Merkel and Hollande in Moscow

The tragedy in Ukraine grinds on. After the comparatively peaceful period ushered in by the Minsk agreement in September, renewed fighting has broken out in recent weeks. Russia is copping most of the blame with the US (and more aggressive European players) considering sizeable arms transfers to Ukraine.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. In (most) western eyes, Russia is ipso facto guilty. That Ukraine has failed to honour their side of the Minsk agreement is never mentioned. The obligations, it seems, are entirely one-sided.

At any rate, the more important (or at least intriguing) news is that Merkel and Hollande are in Moscow this weekend. They arrived on Friday night, direct from Kiev, and went straight to the Kremlin where they remained closeted with Putin for an initial five hours. Media were not welcome; apparently photographers were allowed in for about 30 seconds and not a word was spoken.

German Chancellor Merkel gets into a car upon her arrival at Moscow's Vnukovo airport

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets into a car upon her arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport February 6, 2015. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin) – Courtesy RT

What does this all mean? Continue reading

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Putin interview with German TV

In an interview with German TV channel ARD on November 13, Putin expressed cautious optimism about Ukraine’s future before adding:

You know, there is only one thing that is missing. I believe, what is missing is the understanding that in order to be successful, stable and prosperous, the people who live on this territory, regardless of the language they speak (Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian or Polish), must feel that this territory is their homeland. To achieve that they must feel that they can realise their potential here as well as in any other territories and possibly even better to some extent. That is why I do not understand the unwillingness of some political forces in Ukraine to even hear about the possibility of federalisation.

Pushed by Hubert Seipel about whether Russia “can do more” to rein in the separatists, Putin eventually went back to what he sees as “the essence of the problem”. Continue reading

‘The Collapse of Order in the Middle East’ | Ambassador Chas Freeman

The friend (FB Ali) who pointed me to this recent talk by Chas Freeman described it as “the best analysis I have read of the problems of the ME, US policy, and what the future likely holds. It is superb.”

Amen. The hardest part was choosing which of my twelve lengthy highlights was most likely to persuade you to read the whole thing.

The need for restraint extends to refraining from expansive rhetoric about our values or attempting to compel others to conform to them. In practice, we have insisted on democratization only in countries we have invaded or that were otherwise falling apart, as Egypt was during the first of the two “non coups” it suffered. When elections have yielded governments whose policies we oppose, we have not hesitated to conspire with their opponents to overthrow them. But the results of our efforts to coerce political change in the Middle East are not just failure but catastrophic failure. Our policies have nowhere produced democracy. They have instead contrived the destabilization of societies, the kindling of religious warfare, and the installation of dictatorships contemptuous of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

Americans used to believe that we could best lead by example. We and those in the Middle East seeking nonviolent change would all be better off if America returned to that tradition and foreswore ideologically motivated intervention.  Despite our unparalleled ability to use force against foreigners, the best way to inspire them to emulate us remains showing them that we have our act together. At the moment, we do not.

Every other attempted analysis of these matters has seemed to me to suffer from various failings, whether of perception or in the proposed solution. Continue reading

New Silk Roads and a Eurasian Century? | Pepe Escobar

Geopolitical change is usually glacial. Shifts in economic and military power large enough to alter the international balance take time, lots of time. It’s also true, however, that once the pieces are in place realignments can occur with stunning rapidity. We may be in the midst of just such a revolution.

Those wedded to the existing paradigm are often the last to see it coming. After decades, generations or in some cases centuries at the pinnacle, the existing arrangement can seem to have all the force of a law of nature. That may be even more true when the top dog’s view of itself as exceptional pre-dates its ascendancy.

From Beijing’s point of view, the Ukraine crisis was a case of Washington crossing every imaginable red line to harass and isolate Russia. To its leaders, this looks like a concerted attempt to destabilize the region in ways favorable to American interests, supported by a full range of Washington’s elite from neocons and Cold War “liberals” to humanitarian interventionists in the Susan Rice and Samantha Power mold. Of course, if you’ve been following the Ukraine crisis from Washington, such perspectives seem as alien as those of any Martian.

Pepe Escobar thinks a most unusual brew may be fermenting. One that adds Germany to the Eurasian ascendancy he believes is already well underway. Continue reading

Airstrikes against Islamic State will lose effectiveness | Washington Post

Bone hard realism from US Major-General Robert H Scales (Rtd).

The bottom line is simple. In a firepower approach to war, escalation and mission creep are both inevitable and necessary. As the enemy grows more skilled, we will be left with two unattractive alternatives: Escalate until tragedy occurs or accept battlefield stasis until the American people tire of these “targeted strikes.” And when we fly away with the Islamic State still dominant on the battlefield, the terrorists will proclaim to the world that the United States is a cowardly country that has been beaten again.

The Islamic State will not be easy to contain, much less turn back. They are proving to be capable and adaptable, fueled by a deeply held belief in the rightness and inevitability of their vision.

If they are to be successfully countered, locals with an unavoidable stake in the outcome must take on most of the burden. The years since 9/11 have hammered home that core truth. Or at least they should have.

Insofar as Iraq is concerned, here’s Col Pat Lang (Rtd). Continue reading

Ukraine, MH17 and the Struggle for Europe | Conflicts Forum

In 1989 the US was supreme. Victorious, incomparably powerful and, for the most part, adored and admired.

Had it honoured its subsequent promises to Russia, kept its nose clean in the Middle East and tried to genuinely broker a settlement between Israel and Palestine, those accolades would still hold. Instead it’s riven internally, distrusted externally and burdened with a strategically incoherent and increasingly belligerent foreign policy.

It’s a sad tale, indeed a tragic one, not just for America but for the world. Rarely has so much been thrown away so quickly.

In “Ukraine, MH17 and the Struggle for Europe“, Alistair Crooke looks at how all this is playing out in the troubled relationship between the US and Germany. After more than a half-century of almost intimate relations, they now stand on the brink. The spying revelations have done serious damage.

Germans, who acutely remember the totalitarian surveillance of Nazi Germany and East Germany, cherish their strict data protection and limits on state monitoring. The pervasive spying on one of America’s most valuable partners — including the snooping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone from a rooftop listening post at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin — has enraged the German public.

Even more important though is the growing sense that the US has become an alarmingly, perhaps even dangerously unpredictable partner.

It is not surprising that Europeans ask to where will escalating sanctions take us?  What is the end game?  Sanctions will hollow out the significant European trade with Russia, and will leave European economies open and vulnerable to US commercial interests. That the American establishment sees sanctions as an end itself – sees ‘breaking’ and humiliating Putin – as an end in itself is a truly frightening prospect.

Continue reading

Don’t isolate Russia | Tom Switzer

Putin currently graces the cover of Time, Newsweek, Der Spiegel and The Economist, together with a host of lesser publications. Always unfavourably of course, with the possible exception of Time where the headline is “Cold War II” and the subhead “The West is losing Putin’s dangerous game”.

In the midst of this stampede, it’s refreshing to find authors who take a longer view. Two popped up today, both writing in conservative publications and from a realist standpoint.

In “Don’t Isolate Russia” over at The American Conservative, Tom Switzer implores us to “think clearly and, if necessary, coldly, about the underlying cause of the Russia-Ukraine standoff, which sparked the military blunder.”

It [the West] has repudiated the implicit agreement between president George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990-91 that the Atlantic alliance would not extend into Eastern Europe and the Baltics, a region that Russia has viewed as a necessary zone of protection long before Stalin appeared on the scene. In so doing, the West has taken no account at all for Russian susceptibilities and interests.

For Moscow, unlike Washington and Brussels, Ukraine is a matter of intense strategic importance: it covers a huge terrain that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries: [ . . .]

Since the collapse of Soviet communism, Western liberals and neo-conservatives have declared the demise of power politics and triumph of self-determination. But Putin’s calculations are based on an old truth of geopolitics: great powers fight tooth and nail when vital strategic interests are at stake and doggedly guard what they deem as their spheres of influence.

This is unfortunate, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Imagine how Washington would respond if Russia had signed up Panama in a military pact, put rockets and missiles in Cuba, or helped bring down a democratically elected, pro-U.S. government in Mexico.

In The National Interest, Dmitri Trenin considers Russia’s likely security strategy now that the West appears to have definitively turned against it. Continue reading