Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Up to 100 Russian military personnel in Ukraine

The Atlantic Council hosted an online discussion with Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, the head of Ukraine’s State Security Service (the Sluzhba Bezpeki Ukrainiy, or SBU).  Nalyvaichenko claims that there may be 100 individuals from Russia's military intelligence and special forces currently in the Ukraine organising the militant opposition to the interim government. He believes that Russia has activated networks established in recent years:
“For the last – we now understand -- two or three years,” officers of Russia’s GRU “have created very covert but well-structurized networks with agents, with pro-Russian organizations, involving in such illegal activity many Ukrainians,” he said. Those networks are most developed in Crimea, which Russia seized and annexed in March, and in eastern Ukraine, Nalyvaichenko said. “Russian military officers … are the main provocateurs and main organizers” of the uprisings in the east, recruiting sympathizers and paying local criminal gangs to help attack local governments. “We for sure know now who are they, I mean those Russian officers,” Nalyvaichenko said. “They are very dangerous, well armed, [and] for years before prepared to do what they are doing now.”
 And he's named names:
The SBU has named one of those as Colonel Igor Strelkov, who it says also coordinated preparations for Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Memories of better days: Manchester United


From the 1968 European Cup.

Counterfactual of the day: USSR endgame

The career track of Boris Yeltsin had as much as anything else to do with the political shape events in the Soviet Union would take later in 1991. Yeltsin had risen to senior posts in the union power structure before having a falling out with Gorbachev and others in the Soviet regime. He happened to make his political comeback in the government of the Russian republic, and was elected president of that republic in mid-1991. Thus Yeltsin was in that position when he climbed atop a tank to face down the Soviet hardliners who attempted a coup in August while Gorbachev was vacationing at his dacha in Crimea. This meant that once the coup was defeated and Gorbachev's power waned as Yeltsin's waxed, power went from the union government to the Russian republic. Yeltsin scooped up union ministries and made them Russian ones, and when Gorbachev resigned as the last Soviet president later in the year there was barely a shell of a union government left.
It is plausible to imagine a different scenario in which the government structures that emerged from the wreckage of the U.S.S.R. would have looked substantially different. Suppose Yeltsin had taken his defiant, tank-climbing action not as president of the Russian republic but as a reformist party chief of the Moscow region—a job he had once held, along with sitting on the politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Perhaps this would have meant significant power remaining at the level of a reconstituted union.

Cultural barriers in talking about arms control

Jeffrey Lewis features in this podcast discussing Russia's alleged circumvention of the INF treaty. Listening I felt a hint of what it might be like for women to listen to men talking about "being a woman" or for African-Americans to overhear a discussion between to white liberals about "being black in America." There something about the tone of the discussion, it reaches my ear as if from a great height; proclaiming an innocence while reproducing a highly prejudiced discourse. I don't find fault with technical aspects of the podcast, Lewis is as usual, concise and clear. What offends me is the discussion of the other - in this case the Russians - who are attributed certain behavioural  attributes that are deemed to be unique to them; in the main paranoia. I tend to treat with caution any discussion of culture as a determining factor in human behaviour; too often it's the way bigotry is made respectable. I am apparently to believe that at no point have American policymakers exhibited anything that I might recognise as paranoia; as if no one ever attributed a paranoid style to American politics; as if American Cold War debates never featured claims about American weakness and the threat of domestic subversion or imminent Soviet attack. Listening to the podcast, I thought I was reminded about how Americans when talking about the "Arab street" lament the conspiracy theories of Arabs. Sure enough, Mr. Stein - Lewis's partner in the podcast - mentioned his experience living in Turkey and - yep - the popularity of conspiracy theories. 

When talking about nuclear weapons to an American understand certain things:

  • The United States did not want to nuclear weapons but only attained them because of fears that the Germans would;
  • The United States only used nuclear weapons to - please keep a straight face - save lives;
  • The United States wanted to get rid of its nuclear weapons but unfortunately other states would not cooperate;
  • Freedom and democracy depends on the United States having nuclear weapons;
  • American can be trusted to adhere to all treaties;  in regard to everyone else - trust but verify. 
  • Missile defence is essential to American security because the United States faces grave threats from irrational leaders who posses or may posses nuclear weapons. 
  • In no way does missile defence indicate an American desire to establish nuclear dominance-  if not a nuclear monopoly - over states it is in competition with. 

None of the above statements are entirely false - shades of grey and all that - but in totality they represent a general disposition that assumes American innocence and goodwill. Believing things about ourselves does not make them true, and Americans -- notwithstanding the fashionable sensibility towards irreverence and cynicism - do not deviate from the position that they are proposing policies that either are of mutual benefit or serve some higher ideals. America's withdrawal from the ABM Treaty; its decision to expand Nato and presumably the circumference of its nuclear umbrella so that it begins to shade Russia's borders; are never to be understood as threatening or hostile actions. That's Russian paranoia for you. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

A one state solution?

Paradoxically, the discerning Palestinian observer may find comfort in America’s failure to stop Israel from expanding its settlements (and thus effectively annexing a growing share of Palestinian land), for it ends the charade on which the peace process has been based. The most likely outcome now is the establishment of a single unified country within the borders of the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine, including all of present-day Israel and the occupied territories.
In other words, Israel and Palestine are moving inexorably toward the establishment of a binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Such a state will be based on one of two mutually exclusive principles: equal rights for all of its inhabitants or some form of apartheid, characterized by Jewish control and Palestinian subordination.
That is the view from where Mahammed Ayoob stands.  


Friday, 18 April 2014

Obama ignores Canada

The Obama administration announced today that a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline would be delayed for an indefinite period; most likely till after the November mid-term elections. The Harper government was adamant that a decision be made soon; Obama decided that his party's prospects in the mid-term elections were more important. No one is surprised. The simple lessons are:

  • An export industry is dependent on policy decisions in a foreign market over which it and the government in the exporting state may have little influence. It's future is subject to the whims of others. So you can guess what that means for an export oriented economy. 
  • The Harper government is the enemy the environmentalists opposing Keystone want. Putin is the great defender of human rights; Benjamin Netanyahu the friend of the Palestinians and Stephen Harper a climate change crusader.  
  • The US election cycle opens and closes windows to achieve policy objectives.  It imposes its own rhythm on America's foreign relations. 
  • The American political system is far more susceptible to interest group pressure than Westminster parliamentary systems. How else can anyone explain the softwood lumber issue?
  • The decision to defer generally suits both parties political interests therefore a deferral was all the more likely. 
  • Canada has no way of imposing any costs on the US that isn't self defeating , in a case like that, US domestic politics dominates the decision making process. 

Sometimes empathy gets in the way

Matt Waldman rues America's failure to take Atticus Finch's advice in Afghanistan -- climb into someone else's skin and walk around it:
Empathy, in this sense, is rational and cognitive. Is a tool for understanding the way another person thinks, feels or perceives. It enables us to comprehend another’s mindset, driving emotions or outlook, without requiring us to share the other’s thoughts, feelings and perceptions, or, indeed, approve of them. An empathic approach involves the assimilation of diverse information, including social, historical and psychological details, and a conscious effort to see the world through that person’s eyes. Thus, it serves the first demand of strategy: know your enemy. Crucially, empathy can help leaders anticipate how enemies and perceived allies are likely to act and react, and help avoid strategic errors.
The CIA understood. The Taliban had to be defeated by Afghans with US forces acting in support only.  But then the mission transformed into an occupation and when has an occupation ever been conducted with empathy?