Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

Democrats easing off on Russia hacking charge

March 19, 2017

Democratic war hawks are backing off their charges that Donald Trump’s victory was due to Vladimir Putin’s manipulations.

For war hawks, these charges may have served their purpose in making Trump back off from plans to make peace with Russia, and in casting suspicion on anybody who advocates peace with Russia.

For Democrats, the Russia conspiracy theory provided a basis for attacking Trump personally without having to propose constructive alternatives to his policies.   But if investigations produce no evidence of any Trump-Putin collusion, these attacks will backfire.

Update 3/21/2017:  Evidently I spoke too soon.   Trump opponents seem determined to keep the investigation of Trump-Russia contacts going as long as possible, even though every article I’ve read contains a paragraph somewhere that says there is no evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.

I suppose Democrats, war hawks and especially Democratic war hawks think they have nothing to lose by keeping the pressure on, even if nothing significant is uncovered in the end.

FBI director James Comey reported that the FBI has been investigating possible Trump-Russia connections since last July.   It will be interesting to know what, if anything, the investigation discovers.  The mere fact that an investigation is going on has no more significance that the fact of that Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails was being investigated.

LINKS

Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Not to Expect Evidence of Trump / Russia Connection by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

The Democrats’ Anti-Russia Campaign Falls Apart by Moon of Alabama.

The Missing Logic of Russia-gate by Robert Parry for Consortium News [Added 3/21/2017]

The GOP is going to try to rush the Russian investigation | Democrats shouldn’t let them by Alex Shephard for The New Republic.  The politics of the investigation.  [Added 3/21/2017]

Recommended Reading: Giant Russia Theory Edition by Nina Illingworth for Nina Illingworth Dot Com.   [Added 3/31/2017]  A definitive collection of links on reasons to be skeptical of claims that Russia “hacked” the 2016 election.

An open letter to Presidents Trump and Putin

March 3, 2017

The following is an open letter to Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, signed by David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and others.  The Bertrand Russell Society, of which I am a member, endorses it.

nuclearbomb510672745_b79a1a057a_oThis may be the most dangerous time in human history.

In a dramatic recent decision, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved its iconic Doomsday Clock ahead from three minutes to only two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.

Humankind faces two existential challenges of global and potentially apocalyptic scope: nuclear weapons and climate change.

Our focus here is on nuclear dangers, but we strongly encourage you, Presidents Trump and Putin, to undertake in a spirit of urgency all necessary steps to avert further global warming.

As the leaders of the United States and Russia, the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals, you have the grave responsibility of assuring that nuclear weapons are not used — or their use overtly threatened — during your period of leadership.

The most certain and reliable way to fulfill this responsibility is to negotiate with each other, and the other governments of nuclear-armed states, for their total elimination.

The U.S. and Russia are both obligated under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to engage in such negotiations in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for complete nuclear disarmament.  Your success in this endeavor would make you heroes of the Nuclear Age.

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A propaganda war is not really a war

March 1, 2017

newyorker-1488286188

The New Yorker ran a long article about Russian propaganda and how the Russian government sees propaganda as a weapon of war.

The article, though one-sided, contains interesting information.  My problem with it is that the writers treat propaganda—including truthful propaganda—as the equivalent of war.

The U.S. government during the past 15 years has waged war by means of aerial bombardment, targeted assassinations, economic sanctions, arming terrorists and warlords and actual invasions of  foreign countries that do not threaten us.  Russia has done some of the same things, although on a smaller scale.

There is a strong possibility of a military confrontation between Russia and the United States that could risk a nuclear war.

Russian attempts to influence American and European public opinion seem fairly benign in contrast.

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Is it fair to call Vladimir Putin a killer?

February 7, 2017

In a word, yes.

Vladimir Putin is clearly implicated in killings of Russian citizens.

It is true that Barack Obama also initiated a policy of killing individuals he deemed a threat to the United States, and a couple of those were American citizens.   It is true that the U.S. supports dictatorships that use death squads.  But changing the subject to the U.S.  doesn’t change the facts about Putin.

2014-03-07-PUTINIs the fact that Vladimir Putin is a killer a reason not to have diplomatic relations with Russia?  It certainly is a reason not to be naive in dealing with Putin.  It is a reason not to regard him as a friend.

But President Franklin Roosevelt formed an alliance with Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest mass killers of the 20th century, in order to defeat Nazi Germany.  President Richard Nixon flew to China to open U.S. relations with Mao Zedong, another mass killer, in order to checkmate Soviet Russia.

If working with Putin can eliminate the danger of nuclear war over Ukraine or defeat the Islamic State, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

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The unclassified report on Russian hacking

January 7, 2017

The unclassified CIA-FBI-NSA report asserts that they have “high confidence” that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign in order to elect Donald Trump.

office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaPossible motives are retaliation for the Panama Papers leaks, the reports on Russian doping of Olympic athletes, and activities of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy in Russia.

But the report presents no actual evidence that this happened.   All it says is that Vladimir Putin hoped Donald Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton, which is plainly true, and that this is the sort of thing that Putin would do, which might well be true.  Most of the report is devoted to analysis of anti-Clinton reporting by RT News, a Russian-funded TV news broadcaster.

It’s possible that the conclusion is true, but the report does not consider alternative explanations, such as leaks by a disgruntled DNC employee.   It does not describe the scope of the investigation—for example, whether the FBI had access to the DNC e-mails, or relied on the word of the DNC contractor, or whether it used NSA signal intelligence.

Maybe the classified version of the report does answer the unanswered questions.   I look forward with great interest to the congressional investigation.

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Russia as the jihadists’ “far enemy”

January 5, 2017

isis-610417-putin

When Al Qaeda jihadist terrorists attacked the U.S. World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, it was part Osama bin Laden regarded the USA as the “far enemy” who propped up all the “near enemies” in the Arab world.

But for many of the jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, the “far enemy” is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the USA.   A large number are Chechens, a Muslim nationality living mostly within the Russian Federalion, or Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs or others living under regimes in Central Asia that are propped up by Russia.

One of Putin’s first actions when he came to power was to ruthlessly crush the independence movement in Chechnia.   The justification was a series of terrorist attacks that were very likely a false flag attack by the Russian FSB.

Since then many Chechen fighters have been driven out of Russia, and are now fighting the Russian-backed Assad government of Syria, along with Uzbeks and other nationalities from the former Soviet republics.

Some analysts think that the export of jihadists is a conscious Russian strategy.  The best outcome, from the Russian point of view, is that they die fighting in Syria.   But even if they survive, they have made themselves known to Russian intelligence services.

Saudi Arabia does the same thing with its jihadist rebels—suppresses them at home and encourages them to go wage war in other countries.

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Russia accused of war by using weaponized truth

October 18, 2016

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Russian intelligence services are accused of waging cyber-warfare by releasing embarrassing Hillary Clinton e-mails through Wikileaks.

There is no direct evidence of where Wikileaks got the Clinton e-mails, but the Russians have the capability and the motive to hack her system.

Would this be an act of war?  I for one would welcome war by means of weaponized truth.

If revealing accurate information about your geopolitical enemy is a form of warfare, I think escalation of this kind of warfare would be a good thing and not a bad thing.

I think the NSA and the CIA should retaliate by arranging the release of damaging secret information about Vladimir Putin—maybe through Wikileaks as a form of poetic justice.

In fact, there are those who think they already have done so, through the Panama Papers leak

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All we talk about is Trump! Trump! Trump!

October 10, 2016

A great many important issues face us Americans as a new Presidential term begins—nuclear weapons, trade agreements, fracking, climate change, economic stagnation, the likelihood of financial crash.

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Campaign Rally in Vandalia, OhioBut among my circle of acquaintances, hardly anybody wants to talk about these things.  All anybody wants to talk about is Donald Trump, and the outrageous things he says.   It can be highly enjoyable to have such an obvious target.

I think that it is an objective fact that Trump is temperamentally, intellectually and morally unfit to be President of the United States.   I think this is becoming more manifest as the campaign goes on.  I base this more on his record as a business owner and public figure than what he says on a day-to-day basis, but what his statements show a lack of knowledge and a lack of discipline.

The problem is that the real problems of the country go unaddressed, and the most that can be hoped for in this election is a preservation of a bad status quo.

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Russia is losing an economic war

September 26, 2016

The Russian Federation is in economic crisis.

The economy is shrinking.  Although unemployment is low, poverty is increasing,  Inflation is at double-digit rates.   The exchange rate for the ruble is falling.  Russia’s trade deficit is widening.  The Russian government is cutting spending on public services.

While Russia has serious internal economic problems, the immediate cause of the crisis is the economic war being waged by its foes.

  • The United States and European Union boycott many Russian individuals and institutions, including cutting off credit to Russian banks and cutting off sales of equipment to Russian oil companies.
  • Saudi Arabia has stepped up production of oil, driving down oil prices worldwide and hurting Russia’s oil exports.
  • The United States has begun a new arms race with Russia, forcing the Russian government to either divert resources from the civilian economy or admit inferiority.

03-bust-boom-bustIn waging economic war against Russia, the United States and its allies hurt themselves as a price of hurting Russia more.

  • Europe and Russia are natural trading partners, with Europeans buying Russian gas and oil and Russia buying Europe’s, especially Germany’s industrial products.   Cutting off this trade hurts both.
  • Saudi Arabia is using up a large but limited resource at a fast rate without getting the best price for it.
  • The United States, too, is diverting resources from our civilian economy and domestic needs.

In many ways, this is a replay of the economic war waged against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

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If the USA and Russia could change places

September 26, 2016

2000px-russia_usa_locator-svg

My experience and knowledge of foreign countries is limited, but I try to understand foreign leaders by putting myself in their place, and imagining what I would do if I were them.

Peter Hitchens, a Briton who was a foreign correspondent in Moscow for many years, invites us to imagine how we would feel if we were Russians, a nation that, unlike the USA, has been invaded not once, but many times, and lost millions, not thousands, of lives to invaders within living memory.

Safety, for Russians, is something to be achieved by neutralizing a danger that is presumed to exist at all times.  From this follows a particular attitude to life and government.

If the U.S. had China on the 49th Parallel and Germany on the Rio Grande, and a long land border with the Islamic world where the Pacific Ocean now is, it might be a very different place.  There might even be a good excuse for the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

If Russia’s neighbors were Canada and Mexico, rather than Germany, China, Turkey, and Poland, and if its other flanks were guarded by thousands of miles of open ocean, it might have free institutions and long traditions of free speech and the rule of law. It might also be a lot richer.

As it is, Russia is a strong state with a country, rather than a country with a strong state.  If it were otherwise, it would have gone the way of the Lithuanian Empire or, come to that, the Golden Horde.

Source: Peter Hitchens | First Things

That is not to say that life in Vladimir Putin’s Russia is good, or that Putin is a benign ruler.  But he is no worse than many of the despots with whom the United States is allied, and life in the Russian Federation is infinitely preferable to live in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans.

Far from being a new Hitler, Hitchens wrote, his goal is to keep territories formerly controlled by the USSR from joining anti-Russian alliances.  Whatever you think of this, it is not a threat to the United States or any other Western nation.

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War hawk Clinton vs. pro-Putin Trump

July 27, 2016

Putin-Clinton-or-Trump-is-Irrelevant-The-Real-Problem-is-U.S.-‘Imperial-Ambitions’-600x338

Donald Trump admires Vladimir Putin and wants better a partnership with Russia.

Hillary Clinton has compared Putin with Hitler, and is willing to risk war with Russia.

This is a big difference, and an important campaign issue.

With Hillary Clinton, you have the likelihood of more war and useless bloodshed, and the real possibility of a nuclear that will leave much of North American and northern Eurasia in smouldering, radioactive ruins.

With Donald Trump, you have the likelihood of a President of the United States, whose judgment is erratic to begin with, and who is under the influence of a wily and ruthless foreign ruler.

I don’t agree with either, but, of the two, I think Clinton represents the greater danger.  Russian influence could be checkmated and rooted out.  A nuclear war would be the end of everything.

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Hillary Clinton and the danger of nuclear war

July 14, 2016

The worst thing that an American President could do is to provoke a nuclear war with Russia.

I think that, based on her record and rhetoric, Hillary Clinton would put the USA at greater risk of nuclear war than her predecessors.

As adviser to her husband in the 1990s and as Secretary of State, she was a voice for war.  Her campaign web site is about her credentials as a war hawk.  It is no coincidence that so war hawks of the George W. Bush support her for President.

Victoria Nuland

Victoria Nuland

Her protege, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, promotes economic warfare and covert warfare against Russia, while promoting regime change in Ukraine and attempting to draw Ukraine and Georgia into an anti-Russian alliance.  This is as dangerous as Khrushchev’s placing missiles in Cuba in 1962.

Pro-Russian news sources predict war if Hillary Clinton is elected.  I think Russian fears are significant because they could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you think somebody is poised to attack you, you’re going to be ready to strike at them before they do.

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Russian cyber-warriors and the U.S. election

June 17, 2016

The Democratic National Committee charges that Russian hackers penetrated its files on Trump opposition research.   Some people also speculate that Hillary Clinton’s e-mails have been hacked.

If Vladimir Putin—I emphasize if—is intervening in the U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump, this could backfire not only against Trump, but in a dangerous way against Putin and Russia.

Vladimir PutinPutin and Trump have repeatedly praised each other.  Trump advocates better relations with Russia (which I agree with) while  Clinton has compared Putin to Hitler, which is the worst thing you can say about a Russian leader.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s main campaign adviser, managed the comeback of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovitch as President of Ukraine in 2010.   A Hillary Clinton protege, Victoria Nuland, helped engineer the overthrow of Yanukovich in 2014.  A leaked phone conversation in which she discussed strategy may well have come from Russian intelligence services.

So you have an American election aligned with factions in a conflict in a foreign country.  This is not good.

It is true that Russians, Chinese and other foreign hackers are attacking U.S. computer systems all the time, and that the CIA and NSA hack foreign systems.  It is true that U.S. intelligence agencies have been interfering in foreign elections for decades.  And it is true that foreign lobbyists actively try to influence American policy.

But this would be the first time a foreign intelligence service was caught intervening on behalf of a presidential candidate in an American national election.

We don’t know the full story yet.  Maybe this is less sinister than it seems.   But maybe Putin sees electing Trump as a way of crippling the United States without a nuclear strike.  Or maybe somebody is playing some sort of double game.  We’ll see how it plays out.

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The danger of nuclear war is real and growing

June 15, 2016

worldnuclearforces.2015.dw0,,18512288_304,00

The danger of a U.S. nuclear war with Russia is real and growing.

The risk is not that an American or Russian President would deliberately start a nuclear war.  The risk is that U.S. policy is creating a situation in which a nuclear war could be touched off by accident.

_89672013_missile_defence_map624_no_iranDuring the Obama administration, the U.S. government has cancelled the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, installed a missile defense system in Rumania and is in the process of installing a system in Poland.

What is the harm of a defensive system?  It is that the ruler of a country with a missile defense system might be tempted to launch a missile attack, in the hope that the enemy’s retaliatory missiles might be stopped.

A defense system that is not strong enough to stop an enemy’s first strike attack might be strong enough to defend against retaliation from an attack, since much of the enemy’s weapons will have been destroyed.  So, strange as it may seem, setting up a missile defense system can seem like an aggressive act.

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Vladimir Putin and the Panama Papers

April 8, 2016

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One of the Russian Federation’s big problems is that its millionaires and billionaires are sending their money abroad, adding to Russia’s serious economic problems.

Sergey Roldugin, friend of Vladimir Putin

Sergey Roldugin

The fact that the Panama Papers reveal that one of Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends, a cellist named Sergei Roldugin, is the nominal head of offshore companies controlling billions of dollars in assets, is a big deal – especially since Roldugin does not live the life of a millionaire or billionaire.

Putin said back in 2011 that rich Russians who keep their money offshore are unpatriotic.

The Panama Papers are a trove of documents about shell companies registered in tax havens in the files of a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca.  The documents were leaked about a year ago by an unknown person to a German newspaper, Seuddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with other publications around the world and with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  They spent a year picking through the material, and published their findings starting last Sunday.

A tax haven is a jurisdiction with low or zero taxes which provides anonymity and protects financial secrecy.  Drew Schwartz of VICE news explained how a tax haven can be used to hide a money trail.

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It’s obvious that Putin ordered assassination

April 8, 2016
Alexander Litvenenko

Alexander Litvinenko

Revised and updated.

An official British inquiry has concluded that Vladimir Putin probably ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, an FSB defector and whistleblower, in late 2006.

I think it was obvious from the beginning that Putin not only ordered the killing, but wanted it to be known that he ordered the killing.

How else could the killers have obtained the deadly radioactive isotope, Polonium 210, which was used to poison Litvinenko?  Why else would they have used such a method unless they wanted to signal that this is what happens to defectors?

They were not only eliminating an enemy.  They were sending a message.

This is not the only death of a Russian dissident on British soil under suspicious circumstances.  In 2012, a Russian whistle-blower named Alexander Perepilichnyy, who was due to testify against a Russian company in a $200 million fraud case, was poisoned in Britain with an extract from rare plant known as “heartbreak grass” and found in the mountains of Asia.

In 2013, Boris Berezovsky, a Russian opposition figure in exile, was found dead by hanging.   The coroner’s verdict was suicide, but years before Scotland Yard foiled an apparent assassin who’d traveled to Britain from Russia.

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The selective revelations of the Panama Papers

April 4, 2016

Update 4/10/2016.  In fact some Americans are named in the Panama Papers documents.  And rich Americans and American corporations have ways to hide their wealth without going abroad.  There’s more in the links below.

Trillions of dollars—an enormous fraction of the world’s wealth—is concealed in secret accounts outside the jurisdiction of the nations of which the owners are citizensIt is invisible and inaccessible to criminal investigators, tax collectors, bill collectors and divorcing spouses.

Now the world has a glimpse of some of those secret accounts, thanks to a leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, to a German daily newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung.  Mossack Fonseca specializes in registering corporations in tax havens.  The leaked documents had information on more than 214,000 companies and 140 world leaders.

The staff of Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists spent a year sifting through the leaked documents, and shared their information with other news organizations.

blog_panama_papers_countries

Interestingly few if any of the leaked documents implicated Americans or American corporations.  Maybe Americans don’t happen to use Mossack Fonseca to register their companies.  Or maybe there is more information yet to be revealed.  Or maybe somebody had a hidden agenda.

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Trump, Putin and political correctness

March 18, 2016

A blogger named Jeffrey Feldman pointed out Donald Trump’s unique definition of political correctness.

Most people define “political correctness” as being overly concerned about saying offensive things.  Donald Trump’s idea of “political correctness” is being overly concerned about beating up people who disagree with you.

Vladimir PutinThis is one of the things that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have in common.  No wonder they speak of each other with respect.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have often expressed their mutual esteem, and this is one of the things they have in common.

Putin is a strong nationalist whose aim is to make Russia great again.  He has no inhibition about the use of power and violence to crush opponents.  By Trump’s definition, he is politically incorrect.

LINKS

The One Key Phrase Trump Changed to Incite Violence Against the Left by Jeffrey Feldman for frameshop.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist).

Putin: The Rule of the Family by Masha Gessen for the New York Review of Books.

Stalin, Russia’s new hero by Alec Luhn for the New York Times.

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Putin’s Russia is playing defense, not offense

December 23, 2015

vladimir-putin-riding-bearI don’t see Russia’s Vladimir Putin as a threat.  He has been backed into a difficult corner.

Russia’s economy suffers under economic sanctions, the Russian intervention in Syria isn’t going as well as hoped, and the Russian governmental structure is riddled with corruption.

But Russia has a nuclear force second only to the USA.  Russia is the only national in the world with the power to bring about the mutual destruction of itself and the USA.

It is a bad idea to back Vladimir Putin into a corner in which he thinks Russia is threatened, over matters in which the United States has no vital interests.

President Obama says Putin is an aggressor.   If so, he is a highly unsuccessful aggressor.

Russia’s position is much weaker than it was five years ago.  Back then, Russia had good relations with Ukraine and it was integrated into Russia’s economy.  Now the best Putin can hope for is continued Russian occupation of Crimea, a devastated eastern Ukraine friendly to Russia and a hostile western Ukraine.

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Now Russia is drawn into the Sunni-Shiite conflict

December 15, 2015

ISIS, al Qaeda and the other violent jihadist fighters are not from any one country.  They are part of an international movement, so there are Arabs fighting in Afghanistan and Chechens fighting in Syria.  In a sinister way, they resemble the international brigades that fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

ISIS, al Qaeda and their supporters are inspired by teachings of the Wahhabis (or Salafis), an extremely harsh theocratic sect with roots in Saudi Arabia and a strong following in Pakistan.

But a report by Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online indicates there is a parallel movement among the Shiite Muslims, whose strength is in Iran:

151007165249-putin-assad-syria-large-169Assad’s army isn’t just vulnerable, it also isn’t strictly a Syrian force anymore. For the last two years, the forces on his side have increasingly been made up of foreigners, including Revolutionary Guards from Iran, members of Iraqi militias and Hezbollah units from Lebanon.

They are joined at the front by Shiite Afghans from the Hazara people, up to 2 million of whom live in Iran, mostly as illegal immigrants. They are forcibly conscripted in Iranian prisons and sent to Syria — according to internal Iranian estimates, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 of them fighting in the country.

The situation leads to absurd scenes: In the southern Syrian town of Daraa, rebels began desperately searching for Persian interpreters after an offensive of 2,500 Afghans suddenly began approaching.

It is the first international Shiite jihad in history, one which has been compensating for the demographic inferiority of Assad’s troops since 2012. The alliance has prevented Assad’s defeat, but it hasn’t been enough for victory either.

Furthermore, the orders are no longer coming exclusively from the Syrian officer corps.  Iranian officers control their own troops in addition to the Afghan units, and they plan offensives that also involve Syrian soldiers. Hezbollah commanders coordinate small elite units under their control.  Iraqis give orders to Iraqi and Pakistani militia groups.  And the Russians don’t let anyone tell them what to do.

Source: SPIEGEL ONLINE

There is no inherent reason why Sunnis and Shiites should be at war.  They have lived side by side in peace for more centuries than they have been in conflict.

The main reason they are in conflict now is that it is in the interest of governments such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to use armed religious militias to advance their own political and economic objectives.  Another reason is the destruction of civil order as a result of U.S. invasions, so that the religious militias are the only source of protection.

There is a great danger to the world if the USA and Russia allow themselves to be drawn further into this conflict, the USA on the side of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Sunni fighters and Russia on the side of Iran, Syria and the Shiite fighters.

A confrontation between the world’s two main nuclear powers would mean that the killing and destruction now going on in the Middle East could spread over the whole world.

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Who will fight for the U.S. against ISIS?

December 15, 2015

The Syrian situation reminds me of a remark by Adam Smith in (I think) The Wealth of Nations — about how masterminds who think of themselves as master chess players, using other people like pieces on a chessboard, will find the people they think they are manipulating are actually playing their own game.

image-931841-panoV9free-whwk-931841The aims of the U.S. government in the Middle East are, in no particular order, to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to counter the growing power of Iran and to destroy the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).

The bitter experience of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions means that the American people will not tolerate a large-scale intervention with ground troops, so American leaders, including the principal Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, look for pawns to carry out U.S. purposes.

Here is a rundown on these pawns and the games they are playing.

  • Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate governments, all predominantly Sunni Arab nations, fear the rise of Shiite Iran and Shiite power in Iraq much more than they do Sunni Arab ISIS or al Qaeda.   To the extent they fear ISIS and al Qaeda, it is more as an internal threat, and they are happy to see their local rebels go off to fight and maybe die for ISIS.   The Saudi government doesn’t crack down on individuals who contribute to ISIS because they reflect the beliefs of Wahabism (aks Salafism), the harsh version of Sunni Islam that rules Saudi Arabia.
  • The Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq are fighting ISIS effectively, but they are fighting to defend themselves and their goal of an independent Kurdistan, to be carved out of the existing territory of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, not as part of any overall “war on terror”.  They aren’t going to give up that goal just because it is inconvenient to the USA.
  • The Turkish government desires the overthrow of the Assad government in Syria and the suppression of Kurdish nationalism more than suppression of ISIS.  Oil from ISIS-controlled territory enters Turkey, and money and arms go from Turkey to ISIS.  Turkish politicians talk of the glories of the Ottoman Empire and of the unity of ethnic Turks across Asia.
  • The Iraqi government desires to prevent breakaway movements, whether ISIS, other Sunni Arab fighters or Kurds.
  • CQfwkI2WwAALwwnThe Sunni Arab militias and tribal leaders in Iraq blame the United States for overthrowing Saddam Hussein and setting up an Iraqi government dominated by Shiite Arabs, so they’re not willing to be U.S. proxies in a campaign against ISIS.
  • The Shiite Arab militias in Iraq hate ISIS, but their leaders distrust the United States and won’t work with Americans.
  • The “moderate Arab” rebels in Syria primarily desire to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and talk about fighting ISIS primarily to obtain U.S. weapons – many of which wind up in the hands of ISIS, al-Nusra and like groups.
  • The Iranian government desires to support Shiite Muslims against all enemies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey or ISIS, and to defend Syria and also Hezbollah, which represents the Shiite Muslims in Lebanon.
  • The Syrian government is an enemy of ISIS because ISIS is an existential threat to its existence.  But the Assad regime regards the other Syrian rebels and the Kurdish separatists as equally threatening

This leaves Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Putin justifiably fears the influence of ISIS and other jihadist terrorists on the large Muslim population in the Caucasus and other regions of the Russian Federation.  He also wants to defend Russia’s Syrian ally and keep Russia’s naval station in Syria.  But for him, the war against ISIS is a war of self-defense, not merely a means of extending Russian influence.

If fighting ISIS is the top U.S. priority, then the U.S. government should find a way to cooperate with Russia against ISIS.  If the U.S. government is unwilling to cooperate with Russia against ISIS, then fighting ISIS is not the top U.S. priority.

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What is Russia’s real objective in Syria?

December 14, 2015

1.Russia-False-Narrative-in-Syria_13.Russian Airstrikes 30 NOV-02 DEC-01

Is Vladimir Putin’s objective in Syria to destroy ISIS or to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad?  It seems to me that the answer is “yes”.

I’ve read articles criticizing Putin for concentrating Russian airstrikes on rebels other than ISIS.  Some of these articles hint that Putin or maybe even Assad are secretly supporting ISIS.

I think this criticism mistakes the nature of air power.  Command of the air can be devastatingly effective when used in combined operations with ground troops.  But bombing alone, in and of itself, seldom defeats a determined enemy.

What these maps show is that Putin’s air strikes are concentrated on “rebels” not part of ISIS and not part of the al-Nusra front (formerly known as al Qaeda).

There is, however, no clear distinction between ISIS, al-Nusra and generic “rebels”.  Individuals and small bands change affiliations according to the situation, and U.S. weapons given to “rebels” are often acquired by ISIS through capture, gift or sale.

Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online suggested that Assad wants to defeat the U.S.-backed rebels first and ISIS last, because, so long as ISIS is in the field, he can present himself as the only alternative.  I suppose this is possible, but the simpler explanation is that Russia is concentrating on bombing the troops that are actually fighting the Syrians.

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Comrade capitalism: Putin and the oligarchs

November 14, 2015

A new hereditary oligarchy of wealth is emerging in Russia.  But it does not consist of the sons and daughters of millionaires and billionaires.  Rather it consists of the sons and daughters of influential officials in the government security apparatus, starting with President Vladimir Putin’s daughter.

2014-03-07-PUTINThey are much like the so-called nomenklatura, the privileged sons and daughters of high-ranking Communist Party officials in the old Soviet Union.

Many of Russia’s millionaires and billionaires got rich by buying up government-owned factories and resources cheap right after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Reportedly when Putin took power, he called in Russia’s richest business people and told them he would not inquire into how they got their wealth—provided they did not oppose his policies.

He meant what he said.  Those who did oppose him have been crushed.  But even those who keep their heads down and their mouths shut do not feel secure.  Many wealthy Russians are investing outside Russia because they don’t think their assets are safe at home.

This is what people in Third World dictatorships do.  It doesn’t speak well for Russia’s future.

LINKS

Comrade Capitalism: Putin’s daughter, a young billionaire and the president’s friends by Stephen Grey, Audrey Kuzmin and Elizabeth Piper for Reuters.  (Hat tip to O).

Remote Control: Can an exiled oligarch persuade Russia that Putin must go? by Julia Ioffe for The New Yorker.  Profile of Mikhail Khodorovsky.

Alexandra Tolstoy interview: “Sergei must have planned his escape.  He didn’t tell me so I didn’t have to lie about it” by Kim Wilsher for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to O).

Half of Russia’s Richest People Are Planning to Cash Out by Alexander Sazanov for Bloomberg News.

 

U.S. and Russian bases in the Middle East

October 3, 2015
blog_us_bases_middle_east

U.S. bases in the Middle East

Russian bases in the Middle East

Russian bases in the Middle East

Vladimir Putin has sent Russian forces to Syria to prop up the regime of Russia’s ally, Bashar al-Assad.

He said he is joining in the war against the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).  The U.S. government said Russia is targeting the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army and other “moderate” rebels rather than ISIS itself.

I’m not sure how significant that difference is.  I don’t think it is realistic to think it is possible to overthrow Assad and keep ISIS out of power without sending American forces to occupy Syria—and even then the outcome would be doubtful.

Many countries besides the USA and Russia have conducted air strikes in Syria.   One list includes Australia, Bahrein, France, Israell, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and should have included Canada and Turkey.

I don’t think Russia is in a position to challenge the U.S. military presence in the Middle East directly.  I think Putin’s plan is to enhance the power of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah vs. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, but to minimize actual Russian activity.

(more…)

Russia, the surveillance state

September 9, 2015

With unlimited warrent-less surveillance and unchecked governmental power, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is an example of what I fear the United States will become.

2014-03-07-PUTINI was reminded of this by a couple of recent articles I came across this week—two reviews of a book entitled The Red Web (which I haven’t read myself) and an interview with Edward Snowden on the occasion of him receiving a human rights award.

I’m not sure that “red” is the right adjective.  Putin is the heir of the Soviet state but not of the ideology of Communism.  I wouldn’t want to live under his government, but I see my own government becoming more Putin-like.

I don’t think the United States government has helped matters by confronting Russian power close to Russia’s borders.  This could culminate in another global Cold War, but as a pure struggle for power, minus  ideological conflict.   Both nations would suffer.  The best that could be hoped would be the good fortune to once again avoid nuclear catastrophe.

LINKS

The Red Web by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan: review – Russia’s attack on Internet freedoms by Luke Harding for The Guardian.

How Putin Controls the Internet and Popular Opinion in Russia by Masha Gessen for The Intercept.

Edward Snowden attacks Russia rights curbs, would prefer to go home by Agence France-Presse via LiveMint.