The United States should be prepared to act if Putin tries to repeat in Belarus what he did in Ukraine.
America’s great power competitors, China and Russia, are pushing back against the free world. China’s arc stretches from Hong Kong and the South China Sea through the Himalaya border with India and along the Belt and Road intrusions far into Europe. Its debt-trap strategy on the African continent is binding ever more governments to it. Meanwhile, Russia continues its expansionism from Syria, through Crimea and the Donbass all the way to Libya. Across these vast regions, they trample on democracy and the rule of the law, with the ultimate intention of pushing back against American influence. Belarus is becoming the latest theater of competition. Washington should make it unambiguously clear that Russian meddling against the democratic will of the Belorussian people will not stand.
President Donald Trump has succeeded in keeping out of new wars. His firm declaration of his intent to safeguard American national interests has held adversaries at bay, and he has maintained a strong enough defense posture so as not to have to respond to provocations, such as from Iran. Yet an aggressive move by Russia in Belarus on the scale of what took place in Ukraine would be another matter altogether. It is urgent for the United States to underscore how serious the consequences will be if Moscow takes an adventurist wrong step. Vladimir Putin should not think that he can occupy Minsk the way Brezhnev occupied Prague—but the United States should be prepared to act if he tries. This requires mobilization on multiple levels.
First, it is urgent to launch intensive diplomatic consultation with all the NATO members. The transatlantic alliance is not in the best of shape at the moment, to say the least. Some European allies bear a lot of the blame. The world just witnessed the vote of the Security Council where England, France and Germany chose to abstain from extending the arms embargo on Iran, as if more arms in the hands of the Mullahs will bring peace to the Middle East. The E3 are clearly upset at the Trump administration on a range of issues. Plus, European leaders tend to underestimate security threats. In contrast though, the prospect of Russian troops marching through Belarus to the border of the EU may prompt them to think again about the need for a robust defense cooperation. A repeat of the Yugoslav wars may be looming in the European northeast, including another wave of refugees, and Europeans will have to rediscover how much they need the transatlantic alliance. It is time for Washington’s diplomatic corps to be reminding them of the dangers in their neighborhood.
Second, diplomacy has to lay the groundwork for a suspension of the 1997 NATO Russia Founding Act. That post-Cold War document was premised on a non-adversarial relationship with Russia, and the expectation that Russia would contribute to European stability, democracy and peace. Moscow has broken that agreement time and again, in Ukraine, through assassinations in the United Kingdom and in Germany, and through the suppression of democratic forces domestically. The hour has long passed when NATO and the U.S. in particular should be reticent about stationing troops in the Central European countries that became free after 1989. NATO’s European members should hear America make that case and join in supporting defense build ups along the new eastern front that stretches from Estonia to Bulgaria. That troop repositioning will take considerable diplomatic and logistical efforts. The time to start is now. The decision to move troops from Germany to Poland is an auspicious first start.
Third, precisely those eastern flank countries need clear reassurance of American support. Fortunately, the Trump administration has succeeded in building firmer ties in this “new Europe,” but more could be done. A ministerial level gathering in Washington in the fall, including leaders from the Baltics, the Visegrad four, Rumania and Bulgaria would be an opportunity to signal Washington’s firm commitment to friends in those countries and to counteract the Kremlin disinformation campaign that is persistently active and outstrips the State Department’s own meager communication strategies. Yet of equal importance, a Washington gathering of the partners in Eastern Europe would signal to the world that the front line of freedom will not be surrendered to Putin’s addiction to military adventures abroad.
Fourth, it is time as well to pressure “old Europe,” especially the former front-line state, Germany, to live up to its commitments. At stake is not only the evergreen problem of burden-sharing, German underspending on defense. Even more glaring is Berlin’s persistence in collaboration with Russia on projects like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite objections of its European neighbors, despite Crimea, and despite killings carried out by Russian agents in Berlin, nearly in the shadow of the Chancellery. Germany should use its considerable influence in Moscow to forestall any meddling. To do so, it could make completion and operation of the pipeline contingent on Russia staying out of Belarus. Putin already has too much foreign fighting on his hands.
Belarus is part of the European theater, but it is also a piece of the encompassing global competition. Weakness in Northeast Europe will tempt adversaries in East Asia. One has to plan for worst case scenarios: a conventional Russian advance in Belarus could be followed by a Chinese move on Hong Kong or even Taiwan. Preventing such catastrophic developments requires clear expressions of commitment, fortifying our alliance and building a defense posture appropriate to today’s circumstances, not to the last war.
In Ecclesiastes 1:4-11, the author muses over the eternal cycles of human existence. Among the many examples that he brings up, the most compelling one states the following: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
To illustrate the sagacity of this insight, it should suffice to examine the history of minority rules. From times immemorial, all forms of minority rules have been based on mutual fears. Majorities have been afraid of their kings, emperors, dictators, and despots. In turn, the rulers have feared the people, because their reign has been based on oppression and not the consent of the governed. Ultimately, these cycles of mutual fears have always grown exponentially until they have led to violent and all consuming political explosions.
Belarus (in Russian: Belorussia), ruled with an iron fist since July 20,1994, by President Alyaksandr Ryhoravich Lukashenka (in Russian: Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko), is no exception. Prior to being engaged in politics, President Lukashenka was the director of a Soviet-style collective farm, called kolkhoz. Before this job, he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and a uniformed guard of the Soviet Border Troops. Having been appointed as a deputy to the Supreme Council of Belarus, he earned the dubious distinction of having cast the only vote against the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Having been labeled “Europe’s last dictatorship,” President Lukashenka has steadfastly prevented Belarus to even begin its transformation as a sovereign state from a Soviet-style dictatorship to a more Westernized pluralistic country. However, like Stalin’s constitution of 1936, the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of 1994, are modelled in its language after the Western constitutions and at least formally entails all the institutional as well as the personal guarantees, rights and freedoms of a normal, pluralistic state. Accordingly, Section One solemnly declares that the government of the Republic of Belorus belongs to the people. The government is defined as a multi-party representative democracy. While the government guarantees the protection of rights and freedoms of all citizens, Section One also states that the individual citizen “bears a responsibility towards the State to discharge unwaveringly the duties imposed upon him by the Constitution.”
During Lukashenka’s reign, there were three crucial Amendments to the constitution. All Amendments were designed to significantly enhance the powers of the presidency. Approved by a fraudulent national referendum in May 1995 by a majority of 77%, the First Amendment authorized the President to unilaterally disband the Parliament.
The Second Amendment, unilaterally initiated by President Lukashenka, further strengthened his powers. The unicameral parliament, fittingly named the Supreme Soviet, was simply abolished. It was replaced by the National Assembly, a bicameral parliament. Demonstrating President Lukashenka’s increasing arrogance and megalomania, this Amendment was allegedly approved by 84% of the electorate. As a result, all opposition parties were excluded from the new parliament. To wit, due to the lack of transparency as well as ballot stuffing, the United States of America, the European Union, and many other states refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of either Amendment.
Finally, the Third Amendment abolished the presidential term limits in its entirety in 2004. Again, approved by a national referendum, 77.3% of the people consented to President Lukashenka’s demand to serve in the highest office for life. As with the 1996 referendum, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called the legitimacy of this referendum into question. The organization bluntly declared that the referendum did not meet the requirements of “free and fair elections.” To add a final political insult to the death of legality, the Minister of Justice of Belorus and almost all the legal scholars in the country came up with a completely novel interpretation of the rule of law. In their opinion, laws are constitutional if they follow the will of President Lukashenka and the people. Those laws that do not fall into this category are non-existent and shall be ignored. As a result, the Constitution and most of the legal provisions are in contradiction.
Similarly, the economy of Belarus, which is the world’s 72nd largest, is almost totally controlled by the state. Dubbing his economic policies “Market Socialism,” he reintroduced in 1994 a purely Socialist economy in Belorus. Politically motivated Russian oil and gas deliveries have rendered Belorus completely energy dependent on the Kremlin. President Lukashenka’s feeble attempts to flirt with the West only made him another East European political prostitute of the region.
The most recent Soviet-style presidential election, held on August 9, 2020, delivered the expected result. Proving that in an orderly dictatorship there are no miracles, President Lukashenka beat the stand-in candidate of the opposition for her jailed husband Sergey Tsikhnousky, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya by 80.10% to 10.12%. The opposition cried foul, while President Lukashenka declared that “You speak about unfair elections and want fair ones? I have an answer for you. We had the elections. Unless you kill me, there will be no other elections.” The ensuing protests have been answered with brutal and ruthless crackdown. Calling the protesters “bands of criminals” and “rats,” President Lukashenka has pleaded with Russian President Putin to come to his rescue immediately. Meanwhile, thousands have been detained and at least two persons have died. More importantly, however, President for life Lukashenka has proved again that the mentality of the Soviet Union is well alive and kicking strongly in the eastern part of the continent.
His soulmate in governance, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been strangely silent throughout President Lukashenka’s ordeal. Clearly, he must have learned something from the events that surrounded former Ukrainian President Yanukovich’s dismal performance at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 in Kyiv and across Ukraine. President Putin’s restraint might have also been motivated by the potential threat of additional sanctions against his country. Be that as it may, Russia would only save President Lukashenka’s hide if Belorus would move decisively into the orbit of the European Union and NATO. Otherwise, a relaxation or even the demise of President Lukashenka’s severe dictatorship would not rattle the Kremlin.
Yet, the people of Belarus deserve the sympathy and support of the rest of the world. Russia’s eventual intervention should not discourage the United States of America and the European Union to provide political and any other support for the people who have unequivocally expressed their desire to finally live free in a democracy. Clearly, President Lukashenka’s days are numbers. Politically, he is done and not even Russia could save his dictatorship. In the Kremlin, President Putin and his colleagues must finally comprehend that the days of dictators in Europe are coming to an end. In case they would resist, their countries would become not only the graveyards of failed ideas, but also the economic catastrophes of the rest of the world.
With the exception of an infinitesimal number of individuals and media outlets, the hate filled, asymmetrical political warfare against President Trump is continuing with unwavering vehemence. The latest fuel on the seemingly eternal fire of the anti-Trump resistance was supplied by his trip to Europe and, in particular by his meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
As a prelude to President Trump’s visit to Brussels, London, and Helsinki, the usual pack of anti-Trump Democrats, Obama appointees and their allies in the highly politicized media started a full throated campaign against the Putin meeting. The narrative was as primitive as idiotic. Accordingly, President Putin was declared a superman, the embodiment of the most perfect statesman in human history, while President Trump was depicted as a bumbling amateur who will be consumed by Putin the master spy within minutes. Indeed, they demanded in unison that President Trump cancel the meeting all together or, at least, be surrounded by an army of advisors. Clearly, all of sudden there were millions of little presidents who felt empowered to render their authoritative opinions on the most complex foreign policy matters.
Of course, President Trump ignored their advice. Conversely, the irrational politics of hatred continued unabated. Since Helsinki, this has centers around President Trump’s answers to Jeff Mason’s and Jonathan Levine’s questions, in which the President appeared to side with President Putin and not with the assessment of the US intelligence agencies concerning the so-called “Russian Interference” in the 2016 elections. The Reuters correspondent’s question originally was directed at President Putin. In essence Mason challenged the Russian President by asking why should the Americans and President Trump believe his statement that Russia did not interfere in the election, given the evidence the US intelligence agencies provided. President Trump’s answer was more complex than reported in the media. “….the concept of that (namely interference) came up perhaps a little before, but it came out as a reason why the Democrats lost an election….” He continued by saying: “….there was no collusion with the campaign….” Jonathan Levine of AP followed up with a more direct and clearly provocative question: “Just now President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every US intelligence agency concluded that Putin did. My first question for you, sir, who do you believe? My second question is would you now with the whole world watching tell President Putin – would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?”
In his reply President Trump first addressed the issue of the Democratic National Committee’s server. Rightly, he pointed out that the Committee’s refusal to hand over the server to the FBI for inspection is inexplicable. Most probably, the examination of the server would have supplied important documentary evidence as to who was responsible for the hacking. Moreover, it would have provided the FBI with a true record about what really happened. Barring excess for the FBI clearly meant that the Committee had something to hide or, in the alternative, the results of its examination of the server failed to conform to the narrative of the rigged elections. Then President Trump continued thus: “I have Mr. Putin. He just said it is not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really want to see the server.”
As usual, President Trump’s answers were immediately taken out of context and presented as proofs that he is not an American patriot, but a Russian stooge. Never mind that during the 2008 presidential campaign Barack Hussein Obama regaled the attendees and the world in his Berlin speech as being “a citizen of the world”, while his better half opined about being proud of America only because her husband was elected president.
But more importantly, President Trump’s answers must be viewed within the framework of his opening remarks at the press conference. There he said: “As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics or the media or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct. Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia forwards the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics. As president, I always put what is best for America and what is best for the American people.” Then he went on to say that he thought the best way to discuss interference and related issues is in person with Mr. Putin, which he did.
Placing his answers to the correspondents’ questions in the context of his opening remarks make it abundantly clear that President Trump behaved as a statesman, while his critics took a very narrow tactical approach to US-Russia relations. As president, he had to focus on the big picture, which is the overall strategic relationship with Russia, and leave the other related matters to future negotiations. Once agreement is reached on the nature of the strategic relationship and a measure of trust has been established between the two states, most, if not all, the outstanding matters can be discussed and hopefully solved within the framework of such a strategic understanding.
To place the entire anti-Trump mania into an even broader context, the United States of America has been since November 2016, in a rapidly worsening democratic anarchy. For this reason alone, the American citizenry cannot remain indifferent to what is happening to the constitutional Republic. Moreover, it would be a grave misconception to suppose that if this democratic anarchy is allowed to fester unchecked, the already chaotic situation abroad would not be affected. On the contrary. The vicissitudes that the world has suffered since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of the People’s Republic of China as a formidable military, economic, and financial power, and the unrelenting invasion of the developed world by the army of desperate migrants, compel the United States of America to assume once again the leadership role for the rest of the world.
Leadership, in turn, means that the president and the congressional leaders must not dwell exclusively on the past but deal in a bipartisan manner with the challenges of the present and their repercussions for the future, unless those challenges will remain unresolved. More importantly, no one should search for artificial causes to seize and maintain power. Rather, policymakers must look for solutions to remedy as many problems as they possible can across the globe. Clearly, this is not the time for hesitation, vacillation, oscillation, and sanctimonious speeches that are not followed by decisive actions. Indeed, every responsible politician in Washington, D.C. must defend the interests of the United States of America and that of its allies throughout the world.
Presently, President Trump appears to be the only adult in the playground sandbox. Sitting down with his Russian counterpart is not treason. Neither is it collusion, nor is it interference. It is diplomacy that allows two heads of states to explore common interests. Common interests, in turn, will enable them to communicate and hopefully reach compromises peacefully on major and lesser challenges too. Among those challenges the overall situation in the greater Middle East is the most explosive. Within the Middle East, the Syrian problem has the most potential to trigger a regional war. Information available of the two hour private meeting and the follow-up lunch in Helsinki indicate that a broad agreement on the principles of de escalating the conflict has been reached. Accordingly, both presidents have agreed that the security of Israel is paramount. Secondly, they have been in agreement concerning the destructive role of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Syria, in Lebanon, in the Gaza Strip, in Yemen, in Libya, and beyond. To counter the Mullahcracy’s appetite for steady expansion, the two presidents have resolved to limit Iranian military presence and political influence in Syria. Thirdly, the fate of the Assad family remains on the table. Finally, if provoked, Israel will have a free hand militarily to retaliate in a proportional manner.
As far as Islamic terrorism is concerned, Russia is exposed to it more closely than the United States of America or Europe. Clearly, President Putin is not averse to reach an agreement on this topic.
The Ukraine is not just a political and strategic question for Russia, but also a historical and emotional one. After all, the cradle of today’s Russia was the Kiev Russ in the 9th and 10th centuries. For the United States of America, the Ukraine has been a sovereign country since the late 1990, the boundaries of which have been violated by Russia continuously since the overthrow of the late President Viktor Yanukovych. On this issue, an agreement that would satisfy all the parties involved will need more time and negotiations. For now, the objective should be to arrest the conflict that will provide for the restoration of domestic tranquility. As a first step in this direction, the United States of America should push for the quick conclusion of a permanent armistice between the opposing forces.
Russia’s relations with the rest of Europe, in particular the European Union are multifaceted and thus are more complex. Again, it is important not to rash to premature judgments, and allow time for all the parties involved to find a modus vivendi among the conflicting political positions and interests. The principle of non-intervention in the affairs of all parties must be made sufficiently plain. The continent needs a new equilibrium through additional treaties to show that the Russian Federation will adhere to its responsibilities, in order to provide neither reason nor pretext for military conflicts in the future.
In closing, President Trump is absolutely right to pursue good relations with President Putin. Only through continuous dialogue between these two preeminent nuclear powers could the maintenance of universal peace guaranteed.
It is virtually impossible to have a sane, temperate conversation about President Donald J. Trump and what the Russians might or might not have done to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. From the corner bar to the White House briefing room, folks have their heels dug in and aren’t budging, with each side passionately determined to prove the other wrong.
Most Republicans—except the ones who somehow manage to show up on the news chat shows with astonishing regularity—seem to regard the whole business as a tempest in a teapot at best, and at worst, a Machiavellian effort undertaken by entrenched liberals inside the U.S. government to remove Trump from office.
Democrats, meanwhile, mainly think that Trump and the Russians conspired to steal the presidency from Hillary Clinton. How could she have possibly lost the election otherwise? Continue reading
Nobody can ever wholly escape the mixture of positive and negative influences of his or her times and country. Neither are politicians across the globe exempt from the deeply ingrained ethical, cultural, and intellectual foibles and prejudices of their respective societies. Accordingly, trust among political leaders of all ages and places has always been either non-existent or of short supply. This dearth of trust, fundamentally rooted in a mutual failure to comprehend the other nation’s mentality, has characterized the over two centuries old history of US-Russia relations too. Avoiding the temptation of expanding on this history, suffice it to state that as Russian domestic and foreign policies could not be understood by the pragmatic, result oriented American mind, so has been the emotional mindset of the Russians mostly incapable to objectively judge the domestic and foreign policies of the United States of America.
The “Cold War” ended with several agreements between the two states. At the Malta summit in December 1989, then President George H. W. Bush assured Mikhail Gorbachev that the United States of America will not take advantage of the unfolding events in Central and Eastern Europe. The same assurance was echoed by then Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of the Federal Republic of Germany on January 31, 1990, in the Bavarian town of Tutzing. Less than a month later, Continue reading
by Dimitri K. Simes and Paul J. Saunders • National Interest
One need not admire Benjamin Netanyahu or Vladimir Putin or, for that matter, approve of Israeli or Russian conduct, to see Barack Obama’s recent efforts to punish the two states for what they really are. Indeed, Mr. Obama’s efforts seem directed more at his successor than at any serious U.S. foreign policy objective. The outgoing president’s efforts to tie President-Elect Donald Trump’s hands in both domestic and foreign policy appear particularly un-presidential after his petulant complaints that America should have only one president at a time—a rule he apparently sees as applying in only one direction as he defiantly disregards the deference typically shown to an incoming commander-in-chief.
On Israel, Mr. Obama had to know that America’s abstention in voting on a United Nations Security Council Resolution critical of Israel would neither change Israeli settlement policy nor undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political standing in his country. Continue reading
America’s warfighters are the best and most effective on the planet. But if we hope to maintain that advantage we have to continue to give them the best tools and the best information. Our access to space is critical if we hope to provide our warfighters with the best information, positioning, coordination and integration available.
America’s warfighters are the best and most effective on the planet. But if we hope to maintain that advantage we have to continue to give them the best tools and the best information. Our access to space is critical if we hope to provide our warfighters with the best information, positioning, coordination and integration available.
After the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, there was significant concern within the U.S. Government that scientists and engineers of the former Soviet Union would sell critical technologies, particularly ballistic missile and weapons technologies, to U.S. adversaries and rogue groups. Given its low cost and outstanding performance, the RD-180 rocket engine was at the top of that list. The U.S. made the decision to buy these engines instead of making investments in developing new advanced rocket engines of our own and today we lack the high performance capability the Russian engines provide. Thanks to Congressional pressure and funding, we are well down the road towards a new American made engine to replace the RD-180 and this problem will be solved by the next presidential election. But in the meantime, we have to put in place some stop gap measures to ensure we don’t see our access to space compromised or see our high tech superiority slip. Continue reading
by Peter Huessy and Franklin Miller
For the past 25 years, arms control has been a key driving force behind how many Americans view our relationship with Russia. In that period the two countries have agreed to the START I, Moscow, and New Start nuclear weapons agreements that has successfully reduced the strategic warhead arsenals on both sides by over 90%.
But relations between Moscow and Washington are not good and since the 2010 New Start agreement, the Russians have flatly rejected discussions of further reductions in nuclear weapons. The Russians have also stopped cooperation under the Nunn-Lugar agreement, named after two US Senators that put together a program to safeguard and eliminate nuclear material and warheads in the former Soviet Union subsequent to the end of the Cold War. Other agreements between the two countries have also been put on ice by Russian President Putin’s government.
At a seminar on Capitol Hill on April 20, 2016, two distinguished experts—Steve Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council and Mark Schneider of the National Institute of Public Policy—spoke about the need to refocus our relationship with Russia away from arms control and more towards managing an increasingly troublesome and dangerous relationship. A key part of that strategy must be the full modernization of our nuclear deterrent, they both emphasized. Continue reading
by Stepan Kravchenko • Bloomberg
New weapons should go to “all parts” of the nuclear triad of air, sea, and land forces, Putin told a Defense Ministry meeting in Moscow on Friday. Action must also be taken “to improve the effectiveness of missile-attack warning systems and aerospace defense.”
Russia’s military will have five new nuclear regiments equipped with modern missile complexes next year, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told the same meeting. More than 95 percent of the country’s nuclear forces are at a permanent state of readiness, he said. Continue reading
A failed experiment to cut Russia from the World Wide Web stokes fears of Chinese-style online censorship
by Roland Oliphant • The Telegraph
Russia has run large scale experiments to test the feasibility of cutting the country off the World Wide Web, a senior industry executive has claimed.
The tests, which come amid mounting concern about a Kremlin campaign to clamp down on internet freedoms, have been described by experts as preparations for an information blackout in the event of a domestic political crisis.
Andrei Semerikov, general director of a Russian service provider called Er Telecom, said Russia’s ministry of communications and Roskomnadzor, the national internet regulator, ordered communications hubs run by the main Russian internet providers to block traffic to foreign communications channels by using a traffic control system called DPI. Continue reading
by Condoleezza Rice and Robert M. Gates • Washington Post
One can hear the disbelief in capitals from Washington to London to Berlin to Ankara and beyond. How can Vladimir Putin, with a sinking economy and a second-rate military, continually dictate the course of geopolitical events? Whether it’s in Ukraine or Syria, the Russian president seems always to have the upper hand.
Sometimes the reaction is derision: This is a sign of weakness. Or smugness: He will regret the decision to intervene. Russia cannot possibly succeed. Or alarm: This will make an already bad situation worse. And, finally, resignation: Perhaps the Russians can be brought along to help stabilize the situation, and we could use help fighting the Islamic State. Continue reading
Craven American leadership harms the cause of peace and stability, and only benefits the world’s dictators and aggressors.
by George C. Landrith & Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi
Vladimir Putin is a gambler. He has a weak hand. But he will bluff, pretending that he holds a good hand, until someone in power calls him on the ruse. While President Barack Obama’s hand is not weak, he behaves as if he holds no cards at all. Thus, Obama plays into the hands of Putin who is pleased at his good fortune to have an anemic and spineless American president unwilling to call Putin’s bluff or reveal his untenable position.
Putin’s willingness to bluff despite his weak hand is at least in the long run quite risky. But given Obama’s consistent and demonstrated weakness, why would Putin do anything else?
Putin is devoid of sentimentality. He is pragmatic in the extreme. Some say he longs for the days of Soviet power and prestige. No doubt power and prestige are of interest to a vain and ambitious poser like Putin. But his main objective is to rescue his rule at home by diverting attention from the near bankrupt Russian economy. By giving his countrymen the impression that he is restoring “Russia’s greatness” abroad, he hopes to neutralize the total failure of his economic policies and the financial pain that Russia is experiencing. Continue reading
For the Obama administration, there’s always a surprise when it comes to the Middle East. Having pulled out of Iraq before Iraq was ready, they were taken unawares by the Islamic State’s rise. Now Russia’s strategic moves to be the big dog on the block in the Mideast have thrown them for another loop.
Russia has forged an alliance with Syria, Iran and Iraq to share intelligence to destroy the Islamic State — without inviting the U.S. The pact has a powerful moral rationale, given the monstrosity of the enemy and the U.S. lack of will to fight. But it also will permanently extend Russian power in the region, something that Russia had under the USSR but that is also a longstanding imperial ambition dating back to the days of Vlad the Great. Continue reading
The danger of Russia’s intervention in Syria, and America’s timidity in Afghanistan
To hear Vladimir Putin, Russia has become the leader of a new global war on terrorism. By contrast Barack Obama seems wearier by the day with the wars in the Muslim world that America has been fighting for more than a decade. On September 30th Russian jets went into action to support Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered troops. It is setting up an intelligence-sharing network with Iraq and Iran. The Russian Orthodox church talks of holy war. Mr Putin’s claim to be fighting Islamic State (IS) is questionable at best. The evidence of Russia’s first day of bombing is that it attacked other Sunni rebels, including some supported by America. Even if this is little more than political theatre, Russia is making its biggest move in the Middle East, hitherto America’s domain, since the Soviet Union was evicted in the 1970s.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, America’s campaign against the Taliban has suffered a blow. On September 28th Taliban rebels captured the northern town of Kunduz—the first provincial capital to fall to them since they were evicted from power in 2001. Afghan troops retook the centre three days later. But even if they establish full control, the attack was a humiliation. Continue reading
By Editorial Board • Washington Post
In July, President Obama said he had been “encouraged” by a telephone call Russian President Vladimir Putin had initiated to discuss Syria. The Russians, Mr. Obama confidently declared, “get a sense that the Assad regime is losing a grip over greater and greater swaths of territory” and “that offers us an opportunity to have a serious conversation with them.” Not for the first time, Mr. Obama was supposing that Mr. Putin could be enlisted in a diplomatic settlement to the Syrian civil war along lines Washington and its Arab allies support. Not for the first time, the president appears to have badly misread the Russian ruler.
Far from abandoning its support for the Assad regime, Moscow appears to be doubling down. According to numerous reports, Russia is establishing a base at an airfield near an Assad stronghold on the Mediterranean coast and has filed military overflight requests with neighboring countries. Analysts believe Russia may be preparing to deploy 1,000 or more military personnel to Syria and to carry out air operations in support of Assad forces. Syrian rebels already have reported seeing Russian aircraft over territory they control. Continue reading