Archive for the ‘International’ Category

War and peace: Links & comments 2/27/15

February 27, 2015

In Midst of War, Ukraine Becomes Gateway for Jihad by Marcin Mamon for The Intercept.

Failed states, where governmental authority has collapsed, are ideal venues for warlords, organized crime and terrorists.  Ukraine fits the profile.

Ready for Nuclear War Over Ukraine? by Robert Parry for Information Clearing House.  (Hat tip to Corrente)

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister said Kiev is preparing for “full-scale war” against Russia, and is unafraid of nuclear weapons.

The Cold War and Ukraine by William K. Polk for Counterpunch.

Russia sees NATO forces in Ukraine today as the United States saw Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962 .

Germany’s army is so under-equipped that it used broomsticks instead of machine guns by Rich Noack for the Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Marginal Revolution)

What Is Russia’s Answer to Greece’s Plan B – Smile, Blow the Whistle, Pass the Red Card by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.

In short, Russia does not intend to bail out Greece.

 

What if Vladimir Putin was a nice guy?

February 26, 2015

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”
        ==Bertrand Russell

Keith Gessen, an analyst of Russian politics, says Vladimir Putin is definitely not a nice guy.  He also says that, even if he were, his goals and policies wouldn’t be that much different from what they are.

Russia will, one hopes, eventually change its leadership, but it is not going to be able to change its geographic location, or its historic associations, or its longstanding wish to keep the West—which hasn’t always crossed the border bearing flowers—at bay.  And that holds many lessons for the future.

Let me be clear: The actual Putin is not at all nice.  To take just a few examples:

140801173429-exp-gps-0803-take-00030629-horizontal-gallery1) between 1999 and 2002 he prosecuted a vicious war in Chechnya, complete with rape, torture, filtration camps and mass graves;

2) in 2003, he jailed his leading rival, the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and, when the initial sentence was almost up, extended it;

3) in 2000-01, shortly after assuming the presidency, he oversaw a government takeover of the country’s main independent television channels, chasing their owners into exile;

4) over time he has enriched his friends to an astonishing degree, such that many of the leading billionaires in Russia owe their riches directly to their proximity to Putin;

5) it is becoming increasingly the consensus view that the September 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk [attributed to Chechen terrorists] were the work of the secret services, and it is hard to imagine that Putin, as the prime minister of Russia and, until just a month before, the head of the FSB, would not have known about them;

6) in his third term he has unleashed the worst aspects of Russian street politics, mobilizing anti-Western, anti-gay and anti-liberal resentment to shore up his domestic popularity; and

7) in 2004, supposedly as an anti-terror measure after the terrible seizure of a school in Beslan by Chechen fighters, he canceled elections for regional governors, replacing them with appointees.

via Keith Gessen – POLITICO magazine.

His indictment could also have included the murder of journalists, such as Anna Politkovskaya.

But, as Gessen pointed out, any Russian leader—and certainly any of Putin’s rivals—would have been a Russian nationalist who would have tried to restore Russia to the status of a superpower, who would have cracked down on internal opposition and who, given the experience of Russia and the USSR in the 20th century, would have resisted the expansion of Western military power to Russia’s borders.

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The ebb and flow of Russia in Europe

February 26, 2015
Russia in Europe 1914

Russia in Europe 1914

Since 1848, the United States has been secure within its present continental boundaries.  That’s not been true of all nations, and particularly not true of Russia and its European neighbors.  I’ve collected a series of maps from Google Image showing the ebb and flow of Russian power in Europe.

What they show is why, on the one hand, Russia’s neighboring countries would feel in need of protection and why, on the other hand, Russia would fear any hostile military power along its border, especially in Ukraine.

The Baltic states, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine did not exist as independent countries a century ago.  People who lived in these regions during the 20th century would have lived under several different governments, including some of the bloodiest regimes in history, without having moved from the place they were born.

1wk_brest_litowsk_vertrag_karte

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Vladimir Putin’s Russia, an empire in decline

February 18, 2015

In contemporary Russia … … the stage is constantly changing: the country is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away.

==Peter Pomerantsev.

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.

==Winston Churchill.

I write a lot about foreign affairs even though I have not traveled outside the USA (except to Canada) and I don’t speak, read or write any language except English.

putin.as.czarMy tools for understanding are to learn the basics by reading books and magazine articles, and then to try to imagine what I would do in the place of the citizen or leader of a foreign country.

My method obviously doesn’t yield profound insights, yet it is more than some of our leaders and analysts seem to be able to do.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about Vladimir Putin and Russia, which is my way of trying to clarify what I think.  I don’t admire Putin’s method of governing or his ideology, but I have a grudging respect for him as a Machiavellian statesman and patriot.

The other day I commented on an interesting post on the Vineyard of the Saker blog about how Russians are rallying behind Putin in the face of American and European economic warfare.

Today I read an interesting article by Stephen Kotkin in Foreign Affairs which gave a counterbalancing point of view—Putin as a weak despot only tenuously in control of a ramshackle.

The methods Putin used to fix the corrupt, dysfunctional post-Soviet state have produced yet another corrupt, dysfunctional state. 

Putin himself complains publicly that only about 20 percent of his decisions get implemented, with the rest being ignored or circumvented unless he intervenes forcefully with the interest groups and functionaries concerned. 

But he cannot intervene directly with every boss, governor, and official in the country on every issue.  Many underlings invoke Putin’s name and do what they want. 

Personal systems of rule convey immense power on the ruler in select strategic areas—the secret police, control of cash flow—but they are ultimately ineffective and self-defeating.

This description reminds me of the China of Chiang Kai-shek or the 19th century Ottoman Empire.  Kotkin thinks that dysfunctional despotism is rooted in Russian culture and history.

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The Russian response to Western sanctions

February 17, 2015

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The Vineyard of the Saker is a pro-Russian, pro-Putin web log written and edited by a descendent of a Russian emigre family living in the United States.  This is the Saker’s perception of Russian public opinion, based on watching Russian broadcasts and reading Russian publications on the Internet.

  • First, nobody in Russia believes that the sanctions will be lifted.  Nobody.  Of course, all the Russian politicians say that sanctions are wrong and not conducive to progress, but these are statements for external consumption.  In interviews for the Russian media or on talk shows, there is a consensus that sanctions will never be lifted no matter what Russia does.
  • Second, nobody in Russia believes that sanctions are a reaction to Crimea or to the Russian involvement in the Donbass.  Nobody.  There is a consensus that the Russian policy towards Crimea and the Donbass are not a cause, but a pretext for the sanctions.  The real cause of the sanctions is unanimously identified as what the Russians called the “process of sovereignization”, i.e. the fact that Russia is back, powerful and rich, and that she dares openly defy and disobey the “Axis of Kindness”.
  • Third, there is a consensus in Russia that the correct response to the sanctions is double: (a) an external realignment of the Russian economy away from the West and (b) internal reforms which will make Russia less dependent on oil exports and on the imports of various goods and technologies.
  • Fourth, nobody blames Putin for the sanctions or for the resulting hardships. Everybody fully understands that Putin is hated by the West not for doing something wrong, but for doing something right.  In fact, Putin’s popularity is still at an all-time high.
  • Fifth, there is a wide agreement that the current Russian vulnerability is the result of past structural mistakes which now must be corrected, but nobody suggests that the return of Crimea to Russia or the Russian support for Novorussia were wrong or wrongly executed.
  • Finally, I would note that while Russia is ready for war, there is no bellicose mood at all.  Most Russians believe that the US/NATO/EU don’t have what it takes to directly attack Russia, they believe that the junta in Kiev is doomed and they believe that sending the Russian tanks to Kiev (or even Novorussia) would have been a mistake.

The Saker’s conclusion:

Western sanctions have exactly zero chance of achieving any change at all in Russian foreign policy and exactly zero chance of weakening the current regime.  In fact, if anything, these sanctions strengthen the Eurasian Sovereignists by allowing them to blame all the pain of economic reforms on the sanctions and they weaken the Atlantic Integrationists by making any overt support for, or association with, the West a huge political liability.

via The Vineyard of the Saker.

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Putin couldn’t be a Hitler if he tried

February 16, 2015

In 1938, a ruthless autocrat named Adolf Hitler claimed to be protector of the Sudetenland, a border region of Czechoslovakia, in order to protect ethnic Germans who lived there.

In 2015, a ruthless autocrat named Vladimir Putin claims to be protector of the eastern border region of Ukraine in order to protect the ethnic Russians there.

putin.as.czarIs Putin another Hitler?  Would his next step be to conquer all Ukraine, as Hitler conquered all Czechoslovakia?  Would Poland be next, as it was for Hitler?

I don’t believe these are Putin’s intentions.  Everything he has done so far is consistent with his stated goal, which is for the world’s great powers to accept Russia as a peer and to take Russia’s vital interests into account.

But, for the sake of argument, suppose Putin’s aim is to reconquer eastern Europe or even all of Europe.  How could he carry it out?

The old Soviet Union was unable to pacify Afghanistan, and had to retreat in ignominious defeat.  Putin’s Russian Federation was barely able to crush the rebellion in tiny Chechnya.  How could he hope to conquer a nation as large as Ukraine?

Germany in Hitler’s time had world-class science, technology and industrial power, an efficient government and possibly the best army, man-for-man, in the world.

The Russian Federation is ruled by a corrupt oligarchy.  It lacks high-technology industry.  Its economy is based on exports of natural resources, like Venezuela’s or Iran’s.  The military potential of Putin’s Russia is not comparable to Hitler’s Germany

Russians would no doubt fight valiantly to protect their homeland, if invaded, as they always have.  They have succeeded in protecting their compatriots in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, where most of the local people welcome them.   The Russian army could probably occupy Kiev as quickly as the U.S. army occupied Baghdad.

But then what?  The USA was able to quickly occupy Baghdad in 2003, but then became bogged down in a quagmire more.   A Russian conquest of Ukraine would be an even bigger quagmire.   The result would be a devastated Ukraine and a Russia that had been bled dry.

The Russian Federation has the power to destroy the USA with nuclear weapons, just as our government has the power to destroy them.  What neither country has the power to do is to defeat a determined insurgent force being armed by the other side.

Vladimir Putin is too intelligent and realistic to put Russia into such a situation situation.  I think that what he wants is a neutral and, if necessary, a neutralized Ukraine—to have enough of a foothold in that country, as in Georgia and Moldova, to prevent that country from allying itself to a hostile foreign power.

If that is his desire, I think it is completely reasonable—certainly not something for the USA to risk nuclear war over.

LINKS

What does Russia want? by James Meek for the London Review of Books.

Russian science is amazing.  So why hasn’t it taken over the world?, an interview of MIT’s Loren Graham for the Boston Globe.

Has the IMF Annexed Ukraine?, an interview of Michael Hudon for the Real News Network.  Ukraine faces other worse threats than Putin.

Don’t Arm Ukraine by John J. Mearsheimer for The New York Times.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey).

Squeezing Greece won’t help German people

February 14, 2015

The Greek debt crisis is not a conflict between Germany and Greece.   It is the European Union acting as a debt collection agency for central bankers.

German working people get no benefit from the demand that the government of Greece impoverish the people of Greece so as to pay interest to the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Cartoon by David Simonds. Angela Merkel's hard line on debt threatens the euro project.They in fact will suffer in the long run, because the more wages and living conditions are driven down in other countries, the harder it will be to maintain them in Germany.

Some five years ago, I wrote a post about how Germany was a good role model for the USA, because its leaders were committed to industrial productivity and a high-wage economy.   Unfortunately, the German leaders instead have taken the USA as a role model, and followed our downward path of financialization.

I believe that people who borrow money have a moral obligation to pay it back—if they can.  I believe that there are other moral obligations that take precedence, such as the welfare of those who depend on you.  That’s why the United States and other nations substituted bankruptcy laws for debtors’ prisons.

The Greek debt problem would have solved itself if Greece had its own currency instead of the Euro.  As Greece’s balance of trade worsened, its currency would be devalued and its products and services (including the tourist industry) would become cheaper in terms of dollars and euros.

The great fear of the “troika”–the ECB, IMP and the leaders of the European Union–is that Greece will stop using the euro, and that some of the other 17 countries that use the euro will follow suit.  That might be a problem for bond-holders.  I don’t see it as a problem for ordinary people in Germany, the USA or any other country.

LINKS 

It’s the class conflict, stupid! by David Ruccio on occasional links and commentary.

Europe: Shaking the Temple by Conn Hallinan for Dispatches from the Edge.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

From Minsk to Brussels, it’s all about Germany by Pepe Escobar for RT Op-Edge.

 

Radical democracy in besieged Kurdish enclaves

January 17, 2015

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The Kurdish Freedom Movement, based on three towns in northern Syria fighting for survival against the totalitarian ISIS, has created a radically democratic society based on feminism, environmentalism and community democracy.

Malcolm Harris, writing for Talking Points Memo, described what seems like an anarchist utopia which is, at the same time, an effective self-defense force.

Neighborhoods have peace committees to resolve disputes without the threat of jail.  Women’s councils enforce ostracism for spousal abuse.  A children’s council designed a playground in one community.

These three communities, which comprise 4 million people, half of them refugees from the Syrian civil war or the ISIS occupation, follow the philosophy of  “non-state political administration” or “democracy without a state” promulgated by Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdish leader now serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison.

The KFM rejects capitalism, top-down government and male supremacy.  Decision-making is pushed down to existing community organizations.  Reportedly this is highly efficient, because it does away with the need for bureaucracy.

The Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan are admirable in that they are democratic and they give refuge to people of different religions and ethnicities fleeing ISIS perscution.  The KFM in Syria goes further, in rejecting ethnic nationalism altogether and demanding only self-government.

I have long disagreed with friends who say that there is something about the Muslim religion or Middle Eastern culture that is inherently incompatible with freedom and democracy.

Abdullah Ocalan is a leader and thinker who not only believes in freedom and democracy, but could give us Americans lessons in how to practice it.

∞∞∞

The Small Miracle You Haven’t Heard About Amid the Carnage in Syria by Malcolm Harris for Talking Points Memo.

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Russia turning down the gas on Europe

January 15, 2015

gas_to_eu_final_3

Russia cut natural gas shipments to Europe by 60 percent, and announced plans to eventually cut off shipments through Ukraine altogether.

The Urkainian route will be replaced with a new pipeline through Turkey, which will take a couple of years to build.  The European Union will need to build its own infrastructure to take the gas from the Greek border to the rest of Europe.

If the Europeans don’t get their new pipelines built in time, Russia will send its gas elsewhere, the head of Gazprom said.  Russia is working on gas deals not only with China, but with India.

Vladimir Putin is not a helpless victim of economic sanctions and falling oil prices.  He is willing and able to use Russia’s economic power to damage Ukraine and the European nations.

Nobody benefits from this cycle of tit-for-tat retaliation.  It’s an economic form of mutually assured destruction.

Russia Fires Ukraine as Natural Gas Transit for Europe by Michael Collins for Op-Ed News [added 1/16/2015]

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What’s the matter with us Americans?

January 14, 2015

Europeans think Americans have gone crazy.  Ann Jones, who has lived in Europe for decades, said her European friends once respected the United States, but no longer.  Here are questions she gets from her European friends.

  • Why would anybody oppose national health care?
  • How could you set up that concentration camp in Cuba and why can’t you shut it down?
  • How can  you pretend to be a Christian country and still carry out the death penalty?
  • Why can’t you Americans stop interfering with women’s health care?
  • cia-loves-u-760208Why can’t you understand science?
  • How can you still be so blind to the reality of climate change?
  • How can you speak of the rule of law when your presidents break international laws to make war whenever they want?
  • How can you hand over the power to blow up the planet to one lone, ordinary man?
  • How can you throw away the Geneva Conventions and your principles to advocate torture?
  • Why do you Americans like guns so much? Why do you kill each other at such a rate?
  • Why do you send your military all over the world to stir up trouble for the rest of us?

She added:

authoritarianism9fd18cThat last question is particularly pressing because countries historically friendly to the United States, from Australia to Finland, are struggling to keep up with an influx of refugees from America’s wars and interventions.

Throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia, right-wing parties that have scarcely or never played a role in government are now rising rapidly on a wave of opposition to long-established immigration policies.

Only last month, such a party almost toppled the sitting social democratic government of Sweden, a generous country that has absorbed more than its fair share of asylum seekers fleeing the shock waves of “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.”

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