Posts Tagged ‘President Putin’

Putin’s energy strategy for isolating Ukraine

July 6, 2015

Hat tip to Vineyard of the Saker.

Gazprom North StreamPresident Putin has made an agreement with Germany, and offered an agreement to Turkey, that will enable Russia to serve its natural gas markets in western Europe while retaining the option to shut off Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states.

The Russian government plans to expand its North Stream pipeline across the Baltic Sea directly to Germany.   This would enable Russia to cut off natural gas to Ukraine and most of the rest of eastern Europe without interrupting its sales to western Europe.

Germany, which is now the financial hub of western Europe, would become the energy hub as well.

black_sea_turkey_south_streamRussia has an alternate plan, the South Stream, a pipeline to cross the Black Sea to Bulgaria, but this has been canceled.  Instead Russia now hopes to build a Turkish Stream, which would connect directly with European Turkey.  Greece and other European countries would have the option of connecting to that pipeline.

The Turkish government also has the ambition of becoming an energy hub.  It is in a good position to do this because of its position as the crossroads between Europe and the Greater Middle East.  But, for political reasons, Turkey might have to give up plans for other pipelines to connect to Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan if goes along with Russia’s Turkish Stream.

Not everything that is announced gets built, and in any case construction of these pipelines would take several years.   But Putin’s strategy could put Russia in a powerful position in regard to Ukraine and NATO’s eastern flank, and without firing a shot.


Putin: a would-be Tsar of all the Russians?

May 5, 2015

russians_ethnic_94Source: University of Texas Libraries.

Back when the Ukraine crisis first broke out, I speculated that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal was to reconstitute the old Soviet Union, first by luring the former Soviet Republics into an economic “Eurasian Union” common market, and then to transform the economic union into a political union.

I then began to think, as I still think, that Putin’s policy was more a response to an external threat posed by Ukraine joining NATO and the Russian naval base at Crimea becoming a NATO base.

But there is a third possibility, and that is that Putin is trying to bring all the ethnic Russians back into the Russian Empire.  This would include not only the Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but in northern Kazakhstan.

The great Russian novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote a tract in 1990 in which he advocated a union of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, with northern Kazakhstan included in Russia, and independence for all the other Soviet republics and satellite states.

Maybe President Putin is thinking along these lines, and maybe he isn’t.  I have no power to read his mind.  But recent reports say that Kazakhstan’s leaders are worried about Russia’s ambitions and their Russian minorities.

Just as in Ukraine, there are reports of increasing Russian discontent and also increasing anti-Russian feeling.   It is easy to imagine Putin stepping in, as he did in Ukraine, to protect his fellow Russians.

The Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, among others, have large Russian minorities, and, as members of NATO, they are entitled to call upon the United States to defend them if attacked.


Obama insults Russian people with V-E Day snub

April 22, 2015
Red Army enters Berlin in 1945

Red Army enters Berlin in 1945

VICTORYPresident Obama and other Western leaders gravely insult the Russian [1] people, as well as show base ingratitude, by snubbing V-E Day celebrations in Moscow on May 9.

The Red Army suffered more casualties in World War Two than the USA, UK, Commonwealth, France and all the other Western allies put together.  More than 80 percent of the Germans killed in World War Two died fighting the Red Army.

VEDay.Russia025kIf you remember the opening scenes in the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” reflect that the Normandy landings probably would have failed if the bulk of the German army had not been tied down on the Eastern front.  Then reflect that (although this is not certain) the Red Army might well have made it to Berlin even if the Normandy landings had failed.

I am not an admirer of President Putin’s authoritarian government.  Bad things happen to his political opponents although, it must be admitted, that is also true of opponents of the U.S.-backed regime in Ukraine.

But boycotting the celebration of the 70th anniversary of V-E Day is more than just a personal rebuke to Putin.  It is in a different category from a boycott of Olympic games or some other contemporary event.  It is not just an insult to the valor and sacrifice of the Russian people.

Human beings resent insults to their honor more than they resent material injuries.  I fear Russians will remember this insult for years to come.


There are no good guys in the Ukraine conflict

January 2, 2015

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me links to a couple of articles with good information about U.S. policy in Ukraine and the folly of the U.S. covert war, economic war and military confrontation against Russia.  But, by omission, they imply an overly favorable impression of Vladimir Putin and Putin’s Russia.

The Russian Federation is dominated by a corrupt financial oligarchy, as was Ukraine before last year’s overthrow.   The original Maidan protests were a thoroughly justified movement representing a broad base of Ukrainian society and including ethnic Tatars, Jews and other minorities as well as ethnic Ukrainians and Russians.

The government in Moscow is as chauvinistic as the government in Kiev and neither has the best interests of the Ukrainian people at heart.

Pro-Russian bloggers such as Dmitry Orlov inadvertently illustrate Russian chauvinism when they say on the one hand that Ukrainians are no different from Russians, and, at the same time, dismiss Ukrainians as an inferior people with no culture worthy of respect.  Ukrainians have good reason to want to be free of Russian domination.

I oppose President Obama’s risky confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, and hope for compromise peace—but I don’t see President Putin as a liberator.  Quite the contrary.


Obama Says He Is Improving the World by Eric Zuesse for RINF Alternative News.  (Bill Harvey)

U.S. National Public Radio Propagandizes Against Putin, for Regime Change in Russia by Eric Zuesse for RINF Alternative News.  (Bill Harvey)

Russia’s economic crisis and the danger of war

December 17, 2014

Russia is in an economic crisis—the result of U.S.-led sanctions, the Saudi attack on oil prices and the underlying weakness of the Russian economy.

With the collapse of the Russian ruble, Vladimir Putin has been backed into a corner with few options—all of them bad.


Click to enlarge.

My question is:  Is it a good idea to deliberately bring about a crisis in a nation with 8,000 nuclear weapons?

Only a small fraction of Russia’s nuclear arsenal would be needed to reduce American cities to rubble.   Yet the U.S. government treats Russia with less caution than it does North Korea.

I do not think that Vladimir Putin would intentionally launch a nuclear war, any more than Barack Obama would.  But I think their policies bring about a situation in which an unintentional nuclear war is highly possible.

I think President Obama is more to blame for this than President Putin.  For the United States, the stakes are geopolitical advantage.  For the Russian Federation, the stakes are the independence of the nation.

The United States command and control systems are much more lax than they were in the era of Curtis LeMay and the Strategic Air Command.  I don’t know about the Russian Federation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if things were just as bad or even worse over there.

Nuclear war was narrowly averted several times during the Cold War through good luck and cool heads both on the US and Soviet sides.  The world can’t count on being lucky forever.

And even if the worst is averted—this time—the world will never be safe until the world’s nuclear powers disarm, starting with Russia and the USA.   The current crisis has eliminated the possibility of disarmament for at least a generation.

President Putin is a tough and ruthless statesman, but a sane one.  If he is driven from power as a result of the crisis, his replacement may not be so sane.

I do not think that President Putin would throw his nation on the mercy of the US-dominated International Monetary Fund for a financial bailout.  The history of IMF bailouts shows that they involve a loss of national independence, and public sacrifice in order to pay off international creditors.

I think it far more likely that he would throw Russia on the mercy of China.  This would throw open Russia as well as Central Asia to be hinterlands of natural resources to support China’s growing industrial power.

President Putin some years back, which he was seeking recognition of Russia as a respected great power, proposed an integrated European market stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.   That’s no longer on the table.   Now the most likely prospect is a Chinese-dominated integrated Eurasian market stretching from Beijing to Berlin.


Russia Tries Emergency Steps for Second Day to Stem Ruble Plunge by Ksenia Galouchko, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Olga Tamas for Boomberg News.

It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy: It’s Putin by James Miller for The Interpreter.

The bleakest winter by Ed Conway for Medium.  The six downward steps in a typical currency crisis.  Russia is at step four.

Eurasian Integration vs. the Empire of Chaos by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.  (via the Unz Review)

How scared should we be of Vladimir Putin?

December 2, 2014

Vladimir Putin is the authoritarian leader of a nation dominated by a corrupt oligarchy.  He is influenced by an ideology opposed to the ideals of freedom and democracy.  He appeals to Russian nationalism in a successful attempt to distract attention from his country’s unsolved problems.  I do not like Putin or what he stands for.

Putin_Valdaiclub.jpegAt the same time I think it is a big mistake for the United States to wage a proxy war with the Russian Federation in Ukraine or, worse, to risk nuclear war.

I have a good friend who has lived in Russia, understands and speaks Russian and watches Russian-language television.  She thinks Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a threat to the nations formerly under Soviet domination, to Europe as a whole and ultimately to the United States.  She tells me I am naive and misguided.

I don’t agree, but neither can I simply dismiss her arguments.  In this post I’ll put what I think are the strongest arguments for an anti-Putin foreign policy in bold face and my answers in italic.

Vladimir Putin justified Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of anti-Ukrainian rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk on the grounds that he is coming to the aid of fellow Russians.  This was the justification given by Hitler for occupying the Rhineland in 1936 and annexing the Sudetenland, the German-speaking border area of Czechoslovakia, in 1938. 

This is just the start of Putin’s territorial demands, just as it was for Hitler.  The time to stop him is now, rather than later.

Adolf Hitler laid out his plans in Mein Kampf.  He stated that he intended to wage war against France to reverse the outcome of the 1914-1918 war, then to conquer Poland, Russia and other Slavic lands to create living space for the German people.  There’s no such master plan in the writings or public statements of Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir-Putin_4Putin’s actions regarding Ukraine can be understood as a response to an anti-Russian government coming to power, and the potential threat this represents to Russian security.  The United States during the past 10 years invaded Iraq and threatens an attack on Iran based on the possibility them acquiring weapons of mass destruction and becoming a potential threat. 

From the Russian point of view, an American alliance with Ukraine would be much more of a potential threat than that.  The USA already has weapons of mass destruction, and, if Ukraine were to join NATO, they would be within striking distance of Moscow and other Russian cities. 

When Nikita Khrushchev attempted to introduce Soviet nuclear weapons into Cuba, the United States risked war to prevent this threat from becoming real.  If I were Putin, I would regard the possibility of U.S. nuclear submarines or aircraft carriers off Crimea in the same way.

Ukraine is a sovereign nation, and has the right to make what alliances it chooses.  History gives the Ukrainians good reason to fear the Russians. 

The same is true of the Poles, the people of the Baltic states and all the other former subjects of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.  They all fear Russian aggression, and with good reason.


Putin’s important speech deserves an answer

November 1, 2014

Vladimir Putin gave an important speech last week calling for respect for international law and strengthening of international institutions, and rejecting the U.S. claim to world leadership.

Putin_Valdaiclub.jpegAddressing the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, he expressed a willingness to co-operate with the United States and the European Union on the basis of equality and recognition of Russia’s legitimate interests.

The speech has largely been ignored in the U.S. press, but it deserves a response by President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry.

I do not admire President Putin, nor Putin’s Russia.  When I think of all the ways the United States is going downhill, the world “Putinization” comes to mind.

Russia is a country in which a corrupt government and a corrupt financial oligarchy interlock, the surveillance state is unchecked and independent journalists are persecuted and even killedOpponents of the regime have been murdered.  The United States has a long way to go before we catch up with the authoritarianism and corruption of the Russian Federation.

Having said all that, I also have to say that Putin’s statements and actions, are rooted in reality, which I can’t say that for President Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry.

In dealing with American statesmen, Putin seems like the only adult in the room.  He is like a Mafia don talking to a juvenile delinquent street gang.

Here are excerpts from Putin’s Oct. 25 speech, followed by links to the full transcript.

The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards.

This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests.  If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition. [snip]


A hope for peace in Ukraine

September 4, 2014
Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk.  Source: NBC News

Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk.    Source: NBC News

I hope the proposed cease-fire in Ukraine takes effect, and I hope President Obama accepts this life-line out of the crisis.

A deal that recognizes the autonomy of Donetsk and Lugansk without breaking up Ukraine would be in the best interests of everyone.   The industrial resources of eastern Ukraine would be remain part of the overall Ukrainian economy.  But Russian language and culture in Ukraine would no longer be under attack.

While President Putin would not want to give up control of the Russian naval base in Ukraine, it  is not in his interest for Russia to annex eastern Ukraine.  Keeping Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Ukraine would be insurance that Ukraine as a whole does not join NATO.

It is undoubtedly true, as President Putin said, that the Russian army could take Ukraine in a week.  The question of whether the Russian army could successfully occupy Ukraine is another matter.   The American army defeated the army of Saddam Hussein very quickly.  Successfully occupying the country was a different matter.

It would not be in Russia’s interest to annex eastern Ukraine, if it meant an anti-Russian Ukrainian government in western Ukraine joining NATO.  A neutral Ukrainian buffer state would be in the interest of both countries, and would not threaten any vital interest of the United States.

Or so it seems to me.  This is, however, not based on any special knowledge of Russia and Ukraine, but on what I imagine I would think and do if I were in President Putin’s place.  Does this make sense?   What do you think?