Tuesday, April 26, 2016


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

Friday, April 22, 2016


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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


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