Thursday, January 29, 2015

OSCE and American/EU Policy wrt Ukraine

The OSCE (organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) is responsible for monitoring the Minsk Agreement and reporting on progress and on non-compliance.  Since the Minsk agreement has for all intents and purposes never been implemented on the ground in Eastern Ukraine, the 450 people on the ground have been mainly monitoring the constant shelling and rocket attacks of  Russian terrorists and troops on Ukrainian military positions and residential areas.

They have serious credibility problems.  First off, members of the mission are free to travel anywhere in Ukrainian controlled territory.  Russia is a member of the OSCE and has people on the ground as part of the OSCE mission.  It has not escaped notice that Ukrainian military positions are shelled rather accurately after OSCE visits.

Secondly, the OSCE is NOT allowed to travel in the Russian controlled areas except when and where the terrorists allow them.  They have not seen any Russian troops or Russian equipment cross the border because they're not allowed to. OSCE can only monitor two border crossing sites along a 400 km frontier and of course nothing and no one crosses at those sites.  They do see the new equipment in Luhansk and Donetsk which is obviously Russian and from Russia but unless they see it cross the border, their hands are tied.

They are getting a bit fed up with this.  Their positions are increasingly dangerous as the war continues. They are trying to recruit 250 more people with military experience but the only applicants are Russian.  How useful they are is questionable as Russia simply denies any reports that are not favourable to the terrorists. One hopes they give some credibility to Ukrainian reports in the rest of the world.

This gets to the subject of American and EU's policy towards the war in Ukraine which is a puzzle to many. Both are doing everything they can to help on the civil side of things - billions of dollars in loans and loan guarantees, advising on reforms and so forth.  America, Canada, Australia and EU members are providing non-lethal aid to Ukraine, (delivered by volunteers to the Ukrainian forces so the still highly corrupt bureaucracy doesn't steal it and sell it on the black market).  But NOBODY seems to be willing to sell weapons which we so desperately need.  Obama has clearance from Congress, EU cleared individual members but even Poland hasn't done anything visible in the way of arms.

Part of the reason is that Russian continues to maintain that they're not supplying arms and troops to the terrorists in eastern Ukraine.  Plausible deniability.  "Prove it", they say. There is all kinds of proof they are here but none that they crossed the border from Russia, at least none that will be enough to back Putler and Lierov into a corner.

At Davos, Lavrov said that so far no one has shown him proof because either they can't OR THEY DON'T WANT TO (emphasis mine).  Unless American spy satellites are as useless at tracking military movement as the NSA data collection is at preventing terrorist attacks around the world, America should be able to provide and accurate count of everything that crossed the Russian Ukrainian border.  But they haven't released it and they won't.  Lavrov knows it and is just rubbing it in.

If America did release the information, it would mean that people would know exactly what was going on and America could no longer pretend along with Russia.  They would be expected to do something.  The question is what?  If the West begins to arm Ukraine there will be no "plausible deniabilty" and it will "prove to Putin" that NATO aka USA is out to destroy his country.  (They really do believe their own press releases).  At which point he can claim Russia is under attack by NATO and retaliate overtly with what ever armed forces he wishes.  Which of course will destroy Ukraine with great loss of life.

UNLESS more countries are drawn into the war. At which point, since we are dealing with a mad man, it may well go nuclear.  Kyiv.  Warsaw.  What will it take to draw American nuclear retaliation and we all go up in a cloud of radioactive dust?

It is pure and simple blackmail.  Putin wants to sit down with a map in front of Merkel and Obama and secretly divide up the world, Molotov-Ribbentrop style, or back when everyone did it, Sykes-Picot style.  Putin is still in the 19th century. The problem is he thinks everyone else is too.

Sanctions will not stop Putin, they simply reinforce his paranoia that nobody loves him; everybody hates him and is trying to destroy Russia.  It is coming to war.  Now or later.  Take your pick.  Arms for Ukraine would at least call his hand.

A couple of headlines:

Russian woman charged with ‘treason’ for reporting soldiers sent to Ukraine

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Putin Echos Molotov

On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what became known as The Winter War.  The Red Army finally overpowered Finland after a disastrous campaign that saw tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers slaughtered and massive amounts of Soviet equipment destroyed.  At the end of the war, March 29, 1940 Foreign Minister Molotov had this to say:

“All this barbarism and countless atrocities are the fruits of policies of the Finnish White Guard, which sought to inflate the hatred to our country in its own people. It is not difficult to see that the war in Finland was not just a clash with the Finnish troops. No, here the situation was more complicated. There was a clash of our troops here not just with the Finnish troops, but with the combined forces of the imperialists of a number of countries, including Britain, France and others who helped the Finnish bourgeoisie with all kinds of weapons, and especially with artillery and aircraft, as well as with their own people under the guise of “volunteers,” with their gold and all sorts of supplies, with their rabid propaganda all over the world to fan the war against the Soviet Union.”

On January 26, 2015, Putin had this to say about Russia’s war against Ukraine:

 “We often say: the Ukrainian army, the Ukrainian army. But in actuality, who is fighting there? There indeed partially are some official units of the armed forces, but largely there are so-called ‘nationalist volunteer battalions.’ Essentially, this is not an army, it’s a foreign legion, in this case, NATO foreign legion, which of course does not pursue Ukraine’s national interests. There are completely different goals there, and they are connected to the achievement of the geopolitical objective of Russia’s containment, which absolutely does not coincide with the national interests of the Ukrainian people.”

I may have posted this film before but perhaps it is worth it again to remind people what we are up against in Ukraine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

From News Articles about Ukraine

If you want to read some of the conspiracy theories fueling Russian thought these days, here are a couple for you:

I have clipped a few paragraphs from several news items, with links below them.  Gives a bit of insight into where things are at.

In Russia, which has made the accusation of fascism in other countries a central tenet of its foreign policy, there freely exist organizations which do not hide their openly nationalistic and xenophobic nature.

Today’s reality is that fascism, Nazism and patriotism in contemporary Russian society are now one and the same. State propaganda skillfully manipulates many foreign nationalist movements (even very minor ones), accusing entire countries and peoples of fascism, without showing the ‘grateful’ viewers of Russian state television, the people who march throughout Moscow with swastikas and Nazi salutes.

Putin’s regime is oppressive at home and imperialist abroad. Power is concentrated in the hands of Russia’s dictatorial leader, who routinely violates human and civil rights and quashes all opposition, while legitimizing his rule by appealing to Russian dreams of erstwhile glory and great-power status and systematically engaging in military adventures in supposed defense of Russian minorities in Russia’s “near abroad.” Putin’s cult of personality centers on his hyper-masculine image as a tough leader willing and able to stand up to real and imagined internal and external foes.

Western hopes of resolving the Russo-Ukrainian war in eastern Ukraine by means of negotiations are therefore misplaced. Whatever Putin agrees to—even Ukraine’s agreement never to seek NATO membership—will be at best a temporary retreat from his expansionist foreign policy. And Putin’s choice of countries to pressure is large, extending from the Baltics to Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to the five Central Asian states. Russians or Russian speakers inhabit all these states and can, in principle, be used to justify Moscow’s strong-arm tactics.

President Putin said Ukraine's army was operating against Ukrainian national interests by seeking to contain Russia.
"In effect, it is no longer an army but a foreign legion, in this case NATO's foreign legion, which does not of course pursue the aims of Ukraine's national interests," said the Russian president.
"The statement that there is a NATO legion in Ukraine is nonsense," Mr. Stoltenberg said. "There is no NATO legion, the foreign forces in Ukraine are Russian."
The NATO chief also urged Russia to stop providing backing to rebels, saying hundreds of pieces of advanced weaponry including tanks, heavy artillery and armoured vehicles had crossed the border.

The Soviet doctrine was based on the assumption that world revolution would eventually prevail everywhere. That there is no such millennial vision under Putin poses natural limits to Russian expansion. On the other hand, it is difficult to envisage an abdication of the present rulers—unless they will be assured (as Boris Yeltsin was) that they will not be prosecuted after their resignation—for instance, with regard to the fortunes amassed while in power.

It is also true, however, that certain ominous genies have been let out of the bottle in Russia’s current consolidation of power. The conspiratorial views, now encouraged, can easily turn in the wrong direction—namely, against the government. The rising Russian nationalism is also a double-edged sword: in addition to being against the West, chauvinism could find domestic targets such as the national minorities and the millions of guest workers in Russia.

The state of mind of the ruling Russian elite is at present one of great agitation; the fact that Russia has many nuclear weapons is mentioned virtually every week. Marxism-Leninism has been abandoned and replaced by a strange mixture of abstruse assertions and theories—such as neo-Eurasianism. The invocation of a Russian manifest destiny and the specific Russian spiritual values said to be greatly superior to Western decadence is very impressive. But how great is the distance between this and Russian realities?

Self-criticism has not been in fashion in Russia for a long time: Whenever something goes wrong, it must be the fault of the West. There is the widespread and profound belief in all kinds of conspiracy theories, the more outlandish the better and more popular. This mind-set is not at all funny in the age of weapons of mass destruction.

There is the loathing of the West, and especially of America, and there is the orientation toward a close alliance with China, seen in Moscow as an alliance of equals, as if there could be equality when the population of one partner is ten times as large as the other’s and its GNP five times larger. The Russian leadership has persuaded itself that all Beijing wants is the liberation of Taiwan. Great are the powers of self-deception.

The German government called the most recent Russian moves into eastern Ukraine “incomprehensible,” but they’re perfectly comprehensible if one keeps a record of what has happened since the Crimean invasion. When the latest Russian advances into Ukraine occurred, the new foreign policy chief of the European Union, Federica Mogherini of Italy, urged moderation, saying that the West can’t let the peace process break down because it will be so difficult to start it again. But what peace process was she speaking about? As a recent Wall Street Journal editorial pointed out, “Putin has never stood down”—not in Chechnya in 1999, when he used the Chechen war to take power; not in Georgia in 2008; not in 2012, when he whipped up anti-Americanism and domestic repression to crush his own anti-government street protests; and so far not in Ukraine. He will stand down only if and when he is forced to do so.

Far from being a partner in peace negotiations, Putin has demonstrated a fierce and obsessive anti-Americanism. The Washington Post editorial page was on the mark in its characterization of his speech in Valdai in October: “a poisonous mix of lies, conspiracy theories, thinly veiled threats of further aggression, and, above all, seething resentment toward the United States.” Putin exceeded even his own standard of bombast the following month when he said, “When a Russian feels he is right, he is invincible.”

Without Western resolve, any negotiations with Russia can yield only temporary solutions that change nothing. The Kremlin is ultimately interested in dictating terms, but not in keeping them, just like it was not interested in keeping the cease-fire agreed upon in Minsk following the August escalation. Showing the world that Russia can make rules at will and then break them with impunity seems to be the current modus operandi in the Kremlin.

In 1992–94, sensing a growing threat of border revisionism from Russia, Ukrainians pushed hard to have their neutrality guaranteed, much like Finland in 1948 and Austria in 1955, by the West and Russia. At the time they were negotiating security assurances in exchange for surrendering the nuclear weapons inherited from the Soviet Union. Ukraine wanted these guarantees formalized in an international treaty that would commit its guarantors (read: the West) to impose sanctions and provide aid should Ukraine come under threat (read: by Russia). The West balked at undertaking any binding security commitments toward a new and little understood country.

Thus, the security assurances granted in the Budapest Memorandum in exchange for Ukraine’s accession to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty as a nonnuclear weapons state (signed by the US, the UK, and Russia at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe summit on December 5, 1994) only reiterated existing multilateral commitments found in the UN Charter and the CSCE Helsinki Final Act, but guaranteed nothing and imposed no costs for violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine, neutral or otherwise.

The EU Association Agreement with Ukraine, due for signature in November 2013, would have changed none of that. Mired with expansion fatigue and careful not to provoke Russia, Brussels offered Ukraine the agreement not as membership-lite, certainly not as a path to NATO but rather as a consolation for the lack of a more substantive engagement. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin, for whom NATO expansion became a favorite casus belli, said nothing of NATO when he pressured Yanukovych out of signing the EU deal. Instead, he simply stated that Ukraine’s economic alliance with the EU was not in Russia’s interests because its market would be flooded with cheaper, better-quality European goods.

In March 2014, after the Crimean annexation was a fait accompli and the Kremlin began to stir trouble in southern and eastern Ukraine, Ukraine’s then acting Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, in a clear signal to Moscow, declared that Ukraine would not seek NATO membership. Had Ukraine’s strategic neutrality been Russia’s true objective, this would have been the time for Kremlin to sit down at the table and commit Yatseniuk’s pledge to paper.
Yet, despite this very real opportunity to stop NATO expansion at Ukraine’s doorstep, Moscow was not interested. Instead, the Kremlin declared that it does not recognize the “fascist junta” in Kyiv and moved to effectively violate the very neutrality into which it had forced Ukraine in the first place.

Location of ethnic Ukrainians 

Monday, January 26, 2015


Finally some decent analysis of the current outburst of war - "What does Putin want?"  His long term intent is to rebuild the Russian Empire with Stalinist totalitarianism and some kind of foggy Eurasionist ideology, heavy on conservative Orthodoxy and ethnic Russian nationalism.  But his short term intent with Ukraine is explained this way:

In Putin's world view there are no independent nations, only empires.  Countries do not act independently, only when directed to by the Empire which pulls the strings.  The CIA was responsible for the overthrow of the Kremlin friendly criminal president of Ukraine, Yanukovych. None of Ukraine's actions are self-directed, in fact, Ukraine doesn't even count.  It is the land based Russian Empire against the Ocean based American Empire (which is the successor of the ocean based British Empire).

The Brits did their best to contain Russia's southern movement in "The Great Game" mostly to keep them out of India, which was by far their most valuable colony.  According to Putin, America, which controls the EU, want to keep Russia down, with an economy based on natural resources. (Never mind that Russian government and oligarchs have never made any attempt to diversify, and simply concentrated on stealing as much as they could from resource revenue; they are thieves, not business men.)

And LilliPutin's nose is totally out of joint because others do not treat him as an equal.  Short man syndrome. So the current offensive in Ukraine is to force Merkel and Obama (the only two he considers worthy of him) to negotiate directly with him the fate of not only Ukraine but all of Eastern Europe.  The violence in Ukraine will continue to ratchet up until it forces Ukraine's surrender and the West to the table.  Lavrov essentially admitted that the deaths of civilians in the bus at Volnovakha, at the bus stop in Donetsk and in Mariupol were in retaliation for Ukraine's refusal to surrender to Putin's "peace plan" of Jan 15th.

Russian troops continue to take territory to the north of Donetsk and Luhansk cities and Ukrainian casualties are high.  One cannot depend on official announcements of casualties from the Ukrainian side as they are consistently under reported.  There is a good chance that they will cut off and surround a large number of Ukrainian military in the Debaltsev salient.  Part of the problem is that Ukraine is fighting according to old Soviet doctrine - do not surrender territory.  Consequently the Russians are in control of the program as they are mobile and can hit where they please.

The DNR rebel leader has said that in response to the shelling of the bus stop in Donetsk, which of course they blame on Ukrainian provocateurs, they will no longer take prisoners.

In other news, food prices in Kaliningrad have risen 50% though the official report is 22%.  They have risen by a third since the new year and the officials reported 6.5%.  Kaliningrad, (formerly Königsberg) is isolated from the rest of Russia, hence has a food problem, now that they cannot import from Europe (Putin's "counter sanctions"). In another part of Russia, one official (governor?) told the people they will just have to eat less if they cannot afford food.  At least Marie Antoinette offered then cake.

I think that Putin took the offensive at the remains of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Ukraine is not the ultimate goal for him but rather space for trading with the West. Actually, his message is as follows, "You can consider me a moral monster, but it is only me who can solve the question of war and peace in the territory of Ukraine and, consequently, in the territory of Europe." The death toll makes no difference to him. Let's not forget that Russian citizens also die in this war, but it does not embarrass him. He is advancing.

 One should not have expected real progress from this meeting. Russia will not make any actual concessions until some of the world leaders start speaking with Putin directly and he will regain the feeling that he is one of the key players in the world politics.  He only considers Obama and Merkel to be equal negotiators; however, they refuse to talk to him because they do not trust him and do not regard him as a person with whom they can negotiate the destinies of the world.  As soon as the summit in Astana was cancelled at the initiative of Germany and Putin was not invited to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a new war broke out in Donbass. 

"Today's shelling in Mariupol is additional evidence that official Russia in the person of Vladimir Putin is prepared to escalate the military conflict if the West does not embark on direct negotiations with the Kremlin regarding the future of Ukraine," Belkovsky considers.

"The war will only get fiercer because Putin is sure now more than ever: Ukraine is just about to collapse. And it will not collapse because of the influence of the Kremlin but rather because of contradictions within the Ukrainian political and oligarchic elite when Petro Poroshenko deceives its own people (for example, he denied existence of confidential Minsk protocols, though it became clear that they exist), and the Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk cannot conceal his dependence on oligarchic clans. The Russian President is convinced that Ukraine is bound to collapse in 2015, and the West will be compelled to address Putin directly in order to save it," the political scientist believes.

Bill Browder: the Kremlin threatened to kill me. The former banker claims Vladimir Putin runs Russia like a crime syndicate. He should know: corrupt officials seized his assets and stole $230m. His lawyer was beaten to death in jail. And now sinister text messages warn he might be next

1877 "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

We are at war

Russian troops have increased their attacks all along the ceasefire line and have begin shelling the seaport Mariupol, the last major strong point in breaking through a land link to Crimea which Russia desperately needs. The leader of the DNR has said that they will attack and advance against Ukrainian positions until they reach the borders of  the Oblasts...and maybe farther if they feel like it.  Of course 10 minutes later he denied that he said that.

The Minsk agreement is dead, though it really never had any life.  The Russian terrorists shelled Ukrainian positions, villages, towns and cities every day with artillery and rockets.  Shelling increased every time a new shipment of humanitarian aid arrived from Russia.

Troops freely moved back and forth across the border and hundreds of pieces of heavy weapons, including newly developed rocket launchers, armoured vehicles and fire control centres have been transported into Ukraine and positioned along the border of the Russian held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia's testing of new weapons reminds one of the Spanish Civil War for those seeking historical parallels.

Last week they shelled a Ukrainian checkpoint and hit a bus, killing 13 civilians.  The other day a bus stop in Donetsk City was hit and several more civilians were killed.  Of course all this is the Ukrainians doings, even though the bus stop was hit by mortar fire and the Ukrainians were several times out of mortar range.

The Russian terrorists hide behind civilians as Putin promised last year that they would.  They locate and fire from populated areas - schools, hospitals etc being favourite locations as it makes it difficult to return fire without killing civilians.  If the Ukrainian military are too cautious, the Russians will shell civilian areas and blame the Ukrainians which is likely what happened with the bus stop in the city.

Russian media is already reporting that Mariupol has surrendered. A bit premature but from the earliest days of Communism, Russian media has always been over optimistic in predicting accomplishments.  Not that I doubt it will happen.  Russia has 50,000 troops and hundreds of heavy weapons on the border with Ukraine. The invasion will come as a "peacekeeping mission" and Putin is already preparing people for the increase in Cargo 200, see Paul Goble's blog post, link below.

Putin Seen Declaring War on Kyiv the Only Way He Can – By Blaming Ukraine

Russia kills civilians in Mariupol, demands peace

Putin's new peace plan is simply his terms for Ukraine's surrender.  The Minsk agreement was not as much in Russia's favour as he wanted and he had no intention of keeping it anyway but it was a great way to buy time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Update on Ukraine

Today I am sad.  Sad for Ukraine; sad for the civilians, especially the old and the young, caught in the war zone.  Sad for the soldiers, the Ukrainian soldiers fighting for their homeland and freedom and the Russian soldiers, sent often against their will to die for the glory of a lost Empire.  Sad for Russia, rejecting everything good that "the West" stands for, and believing that a return to Stalinism with Orthodoxy as the state religion rather than Communism, can return their lost Empire and their lost Great Power status, though it leaves them in poverty and in slavery.

Four Buddhist monks were arrested in Moscow for praying in front of the Ukrainian Embassy for the civilians killed in a terrorist rocket attack.  Two men have had criminal charges laid against them after holding "Je suis Charlie Hebdo" picket signs and one 75 year old pensioner could face five years in jail.

This article has more details of Russian clamp down on free speech.

Russian press has come out strongly in favour of strict censorship and blames the magazine for the deaths in Paris.  Lierov marched in the parade, though relegated to the fourth row.  There were other countries represented where freedom of speech is even more controlled than Russia.  At least Obama had the good grace not to attend but that is a blog rant for another day.

Some Russians are wearing "Je suis Valera" buttons in support of a mentally deranged Russian soldier who killed a family of seven Armenians in their own home.  According to the agreement between Russia and Armenia, he should be tried in an Armenian court.  Russia is refusing and Armenians are rioting.  The killer is being treated as a martyr in Russia (see above link for more details).

The war has heated up almost full scale again.  Russian troops and equipment continue to be sent across the border into Ukraine and Russia continues to deny it.  One of the best comments I read on an article was "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck but denies it is a duck, then it is a Russian duck".

The Donetsk airport has come under extremely heavy attack in the last few days.  It has held out longer than Stalingrad and has assumed the same mythical proportions in Russia's war against Ukraine.  As I write, I do not know if it has fallen or not.  Both sides are fighting fiercely.

Map of combat zone in eastern Ukraine
There is also heavy fighting north of Luhansk where Russian troops are attacking Ukrainian positions.  The eventual prize is the power station at Shchastia which supplies electricity to Luhansk. (Click to enlarge map).

Russian troops have been corralling and in some cases disarming the LNR and DNR terrorist bands, which include locals, mercenaries, volunteers Cossacks and Chechens to bring order and create a unified military command.

A full scale assault could come within the next couple of weeks according to one article I read.  It could well be.  If you predict something often enough one of the guesses is bound to be right.  The reasons are listed here:

Russia sent to eastern Ukraine five mobile crematoria. The remains of Russian soldiers killed in action in Ukraine will be incinerated on the spot. Too many Cargo 200. Now the families will not only have no information of how or where their loved ones died, they will not even have the body to bury. Cremation is highly unusual in Orthodox faith.

Proroshenko gave a speech in Switzerland the day before the Davos meetings started (yesterday?).  There were Russian hecklers in the audience which he slapped down quite nicely.  The audience booed the hecklers but Russian TV redid the video to make it appear as though they were booing Proroshenko.  They never miss a trick.

The Jamestown Foundation had an interesting article based on the writings of Alexander Sytnik, former senior fellow at the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, a government-funded think tank. 

According to Sytnik, Leonid Reshetnikov, the director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, and Tamara Guzenkova, the head of the Institute’s department responsible for Ukraine, were vehemently opposed not only to Ukraine, but to the very notion of a distinct Ukrainian identity as such. The two, along with their subordinates, writes Sytnik, “could not say anything, but ‘there is no Ukraine, only Little Russia [Malorossiya]’; ‘Ukrainian statehood is a bluff and it is a failed state’; ‘it is a result of the criminal destruction of the Russian Empire by the Bolsheviks’; ‘the Ukrainian language was artificially created by the Austrians and the Poles to break up Russian unity’; ‘the consolidation of the post-Soviet space on the foundation of territorial and spiritual rebirth…’ ” 

 According to (Stytnik), who specialized in the Baltic States during his time in the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, he was fired after his analytical report on Belarus was delivered in September 2014. Sytnik’s main premise was that Belarus would participate in the Moscow-crafted Eurasian Union only as long as Belarus’ sovereignty remained intact. In his words, he was subsequently told that his point of view contradicted that of the Russian presidential administration and, therefore, the view of the Institute, and he had to go. (Note: He appears to have been right)

The Russian analyst’s scathing remarks about the country’s leadership and about the community of government experts confirm that the concept of Russian supremacy has a strong hold on the Russian leadership. These supremacist views are not limited to the post-Soviet space, where “only ethnic Russians are capable of creating statehood.” The West is also seen as decadent and somewhat spiritually inferior to the Russians. The spread of such views in Russia, especially among the country’s leaders, precludes easy and quick solutions to the Ukrainian crisis, but rather suggests a relatively lengthy period of tensions between Russia and the West, even if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin were, for some reason, to step down.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Advice to Wedding Planners

Since Fox News refuses to hire me as a terrorism expert (I failed the hiring exam because I could actually point out Birmingham on a map), I have decided to repackage myself as a wedding planner.  I have been to a number of weddings, two of them as one of the guests of honour, so at least know the basics.

This is a good time to start my new business as my cousin's two daughters became engaged to the loves of their lives over the holidays and the entire family is in planning tizzies, according to Facebook.

It amazes me how it can take up to a year to plan a wedding.  Time would be better spent planning the rest of one's lives together.  Weddings, except in novels and movies are not the end, they are the beginning.  Funerals are the end.  I have been to some of them too, fortunately not yet as the guest of honour (though that may change if my cousin gets hold of me after this post).

He brought joy to tens.
I mean, if you can plan a funeral in a week, you should be able to plan a wedding in a week.  Same basic ingredients: church, preacher, flowers, congregation, music, speeches and food and six friends of the guest(s) of honour.

There are some differences of course.  Two guests of honour at a wedding instead of just one.  Also they can usually get in and out of the building on their own steam. There isn't that hot dusty drive to the cemetery but you do have to wait until they get back from the photographers.  Renting a tux is not recommended for the guest of honour at a funeral.

The groom, being irrelevant to the entire planning process, can just relax. A stuffed dummy would do just as well.  So long as you can stand where you are told, nod at appropriate times and produce the ring on demand, you will be fine.

It is also good practice for the rest of your life.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Charlie Hebdo Terrorism - Cui bono

Terrorists serve broader political aims than just their own stated goals.  Consequently it is hard to tell always who is behind them with money, logistics, training, advice etc.  Several articles showed up in my news feed since the massacre in Paris (surprise surprise) that I had not thought about before.

Of course the Russian media is already blaming the CIA for the murders to drive France and Europe in the saving arms of America.  And naturally, Paul Craig Roberts agrees with Russian media but he is certifiable. 

The involvement of the CIA with funding and training various terrorist groups is reasonably well known, which is why it is so easy to suspect them of being behind every terrorist organization or act in the world. but I had not thought about the KGB/FSB in the same light.

According to Pavel Gubarov, "Governor" of the Donetsk People's Republic, he has recorded proof of Putin's Chechen Warlord Ramzan Kadyrov bragging to some of the Russian terrorist fighters that he had hired two Algerians to make trouble in Paris in revenge for French sanctions and the cancellation of the Mistral warship contract. He does not approve of this kind of terrorism and is willing to cooperate with what he knows.

In the same article Ukrainian Rada Deputy Ihor Mosiychuk is quoted as saying Kadyrov had threatened France before and "when the Caucasus Mujahideen open a second front against the tyrant of the Kremlin, his vassal Kadyrov is trying at all costs to paint the Caucasian rebels as Islamist terrorists".

Ex-deputy of the State Duma, Chairman of the "Western choice" Konstantin Borovoy is quoted as believing that the terrorist attacks in Paris is another special operation of the Kremlin in order to radicalize the situation in France and Europe to help the right-wing nationalists.

"Terrorist attack in Paris - it's certainly an attempt to radicalize the situation in Europe to help the right-wing nationalists and avenge France for refusing to supply the Russian military helicopters "Mistral". But the main reason is still to cause substantial damage to stability in Europe. Putin wanted to prove to himself that he can affect the international political situation. After all, today he remains in isolation and is opposed by all the European Community. And he is very dangerous.

The ultra-nationalist political party "National Front", led by Marine Le Pen, won 20% of the votes in the parliamentary elections of 2012 and more than 25% of the vote in last year's elections to the European Parliament. The party is in receipt of a multi-million dollar loan from a Russian controlled bank with ties to the Kremlin.  As the money is a loan, it is not taxable in France.

Then we can assume another goal - an attempt, at least temporarily divert attention from the war in Ukraine".

Akhmed Zakayev, Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, in exile in London has written to the President of France regarding the need ofRussia to find a common enemy with the west, Islamic terrorists:

"There has been a very dramatic change in international politics last year. In connection with the occupation of the territory of  Ukraine Western 
countries have imposed economic sanctions against Russia. Today, Russia is on the brink of economic crisis, which, in turn, will inevitably lead to a political crisis. In this situation, in order to maintain the current criminal regime in Russia, the Russian special services must find a common enemy with the West, which will lead to the cancelling of sanctions against Russia - a country aggressor.  According to a plan of the Kremlin in the role of a common enemy would have to come out again "Islamic terrorists."

NATO has already said that Russia is a partner in fighting terrorism.

So who benefits from the terrorist incident?  Certainly the far right in Europe.  Certainly Russia.  Does America benefit?  Possibly but how is not as clear.

For further information on Russian involvement with Islamist terrorism, keep reading.

Business Insider describes the FSB and Al-Qaeda connection with Ayman al-Zawahiri who spent 6 months in the custody of Russian intelligence in the mid-1990s.  They then let him go, claiming later that they did not know who he was at the time of his arrest trying to enter Chechnya.

Shortly thereafter, he headed for Afghanistan to establish his fateful alliance with bin Laden, which was cemented in the mid-February 1998 announcement of a new partnership between the men and their organizations in a Global Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. Thus was al-Qa’ida officially born and the path to 9/11 was established.......

There are many reasons to doubt the official story told by both sides in the affair. In the first place, Zawahiri was one of the world’s most wanted terrorists in 1996, having played a leading role in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981; the doctor’s role in the subsequent public trial was televised in many countries.

He was hardly a secret mujahid. Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that a security service as proficient and thorough as the FSB did not have its interest piqued by the appearance of three Arab mystery men, bearing multiple identities and cash, in the middle of a warzone.
It is equally difficult to accept that the FSB was unable to uncover the mysteries contained in Zawahiri’s laptop – as the Americans would do after many such laptops belonging to al-Qa’ida leadership were captured in Afghanistan after 9/11 – had the Russians really wanted to..... 
Might Moscow have suggested that it would look the other way about al-Qa’ida’s activities in Chechnya as long as bin Laden and Zawahiri left Russia alone otherwise? It surely appears significant that Zawahiri led bin Laden down the path of global jihad, and direct confrontation with the United States, after emerging from his half-year as a guest of the FSB.
As President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly made clear, a unipolar, American-led global system is not in Russia’s interests. To this day, Russia has endured many attacks by Chechen militants, but no confirmed acts of terrorism perpetrated by al-Qa’ida Central. This vexing issue continues to offer more questions than answers, and needs additional research, particularly considering the state of relations between Moscow and the West.
An article from the Lithuanian DEPHI which is part 2 of a series looking at Russian links with terrorism.  It is long and not particularly easy to read but very detailed in terms of names dates and places.  The meat of it is that originally the Chechen wars were about establishing an independent secular republic as had Armenia and Azerbaijan.  

However the current crop of anti-Russian fighters, in the North Caucuses are Wahhabi Islamists bent on establishing a Caucasian Emirate. They had been galvanized by the atrocities of the Second Chechen War and of Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin's warlord, charged with keeping Chechens under control. However Wahabism is being spread throughout the FSU by the Islamist Revival party which seems to have its roots in the KGB/FSB.

This has great benefits for Russia as it allows them to divide Muslims into two groups, the good ones who are moderate and do not upset the apple cart and the bad terrorists.  The author suggests that the terrorists are in fact cultivated as provocateurs by the FSB and therefore not trusted by the local populace.

A number of fighters from the North Caucuses have been recruited by ISIL in Syria including one Doka Umarev, leader of the Emirate, who was allegedly dead but turned up in Syria, transferred by the Kremlin to fight AGAINST their ally Assad.  Russia needs to hang on to Syria and Assad as their last foothold in the Middle East, so by strengthening ISIL in opposition, they can muddy the waters.

‘The basic difference between Russia’s and America’s attitude towards Islamic terrorist is that America regards it as an external threat, while Russia employs terrorism as an object and government tool both internally and abroad. Islamic terrorism is only a part of international terrorism. KGB was using terrorism to spread communist regime principles all over the world, and it was well before Islamic terrorism became a global threat.‘

Friday, January 9, 2015

Catching up is hard to do

Happy New Year to all my reader's who survived the holiday season.  Actually it isn't quite over yet in Ukraine but I think Monday is back to normal.  Or else the week after. We had family and friends for a feast on "Catholic Christmas" (Dec 25) and two more family feasts on NYE and "Christian Christmas" eve (Jan 6).

The annual Christmas letter went out to anyone I thought might be interested.  Not many people write them anymore, what with Facebook allowing daily updates with pictures and all.  My late wife was an amazing letter writer, kept up a huge correspondence.  She used to write individual letters at Christmas to 75 or 100 people.  Once that got too much she photocopied a hand written or typed letter.  Getting a computer sure speeded that up and especially addressing the envelopes.

It also made it easier to save the letters from year to year.  Going back over them is like reading a mini-history of our family.  An "authorized history" mind you but none the less, a brief look at our lives year on year.  I grouped them into PDF documents by decade and sent them to the kids.  Five letters from the 80's; ten from the 90's; eight from the 2000s. Thirty years of memories.

I got the books caught up, which is never fun.  But things more or less balanced and at least I know where some of the money went.  It sure does went.

Finally caught up on blog reading this morning.  Amazing how long it takes to read all the blog entries on those I follow, especially Paul Goble's.  He can summarize half a dozen Russian articles a day when he is on a role.  And news - I am a news junkie now.  No idea how many articles I read in a day.  There are dozens of articles on Europe, Russia and Ukraine coming in on my Facebook feed, plus the websites I have linked.  The kids gave me The New Yorker for Christmas.  Throw in the freebies from several magazines like the Economist and it never ends.  Not sure I am any smarter coming out than going in, though.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre is pretty horrific and will generate the intended backlash.  The Economist charted Islam in Europe and compared actual numbers against perceptions.  As expected perception is multiples of reality.  There are enough nutjobs ready to say "Kill them all and let God sort it out", that I should hate to be Muslim in Europe.  That is the intent of course, to have all Muslims living in fear of an infidel backlash and ready to obey the ISIL and Al-Qaeda call to jihad.

Interesting enough, Putin condemned the killings but the usual Kremlin suspects applauded them, as “I just found out about this and I am for those who shot them. There must be press censorship, and if you don’t feel the limits, then you pay with your life” .

Ukraine is still waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Ukrainian positions are shelled and attacked daily.  The Russian side by all reports is gearing up for a massive attack but when?  I wish our troops were better armed with high tech anti tank stuff and the like.

Russia continues to go rapidly downhill towards Stalinist totalitarianism.  Now they have banned transsexuals and transgender people from driving as they are psychologically unfit.  There is a fairly lengthy list of folks now banned from driving to decrease road deaths. Actually repairing roads and cracking down on drunks would go quite a ways too.  There is zero tolerance for drinking and driving but unfortunately not zero tolerance for bribery or protection from high position (your own or someone you know).

A few decent articles, especially Motyl's article on Donbas and the Deep South: