Author Topic: Russia/US-- Europe  (Read 138739 times)


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Re: Russia-- Europe
« Reply #50 on: April 13, 2010, 11:03:13 AM »

Russia's efforts to reassert influence along its territorial periphery are currently evident in numerous ways. A customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus -- which took effect on Jan. 1, 2010 -- was quickly followed by elections in Ukraine, which brought a pro-Russian president to power in February. Last week, a revolt in Kyrgyzstan toppled the government of independent-minded President Kurmanbek Bakiyev; the speed with which an interim government was formed and Russian troops were flown into the country has strongly suggested that Moscow helped to orchestrate events in Bishkek. And to the west, a "charm offensive" launched months ago, in hopes of softening anti-Russian sentiments in Poland, has gained new traction following the deaths of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and dozens of military, economic and political officials in an April 10 plane crash near Smolensk.


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'Russia engineered air crash that killed President Kaczynski,'
« Reply #51 on: April 13, 2010, 07:44:48 PM »
'Russia engineered air crash that killed President Kaczynski,' claims Polish MP
By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 8:09 AM on 13th April 2010
Comments (91) Add to My Stories The Russian government prevented the Polish president's plane from landing four times to divert him from a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, according to an MP.

Artur Gorski said the Russians 'came up with some dubious reasons' that the aircraft couldn't land because they feared President Leck Kaczynski's presence would overshadow a similar event hosted by the Russian prime minister a few days before.
And their alleged plan ended in disaster when the Polish pilots made one final and disastrous attempt to land, killing Mr Kaczynski, his wife, and 94 others on board the plane.

Read more:


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Toppled Kyrgyz leader insists he is still president
« Reply #52 on: April 21, 2010, 07:56:30 AM »
 I would not want to be this guy's food tester...
AFP - Kyrgyzstan's ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev insisted Wednesday that he was still the rightful leader of his country, breaking several days of silence after his flight into exile.
"I, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, am the legally elected president of Kyrgyzstan and recognised by the international community," he said, speaking to reporters in Belarus where he took refuge earlier this week
"I do not recognise my resignation. Nine months ago the people of Kyrgyzstan elected me their president and there is no power that can stop me. Only death can stop me," Bakiyev said in the Belarussian capital Minsk.
Bakiyev was toppled by a popular uprising in Kyrgyzstan two weeks ago that brought a new interim government to power in the former Soviet republic.
After holding out in his stronghold in southern Kyrgyzstan for about a week, Bakiyev flew to neighbouring Kazakhstan, and the interim government announced that he had submitted his resignation.
On Monday he and several family members left Kazakhstan and arrived in Belarus at the invitation of strongman Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Speaking in the Minsk-based headquarters of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a grouping of former Soviet republics, Bakiyev lashed out at the interim government which replaced him.
"Everyone must know the the bandits who try to take power are the executors of a external force and have no legitimacy," he said with steely determination.
"I call on leaders of the international community: do not set a precedent and do not recognise this gang as the legitimate authorities," he said.
"Kyrgyzstan will be nobody's colony. My people want to be free and will become free," Bakiyev added.


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Ignored Soviet Archives
« Reply #53 on: May 12, 2010, 08:01:26 PM »
Claire Berlinski
A Hidden History of Evil
Why doesn’t anyone care about the unread Soviet archives?
Spring 2010
In the world’s collective consciousness, the word “Nazi” is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis’ ideology—nationalism, anti-Semitism, the autarkic ethnic state, the Führer principle—led directly to the furnaces of Auschwitz. It is not nearly as well understood that Communism led just as inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture, and slave-labor camps. Nor is it widely acknowledged that Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.

For evidence of this indifference, consider the unread Soviet archives. Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can’t get anyone to take much interest in them at all.

Then there’s Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who once spent 12 years in the USSR’s prisons, labor camps, and psikhushkas—political psychiatric hospitals—after being convicted of copying anti-Soviet literature. He, too, possesses a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which, as he writes, “contain the beginnings and the ends of all the tragedies of our bloodstained century.” These documents are available online at, but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function. “I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them,” Bukovsky writes. “Editors shrug indifferently: So what? Who cares?”

The originals of most of Stroilov’s documents remain in the Kremlin archives, where, like most of the Soviet Union’s top-secret documents from the post-Stalin era, they remain classified. They include, Stroilov says, transcripts of nearly every conversation between Gorbachev and his foreign counterparts—hundreds of them, a near-complete diplomatic record of the era, available nowhere else. There are notes from the Politburo taken by Georgy Shakhnazarov, an aide of Gorbachev’s, and by Politburo member Vadim Medvedev. There is the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev—Gorbachev’s principal aide and deputy chief of the body formerly known as the Comintern—which dates from 1972 to the collapse of the regime. There are reports, dating from the 1960s, by Vadim Zagladin, deputy chief of the Central Committee’s International Department until 1987 and then Gorbachev’s advisor until 1991. Zagladin was both envoy and spy, charged with gathering secrets, spreading disinformation, and advancing Soviet influence.

When Gorbachev and his aides were ousted from the Kremlin, they took unauthorized copies of these documents with them. The documents were scanned and stored in the archives of the Gorbachev Foundation, one of the first independent think tanks in modern Russia, where a handful of friendly and vetted researchers were given limited access to them. Then, in 1999, the foundation opened a small part of the archive to independent researchers, including Stroilov. The key parts of the collection remained restricted; documents could be copied only with the written permission of the author, and Gorbachev refused to authorize any copies whatsoever. But there was a flaw in the foundation’s security, Stroilov explained to me. When things went wrong with the computers, as often they did, he was able to watch the network administrator typing the password that gave access to the foundation’s network. Slowly and secretly, Stroilov copied the archive and sent it to secure locations around the world.

When I first heard about Stroilov’s documents, I wondered if they were forgeries. But in 2006, having assessed the documents with the cooperation of prominent Soviet dissidents and Cold War spies, British judges concluded that Stroilov was credible and granted his asylum request. The Gorbachev Foundation itself has since acknowledged the documents’ authenticity.

Bukovsky’s story is similar. In 1992, President Boris Yeltsin’s government invited him to testify at the Constitutional Court of Russia in a case concerning the constitutionality of the Communist Party. The Russian State Archives granted Bukovsky access to its documents to prepare his testimony. Using a handheld scanner, he copied thousands of documents and smuggled them to the West.

The Russian state cannot sue Stroilov or Bukovsky for breach of copyright, since the material was created by the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, neither of which now exists. Had he remained in Russia, however, Stroilov believes that he could have been prosecuted for disclosure of state secrets or treason. The military historian Igor Sutyagin is now serving 15 years in a hard-labor camp for the crime of collecting newspaper clippings and other open-source materials and sending them to a British consulting firm. The danger that Stroilov and Bukovsky faced was real and grave; they both assumed, one imagines, that the world would take notice of what they had risked so much to acquire.

Stroilov claims that his documents “tell a completely new story about the end of the Cold War. The Ωcommonly accepted≈ version of history of that period consists of myths almost entirely. These documents are capable of ruining each of those myths.” Is this so? I couldn’t say. I don’t read Russian. Of Stroilov’s documents, I have seen only the few that have been translated into English. Certainly, they shouldn’t be taken at face value; they were, after all, written by Communists. But the possibility that Stroilov is right should surely compel keen curiosity.

For instance, the documents cast Gorbachev in a far darker light than the one in which he is generally regarded. In one document, he laughs with the Politburo about the USSR’s downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983—a crime that was not only monstrous but brought the world very near to nuclear Armageddon. These minutes from a Politburo meeting on October 4, 1989, are similarly disturbing:

Lukyanov reports that the real number of casualties on Tiananmen Square was 3,000.

Gorbachev: We must be realists. They, like us, have to defend themselves. Three thousands . . . So what?

And a transcript of Gorbachev’s conversation with Hans-Jochen Vogel, the leader of West Germany’s Social Democratic Party, shows Gorbachev defending Soviet troops’ April 9, 1989, massacre of peaceful protesters in Tbilisi.

Stroilov’s documents also contain transcripts of Gorbachev’s discussions with many Middle Eastern leaders. These suggest interesting connections between Soviet policy and contemporary trends in Russian foreign policy. Here is a fragment from a conversation reported to have taken place with Syrian president Hafez al-Assad on April 28, 1990:

H. ASSAD. To put pressure on Israel, Baghdad would need to get closer to Damascus, because Iraq has no common borders with Israel. . . .

M. S. GORBACHEV. I think so, too. . . .

H. ASSAD. Israel’s approach is different, because the Judaic religion itself states: the land of Israel spreads from Nile to Euphrates and its return is a divine predestination.

M. S. GORBACHEV. But this is racism, combined with Messianism!

H. ASSAD. This is the most dangerous form of racism.

One doesn’t need to be a fantasist to wonder whether these discussions might be relevant to our understanding of contemporary Russian policy in a region of some enduring strategic significance.

There are other ways in which the story that Stroilov’s and Bukovsky’s papers tell isn’t over. They suggest, for example, that the architects of the European integration project, as well as many of today’s senior leaders in the European Union, were far too close to the USSR for comfort. This raises important questions about the nature of contemporary Europe—questions that might be asked when Americans consider Europe as a model for social policy, or when they seek European diplomatic cooperation on key issues of national security.

According to Zagladin’s reports, for example, Kenneth Coates, who from 1989 to 1998 was a British member of the European Parliament, approached Zagladin on January 9, 1990, to discuss what amounted to a gradual merger of the European Parliament and the Supreme Soviet. Coates, says Zagladin, explained that “creating an infrastructure of cooperation between the two parliament would help . . . to isolate the rightists in the European Parliament (and in Europe), those who are interested in the USSR’s collapse.” Coates served as chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights from 1992 to 1994. How did it come to pass that Europe was taking advice about human rights from a man who had apparently wished to “isolate” those interested in the USSR’s collapse and sought to extend Soviet influence in Europe?

Or consider a report on Francisco Fernández Ordóñez, who led Spain’s integration into the European Community as its foreign minister. On March 3, 1989, according to these documents, he explained to Gorbachev that “the success of perestroika means only one thing—the success of the socialist revolution in contemporary conditions. And that is exactly what the reactionaries don’t accept.” Eighteen months later, Ordóñez told Gorbachev: “I feel intellectual disgust when I have to read, for example, passages in the documents of ΩG7≈ where the problems of democracy, freedom of human personality and ideology of market economy are set on the same level. As a socialist, I cannot accept such an equation.” Perhaps most shockingly, the Eastern European press has reported that Stroilov’s documents suggest that François Mitterrand was maneuvering with Gorbachev to ensure that Germany would unite as a neutral, socialist entity under a Franco-Soviet condominium.

Zagladin’s records also note that the former leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, approached Gorbachev—unauthorized, while Kinnock was leader of the opposition—through a secret envoy to discuss the possibility of halting the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear-missile program. The minutes of the meeting between Gorbachev and the envoy, MP Stuart Holland, read as follows:

In [Holland’s] opinion, Soviet Union should be very interested in liquidation of “Tridents” because, apart from other things, the West—meaning the US, Britain and France—would have a serious advantage over the Soviet Union after the completion of START treaty. That advantage will need to be eliminated. . . . At the same time Holland noted that, of course, we can seriously think about realisation of that idea only if the Labour comes to power. He said Thatcher . . . would never agree to any reduction of nuclear armaments.
Kinnock was vice president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004, and his wife, Glenys, is now Britain’s minister for Europe. Gerard Batten, a member of the UK Independence Party, has noted the significance of the episode. “If the report given to Mr. Gorbachev is true, it means that Lord Kinnock approached one of Britain’s enemies in order to seek approval regarding his party’s defense policy and, had he been elected, Britain’s defense policy,” Batten said to the European Parliament in 2009. “If this report is true, then Lord Kinnock would be guilty of treason.”

Similarly, Baroness Catherine Ashton, who is now the European Union’s foreign minister, was treasurer of Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament from 1980 to 1982. The papers offer evidence that this organization received “unidentified income” from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Stroilov’s papers suggest as well that the government of the current Spanish EU commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Joaquín Almunia, enthusiastically supported the Soviet project of gradually unifying Germany and Europe into a socialist “common European home” and strongly opposed the independence of the Baltic states and then of Ukraine.

Perhaps it doesn’t surprise you to read that prominent European politicians held these views. But why doesn’t it? It is impossible to imagine that figures who had enjoyed such close ties to the Nazi Party—or, for that matter, to the Ku Klux Klan or to South Africa’s apartheid regime—would enjoy top positions in Europe today. The rules are different, apparently, for Communist fellow travelers. “We now have the EU unelected socialist party running Europe,” Stroilov said to me. “Bet the KGB can’t believe it.”

And what of Zagladin’s description of his dealings with our own current vice president in 1979?

Unofficially, [Senator Joseph] Biden and [Senator Richard] Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for “human rights.” . . . In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, that they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents.
Remarkably, the world has shown little interest in the unread Soviet archives. That paragraph about Biden is a good example. Stroilov and Bukovsky coauthored a piece about it for the online magazine FrontPage on October 10, 2008; it passed without remark. Americans considered the episode so uninteresting that even Biden’s political opponents didn’t try to turn it into political capital. Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to have spent the prime of your life in a Soviet psychiatric hospital, to know that Joe Biden is now vice president of the United States, and to know that no one gives a damn.

Bukovsky’s book about the story that these documents tell, Jugement à Moscou, has been published in French, Russian, and a few other Slavic languages, but not in English. Random House bought the manuscript and, in Bukovsky’s words, tried “to force me to rewrite the whole book from the liberal left political perspective.” Bukovsky replied that “due to certain peculiarities of my biography I am allergic to political censorship.” The contract was canceled, the book was never published in English, and no other publisher has shown interest in it. Neither has anyone wanted to publish EUSSR, a pamphlet by Stroilov and Bukovsky about the Soviet roots of European integration. In 2004, a very small British publisher did print an abbreviated version of the pamphlet; it, too, passed unnoticed.

Stroilov has a long list of complaints about journalists who have initially shown interest in the documents, only to tell him later that their editors have declared the story insignificant. In advance of Gorbachev’s visit to Germany for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Stroilov says, he offered the German press the documents depicting Gorbachev unflatteringly. There were no takers. In France, news about the documents showing Mitterrand’s and Gorbachev’s plans to turn Germany into a dependent socialist state prompted a few murmurs of curiosity, nothing more. Bukovsky’s vast collection about Soviet sponsorship of terrorism, Palestinian and otherwise, remains largely unpublished.

Stroilov says that he and Bukovsky approached Jonathan Brent of Yale University Press, which is leading a publishing project on the history of the Cold War. He claims that initially Brent was enthusiastic and asked him to write a book, based on the documents, about the first Gulf War. Stroilov says that he wrote the first six chapters, sent them off, and never heard from Brent again, despite sending him e-mail after e-mail. “I can only speculate what so much frightened him in that book,” Stroilov wrote to me.

I’ve also asked Brent and received no reply. This doesn’t mean anything; people are busy. I am less inclined to believe in complex attempts to suppress the truth than I am in indifference and preoccupation with other things. Stroilov sees in these events “a kind of a taboo, the vague common understanding in the Establishment that it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, not to throw stones in a house of glass, and not to mention a rope in the house of a hanged man.” I suspect it is something even more disturbing: no one much cares.

“I know the time will come,” Stroilov says, “when the world has to look at those documents very carefully. We just cannot escape this. We have no way forward until we face the truth about what happened to us in the twentieth century. Even now, no matter how hard we try to ignore history, all these questions come back to us time and again.”

The questions come back time and again, it is true, but few remember that they have been asked before, and few remember what the answer looked like. No one talks much about the victims of Communism. No one erects memorials to the throngs of people murdered by the Soviet state. (In his widely ignored book, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, Alexander Yakovlev, the architect of perestroika under Gorbachev, puts the number at 30 to 35 million.)

Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia’s most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta.

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism. These documents should be translated. They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars. Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about. If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say—and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do—this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.

Claire Berlinski, a contributing editor of City Journal, is an American journalist who lives in Istanbul. She is the author of There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters.


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Re: Russia-- Europe
« Reply #54 on: May 13, 2010, 05:45:39 AM »

You raise a fascinating point here, one of import beyond the confines of this thread.  If you have more in this vein, maybe I should expand the definition of the Fascism thread , , ,


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Re: Russia-- Europe
« Reply #55 on: June 22, 2010, 04:55:26 PM »

By George Friedman

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will brief French and Polish officials on
a joint proposal for Russian-European "cooperation on security," according to a
statement from Westerwelle's spokesman on Monday. The proposal emerged out of talks
between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev
earlier in June and is based on a draft Russia drew up in 2008. Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov will be present at the meeting. Peschke said, "We want to
further elaborate and discuss it within the triangle [i.e., France, Germany and
Poland] in the presence of the Russian foreign minister."

On the surface, the proposal developed by Merkel and Medvedev appears primarily
structural. It raises security discussions about specific trouble spots to the
ministerial level rather than the ambassadorial level, with a committee being formed
consisting of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Russia's foreign

All of this seems rather mild until we consider three things. First, proposals for
deepening the relationship between Russia and the European Union have been on the
table for several years without much progress. Second, the Germans have taken this
initiative at a time when German foreign policy is in a state of flux. And third,
the decision to take this deal to France and Poland indicates that the Germans are
extremely sensitive to the geopolitical issues involved, which are significant and

Reconsidering Basic Strategy
The economic crisis in Europe has caused the Germans, among others, to reconsider
their basic strategy. Ever since World War II, the Germans have pursued two national
imperatives. The first was to maintain close relations with the French -- along with
the rest of Europe -- to eliminate the threat of war. Germany had fought three wars
with France since 1870, and its primary goal was not fighting another one. Its
second goal was prosperity. Germany's memory of the Great Depression plus its desire
to avoid militarism made it obsessed with economic development and creating a
society focused on prosperity. It saw the creation of an integrated economic
structure in Europe as achieving both ends, tying Germany into an unbreakable
relationship with France and at the same time creating a trading bloc that would
ensure prosperity.

Events since the financial crisis of 2008 have shaken German confidence in the
European Union as an instrument of prosperity, however. Until 2008, Europe had
undergone an extraordinary period of prosperity, in which West Germany could
simultaneously integrate with East Germany and maintain its long-term economic
growth. The European Union appeared to be a miraculous machine that automatically
generated prosperity and political stability alongside it.

After 2008, this perception changed, and the sense of insecurity accelerated with
the current crisis in Greece and among the Mediterranean members of the European
Union. The Germans found themselves underwriting what they regarded as Greek
profligacy to protect the euro and the European economy. This not only generated
significant opposition among the German public, it raised questions in the German
government. The purpose of the European Union was to ensure German prosperity. If
the future of Europe was Germany shoring up Europe -- in other words, transferring
wealth from Germany to Europe -- then the rationale for European integration became

The Germans were certainly not prepared to abandon European integration, which had
given Germany 65 years of peace. At the same time, the Germans were prepared to
consider adjustments to the framework in which Europe was operating, particular from
an economic standpoint. A Europe in which German prosperity is at risk from the
budgeting practices of Greece needed adjustment.

The Pull of Russia
In looking at their real economic interests, the Germans were inevitably drawn to
their relationship with Russia. Russia supplies Germany with nearly 40 percent of
the natural gas Germany uses. Without Russian energy, Germany's economy is in
trouble. At the same time, Russia needs technology and expertise to develop its
economy away from being simply an exporter of primary commodities. Moreover, the
Germans already have thousands of enterprises that have invested in Russia. Finally,
in the long run, Germany's population is declining below the level needed to
maintain its economy. It does not want to increase immigration into Germany because
of fears of social instability. Russia's population is also falling, but it still
has surplus population relative to its economic needs and will continue to have one
for quite a while. German investment in Russia allows Germany to get the labor it
needs without resorting to immigration by moving production facilities east to

The Germans have been developing economic relations with Russia since before the
Soviet collapse, but the Greek crisis forced them to reconsider their relationship
with Russia. If the European Union was becoming a trap in which Germany was going to
consistently subsidize the rest of Europe, and a self-contained economy is
impossible, then another strategy would be needed. This consisted of two parts. The
first was insisting on a restructuring of the European Union to protect Germany from
the domestic policies of other countries. Second, if Europe was heading toward a
long period of stagnation, then Germany, heavily dependent on exports and needing
labor, needed to find an additional partner -- if not a new one.

At the same time, a German-Russian alignment is a security issue as well as an
economic issue. Between 1871 and 1941 there was a three-player game in continental
Europe -- France, Germany and Russia. The three shifted alliances with each other,
with each shift increasing the chance of war. In 1871, Prussia was allied with
Russia when it attacked France. In 1914, The French and Russians were allied against
Germany. In 1940, Germany was allied with Russia when it attacked France. The
three-player game played itself out in various ways with a constant outcome: war.

The last thing Berlin wants is to return to that dynamic. Instead, its hope is to
integrate Russia into the European security system, or at least give it a sufficient
stake in the European economic system that Russia does not seek to challenge the
European security system. This immediately affects French relations with Russia. For
Paris, partnership with Germany is the foundation of France's security policy and
economy. If Germany moves into a close security and economic relationship with
Russia, France must calculate the effect this will have on France. There has never
been a time when a tripartite alliance of France, Germany and Russia has worked
because it has always left France as the junior partner. Therefore, it is vital for
the Germans to present this not as a three-way relationship but as the inclusion of
Russia into Europe, and to focus on security measures rather than economic measures.
Nevertheless, the Germans have to be enormously careful in managing their
relationship with France.

Even more delicate is the question of Poland. Poland is caught between Russia and
Germany. Its history has been that of division between these two countries or
conquest by one. This is a burning issue in the Polish psyche. A closer relationship
between Germany and Russia inevitably will generate primordial fears of disaster in

Therefore, Wednesday's meeting with the so-called triangular group is essential.
Both the French and the Poles, and the Poles with great intensity, must understand
what is happening. The issue is partly the extent to which this affects German
commitments to the European Union, and the other part -- crucial to Poland --is what
this does to Germany's NATO commitments.

The NATO Angle
It is noteworthy the Russians emphasized that what is happening poses no threat to
NATO. Russia is trying to calm not only Poland, but also the United States. The
problem, however, is this: If Germany and Europe have a security relationship that
requires prior consultation and cooperation, then Russia inevitably has a hand in
NATO. If the Russians oppose a NATO action, Germany and other European states will
be faced with a choice between Russia and NATO.

To put it more bluntly, if Germany enters into a cooperative security arrangement
with Russia (forgetting the rest of Europe for the moment), then how does it handle
its relationship with the United States when the Russians and Americans are at
loggerheads in countries like Georgia? The Germans and Russians both view the United
States as constantly and inconveniently pressuring them both to take risks in areas
where they feel they have no interest. NATO may not be functional in any real sense,
but U.S. pressure is ever-present. The Germans and Russians acting together would be
in a better position to deflect this pressure than standing alone.

Intriguingly, part of the German-Russian talks relate to a specific security matter
-- the issue of Moldova and Transdniestria. Moldova is a region between Romania and
Ukraine (which adjoins Russia and has re-entered the Russian sphere of influence)
that at various times has been part of both. It became independent after the
collapse of communism, but Moldova's eastern region, Transdniestria, broke away from
Moldova under Russian sponsorship. Following a change in government in 2009, Moldova
sees itself as pro-Western while Transdniestria is pro-Russian. The Russians have
supported Transdniestria's status as a breakaway area (and have troops stationed
there), while Moldova has insisted on its return.

The memorandum between Merkel and Medvedev specifically pointed to the impact a
joint security relationship might have on this dispute. The kind of solution that
may be considered is unclear, but if the issue goes forward, the outcome will give
the first indication of what a German-Russian security relationship will look like.
The Poles will be particularly interested, as any effort in Moldova will
automatically impact both Romania and Ukraine -- two states key to determining
Russian strength in the region. Whatever way the solution tilts will define the
power relationship among the three.

It should be remembered that the Germans are proposing a Russian security
relationship with Europe, not a Russian security relationship with Germany alone. At
the same time, it should be remembered that it is the Germans taking the initiative
to open the talks by unilaterally negotiating with the Russians and taking their
agreements to other European countries. It is also important to note that they have
not taken this to all the European countries but to France and Poland first -- with
French President Nicolas Sarkozy voicing his initial approval on June 19 -- and
equally important, that they have not publicly brought it to the United States. Nor
is it clear what the Germans might do if the French and Poles reject the
relationship, which is not inconceivable.

The Germans do not want to lose the European concept. At the same time, they are
trying to redefine it more to their advantage. From the German point of view,
bringing Russia into the relationship would help achieve this. But the Germans still
have to explain what their relationship is with the rest of Europe, particularly
their financial obligation to troubled economies in the eurozone. They also have to
define their relationship to NATO, and more important, to the United States.

Like any country, Germany can have many things, but it can't have everything. The
idea that it will meld the European Union, NATO and Russia into one system of
relationships without alienating at least some of their partners -- some intensely
-- is naive. The Germans are not naive. They know that the Poles will be terrified
and the French uneasy. The southern Europeans will feel increasingly abandoned as
Germany focuses on the North European Plain. And the United States, watching Germany
and Russia draw closer, will be seeing an alliance of enormous weight developing
that might threaten its global interests.

With this proposal, the Germans are looking to change the game significantly. They
are moving slowly and with plenty of room for retreat, but they are moving. It will
be interesting to hear what the Poles and French say on Wednesday. Their public
support should not be taken for anything more than not wanting to alienate the
Germans or Russians until they have talked to the Americans. It will also be
interesting to see what the Obama administration has to say about this.

This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to

Copyright 2010 Stratfor.


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Russia-US "reset"
« Reply #56 on: June 24, 2010, 01:34:53 PM »
If I wasn't crying out loud I would be laughing out loud.

"Obama declared Thursday that he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have "succeeded in resetting""  :roll:

"Obama gave Russia perhaps the biggest gift it could have wanted from the meetings: an unqualified, hearty plug for Moscow's ascension to the World Trade
Organization." -  :cry: (The GREAT ONE did it again - Medvedev sound like he was swayed by greatness - even Mort Zucker is sickened)

***FOX News By DESMOND BUTLER, Associated Press Writer Desmond Butler, Associated Press Writer – 1 hr 12 mins ago
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama declared Thursday that he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have "succeeded in resetting" the relationship between the former Cold War adversaries that had dipped to a dangerous low in recent years.

Obama directly acknowledged differences in some areas, such as Moscow's tensions with neighboring Georgia, but said "we addressed those differences candidly." And he announced that the U.S. and Russia had agreed to expand cooperation on intelligence and the counterterror fight and worked on strengthening economic ties between the nations.

Obama gave Russia perhaps the biggest gift it could have wanted from the meetings: an unqualified, hearty plug for Moscow's ascension to the World Trade Organization. Russia has long wanted membership but U.S. support in the past has come with conditions.

"Russia belongs in the WTO," Obama said as the two leaders stood side-by-side in the East Room after several hours of meetings — including an impromptu trip to a nearby burger joint for lunch.

The leaders faced questions about the U.S.-led Afghanistan war, and Obama promised that the U.S. will "not miss a beat" because of the change in military command that he ordered on Wednesday. Obama accepted Gen. Stanley McChrystal's resignation and replaced him with his direct boss, Gen. David Petraeus.

Petraeus "understands the strategy because he helped shape it," Obama said.

Medvedev seemed reluctant to wade into the topic, recalling the ultimately disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

"I try not to give pieces of advice that cannot be fulfilled," Medvedev said. "This is a very hard topic, a very difficult one."

Yet he said that Russia supports the U.S. effort if it can result in Afghanistan emerging from extreme poverty and dysfunction to have "effective state and a modern economy."

"This is the path to guarantee that the gravest scenarios of the last time will not repeat," he said.

Obama said the two had also agreed to coordinate on humanitarian aid for Kyrgyzstan, wracked by turmoil in the wake of the president's ouster. Kyrgyzstan's president was driven from power in April amid corruption allegations, sparking violence that has left about 2,000 people dead and 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks homeless.

Asked about a major flashpoint between the U.S. and China, Obama said Washington would judge the effect of Beijing's latest currency announcement over the course of the year, rather than overnight. Obama and Medvedev go this weekend to Canada for the G-20 summit, with China's leader also attending. Obama faces pressure from Congress and the U.S. business community to press Beijing more aggressively on its currency policy.

The U.S. argues that the weak Chinese yuan hurts American exports. On Saturday, China announced it would loosen its controls on the currency, but the move may not strengthen the yuan enough for U.S. tastes.

The agenda for Obama and Medvedev was modest, and mostly focused beyond security issues to expanding trade and economic cooperation. Russia has the world's eighth-largest economy but ranks 25th among U.S. trading partners.

"The true significance of Medvedev's visit is that it brings us closer to a relationship that doesn't require Cold War-style summits to sustain itself," says Sam Charap, a Russia analyst at the Center for American Progress. "The lack of headlines is actually a sign of progress."

Medvedev arrived at the White House on a sweltering summer morning for a series of meetings with Obama and U.S. officials. It was their seventh meeting since Obama took office 17 month ago.

Leaving the formality of the White House, they sneaked away for an impromptu ride across the Potomac River to a popular hamburger joint — Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va. Customers cheered when the two walked in.

Later, at the news conference, Medvedev called the burgers "probably ... not quite healthy but it's very tasty."

After their joint news conference, Obama and Medvedev were going together to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Ahead of the talks, U.S. officials pointed to signs that Obama's much-heralded efforts to start fresh with Moscow have delivered results, from Russian support for new U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program to the signing of a major treaty to reduce the two countries' stockpiles of nuclear weapons. They say the U.S. is standing its ground with Russia but shifting the tone away from conflict.

But conservative critics see Obama as too conciliatory and say he hasn't resolved disputes over issues such as Moscow's human rights record, missile defense and the legacy of the Russia-Georgia war of 2008. They charge that by speaking softly on those issues, the United States is compromising its influence among Russia's neighboring countries.

Medvedev began his U.S. visit in California, where he toured Silicon Valley high-tech firms as part of his push to establish a high-tech center in Russia.***


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Re: Russia-- Europe
« Reply #57 on: June 24, 2010, 01:55:15 PM »
I caught a flash of the Prez's speech; IIRC we are selling them an excrement load of Boeing Aircraft and some chickens , , ,


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Stratfor: The
« Reply #58 on: October 20, 2010, 11:45:20 AM »
Paris, Berlin, Moscow and the Emerging Concert of Europe

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is hosting Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday and Tuesday at the French Atlantic resort of Deauville. The summit is being described by Western media as an opportunity for Russia to improve its relations with NATO, with Paris and Berlin lending a hand toward the reconciliation between Moscow and the West.

In a way, the press on the summit is correct: The summit is ultimately about the West’s relationship with Russia. Unfortunately for the United States, Central Europeans, the United Kingdom and a large part of Europe’s firmly pro-U.S. countries such as the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark, it’s about the West as defined by Paris and Berlin — which is to say … Paris and Berlin.

“For both France and Germany, but particularly Germany, Russia is not a current security threat but rather a potential energy and economic partner.”
The topics of the meeting will be wide ranging, concentrating on security and Moscow’s relationship with NATO and the European Union. Specifically, the Russian president will bring up the Russian proposal for a new European Security Treaty. While Moscow claims that the proposal is not intended to replace NATO, the United States and its European allies — particularly Central Europeans worried about Russia’s intentions — see it as attempting to do exactly that.

Both Sarkozy and Merkel have indicated that they will listen to what Medvedev has to say on the proposed treaty. Just the fact that Berlin and Paris are willing to listen to Moscow’s proposal is worrisome to the rest of Europe. In fact, the timing of the summit is particularly jarring. The NATO heads of state summit — at which the alliance will approve a new Strategic Concept — is to be held in exactly one month, and yet Paris and Berlin have no problems so openly coordinating European security with Moscow. It is akin to spending a weekend on the sea with a mistress ahead of one’s 25-year marriage anniversary.

Paris and Berlin are both feeling like their marriage with NATO is getting stale. For both France and Germany, but particularly Germany, Russia is not a current security threat but rather a potential energy and economic partner. And neither Berlin nor Paris wants to be part of any future “American adventurism” outside of the European theater of operations, since both see efforts in Afghanistan as largely an enormous expenditure of resources for dubious benefits. The divergent interests of the various NATO member states have France and Germany looking to bring matters of European security back to the European theater, and that means talking to Russia.

France has an additional motive in wanting to make sure that as Germany and Russia get close, France is the one organizing the meeting and therefore keeping an eye on the developing Berlin-Moscow relationship (as evidenced by the fact that Sarkozy is the one hosting the other two leaders). In this context, we can consider Sarkozy’s idea to set up a European Security Council, which according to German newspaper Der Spiegel he would propose at the Deauville summit. Paris is trying to compensate for the strong Berlin-Moscow relationship by going out of its way to create structures that would involve Paris in the future European security architecture. France wants to be able to control the discussion and the makeup at these forums and introduce outside players if it feels that it needs to balance Moscow and Berlin.

While no public or official proposals or agreements may be seen out of the Deauville meeting, Russia is more interested in striking a very real understanding with France and Germany. The lack of public announcements should not detract from the fact that Medvedev is meeting with Sarkozy and Merkel to get a sense of their willingness to offer Russia clear security concessions. Russia wants a commitment and an understanding from France and Germany that they are willing to allow Russia its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union and that they intend to coordinate with Russia on any future security matters that affect Moscow. Moscow does not want to be blindsided in the future as it was with the West’s decision to back Kosovo’s independence or to be completely left outside of European security matters as it was during the 1990s and doesn’t want to cross a red line with Paris or Berlin as it resurges. Tuesday’s meeting is most likely about creating guidelines on what Russia is allowed to do and what is going too far. Russia is currently at a delicate place in its resurgence during which it may cross into territory that could be construed as being beyond its direct sphere — specifically Moldova — so it needs to know where France and Germany stand now.

The entire episode is beginning to look very much like the Concert of Europe congress system of diplomacy. Between 1815 and 1914, Europeans resolved most geopolitical disagreements by holding a “Congress” at which concessions were made and general geopolitical horse-trading was conducted among the European powers. And if a particularly problematic country refused to make concessions — or was the very subject of the meeting — it could be denied access to the Congress in question.

Whether the Deauville summit results in concrete proposals or not, the significance is not in statements that follow but in the fact that Berlin and Paris no longer see anything wrong in spending a few days by the sea with Russia, especially as the rest of their supposed European allies wait for their input at the NATO summit. This tells us that Europe may have already entered a new Concert era, whether or not post-WWII institutions such as NATO still exist.


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« Reply #59 on: December 10, 2010, 08:16:27 AM »

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski ended a visit to the United States on Dec. 9. The visit comes amid some tensions between Poland and the United States, as Warsaw is dissatisfied with Washington’s level of commitment to Polish security. Poland is thus looking elsewhere for security guarantees to guard against the Russian resurgence. It has begun cooperating with Sweden and discussing security issues with other Central European countries and, more recently, has been developing a cooperative relationship with Turkey.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski wrapped up a two-day visit to the United States on Dec. 9. The most significant result of the visit was U.S. President Barack Obama’s official commitment to a previous Washington proposal to station U.S. land-based SM-3 interceptors in Poland by 2018 as part of its NATO-wide missile defense system and an offer to periodically station F-16 fighter jets and C-130 transport planes in Poland starting in 2013 for joint military exercises. Poland confirmed the latter offer, but Washington has not issued confirmation as of this writing.

The periodic stationing of U.S. Air Force assets in Poland is significant in that it will enhance Poland’s ability to use its own F-16s, purchased from the United States in 2003. However, neither the SM-3s nor the F-16s — nor the current rotational deployment of a unarmed Patriot missile battery — are enough to guarantee that the United States is fully committed to Poland’s defense. Poland therefore could look to enhance its strategic situation through a multitude of partnerships much closer to home, particularly with Sweden, other Central Europeans and potentially Turkey.

Komorowski’s visit to the United States came amid slight tensions between Washington and Warsaw. Recently leaked U.S. diplomatic cables showed that Warsaw was not satisfied with the rotational deployment of the unarmed Patriot missile battery; one senior Polish military official quoted in the cables referred to them as “potted plants.” But the tensions preceded the leaks and even the Patriot missile system’s deployment. Specifically, they have been building ever since September 2009, when Washington reneged on the ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans struck between the previous U.S. administration and Warsaw. What irked Warsaw in particular was the perception that the United States changed the BMD plans in order to gain assurances from Russia that it would not sell the S-300 air defense system to Iran and that it would support the U.S. effort to impose U.N. sanctions on Tehran. The perception in Warsaw was that the United States was trading Poland’s security guarantees for concessions from Russia in a part of the world completely unrelated to Warsaw’s security.

What Poland Wants
Essentially, Warsaw wants Washington to explain its grand strategy so that Poland understands where it fits in it. As Komorowski directly said during his visit, Poland has “no interests either in Iraq or Afghanistan,” and it followed the United States into both countries purely out of principle. In other words, Poland sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan so that it can receive strong security guarantees from the United States in Europe.

The unarmed Patriot battery, the horse-trading between the United States and Russia on BMD, and the rotational, for-exercise-only deployment of F-16s is an inadequate commitment from Warsaw’s perspective. The deployment of F-16s is not a complete throwaway, however; it will help Poland become proficient in flying and maintaining its own F-16s and thus enhance its security. But Poland has wanted a permanent U.S. deployment of some sort for a long time, a point that Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich reiterated in his visit to Washington on Sept. 30. The rotational and temporary nature of both the Patriot and F-16 offers is insufficient. And the fact that the F-16s only come into the picture in 2013 — and the SM-3 BMD component in 2018 — adds to Poland’s suspicion that the United States simply is not ready to commit itself to Polish security fully.

Poland’s geopolitical situation is difficult. Komorowski pointed this out by saying, “We are between Russia and Germany and this is such a place where, even if someone integrates, even if we have a common European home, or NATO, there are still some drafts. No matter on which floor someone opens a door or window, we Poles still have a runny nose.”

Looking Elsewhere
Without a firm U.S. commitment, Poland is looking to patch up its security holes as best as it can. It has turned to Sweden for help on the diplomatic front, jointly applying pressure on the Russians in Eastern Europe. The Polish and Swedish foreign ministers have made joint visits to Ukraine and Moldova in the past three weeks. Warsaw is also looking to its fellow Central Europeans via the Visegrad Group — Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary — a group that in 2010 began discussing security matters seriously, including cooperation among members’ air forces. It also intends to make EU defense policy — a concept that has not really carried much weight in policymaking circles for much of the last 60 years — one of the main pillars of its EU presidency in the latter part of 2011, a big part of which will mean turning to France to try to spur greater cooperation on defense matters.

However, Poland’s solutions come with their own problems. Cooperation with Sweden has not (yet) included defense matters. The Central Europeans — even combined — do not have the strength to counter Russia (and often bicker with each other). And any EU defense policy would have to include Germany, which is unlikely to offer Poland any true security guarantees due to its budding relationship with Russia.

This is why STRATFOR is watching carefully the cooperation developing between Poland and Turkey. While Komorowski was in Washington, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was in Ankara meeting with the Turkish leadership. The talks were broad and concentrated on everything from general cooperation in NATO, Turkish EU prospects and a potential EU visa waiver for Turkish citizens. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan specifically stated that cooperation between the countries’ defense industries will increase. But what is interesting is that both Poland and Turkey are sizable regional powers that are trying to manage a Russian resurgence in their own regions. The two countries have no outstanding security concerns, nor are they politically at odds on any significant issue. Neither country wants to be outwardly hostile toward Russia, but both want the credibility and strength to give Moscow notice that there are red lines and limits to the spread of its power. There are differences as well, with Ankara far more reserved about openly aligning with the United States on contentious issues like Russia.

The more Warsaw feels that the U.S. alliance, which Poland has no intentions of abandoning, is insufficient for its security, the more it will look to the countries in its immediate region that perceive the Russian resurgence with as much — or almost as much — trepidation as Poland does. Sweden and Turkey both fit this profile. What they perceive as their own spheres of influence — Stockholm in the Baltics and Ankara in the Balkans and Caucasus — are experiencing heavy Russian involvement. They are therefore potentially useful allies in countering Russia while the United States is constrained by its operations in the Middle East.

Read more: Poland Examines its Defense Partnership Options | STRATFOR


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Fg French
« Reply #60 on: December 29, 2010, 08:59:15 AM »
 :x :x :x

PARIS — Since a low-key Christmas Eve announcement of a French sale of assault ships to Russia, high-level government deal makers have boasted about the multimillion-euro deal like it was a soccer game triumph. “France wins,” declares the Web site for the Élysée Palace.

Enlarge This Image
Anatoly Maltsev/European Pressphoto Agency
A French Navy Mistral amphibious assault ship,docked on the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2009.
But critics — particularly among Russia’s neighbors including Georgia, Estonia and Lithuania — are raising alarms that France may have pioneered the way for other Western countries to sell Russia whatever they have to offer, from high-technology military equipment to rights for oil pipelines.

“It’s a scandal,” said André Glucksmann, a French philosopher and critic of the deal. He said in an interview on Tuesday that the announcement was timed for the busy Christmas season to bury the “dirty details.”

The boxy, 600-foot-long Mistral vessel is an advanced helicopter carrier equipped with a command center and hospital for military landing operations. It is the first major arms purchase by Russia abroad and the first sale by a NATO country, illustrating the shifting role of an alliance once conceived to counter Soviet military power.

One of the sticking points in negotiations was whether the deal would include advanced naval weapons and defense systems. In the months leading to the deal, a series of French officials softened their stand, saying that France was willing to supply the technology without restrictions.

The French have said nothing in the last few days to spell out the level of technology the Russians will gain. But Russia’s neighbors are clearly worried.

“It’s a little bit premature to take this step because it establishes a precedent,” said Rasa Jukneviciene, the Lithuanian defense minister. In the past, she said, French officials assured Lithuania that sensitive technology would not be included. “But now we are getting information that it is included,” Ms. Jukneviciene said.

The Baltic states have long raised concerns, keenly aware of the comments of Russia’s naval chief, Adm. Vladimir S. Vysotsky, who last year bluntly evaluated the potential benefits the equipment could have offered during the five-day Georgian war in 2008: “Everything that we did in the space of 26 hours at the time, this ship will do within 40 minutes.”

Nino Kalandadze, Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, says that the ships can carry up to 16 helicopters and more than 450 troops, giving Moscow much greater command of its coastlines.

“We hope that Russia will use the ships according to international law as a self-defense mechanism,” Ms. Kalandadze said. “But Russia’s current leadership is not one that can always be trusted. It’s known for its disregard for international laws.”

Urmas Paet, the Estonian foreign minister, took a more muted view of the deal. “We do not see the sale of these two or possibly four ships as a major challenge for the security environment in the Baltic Sea region,” he wrote in an e-mailed response to questions. “The possible impact is still something that we have to take into account in our long-term planning.”

Under the deal, two of the ships will be built in the French shipyards of St.-Nazaire on France’s Atlantic coast and the next two will be built in St. Petersburg, Russia. The sale underlines Russia’s rising military ambitions and the deterioration of its own arms industry. It is struggling, for example, to finish repairs to upgrade the Admiral Gorshkov, a heavy-aircraft carrier purchased by India. Some analysts predict that construction of a Mistral ship in Russia will also lag.

“In principle, Russia is capable, but it will take a lot longer because the productivity here is inferior. France is more technologically advanced and also, there is no experience building a ship like this in Russia,” said Konstantin Makienko, deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Russian research organization that analyzes the arms trade.

Much of the geopolitical wrangling about the deal emerged in secret American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. In February 2010, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates raised the issue with President Nicolas Sarkozy and France’s defense minister at the time, Hervé Morin.

According to the ambassador’s report of the meeting, Mr. Gates noted that Russia failed to honor an armistice in Georgia brokered by Mr. Sarkozy. Mr. Gates also was scornful of the top deal makers: “Russian democracy has disappeared, and the government is an oligarchy run by the security services.”



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Strat: Euro perception of Biden's Russian visit
« Reply #61 on: March 10, 2011, 09:26:24 PM »
The European Perception of Biden's Russian Visit

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden began his official visit to Russia on Wednesday by meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, to be followed by a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday. Prior to his visit, Biden made a half-day stopover in Helsinki, where he met with Finnish President Tarja Halonen and had a working lunch with Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi.

The Finland visit was relatively low-key — the main topic of discussion was the economy and not strategic matters — and amounted to little more than a refueling stop on Biden’s way to Moscow. The highlight of Biden’s trip is the U.S.-Russian relationship and the subsequent visit to Moldova. During Biden’s previous European visits, he concentrated on Washington’s relationship with its Central European allies. Europe, particularly Western Europe, does not play a minor role in the complex relationship between Washington and Moscow.

“Germany and France are not engaging Russia for the sake of transforming Russia into some sort of liberal democracy — that is merely the explanation given to the United States and Central Europe — but because it is in their national and economic interests to do so.”
Core Europe — as Germany and France refer to their European Union leadership duo along with the surrounding Western European countries — has for the past 16 months been preoccupied by the eurozone sovereign crisis that has already claimed Greece and Ireland and could require a Portuguese bailout by the end of March. Despite this general preoccupation, France and Germany have increased their engagement with Russia in several ways. First, Paris and Berlin lobbied for Moscow to be included as a “strategic partner” during the negotiations for NATO’s Strategic Concept, essentially the alliance’s mission statement, to the chagrin of Central European — former Soviet sphere — member states. Second, France has stood firm regarding plans to sell Mistral helicopter-carrier amphibious assault ships to Russia, despite criticism from the same Central European states, especially the Baltics. Third, Germany has in the last few weeks boosted its military relationship with Russia, with German defense contractor Rheinmettal offering to build a training center in Russia, and only days ago concluding a contract to provide Moscow with armor plating.

From the perspective of Germany and France, Russia is no longer the existential threat that it was during the Cold War. Russia is in fact a lucrative business partner. Central Europe’s fears of a Russian resurgence are therefore bad for business. Russia needs to be engaged via trade and business, which will lead to an internal transformation of Russia to be more like Europe. Or at least that is the view that German government officials circulate regarding their dealings with Russia, arguing that the “soft power” of trade and economic links will lead to a change in attitude toward Russia. Whether Berlin and Paris actually believe that story is largely irrelevant; it is a useful explanation — especially when talking to American officials and the media — recounting why they are pursuing a relationship with Russia that is counter to the interests of their fellow NATO allies in Eastern and Central Europe.

A central tenet of this argument is the supposed leadership style difference between Medvedev and Putin. Most Western European officials genuinely believe that Medvedev, were he actually powerful enough, would have a different leadership prerogative that would be more favorably inclined toward the West. However, European officials also play up the supposed differences between Medvedev and Putin as an explanation for why they are so earnestly engaging Russia. The argument goes something like this: Business contacts and technology transfers that boost Russia’s ongoing modernization efforts will favor Medvedev and increase his standing in the leadership pantheon of the Kremlin. Therefore, Europe should continue to engage Moscow, and the United States and Central Europe should not stand in its way, since aggression will only turn Russia inward.

The problem with this logic, however, is that Europeans operated the same way even with Putin and even immediately after Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008. Germany and France are not engaging Russia for the sake of transforming Russia into some sort of a liberal democracy — that is merely the explanation given to the United States and Central Europe — but because it is in their national and economic interests to do so.

A good example of this dynamic is precisely the negotiations for Russia’s inclusion as a NATO “strategic partner.” Europeans argued that this was a monumental development since Russia committed in the text of the NATO Strategic Concept to a number of supposed benchmarks on democracy and rule of law. However, it is not clear anyone in Paris or Berlin takes Moscow’s commitments seriously.

Meanwhile, Russia knows how to play the game with Western Europe. Specifically, it knows how to show hints of internal “reform” to satisfy the “soft power” complex of Europe. But at the same time, it is using its enhanced military relationship with France and Germany as a way to counter American influence in countries like Poland and Romania. Moscow feels that it doesn’t necessarily have to respond to every U.S. encroachment in Poland with a tit-for-tat counter — Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad to counter U.S. Patriot missile battery deployment for example — but instead by further developing a relationship with Germany and France and showing both the United States and Central Europe that it is a serious player on the continent.

This obviously begs the questions: What does the future hold for NATO? And how do Paris and Berlin intend to manage their supposed obligations to fellow NATO member states with economic interests with Russia?


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WSJ: Russia and Nat Gas supplies
« Reply #62 on: March 21, 2011, 10:04:17 AM »
Russia has assumed an unusually cooperative role in Japan's nuclear crisis, presenting itself as eager to ease strains on global natural gas markets after years of being criticized for using its energy reserves as a political weapon.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia's OAO Gazprom could pipe more natural gas into the European Union to allow EU-bound cargoes of liquefied natural gas to be diverted to Japan, which was forced to shut down a big chunk of its nuclear power capacity after the March 11 earthquake.

But analysts say it's unclear whether European customers actually want more Russian gas, which is linked to the price of oil and is much more expensive than imports of LNG from places like Qatar.

Russia's reputation as a dependable energy exporter was badly tarnished by a series of pricing disputes with Ukraine which led to cut-offs of Russian gas deliveries to Europe in the middle of winter. Moscow was accused at the time of using its natural riches to pressure its neighbors.

But in the wake of the earthquake that damaged Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant and plunged the country into a nuclear crisis, Russia has offered Japanese companies stakes in two big natural gas fields in Siberia, pushed a proposed "energy bridge" that would bring Russian-generated electricity via underwater cable to Japan, and said it was ready to increase gas supplies to Europe in order to free up LNG for Japan. The announcement was part of efforts by Russia to position itself as a kind of Saudi Arabia of natural gas—able to provide swing capacity at short notice to stabilize markets.

Paolo Scaroni, chief executive of Italian oil and gas company ENI SpA, said the crisis in Japan and the unrest in Libya, which triggered a sharp decline in oil and gas exports from the North African country, would strengthen Russia's position in European markets, as well as that of other big exporters of pipeline gas. Events in Japan and Libya "mean more piped gas coming from the three traditional suppliers into Europe—Algeria, Russia and Norway," he said in an interview.

Italy asked Gazprom late last month to increase deliveries of gas from 30 million cubic meters a day to 48 million cubic meters after ENI shut down a key pipeline bringing natural gas under the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy.

Analysts say the crisis in Japan, which has eroded confidence in nuclear power worldwide, is generally supportive of gas demand globally. China, India and others have said they will need to re-examine their long-term nuclear strategy, and Germany has closed down seven of its oldest nuclear reactors. An analysis by Deutsche Bank found that if just 10% of nuclear power facilities around the world were shut down due to safety concerns, the world would need an additional 7 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas—an increase of 2.3% over 2010 consumption levels. That could lead to upward pressure on spot prices for gas, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, analysts say.

But Jonathan Stern, director of gas research at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, was skeptical that Europe would want to increase its imports of Russian gas. He said many of Gazprom's biggest customers are taking the minimum set out in their long-term "take-or-pay" contracts with the Russian export monopoly and have little desire to boost those volumes.

"The Russians are desperate to pump more gas into Europe, but they're insisting on an oil-linked price," he said.

A spokesman for Gazprom's export arm declined to comment on how events in Japan and Libya would affect the gas market. But he said they were "clearly positive for all gas producers, including Gazprom of course."

"So far this year, we've supplied less than contracted, so we have the ability to increase supplies to Europe," the spokesman said. But he acknowledged that none of Gazprom's European customers apart from Italy had so far asked for increased deliveries of gas.


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Re: Russia-- Europe
« Reply #63 on: May 22, 2011, 06:19:24 AM »
Visegrad: A New European Military Force
May 17, 2011 | 0859 GMT PRINT Text Resize:   

By George Friedman

With the Palestinians demonstrating and the International Monetary Fund in turmoil, it would seem odd to focus this week on something called the Visegrad Group. But this is not a frivolous choice. What the Visegrad Group decided to do last week will, I think, resonate for years, long after the alleged attempted rape by Dominique Strauss-Kahn is forgotten and long before the Israeli-Palestinian issue is resolved. The obscurity of the decision to most people outside the region should not be allowed to obscure its importance.

The region is Europe — more precisely, the states that had been dominated by the Soviet Union. The Visegrad Group, or V4, consists of four countries — Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary — and is named after two 14th century meetings held in Visegrad Castle in present-day Hungary of leaders of the medieval kingdoms of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia. The group was reconstituted in 1991 in post-Cold War Europe as the Visegrad Three (at that time, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were one). The goal was to create a regional framework after the fall of communism. This week the group took an interesting new turn.

(click here to enlarge image)
On May 12, the Visegrad Group announced the formation of a “battlegroup” under the command of Poland. The battlegroup would be in place by 2016 as an independent force and would not be part of NATO command. In addition, starting in 2013, the four countries would begin military exercises together under the auspices of the NATO Response Force.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the primary focus of all of the Visegrad nations had been membership in the European Union and NATO. Their evaluation of their strategic position was threefold. First, they felt that the Russian threat had declined if not dissipated following the fall of the Soviet Union. Second, they felt that their economic future was with the European Union. Third, they believed that membership in NATO, with strong U.S. involvement, would protect their strategic interests. Of late, their analysis has clearly been shifting.

First, Russia has changed dramatically since the Yeltsin years. It has increased its power in the former Soviet sphere of influence substantially, and in 2008 it carried out an effective campaign against Georgia. Since then it has also extended its influence in other former Soviet states. The Visegrad members’ underlying fear of Russia, built on powerful historical recollection, has become more intense. They are both the front line to the former Soviet Union and the countries that have the least confidence that the Cold War is simply an old memory.

Second, the infatuation with Europe, while not gone, has frayed. The ongoing economic crisis, now focused again on Greece, has raised two questions: whether Europe as an entity is viable and whether the reforms proposed to stabilize Europe represent a solution for them or primarily for the Germans. It is not, by any means, that they have given up the desire to be Europeans, nor that they have completely lost faith in the European Union as an institution and an idea. Nevertheless, it would be unreasonable to expect that these countries would not be uneasy about the direction that Europe was taking. If one wants evidence, look no further than the unease with which Warsaw and Prague are deflecting questions about the eventual date of their entry into the eurozone. Both are the strongest economies in Central Europe, and neither is enthusiastic about the euro.

Finally, there are severe questions as to whether NATO provides a genuine umbrella of security to the region and its members. The NATO Strategic Concept, which was drawn up in November 2010, generated substantial concern on two scores. First, there was the question of the degree of American commitment to the region, considering that the document sought to expand the alliance’s role in non-European theaters of operation. For example, the Americans pledged a total of one brigade to the defense of Poland in the event of a conflict, far below what Poland thought necessary to protect the North European Plain. Second, the general weakness of European militaries meant that, willingness aside, the ability of the Europeans to participate in defending the region was questionable. Certainly, events in Libya, where NATO had neither a singular political will nor the military participation of most of its members, had to raise doubts. It was not so much the wisdom of going to war but the inability to create a coherent strategy and deploy adequate resources that raised questions of whether NATO would be any more effective in protecting the Visegrad nations.

There is another consideration. Germany’s commitment to both NATO and the EU has been fraying. The Germans and the French split on the Libya question, with Germany finally conceding politically but unwilling to send forces. Libya might well be remembered less for the fate of Moammar Gadhafi than for the fact that this was the first significant strategic break between Germany and France in decades. German national strategy has been to remain closely aligned with France in order to create European solidarity and to avoid Franco-German tensions that had roiled Europe since 1871. This had been a centerpiece of German foreign policy, and it was suspended, at least temporarily.

The Germans obviously are struggling to shore up the European Union and questioning precisely how far they are prepared to go in doing so. There are strong political forces in Germany questioning the value of the EU to Germany, and with every new wave of financial crises requiring German money, that sentiment becomes stronger. In the meantime, German relations with Russia have become more important to Germany. Apart from German dependence on Russian energy, Germany has investment opportunities in Russia. The relationship with Russia is becoming more attractive to Germany at the same time that the relationship to NATO and the EU has become more problematic.

For all of the Visegrad countries, any sense of a growing German alienation from Europe and of a growing German-Russian economic relationship generates warning bells. Before the  Belarusian elections there was hope in Poland that pro-Western elements would defeat the least unreformed regime in the former Soviet Union. This didn’t happen. Moreover, pro-Western elements have done nothing to solidify in Moldova or break the now pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Uncertainty about European institutions and NATO, coupled with uncertainty about Germany’s attention, has caused a strategic reconsideration — not to abandon NATO or the EU, of course, nor to confront the Russians, but to prepare for all eventualities.

It is in this context that the decision to form a Visegradian battlegroup must be viewed. Such an independent force, a concept generated by the European Union as a European defense plan, has not generated much enthusiasm or been widely implemented. The only truly robust example of an effective battlegroup is the Nordic Battlegroup, but then that is not surprising. The Nordic countries share the same concerns as the Visegrad countries — the future course of Russian power, the cohesiveness of Europe and the commitment of the United States.

In the past, the Visegrad countries would have been loath to undertake anything that felt like a unilateral defense policy. Therefore, the decision to do this is significant in and of itself. It represents a sense of how these countries evaluate the status of NATO, the U.S. attention span, European coherence and Russian power. It is not the battlegroup itself that is significant but the strategic decision of these powers to form a sub-alliance, if you will, and begin taking responsibility for their own national security. It is not what they expected or wanted to do, but it is significant that they felt compelled to begin moving in this direction.

Just as significant is the willingness of Poland to lead this military formation and to take the lead in the grouping as a whole. Poland is the largest of these countries by far and in the least advantageous geographical position. The Poles are trapped between the Germans and the Russians. Historically, when Germany gets close to Russia, Poland tends to suffer. It is not at that extreme point yet, but the Poles do understand the possibilities. In July, the Poles will be assuming the EU presidency in one of the union’s six-month rotations. The Poles have made clear that one of their main priorities will be Europe’s military power. Obviously, little can happen in Europe in six months, but this clearly indicates where Poland’s focus is.

The militarization of the V4 runs counter to its original intent but is in keeping with the geopolitical trends in the region. Some will say this is over-reading on my part or an overreaction on the part of the V4, but it is neither. For the V4, the battlegroup is a modest response to emerging patterns in the region, which STRATFOR had outlined in its 2011 Annual Forecast. As for my reading, I regard the new patterns not as a minor diversion from the main pattern but as a definitive break in the patterns of the post-Cold War world. In my view, the post-Cold War world ended in 2008, with the financial crisis and the Russo-Georgian war. We are in a new era, as yet unnamed, and we are seeing the first breaks in the post-Cold War pattern.

I have argued in previous articles and books that there is a divergent interest between the European countries on the periphery of Russia and those farther west, particularly Germany. For the countries on the periphery, there is a perpetual sense of insecurity, generated not only by Russian power compared to their own but also by uncertainty as to whether the rest of Europe would be prepared to defend them in the event of Russian actions. The V4 and the other countries south of them are not as sanguine about Russian intentions as others farther away are. Perhaps they should be, but geopolitical realities drive consciousness and insecurity and distrust defines this region.

I had also argued that an alliance only of the four northernmost countries is insufficient. I used the concept “Intermarium,” which had first been raised after World War I by a Polish leader, Joseph Pilsudski, who understood that Germany and the Soviet Union would not be permanently weak and that Poland and the countries liberated from the Hapsburg Empire would have to be able to defend themselves and not have to rely on France or Britain.

Pilsudski proposed an alliance stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and encompassing the countries to the west of the Carpathians — Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In some formulations, this would include Yugoslavia, Finland and the Baltics. The point was that Poland had to have allies, that no one could predict German and Soviet strength and intentions, and that the French and English were too far away to help. The only help Poland could have would be an alliance of geography — countries with no choice.

It follows from this that the logical evolution here is the extension of the Visegrad coalition. At the May 12 defense ministers’ meeting, there was discussion of inviting Ukraine to join in. Twenty or even 10 years ago, that would have been a viable option. Ukraine had room to maneuver. But the very thing that makes the V4 battlegroup necessary — Russian power — limits what Ukraine can do. The Russians are prepared to give Ukraine substantial freedom to maneuver, but that does not include a military alliance with the Visegrad countries.

An alliance with Ukraine would provide significant strategic depth. It is unlikely to happen. That means that the alliance must stretch south, to include Romania and Bulgaria. The low-level tension between Hungary and Romania over the status of Hungarians in Romania makes that difficult, but if the Hungarians can live with the Slovaks, they can live with the Romanians. Ultimately, the interesting question is whether Turkey can be persuaded to participate in this, but that is a question far removed from Turkish thinking now. History will have to evolve quite a bit for this to take place. For now, the question is Romania and Bulgaria.

But the decision of the V4 to even propose a battlegroup commanded by Poles is one of those small events that I think will be regarded as a significant turning point. However we might try to trivialize it and place it in a familiar context, it doesn’t fit. It represents a new level of concern over an evolving reality — the power of Russia, the weakness of Europe and the fragmentation of NATO. This is the last thing the Visegrad countries wanted to do, but they have now done the last thing they wanted to do. That is what is significant.

Events in the Middle East and Europe’s economy are significant and of immediate importance. However, sometimes it is necessary to recognize things that are not significant yet but will be in 10 years. I believe this is one of those events. It is a punctuation mark in European history.


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Stratfor: Russia hooking Germany up
« Reply #64 on: July 19, 2011, 09:45:24 PM »

Energy projects are likely to be at the center of the July 18-19 talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Hanover, Germany. Prominent items on the agenda will be Gazprom’s interest in partnering with German utility companies, the expansion of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline and methods to circumvent EU unbundling reforms. The deals are a sign of the increasingly close relations between the two powers, and they also represent Germany’s willingness to make deals with Russia as Moscow attempts to expand its influence in its neighboring states and Central Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev are scheduled to meet privately July 19 on the sidelines of a two-day bilateral summit in Hanover aimed at bolstering economic ties between Moscow and Berlin. A number of issues are expected to be discussed during the talks, but the discourse will center on the recent increase in Russo-German energy cooperation. This cooperation is categorized by Russian energy giant Gazprom’s interest in engaging in joint ventures with German utility companies, the expansion of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline project, and efforts to deal with the European Union’s third energy package. The new EU mandates are a series of reforms that would require energy retail and production assets be unbundled, a requirement that could pose a threat to future bilateral cooperation.

The deals under discussion in Hanover hold significant strategic importance to Moscow and could be a financial boon for Germany. The energy cooperation agreements that Merkel and Medvedev will be discussing are an indicator of the  rapidly strengthening ties between Russia and Germany as well as of Berlin’s willingness to stand as an unconcerned actor in  Moscow’s efforts to increase its influence in its periphery and in Central Europe.

A major point of discussion between Merkel and Medvedev will likely be the July 14 preliminary agreement on a potential joint venture between Gazprom and RWE. State-owned Gazprom’s interest in RWE stems from a variety of strategic reasons. First, Gazprom stands to make inroads into the increasingly lucrative German electricity market, where natural gas-fired power plants are expected to increase production to compensate for the loss of electricity generated by the nuclear reactors that Berlin has decided to phase out. Second, Russia would gain access to Germany’s technological expertise in the construction and operation of natural gas-fired plants. Such knowledge is particularly valuable given Russia’s own faltering electricity sector. Finally, Moscow seeks to acquire major Central European energy and electricity assets held by German utility companies. A successful joint venture would grant Russia influence over the energy and electricity sector of the region. Moscow is willing to supply the German companies that agree to a joint venture with lower prices for natural gas, making such a deal financially appealing to Berlin.

Other deals between Russian natural gas suppliers and German utility companies will also be on the meeting’s agenda. Gazprom has shown interest in acquiring power plants and shares from E.On, Germany’s largest utility provider, which also holds significant assets in Central Europe. Thus far, RWE has countered this possibility by including a negotiation exclusivity clause for the next three months, signaling the Essen-based company’s strong interest in the deal. In addition to Gazprom, Russia’s largest independent natural gas provider, Novatek, is negotiating an 800 million euro (about $1.1 billion) cooperative venture with German utility company Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Despite the mutual interest in expanded energy cooperation, the European Commission’s unbundling directive is poised to become a major obstacle to additional Russo-German energy collaboration. A key topic of the Hanover talks will be the ongoing legal battle between Lithuania and Gazprom wherein Gazprom stands accused of violating the unbundling directive. The current energy utility deals are almost certain to encounter vehement opposition from the European Commission and Central European countries. However, Berlin and Moscow established a precedent of sidestepping the EU directive, which forbids energy companies from establishing a producer-to-consumer supply chain, during the creation of the Nord Stream pipeline. Merkel and Medvedev likely will want to replicate this exception and avoid repeating Lithuania’s situation.

The recently completed Nord Stream pipeline will also likely be a matter of discussion, with the two leaders discussing its operational timeline as well as tentative plans for expanding its capacity and output. Nord Stream is one of the main pillars of Germany and Russia’s deepening economic cooperation and a fundamental part of Moscow’s strategy toward its periphery. The direct link between Gazprom’s natural gas fields and Germany’s shoreline via an underwater pipeline in the Baltic Sea allows Russia to sidestep Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries in natural gas delivery. This bypass ensures Russia can pursue more aggressive energy policies toward its periphery if it so chooses without affecting Germany’s downstream supply.


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Can it get any worse?
« Reply #65 on: August 02, 2011, 11:58:16 AM »


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Re: Russia-- Europe
« Reply #66 on: August 02, 2011, 10:14:57 PM »
Ummm , , , wouldn't that be better placed in the Russia-US thread or the Cognitive Dissonance thread?

Anyway, you are right  :oops: :oops: :oops:


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« Reply #67 on: August 24, 2011, 06:36:40 PM »

Dispatch: Romania's Role in Europe's Geopolitical Trends
August 24, 2011 | 1856 GMT
Click on image below to watch video:

On his way to Romania, analyst Eugene Chausovsky explains Romania’s important role in three different Central European geopolitical trends.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Related Links
Russia’s Case to NATO for Integrated Missile Defense
The Divided States of Europe
Germany’s Choice: Part 2
STRATFOR is currently following three major geopolitical trends in Central Europe. One country that serves as an insightful case to look into these trends is Romania, where I am traveling to next.

The first trend that we are following is growing pressures on two key European institutions: the EU and NATO. The EU continues to be mired by weak economic growth as a result of the ongoing European financial crisis. Two of the leading EU economies, Germany and France, posted little to no growth in the second quarter of this year. Romania, which relies on these countries, particularly Germany, as a market for its exports, grew only 0.2 percent in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, NATO has been showing early signs of devolution into regional blocs. The biggest divergence between NATO members is a camp that is willing and happy to work with the Russians and a second camp that is more concerned with a growing Russian resurgence. Romania is firmly in the latter camp as it has contentious issues with Russia over Moldova, and it is concerned over a Russian buildup in the Black Sea.

The second trend that we are following is Russia taking advantage of these growing pressures on the EU and NATO. Russia has been building its relationship with major Western European countries like Italy, France and especially Germany. Moscow is using these growing relationships to leverage its position in Central Europe. For example, Russia and Germany are currently in talks for Russia to acquire energy utility companies, many of which have assets in Central Europe. Russia has also begun to purchase stakes in some of Austria’s banks, which are quite active in Central Europe. These developments are of concern to Romania.

The third trend is an intensifying geopolitical competition over Central Europe between the U.S. and Russia. Due to the growing relationship of Russia and some of the key Western European countries, the United States has pledged to increase its cooperation with many of the Central European states. One key aspect of this is the U.S. ballistic missile defense, or BMD, which is said to become operational by 2015, and Romania is one of the sites of such a system. However, given that the U.S. has already changed some of its BMD plans and security plans in the face of a resurgent Russia, Romani and the other central European countries are nervous that these U.S. security commitments to them are not set in stone. (Translation:  Baraq's chickenexcrement deal with the Russkis trading the BMD for , , , a "reset", continues to have costs unmeasured by the Pravdas of wester MSM) Therefore, Romania is directly impacted by all three developing trends in central Europe and will serve as an important bellwether of how these trends play out in the coming months and years.


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Putin's return to Presidency, NATO, & East Europe
« Reply #68 on: September 27, 2011, 03:09:09 AM »
Putin's Candidacy Draws Varied Reactions

Two days following the announcement that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will seek a return to the presidency in March 2012, the decision is already bearing consequences — the first of which is a split inside the Kremlin. Putin’s nomination as the candidate for the ruling United Russia party has actually been welcomed by many within the Kremlin. After all, it is no secret that Putin continued to act as Russia’s top decision maker, even after stepping back from the presidency to the premiership.

“Tough choices between rival factions in the Kremlin will have to be made, and Putin will have to favor one faction over the others.”
But the decision to shift Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to the premiership has caused many of Putin’s loyalists to rebel. Medvedev is seen as weak and too willing to accommodate pro-Western policies. His role as president was accepted as long as Putin served as a buffer in the premiership. But many inside the Kremlin’s ministries are unhappy with Medvedev directly overseeing them. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has already resigned, and STRATFOR sources in Moscow say that other ministers and staff are considering doing the same.

While the announcement was expected to cause some controversy, Putin cannot afford a divided Kremlin as elections for the presidency and parliament approach. Tough choices between rival factions in the Kremlin will have to be made, and Putin will have to favor one faction over the others.

Meanwhile, international reaction to Putin’s announced return has been varied. Powerful states such as the United States and Germany have an established near-term relationship with Russia, and said they will work with whoever is in charge. Smaller countries, like the Baltic states and many Central European countries, have a different view on Putin’s possible return to the presidency. They see it as a sign that Russia is about to return to a more assertive foreign policy.

These states are not entirely incorrect. As STRATFOR discussed in the lead-up to the ruling tandem’s decision, Putin, while not fond of the idea of returning to the presidency, feels his return may be necessary in light of the foreign policy challenges that lie ahead.

Putin will focus much of his attention on how to manage the further fracturing of NATO and the European Union. NATO is divided on a number of issues, but disagreements over the alliance’s strategic focus are especially splintering the alliance. NATO members France, Italy and Germany want to hold a close relationship with Moscow. This runs against the interests of other members — mainly the Central European countries — that want to make countering Russia a top priority for NATO. These Central European states think Moscow will use Putin’s return, and the more aggressive stance they think Russia will assume under his leadership, to further divide alliance members.

While NATO’s fracturing has arguably been in the works for decades, the tipping point for Putin’s return was most likely the impending crises in the European Union. Putin, as president, will try to assure the Russian people that he is strong enough to prevent the European crises from rippling through Russia. But the crises in Europe are not limited to the financial realm. A fundamental rift has opened up between the various identities united under the banners of the European Union and the eurozone, and the rift seems likely to worsen in the foreseeable future. As with the NATO fracturing, Russia is primed to take advantage of such fissures in order to continue to divide Europe to its own advantage.

Putin’s presence is also intended to show Europe that whatever chaos lies ahead, Russia will remain a beacon of stability and strength — one that Europe could rely on should they choose to. And for those European states who choose not to, life could be made much more difficult.


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Re: Russia-- Europe
« Reply #69 on: January 03, 2012, 08:28:29 PM »
When I heard the news the other night, my first thought was "Putin".

I have nothing to offer as evidence, but my gut is not often wrong.

Gaping holes in Russia's Polish air crash report

By:Diana West | 12/31/11 8:05 PM
Examiner Columnist.
Tis the season for media listmania, but rather than note the top 10 stories of the year, I submit my entry for the great unsolved mystery of 2011.
 What really happened in the forests at Smolensk, Russia, when a Polish aircraft carrying Poland's national leadership crashed in April 2010, killing all 96 people on board, including Poland's president and first lady?
The answers Russia presented to the world in its official 2011 crash report are wholly unsatisfactory. Indeed, the Moscow-controlled crash investigation seems to have been designed to suppress or tamper with evidence to exonerate Russia of all responsibility for an accident -- or guilt for a crime.
Like a tired rerun of an old horror movie, the Russian pattern of investigation into the 2010 Smolensk crash is the Russian pattern of investigation into the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre.
It's hard to overstate the significance of that fateful flight by those Polish leaders, now deceased. They lost their lives trying to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Katyn, the mass murder of 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia killed by Stalin in 1940 to make way for a pro-Soviet, Communist Poland.
After their graves were discovered by Nazi German armies in 1943, Stalin denied responsibility for this crime against humanity. Roosevelt and Churchill let him, thus joining in a Big Lie; Stalin's successors lied about it until Boris Yeltsin came along in 1995.
The 2010 anniversary was to be a public, ceremonial Russian admission of guilt. That those who cared so much about Katyn were killed nearby -- and quite possibly assassinated -- is one of history's darkest ironies.
The Russians assert that Polish pilot error, induced by pressure to land supposedly by the Polish president himself, caused the crash. Poles, particularly those associated with the late president's conservative Law and Justice party, see something far more sinister.
In this worst case scenario, Russian air controllers incorrectly informed Polish pilots they were on the proper glide path when that wasn't true. On purpose? If so, the world has witnessed the mass assassination of a government. And done nothing.
I don't claim to judge the evidence. But it's clear an impartial investigation is warranted because of a Moscow-run investigative process marked by irregularities. These include the red flag of a fact that Russia has refused to return the black boxes of the Polish plane to Poland.
Other irregularities, as summarized in a November 2011 Polish document known as the Smolensk Status Report, are that crash evidence was crudely destroyed (including by bulldozers), tampered with, and lied about (Russian investigators claimed no radar video recording existed, for example, but then cited it in the report). The document notes some Russian pathological reports on victims included descriptions of organs that had been surgically removed before the crash.

A glaring discrepancy concerns the cockpit voice recording. To prove the pilots were under third-party pressure to land, the Russians reported a Polish crew member twice says "He will go crazy" if the plane doesn't land.
Both the Polish Investigation Committee and the Polish Prosecutor's Office publicly contended no such statement was made, and that the Russians altered the CVR to create the statement.

In 1952, Congress investigated the Katyn Forest Massacre and proved Soviet guilt; in 2010 and 2011, there were calls in Congress for an independent investigation into the Smolensk crash.
Such an investigation is urgently required in 2012, and not only to solve the mystery of a vexing crash. We must find out whether the West has once again been party to another Big Lie out of Moscow.
Examiner Columnist Diana West is syndicated nationally by United Media and is the author of "The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization."

Read more at the Washington Examiner:


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Alternate gas route
« Reply #70 on: March 26, 2012, 09:02:26 AM »
This seemingly dry article is actually rather important IMHO.  If central Asia gas can be delivered to Europe, Russian leverage is dimininshed considerably.  The strategic implication on this front were part of the calculus IMHO of the Russian invasion of Georgia.

U.S. Shifts Policy On Gas Pipelines.
By Alessandro Torello
The lengthy battle over which pipeline project will get the go-ahead to carry natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe is finally starting to pick up  momentum.

The much talked-about Nabucco project had to be dramatically downscaled, while Shah Deniz –the consortium that is extracting the gas out of a field offshore Azerbaijan–has excluded one contender, the Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy, in what was the first big development in the battle for some time.

As events unfold, the U.S. is adjusting its policy on an issue on which it has been highly influential. Washington has been a strong supporter of the idea of getting gas from Central Asia –and in first instance from Azerbaijan– to Europe. It has considered this key to boosting Europe’s security of supply and reducing its energy dependence on Russia.

While initially it favored Nabucco –the most prominent, biggest and most expensive of the pipeline projects– the U.S. administration has slowly shifted its position, moving to a broader support for the so-called Southern Corridor, as the future pipeline path from Azerbaijan to the European Union, across Georgia and Turkey, is called.

Here’s how Richard Morningstar, the U.S. special envoy for Eurasian energy, one of the main policy makers behind the U.S. policy on Central Asian energy, explained it.

“We were perceived, certainly three years ago, [to be] very Nabucco-centric,” Mr. Morningstar said speaking at a conference over the weekend in Brussels. But “it’s become apparent, at least in the first instance, that there is not enough gas… to fill a full Nabucco pipeline, so our policy… is that we support the Southern Corridor,” he said.

Until a month ago, four projects were competing for that corridor. Nabucco and the BP-backed South-East Europe Pipeline both planned to carry gas to Central Europe, possibly all the way to Austria, while the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and ITGI would supply it to Italy.

But the exclusion of ITGI in February increased TAP’s chances. According to some, this clearly gave TAP the pole position in the overall race: One of TAP’s main sponsors is Norway’s Statoil, which also holds a stake in Shah Deniz, as does BP.

That could raise some concerns. If the Caspian gas goes to Italy, it will not offer much relief to countries in central Europe –Bulgaria first in the list– that are almost totally dependent on Russian gas.

Relieving that dependence was the original aim of the whole Southern Corridor concept, and Mr. Morningstar suggested in an interview that this goal hadn’t been forgotten in Washington. “The first priority has to be getting at least a reasonable amount of gas to the Balkans,” he said. “I think the Shah Deniz consortium and BP understand that if they were to build TAP, significant gas would have to be left in the Balkans,” he explained.

Whether that is feasable, will all depend on how much gas will be reaching Europe. TAP is designed to carry between 10 and 20 billion cubic meters of gas annually, so any significantly lower amount would be a challenge to its profitability, since the lower the volume carried, the higher per cost per unit. It would certainly not make economic sense if it could carry only 5 bcm a year.

Considering that no more than about 10 bcm a year are scheduled to be transported to Europe from the Shah Deniz field to Europe in the current decade, things could be tricky.

Unless, that is, more gas becomes available in the Caspian. If it does, the conundrum could be resolved. “We will know a lot more in the next year, year-and-a-half  (about whether) there is any more than the 10,” Mr. Morningstar said.


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Russia squeezes Ukraine gas pipeline
« Reply #71 on: April 01, 2012, 05:12:33 AM »

By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
Russia raised the stakes Friday over its efforts to take control of Ukraine’s gas-pipeline system, as it started diverting gas supplies to Europe away from the former Soviet republic. But Moscow has yet to play its most powerful card that could put an end to the saga about gas transit through Ukraine.

Ukraine said earlier Friday that Russia had almost halved gas-transit volumes through its pipeline system to Europe in recent days.

“This is only the beginning,” a Gazprom spokesman said not long after, adding that lowering volumes was part of a move to redirect gas from Ukraine to the Nord Stream pipeline and through Belarus.

Russia — a major supplier of natural gas to Europe — relies strongly on Ukraine, through which Russian gas travels west to Europe. The two neighbors remain locked in talks over a new gas-supply contract; Kiev is pushing for cheaper gas in order to balance its budget, but in exchange for lower-priced gas, Moscow is aiming to gain control of Ukraine’s pipeline system.

In a sign that tensions are building, the move to lower transit volumes comes after a Russian bank — which is 41%-owned by Gazprom — indicated it will provide a $2 billion loan to allow the Ukrainian gas-transit company to buy gas from Russia.

“I’m not sure if it is a case of carrot and stick,” said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC in London.

Russia is also putting additional pressure on Ukraine by speeding up construction of the South Stream pipeline to carry Russian gas under the Black Sea to Europe.

However, as strains build, Moscow’s could yet pull a rabbit out of its hat. ”A gas-price discount is still Russia’s main bargaining chip, as it looks to secure control of the pipelines,” Mr. Ash said.

Kiev is trying desperately to secure cheaper gas from Moscow. The Ukrainian government refuses to increase gas prices for domestic consumers ahead of parliamentary elections in October, and it is keeping the state gas company afloat with repeated injections of capital from the state budget.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said recently that he hopes to reach a new gas deal with Russia in May.

Such a deal “would probably be part of an agreement that would give Gazprom a stake in or control over Ukraine’s gas transmission system,” said Andrew Neff, an analyst at IHS Global Insight.


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Stratfor: Poland modernizes its armed forces
« Reply #72 on: September 25, 2012, 08:57:26 AM »

Polish soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan
Editor's note: The first in our two-part series on the evolving Polish armed forces focuses on Poland's geography and alliance options. The second focuses on how NATO membership is influencing Poland's military modernization efforts.
Poland needs alliance structures to guarantee its security, meaning Warsaw's primary military imperative is to maintain and increase interoperability between its armed forces and NATO. Integrating the Polish military into Western defense structures after nearly 45 years of operating within Soviet systems has been a large, expensive and protracted undertaking. The main priority in this transition is moving away from late-model Soviet equipment in favor of more modern equipment that can integrate with NATO systems on land, sea and in the air.
The Polish army has focused heavily on replacing or upgrading older Soviet hardware to become a more effective and modern army and to increase NATO interoperability. This has included upgrading and modernizing its main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, missile systems, munitions, helicopters and more. In general, Poland is restructuring its ground troops into a smaller, more flexible force with expeditionary capabilities more reflective of NATO's defense priorities.
Poland contributes significantly to NATO's mission in Afghanistan with some 2,420 troops deployed with the International Security Assistance Force, making Poland the fifth-largest troop contributor outside the United States. Poland contributed a similar-sized force to U.S.-led operations in Iraq, with a total troop deployment of approximately 2,500. The operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have been an opportunity for Poland to be extremely active in NATO, helping facilitate its forces' transition into the alliance network and to cement security ties. Poland's contributions to both wars are far more indicative of Warsaw's need for a tight security relationship with the United States than of any common military objectives.
Poland's navy suffers from the same basic geopolitical constraints that its land forces do when they come up against much more powerful neighbors in difficult geographic conditions. Even a small naval force easily can block both of Poland's main ports, Gdansk and Gdynia, given the numerous chokepoints in the eastern Baltic Sea. Access to the Atlantic Ocean requires passage through the Skagerrak, the strait that connects the North and Baltic Seas that can -- and has been -- blocked by the Swedes, the Danes and the Germans. Once past the Skagerrak, a Polish fleet would still have to traverse either the North Sea or the English Channel before reaching the Atlantic, which brings British naval forces into the equation. As such, the main priority of Poland's navy traditionally has been access denial and defense of the coast against hostile forces approaching by sea.

Poland has a large and well-equipped indigenous fleet of minehunters and minesweepers. This is both a legacy of the Cold War, during which Polish shipyards produced mostly landing craft and minesweepers given the Polish navy's role under the Warsaw Pact of dominating the Baltic Sea. This role coincided with Poland's maritime geography, since Polish naval and commercial vessels are vulnerable to a blockade of the Skagerrak. Poland's resulting relatively extensive minesweeping capabilities are a unique and valuable skillset it can provide within the NATO alliance structure.
Since joining the NATO security structure, Poland's navy has become less focused on coastal defense and instead is prioritizing increased integration and interoperability with NATO and international naval forces. Poland has invested millions in the development of advanced naval command and control, or C2, capabilities. This allowed for the full integration of the national C2 system -- including computer systems, radios and other assorted communication devices -- with the NATO network. It is difficult to overstate the degree of technical overhaul required to transition C2 systems. Soviet and NATO hardware simply cannot communicate with each other.
Modernizing an air force is a slow process because it tends to be more technology heavy than other branches and, thus, expensive. Poland has spent millions upgrading and modernizing late-model Soviet aircraft like the MiG-29 that would otherwise need to be retired as well as procuring 48 F-16C/D fighters from the United States. Poland also has purchased five C-130E Hercules cargo planes being refurbished by the United States. Building out its transport and logistical capabilities will strengthen Poland's position in NATO, since these types of aircraft are critical for transporting personnel and military equipment in the expeditionary type of operations typical of NATO forces.
Recently, Poland announced that rather than upgrade its 38 Soviet-built Su-22 fighter jets, its Defense Ministry plans to replace the fleet with 123 to 205 unmanned combat aerial vehicles. These require more personnel to pilot, maintain, launch and track the vehicle than a manned platform, but training personnel to operate them takes less time than training pilots. The specifics on exactly what type of unmanned combat aerial vehicles Poland plans to purchase have not been announced. A fleet of unmanned combat aerial vehicles could not replace the specific capabilities of an Su-22, but the shift to more unmanned vehicles is the general trend among most modern militaries. While extremely expensive to develop, investing in this type of technology puts Poland along the path of the future of aerial combat. In the long run, this should be more cost beneficial than continuously upgrading outdated platforms. It is a process, however, that takes significant time and money and may hinder the Polish air force in the meantime.
Other Procurements
Poland's need for an external power to guarantee its security means that the Polish military must take into consideration not only Poland's national imperatives but the imperatives of its allies as well. This applies to procuring some defense equipment and/or developing military capabilities not only suited for Poland's national defense needs but also meant to endear the Polish military to its allies. Examples of this include Poland's leasing of 40 Cougar mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles from the United States to be used in Afghanistan as well as Poland's purchase of eight Aerostar unmanned aerial vehicles, four of which are slated for use in Afghanistan as well. Poland can certainly make use of the unmanned aerial vehicles when they are no longer necessary in Afghanistan. The mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles are especially well suited for NATO's counter-insurgency mission, since they provide some of the best protection against the improvised explosive devices used to target Western forces in Afghanistan. But though mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles could be used as typical transport vehicles in Poland, it would prove expensive, meaning they most likely will be returned to the United States.
Poland continues to prioritize its "special" bilateral relationship with the United States. Most important to Poland is retaining some U.S. military presence on Polish soil. In May 2011, the United States sent a number of F-16s from the California National Guard to train alongside Polish F-16s. As of next year, U.S. forces will be stationed in Poland for the first time, though still only on a rotational basis. Poland has been hoping to secure even more of a U.S. commitment by hosting land-based SM-3 ballistic missile defense interceptors as part of a U.S.-led missile defense system in Europe. But Washington's commitment to ballistic missile defense in Europe has shifted repeatedly over the years as a result of changes in the U.S. administration, technological advances and strategic priorities regarding the U.S. relationship with Russia and Central/Eastern Europe. Consequently, Warsaw has been increasing its emphasis on the promotion of regional security groupings with various Central and Eastern European states, the Baltics and even the Nordic states, moves that attest to Poland's centrality in a number of different alliance structures.
Fortunately for Poland, the current security environment in Eurasia has created an atmosphere in which the traditional threats to Poland are more hypothetical than immediate. The longer this remains true, the more time Poland will have to develop its military capabilities. Whether it uses this time to bulk up depends upon whether Warsaw prioritizes increasing its independent military force instead of relying solely on the existence of NATO and the European Union to guarantee its security. While necessary, too much dependence on outside powers is ultimately a gamble for Poland and could leave it vulnerable. On the other side of the equation, however, the resources required to create a strong military capable of independently defending Poland against its traditional geopolitical threats would require a massive expenditure of revenues, manpower and time.

Read more: The Transformation of the Polish Armed Forces: NATO and Military Modernization | Stratfor


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Stratfor: Pipelines of Empire
« Reply #74 on: November 15, 2013, 07:00:49 PM »
By Robert D. Kaplan and Eugene Chausovsky

At this juncture in history, the fate of Europe is wound up not in ideas but in geopolitics. For millennia, eruptions from Asia have determined the fate of Europe, including invasions and migrations by Russians, Turkic tribes and Byzantine Greeks. Central and Eastern Europe, with their geographical proximity to the Asian steppe and the Anatolian land bridge, have borne the brunt of these cataclysms. Today is no different, only it is far subtler. Armies are not marching; rather, hydrocarbons are flowing. For that is the modern face of Russian influence in Europe. To understand the current pressures upon Europe from the east it is necessary to draw a map of energy pipelines.
Russian-European Natural Gas Networks

One-quarter of all energy for Europe comes from Russia, but that statistic is an average for the whole continent; thus, as one moves successively from Western Europe to Central Europe to Eastern Europe that percentage rises dramatically. Natural gas is more important than oil in this story, but let us consider oil first.

Russia is among the top oil producers worldwide and has among the largest reserves, with vast deposits in both western and eastern Siberia. Crucially, Russia is now investing in the technology necessary to preserve its position as a major energy hub for years and decades to come, though it is an open question whether current production levels can be maintained in the long term. Russia's primary gateway to Europe for oil (and natural gas) is Belarus in the north and Ukraine in the south. The Druzhba pipeline network takes Russian oil through Belarus to Poland and Germany in the north and in the south through Ukraine to Central Europe and the Balkans, as well as to Italy. Russia certainly has influence in Europe on account of its oil, and has occasionally used its oil as a means of political pressure on Belarus and Ukraine. But moving westward into Europe, negotiations over Russian oil are generally about supply and pricing, not political factors. It is really with natural gas that energy becomes a useful political tool for Russia.

Russia is, after the United States, simply the largest producer of natural gas worldwide, with trillions of cubic meters of reserves. Europe gets 25 percent of its natural gas from Russia, though, again, that figure rises dramatically in Central and Eastern Europe; generally, the closer a country is to Russia, the more dependent it is on Russian natural gas. Central Europe (with the exception of Romania, which has its own reserves) draws roughly 70 percent of the natural gas it consumes from Russia. Belarus, Bulgaria and the Baltic states depend on Russia for 90-100 percent of their natural gas needs. Russia has used this dependence to influence these states' decision-making, offering beneficial terms to states that cooperate with Moscow, while charging higher prices and occasionally cutting off supplies altogether to those that don't. This translates into real geopolitical power, even if the Warsaw Pact no longer exists.

The Yamal pipeline system brings Russian natural gas to Poland and Germany via Belarus. The Blue Stream pipeline network brings Russian natural gas to Turkey. Nord Stream, which was completed in 2011, brings Russian natural gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea, cutting out the need for a Belarus-Poland land route. Thus, Belarus and Poland now have less leverage over Russia, even as they are mainly dependent on Russia for their own natural gas supplies by way of separate pipelines.

The next major geopolitical piece in this massive network is the proposed South Stream pipeline. South Stream would transport Russian natural gas across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria, with another line running to Italy via the Balkans and the Adriatic. South Stream could make Central Europe and the Balkans more dependent on Russia, even as Russia does not require Ukraine for the project. This, combined with Nord Stream, helps Russia tighten its grip on Ukraine.

But there is also Caspian Sea oil and natural gas to consider, particularly from Azerbaijan, which inhibits Russia's monopoly. Oil and natural gas pipelines built with the help of Western energy companies in the 2000s bring energy from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku through Georgia to Turkey and onwards to Europe. Furthermore, the Nabucco pipeline network has the potential to bring Caspian Sea natural gas across the Caucasus and Turkey all the way to Austria, with spur lines coming from Iraq and Iran. Obviously, this is a complex and politically fraught project that has not materialized. Winning out over Nabucco has been the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), a far less ambitious network that will bring Azerbaijani natural gas across Turkey to Greece and Italy. Because TAP avoids Central Europe and the Balkans, its selection over Nabucco constitutes a clear victory for Russia, which wants Central and Eastern Europe dependent on it and not on Azerbaijan for energy. In fact, Russian political pressure was a factor in TAP's victory over Nabucco.

The real long-term threat to Russian influence in Europe comes less from Azerbaijan than from the building of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. These are facilities located on coastlines that convert LNG back to natural gas after it has been liquefied to enable transport across seas and oceans. With an LNG terminal, a country is less dependent on pipelines emanating from Russia. Poland and Lithuania are building such terminals on the Baltic Sea and Croatia wants to build one on the Adriatic. The Visegrad countries of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been building pipeline interconnectors, in part to integrate with -- and take advantage of -- these Baltic terminals. This LNG comes from many sources, including North Africa, the Middle East and North America. That is why Russia is deeply concerned about vast shale gas discoveries in the United States and elsewhere in Europe -- natural gas that could eventually be exported with the help of LNG terminals to Central and Eastern Europe.

Russia is also worried about the European Union's attempt to break its energy monopoly through legal means. According to new legislation known as the Third Energy Package, which is still in the process of being implemented, one energy company cannot be responsible for production, distribution and sales, because the European Union defines that as a monopoly. And such monopolistic practices actually describe Russian energy companies like Gazprom. If the European Union gets its way, Russian corporate control will be unbundled.

Therefore, we forecast that Russia's use of energy to extract political concessions will weaken over time, but will nevertheless remain formidable in parts of Central and Eastern Europe. While energy has served as an effective tool for Russia to wield political influence in Europe, Moscow is first and foremost concerned about maintaining the revenue from energy exports that has become so crucial for Russia's own budget and economic stability. In this sense, maintaining European market share (and further developing market share in Asia) takes precedence over political manipulation for Moscow.

Consequently, Russia will have to become even more subtle and sophisticated in the way that it deals with its former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact satellites.

Read more: Pipelines of Empire | Stratfor


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WSJ: Russia vs. Europe in the Ukraine
« Reply #75 on: November 17, 2013, 06:42:34 AM »
Russia and Europe Vie to Win the Prize of Ukraine
Putin's grand plan to restore the Russian empire may depend on which way Kiev goes later this month.
by Walter Russell Mead
Nov. 15, 2013 6:27 p.m. ET

This could be the month that determines the success or collapse of Vladimir Putin's strategic plan for Russia. Even as shrewd Russian diplomacy runs rings around a stumbling White House on Syria, and as NSA revelations by Mr. Putin's honored guest Edward Snowden continue to strain U.S. ties with allies, the Russian president's imperial dream is hanging by a thread.

His problem is Ukraine, which since the early 1990s has resisted multiple attempts by Russia—some diplomatic, some subversive, some bellicose—to bring it back under Moscow's control. The turning point may be Ukraine's decision later this month on whether to sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union.

The collapse of the Soviet Union ended 200 years of Russian expansion and empire building. Under the czars, Russian territory stretched past Warsaw into the heart of Central Europe; Stalin's armies camped on the Elbe. President Putin called the Soviet collapse "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

Russia has lots of reasons to want its old empire back. Control of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan will give Russia more control over world oil and gas markets. Central Asia is rich in resources and Russia fears both Chinese and Islamist ambitions there. The Baltic republics occupy part of what Russia regards as a necessary security frontier against NATO and the West around St. Petersburg. The Baltics also cut Russia off from the Kaliningrad enclave (formerly known as Königsberg and seized from Germany at the end of World War II) and contain sizable Russian minorities.

But there is no doubt that, psychologically and practically, the crown jewel of Russia's lost empire is Ukraine. Its capital Kiev was the birthplace of Russian culture and for many Russians it is an integral part of their homeland. The Crimea is a mostly ethnic-Russian region that Nikita Khrushchev arbitrarily deeded over to Ukraine in 1954. The eastern half of the country speaks Russian and many people there would be happy to return to Moscow's arms.

It isn't just nostalgia that draws Russia to Ukraine. It's also about power and security. With Ukraine back in the fold, Russia has the potential to become the kind of great European power whose interests the EU cannot disregard. Recovering Ukraine is how Vladimir Putin can become Vladimir the Great, ranking with Peter, Catherine and Alexander I as a dominant figure in Russian history.

Mr. Putin's chosen instrument for the first stage in the restoration of Russia as a great power is what he calls the Eurasian Union. This counterpart to the European Union would bring the former Soviet states first into a customs union and then increasingly move toward integration as the EU has done. To get ex-Soviet states to join, Russia is pulling out all the stops.

Kazakhstan and ever-loyal Belarus have already signed up. Armenia has announced its intention to join. Georgia's prime minister says that his country would consider membership if Russia returned the Georgian territories it holds, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

But Ukraine is the pearl of great price. With Ukraine, the Eurasian Union is on the road to becoming a significant force; without Kiev, it is little more than a bluff.

The Kremlin has had reason to be optimistic about Ukraine since the current president, Viktor Yanukovych, defeated his archrival, the pro-Western Yulia Tymoshenko, as power returned to political parties based in the eastern, more pro-Russian half of Ukraine. When the Yanukovych government had Ms. Tymoshenko jailed for corruption in 2011, the EU responded by pressuring Mr. Yanukovych to release her and more generally to make government more transparent. From a Kremlin point of view this looked promising; Mr. Yanukovych and the oligarchs around him would surely prefer a closer, no-questions-asked relationship with Moscow than to enter a free-trade agreement with the busybodies of the EU.

Yet to Moscow's profound displeasure, Ukraine has so far shown strong signs of preferring the EU to Russia as its primary trade and political partner. Even Russian-speaking oligarchs in eastern Ukraine believe that the EU offers greater opportunities and perhaps more security for their wealth than a closer association with Mr. Putin's Russia.

November looks like the month of decision. On Nov. 28 the EU is holding a summit in Vilnius for eastern countries like Ukraine, and Ukraine at that point will either sign a free-trade agreement with the EU or not. If it signs, Kiev is on a path that might one day bring it into the EU but will in any case keep it out of Mr. Putin's Eurasia.

The sticking point is Ms. Tymoshenko. The EU, and especially the Germans, believe that her trial was politicized, and they want her freed. This is more than a question about the fate of one person. The fate of Ms. Tymoshenko is being taken as a sign of whether Ukraine's government is prepared to accept the judicial and political standards of the EU.

As Ukraine moves toward its decision, there is frantic maneuvering on all sides. The EU is sweetening its offer by suggesting that Ukraine could begin to enjoy the benefits of a trade deal even before all EU member states have ratified it. It is proposing to help Ukraine with its gas supply if an angry Russia retaliates by shutting the pipelines yet again. And it is pushing the International Monetary Fund to offer Ukraine $10 billion to $15 billion of standby financial support in the event of Russian pressure.

Russia has characteristically responded with a diplomacy of threats: Ukrainian exports to Russia have been mysteriously held up at the frontier and Russian officials from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on down have warned Ukraine of serious consequences should it side with the EU. Meanwhile, in its continuing efforts to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, Ukraine has signed a $10 billion shale gas deal with Chevron CVX +0.42% —news that cannot have brought much joy to Gazprom. OGZPY +0.95%

It is not clear what President Yanukovych will do. Releasing Ms. Tymoshenko would be a bitter pill, and Ukraine may decide that Europe's price is too high. But the Putin regime has so threatened Ukraine that even some of Russia's natural allies in the country are looking west.

And there is one more question. Losing the chance to reel in Ukraine will be the greatest blow to Mr. Putin's prestige since he emerged on the Russian political stage. As the hour of decision approaches, what if anything will he try in a last-ditch effort to delay Russia's permanent relegation to a secondary role in global power politics?

President Yanukovych and his allies want to stoke a bidding war between the EU and Russia for Ukrainian support. The stakes, for Mr. Putin especially, could not be higher.

Mr. Mead is the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of the American Interest.


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WSJ: Russia Squeezing Ukraine
« Reply #76 on: December 09, 2013, 03:50:33 PM »
Stratfor has long emphasized the geopolitical importance of Ukraine, a point which I have echoed here, see my post of the other day in the Foreign Policy thread by  , , , I forget who, but it was a good piece.

The Stakes in Ukraine
The U.S. should warn Putin not to stoke violence in Kiev.
Updated Dec. 9, 2013 5:48 p.m. ET

For the second consecutive Sunday, more than half a million people filled the streets of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. The anti-government demonstrations are an important moment for the future of Europe, though you wouldn't know it from America's indifference.

Ukraine straddles a faultline between autocratic Russia and free Europe. The country of 46 million is divided between Russian-speakers in the east and nationalists in the west, but most Ukrainians want their country to get closer to Europe. The protests show that Ukrainians are fed up with their rapacious political system and aspire to live under the rule of law.
Enlarge Image

A protester smashes a statue of Lenin with a sledgehammer in Tarasa Shevchenko Boulevard, central Kiev. Zuma Press

President Viktor Yanukovych, who is from eastern Ukraine, surprised his countrymen last month by shelving a free-trade deal with the EU he had promised to sign. Russian President Vladimir Putin had imposed trade sanctions and other punitive economic measures on Ukraine to stop the EU deal and drag Kiev into his own trade and political bloc as he tries to reconstitute a Russian empire.

The protests exploded last week after riot police broke up an encampment of pro-EU demonstrators in central Kiev. The protests have since become less about the EU and now include demands for a new government, early elections and constitutional changes. Mr. Yanukovych fanned public anger on Friday when he met Mr. Putin in Sochi, their third recent tête-à-tête. Rumors swirled that Mr. Yanukovych has secretly promised to bring Ukraine into a Moscow-led customs union. The Kremlin and Mr. Yanukovych deny it.

The EU's trade offer was a modest first step to attract Ukraine, but the bloc lacks the vision or ability to offer more. The West's leadership role used to fall to the U.S., which during the Clinton and Bush years actively helped Ukraine become a stronger state. Now the U.S. has lost interest.

Early last week Secretary of State John Kerry offered platitudes about peaceful protests and suggested America's ties with Russia were a bigger priority. He also put his diplomatic foot in it by repeatedly referring to "the Ukraine." Kiev dropped the article "the" after independence in 1991, believing it suggested that Ukraine was merely a region as opposed to a sovereign state. At the end of the week a senior U.S. official finally criticized Mr. Yanukovych's turnabout on Europe.

A peaceful compromise doesn't have to remove Mr. Yanukovych, who is up for re-election in 2015. With the economy sinking along with his support, he's unlikely to win an honest election. A new cabinet and constitutional changes to weaken the presidency could satisfy the streets, and the EU deal could be revived.

But that doesn't account for Mr. Putin, who will play rough to keep Kiev in his orbit. There are rumors of Russian provocateurs in the crowds and the mobilization of riot police to move toward Kiev. For two decades Ukraine has been the powder keg that never blew, mocking a CIA prediction in the early 1990s of likely civil war. But violence is now a possibility, which could destabilize Europe. If Mr. Yanukovych does move toward a Moscow customs union by fiat, he would split the country.

The protests could also set Ukraine on a better course, and that should be the U.S. goal. At a minimum the Obama Administration can make clear to Mr. Putin that he will pay a price if he stokes violence or promotes a crackdown. It would also help if President Obama found his voice for a change on behalf of freedom and the West.


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WSJ: How the US lost Ukraine to Putin
« Reply #77 on: December 11, 2013, 08:54:06 AM »
Edward Lucas: How the West Lost Ukraine to Putin
The Ukrainian leader weighed both sides' offers and chose the one promising him power and money—Russia's offer.
By Edward Lucas
Dec. 10, 2013 6:33 p.m. ET

The scenes from the Ukrainian capital are extraordinary: Lenin's statue toppled, hundreds of thousands of flag-waving protesters, police raids on media outlets and opposition parties. But they are a sideshow to the big picture: the collapse of the European Union's efforts to integrate its ex-Soviet neighbors in the face of an audacious bid by Vladimir Putin's ex-KGB regime to restore the Russian empire.

The EU's expansion to the east was one of its greatest achievements. The countries that joined in 2004—the so-called EU-8 of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia—now represent some of the Continent's most striking success stories. Even grudging voices in "Old Europe" concede that the EU is stronger, not weaker, because of its new members.

But that triumph was based on some particular circumstances. The EU offered genuine membership. These countries truly wanted to reform, modernize and integrate with the West. Their governments and people alike realized that joining the EU was the only way to do it. They were willing to instigate and accept tough reforms. And nobody was able to stop them.

These advantages are absent in the countries of the "Eastern Partnership," the EU's misguided plan to forge closer ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. These six countries are ill-assorted. Oil-rich Azerbaijan wants strategic ties with the West but has scores of political prisoners and tightly controlled media. Belarus has a marginally less bad human-rights record but hews to the Kremlin line in its foreign policy. Armenia has little love for Russia but depends on it for survival against Azerbaijan. Georgia and Moldova are pro-Western but weak, small and vulnerable. And Ukraine is larger than all the others put together.

They do have three things in common, none of them helpful. Their abilities to make deep reforms range from weak to nil. The EU does not want them as full members. And the Kremlin wants to keep them in its orbit.

The result has been an unfolding disaster. The Eastern Partnership has gotten nowhere in Belarus. Azerbaijan said it wanted easy visas to the EU, but its government showed no desire to make political reforms. Armenia tried to engage but was swatted back into line by Russia and in September rejected the EU agreement. Last month, on the eve of the EU's summit in Lithuania, Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych suddenly announced that he won't sign either. Russia was making him and his country an offer they could not refuse.

The details of that offer are still unfolding. It appears to involve an emergency loan for Ukraine's stricken economy, one without the tough conditions, such as higher gas prices, that would be required in any deal with Western lenders such as the International Monetary Fund. It will involve some cheap gas, probably supplied through a murky but well-connected intermediary company. Russia will deploy its huge media resources, especially its television channels, which are widely watched in Ukraine, against the demonstrators and in favor of the Yanukovych regime.

In return, Vladimir Putin will move Ukraine closer to the planned Eurasian Customs Union, the Russian president's pet project for extending Kremlin influence in the former empire.

Those were the carrots for Kiev rejecting closer EU ties, but there were sticks, too. Ukraine is vulnerable to Russian economic sanctions, some of which Moscow had already imposed. Mr. Yanukovych's personal safety is a factor too: He is terrified of being poisoned and travels with an entourage of food-tasters and flunkies that would not disgrace the Byzantine imperial court. In 2004, opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin after challenging Kremlin influence in Ukraine. He lived—and became president—but was permanently disfigured.

The EU cannot match that. It does not do death threats or bribes. It helps countries improve their intellectual-property laws and food-safety procedures. It demands proper elections, courts and media regulation, all anathema to the likes of Mr. Yanukovych, who thrives on rigged elections, propaganda machines and phony justice.

The other benefits the EU offers are free trade, which brings a sharp competitive shock first and benefits later, and easier visas, which are of no interest to Mr. Yanukovych, who can travel wherever he wants. Having weighed up both sides' offers, the Ukrainian leader chose the one that promised power and money: the Kremlin's offer.

That decision left EU officials baffled. They do not understand people like Mr. Yanukovych and their feral approach to politics. Nor do they understand Russia. They missed the fundamental point about Russian foreign policy: To feel secure, Moscow needs a geopolitical hinterland of countries that are economically weak and politically pliable. The EU's Eastern Partnership could make Russia's borderlands economically strong and politically secure. Therefore the partnership must be destroyed.

The EU's failure to deal properly with Ukraine is a scandal. It is no exaggeration to say that the country determines the long-term future of the entire former Soviet Union. If Ukraine adopts a Euro-Atlantic orientation, then the Putin regime and its satrapies are finished. The political, economic and cultural success of a large, Orthodox, industrialized ex-Soviet country would be the clearest signal possible to Russians that their thieving, thuggish, lying rulers are not making the country great, but holding it back.

But if Ukraine falls into Russia's grip, then the outlook is bleak and dangerous. Not only will authoritarian crony capitalism have triumphed in the former Soviet Union, but Europe's own security will also be endangered. NATO is already struggling to protect the Baltic states and Poland from the integrated and increasingly impressive military forces of Russia and Belarus. Add Ukraine to that alliance, and a headache turns into a nightmare.

Western leaders have missed no chance to show the Kremlin that they are not to be taken seriously. The EU merely murmured when the Kremlin imposed trade sanctions on Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Lithuania. Its leaders have done little to make waverers in Ukraine think that Europe is to be counted on in a crisis. The belated diplomatic support that the Obama administration has given the EU in its eastern neighborhood is commendable. But it also highlights the shameful neglect of previous years.

The best way Europe or America can help Ukraine—and Georgia and Moldova—is to take a much tougher stance with Russia. The EU should freeze Russia's request for visa-free travel for holders of "official" passports. The U.S. and EU should also freeze Russia's application to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Paris-based good-governance club. The EU should intensify its scrutiny of Gazprom's OGZPY -1.12% behavior in the European gas market and pursue a pending antitrust "complaint" (in effect a prosecution) against the Russian state-owned giant with the greatest vigor possible.

It is time to show Mr. Putin that his hunting license in Russia's neighborhood is now canceled. Don't hold your breath.

Mr. Lucas is the author of "Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today" (Walker, 2012) and "The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West" ( Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).


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WSJ: US actually acts!
« Reply #78 on: December 16, 2013, 06:44:28 AM »
Leading From the Front in Ukraine
A welcome exception to the Obama foreign policy.
Dec. 15, 2013 7:00 p.m. ET

Addressing hundreds of thousands at Kiev's Independence Square on Sunday, John McCain said, "We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently." The Arizona Senator's appearance was a highlight of the latest pro-democracy rally in the Ukrainian capital. And for once the vocal critic of President Obama's foreign policy was reinforcing rather than dissenting from Administration policy.

Entering the fourth week of protests, the outcome of the political showdown in Ukraine hasn't been decided. But this crisis is a good reminder that the U.S. can still bring influence to bear even on internal foreign disputes in a way that no other country can. Over the past five years the Obama Administration has repeatedly shown friends and adversaries that it is reluctant to stand up for America's interests and values. Ukraine shows what the better policy of leading from the front looks like.

For weeks the U.S. had maintained a guarded neutrality in the standoff. The Administration finally found its voice when President Viktor Yanukovych sent his riot police early last Wednesday morning to clear a large encampment from Independence Square. The images from Kiev even roused a remarkable public intervention from Secretary of State John Kerry, who noted his "disgust" with the Yanukovych government. "That's the strongest statement John Kerry has ever given in his life," Mr. McCain told us in Kiev.

Vice President Joe Biden has made several calls to Mr. Yanukovych. The U.S. threatened to impose visa bans and financial sanctions on Ukrainian leaders, whose worst nightmare is to be denied access to their bank accounts and property in the West. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reinforced the message in a telephone call to the country's military chief, who can be counted on to share it with others in the security establishment. The Europeans made similar noises.

Lo and behold, such Western pressure can work, especially when it sides with a popular uprising against an oppressive ruler. Mr. Yanukovych has pulled the riot police back and reached out to the opposition while still offering few concessions. The protests were sparked by his refusal to sign an "association" treaty with the EU, and Mr. Yanukovych is still looking to get an economic lifeline from Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the protest movement has broadened beyond the EU question to demands for the rule of law and more democratic transparency in this post-Soviet country of 46 million.

Victoria Nuland provided one of many enduring images from Ukraine's uprising. After her meeting with President Yanukovych in Kiev last Wednesday after the attempted crackdown, the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs said in a light snow storm: "I hope the people of Ukraine know that the U.S. stands with you in your search for justice, for human dignity and security for economic health, and the European future that you have chosen and deserve."

We're not sure what accounts for the Administration's change of heart and mind. Perhaps it is a recognition, at last, that Mr. Putin means no good for U.S. interests. Whatever the motivation, we'll take it.


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WSJ: Ukraine-Russia, US needs to move on sanctions
« Reply #80 on: January 26, 2014, 09:35:32 AM »
America and Ukraine
As the crisis in Kiev worsens, the U.S. needs to move on sanctions.

Jan. 24, 2014 6:40 p.m. ET

The Ukraine showdown between pro-Western demonstrators and President Viktor Yanukovych is escalating, with at least five dead, violent clashes in Kiev and provincial governments joining the opposition this week. It's past time for the U.S. to get more engaged.

Russia's Vladimir Putin has stoked this crisis from the first and isn't about to let up. The Russian strongman has put $15 billion in aid and billions more in cheap energy on the table to make Ukraine an authoritarian state in Moscow's image. His goal is to make it part of a new Greater Russia. He pressured the ruling clique in Kiev to drop an EU "association" treaty in November, which led to the first protests, and Mr. Yanukovych further inflamed the streets last week with repressive new laws.

Yet this country of 46 million has also built a close relationship with Washington since independence in 1991. The U.S. has leverage with Mr. Yanukovych and his entourage that it so far hasn't employed.

On Thursday, Joe Biden finally called the Ukrainian president "to urge an immediate de-escalation in the standoff . . . and to meaningfully address the legitimate concerns of peaceful protesters." That's good, but what took so long? The Veep should have called last week when the Ukrainian parliament passed the inflammatory laws.

Secretary of State John Kerry has also been MIA while chasing windmills in the Middle East. In Davos on Friday he finally said that, "We will stand with the people of Ukraine." And President Obama ? Who?

After the first deaths of protestors in Ukraine's modern history this week, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev on Wednesday revoked the visas of officials linked to the violence. No names were specified. Washington has promised to "consider" other sanctions, and State and Treasury have debated the names of Ukraine officials and business oligarchs who could be put on a list for a visa ban and U.S. asset freeze.

Now's the time to act. Targeted travel and financial sanctions can be imposed by executive order, and the Administration can urge the EU and its member states to do the same. Little scares Ukrainian elites as much as losing access to their London flats or Cypriot bank accounts.

The Obama Administration has largely ignored Europe during its tenure, but the strategic reality is that only Washington can lead an effort to pull Ukraine out of Moscow's orbit. The EU is divided and irresolute. Worrying parallels to Europe's mishandling of the Balkans in the early 1990s aren't far-fetched. Now as then the EU doesn't seem to realize what's at stake in preventing a violent crisis in its neighborhood. The bulk of Europe's energy supplies come through Ukraine, and pipelines crisscross the western regions with local governments that on Thursday fell to anti-Yanukovych demonstrators.

Talks between opposition leaders and Mr. Yanukovych broke down again on Friday and clashes with security forces resumed. Mr. Yanukovych is under pressure from Moscow to put down the uprising. U.S. and EU sanctions can help isolate Mr. Yanukovych by clarifying that there is a price for repression.


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WSJ: Ukraine -- pressure mounts on leader
« Reply #82 on: January 27, 2014, 04:48:20 AM »
KIEV, Ukraine—Antigovernment protests intensified on Sunday, posing the most serious threat to President Viktor Yanukovych's rule since demonstrations began here more than two months ago and raising the stakes in a battle for influence between Russia and the West.

Tens of thousands of protesters across Ukraine besieged government facilities and dug in at local administrations buildings they are occupying in several regional capitals, in a challenge to Mr. Yanukovych's pivot to the east and Russia's attempts to assert political and economic power in former Soviet republics.

The widening rebellion throws into question the future of Mr. Yanukovych, who in December sealed a multibillion-dollar bailout from Russia that appeared to secure his political future after abruptly turning his back on a partnership deal with the European Union.

Supporters carry the coffin of Mykhailo Zhyznevsky, an antigovernment protester who was killed during recent rallies, during his funeral in Kiev on Sunday. The widening rebellion has thrown into question the future of embattled President Viktor Yanukovych. david mdzinarishvili/Reuters

For Russian President Vladimir Putin, winning Ukraine's allegiance was a significant victory in his quest to reassert influence over former Soviet republics. Ukraine was the centerpiece of an EU program aimed at coaxing democratic overhauls in the region in return for free-trade agreements. Now, only tiny Moldova and Georgia are on track to sign deals.

Ukraine, which Mr. Putin often calls a "brotherly nation," is also a sensitive domestic issue for Russians. A defeat for Mr. Yanukovych could send a powerful signal within Russia, whose tough antiprotest laws and security tactics seem to have served as a model for his response to the demonstrations. The Ukrainian president this month introduced laws mirroring Russian legislation that strictly curbs dissent, and authorities began a brutal crackdown on protesters that left three dead and hundreds injured.

To be sure, Mr. Yanukovych is far from bowed. Police and security services have remained loyal. The loans and cheaper gas secured from Russia in December have patched up Ukraine's economy. Powerful business tycoons have urged a peaceful resolution to protests and allowed their television channels to broadcast events, but haven't openly challenged the president.

But the crackdown and the laws triggered uprisings across Ukraine in recent days that appear to have thwarted Mr. Yanukovych's attempt to take a more authoritarian grip on this country of some 46 million.

The Kremlin, which has endorsed the crackdown and Mr. Yanukovych's labeling of protesters as radicals, must now be worried, said Steven Pifer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"It is hard to see how they can influence the situation now. It has gotten out of hand and they don't have any levers to pull," said Mr. Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

On Saturday, Mr. Yanukovych for the first time offered significant concessions, including appointing two opposition leaders to the government.  But the opposition, urged on by protesters who blame the president for last week's police crackdown in Kiev and have called for his ouster, said it would demand additional measures, including snap presidential elections and an amnesty for all protesters.

"No deal," read a post Sunday on the Twitter account of opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was offered the job of prime minister as part of the president's concessions. "We're finishing what we started. The people decide our leaders, not you."

The U.S. State Department didn't comment Sunday on Mr. Yanukovych's latest offer, but has been calling for "substantive discussions" between the government and protesters with an aim of "national reconciliation."

Protests began in November, when Mr. Yanukovych shelved the long-planned integration pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia.  Protests evolved into a broader outcry against official corruption, police brutality and the president's authoritarian turn. Protesters are also angered by the passing of laws this month that strictly curb dissent and mirror Russian legislation. Repealing them is a key demand.

"Mr. Yanukovych doesn't have the money or the strength" to institute a Russian-style authoritarian regime, said Andrew Wilson, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The uprisings in recent days started in Ukraine's west, where Mr. Yanukovych is most unpopular. The mayor of Lviv, a major center of dissent, said the new laws wouldn't apply there.  Protests have even spread to regions east of Kiev that for years have been loyal to Mr. Yanukovych.  In cities across Ukraine, crowds stormed local government buildings in recent days, shouting, "Get the gang out!" and "Get the criminal out!" a reference to the two prison terms Mr. Yanukovych served in his youth for theft and assault. Many protesters who occupied local administration and council buildings declared loyalty to the People's Council, set up by the opposition in Kiev.

The opposition and analysts credit the new fronts outside the capital as forcing Mr. Yanukovych, who for weeks has largely ignored the protests in the capital, to change tack.

"Yanukovych's mood was very different. He was not the same as two days ago," Oleh Tyahybok, a nationalist leader who heads one of the three main opposition parties, told the crowd on Kiev's central square after talks on Saturday.

The president's offer, which came in a three-hour meeting with the three main opposition leaders on Saturday, also includes a promise to consider rolling back constitutional changes that handed him more power, a potential amnesty for protesters if they clear the streets and possible release for protesters detained on the front lines in recent days.  The opposition said it wanted actions, not promises, as it didn't trust him to keep his word.

A key showdown will be the emergency session of parliament on Tuesday, when the president's allies say an amnesty law and amendments to the authoritarian laws could be considered.  The opposition has raised concerns the president could use the session to institute a state of emergency and a broader crackdown, which the government denies.

Analysts said the offer looked like a trap for the opposition, which is divided and has lost support on the square in recent days amid suspicions some leaders are simply ambitious for power and don't have the mettle to take on Mr. Yanukovych.

"This is a bluff, since the loss of control over administrations has put the Yanukovych regime in a dangerous position," said Taras Berezovets, a political analyst at Berta Communications. "They're trying to bring discord into the ranks of the opposition."

The mood on the square in Kiev was defiant on Sunday. After the speeches Saturday night, protesters smashed windows and tossed Molotov cocktails in an attack on a convention center nearby where they said riot police were hiding out in preparation for an attack. They eventually called a truce and allowed police, who were outnumbered, to leave. One group of activists occupied the Justice Ministry late Sunday.

The attack reflects a growing militancy among protesters. Hundreds of men armed with clubs and makeshift shields stand at barricades to defend the Kiev camp, which covers the square and several connected roads.  In the country's east on Sunday, thousands of protesters in Zaporizhya and Dnipropetrovsk surrounded city administration buildings.  In a sign of increasing unity across Ukraine, hard-core soccer fans known here as "Ultras" pledged to protect protesters from police in many cities.

In Volyn in the country's west, the city's governor, a presidential appointee, knelt briefly before hundreds of protesters asking them not to storm the building, according to video shared by protesters online. When one man entered the building to ask police not to assault protesters, an officer wearing a black helmet told him: "We're with the people. We're Ukrainians." They then embraced. The governor later resigned. In Poltava, the local police chief halted an attempt to storm the governor's offices by taking off his hat and singing the national anthem, local news agencies reported. Protesters seized the building later. 

Some attacks on buildings were less peaceful. In Vinnytsia, protesters stormed the regional administration, spraying fire extinguishers and tossing wooden chairs at riot police.

—Alan Cullison and Katya Gorchinskaya contributed to this article.


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Stratfor: Perspectives on the Ukraine
« Reply #83 on: January 30, 2014, 03:35:36 PM »
By George Friedman

A few months ago, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was expected to sign some agreements that could eventually integrate Ukraine with the European Union economically. Ultimately, Yanukovich refused to sign the agreements, a decision thousands of his countrymen immediately protested. The demonstrations later evolved, as they often do. Protesters started calling for political change, and when Yanukovich resisted their calls, they demanded new elections.

Some protesters wanted Ukraine to have a European orientation rather than a Russian one. Others felt that the government was corrupt and should thus be replaced. These kinds of demonstrations occur in many countries. Sometimes they're successful; sometimes they're not. In most cases, the outcome matters only to the country's citizens or to the citizens of neighboring states. But Ukraine is exceptional because it is enormously important. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has had to pursue a delicate balance between the tenuous promises of a liberal, wealthy and somewhat aloof Europe and the fact that its very existence and independence can be a source of strategic vulnerability for Russia.

Ukraine's Importance

Ukraine provides two things: strategic position and agricultural and mineral products. The latter are frequently important, but the former is universally important. Ukraine is central to Russia's defensibility. The two countries share a long border, and Moscow is located only some 480 kilometers (about 300 miles) from Ukrainian territory -- a stretch of land that is flat, easily traversed and thus difficult to defend. If some power were to block the Ukraine-Kazakh gap, Russia would be cut off from the Caucasus, its defensible southern border.

Moreover, Ukraine is home to two critical ports, Odessa and Sevastopol, which are even more important to Russia than the port of Novorossiysk. Losing commercial and military access to those ports would completely undermine Russia's influence in the Black Sea and cut off its access to the Mediterranean. Russia's only remaining ports would be blocked by the Greenland-Iceland-U.K. gap to the west, by ice to the northeast, by Denmark on the Baltic Sea, and by Japan in the east.

This explains why in 1917, when the Bolsheviks took power and sued for peace, the Germans demanded that Russia relinquish its control of most of Ukraine. The Germans wanted the food Ukraine produced and knew that if they had a presence there they could threaten Russia in perpetuity. In the end, it didn't matter: Germany lost Word War I, and Russia reclaimed Ukraine. During World War II, the Germans seized Ukraine in the first year of their attack on the Soviet Union, exploited its agriculture and used it as the base to attack Stalingrad, trying to sever Russia from its supply lines in Baku. Between the wars, Stalin had to build up his industrial plant. He sold Ukrainian food overseas and used it to feed factory workers in Russia. The Ukrainians were left to starve, but the industry they built eventually helped the Soviets defeat Hitler. After the Soviets drove the Germans back, they seized Romania and Hungary and drove to Vienna, using Ukraine as their base.

From the perspective of Europe, and particularly from the perspectives of former Soviet satellites, a Ukraine dominated by Russia would represent a potential threat from southern Poland to Romania. These countries already depend on Russian energy, fully aware that the Russians may eventually use that dependence as a lever to gain control over them. Russia's ability not simply to project military power but also to cause unrest along the border or use commercial initiatives to undermine autonomy is a real fear.

Thinking in military terms may seem more archaic to Westerners than it does to Russians and Central Europeans. For many Eastern Europeans, the Soviet withdrawal is a relatively recent memory, and they know that the Russians are capable of returning as suddenly as they left. For their part, the Russians know that NATO has no will to invade Russia, and war would be the last thing on the Germans' minds even if they were capable of waging one. The Russians also remember that for all the economic and military malaise in Germany in 1932, the Germans became the dominant power in Europe by 1939. By 1941, they were driving into the Russian heartland. The farther you move away from a borderland, the more fantastic the fears appear. But inside the borderland, the fears seem far less preposterous for both sides.
Russian Perspectives

From the Russian point of view, therefore, tighter Ukrainian-EU integration represented a potentially mortal threat to Russian national security. After the Orange Revolution, which brought a short-lived pro-EU administration to power in the mid-2000s, Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear that he regarded Ukraine as essential to Russian security, alleging that the nongovernmental organizations that were fomenting unrest there were fronts for the U.S. State Department, the CIA and MI6. Whether the charges were true or not, Putin believed the course in which Ukraine was headed would be disastrous for Russia, and so he used economic pressure and state intelligence services to prevent Ukraine from taking that course.

In my view, the 2008 Russo-Georgian War had as much to do with demonstrating to Kiev that Western guarantees were worthless, that the United States could not aid Georgia and that Russia had a capable military force as it did with Georgia itself. At the time, Georgia and Ukraine were seeking NATO and EU membership, and through its intervention in Georgia, Moscow succeeded in steering Ukraine away from these organizations. Today, the strategic threat to Russia is no less dire than it was 10 years ago, at least not in minds of the Russians, who would prefer a neutral Ukraine if not a pro-Russia Ukraine.

Notably, Putin's strategy toward the Russian periphery differs from those of his Soviet and czarist predecessors, who took direct responsibility for the various territories subordinate to them. Putin considers this a flawed strategy. It drained Moscow's resources, even as the government could not hold the territories together.

Putin's strategy toward Ukraine, and indeed most of the former Soviet Union, entails less direct influence. He is not interested in governing Ukraine. He is not even all that interested in its foreign relationships. His goal is to have negative control, to prevent Ukraine from doing the things Russia doesn't want it to do. Ukraine can be sovereign except in matters of fundamental importance to Russia. As far as Russia was concerned, the Ukrainian regime is free to be as liberal and democratic as it wants to be. But even the idea of further EU integration was a clear provocation. It was the actions of the European Union and the Germans -- supporting opponents of Yanukovich openly, apart from interfering in the internal affairs of another country -- that were detrimental to Russian national interests.
European Perspectives

Ukraine is not quite as strategically significant to Europe as it is to Russia. Europe never wanted to add Ukraine to its ranks; it merely wanted to open the door to the possibility. The European Union is in shambles. Given the horrific economic problems of Southern Europe, the idea of adding a country as weak and disorganized as Ukraine to the bloc is preposterous. The European Union has a cultural imperative among its elite toward expansion, an imperative that led them to include countries such as Cyprus. Cultural imperatives are hard to change, and so an invitation went out with no serious intentions behind it.

For the Europeans, what the invitation really meant was that Ukraine could become European. It could have the constitutional democracy, liberalism and prosperity that every EU state is supposed to have. This is what appealed to most of the early demonstrators. However improbable full membership might be, the idea of becoming a modern European society is overwhelmingly appealing. Yanukovich's rejection made some protesters feel that their great opportunity had slipped away -- hence the initial demonstrations.

The Germans are playing a complex game. They understood that Ukrainian membership in the European Union was unlikely to happen anytime soon. They also had important dealings with Russia, with which they had mutual energy and investment interests. It was odd that Berlin would support the demonstrators so publicly. However, the Germans were also managing coalitions within the European Union. The Baltic states and Poland were eager to see Ukraine drawn out of the Russian camp, since that would provide a needed, if incomplete, buffer between them and Russia (Belarus is still inside Russia's sphere of influence). Therefore, the Germans had to choose between European partners, who cared about Ukraine, and Russia.

The Russians have remained relatively calm -- and quiet -- throughout Ukraine's protests. They understood that their power in Ukraine rested on more than simply one man or his party, so they allowed the crisis to stew. Given Russia's current strategy in Ukraine, the Russians didn't need to act, at least not publicly. Any government in Ukraine would face the same constraints as Yanukovich: little real hope of EU inclusion, a dependence on Moscow for energy and an integrated economy with Russia. Certainly, the Russians didn't want a confrontation just before Sochi.

The Russians also knew that the more tightly pro-Western forces controlled Kiev, the more fractious Ukraine could become. In general, eastern Ukraine is more oriented toward Russia: Its residents speak Russian, are Russian Orthodox and are loyal to the Moscow Patriarchy. Western Ukraine is oriented more toward Europe; its residents are Catholic or are loyal to the Kiev Patriarchy. These generalities belie a much more complex situation, of course. There are Moscow Orthodox members and Russian speakers in the west and Catholics and Kiev Orthodox in the east. Nevertheless, the tension between the regions is real, and heavy pro-EU pressure could split the country. If that were to happen, the bloc would find itself operating in chaos, but then the European Union did not have the wherewithal to operate meaningfully in Ukraine in the first place. The pro-EU government would encounter conflict and paralysis. For the time being that would suit the Russians, as unlikely as such a scenario might be.
U.S. Perspectives

As in most matters, it is important to understand where the United States fits in, if at all. Washington strongly supported the Orange Revolution, creating a major rift with Russia. The current policy of avoiding unnecessary involvement in Eurasian conflicts would suggest that the United States would stay out of Ukraine. But Russian behavior in the Snowden affair has angered Washington and opened the possibility that the United States might be happy to create some problems for Moscow ahead of the Sochi Olympics. The U.S. government may not be supporting nongovernmental organizations as much as its counterparts in Europe are, but it is still involved somewhat. In fact, Washington may even have enjoyed putting Russia on the defensive after having been put on the defensive by Russia in recent months.

In any case, the stakes are high in Ukraine. The Russians are involved in a game they cannot afford to lose. There are several ways for them to win it. They only need to make the EU opening untenable for the Ukrainians, something Ukraine's economic and social conditions facilitate. The Europeans are not going to be surging into Ukraine anytime soon, and while Poland would prefer that Ukraine remain neutral, Warsaw does not necessarily need a pro-Western Ukraine. The United States is interested in Ukraine as an irritant to Russia but is unwilling to take serious risks.

A lot of countries have an interest in Ukraine, none more so than Russia. But for all the noise in Kiev and other cities, the outcome is unlikely to generate a definitive geopolitical shift in Ukraine. It does, however, provide an excellent example of how political unrest in a strategically critical country can affect the international system as a whole.

In most countries, the events in Kiev would not have generated global interest. When you are a country like Ukraine, even nominal instability generates not only interest but also pressure and even intervention from all directions. This has been the historical problem of Ukraine. It is a country in an important location, and the pressures on it tend to magnify any internal conflicts until they destabilize the country in excess of the significance of the internal issues. Germany and the United States may continue to pursue goals that will further irritate Russia, but as Stratfor indicated in our 2014 annual forecast, they will avoid actions that would risk harming Moscow's ties with Washington and Berlin. Russian influence in Ukraine is currently being limited by the proximity of the Olympics and the escalation in protests on the ground, but the fundamental geopolitical reality is that no country has a higher stake in Ukraine than Russia, nor a better ability to shape its fate.

Read more: Perspectives on the Ukrainian Protests | Stratfor


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Interesting report from Ukraine
« Reply #84 on: February 02, 2014, 07:22:22 PM »


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Stratfor: Ukraine-- new Russian backed group forms
« Reply #86 on: February 13, 2014, 07:15:11 AM »


In early February, the pro-regime Ukrainian Front was established in Kharkiv to provide a counterweight to the anti-regime movement unified around Maidan Square in Kiev. Although formed at a local conference administered by a branch of the ruling Party of Regions, several grassroots groups, including a cage-fighting club and a veteran's union, have affirmed their patronage. Unofficial support for the Ukrainian Front from President Viktor Yanukovich's government and Russia could turn the new organization into an important element of the Party of Regions' strategy for confronting opposition protesters.

A local Party of Regions branch in the eastern city of Kharkiv officially founded the Ukrainian Front at a conference Feb. 1. Described as an umbrella organization consisting of several different social and political groups, the Ukrainian Front aims to set up voluntary militias and give a voice to Ukrainians who support Yanukovich. The group's goals include providing a structure for the diverse set of pro-government elements that have emerged locally and on social media. While the Yanukovich government has shied away from cracking down on protesters over the past few weeks, the establishment of the Ukrainian Front may be the first step in a new strategy for Kiev to confront protesters indirectly.

Click to Enlarge

The Ukrainian Front enjoys official support from certain members of the Party of Regions as well as elements of the Communist Party. Its political base is currently concentrated in the eastern cities of Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv. The governor of Kharkiv Oblast, Party of Regions politician Mikhail Dobkin, has described the Ukrainian Front as an instrument for defending Ukraine, purging it of those who intend to "invade the country." While it is mainly Party of Regions members from eastern localities who have been most vocal in promoting the new group, they are unlikely to be acting independently of the party's central leadership.

The Ukrainian Front has also received support from local groups, especially in the Kharkiv region. The proposal for the front's formation came from the local chapter leader of the Union of Afghan War Veterans. In addition, the Kharkiv-based Oplot (a cage-fighting club) is currently mobilizing to oppose the Maidan movement. Oleh Tsaryov, a Party of Regions lawmaker from Dnipropetrovsk and one of the Ukrainian Front's leaders, has argued that "people's militias" should be a part of the front's organization. Members of the veterans' group and the Oplot fight club will likely make up the core of these militias in the Kharkiv area.
From the Grassroots Up

In its present form, the Ukrainian Front is unable to present a serious challenge to anti-government protesters. The group is geographically concentrated in eastern cities that serve as strongholds for the ruling Party of Regions. Yet opposition protesters are largely clustered in Kiev and western cities. Furthermore, while individuals in the country's industrial east tend to work in factories with fixed work schedules, seasonal work is common in the more agricultural west. As a result, workers in the east generally require greater incentives to engage in political protests. Even though hundreds of politicians and local activists attended the conference in Kharkiv, the organization's first official public protest -- the picketing of the Lithuanian Embassy in Kiev on Feb. 6 -- saw a turnout of only 30 activists.

Leader of the Oplot fight club, Yevgeny Zhilin
Click to Enlarge

The Ukrainian Front's ability to influence events has the potential to evolve if it receives significant, albeit unofficial, support from Ukrainian and Russian officials. Tsaryov, a member of parliament and the Ukrainian Front's most vocal supporter, has close ties to Moscow and recently attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, giving him an opportunity to interact with the heads of Russia's security apparatus. Moreover, although the Ukrainian Front has no official ties to Russia, the leader of the Oplot fight club, Yevhen Zhilin, visited St. Petersburg in early February to rally support among Russians for the anti-Maidan cause. There are also reports that Russian bikers have arrived in Sevastopol, which adds a different dimension: Groups such as the Night Wolves, a prominent biker gang, eschew anti-establishment bombast, supporting Russian patriotism instead.

Organizing pro-government activists away from Kiev could give the Ukrainian Front breathing space to solidify its plans. Meanwhile, the group is in a position to prevent the protest movement from spreading to the eastern parts of Ukraine. Its intent may be to expand its operations to Kiev once its organization is ready to confront the large Maidan crowds and local self-defense groups.

This grassroots movement is similar to those that have been seen in Russia in the past. In late 2011 to early 2012, as anti-Kremlin protests erupted in Russia, President Vladimir Putin adopted a new strategy for confronting the opposition movement. Instead of sponsoring an official crackdown that would have elicited a strongly negative reaction from the international community and potential investors, the Kremlin recruited local thugs -- reportedly workers from a Ural tank factory -- to disperse protesters in Moscow and surrounding regions. Using unofficial grassroots groups to confront opposition movements allowed Putin to evade responsibility for the thugs' actions.

The Ukrainian Front's leadership has not revealed the details of the organization's future activities, though it is clear that the role of local Party of Regions officials, combined with the support of grassroots militant groups such as the Oplot fight club, will be pivotal. These factors, as well as emerging ties with Russia, point to a new direction for the Yanukovich government and its reaction to the Maidan protesters. Like Putin before him, Yanukovich may be looking for a different method of dispersing protesters while being able to downplay his own role in any ensuing violence. Moreover, the Kremlin has an interest in quietly aiding pro-Russian grassroots movements, which can ultimately help the Yanukovich government tighten its hold on power. The newly founded Ukrainian Front may play an important role in the next stage of Ukraine's crisis.

Read more: Ukraine: The Opposition Faces a New Threat from the Ukrainian Front | Stratfor
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WSJ: Waking up to the Russian threat
« Reply #88 on: April 14, 2014, 02:46:20 PM »
Included in this piece is mention of a point I have been making here for some time about Central Asian gas needing to break up Russia's monopsony status and how that was and is forestalled by the Russian invasion of Georgia:

Waking Up to the Russian Threat
The head of NATO says Europe has misread Vladimir Putin for years and now must scramble to push back against the Kremlin's widening ambitions.
By Sohrab Ahmari
April 11, 2014 6:35 p.m. ET


Until recently, members of the Russian delegation to NATO were free to roam at will about the Western alliance's headquarters here on the outskirts of the Belgian capital. The Russians had an awkward habit of listening intently to others' conversations at the cafeteria, yet their presence was tolerated in the name of dialogue.

Not anymore. In response to Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea, NATO earlier this month suspended all practical cooperation with Moscow. Now most of the 70 or so Russian personnel enjoy about the same level of access to the alliance headquarters as journalists. It's a small but significant sign of what NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen calls "the new security environment" in Europe.

With his salt-and-pepper hair, chiseled jaw and crisply pressed navy suit, Mr. Rasmussen, 61, cuts a handsome figure. The former Danish prime minister is also one of Europe's most serious thinkers on defense matters—a hawkish figure, by European standards, who supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite considerable opposition at home. His term as NATO secretary-general, which began in 2009, was supposed to come to a close in December but was extended through September 2014 so he might oversee preparations for the alliance's September summit in Cardiff, Wales.
Enlarge Image

Neil Davies

Mr. Rasmussen sits down with me in a meeting room decorated with solemn portraits of his predecessors—men who led NATO through the Cold War and helped usher in "a Europe whole and free," as then-President George H.W. Bush put it in a 1989 speech commemorating the alliance's triumphant 40th anniversary.

Now that vision of Europe is imperiled once more. "I see Ukraine and Crimea in a bigger context," Mr. Rasmussen says. "I see this as an element in a pattern, and it's driven by President Putin's strong desire to restore Russian greatness by re-establishing a sphere of influence in the former Soviet space."

Destabilizing Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus is a pillar of the Kremlin's strategy. "It's in Russia's interest to see frozen, protracted conflicts in the region, such as in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and Crimea," Mr. Rasmussen says of regions where Moscow has asserted control. "If you look at a map, you will see why it's of strategic importance for Russia."

    The West Leaves Ukraine to Putin
    Russia's Second Invasion

Moscow's interfering with states on the Continent's eastern periphery prevents them from joining NATO, Mr. Rasmussen says, since the alliance is reluctant to accept new members involved with border disputes. "At the same time," he says, "it plays a role in energy security. The possibility to establish alternative pipelines circumventing Russia—including through Azerbaijan and in the South Caucasus—is very much dependent on peace and stability in that region. All this is part of President Putin's geopolitical and strategic thinking."

The Kremlin needs modern weapons systems and well-trained forces to realize its vision, and Mr. Rasmussen is alarmed by the improvements he has seen in the Russian military during the past few years. Contrasting Russia's military action against Georgia in 2008 with its invasion of Crimea this year, he says, "we have seen an incredible development of the Russian ability to act determinedly and rapidly. We have seen better preparation, better organization and more rapid action. They have also invested in more modern capabilities. We shouldn't underestimate the strength of the Russian armed forces." Now 40,000 of those troops are massed on the border of eastern Ukraine.

Moscow boosted military spending by 79% in the past decade, according to a Brookings Institution estimate, and military spending amounted to 4.5% of Russian gross domestic product in 2012, according to the World Bank. Most Western European states, by contrast, began cutting defense long before the recession and have kept doing so even as their economies have stabilized. France spent 1.9% of its GDP on defense in 2013; Denmark spent 1.4%; Germany, 1.3%; and Spain, 0.9%.

"We in Europe have disarmed too much, for too long," Mr. Rasmussen says. "We can't continue to cut defense budgets deeply while Russia is increasing her defense budget. . . . It has created a growing gap across the Atlantic between the U.S. and Europe. Today the U.S. spends around 75% of the overall NATO defense investment. I'm concerned that in the long run it will weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance if this trend continues."

Then there is Europe's reliance on Russian oil and gas. Mr. Rasmussen thinks the dependency risks interfering with Western self-defense: "There's no doubt that Europe should reduce its dependency on imported energy from Russia," he says. So does the NATO secretary-general endorse shale-gas fracking? The drilling technique that has led to a U.S. energy boom has met much green resistance in Europe. He chuckles and declines to make specific recommendations: "It's a question of a more diversified energy supply, including the establishment of alternative pipelines."

Equally worrying is the West's drive to unilaterally disarm its nuclear arsenal just as the Russian expansionist tide rises. The U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday announced that it will disable 56 submarine-based nuclear-launch tubes, convert 30 B-52 bombers to conventional use, and remove 50 missiles from America's underground silos—all well ahead of the 2018 deadline set by the New Start Treaty with Russia and despite the crisis in Ukraine.

Reductions to Western nuclear forces "must take place in a balanced manner, based on more transparency" from Russia, Mr. Rasmussen says. "The fact is that since the end of the Cold War, NATO nuclear powers have reduced the number of nuclear weapons significantly, while you haven't seen the same on the Russian side."

The result is that "today you have a clear imbalance between the NATO powers and Russia in that respect," Mr. Rasmussen says. "And in the light of ongoing events in Ukraine, I don't think there is the right climate for moving forward when it comes to nuclear disarmament or arms control. There's no sign whatsoever that Russia will provide more transparency." (Following the interview, a NATO spokesman said Mr. Rasmussen wanted to add this clarification: "Reductions in U.S. strategic forces under the New Start Treaty do not affect the significant U.S. commitments to NATO or the U.S. nuclear-force posture in Europe.")

Behind the NATO capability crisis lies a more fundamental problem of entrenched worldviews. In the years after the Cold War, Western leaders came to believe that European security depended not on confronting the Kremlin, but on engaging it. "We were all very enthusiastic after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the removal of the Iron Curtain, and the breakdown of communism and the Warsaw Pact," Mr. Rasmussen says. "It seemed that we could develop a new vision of Europe whole, free and at peace—in cooperation with Russia."

In 1997, the alliance and Russia adopted the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, resolving to "build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security." The NATO-Russia Council was formed five years later. The council opened NATO headquarters to Russian diplomats—a step that would have been unthinkable during the Cold War.

The Kremlin seemed to respond positively at the time. "In my previous capacity as prime minister of Denmark I have met President Putin on several occasions," Mr. Rasmussen recalls. "I still remember when we established the NATO-Russia Council in 2002. I remember a Putin who delivered what I would call a very pro-Western speech. I left with the impression that he felt strongly committed to delivering this relationship between Russia and NATO."

So what changed? "I think he changed his worldview," Mr. Rasmussen says of the Russian leader. "We still remember his famous speech at the Munich Security Conference, at which he stated that the breakdown of the Soviet Union was the biggest tragedy of the last century. That was the first indication that he had changed his worldview, and now we have seen it implemented in practice, first in Georgia in 2008 and now reaffirmed in Crimea."

The Kremlin and its Western apologists attribute the shift in Russian behavior to NATO expansion in the early 2000s. Mr. Rasmussen rejects this line of thinking. "I hope that Mr. Putin doesn't believe his own words," he says. "He can't seriously consider NATO as an enemy, as a threat. We have never had an intention to attack Russia."

States on Europe's periphery are eager to join NATO, Mr. Rasmussen says, "because we represent basic values that people desire to see implemented in their countries, such as individual liberty, democracy, the rule of law and on top of that economic opportunities, because our community of nations also represents economic freedom. . . . So while Putin tries to establish his Eurasian Union using pressure, not to say oppression, people are queuing up to join our organization voluntarily."

NATO's outreach to Russia, meanwhile, didn't stop even after Mr. Putin bared his fangs in the South Caucasus. "Despite the setback in 2008—the Georgia crisis—in 2010 at the NATO-Russia Summit we decided to develop what we call a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia," he says. "We invited Russia to cooperate on missile defense. You will see during these post-Cold War years we have done a lot to promote NATO-Russia cooperation."

Has NATO's engagement and cooperation with Moscow paid any security dividends? "Obviously not," Mr. Rasmussen replies without hesitation. "We have seen a revisionist Russia trying to redraw the European map by force. That's a wake-up call. That's a completely new security environment and of course we have to adapt to that." He adds: "This goes far beyond Crimea."


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Sweden, Finland debate entering NATO
« Reply #89 on: April 17, 2014, 07:08:52 PM »
 Finland and Sweden Debate NATO Membership
April 17, 2014 | 0435 Print Text Size
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Swedish soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force outside Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. (KAZIM EBRAHIMKHIL/AFP/Getty Images)

The West's standoff with Russia over Ukraine is triggering debate over the adequacy of defense spending and cooperation to confront a more assertive Russia across Europe. In Finland and Sweden, an important element in this debate is whether the two countries should join NATO.

While the events in Ukraine strengthen the argument for NATO membership, general support for the idea is still lacking in both countries -- such a step would represent a big shift from Finland's and Sweden's strategy of avoiding too strong a military alignment with the West in order to prevent any conflict with Russia.

Only if the crisis in Ukraine persists, and if Russia grows more assertive in the Baltics, might public opinion in Sweden and Finland shift strongly enough to make NATO membership likely. Before joining NATO, the two countries would try to strengthen regional collaboration and bolster their own national defenses.

The standoff between the West and Russia is increasingly affecting Nordic Europe. On April 15, the Barents Observer reported that politicians in Norway are debating whether plans to cooperate with Russia on hydrocarbons exploration along the countries' shared border should be put on hold in light of the events in Ukraine. In Finland and Sweden, the crisis is fueling the debate over eventual NATO membership. Finland and Sweden are both members of the European Union, and thus have tight economic and institutional bonds with the West, but both have stayed out of NATO.

Sweden, after suffering great territorial losses to Russia in the early 19th century, has abided by a neutrality policy since the end of the Napoleonic wars. It maintained that policy at least nominally throughout the two world wars, though it did provide economic and logistical assistance to the Germans, the Allies and the Finns in World War II. Neutrality was meant as a way to minimize the risk of further defeats comparable to the ones Sweden was dealt in the early 1800s.
The Nordic Countries and Russia
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Finland, the only Nordic eurozone member and a country that shares a long border with Russia, was once absorbed by the Russian Empire, remaining Russian territory for more than a century before declaring independence in 1917. Finland aligned with Germany during World War II to fight the Soviets but ultimately could not recover the territory it lost during the Winter War in 1939 and 1940.

These experiences strongly influenced the Finns' strategy in dealing with their eastern neighbor. During the Cold War, Finland and the Soviet Union had an understanding that Moscow would accept Finland's independence as long as Helsinki abstained from stronger military integration with the West. Finland, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, has integrated institutionally with Western Europe and has procured a growing proportion of its weapons from the West. Much like Stockholm, Helsinki has established strong ties with NATO through joint missions and training. Still, unwilling to sour its relationship with Russia, Finland has abstained from formally joining the military alliance.

As a result of the past decades of European integration and collaboration with NATO -- for example in Afghanistan -- the nonalignment policy in both countries has been a constant issue of debate and is drawing renewed attention as a consequence of the tensions with Russia.
Lacking Support

The Finnish and Swedish political elite has been split over the question of NATO membership for a long time. Governments, including those run by parties that advocate NATO membership, have refrained from holding a referendum on the question due to general public opposition in both countries to joining the military alliance.

In a poll carried out in late 2013, about one-third of Swedes supported NATO membership. In Finland, a poll carried out online of members of the Finnish Reservists' Association (conscripts who have finished their military service) in early April indicated that more than 40 percent would like Finland to join NATO within a few years. According to Finnish media, this is a 10 percentage point jump from a similar poll conducted a year ago. The increase was probably strongly influenced by the events in Ukraine. Polls from the general public give far lower numbers. A February poll, commissioned before Russia annexed Crimea, showed that less than 20 percent of Finns favored NATO membership, a percentage comparable to the levels in 2002, Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported.

A number of factors explain the middling support for NATO membership in Finland and Sweden. Russia is Finland's greatest security concern, but it is also an important economic partner -- one with which Helsinki hopes to maintain a stable relationship. According to Trade Map, Russia was Finland's second-largest import and export market in 2013, behind Sweden. Russia would not likely use its military to keep Finland from joining NATO, but Moscow would probably implement policies that would hurt Finland economically. With Europe going through a structural economic crisis and Finland itself caught in the midst of an economic crisis, keeping good economic ties with Russia is of particular importance. Sweden would face fewer repercussions than Finland, because it does not share a border with Russia. Sweden and Finland would likely coordinate efforts to join NATO, but membership remains unlikely until other revisions in defense policy have been made.

Debates over Swedish and Finnish defense policy are gaining more attention because of the crisis in Ukraine, but NATO membership is just one element. The core question under debate is whether the Swedish and Finnish governments should focus more on protecting their own borders after years of defense spending cuts and foreign engagement. While there is growing support for higher defense spending, this does not necessarily translate into greater enthusiasm to join NATO because it is debatable whether formal accession would add much in terms of national security.

The current status of Finland's and Sweden's relationships with NATO allows both to show their commitment to certain Western allies without having obligations toward all NATO members. Sweden and Finland, despite their nonalignment, could also likely count on material assistance from NATO and European partner countries in case of a military conflict because of their geographic position. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Sweden or Finland were attacked and the NATO members surrounding it simply stood by. Seeing security in the Baltic Sea region threatened, NATO member states would probably be drawn into any such conflict.

Before formally considering NATO membership, Sweden and Finland will seek stronger regional defense collaboration. The five Nordic countries -- Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland -- have a relatively long history of collaboration since they share similar geopolitical concerns. In the late 1940s, the Nordic countries considered forming a defense union, but differences among the countries, the presence of NATO and the strengthening of the European institutions weakened Nordic collaboration. However, in recent years, the will for stronger regional defense collaboration has seen somewhat of a revival through the establishment of the Nordic Defense Cooperation.

This collaboration could strengthen, but its growth will depend on how NATO evolves as a consequence of the current crisis in Ukraine. The difficulty for Sweden and Finland will be to get the other Nordic countries to commit to further regional collaboration. Norway, Iceland and Denmark already are NATO members and hence see less urgency to build an additional alliance. Such an alliance would be particularly de-emphasized if the United States made moves to strengthen NATO. Other regional defense cooperation initiatives, such as the cooperation among the Visegrad states, are dealing with similar issues -- countries see that NATO's weaknesses could be corrected through regional cooperation platforms, but the countries have different national security concerns, slowing efforts to build alliance mechanisms. Stalling collaboration among the Nordic countries would perhaps increase the support for NATO membership in Sweden and Finland.

Moscow is watching events in Nordic Europe with worry, although the debate over Finnish and Swedish NATO membership could quickly die down if the crisis in Ukraine does not escalate further. Russia knows there is a great risk that the more aggressive it is in its periphery, the more a rationale will exist for stronger U.S. military involvement in Eastern Europe, or for a strengthening of military alliances among European countries.

Read more: Finland and Sweden Debate NATO Membership | Stratfor


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WSJ: Germany on the fence
« Reply #91 on: April 29, 2014, 04:07:33 AM »
Germany Turns Against the West on Russia
Angela Merkel meets with Obama this week and says she's on America's side. But some think she's being played by Vladimir Putin.
By John Vinocur
Updated April 28, 2014 7:16 p.m. ET

Heinrich August Winkler is a major German historian whose book "Der Lange Weg nach Westen'' ("The Long Road West") is considered the standard reference work on Germany's postwar democratization, and what Mr. Winkler saw as the end of its dangerous geopolitical notions of playing an ambivalent midstream role between East and West.

In an important essay published earlier this month in Der Spiegel magazine, Mr. Winkler expressed alarm about a current rise in German sentiment, both left and right, showing understanding or even traces of support for Vladimir Putin's aggression in Crimea and Ukraine.

Mr. Winkler, a Social Democrat, writes that this trend is creating "new doubts about Germany's calculability." He describes the Russian president as having become "the patron of reactionary forces'' throughout Europe, barely a decade after having inspired Western hopes that Russia could become a pluralistic and strategic partner. Now, Mr. Winkler asserts, "the West, until further notice, must say goodbye" to those hopes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Washington on Thursday to talk to U.S. President Barack Obama about the crisis between Russia and the West—or as Mrs. Merkel's government euphemizes it, "the events in Ukraine." It is highly doubtful that she will use the occasion to say anything publicly with the force or finality of Mr. Winkler's judgment.

What Mrs. Merkel hasn't done, and doesn't seem to want to do, is commit herself out loud to any notion that could confront the German public's visibly heightened dissatisfaction with being embedded in the West. As I heard an official in Berlin say privately last week, such a confrontation by Mrs. Merkel would mean stating the unpleasantly obvious: that, since a break-point with Russia was reached through its Crimea takeover, there can be no return to a comfortable status quo ante in German-Russian relations.

To me, Mrs. Merkel doing so would signify a basic change in Germany's Russia position, from "why-can't-we-all-just-be-friends" (and "we're-in-the-money") to a position that accepts, in relation to Mr. Putin's lawless ambitions, a containment-oriented revision in the Western posture on energy, trade and NATO strategy.

Instead, we have a chancellor who—regardless of Germany's participation in new sanctions, or German officers being held captive by pro-Russian separatists—has spent much of her time since Russia's annexation of Crimea waiting on the phone to Moscow for positive signals from Mr. Putin.

This has turned out to be like staring out a window looking for Halley's comet (which appears every 75 to 76 years).

In her statement on Ukraine in mid-March, Mrs. Merkel said blandly that the problem was "about principles and methods of accommodating conflicting interests in the 21st century." A couple of weeks ago, she characterized Russia's annexation of Crimea as "a one-off case," rejecting a comparison with the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Such statements come instead of any expression of concern by Mrs. Merkel that, for instance, one poll this month found that 49% of Germans want their country to mediate between Russia and the U.S.—outnumbering the 45% who want to see Germany siding unmistakably with the West.

Irrespective of the fact that the Obama administration has made clear it won't engage militarily in the defense of Ukraine, a non-NATO member, the poll also showed a majority of Germans rejecting a regular presence of NATO forces in the Alliance countries bordering Russia. Symbolic contingents of American troops were sent last week to Poland and the three Baltic states.

In the conservative newspaper Die Welt, Jacques Schuster commented last week on "Germany experiencing a creeping de-Westernization" and a return to the "old ghosts of the middle-ground."

That is clearly where Mr. Putin wants the Germans. So why hasn't Mrs. Merkel, in straightforward language, marked out where she stands and where Germany must not drift? Here are the answers I have come up with:

1. Not her style.

2. She doesn't want "to frighten" public opinion (or alienate voters ahead of May's European Parliament elections).

3. By way of responses in question form: "When's the last time America won a war?'' Or, after backing out of attacking Syria, "What do its redlines mean anymore?''

All this, on the official level, comes with reassurances that Angela Merkel is truly, truly on America's side. But you have to wonder hard about this if, as the New York Times reported last week, Mr. Obama is focused, come what may, on isolating Mr. Putin's Russia to the point that it becomes a pariah state.

Some observers have pointed out that Mrs. Merkel, in grasping for de-escalatory straws, got played by Mr. Putin when, at the end of March, her spokesman said she had been informed that Russia was in the process of diminishing its troop presence on the Ukrainian border. A Russian account of the telephone conversation following the German announcement didn't contain the nonexistent good news.

And in Brussels a senior NATO official told me flatly that, concerning projected middle- and long-term changes in the Alliance's force posture to counter Russia's belligerence, "the Germans are on the fence.''

Could anything then come out of this week's Merkel-Obama meeting? For sure, she will be praised as a great leader—while other views of reality, at least publicly, are pushed aside.

About reality in April 2014: Michael Naumann, who served as the minister of culture in Gerhard Schröder's second-term cabinet, offered me a definition in a conversation last week. "The Germans, now and historically, are scared of Russia," said Mr. Naumann, "and Putin knows this.''

Mr. Obama can't miss taking this reality into consideration as the United States comes to terms with facing Russia essentially alone.

Mr. Vinocur is former executive editor of the International Herald Tribune.


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Stratfor: Borderlands-- serious read
« Reply #92 on: May 12, 2014, 06:54:00 AM »

 Borderlands: The New Strategic Landscape
Geopolitical Weekly
Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 03:03 Print Text Size

By George Friedman

I will be leaving this week to visit a string of countries that are now on the front line between Russia and the European Peninsula: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Azerbaijan. A tour like that allows you to look at the details of history. But it is impossible to understand those details out of context. The more I think about recent events, the more I realize that what has happened in Ukraine can only be understood by considering European geopolitics since 1914 -- a hundred years ago and the beginning of World War I.

In The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman wrote a superb and accurate story about how World War I began. For her it was a confluence of perception, misperception, personality and decisions. It was about the leaders, and implicit in her story was the idea that World War I was the result of miscalculation and misunderstanding. I suppose that if you focus on the details, then the war might seem unfortunate and avoidable. I take a different view: It was inevitable from the moment Germany united in 1871. When it happened and exactly how it happened was perhaps up to decision-makers. That it would happen was a geopolitical necessity. And understanding that geopolitical necessity gives us a framework for understanding what is happening in Ukraine, and what is likely to happen next.

The German Problem

The unification of Germany created a nation-state that was extraordinarily dynamic. By the turn of the 20th century, Germany had matched the British economy. However, the British economy pivoted on an empire that was enclosed and built around British interests. Germany had no such empire. It had achieved parity through internal growth and exports on a competitive basis. This was just one of the problems Germany had. The international economic system was based on a system of imperial holdings coupled with European industrialism. Germany lacked those holdings and had no politico-military control over its markets. While its economy was equal to Britain's, its risks were much higher.

Economic risk was compounded by strategic risk. Germany was on the North European Plain, relatively flat, with only a few north-south rivers as barriers. The Germans had the Russians to the east and the French to the west. Moscow and Paris had become allies. If they were to simultaneously attack Germany at a time of their choosing, Germany would be hard-pressed to resist. The Germans did not know Russo-French intentions, but they did know their capabilities. If there was to be war, the Germans had to strike first in one direction, achieve victory there and then mass their forces on the other side.

When that war would be fought, which strategy the Germans chose and ultimately whether it would succeed were uncertainties. But unlike Tuchman's view of the war, a war that began with a German strike was inevitable. The war was not the result of a misunderstanding. Rather, it was the result of economic and strategic realities.

The Germans struck against the French first but failed to defeat them. They were therefore trapped in the two-front war that they had dreaded, but they were at least fully mobilized and could resist. A second opportunity to implement their strategy occurred in the winter of 1917, when an uprising took place against the Russian czar, who abdicated on March 15, 1917. (Germany actually set the revolution in motion in March by repatriating Lenin back to Russia via the infamous sealed train car.) There was serious concern that the Russians might pull out of the war, and in any case, their military had deteriorated massively. A German victory there seemed not only possible, but likely. If that happened, and if German forces in Russia were transferred to France, it was likely that they could mass an offensive that would defeat the British and French.

In April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. There were multiple reasons, including the threat that German submarines might close the Atlantic to American shipping, but also the fear that events in Russia might defeat the allies. The United States had a deep interest in making certain that the Eurasian landmass would not fall under the control of any single nation. The manpower, resources and technology under the control of the Germans would more than outmatch the United States. It could not live with a German victory, and therefore within a year it had sent more than a million men to Europe and helped counter the German offensive after the October 1917 Russian Revolution pulled Russia from the war. The peace treaty ceded Ukraine to the Germans, placing Russia in danger if the Germans defeated the Anglo-French alliance. Ultimately, the American intervention defeated the Germans, and the Russians regained Ukraine.

The American intervention was decisive and defined American strategy in Eurasia for a century. It would maintain the balance of power. As the balance shifted, Washington would increase aid and, if absolutely necessary, intervene decisively in the context of an existing and effective military alliance.

World War II was fought similarly. The Germans, again in a dangerous position, made an alliance with the Soviets, assuring a single-front war, and this time defeated France. In due course, Germany turned on Russia and attempted to dominate Eurasia decisively. The United States was first neutral, then provided aid to the British and Russians, and even after entering the war in December 1941 withheld its main thrust until the last possible moment. The United States did invade North Africa, Sicily and the rest of Italy, but these were marginal operations on the periphery of German power. The decisive strike did not occur until June 1944, after the German military had been significantly weakened by a Soviet army heavily supplied by the United States. The decisive campaign in northern Europe lasted less than a year, and was won with limited U.S. losses compared to the other combatants. It was an intervention in the context of a powerful military alliance.

In the Cold War, the Soviet Union positioned itself by creating deep buffers. It held the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine as its first line of defense. Its second defensive tier consisted of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In addition, the Soviet buffer moved to the center of Germany on the North German Plain. Given history, the Soviets needed to create as deep a buffer as possible, and this line effectively precluded an attack on the Soviet Union.

The American response was more active than in the first two wars, but not as decisive. The United States positioned forces in West Germany in the context of a strong military alliance. This alliance was likely insufficient to block a Soviet attack. The United States promised the delivery of additional troops in the event of war and also guaranteed that if needed, it was prepared to use nuclear weapons to stop a Soviet attack.

The model was in that sense similar. The hope was to maintain the balance of power with minimal American exposure. In the event the balance broke, the United States was prepared to send substantially more troops. In the worst case, the United States claimed to be prepared to use decisive force. The important thing to note was that the United States retained the option to reinforce and go nuclear. The Soviets never attacked, in part because they didn't need to -- they were not at risk -- and in part because the risk associated with an attack was too high.

Thus, the United States followed a consistent strategy in all three wars. First, it avoided overexposure, limiting its presence to the minimum needed. The United States wasn't present in World War I until very late. In World War II, America's presence consisted of peripheral operations at relatively low cost. In the Cold War, it positioned a force sufficient to convince the Soviets of American intent, but always under its control and always poised for full intervention at the latest opportune time, with minimal losses, in the context of an effective military alliance.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the revolutions of 1989 stripped away the buffers that the Soviets had captured in World War II. Their strategic position was worse than it was before the world wars or even since the 17th century. If the inner buffer, the Baltics, Belarus or Ukraine, were to become hostile and part of a Western alliance system, the threat to Russia would be overwhelming. The Baltics were admitted to NATO and the alliance was now less than 100 miles from St. Petersburg. If Ukraine and Belarus went the same route, then the city of Smolensk, once deep in the Soviet Union and the Russian empire, would be a border town, and the distance to Moscow from NATO territory would be 250 miles.

The mitigating factor was that NATO was weak and fragmented. This was not much of a consolation for the Russians, who had seen Germany transform from a weak and fragmented country in 1932 to a massive power by 1938. Where there is an industrial base, military capability can be rapidly generated and intentions can change overnight. Therefore, for Russia, preventing the Western alliance system from absorbing Ukraine was critical, as the events of previous months have shown.
The U.S. Approach

The American strategy in Europe remains the same as it was in 1914: to allow the European balance of power to manage itself. Public statements aside, the United States was comfortable with the weakness of European powers so long as the Russians were also weak. There was no threat of a hegemon emerging. The American strategy was, as always, to let the balance maintain itself, intervene with any aid needed to maintain the balance and intervene militarily in the context of a robust alliance at the decisive moment and not before.

It follows from this that the United States is not prepared to do more than engage in symbolic efforts right now. The Russian military may be able to capture Ukraine, although the logistical challenges are serious. But the United States is not in a position to deploy a decisive defensive force in Ukraine. The shift in the European balance of power is far from decisive, and the United States has time to watch the situation develop.

At this point, the United States is likely prepared to increase the availability of weapons to the countries I will visit, along with Bulgaria and the Baltics. But the United States' problem is that its historical strategy relies on the existence of a significant military force, and where multiple countries are involved, a working alliance. It is pointless for the United States to provide weapons to countries that will not cooperate with each other and are incapable of fielding sufficient force to use these weapons.

Since the events in Ukraine, many European countries have discussed increased defense spending and cooperation. It is not clear that NATO is a vehicle for this cooperation. As we saw during the meetings between U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany's willingness to engage in assertive action is limited. In southern Europe, the economic crisis still rages. The appetite of the British and French or the Iberians to become involved is limited. It is hard to see NATO playing an effective military role.

The United States looks at this as a situation where the exposed countries must take decisive steps. For the United States, there is no emergency. For Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Azerbaijan, along with the other countries along the buffer line, there is not yet an emergency. But one could materialize with surprising speed. The Russians are not intrinsically powerful, but they are more powerful than any of these countries alone, or even together. Given American strategy, the United States would be prepared to begin providing aid, but substantial aid requires substantial action on the part of the buffer countries.

The first and second world wars were about the status of Germany in Europe. That was what the Cold War was about as well, although framed in a different way. We are once again discussing the status of Germany. Today it has no western threat. The eastern threat is weak, far away and potentially more of an ally than a threat. The force that drove Germany in two world wars is not there now. Logically, it has little reason to take risks.

The American fear of a Eurasian hegemon is also a distant one. Russia is far from being able to pose that kind of threat. It is still struggling to regain its buffers. Just as Germany is not prepared to engage in aggressive actions, the United States will continue its century-old strategy of limiting its exposure for as long as possible. At the same time, the buffer countries face a potential threat that prudence requires they prepare for.

However, it is not clear that the Russian threat will materialize, and it is not clear that, rhetoric aside, the Russians have the political will to act decisively. The buffer states' optimal solution would be a massive NATO intervention. That won't happen. The second best would be a massive American intervention. That won't happen either. The buffer states want to shift the cost of their defense to others -- a rational strategy if they can achieve it.

The impersonal forces of geopolitics are driving Russia to try to retake its critical borderland. Having done that, the nations bordering Russian power will not know how far the Russians will try to go. For Russia, the deeper the buffer, the better. But the deeper the buffer, the higher the cost of maintaining it. The Russians are not ready for any such move. But over time, as their strength and confidence grow, their actions become less predictable. When facing a potential existential threat, the prudent action is to overreact.

The buffer states need to arm and ally. The United States will provide a degree of support, regardless of what the Germans, and therefore NATO, do. But the basic decision is in the hands of the Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians, Romanians, Serbians and Azerbaijanis, along with those in the other buffer states. Some, like Azerbaijan, have already made the decision to arm and are looking for an alliance. Some, like Hungary, are watching and waiting. Mark Twain is supposed to have said, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme." There is a rhyme that we can hear. It is in its early stages and few are yet locked into a course as Germany was in 1914. The forces are beginning to gather, and if they do, they will not be controlled by good will.

I will be listening for that rhyme on this trip. I need to see if it is there. And if it is, I need to see if those most at risk to its verses hear it too. I will let you know what I hear.

Read more: Borderlands: The New Strategic Landscape | Stratfor


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WSJ: Putin's Euro Enablers
« Reply #93 on: May 16, 2014, 09:13:58 AM »
Putin's European Enablers
France moves ahead with a $1.6 billion arms sale to Russia.
May 15, 2014 7:28 p.m. ET

U.S. officials and Russia's neighbors are protesting France's plan to sell Vladimir Putin's navy amphibious assault ships, and rightly so. But the French are hardly the only Europeans who want to continue business as usual with a revanchist Russia.

French President François Hollande this week vowed "for now" to honor the $1.6 billion contract signed in 2011 to build two Mistral -class carriers for Russia. France also opposes an effort by the EU's Eastern European countries to include an arms embargo in the next round of sanctions in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine. Rosoboronexport, the Russian state arms agency, on Wednesday praised "France's reliability as a partner."

The contract was a terrible idea even before Mr. Putin showed his full imperial colors. Ignoring objections from the Pentagon and NATO allies, former President Nicolas Sarkozy promoted the sale as a sign of post-Cold War normalization. He knew better. In 2008 Russia invaded Georgia and stole the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Mr. Sarkozy negotiated the cease-fire that Russia failed to honor.

The Mistral can carry some 700 soldiers, four landing craft, 13 tanks and 16 helicopters. As an added nationalist bonus, one of the cruisers will be called the Sevastopol, after the Crimean port annexed by Moscow in March. With the delivery of the first vessel due this fall, the Mistrals will significantly upgrade Russia's fleets in the Black and Baltic seas, and threaten Georgia as well as the three Baltic members of NATO.

The French insisted that the largest military sale to Russia in history showed their faith in post-Cold War partnership. The U.S. had pushed Moscow's entry into the G-8, the World Trade Organization and the OSCE, among other Western clubs. Business was good. "We can't have a double discourse of saying they are partners and then talking about relations with Russia as if it were pre-1991," then French Defense Minister Hervé Morin said in 2010.

Now Mr. Putin has invaded Ukraine—very pre-1991 behavior—yet Western Europeans still prefer to look away. The French aren't even the worst offenders. Germany's business establishment is fighting to preserve billions in trade and energy business with Russia—to hell with Kiev.

Britain's David Cameron has ruled out trade sanctions as well as steps to restrict access for Putin allies to London's financial center. As author Ben Judah has written, the Tories want to "protect the City of London's hold on dirty Russian money."

Neither Mr. Hollande nor Mr. Cameron will be mistaken for another Winston Churchill. As Lord of the Admiralty at the start of World War I, he had to decide what to do with two state-of-the-art Dreadnought battleships built by Britain for the Axis-allied Ottoman Empire, which had paid in full. Britain and Turkey weren't yet at war, but Churchill took the ships for the Royal Navy.

The French aren't about to swallow the loss of $1.6 billion if everyone else in the West is still cashing in. The best solution would be for Canada or other European militaries to buy the Mistrals. Or, as Rep. Eliot Engel proposed last week, NATO could buy or lease them as a shared alliance asset. This would weaken Russia's navy, strengthen NATO, and signal overdue unified Western resolve against Russian aggression.


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Re: Russia-- Europe
« Reply #94 on: May 16, 2014, 09:39:09 AM »
Second post:

And while the fg French are selling ships to the Russkis,  :x :x :x  Ukraine goes begging , , ,


Ukraine Needs Immediate U.S. Military Aid
Antitank and antiaircraft weaponry are essential to deterring Putin's aggression.
By Andriy Parubiy
May 15, 2014 6:48 p.m. ET

On Dec. 5, 1994, Ukraine signed the Budapest Declaration and agreed to give up the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal in exchange for security guarantees from the United States, the U.K. and Russia. Two months ago, the Russian Federation blatantly violated that agreement by annexing the Ukrainian region of Crimea. Last month Russian separatists seized government buildings in the city of Donetsk, while 40,000 Russian troops massed nearby on Ukraine's eastern border. Ukraine is now in dire need of the fulfillment of those Budapest Declaration security guarantees from the U.S. and U.K.

Vladimir Putin's goal is to destroy the independent Ukrainian state because it had the courage to choose a better future with Europe, rather than continue the status quo as Russia's "little brother." When Ukraine's Kremlin-controlled President Victor Yanukovych rejected a pending European Union association agreement, choosing instead to pursue a Russian loan bailout and closer ties with Russia, Ukrainians began huge, peaceful protests that resulted on Feb. 22 in the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych, who shamefully fled the country to Russia. A new government was formed in Kiev on the basis of Western values and principles, and the Kremlin lost control of our country. Mr. Putin must have been in shock.

As former U.S. national security chief Zbigniew Brzezinski noted at the time, "without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire." Thus, deliberately flouting the basic principles of international security and the inviolability of borders, Mr. Putin illegally annexed Crimea, put his armies on Ukraine's eastern borders, and began an economic war with Ukraine by ordering Gazprom OGZPY +2.32% to raise natural-gas prices by nearly 50%. Russia also began to embargo Ukrainian products, such as chocolates and agricultural goods. Mr. Putin is now stirring up separatist movements in multiple regions of Ukraine in the hope of annexing even more Ukrainian territory.

Neither Vladimir Putin nor his saboteurs and terrorists will be able to intimidate Ukraine. We signed the European Association Agreement last month and negotiated Western financing from the International Monetary Fund, the U.S., the EU and Japan. Ukraine's path to Europe is clear and no amount of pressure from Moscow will prevent the country from getting there.

However, Ukraine can't do everything on its own. It needs support from the U.S. To win the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan practiced an American policy of "peace through strength." That is what Ukraine must do. Unfortunately, we now realize that our defense forces were deliberately sabotaged and weakened by the previous government in Kiev, in collaboration with Moscow, to subordinate Ukraine to Russia's imperialist policies. We inherited a dilapidated army, a security and intelligence service awash with Russian agents, a demoralized law-enforcement system and corrupt courts and prosecutors. Corruption in Mr. Yanukovych's government permeated all state bodies and became a shadow government aimed at looting the state.

The Ukrainian military and security forces need reform, training and modern equipment if they are to protect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity from Russia and other aggressors. Ukraine is a peaceful nation, but no country can accept the annexation of its historical lands. With help from the U.S. and Europe, we can regain stability. Thus we hope to have America's help in building a strong military deterrent. The U.S. has already granted Ukraine nonlethal assistance, and we are grateful.

But the Ukrainian armed forces need much more to withstand Russian aggression. We have submitted a complete list of what is needed to the U.S.—assistance in the form of antiaircraft and antitank weaponry, as well as bulletproof vests and night-vision goggles. As the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst, said of Mr. Putin in an interview last month, if he "knows that Western antitank and antiaircraft equipment are part of Ukraine's military arsenal, the price of an invasion rises dramatically." Ukraine does not ask for American soldiers to defend it. We ask only for the tools to defend our nation.

The U.S. can also greatly help Ukraine by applying the maximum sanctions against Russia's economy, against the key personnel running the Putin regime, and against the government's business partners.

America has been an ally and friend of Ukraine since we gained our independence in 1991. The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in humanitarian and technical assistance to Ukraine, which has tremendously helped the country's democratic and economic development.

Now the U.S., with the security guarantees agreed to under the Budapest Declaration, can complete the job of helping Ukraine with the sale of antiaircraft and antitank weaponry. By providing us with these deterrents, America will ensure Ukraine's sovereignty and allow us to follow our path to Europe.

Mr. Parubiy is secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.


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POTH: Far Right Fever for a Europe Tied to Russia
« Reply #95 on: May 21, 2014, 10:46:44 AM »
Some deep implications here; IMHO this is worth considerable contemplation:

Far Right Fever for a Europe Tied to Russia

LE CHESNAY, France — At a rally last week near the Palace of Versailles, France’s largest far right party, the National Front, deployed all the familiar theatrics and populist themes of nationalist movements across Europe.

A standing-room-only crowd waved the national flag, joined in a boisterous singing of the national anthem and applauded as speakers denounced freeloading foreigners and, with particular venom, the European Union.

But the event, part of an energetic push for votes by France’s surging far right ahead of elections this week for the European Parliament, also promoted an agenda distant from the customary concerns of conservative voters: why Europe needs to break its “submission” to the United States and look to Russia as a force for peace and a bulwark against moral decay.

While the European Union has joined Washington in denouncing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the chaos stirred by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Europe’s right-wing populists have been gripped by a contrarian fever of enthusiasm for Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin.

“Russian influence in the affairs of the far right is a phenomenon seen all over Europe,” said a study by Political Capital Institute, a Hungarian research group. It predicted that far right parties, “spearheaded by the French National Front,” could form a pro-Russian bloc in the European Parliament or, at the very least, amplify previously marginal pro-Russian voices.

Pro-Russian sentiment remains largely confined to the fringes of European politics, though Mr. Putin also has more mainstream admirers and allies on both the right and the left, including Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, and Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor. Mr. Putin’s authoritarian leanings and pugnacious nationalism have generated widespread and diverse opposition to him across Europe; at a gay pride event in Brussels on Saturday, marchers wore masks featuring Mr. Putin’s face, colored pink and daubed with blue eye shadow and red lipstick.

Even among far right groups, the sympathy for Russia and suspicion of Washington are in part tactical: Focused on clawing back power from the European Union’s bureaucracy, they seize any cause that puts them at odds with policy makers in Brussels and the conventional wisdom of European elites.

But they also reflect a general crumbling of public trust in the beliefs and institutions that have dominated Europe since the end of World War II, including the Continent’s relationship with the United States.

“Europe is a big sick body,” said Alain de Benoist, a French philosopher and a leading figure in a French school of political thought known as the “new right.” Mr. de Benoist said Russia “is now obviously the principal alternative to American hegemony.” Mr. Putin, he added, is perhaps “not the savior of humanity,” but “there are many good reasons to be pro-Russian.”

Some of Russia’s European fans, particularly those with a religious bent, are attracted by Mr. Putin’s image as a muscular foe of homosexuality and decadent Western ways. Others, like Aymeric Chauprade, a foreign policy adviser to the National Front’s leader, Marine Le Pen, are motivated more by geopolitical calculations that emphasize Russia’s role as a counterweight to American power.
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story

Russia has added to its allure through the financing, mostly with corporate money, of media, research groups and other European organizations that promote Moscow’s take on the world. The United States also supports foreign groups that agree with it, but Russia’s boosters in Europe, unlike its leftist fans during the Cold War, now mostly veer to the far right and sometimes even fascism, the cause Moscow claims to be fighting in Ukraine.

Hungary’s Jobbik, one of Europe’s most extreme nationalist parties and a noisy cheerleader for Moscow, is now under investigation by the Hungarian authorities amid allegations that it has received funding from Russia and, in a case involving one of its leading candidates for the European Parliament, that it has worked for Russian intelligence.

No longer dismissed, as they were for decades, as fringe cranks steeped in anti-Semitism and other noxious beliefs from Europe’s fascist past, the National Front and like-minded counterparts elsewhere on the Continent are expected to post strong gains in this week’s election, which begins on Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands and then rolls across Europe through Sunday.

But they are unlikely to form a cohesive bloc: Nationalists from different countries tend to squabble, not cooperate.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, a group zealously opposed to the European Union, and a critic of American foreign policy, is already engaged in a bitter feud with Ms. Le Pen.

But Mr. Farage and Ms. Le Pen have at least found some common ground on Russia. The British politician recently named Mr. Putin as the world leader he most admired “as an operator but not as a human being,” he told a British magazine.

Ms. Le Pen has also expressed admiration for Mr. Putin and called for a strategic alliance with the Kremlin, proposing a “Pan-European union” that would include Russia.
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Recent Comments
9 minutes ago

This seems to be a spreading contagion. No place is immune. No quarter will be given.Sounds like a recipe for viscous conflict to me.
31 minutes ago

"Russia has added to its allure through the financing, mostly with corporate money, of media, research groups and other European...
31 minutes ago

The distortion of Putinist astroturfers here is at once both distressing and reassuring to read across all the Western media.It is...

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In general, said Doru Frantescu, policy director of VoteWatch Europe, a Brussels research group, the affections of far right Europeans for Mr. Putin are simply opportunistic rather than ideological, “a convergence of interests toward weakening the E.U.”

This convergence has pushed the far right into a curious alignment with the far left. In European Parliament votes this year on the lifting of tariffs and other steps to help Ukraine’s fragile new government, which Russia denounces as fascist but the European Union supports, legislators at both ends of the political spectrum banded together to oppose assisting Ukraine.

“Russia has become the hope of the world against new totalitarianism,” Mr. Chauprade, the National Front’s top European Parliament candidate for the Paris region, said in a speech to Russia’s Parliament in Moscow last year.

When Crimea held a referendum in March on whether the peninsula should secede from Ukraine and join Russia, Mr. Chauprade joined a team of election monitors organized by a pro-Russian outfit in Belgium, the Eurasian Observatory for Elections and Democracy. The team, which pronounced the referendum free and fair, also included members of Austria’s far right Freedom Party; a Flemish nationalist group in Belgium; and the Jobbik politician in Hungary accused of spying for Russia.

Luc Michel, the Belgian head of the Eurasian Observatory, which receives some financial support from Russian companies but promotes itself as independent and apolitical, champions the establishment of a new “Eurasian” alliance, stretching from Vladivostok in Russia to Lisbon in Portugal and purged of American influence. The National Front, preoccupied with recovering sovereign powers surrendered to Brussels, has shown little enthusiasm for a new Eurasian bloc. But it, too, bristles at Europe’s failure to project itself as a global player independent from America, and looks to Russia for help.

The European Union, said Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a member of the French Parliament and the niece of Marine Le Pen, “is the poodle of the United States.”

Russia offers the prospect of a new European order free of what Mr. Chauprade, in his own speech, described as its servitude to a “technocratic elite serving the American and European financial oligarchy” and its “enslavement by consumerist urges and sexual impulses.”

The view that Europe has been cut adrift from its traditional moral moorings gained new traction this month when Conchita Wurst, a bearded Austrian drag queen, won the annual Eurovision Song Contest. Russian officials and the Russian Orthodox Church bemoaned the victory — over, among others, singing Russian twins — as evidence of Europe’s moral disarray.

At the National Front’s pre-election rally, Mr. Chauprade mocked the “bearded lady” and won loud applause with a passionate plaint that Europeans had become a rootless mass of “consumers disconnected from their natural attachments — the family, the nation and the divine.”
« Last Edit: May 21, 2014, 10:50:16 AM by Crafty_Dog »


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WSJ: Ukraine and the Shame of Europe
« Reply #96 on: May 23, 2014, 08:16:21 PM »
Ukraine and the Shame of Europe
From the left to the right, Kiev's putative friends found reasons to think that Putin isn't such a bad fellow.
By Ian Birrell
May 21, 2014 6:57 p.m. ET

There are flickers of hope that calm can descend again on Eastern Europe. We are told that those threatening Russian military forces on the Ukraine border will be pulled back, amid hints that Moscow might be able to do business with the oligarch seemingly set to become Ukraine's next president. We must hope that this is the case, that the conflict and violence has ended. It is not too early to reflect on the performance of Kiev's putative European allies in this disturbing episode, or to reach the conclusion that their response has been shameful.

Consider the facts. A large, fledgling democracy in the Continent's biggest country struggled to take flight after years of stagnation under an obscene kleptocracy, only to be ruthlessly dismembered by its belligerent and even bigger neighbor. First came the invasion of Crimea, taken with scarcely a whimper from the West despite being the first such annexation in postwar European history, then the cruel carving up of the country's wealthy industrial heartlands.

Clearly these events were choreographed by Moscow, driven by an authoritarian regime fearful of an upsurge of freedom and consequent loss of influence over the lands ringing Russia. For those of us reporting on the brutal slaughter of protesters in Kiev in February, then the brazen theft of Crimea weeks later, and finally similar stunts in a "spontaneous" uprising in the Donbas region, the evidence points in one direction. Only the most myopic could fail to see this.
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David Gothard

But it is depressing how many people in Europe fell for the parodic propaganda pumped out by Russian President Vladimir Putin, thereby weakening attempts to marshal a unified response. Disunity ensured that even the wan sanctions imposed by Washington seem strong by comparison, while highlighting divisions that undermine any dreams of European unity. The clash over Ukraine is often viewed as an old-fashion struggle between global powers, yet at its core lies the determination of most Ukrainians to share in their Continent's noblest ideals.

Unfortunately Mr. Putin has plenty of useful idiots on both left and right who view the tragic events in Ukraine through the prism of their own prejudices. On the right, these include ascendant populist politicians whose dislike of the European Union is so intense that they endorse an imperial aggressor rather than individuals seeking liberty and modernity. On the left are those whose visceral contempt for the United States is so hard-wired that they side with any of Uncle Sam's opponents—even if that means indulging a homophobic despot who has crushed dissent at home and sent his forces to stifle democracy abroad.

The most recent example of such reactionary anti-Americanism came last week from the celebrated British-based journalist John Pilger, who made his name covering Vietnam. He blamed the breakup of Ukraine on Washington's warmongers who "masterminded the coup in February" and were orchestrating attacks on ethnic Russians. "For the first time since the Reagan years, the U.S. is threatening to take the world to war," he told Guardian readers. Similar paranoid accusations have been made by the leader of the Stop the War Coalition, Britain's most prominent peace group.

Such deluded analysis is far from unique on the European left. In Germany, a left-wing daily newspaper has run headlines that could have been written by Russian propagandists about fascists controlling Ukraine. One German ex-cabinet minister said Kiev "had to be taught" that it could not join NATO immediately, while former Social Democrat chancellors have publicly hugged Mr. Putin, defended the annexation of Crimea, and blamed the West for causing the crisis.

It is strange to see those who had been incensed by the American invasion of Iraq defending this devastating intervention in another nation. The most charitable explanation is that they have fallen for propaganda about rampaging fascists taking over Ukraine. They turn a blind eye to the rather more uncomfortable reality that ultranationalists have captured the Kremlin. Renewed reverence for Russia on the left is one more curious Cold War echo with this conflict.

Yet it is reflected on the right too. Perhaps this makes more sense: The populist parties riding the anti-politics wave sweeping Europe can identify with Mr. Putin's patriotism, his cultural conservatism, his economic interventionism, his antipathy to globalization, his muscular alliance with the religious establishment. But the populists' support is really rooted in loathing of the European Union. This makes them oblivious to pain caused in Ukraine, let alone the dangers of a complex crisis spiraling out of control. "We have been told the EU stands for peace," Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders told the Dutch Parliament. "Now . . . we know better: the EU stands for warmongering."

Far-right fringe parties are expected to do well in elections this month for the European Parliament, which can only weaken resolve to impose tough new restrictions on Russia. In France, the National Front is leading in opinion polls; its leader, Marine Le Pen, has been courted by the Kremlin while her foreign-affairs chief defended the discredited Crimea referendum and echoed Moscow's language about an "illegitimate" government in Kiev. Little wonder an unpopular Socialist government in France recently opted to carry on with the sale of two aircraft carriers to Russia, ignoring U.S. pleas to pull the deal.

In Britain, the U.K. Independence Party is also predicted to win the forthcoming European parliamentary ballot. Ukip leader Nigel Farage alleged that the EU had "blood on its hands" after meddling in Ukraine and professed his admiration for Mr. Putin's political skills. But even some prominent members of the ruling Conservative Party seem to prefer the former KGB apparatchik to those hated bureaucrats in Brussels—former party chairman Lord Tebbit recently expressed sympathy for Russia, having seen the bullying EU "annex" chunks of central Europe.

Such are the delusions on both left and right. Ukraine's travails were sparked by the desire for democracy and self-determination, powerful forces that populists of all persuasions elsewhere in Europe take for granted. Now we can only watch nervously as this wounded country plans an election for May 25, seeking a path to freedom and prosperity while, in the distance, Vladimir Putin seethes and Europe shrugs.

Mr. Birrell is a contributing editor of the U.K. newspapers the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday and a former speechwriter for British Prime Minister David Cameron.


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French backstab NATO, sell rope to their hangman
« Reply #98 on: June 04, 2014, 09:31:04 AM »
Contrast Barq's offer of MREs to Ukraine:

ARIS—France is preparing to train hundreds of Russian seamen to operate a powerful French-made warship this month, defying calls from the U.S. and other Western allies to keep the vessel out of the Kremlin's hands, say people familiar with the matter.

A group of 400 Russian sailors are scheduled to arrive on June 22 in the French Atlantic port of Saint-Nazaire to undergo months of instruction before some of them pilot the first of two Mistral-class carriers back to Russia in the fall, said one of these people.

The training is a pivotal step that deepens France's commitment to fulfilling the €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) contract to supply Russia with the carriers, which are built to launch amphibious attacks with landing craft, helicopters and tanks.

The U.S. and other allies have called on the government of President François Hollande to cancel the contract, arguing the ships will significantly enhance Russian naval power at a time when the Ukraine crisis has raised tensions with the Kremlin to their highest levels since the Cold War.

Under that pressure, Paris insists the training doesn't tie its hands and that it won't make a final decision on the delivery until October. But Mr. Hollande's government also has said France intends to honor the contract, and privately officials give no indication they will renege.

France's ability to reverse course on the delivery, defense analysts say, will be diplomatically and commercially constrained once the Russian Navy arrives on its shores to begin the training and prepare to drive the carrier home.

"Four hundred Russian trainees are rather difficult to keep below the radar," said Nick Witney, a defense analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations. Other observers say that Paris's credibility to deliver on future contracts is also at stake.

French officials say Mr. Hollande is expected to discuss the Mistral deliveries with President Barack Obama when the leaders meet in Paris on Thursday, the eve of D-Day commemorations on the beaches of Normandy.

For months, France has faced staunch opposition from the Obama administration and other Western governments including the U.K. to the plan to sell the ships—criticism that has grown in the wake of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's breakaway Crimea region. In an interview published in French daily Le Monde on Monday, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski warned Russia might use the ships to "threaten neighbors."

"We have named Russia as an aggressor in Crimea, and I don't think France would want to be supplying useful arms to an aggressor," Mr. Sikorski said.

The tug of war over the Mistral illustrates how Europe's reliance on Russian resources risks unraveling strategic alliances that helped the West win the Cold War. The European Union is deeply divided over how far the bloc should go in imposing sanctions on Russia over its Ukraine incursion. Russian natural gas powers homes and businesses across Germany, the EU's biggest economy, while Russian oligarchs store their fortunes in U.K. banks.

France's economy—hobbled by decades of deindustrialization and rising labor costs—is hungry for large defense contracts that could help get the country's beleaguered shipyards back on their feet. Saint Nazaire, a port which boasts a proud history of building France's biggest ships, now relies on the occasional cruise-ship contract for economic survival.

The government says about a thousand jobs are at stake, in a country with more than 10% unemployment and a stalled economy.

Calling off the Mistral contract, a French official said, would be akin to "shooting yourself in the foot," forcing Paris to take the costly step of reimbursing Moscow.

France has already completed the first ship and built half of the second Mistral, which is scheduled for delivery in 2015. The second ship is named The Sevastopol after the Crimean port that serves as a headquarters for Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

The Mistral, which looms over the town, is a potent weapon. The length of more than two football fields, the ship is designed to edge up to a shoreline and deploy more than a dozen tanks and attack helicopters as well as hundreds of troops. This type of ship is also an integral part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's defenses, using sensitive communications technology to coordinate operations with other NATO ships. The potential transfer of that technology to Russia has long worried policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The ship also plugs a crucial gap in Russia's armed forces. Moscow boasts one of the world's largest armies and a formidable air force. But Russia's Black Sea fleet lacks an amphibious vessel like the Mistral, capable of launching a land invasion. That weakness deprived Moscow of a crucial knockout punch in 2008, when Russian troops invaded Georgia but never managed to dominate the former Soviet countries shoreline, forcing a stalemate.

Demonstrators protest against the Mistral contract in Saint-Nazaire, France, on June 1. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

"A ship like that would have allowed the Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes," Russian Navy Admiral Vladimir Vysotkiy said at the time.

The proposal to sell France's prized warship to Russia grew out of the Georgian conflict. In October 2008, France's president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy met with his counterpart President Dmitry Medvedev in the Alpine town of Evian in a bid to shore up a fragile truce Mr. Sarkozy had brokered between Russia and Georgia weeks earlier. By offering to sell Russia the Mistrals, Mr. Sarkozy aimed to persuade the Russians that NATO was no longer an enemy.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili flew to Paris to protest the sale, but Mr. Sarkozy brushed aside his complaints during a tense meeting in the Élysée Palace, according to a French official. "Look Mikheil, Russia is not going to invade Georgia with this boat," Mr. Sarkozy said, according to the official. Mr. Sarkozy then quipped that it was no use worrying about a Russian invasion, because the Russians were "already in your territory."

Years later, the sale has come back to haunt France's government.

Western diplomats huddled in Vienna to devise a response to Russia's military incursion in Crimea in March. There, a French diplomat recalled how a Canadian colleague cornered him with a question: "Is France going to cancel the sale of those warships to Russia?"

Last month, Assistant Secretary for Europe Victoria Nuland told U.S. lawmakers: "We have regularly and consistently expressed our concerns about this sale."

French officials, meanwhile, haven been poring over the technical details of the training session and deliberating how to temporarily house the Russian troops while they are in French territory without attracting too much attention, said one of the people familiar with the matter.

Russia and France had planned to lodge the troops in a Russian vessel docked in Saint-Nazaire, but the person said French officials are reviewing more discreet options.