From the farcical to the surreal: Putin endorses a grateful Trump

December 17, 2015
Fine as long as the mouth stays shut

Endorsed by dictators

When did I cross into Bizarro World?

Russia’s strongman took time out from bumping off political adversaries, putting his muscle in Iran’s service, and annexing other countries’ territory to praise GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump as “an outstanding and talented personality.”

A grateful Trump reacted: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

So, the currently leading Republican candidate is honored to be endorsed by a man intimidating and dismembering the countries around him, having opponents and critics assassinated, and generally acting like a global thug.

Analyst Tom Nichols offered this apt analogy:

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I won’t go as far as Tom did in another tweet and call Trump a “traitor,” but I do think he is a contemptible buffoon — and a dangerous one, should he win the nomination and the presidency.

Are we sure Rod Serling didn’t introduce this story?

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To the surprise of no one, Crimea is not happy under Russian rule

April 13, 2015
x

“And then I told them they could have free elections!”

I know, I know. You’re as shocked as I. Imagine the ingratitude for all the efforts Vladimir Putin made to rejoin Crimea with Mother Russia. Writing in National Review, Leona Amosah recounts all the benefits Russian governance has brought: a crashing tourism industry, inflation second only to Venezuela’s,  and food prices through the roof. Whiners.

I mean, who wouldn’t appreciate ethnic oppression and political arrests?

In particular, Crimea’s Tatar Muslim minority is suffering levels of persecution not seen since the Soviet era. This pressure includes “disappearances, sadistic murders . . . attacks on media, and arrests on trumped-up charges,” according to one informed observer. So pervasive has this discrimination been that, back in February, the United Nations took the unprecedented step of publicly condemning Russia’s treatment of the Crimean Tatars.

Political opponents of the Kremlin, too, have found themselves in the official crosshairs. To date, several Crimean lawmakers have been arrested and even exiled because of their opposition to and condemnation of Russia’s takeover of Crimea. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has equated Russia’s conduct in its newest holding to a “reign of terror” designed to both subjugate and pacify the region’s population.

A wrecked economy and political persecution: what’s not to like? Look, if Crimeans have trouble appreciating the benefits of life under Moscow, they could always ask Boris Nemtsov.

Oh, wait.


How Putin could break NATO, or, ready for “Great Northern War II?”

March 26, 2015
Target: Gotland?

Target: Gotland?

The Great Northern War was a conflict in the early 18th century launched by a coalition headed by Russia that broke the power of the Swedish empire in the Baltic Sea region. The war also saw the establishment of Russia as a Continental power and its annexation of the region we know today as the “Baltic states.”

Today, 300 years later, Russia’s ruler might again use an attack on Sweden (1) to reestablish his nation as a world power and cover his re-annexation of the Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania:

Over the past 12 months Russia’s air force flew a series of aggressive combat patrols over the Baltic Sea, including mock nuclear strikes against Sweden’s capital Stockholm, to assess the reaction time and preparedness of Sweden’s air force. Since October 2014 Russia’s Navy has sent submarines into Swedish territorial waters to assess the capabilities and preparedness of Sweden’s Navy. The results: Sweden is defenseless.

Last week Russia’s air force progressed from testing military preparedness to dry runs for a major air assault. A combination of transport planes and fighter jets flew from Russia over the entire Baltic Sea to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. While Sweden didn’t even manage to get a plane in the air, Italian air force jets flying out from Šiauliai air base in Lithuania intercepted and identified the Russian jets. The Italian fighters were outnumbered 4 to 1.

The obvious targets of Russian aggression along the Baltic Sea, namely Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all share a land border with Russia, so there is no need to mount a large scale air assault to overrun these tiny states. But to keep these three nations occupied and oppressed, Putin must keep the US air force and the US Navy out of the Baltic Sea. This is why Russia is preparing to assault, occupy and fortify Sweden’s Gotland Island.

And why is Gotland (highlighted in red in the map above) needed to keep us from resisting a Russian assault on the Baltics?

If Russia controls Gotland and bases S-300 or S-400 long range air-defense missile systems and K-300P Bastion-P long range anti-ship missile systems on the island, then US air force planes cannot reach the Baltic States and US Navy ships cannot pass the Danish Straits to enter the Baltic Sea. Russia has already S-300 and K-300P stationed in Kaliningrad along with tactical nuclear 9K720 Iskander missiles, but as Poland’s military could overrun Kaliningrad and destroy Russia’s anti-ship and air-defense systems there, Russia will occupy Gotland a few hours before the attack on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania begins.

The author is a writer living in the Ukraine . You can read the rest of the article, which presents an extended scenario in which Russia presents the NATO with a fait accompli and dares it to do something about it. Some of NATO –the US, Poland, Great Britain, and others NATO states as well as non-NATO Sweden– try to mount a counterattack, but are hobbled by Germany’s refusal join or to even allow their territory to be used or crossed by NATO forces, as well as Russian threats to use nuclear weapons against the smaller nations’ cities, which leads Sweden to concede. In Thomas Theiner’s scenario, a Polish refusal to concede leads to a Russian nuclear strike against a Polish city, which in turn brings about the  the end of the war when NATO’s nuclear powers (the US, Great Britain, and France) decline to retaliate. Poland surrenders, NATO breaks up in defeat, and Russia regains its “lost provinces.”

While Theiner’s scenario goes deeper into speculative territory the further he develops his scenario, the initial situation –a surprise Russian attack on Gotland to block relief of the Baltics– is frighteningly plausible:

  • Russia carved off provinces from Georgia in 2008, claiming it was protecting Russian minorities.
  • We have the ongoing dismemberment of Ukraine, another former Russian possession, which began with Russian complaints about mistreatment of Russian speaking minorities there.
  • Russia has also complained about the supposed mistreatment of Russian minorities in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Setting the stage? Russia is already acting aggressively in the Baltic region.

And Sweden has indeed become a target:

Putin is, in my estimation, a predatory aggressive bully who perceives conciliation in others as a sign of weakness, something to be exploited

What a coincidence: Sweden is weak. Its military spending has declined severely on a per capita (2) basis over the last 25 years, and its military is correspondingly small and lacking key capabilities to defend against Russia. While moving to station troops on Gotland and announcing plans to spend more on defense, it is currently vulnerable to rapid exploitation in the event of a Russian attack.

American leadership (meaning President Obama), which would be crucial to any effort to resist Russia and rally NATO, is feckless, appeasement-oriented, and incompetent. And while Theiner assumes the US will try to defend Sweden and the Baltics, I have to wonder just how strenuous an effort President Lead-From-Behind would make, considering he refuses even to meet with the head of NATO. Putin sees this and may well think that now is his best chance to take a huge gamble.

Is a second Great Northern War at all likely to happen? Who knows, but, as I said, I find it all too plausible given the recent past. It’s a possibility that cannot be responsibly ignored.

We have a little less than two years until (we hope) an American president takes office who is interested in foreign affairs and recognizes what needs to be done to protect our interests and the free world’s from predators such as Vladimir Putin.

Until then, sleep well!

Footnotes:
(1) Link courtesy of Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt newsletter of March 24th. And I want to thank Jim for the nightmares that gave me.
(2) Data from the SIPRI milex database.


Never embarrass Vladimir Putin

March 6, 2015
"I won"

“Leave no witnesses”

Because you won’t get a second chance:

Russian secret services may have executed the troops suspected of shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, say sources involved in the investigation of the crash over eastern Ukraine.

The Dutch-led probe is leaning towards a conclusion that a BUK missile fired from rebel-held territory downed the Boeing 777, killing all 298 on board.

And it is highly likely the aircraft was shot out of the sky by Russian military personnel, according to a report by the Netherlands’ state broadcaster NOS, citing anonymous sources in the police and the group of investigators working on the probe into the plane’s loss.

‘My sources believe that these people might have changed their identities or even been executed by Russian secret service in order to hide everything,’ said Dutch journalist Robert Bas.

(…)

And they’re taking “active measures” to make sure they know what the investigators know:

Sources close to the investigation also complain they are under siege from persistent attempts by Russian secret services to hack their computer system and plant spyware software on their smartphones, reported NOS.

Phones and laptops used by investigators in Ukraine had to be ‘destroyed’ subsequently because they were infected with spyware, it was claimed.

Even home communications devices of police officers on the investigation were removed because they were ‘contaminated’, it was alleged.

Well, what else would you expect from a country run by an ex-KGB colonel who thinks the fall of the USSR is the great geopolitical catastrophe of the age?

This report shows again that, to use a baseball analogy, we’re dealing with a foe who plays hardball, while our leaders aren’t even playing softball. They’re playing Tee-ball.

Only this game has no “mercy rule.”

 


Is Russia behind the European anti-fracking demonstrations?

December 2, 2014
Drill, baby, drill!

Drill, baby, drill!

Plunging oil prices are hurting Russia natural-resources-dependent economy, threatening to throw it into recession along with a collapsing ruble. That’s not a good thing to have happen, but especially not when Moscow’s aggressive behavior has brought them into conflict with the West and earned them economic sanctions.

Part of the problem (from the Kremlin’s point of view) is that the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technological revolution has lead to a renaissance in US oil production — we’re now one of the largest oil producers in the world, with vast reserves. We even export more than we import. And this revolution has just begun. Other nations are very interested in using fracking to bring down drilling costs, promising a larger supply on the market and concomitantly bringing crude prices down, to almost everyone’s benefit.

Well, everyone except Vladimir Putin, that is. A deep fall in Russian revenues thanks to fracking would threaten his glorious plans, the Russian economy, and maybe the stability of his rule. Consequently, we shouldn’t be surprised when people start to wonder if those anti-fracking demonstrations in Europe aren’t being ginned up in Moscow:

PUNGESTI, Romania — Vlasa Mircia, the mayor of this destitute village in eastern Romania, thought he had struck it rich when the American energy giant Chevron showed up here last year and leased a plot of land he owned for exploratory shale gas drilling.

But the encounter between big business and rural Romania quickly turned into a nightmare. The village became a magnet for activists from across the country opposed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Violent clashes broke out between the police and protesters. The mayor, one of the few locals who sided openly with Chevron, was run out of town, reviled as a corrupt sellout in what activists presented as a David versus Goliath struggle between impoverished farmers and corporate America.

“I was really shocked,” recalled the mayor, who is now back at his office on Pungesti’s main, in fact only, street. “We never had protesters here and suddenly they were everywhere.”

Pointing to a mysteriously well-financed and well-organized campaign of protest, Romanian officials including the prime minister say that the struggle over fracking in Europe does feature a Goliath, but it is the Russian company Gazprom, not the American Chevron.

Gazprom, a state-controlled energy giant, has a clear interest in preventing countries dependent on Russian natural gas from developing their own alternative supplies of energy, they say, preserving a lucrative market for itself — and a potent foreign policy tool for the Kremlin.

“Everything that has gone wrong is from Gazprom,” Mr. Mircia said.

This belief that Russia is fueling the protests, shared by officials in Lithuania, where Chevron also ran into a wave of unusually fervent protests and then decided to pull out, has not yet been backed up by any clear proof. And Gazprom has denied accusations that it has bankrolled anti-fracking protests. But circumstantial evidence, plus large dollops of Cold War-style suspicion, have added to mounting alarm over covert Russian meddling to block threats to its energy stranglehold on Europe.

Via Power Line, where you can read a healthy reminder that this wouldn’t be new behavior for the Russians, as anyone who remembers the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s knows.  (Hint: All those innocent no-war types were being played for suckers by the KGB.)

If we had an administration interested in the intelligent development of America’s resources and also undercutting Putin where’s he’s most vulnerable –and hopefully we will in a couple of years– we could do a lot to jump-start our own economy and “encourage” Vlad to settle down by shutting off his money at the tap.

Still, that the Russians feel a need to break out the old KGB playbook shows how worried they are. And that sound you hear is me weeping in sympathy.

No, wait. It’s not. Not at all.

What you hear is me laughing.


Russia on the march: 10 reasons Putin is likely to invade eastern Ukraine

March 30, 2014
"I won"

“Can’t touch this.”

There’s a good article by Michael Weiss giving a list of reasons why Russia’s Vladimir Putin is probably going to make a move soon to take over Ukraine’s largely ethnic-Russian eastern regions. It’s well-worth reading; Weiss covers the realities of power, political considerations, and Russian military movements (1). He also brings up a motive that’s psychological, but I think it fits. Let’s see what you think:

2. Putin enjoys embarrassing the United States, and especially its current commander-in-chief.

On Feb. 28, Obama warned that “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine” — before high-tailing it to a Democratic National Committee cocktail party at the Washington Hilton. The next day, the world awoke to a Russian invasion of Crimea. “Rarely has a threat from a U.S. president been dismissed as quickly — and comprehensively — as Obama’s warning on Friday night,” the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson reported. And let’s look at the laundry list of American desires and warnings the Kremlin has brushed aside: Russia has dramatically increased its arms transfers to Syria since the chemical disarmament deal was struck last fall. It continues to host fugitive NSA spy Edward Snowden. And during the midst of the Maidan protests, Russia’s own spies intercepted a phone call between a top U.S. State Department official and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, then leaked the contents of it to Kremlin-controlled media. Moreover, neither Putin nor his inner circle seem terribly aggravated by the current suite of U.S. or EU sanctions or the blockbuster admission by the Treasury Department that Putin — now a staunch patriotic proponent of the “de-offshoreization” of the Russian economy — personally controls assets in Swiss oil commodities giant Gunvor.

While I would never argue that psychological motives are paramount –Putin’s too much of a power realist to fool himself with petty self-gratifications– I’m sure they’re there. Vladimir Putin is an ex-KGB officer, trained to be brutal when necessary. His goals are those of every Russian ruler since the Mongols were driven out: seeking the security of Russia by dominating the states around her and keeping powerful foes at a distance. In America, he sees a nation in short-term decline, creating an opportunity for him to advance those goals. In Obama, he sees a weak, out of his depth, would-be academic beta-male whom he, Vladimir Putin, almost a caricature of the alpha-male, can intimidate to seize that opportunity.

In short, Putin sees Obama as his [you fill in the word] and loves showing that to the world.

You can bet he plans to enjoy that feeling again, soon.

Footnote:
(1) They’re deploying field hospitals. That’s a significant sign it itself.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Crimean “election” and our feckless foreign policy

March 16, 2014
"I won"

“I won”

News has been coming in indicating that the Crimeans have voted with about 93% in favor (1) to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Funny how that works, isn’t it, when there are tens of thousands of Russian troops all over Crimea, not to mention these… “campaign workers:”

Crimea Russia Ukraine mobile artillery

Anyway, I had planned to write about our feckless foreign policy and our pathetic response to Putin’s “19th-century behavior,” but The Diplomad and the XX Committee have both beaten me to it. First the Diplomad:

Silly talk and posturing, the making of grand-sounding statements, and drawing erasable “red lines” all have consequences. One, of course, is that Russia is not likely to undo its actions in Crimea. The Russians, furthermore, have sanction-like weapons of their own such as the messing about with US banks and debt noted above, but not limited only to that. They are major suppliers of gas to Europe and in the past have shown a willingness to interrupt supplies for political purposes.

So while we gut our military, refuse to buy Canadian oil, or become energy independent and a major supplier of energy to Europe, we prattle on and on about sanctions and international law and solidarity with the Syrian opposition Ukraine. As noted before, we could neutralize Russia’s leverage in the world very swiftly, without ever mentioning the word “sanctions.” That, however, requires something we do not have, to wit, patriotic, committed, focused, and decisive leadership.

Metternich and Kissinger, our guys ain’t.

Lewis Amselem, “The Diplomad,” links to a post he wrote describing what we could do to make Putin’s life miserable. I highly recommend it, but, if you haven’t the time to read it, I’ll give you the executive summary: fracking. Putin must be pinching himself at his unbelievable luck, that we have leadership too blinkered by ideology and environmentalist PAC money to do what needs to be done.

Gee, I guess Sarah Palin was right, again, when she said “drill, baby, drill.”

Meanwhile, Naval War College professor John Schindler, writing at The XX Committee, has this to say about our current crop of diplomats and national security personnel:

However, the rot goes far deeper than this White House, and is not confined to any party; indeed, the remarkable decline in American foreign policy over the last generation is one of our few truly bi-partisan national efforts, so there’s no point in fantasizing that an election or two will change this. This sad truth I explained in a recent post which got quite a bit of attention, particularly this part:

“A related factor here surely is that the United States has groomed a whole generation of foreign policy wonks-in-training who lack any real understanding of how the world actually works. These impressive-on-paper people – let it be noted they are legion in both parties – the under-45′s who are always graduates of the right schools and first-rate players of The Game in Washington, DC (which really comes down to cultivating the right mentors who will guide you to the proper think-tank until your party returns to power), are no match for the stone-cold killers of the Kremlin, led by the Chekist-in-Chief Putin. They have grown up in a world where unipolar American power has never been challenged, and while they can utter pleasant, Davos-ready platitudes about the whole range of bien pensant issues – global warming, emerging trends in micro-finance, gender matters on the Subcontinent, et al – they have quite literally nothing to say when old-school conventional threats emerge and enemies – yes, enemies: not rivals or merely misunderstood would-be partners – emerge from the darkness with conquest and killing on their minds.”

We’re in the best of hands, no? Our leadership prattles on about how dismembering other countries “just isn’t done,” while Vladimir Putin goes right ahead and does it.

Anyway, I suggest you put both sites in your feed reader, if you haven’t already. The insights they provide are invaluable.

RELATED: Did you know Putin has recently reported as saying that the breakup of the USSR was illegal? That should make the Evil Empire’s former satrapies happy, especially as more Russian troops mass at Ukraine’s borders for “exercises.” Oh, and Russia’s toadies in Belarus have mobilized, too. And if you wonder what Russia has in mind, besides keeping access to a Black Sea port (Sevastopol) and thus the Mediterranean, have a look at these maps.

Obama and Kerry blather about the “international community” and “sanctions,” but it’s really all about the realities of power. Putin gets it, they don’t.

Footnote:
(1) Sloppy, Vlad. Kim Jong Un will be disappointed in you.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)