Donald Rayfield: Not Friend
Russia vs Georgia: A war of perceptions
An intimate past and bitter present make it hard for Russians and Georgians to live as neighbours but impossible to separate completely, says Donald Rayfield. From openDemocracy.
But most international experts now agree that on 6 August 2007, Russian aircraft did venture three times into Georgian airspace from the direction of Vladikavkaz - and that on the third sortie an aircraft deliberately fired a missile, which fortunately failed to explode when it landed near the village of Tsitelubani.
This was followed on the night of 21 August by the entry of a Russian military jet which seems to have discharged a missile which fell on a cornfield (and also did not ignite) in the vicinity of Georgia's border with the disputed territory of South Ossetia.
Both incidents have been given the full diplomatic treatment - official statements, condemnations, appeals to scientific evidence, calls for solidarity from allies and the international community (including the United Nations). The west's anxiety about becoming embroiled in further confrontation with Russia mean that Georgia's attempts to bring its grievance over Russian behavior to the attention of the Security Council will probably be as ineffective as the missile itself. There is a recent precedent: the Russia-originated cyber-attack on Estonia in April-May 2007 which targeted the government's computer system - in apparent revenge for Estonia's moving of a city-centre statue commemorating the country's "liberation" by the Red Army in 1944 - has not met with any effective protest or sanctions.
But if Georgia will find it difficult to persuade the world to take the incidents seriously enough, the violation of its territory is part of a pattern that reveals much about the mindset currently animating Russian policy. A key aspect of this is the deep xenophobia that pervades Russian politics and public opinion directed at Americans, western Europeans, and Chinese but, above all, at the people of nations which have secured their independence since the fall of the Soviet Union. In this sense the Georgians are only one target of a wider "blame culture" in Moscow (as the Estonia example confirms). But it is also the case that the bitterness directed against them (and reciprocated in full) reflects the illusions of a Russia that thinks it "knows" and understands Georgia - and has not yet understood that, in fact, it no longer does.
The single overriding Georgian illusion is that Russia is the great Christian kingdom of the north which will come to the rescue of a small Christian nation threatened by Turkic and Persian, Islamic, rule. This view of the northern protector is one that has persisted since the crusades: that a fellow-Christian kingdom will come to the aid of a beleaguered Christian nation threatened by barbarians.
Georgian history teaches otherwise. The crusaders did the very opposite, and ravaged the eastern Christians more thoroughly than they did the Muslims; in the 18th century, several western rulers (Louis XIV, Louis XV, Pope Clement XI) told Prince Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (uncle of the Georgian king, Vakhtang VI) that their trading links with Persia superseded their concern for a Christian nation threatened by that Islamic state; the British withdrew all their support staff the moment that the Red Army threatened Tbilisi in 1921. In 2008, nobody should doubt that if Russia were to invade Georgia the west would confine its support to a few unenforceable resolutions in the United Nations - and would go on buying Russian oil and gas.
This is where illusion meets reality - with a crunch. For a combination of choice and circumstance is redirecting Georgia's economy towards the west. Georgian railways are about to be managed by a British firm for the next 89 years; Turkey has become Georgia's chief trading partner, and Georgia's exports to Russia have declined by more than half in 2007, thanks to Russia's ban on Georgian wine and mineral water. Even the land border- crossing to Russia has become an obstacle-course, as Georgia prepares to open a third crossing to Turkey (and very soon a direct rail link, which Armenians too will be able to use).
The underlying logic is that Soviet-era industry died in Georgia in 1990 and cannot be resurrected. The agricultural sector is still operating largely as subsistence farming, producing less than a third of what it did in the mid-1980s, when Georgia supplied Russia with citrus fruit, wine, lamb, tea and cheese. Western markets, flooded with cheap produce, are not going to import Georgian agricultural products, except for the recently revived wine industry which is producing wines of high enough quality to find a niche market (Tbilisi will soon again be producing brandy to rival French cognac.)
Yet the break with Russia has its costs. The approximately 500,000 Georgian workers in Russia are subject to increasing pressure from authorities to prevent them trading, being educated, or remitting money home. Even Russian citizens of Georgian origin - such as the writer Boris Akunin (born Grigori Chkhartishvili) and the sculptor Zurab Tsereteli - have been targeted by Russia's notorious tax authorities.
The problem of the lost lands, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is even more painful for Georgia. The dispute over the "frozen territories," which wrested themselves from Tbilisi's control in the small wars of 1992-93, is further from a solution than ever before. In South Ossetia, the idea of unity with North Ossetia (part of Russia) has been encouraged by the Russian foreign minister and by the authorities in the north; while Tbilisi uses a mixture of charm and bluster in the effort to replace the breakaway Eduard Kokoity government with the pro-Tbilisi puppet, Dmitry Sanakoyev.
In Abkhazia, hotels, villas and building land have been bought by Russian businessmen and officials who have a vested interest in seeing that Abkhazia will become a puppet - if not yet an actual integral part - of the Russian Federation. The award of the 2014 winter Olympics to Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi has allowed Abkhazian territory to be proposed for use in accommodating the athletes and even hosting events. No Georgian politician can seriously foster any hope of recovering Abkhazia by diplomatic or military means - although any Georgian politician who admitted this publicly would cease to be a politician, or even to be alive, the very next day.
Donald Rayfield: Not Friend
Posted by db330 at 13:14
EZRA LEVANT: Not Friend
Putin longing for U.S.S.R. importance
Vladimir Putin, the Soviet KGB agent who is now the president of Russia, is nostalgic for the bad old days.
He resumed the Soviet tactic of sending strategic nuclear bombers into U.K. and Canadian airspace, forcing NATO jets to scramble to stop them. He sent a submarine into Canadian waters to claim the North Pole. And last week, his military chief of staff warned the Czech Republic it would be a "big mistake" if that former Soviet colony dared to join in a U.S.-backed missile defence system. Putin chose the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to make his point.
This isn't just posing -- though Putin did that last week, too, strutting for the press without his shirt, a strong-man tactic another fascist, Benito Mussolini, made his signature 70 years ago.
It's not posing when you're still a nuclear superpower. And, because of oil prices, Russia is almost an economic superpower, too.
But Russia seeks more than that; Putin wants to regain the strategic importance the U.S.S.R. had during the Cold War. He's even building a new, eastern version of the old Warsaw Pact. Called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it's a military pact amongst Russia, China, and four former Soviet republics in Asia. And Iran -- whose nuclear plans depend on Russian technology -- has observer status.
To call Russia an ally of the West is false. It might have been, for a fleeting moment, under Boris Yeltsin. But no longer. It can't properly be called a liberal democracy, either.
Under Putin, civil liberties have been restricted, independent newspapers and TV stations have been shut down, outspoken businessmen have been arrested or exiled, and others -- including journalists and political troublemakers -- have been killed, as was Alexander Litvenenko, a former KGB agent who became a critic of Putin. He was assassinated in London with radioactive poison, KGB-style.
Even heads of state are not exempt.
When Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president, ran an anti-Moscow campaign, he was poisoned, KGB-style, with dioxin that turned that man's once-handsome face into a pock-marked scar, and almost killed him.
Life in Russia is increasingly like that described in Thomas Hobbes' book Leviathan, a war of "all against all," where life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Life expectancy for Russian men is an appalling 59 years; there are now more abortions than live births in Russia. Transparency International ranks the country one of the most corrupt in the world -- 121st on their list -- Mexico is ranked 70th, and Zambia is 111th.
While the West demilitarized after the Cold War, our enemies didn't, or didn't for long. At the largest Moscow air show in nearly 20 years, Putin announced he seeks military parity with the U.S. again.
This March, China announced a 17% increase in its defence budget, the 19th year in a row of double-digit spending growth. China's military budget is now the second-largest in the world, measured in purchasing power.
The period from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the fall of the World Trade Center in 2001 was a brief dream where peace and freedom seemed to be inevitable.
But Russian, Chinese and Islamic fascism have intervened.
The days of naive ease are gone.
Posted by db330 at 13:13
BRIAN BRADY: Not Friend
'Popeye' Putin's bid to put the bear back into Russia
IF IT were not for the hi-tech response of the British military, the episode would have passed for a scene from the depths of the Cold War.
RAF fighter jets scrambled to shadow a Russian strategic bomber as it approached British airspace, as President Vladimir Putin flexed his military muscle by placing the bombers back on long-range patrol for the first time since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
There have also been spats with neighbours over supplies of oil and gas, decisions to resume naval patrols in the Mediterranean and joint military exercises with China.
To cap it all, Putin was last week photographed striding bare-chested along a Siberian river while fishing. Although his 54-year-old torso didn't exactly ripple, his He-Man posing had half the nation's women swooning and their menfolk preening.
The message appeared to be clear. At long last the Russian Bear is flexing its Popeye muscles and the West should now sit up a take note.
Political analysts believe thus far Putin is less interested in cranking up a new Cold War than playing to the sentiments of his domestic audience.
Chris Brown, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics,
said: "The Cold War was about the future alignment of Europe and the ideological conflict between communism and capitalism; this series of spats is about Putin playing the nationalist card at home. Fifteen years of humiliation and most Russians are happy to see him throwing his weight around."
Putin, previously content to rub along gently with Russia's former enemies among Western powers, signalled a change in mood earlier this summer when he reacted with fury at an American proposal to site radar and anti-missile bases in the Czech Republic and Poland.
He has also been busy attempting to reassert flagging authority over former satellite states. Apart from the decision to cut gas supplies to Ukraine 18 months ago, Russia has also banned wine and water imports from Georgia - and been accused of attacking government websites in Estonia.
The mission to the UK to silence Alexander Litvinenko by poisoning him in a London restaurant merely adds to the growing impression that Russia, emboldened by its return to economic prominence, is regressing to the menacing foreign policies of the past.
The American establishment is on guard. Putin's tirade, in Munich last year, against an "American unilateralism" he claimed was "nourishing the wish of countries to get nuclear weapons", disturbed Washington deeply.
Yet the language may reveal more about the oversensitivity of the Western powers than Putin's true intentions.
The painstaking reconstruction of Russian influence has been a long-term strategy - and a conscious departure from the failed policies of his immediate predecessors.
"One of the reasons why Gorbachev is so unpopular today in Russia is the belief on the part of many Russians that he exhibited weakness in his dealings with other countries and that he gave away the Soviet Union's military might," said analyst Jenny Mathers, senior lecturer in international politics at the University of Wales.
"Similarly, Boris Yeltsin is remembered as a president who allowed Russia's prestige to decline further. Vladimir Putin has built his popular appeal on the notion of re-creating a strong Russia, internally and externally."
Although Putin has decided not to stand as a candidate in next year's presidential elections, he wants to retain an influence in Russia and, preferably, over his own successor.
The bombers, expansionist naval strategy and general development of Russian forces are tangible indications of political intentions, rather than military strategy.
Alex Pravda, of the Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, rejects suggestions that Putin is attempting to challenge American military might.
"The flexing of military and energy muscle should be seen as assertiveness to raise profile not as aggression. Moscow does not want tension, let alone conflict; it wants to play a full role in the top clubs... G8 and the UN Security Council."
Posted by db330 at 13:11
Konstantin Sonin: Not Friend
Following Deng's Footsteps
Tuesday, August 28, 2007. Issue 3730. Page 9.
Posted by db330 at 13:09
Paul M. Weyrich: Not Friend
Russia Under Putin, Assuming Soviet Characteristics
Aug 28, 2007
Before the Cold War concluded, the late Dr. Robert Krieble and I traveled the length and breadth of what was then the Soviet Union. Dr. Krieble taught how to start a business with very little or no capital. I taught how to win elections. Each of us was accompanied by two or three colleagues. One thing was clear: The Russian people were well educated. If an old U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT or TIME MAGAZINE were left behind they devoured it for months. The content was debated extensively.
The people were far more dedicated than we expected. Boris Yeltsen and his associates initially gave the okay for attendance at our seminars. Once the Cold War ended there was chaos. The word went out that these crazy Americans were coming and anyone who wished to attend could do so. In Siberia, by the way, participants were extremely well informed. They had literally built crystal radio sets to access Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe.
At any rate, when Dr. Krieble and I compared notes after our seminars had concluded, the one issue which came up time and again was shouldn’t Russia carry a big stick to make itself relevant at home and abroad. Indeed, that is exactly what is happening now. Yeltsen could barely top 25% at his best when he was in office. Putin manages 70% by being tough at home.
The oil revenues which Putin has accumulated have enabled him to carry the big stick abroad. After the end of the Cold War Yeltsen all but disarmed Russia, maintaining only sufficient armed forces to defend the country. Now flush with oil revenues, Putin is carrying the big stick abroad as well. The Russian public felt that Yeltsin had humiliated the country. Again and again we were asked if President Augusto Pinochet of Chile might be a good role model for Russia.
Now Putin is both re-arming Russia and allying with his Communist allies, gaining domestic applause in the process. He repeatedly has claimed that he would not seek to have the Constitution amended so he could run for a third term. Many Russian observers don’t believe that, with 70% popularity and a sound economy, Putin could do anything else. After all, he is still a young man; why else would he picture himself bare-chested, while fishing, in Siberia? It surely looks political.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, there was the issue of who lost China. Different State Department figures pointed the finger at each other, as did Members of Congress of both parties If the charge were to be made again, “Who lost Russia?” it would not be President George W. Bush, although if he had avoided such nonsense as he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his soul and dealt with this Russian leader for the tough head of state that he is we all would have been better off.
Putin is a no-nonsense operator. He always has a strategy aimed at boosting his point of view. While probably not a Communist, he certainly is a throwback to the style of Soviet leadership to which we had become accustomed from Stalin onward. He no longer can hope to keep his country ignorant. Putin will operate wholly in his interest and that of his allies. We can expect little else from him. He is doing his very best to re-create the Soviet state internally and to practice Soviet-style international politics elsewhere. Any other interpretation of events would be a misunderstanding. There was a time when the United States could have fostered a different outcome. But a total misunderstanding as to how to handle things led to the present position. What a tragedy for us, the Russian people and the rest of the world as well.
Posted by db330 at 13:01
David Blair: Not Friend
Putin's posturing can't hide Russia's weakness
Russia's nuclear bombers are permanently airborne once again and President Vladimir Putin loses no opportunity to strut the world stage and flex his country's muscles.
Yet all the sound and fury disguises one essential fact: far from being a rising power like China or India, Russia is locked in long-term decline. At present, high oil prices give Russia's economy a temporary lift - and afford Mr Putin the cash to display his military prowess.
But demographics underlie every dimension of national power. Mr Putin cannot avoid the fact that Russia's population falls by about 800,000 people every year.
Instead of the present level of 142 million, Russia will probably have fewer than 100 million people by 2050 and vast swathes of the country will be depopulated.
Nations with a real chance of shaping events in the late 21st century do not have falling populations. National decline is virtually guaranteed by low life expectancy, alcohol abuse and the remarkable fact that Russian women experience more abortions than live births.
Power in the 21st century will divide between America's 300 million people, the European Union's 460 million and China and India with more than a billion each. Against this background, Russia looks insignificant.
Mr Putin's second Achilles Heel is the Russian economy. Its dependence on oil and natural gas is a blessing when, as now, prices are high. If prices fall or a long period of volatility begins, Mr Putin will quickly feel the pinch.
The uncomfortable fact is that Russia is not a centre of innovation. There are no world class Russian manufacturing companies, no universities churning out new inventions.
Instead, the economy is largely resource-dependent and rises or falls with global energy prices. In other words, Mr Putin has virtually no control over Russia's economic destiny. The vagaries of the world energy market will decide how belligerent he can afford to be.
Hence Russia's gross national product is only about £800 billion. Britain, with less than half its population, has one worth £1.3 trillion.
While every rattle of Mr Putin's sabre raises new memories of the Cold War, today's military situation does not compare with the era of the Iron Curtain.
In those days, Central Europe was a Russian fiefdom and the Kremlin deployed 18 armoured divisions in the old East Germany, projecting its military power to the geographical centre of Europe.
Today, by contrast, the satellite states are independent. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, once republics of the Soviet Union, are members of both the EU and Nato.
Nato's eastern border is now a short drive from St Petersburg. These fundamental realities betray Russia's essential weakness - which Mr Putin is doing his utmost to mask.
Posted by db330 at 13:00
Toomas Hendrik Ilves: Not Friend
Estonia could have yet another monument to debate in addition to the Bronze Soldier and the Freedom Monument, after President Toomas Hendrik Ilves called for the construction of a new monument to victims of communism.
Speaking Aug. 23 at a meeting to mark the 20th anniversary of a key pro-independence demonstration in Tallinn, Ilves said: "The events of recent years have convinced me that Estonia, just like the other European countries which suffered from crimes against humanity, needs a memorial to the victims," Ilves said.
He cited recent research which indicated that ‘crimes against humanity’ affected nearly two thirds of Estonians, eithe directly or indirectly.
"If so big a share of our citizens has suffered under communism, we cannot let it simply to be forgotten, we mustn't allow it to be downplayed," the head of state said.
In what sounded suspiciously like a sideswipe at Russian policy in the wake of this year’s Bronze Soldier demonstrations, Ilves expressed regret that right until the present day there is evidence of attempts to “whitewash” what Estonians and other nations living under communism had to live through.
"I wouldn't be upset so much if the ones who downplay it were neutral bystanders," Ilves said. "But why is it that former members of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union], including senior members of the party, are permanently justifying or downplaying the sufferings that befell others because of communists?"
But even as Ilves was speaking, Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) President Rene van der Linden was criticizing Estonia’s handling of the relocation of the Bronze Soldier.
“I regret very much it happened in this way as this demonstrates disrespect of Russia’s role in World War II,” van der Linden told the Russia Today TV channel. “I’m sure there is finally a solution suitable for both parts. I’ll visit the Baltic States in the second part of September. No doubt this case will be part of my discussions with these countries. And I will also give attention to the position of Russian minorities.”
Also Aug. 23, details of another proposed Tallinn monument were released. The recently-announced winner of a competition to design an Estonian Freedom Monument was revealed as the work of a team of two mechanical engineers and two architects, Eesti Ekspress reported.
According to the weekly, the authors of the work, entitled ‘Libertas’ are mechanical engineers Rainer Sternfeld and Andri Laidre and architects Kadri Kiho and Anto Savi.
The winning design, which has been criticized by some commentators for having 'totalitarian' elements, represents the Cross of Liberty at the top of a 28-meter column. It will need to attract substantial public support to avoid the fates of previous projects which never made it further than the drawing-board.
Gediminas Kirkilas: Not Friend
In a speech to delegates at the European Union 2020: Enlarging and Integrating conference held in Bled, Slovenia Aug 27, Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas defended his country’s commitment to nuclear power and voiced strong criticisms of Russia.
He defended the EU against accusations that it is merely a “handful of eurocrats and directives”, instead characterising it as “solidarity, peace, prosperity, freedom [and] democracy… It is becoming universally accepted that EU enlargement is a success story if not a little political miracle for us.”
“In my opinion the European Neighbourhood policy is a relevant part in the enlargement. We all must, therefore, continue to actively support reforms in the South Caucasus, Ukraine and Moldova, let alone, in Belarus,” Kirkilas said.
Having talked up Europe, the prime minister then talked down Russia. “The political and democratic situation in Russia worries us: abolished media independence, continued violations of human rights and manipulation of energy resources [the unexplained stop of oil supplies via the Druzhba pipeline to Lithuania], aggressive rhetoric as well as recent events in Estonia, UK and Georgia raise serious concerns.”
“Therefore, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland decided to build a new modern Western type nuclear power plant in Lithuania by 2015. It will diminish dependence on almost 100 percent imported hydrocarbons and make our primary energy consumption mix more balanced. In parallel, implementation of the nuclear power plant project will strengthen the commercial attraction of power grids with Poland and Sweden and join the Union for the
Chloe Arnold and Galina Kozhevnikova: Not Friend
Russia: Are Radicals Becoming More Mainstream? Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Posted by db330 at 12:55
Robert Hewson: Not Friend
"In terms of military threat they are a joke," Robert Hewson, the editor of Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, said, assessing the array of Sukhoi and MiG fighters on display at the airshow, held at the former Soviet Zhukovsky air base. "Everything is a relic from the Soviet era. The level of technology you see in the UK, Sweden and the US is much higher.
Posted by db330 at 12:53
Gavin Knight: Not Friend
The alarming spread of fascism in Putin’s Russia: Soviet-style propaganda and a personality cult for Putin are only two of the signs that Russia is edging towards fascism
One key concern arising from the recent spat with Russia is this awakening superpower is drifting into the foothills of fascism domestically. The simple defence Russians have offered in recent weeks is that Russians are by nature fiercely patriotic. I knew a Russian who, when the train stopped on the Russian border, picked up handfuls of Russian soil and started to sob.
The loss of their empire – the USSR - is keenly felt. Vladimir Putin, for example, described the end of the USSR as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. It would have been more appropriate if he had given this title to the Ukrainian terror-famine of 1929-33 where the Russian occupier diverted all food from the collectivized peasants to the rest of the USSR. This terror-famine resulted in more deaths than all countries in the First World War. Russians refuse to apologise for the famine and still talk of Ukrainians in the same derogatory terms that some English used to use about the Welsh and Irish.
Putin is keen to maintain influence in the former Soviet satellite states and this is increasingly causing conflict. The key turning point was the Orange revolution in 2004 which discarded the Kremlin’s favoured candidate in Ukraine to bring in a pro-Western President with dreams of EU and NATO membership. The idea of losing “Little Russia”, the dearest of the CIS satellite states, to NATO shocked many Russians including Putin and ushered in more authoritarian tactics. The most worrying of these tactics was the politicised use of energy supplies. Ukraine had its gas cut-off shortly after its drift westward in 2004, and more recently Estonia has had oil supplies to its port disrupted by Russia during the statue crisis.
Putin is concerned that the loss of influence in the satellite states will threaten Russia's power along its borders by its old adversary NATO. He blamed the Orange Revolution in part on the unchecked rise of a democratic youth movement in Ukraine called PORA, who opposed the authoritarian government.
To prevent a similar group being established in Russia, Putin created his own youth movement “Nashi”. The official line was that this group were supposed to counter the rise of fascism, in the National Boshevik party. However, it soon became apparent that Nashi’s true function was as a personality cult for Putin whose job was intimidate, bully and harass his opponents.
In the recent Estonia crisis, thugs from Nashi terrorized the Estonian Embassy forcing the ambassador into hiding. In the protests one person was killed and 99 injured. Similarly, the UK ambassador in Moscow was intimidated by Nashi thugs merely for attending an opposition conference. The 120,000 Nashi members must show total devotion to the president. Their young leaders meet Putin himself in training camps and have an audience with his potential successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergie Ivanov. Nashi actions are well-organised, they wear distinct red uniforms, have their own buses, power supply and well-financed phone-in campaigns. The comparison with Hitler Youth is beginning to be made more and more often.
The most sinister aspect of Nashi is the revival of Soviet-style propaganda. In the official manifesto, Nashi recruits are subjected to Soviet-style prejudices of xenophobia and anti-Americanism that existed in the Cold War. The domain name for the Nashi website is www.nashi.su, opting for the “.su” of the non-existant Soviet Union, rather than “.ru” for Russia. The manifesto calls on Nashi members to stamp out any colour revolution as this would represent “a loss of sovereignty to external influences”. A flashing banner on the Estonia crisis declares: “It’s our history, it’s our war, it’s our soldier!” A poster at a recent rally criticised the number of adoptions of Russian children to the US. The members of Nashi, aged 17-25, who could essentially hold progressive views, are being indoctrinated with anti-European and anti-American sentiment.
The opposition groups in Russia are denied the right to hold protest and not allowed access to any of the state-controlled media. Nashi, however, are allowed to hold marches, which are covered favourably on state television. Financing for Nashi comes from Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas giant. Similar to Hitler Youth, the group undergoes paramilitary training and have been implicated in the attacks on opposition groups like the banned National Bolshevik Party, led by Limonov and the Estonian ambassador. Their actions mirror more widespread of violent intimidation towards opposition groups, human rights activists and the free press.
Since Putin came to power, 15 journalists have been murdered by contract killers. Marina Litvinovich, the chief political adviser to opposition leader Garry Kasparov, was beaten up so badly she lost two front teeth. Lidia Yuspova, a human rights campaigner based in Chechnya, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, only to receive and anonymous call warning her she would not live to receive it. Groups of black-shirted skinheads have been responsible for assaults and murders directed at immigrants from the Caucasus.
Putin’s popularity ratings run at 80 per cent, showing that his grip on the state-media has effectively kept Russians in an information vacuum. He has exploited the fierce national pride of his people and reinforced prejudices by accusing the US of hegemony and speaking of the NATO presence along the borders.
Social instability and health problems run rampant throughout the country. A 20-year-old Russian has less than a 50 per cent chance of reaching the age 65 (compared to 80 per cent for an American). Russia has three million drug users, with as many as two million may be HIV-infected. Its prisons are rife with tuberculosis and hold 1.3m people many of them young homeless boys. By effectively integrating an immigrant population Russia could help to swell its workforce but current immigration stands at zero. Russia is more than just the Nashi movement, state-controlled media and murdered journalists, but Putin's legacy will be determined by how legitimately he can justify his people's patriotism by improving the quality of living.
Posted by db330 at 12:52
Vytautas Landsbergis: Not Friend
In January 2005, Professor Landsbergis, backed by another Member of the European Parliament from Hungary, urged a ban on the Soviet and Nazi symbols. He also sent a letter to Mr. Franco Frattini, the European Commissioner of Justice and Internal Affairs, where he suggested that in case the EU decides to ban Nazi symbols, Communist symbols should be banned too. The Commissioner became interested in this proposal and said: "I am ready to join this discussion. The Communist dictatorships no less than the Nazi ones are responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people". A bit later, however, the Commissioner under pressure from Italian communists backed off his initial statement.
The proposal of Professor Landsbergis did not go by without a response from the Russian Parliament as well. The First Vicespeaker of the Russian State Duma called Professor's proposal "abnormal". Another Russian MP, a communist, commented by saying that "somebody in Europe became insolent and forgot who saved them from the fascists".
Professor Landsbergis is a fierce critic of Russia's intentions to impose any kind of influence on the Baltic States and publicly questions Russia's actions vis a vis the Baltic States on both local and international media, as well as in the European Parliament. He warns that Russia might have intentions to control Lithuania and the other Baltic States economically and politically through a wide network of former KGB agents and other clandestine activities. Vytautas Landsbergis is one of the most active politicians, who urge Russia to compensate Lithuania and other post-Soviet republics for damage done to them during their occupations.
Peter Felstead, Christopher Langton, and Yevgeny Bendersky: Not Friends
Should the West fear Russia's military build-up?
Wed Aug 29, 2007 9:53PM IST
Should be West be worried ?
"Overall, Russia's military capability is well below 50 percent of what the Soviet Union had," Peter Felstead, editor of Jane's Defence Weekly, said in a telephone interview.
"The bombers resuming flights was more a prestige thing and a diplomatic signal than real military posturing."
The State Department in Washington dismissed the bombers' reappearance as Russia taking "old aircraft out of mothballs" -- an unflattering reference to the backbone of Moscow's fleet, the propeller-driven Tupolev-95 which first flew in 1952.
"The West doesn't terribly need to worry," said Christopher Langton, a retired colonel who works as a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.
"Most of the product of the Russian military-industrial complex is for the export market to bring in revenues. Little goes to the domestic market."
YEARS OF NEGLECT
In the army, most tanks are outdated models from the 1960s and 1970s, according to IISS figures. Russia's navy has just one operational aircraft carrier after five others were decommissioned and sold to China and India in the 1990s.
And despite pledges to re-equip the military, analysts say new high-tech versions of existing weapons are still snapped up abroad before they come into service at home.
"The first buyer for the modernised MiG-29 (fighter) is Yemen and the second is Eritrea," said Ruslan Pukhov, director of Moscow's Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
Defence experts say that apart from Moscow's strategic nuclear forces, which were relatively well-funded in the 1990s, most of the military needs to overcome years of neglect.
Russia has started an eight-year $189 billion programme to replace nearly half of existing military hardware by 2015, including modern Topol-M missiles, missile-carrying aircraft, motor vehicles and ships, according to official information.
But Yevgeny Bendersky, a senior analyst with the privately-funded Power and Interest News Report in Washington said the impressive-sounding defence spending masked deficiencies on other fronts, such as the quality of manpower.
It also helped to hide Russia's domestic social problems.
"What we are seeing now is a pattern very similar to the Soviet Union," he added. "Outwardly Russia seems very strong, especially in the field of energy, but inwardly it's not -- the gap is widening between the rich and the poor, the situation in the countryside is terrible".
Posted by db330 at 12:44
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Not Friend
IS ANOTHER DEPRESSION LOOMING?
Posted by db330 at 12:43
Yulia Latynina: Not Friend
Slanderers from Russia: Why people in power say Russia is hurt again
It’s been two weeks that a missile fell near the village of Tsitelubani in Goriysky district of Georgia. Unceasing comments by our military officials are making me astonished more and more about this story. Air Force Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Igor Khvorov just said that the missile was exploded in another place and then its fragments were brought and put into a dug hole. As for President of South Ossetia Eduard Cocoyta, it goes without saying. Of course, he knew from the very beginning that it was Georgian plane and it was going to bomb Ossetians.
The most astonishing statement was done by head of peacemaking troops Marat Kulakhmetov. He said that the “aircraft entered conflict zone from east, then it took a list south-western-wards…discharged the missile turning to north-east and came back to mountainous area”.
Why Head of peacemakers doesn’t know what exactly is situated in the east of Georgia and why he doesn’t know what exactly came from the east – Su-27, or a heron, or a thrush – it’s his business. Maybe, he doesn’t know what flies over his territory. Maybe, that flying stuff got drunk and just dropped a thing.
It’s not that what I’m talking about. The matter is that in a normal state incident of such type may happen with two reasons – to display one’s power or to accuse the neighboring state of provocation and to attack it. In this case, it turns out that the missile was dropped so that Lieutenant General Khvorov could make a statement that Russia has been hurt again.
If the Kremlin doesn’t like Georgia so much, I would understand Russian paratroopers, dressed like Georgian soldiers, penetrating the territory of South Ossetia and making provocation there with the purpose of further intrusion to Georgia with the shouts “let’s avenge our ally!” I don’t say it would be a democratic action. But at least it would be in Stalin’s style - we are a great power and we have borders with whom we want. But to drop a missile just to say “we have been hurt again”, it’s a kind of military-political masochism.
The great power is not that who is hurt by everyone. On the contrary, the great power can hurt everybody. They say liberals don’t love Russia. Why! Liberals can be taught by Kremlin’s masochists to unlove Russia.
It should be noted that it’s not only Georgians who offend Russia. Recently, it has been hurt by businessmen. They cut off power from the Building 11 in Kotelnichesky Lane 5. According to Colonel General Solovyev, that affected country’s defense capability as in the basement of the mentioned building there is communication center that secures anti-aircraft defense of the capital city.
To tell the truth, I was just astonished by that statement. If we are the great power who is in opposition to the new Reich embodied by the USA and who will be the world leader in 21 century, how can it be that some businessmen can annihilate the great power’s air defense just by turning power switch? And if it is not so, and no damage was done to our air defense and the general just talked nonsense using our power’s glory just as a stick in his fight against disrespectful businessman, why this official is still in the army? Why wasn’t he stripped off his straps and didn’t get a goodbye present in a form of a pistol with just one cartridge inside? A liberal should learn much to be able to defame the great power by saying that a house manager is capable of destroying country’s defense. We haven’t heard the like since the incident between former Fleet Commander Kuroedov and captain Kasatonov who commanded Peter the Great, nuclear cruiser. Taking dislike to Kasatonov, Kuroedov said after inspection of the ship done, that the cruiser was out of commission. In the inspection certificate, among other things it was written that the “portrait in the cabin is fixed only on one nail which makes for opportunity of misrepresentation of the portrait’s essence when the vessel is pitching and rolling”.
I don’t know why people in power are cultivating inferiority complex with our citizens. Why they tell us that Russia has been hurt by Georgia, Estonia or Moldova. Or tell that our defense can be destroyed with a power switch turn. Or make foreign experts laugh with that report about Peter the Great vessel. The only thing I know is that no liberal can keep up with them.
David Asher: Not Friend
Could Japan Become the "England of the Far East"?
Friday, June 1, 2001, AEI Online (Washington)
Posted by db330 at 12:38
J. R. Nyquist: Not Friend
ECONOMIC WARFARE IN THE FINAL PHASE, Weekly Column - 08.31.2007
This week the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, warned against Russia’s use of energy as an instrument of foreign policy. Speaking before his ambassadors, the French President said: “Russia is imposing its return [as a great power] on the world scene by employing its assets, notably oil and gas, with a certain brutality.” A great power ought to be gentle in its economic or political superiority. The Russians, however, are accustomed to a more cynical use of their advantages. The language of the Russian president includes mockery, condescension and threats. The West cringes, the East advances. Who cares what the weak countries think? Their feelings are without consequence.
Russia is not only engaged in a military buildup. Russia wants to use its economic muscles. You might ask what economic muscles Russia could have? It is bankrupt, backward, hobbled, demoralized and generally dismissed as an effective economic actor. We must remember, however, that positions in the world economy can change, that tables can be turned. Last June, at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, the Russians called for a “new international financial architecture.” Here is Russia’s “Final Phase” economic strategy. The financial vulnerability of capitalism is growing. Keep pushing oil prices higher. Weaken the dollar. Precipitate the inevitable “crisis of capitalism.” Let the have-not nations rise up. Let them throw off their dollar shackles. Let them unite with Russia and China in “one clenched fist.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin believes the United States is vulnerable. The emerging economies of Brazil, India and China – combined with Russia – can shove the hollowed-out American economy aside. After all, American economic ascendancy is “archaic, undemocratic and unwieldy,” according to Putin. As for Europe, its dependence on Russian energy exports will assure a smooth process of “Finlandization.” Such a process begins with gentle warnings from Russia’s ambassadors in Europe and ends with self-censorship. Russia’s economic penetration of Europe gives special leverage to Moscow. In other words, the Kremlin has entered into the Fabric of European political life – through agent networks, influence operations and business pressure. These relationships can be used to influence powerful people, to adversely affect the careers of anyone who opposes Russian interests.
Economic influence means political influence. As America is humiliated, as America retreats, Russia advances. The day might come when Europe pays for its energy in rubles. If this occurs, Europe would have to acquire a large store of Russian currency. Russia’s economic position would grow, and so would Russia’s hold on Europe. Moscow wants to build a global old exchange on Russian territory, knocking big financial players to one side. The Russians want to stun the American economy. They want to weaken an already weakened dollar.
In 1984 a Russian defector named Anatoliy Golitsyn wrote of the period following the collapse of communism. He warned of a renewed attack on the West, engineered by KGB strategists. He said that this attack had an economic dimension. In his 1984 book, New Lies for Old, he wrote: “’Liberalization’ in Eastern Europe on the scale suggested could have a social and political impact on the United States itself, especially if it coincided with a severe economic depression. The communist strategists are on the lookout for such an opportunity.” According to Golitsyn, the communist bloc tracks Western economic developments. They watch for developing weaknesses. “The communist bloc will not repeat its error of failing to exploit a slump as it did in 1929-32.” The smartest political observers know that a financial slump resurrects Marxism and its critique of economic freedom.
Referring to a deceptive phase of self-advertised Russian weakness, Golitsyn warned: “Information from communist sources that the bloc is short of oil and grain should be treated with particular reserve, since it could well be intended to conceal preparation for the final phase of the policy and to induce the West to underestimate the potency of the bloc’s economic weapons.” The economic weakness of Russia led Europe to feel safe about their growing dependence on Russian oil and gas. And now it is too late. Now we see how Russia and China have formed a military bloc. We see them supporting the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the paranoid buildup of Syria and Venezuela – the seduction of Latin America and the bloody unraveling of sub-Saharan Africa.
The U.S. financial situation worsens as the old communist bloc gathers its economic, political and military forces. Look at the new Russian weapons – nuclear missiles, tanks, jet fighters and more. Look at Latin America and notice what is happening in Venezuela, Bolivia and Colombia. The communists are advancing under various false flags. They seek the destruction of the United States. It doesn’t matter who is in the White House. It doesn’t matter what policy the U.S. is following. They want to destroy America, because America stands in the way of their plans.
If you live in America and want your children to be free, you’d better wake up. The actions of Russia are not in reaction to American “aggression” or “imperialism.” They are part of a long-established pattern of deception and exploitation. This is how the Russians behave. This is how they’ve always behaved. Most political pundits and “experts” will scoff at this statement. But let me ask them: Is it a coincidence that a KGB-regime has emerged in “democratic” Russia? Is it happenstance that this regime has formed a military alliance with communist China?
Shortly before her death, the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya asked whether the rise of Putin’s Russia was mere happenstance. In answer to this question she took a bullet in the back of the head. The silencing of those who ask the right questions is part of the old communist pattern. According to Mark Riebling, KGB defector Golitsyn’s 1984 book contains 148 falsifiable predictions. Of these predictions, 139 were “fulfilled by the end of 1993 – an accuracy rate of nearly 94 percent.” Today, Golitsyn’s accuracy rate is higher. Having predicted Russia’s use of oil as a weapon, having predicted a future alliance between Russia and China, it might be said that 141 out 148 of Golitsyn’s predictions have come to pass.
In recent months Russia tried to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. It turns out that the paranoia in Damascus was fueled from Moscow. The conventional analyst thinks the Russians are motivated by the prospect of further arms sales to Syria. But this is not the whole answer. Russia seeks to foment a greater military crisis with which to intensify the economic and energy crisis. The Russians and their allies are making trouble where they can. The hour is ripe. The U.S. president is weak. The American economy is troubled. One great push, one more straw upon the camel’s back, and capitalism might be overthrown – once and for all.
Posted by db330 at 12:37
Stratfor: Not Friend
China: Central Asian Rumbles
August 31, 2007 18 05 GMT
China is making a bid for Central Asia's energy resources -- a move that will ultimately expand into a bid for geopolitical control of the entire region. Russia is waking up to the threat and starting to take countermeasures, setting the stage for a broad Sino-Russian conflict in Central Asia.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on Aug. 31 inaugurated the construction of a new natural gas project that will ship Turkmen natural gas currently destined for Russia to China instead. The event marks the formal beginning of a conflict between Russia and China for control of the entire Central Asian region.
Jay Winik, Not Friend
Vladimir the Great? Putin's Inspiration Is Much Older Than the Cold War, Washington Post, Sunday, September 2, 2007; B07
Posted by db330 at 12:31
Jim Hoagland, Not Friend
With Russia, Pray for Cynicism, Washington Post, Sunday, September 2, 2007
Andrei Piontkovsky: Not Friend
Russian `vital space' faces threat
Wednesday, Aug 29, 2007, Page 8
Last week, Russia and China held joint military maneuvers in the presence of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). But a new strategic alliance between the two countries is unlikely, as it is China that poses the greatest strategic threat to Russia, although many in the Kremlin seem blind to this as they rattle sabers at the West.
Indeed, China officially considers several regions in Russia's Far East to be only "alienated" from it. Beijing's territorial claims on Russia are often listed in Chinese grade school geography textbooks, which include a number of Russian Far Eastern regions within China's borders.
This ideology is consistent with the Chinese strategic concept of "vital space," which includes all spheres of a state's strategic activities -- on land, at sea, under water, in the air and in space. The dimensions of "vital space" are determined by a country's economic, scientific, technical, social and military capabilities -- in essence, its "total power."
Chinese theorists have said that the "vital space" of great powers extends far beyond a state's borders, whereas the "vital space" of weak countries is limited to strategic boundaries that do not always correspond to the borders of their national territory.
Today, China has territorial claims against 11 of its 24 close neighbors, including India, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, in addition to Russia. In China's relations with all of them, the potential use of military force was and is an important factor.
Last September, the People's Liberation Army conducted an exercise of unprecedented size over 10 days that involved the Shenyang and Beijing military districts, the two most powerful in China.
To military observers, these exercises seemed to be practice for a possible offensive operation against Russia.
Paradoxically, these exercises were undertaken during a period when bilateral political and economic ties appeared to be at their highest point.
Russia has an important place in Chinese geopolitical calculations as a supplier of both modern weaponry and energy resources needed to continue its modernization. Therefore, the Chinese are doing everything possible to strengthen their economic and political position with Russia and to draw Russia into their sphere of influence.
And China is succeeding, most importantly by consistently reinforcing Putin's anti-US and anti-Western agenda. While the Beijing and Shenyang exercises should have indicated to Russian leaders that China's intentions toward Russia may not always be benign, Russia's political and military leadership do not seem to sense any threat -- on the contrary, they continue to sell the Chinese advanced weapons.
Russia's diplomatic tilt toward China is clearly against Russia's own long-term national security interests. China will never be interested in Russia's economic and political modernization, for it prefers Russia to remain a source of mineral and energy resources and a vast "strategic rear" in its looming challenge with the US.
Likewise, China eyes the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- which just concluded its annual meeting -- as a tool of regional policy that helps strengthen China's influence and control over Central Asia's natural resources at the expense of Russia.
No nation threatens China's land borders. China can solve its domestic problems, such as separatism, by itself. China is militarily self-sufficient and needs military cooperation under the SCO framework only in order to free its hands if any conflict should arise that affects its interests.
Conflict between Russia and China is most likely possible in Central Asia, given the clear differences in the two countries' economic and political interests in that region. Aside from control of the region's energy supplies, water has become a potential source of conflict, given China's serious shortages.
Yet, while the Chinese clearly understand these contingencies and are preparing themselves to deal with them diplomatically and militarily, the Kremlin remains myopically obsessed with the phantom threat of the US.
Thus, as the Kremlin dreams of re-establishing its domination over what Russians refer to as the "near abroad" (Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic countries and the other post-Soviet states), China is increasingly looking at Russia as its own near abroad. Will the Kremlin finally wake up to this?
Thirty-six years ago, former US president Richard Nixon and former Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong (毛澤東) turned world politics upside down, as both the US and China realized that it was the Soviet Union, and not each other, that posed the greater threat.
Now Putin needs his own "Nixon moment." Alienating the West is a foolish strategy when the greatest long term threat to Russia comes from the East.