemplate occurring. The opposition to such a policy of force and 'regime-change' would have sank the politician who proposed it. Especially, since in order to occur, such intervention would have to have had a ground force aspect to it. Mere air power would not, repeat not have resulted in overthrowing the Assad Regime. Hence, the non-intervention policy of the West and in particular the Americans. And of course any such policy is still unpopular, and thus the still current non-intervention policy of the American President in particular. Given the impotence of the Western powers, the only thing to hope for at this point, notwithstanding its sordid aspects is for a victor, a quick, total victory by the regime. Certainly on the fact of it, the Assad regime is, brutal though it may be, a better alternative than the various Islamic Groupings who now form the core of the opposition. And as Joshua Landis analysis shows, such people are not very pretty to behold. To put it very mildly indeed. Ultimately, the regime of Assad Fils, is the only faite de mieux available in Syria at the moment.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Brzezinski on the situation in Ukraine: A comment

"Come what may, the events in Ukraine are historically irreversible and geopolitically transformatory. Sooner rather than later, Ukraine will be truly a part of democratic Europe; later rather than sooner, Russia will follow unless it isolates itself and becomes a semi-stagnant imperialistic relic. The spontaneous outburst of distinctive Ukrainian patriotism – sparked by the mendacity of a corrupt and self-enriching leadership ready to seek Moscow’s protection – signals that commitment to national independence is becoming the dominant political reality. This is especially the case among the younger Ukrainians who no longer feel that they are linguistically or historically just a slightly deviant part of “Mother Russia”. Yes, linguistic divisions persist and some parts of Ukraine still feel closer to Russia. But it is striking that even some of the most outspoken espousers of a European vocation have only recently embraced the Ukrainian language as their own. Two decades of independence, of growing pride in rediscovering Ukrainian history, and of observing the country’s western neighbours economically benefiting from their European connections is creating a new mindset. That mindset is not embracing anti-Russianism but it is asserting Ukraine’s own historic identity as culturally an authentic part of a larger Europe. That is why, one way or another, Ukraine will unavoidably come closer to Europe. It is striking that even in neighbouring Belarus, ruled by the authoritarian Lukashenko regime, a similar western orientation is beginning to surface. Neither country is motivated by hostility towards Russia, but each senses that its independence as well as its cultural identity points increasingly in a westward direction.... The impact of this on Russia will be felt over the longer run. Moscow’s current geopolitical goal, shaped by President Vladimir Putin’s nostalgic obsession with the country’s imperial past, is to recreate in a new guise something akin to the old Russian empire or the more recent Soviet “union”.... It is only a question of time before it becomes evident to Russia’s social elites that Mr Putin’s heavy-handed efforts have very limited prospects of success. Sooner or later, he will no longer be president. And not long thereafter Russia – and especially its emerging new middle class – will conclude that the only path that makes sense is to become also a truly modern, democratic, and maybe even a leading European state."
Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Russia, like Ukraine, will become a real democracy." The Financial Times. 11 December 2013, in
For once, former American National Security Advisor and academic, Zbigniew Brzezinski, is on the mark in the above referenced comments on what is occurring in Ukraine at the moment. Indubitably, the Yanukovych regime is one the way out. As the recent pour parlers between the regime and the opposition clearly shows. Of course, Yanukovych will endeavor to the utmost, to not comply with the oppositions demands and to merely straddle the situation. AKA, engage in what one may describe as 'salami tactics'. However, given the fact that Ukraine's economic situation requires immediate repair, the ongoing demonstrations in the Kiev and elsewhere in the country cannot be long prolonged 1. In that respect, and perhaps in that respect only, the situation resembles Russia in the autumn of 1905, where the situation appeared to 'snowball' and become worse and worse until the Tsar Nicholas II, promised the necessary reforms to appease civil society. The key difference herein is that 'the necessary reforms' to appease Ukrainian civil society include Yanukovych being ousted from the Presidency. As it is quite clear that sans this step, Yanukovych will, regardless of any agreements reached with the opposition, attempt to engage in a new round of salami tactics. As per the impact of the events in Kiev on Russia, Brzezinksi is also correct: in the longue durée, Russian elites will see for themselves that Putinism is not only not, the best means of running the country, but is in fact, quite the opposite. It is in fact running the country into the ground as Putin's own comments yesterday indirectly indicated 2. The only question is whether President Putin chooses to relinquish power at a time of his own choosing in 2017, of if he will be ousted in a fashion similar (`a la les évènements) to what is taking place in Kiev at the moment. Time will only tell.
1. See for this: Neil Buckley, "Crunch time for Ukraine on its commercial future." The Financial Times. 13 December 2013, in
2. See: Kathrin Hille, "Putin criticizes capital outflow." The Financial Times. 13 December 2013, in See also: Judy Dempsey, "Is Putin Russia's Ruin?" Carnegie Europe: the Global Think Tank. 11 December 2013, in

Thursday, December 12, 2013


"Now that he’s dead, and can cause no more trouble, Nelson Mandela is being mourned across the ideological spectrum as a saint. But not long ago, in Washington’s highest circles, he was considered an enemy of the United States. Unless we remember why, we won’t truly honor his legacy. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan placed Mandela’s African National Congress on America’s official list of “terrorist” groups. In 1985, then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a resolution urging that he be released from jail. In 2004, after Mandela criticized the Iraq War, an article in National Review said his “vicious anti-Americanism and support for Saddam Hussein should come as no surprise, given his longstanding dedication to communism and praise for terrorists.” As late as 2008, the ANC remained on America’s terrorism watch list, thus requiring the 89-year-old Mandela to receive a special waiver from the secretary of State to visit the U.S. From their perspective, Mandela’s critics were right to distrust him. They called him a “terrorist” because he had waged armed resistance to apartheid. They called him a “communist” because the Soviet Union was the ANC’s chief external benefactor and the South African Communist Party was among its closest domestic allies. More fundamentally, what Mandela’s American detractors understood is that he considered himself an opponent, not an ally, of American power. And that’s exactly what Mandela’s American admirers must remember now.... They were right. When it came to other countries, Mandela’s leftist ties did sometimes blind him to communism’s crimes. In 1991, for instance, he called Fidel Castro “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.” But at home, where it mattered most, the ANC was a genuine, multiracial movement for democracy. And so the Americans who best championed South African freedom were the ones who didn’t view freedom as synonymous with the geopolitical interests of the United States".
Peter Beinart, "Don’t Sanitize Nelson Mandela: He’s Honored Now, But Was Hated Then." The Daily Beast. 5 December 2013, in
"He is a cannibal".
Unnamed New York based, Russian-language émigré, circa 1990's.
"Like many other anti-Communists and Cold Warriors, I feared that releasing Nelson Mandela from jail, especially amid the collapse of South Africa’s apartheid government, would create a Cuba on the Cape of Good Hope at best and an African Cambodia at worst.... Far, far, far from any of that, Nelson Mandela turned out to be one of the 20th Century’s great moral leaders, right up there with Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also was a statesman of considerable weight. If not as significant on the global stage as FDR, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan, he approaches Margaret Thatcher as a national leader with major international reach. Mandela invited the warden of Robben Island prison to his inauguration as president of South Africa. He sat him front and center. While most people would be tempted to lock up their jailers if they had the chance, Mandela essentially forgave him while the whole world and his own people, white and black, were watching. This quietly sent South Africa’s white population a message: Calm down. This will be okay. It also signaled black South Africans: Now is no time for vengeance. Let’s show our former oppressors that we are greater than that and bigger people than they were to us. As Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon beautifully dramatize in the excellent film Invictus, Mandela resisted the ANC’s efforts to strip the national rugby team of its long-standing name, the Springboks. Seen as a symbol of apartheid, Mandela’s black colleagues were eager to give the team a new, less “white” identity. Mandela argued that white South Africans, stripped of political leadership and now quite clearly in the minority, should not be deprived of the one small point of pride behind which they could shield their anxieties."
Deroy Murdock, "Nelson Mandela, R.I.P." The National Review. 5 December 2013, in
Reflecting upon the demise of the late Mr. Mandela, one is put to mind George Orwell's famous dictum that: "Saints should be always judged guilty until they are proven innocent" 1. A point of view which the Vatican (until very recently) also followed in its evaluation of those to be considered for Sainthood. With that being said, I must admit that au fond, back in the 1980's and early 1990's, my own opinion of Mr. Mandela was somewhat akin to that voiced by Mr. Murdock and for that matter my Russian-speaking acquaintance. That Mandela, notwithstanding the partial justice of his cause, insofar as he was de facto allied with Sovietskaya Vlast, its satellite states [Cuba, et cetera], and its local handmaiden (the South African Communist Party), was an enemy of the West and should be treated as such. The fact that the organization that Mandela headed while in prison (the ANC) was also responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians, albeit in not very large numbers, also did nothing to endear either him or his cause to me or people of my ilk. And, in fact, notwithstanding anything else that one may say of him: the fact that Mandela was willing to endorse while in prison, terrorist acts, removes him to my mind from any consideration of sainthood of the secular or any other quality. There is nothing to my mind, which can mitigate the fact that innocent people were killed for purposes of advancing political goals. Which in turn does not mean that the White South African regime was in any way justified in its policies. While one may agree with the late, great George Frost Kennan, that separate development, AKA segregation has much to be said for it, the fact remains that as implemented under apartheid, any legitimacy for such a policy was rendered nil and void 2. Indeed, it would be true to say that apartheid rendered illegitimate any idea or concept of segregation pur et simple.
Accordingly, when Mandela was finally released in 1990 and it came time to negotiate with White South Africa, it is perhaps not surprising that Mandela's own moderation and fairness soon allowed for and indeed encouraged and made possible a peaceful end of the Apartheid regime. With in retrospect it difficult to imagine that such a peaceful transfer of power would be possible otherwise. In that respect and in the fact that he was quite willing, if not indeed happy to retire after only four years in power. Mandela proved himself to be a very unique statesman indeed. And while not quite as influential internationally as Mr. Murdock mistakenly would make him appear, as a recent article in the Financial Times clearly demonstrates 3. That however cannot gainsay the fact, that to quote George Orwell once again, Mandela:
"regarded simply as a politician and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he managed to leave behind 4!"
1. George Orwell, "Reflections on Gandhi." in Completed Essays, Journalism and Letters, Volume IV. Edited. Ian Angus & Sonia Brownell. (1968), p. 463.
2. On this see: John Lewis Gaddis, George Frost Kennan: An American Life. p. 603, where the author speaks of 'Kennan's sympathy for Apartheid'. See also Kennan's own words on the subject in: Around the Cragged Hill: A personal and political philosophy. (1993), pp. 126-130.
3. For the article in the Financial Times, see: William Wallis, "Madiba [Mandela]'s magic had its limits but he set Africa an example". The Financial Times. 11 December 2013, in
4. Orwell, op. cit., 470.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


"As we also know from the onset of the first world war, seemingly minor events can quickly escalate to catastrophic proportions. Europe never recovered from the disasters of that war, and the even worse one it spawned 25 years later. Today, with China under the leadership of Xi Jinping, an assertive nationalist, Japan under the leadership of Shinzo Abe, a no less assertive nationalist, and the US committed by treaty to defending Japan against attack, the risk of a ruinous conflict again exists. Such an event is far from inevitable. It is not even likely. But it is not impossible and it is more likely than it was a month ago. Again, there are parallels with the rise of Germany. In the early 20th century, that nation launched a naval arms race with the UK. In 1911, Germany sent a gunboat to Morocco in response to French intervention in that country. The aim was, in part, to test relations between France and the UK. In the event, it cemented that alliance, just as China’s action is likely to cement the alliances between Japan and South Korea, on the one hand, and the US on the other. And, as was the case for the UK then, the US of today is increasingly troubled by the challenge presented by China’s desire to assert its rising regional power."
Martin Wolf, "China must not copy the Kaiser’s errors." The Financial Times. December 3, 2013, in
"Martin Wolf is only partially correct in citing the historical parallel to Imperial Germany’s foreign policy (“China must not copy the Kaiser’s errors”, December 4). Specifically, while Mr Wolf is correct that one of the motivations for German behaviour in the second Moroccan crisis of 1911 was (as he puts it) to “test relations between France and the UK”, there was also a domestic political angle as well. In a nutshell, like contemporary China, Kaiserreich Germany was an authoritarian regime that endeavoured to maintain popular support by having a robust and at times aggressive foreign policy (what was known at the time as Weltpolitik). It is precisely this aspect of internal Chinese decision-making, the need to project to its own population a particularly aggressive foreign policy, in order to shore up its political legitimacy, that makes Mr Wolf’s pleas for rational decision-making from the Chinese leadership so utopian. From the perspective of China’s rulers, even the dangerous consequences of their current foreign policy pales when the threat of any undermining of their ruling position vis a vis their own population comes into play".
Charles Coutinho, "Letters: Domestic fears kill Chinese rationality." The Financial Times. 5 December 2013, in
For quite awhile now, going back at least half a dozen years or so if not more, the German Kaiserreich has been seen as the historical precursor to the present-day Peoples Republic 1. Particularly (pace Martin Wolf) its foreign policy. However, to my mind, it is the internal, aspect of present-day PRC domestic political structure which is the most acutely similar to Imperial Germany (pace my own response to Martin Wolf's piece in yesterday's Financial Times). Specifically, it is self-evident to my mind, that just as the policies of Weltpolitik and the Naval Laws of 1898 and 1900, were the fruit of a political leadership aiming to shore up its domestic political legitimacy by engaging in what one may post-facto label a forceful, if not (at times) aggressive foreign policy; similarly, a strong current of Peking's policies vis-`a-vis its neighbors is au fond a result of precisely the very same variable. What the Weimar-period, iconoclastic historian, Ekart Kehr, labeled (per contra to the formulations of the founder of modern, scientific history, Leopold von Ranke) 'primat der Innenpolitik'. And, it was indeed the domestic influences on Kaiserreich foreign policy (specifically the domestic political imperatives behind the build-up of the German Navy from 1897 onwards), that formed the basis of Kehr's thesis 2. In the case of the Peoples Republic, it is self-evident that fostering on a national scale, public support for an aggressive foreign policy in general, and one vis-`a-vis Japan in particular is purely a means of enabling the corrupt and self-selecting ruling clique who runs the country to pass off as 'patriotic' leaders. With the allegedly popular anti-Japanese feelings being strongly aided, if not indeed invented by government policies. Particularly in the educational institutions up and down the age ladder. Not to speak of course of the state controlled media. In short, to expect of itself, that the rulers of China will listen to the voice of sweet reason as it relates to the PRC's disputes with Japan and its other neighbors (`a la Martin Wolf) is (to quote Neville Chamberlain) 'the very mid-summer of madness'. I am afraid indeed that the only logic that they will take cognizance of is the logic of brute force. Id. est., a firm policy of diplomatic and indeed military containment by the Western powers and its local allies such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Anything else will merely result in a policy of appeasement pur et simple.
1. For my own citing of this parallel, back in 2010, see: Charles Coutinho, "China no clone of Bismarck’s Reich." The Financial Times. 23 April 2010,
2. See in particular: Battleship Building and party politics in Germany, 1894-1901: A cross-section of the political, social and ideological preconditions of German imperialism. (1973). See also for a recent discussion of the concept among contemporary diplomatic historians: Leslie Rogne Schumacher, "Primat der Innenpolitik: Promoting “New” Diplomatic History." British Scholar Society. 30 June 2012, in

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


"Joe Biden, the US vice-president, on Tuesday sharply criticised China’s declaration of a new air defence zone over the East China Sea, but stopped short of joining Japanese leaders in demanding that the zone be scrapped. In Tokyo at the start of an Asian tour that will take him to Beijing on Wednesday, Mr Biden sought to reassure Japan, the US’s most important military ally in Asia, that it would defend the country against any overt aggression from an increasingly assertive China. But even as he reiterated that the US was “deeply concerned” that China’s declaration of a wide air defence identification zone in November risked “accidents and miscalculations”, he did not demand that the perimeter be formally withdrawn – something Japan has said it wants but to which analysts say Beijing is extremely unlikely to agree. “I told the prime minister that we will remain steadfast in our alliance commitments,” Mr Biden told a joint news conference after a meeting with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister. He also urged Japan and China to improve communication and crisis management procedures to avoid any escalation of military tensions".
Jonathan Soble, Demetri Sevastopulo and Geoff Dyer, "Biden fails to back Japan on call to scrap China's new air defence zone." The Financial Times. 4 December 2013, in [Nota bene: the online edition has a revised headline].
"Much of the coverage of China’s November 23 announcement of a new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over waters claimed by Japan and South Korea has focused on the reactive and blundering nature of Chinese diplomacy. China’s sudden insistence on its right to take defensive action against foreign aircraft in this zone, the argument goes, was either an attempt to play to domestic nationalism or else to respond to Japan’s own increasing assertiveness in the region. Either way, the coverage concludes, China underestimated how quickly and vigorously other countries in the region would respond, including with flights directly into that airspace. The implication of this analysis, which may be tempting to the overstretched Obama administration, is that Beijing made a hasty move that the region will now correct with a little help from Washington. Unfortunately for the administration, however, this was not just an ill-conceived slap by Beijing against a testy Japan. The reality is that the new ADIZ is part of a longer-term attempt by Beijing to chip away at the regional status quo and assert greater control over the East and South China Seas."
Michael J. Green, "Safeguarding the Seas: How to Defend Against China's New Air Defense Zone." Foreign Affairs. 2 December 2013, in
"Promise was that I Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver; Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves."
John Milton. Samson Agonistes (1671).
There are few choice mots which one may employ in describing American Vice-President Biden's performance in the Far East so far this week. Maladroit and wrongheaded seem to me to be at the head of the list. As the Michael Green correctly notes, Peking's aim in its dispute with Japan over the Senkuku Islands is to change the status quo ante. Pur et simple there are no other words to describe what Peking's aims are in this matter. And to reiterate what I have already stated on a number of occasions in this journal, the only realpolitik and indeed machtpolitik policy by the Western Powers is to indicate both directly and indirectly that any endeavor by Peking to change the territorial status quo ante will be resisted, by if need be the ultima ratio: force. It is that, and not disgustingly servile and craven appeasement policies `a la British Prime Minister, David Cameron which are now truly needed in this affair 1.
1. Jonathan Mirsky, "David Cameron’s craven surrender to China follows a pattern." The Spectator. 3 December 2013, in See also in particular, a very harsh and indeed needed attack by the usually bien pensant, Phillip Stephens, in the Financial Times: "A painful lesson in how not to deal with China." The Financial Times. 5 December 2013, in

Monday, December 02, 2013


"An estimated 350,000 people from all over Ukraine had come to Kiev for what was supposed to be a peaceful opposition rally calling on President Yanukovych’s government to stand down and for new elections to be held. Dozens were injured when riot police used tear gas and truncheons to repel several hundred protesters who tried to storm the presidential administration building with a bulldozer. Tensions had been building in the capital all week following his refusal to sign a free trade and political integration agreement with the EU. The Association Agreement would have seen Ukraine take a historic step closer to the West and away from Russia. It was due to be signed at a crucial summit in Vilnius on Friday, but the Ukraine backed out at the last minute after what EU leaders described as “Russian pressure”.... Authorities had already cleared peaceful pro-European protesters from Kiev’s central Independence Square, also known as Maidan, in the early hours of Saturday morning. Riot police sealed off Maidan with metal barricades, but hastily abandoned them on Sunday in the face of overwhelming odds. As protesters reclaimed the square, others stormed the mayor’s office. Chants of “revolution” resounded across a sea of yellow and blue Ukrainian and EU flags on the square. The crowd was by far the largest since the protests began more than a week ago. Many of the demonstrators had travelled to Kiev from western Ukraine, where pro-EU sentiment is particularly strong. Speaking at the demonstration from the roof of a bus, opposition leaders called for a nationwide strike to begin today in a bid to advance a “peaceful revolution”. “Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration, it’s not a reaction. It’s a revolution,” said Yuri Lutsenko, one of the leaders of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, former Minister of Internal Affairs and political prisoner".
Maxim Tucker, "Ukraine pro-EU protests: ‘It’s not a rally, it’s a revolution'". The Independent. 1st December 2013, in
"The official name for this people [Ukrainians] both in Hungary and in Galicia was 'Ruthene', but Ruthene is only dog Latin for 'Rusin'. A later attempt to differentiate them from Russia led to the invention of a 'Ukrainian' nationality: but the Ukraine is merely Russian for the frontier---equivalent to the Welsh and Border Marches---and Ukrainian means the people of the frontier. The Russians use the term Great Russians for the inhabitants of central Russia, and Little Russians for the men of the frontier; both are Russians."
Alan John Percivale Taylor. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1815-1918. (1942), p. 158.
"If the ruling class has lost its consensus, i.e., is no longer 'leading' but only 'dominant', exercising coercive force alone, this means that the great masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies, and no longer believe what they used to believe previously, etc. The crisis consists of precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."
Antonio Gramsci. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Edited & translated by Quintin Hoare & Geoffrey Nowell Smith. (1971), pp. 275-276.
The demonstrations and related activity, first in Lviv and then in Kiev, are manifestations of the fact that Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s regime is crumbling. And his own personal political project: to create a Ukrainian version of Putinism has singularly failed. The fact that over three-hundred thousand people were able to show-up for demonstrations in Kiev from all over the country shows this quite clearly. Since the ne plus ultra character of Putinism is the fact that the population is supposed to be almost completely apolitical and politically inactive. Mass demonstrations apropos of government decisions only recently made are the very negation of Putinism. Which is not the gainsay the fact that Yanukovych may luck out temporarily and not be toppled to-morrow. Regardless the fact is that his time in power is numbered. Indeed, it could very well be the case that if he does indeed proceed on his trip to Peking, he might not be able to return to Kiev. The other result of the recent events in Ukraine is that they threatened to become the ultimate cauchemar of Grazhdanin Putin. Even worse from Putin's perspective than the fact that Ukraine might finally become a fully sovereign and independent state by joining the European Union's Partnership programme, is the example supplied to all and sundry in Matushka Russia, by the events in Kiev. As the Financial Times diplomatic correspondent cogently notes:
"The demonstrations in Ukraine are both a humiliation and a threat to Mr. Putin. While the Russian president may laud the deep cultural and historical ties between Ukraine and Russia, he is discovering that tens of thousands of Ukrainians would prefer to brave freezing temperatures and flying truncheons rather than be drawn closer into the Russian sphere of influence. What is more, if a popular uprising can once again threaten to topple a corrupt and intermittently despotic government in Ukraine, then the potential lesson for Russia is clear. After all, it is less than two years ago that demonstrators filled the streets of Moscow to protest against the Putin restoration and to label his United Russia party as the 'party of crooks and thieves' " 1.
In retrospect, it does indeed appear as Yevgeny Kiselyov notes in to-day's Moscow Times, that Putin's initial victory in forcing Yanukovych to forgo the European Union tie-up, is becoming: "more ­Pyrrhic with each passing day" 2. And we all know what ultimately became of Pyrrhus...
1. Gideon Rachman, "How Putin miscalculated in the struggle for Ukraine." The Financial Times. 2 December 2013, in
2. Yevgeny Kiselyov, "Putin's Pyrrhic Victory in Ukraine." The Moscow Times. 2 December 2013, in