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Posts tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

The Cold War Was Only on Vacation.


The Crimea is lost. The challenge now is to avoid a wider conflict with a Russia bent on absorbing more territory and further extending its influence into Eastern Europe.

To avoid an eventual choice between feeding Russia’s appetite for its lost empire and a hot war, European and U.S. leaders must embrace expensive and politically tough economic and defense choices.

Save petroleum, aluminum and a few less significant products, the Russian economy is broadly uncompetitive in global markets. Oil and gas account for 75 percent of exports and 50 percent of Moscow’s revenues, and Russia depends on imports from the European Union for technology and many consumer goods. It even buys ships to modernize its navy from France.

U.S. and European economic sanctions on Russian political and military leaders responsible for the Crimean invasion would make a statement, but are unlikely to have any tangible impact on Vladimir Putin’s behavior. However, if the Europeans phase out purchases of Russia’s gas, it has few options to sell it elsewhere. Putin would be starved for cash to finance his military and spread benefits to political cronies.

Replacing Russian gas — which accounts for 30 percent of European supplies — won’t be cheap or pleasant. They must frack to develop shale gas, re-embrace nuclear power and accelerate solar and other alternatives.

For French shipbuilders, German equipment manufacturers and technology and consumer goods producers throughout Europe, cutting off Russia’s most important source of hard currency to buy what they make would be wrenching. Still, it would impose far more systemically destabilizing penalties on Russia.

More than Russian guns won the referendum in the Crimea for Putin. The sad state of the economy and political corruption in the Ukraine made the former Russian possession vulnerable to reacquisition.

To halt Russian expansion, the European Union must do much more to assimilate the Ukraine and other former Soviet states into the Western economy by building infrastructure and moving significantly more industry into these regions, buying a lot more of their exports and imposing aggressive conditions for economic and political reforms in exchange for those benefits.

All of this would be provocative to Moscow and require rebuilding NATO forces, and moving those further east into Romania, the Baltic and aggressively courting cooperation with Belarus.

The Germans and the Americans have the economic resources, but have demonstrated inadequate commitments to giving real meaning to the economic and security commitments the West made to Eastern Europe, for example, through the 1994 Ukrainian security agreement, at the end of the Cold War.

Now, Putin and his political allies, chastened by the loss of an empire and emboldened by Russia’s petroleum wealth, are exploiting western neglect of former Soviet states.

In America, President Obama’s economic policies have boiled down to raising taxes, cutting defense spending and building out a European-style welfare state — universal healthcare and broadening the earned income tax credit. And he has ducked pension and benefits reform that greatly limit the punch of the U.S. military.

Stiffening NATO commitments to Eastern Europe would require German and U.S. governments to step up and pay for stronger militaries, and for the Americans to reform a bloated Pentagon.

In Germany and the United States, taxes are already quite high, even by Cold War standards, and the obvious tradeoff between guns and butter would hit the Obama and Merkel governments where it hurts most — their standing with voters who have come to expect wider and wider welfare benefits.

The greatest courage will be required from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, or each will bequeath to their successors a much more dangerous world.

Russia will enjoy a stranglehold over European energy supplies and boast a modernized military to gradually coop and reclaim former Soviet states and expand its influence throughout Europe.

The Cold War never really ended, it just took a Black Sea vacation.

© 2014 Moneynews. All rights reserved.

 

Kasparov: Appease Putin and He’ll Come Back for More.


Image: Kasparov: Appease Putin and He'll Come Back for More

 

By Elliot Jager

Vladimir Putin is neither a modern-day Hitler nor a master strategist. He is best understood as a bellicose poker player up against a bunch of docile opponents, Garry Kasparov writes in Politico.

Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation in New York, who was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet Union, writes that he has dedicated himself “to opposing Vladimir Putin’s campaign to destroy democracy and civil liberties in Russia.”

What Putin has going for him that his Soviet precursors did not is unhindered entrée to international markets and institutions, Kasparov says. “Putin’s oligarchs bank in London, party in the Alps, and buy penthouses in New York and Miami, all while looting Russia under the auspices of a reborn KGB police state.”

European authorities have enabled Putin by facilitating his regime’s access to Western capital. Western banks helped underwrite the Kremlin takeover of dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos oil empire, Kasparov writes.

Putin rules like an authoritarian communist dictator but acts like a Western mogul. He is no Hitler, but “turning the other cheek” to him “just gets you slapped again,” Kasparov writes.

President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are mistaken to worry about possible “instability” and “high costs” in confronting Putin. What “could be worse than the instability caused by the partial annexation of a European country by a nuclear dictatorship, carried out with impunity?”  Kasparov asks.

Merkel seems to now appreciate the urgency of standing up to Putin, he notes.

Kasparov’s conclusion is that “Putin is no master strategist. He’s an aggressive poker player facing weak opposition from a Western world that has become so risk-averse that it would rather fold than call any bluff, no matter how good its cards are.”

He’s no Hitler, but Kasparov writes the instructive analogy is that “appeasing a dictator” and “greedily grabbing at an ephemeral peace” in the face of aggression is a recipe for war in the long run.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Crimeans Overwhelmingly Vote for Secession.


SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — The head of the referendum committee in Ukraine’s Crimea region says more than 95 percent of voters have approved splitting off and joining Russia.

Mikhail Malishev said the initial result came after more than 50 percent of the ballots had been counted.

Speaking two hours after polls closed, Malishev said turnout was 83 percent — a high figure given that many who opposed the move had said they would boycott the vote.

Western powers and leaders in Kiev denounced it as a sham.

Underlining how Moscow’s military takeover of the peninsula two weeks ago has driven Russia and the West into a crisis with echoes of the Cold War, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama spoke by telephone and, according to the Kremlin, the Russian and U.S. presidents agreed on a need to cooperate to stabilise Ukraine.

“This referendum is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution,” a White House spokesman said. “The international community will not recognise the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.”

The Kremlin said Putin told Obama the referendum was legitimate and he expressed concern about the Ukrainian government’s failure to stamp out violence against Russian speakers in the country.

“Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin drew attention to the inability and unwillingness of the present authorities in Kiev to curb rampant violence by ultra-nationalist and radical groups that destabilise the situation and terrorise civilians, including the Russian-speaking population,” the Kremlin said.

It said Putin suggested European monitors should be sent to all parts of Ukraine because of the violence.

Kiev said Moscow’s build-up of forces in the Black Sea peninsula was in “crude violation” of an international treaty, and announced plans to arm and train 20,000 members of a newly-created National Guard.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Moscow that Washington would not accept the outcome of the vote in the region, which has an ethnic Russian majority and was transferred to Ukraine by Soviet rulers only 60 years ago.

The White House also warned Moscow to expect sanctions while foreign ministers from the European Union, which has major trade ties with Russia, will decide on possible similar action in Brussels on Monday.

But Putin rejected Western accusations that the referendum was illegal, saying it respected the will of the Crimean people, while his foreign ministry said it had agreed with the United States to seek a solution to the crisis through constitutional reform.

 

In Kiev, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk threatened dire consequences for the Crimean politicians who had called the vote, saying separatist “ringleaders” wanted to destroy Ukrainian independence “under the cover of Russian troops”.

“We will find all of them – if it takes one year, two years – and bring them to justice and try them in Ukrainian and international courts. The ground will burn under their feet,” he told a cabinet meeting.

Yatseniuk had just returned from a U.S. trip where he won expressions of moral support but no offers of weapons. Kiev’s pro-European rulers, who took power after last month’s fall of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich to popular unrest, have been as powerless as Western governments to prevent the referendum or buildup of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory.

At a polling booth at a school in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, dozens of people lined up outside to cast their ballots early.

“I have voted for Russia,” said Svetlana Vasilyeva, 27, a veterinary nurse. “This is what we have been waiting for. We are one family and we want to live with our brothers.”

Vasilyeva voiced fears common among some of Ukraine’s native Russian-speakers about the consequences of Yanukovich’s exit after protests in which over 100 people were killed. “We want to leave Ukraine because Ukrainians told us that we are people of a lower kind. How can you stay in such a country?” she said.

But ethnic Tatars – Sunni Muslims who make up 12 percent of Crimea’s population – said they would boycott the vote despite promises by the regional authorities to give them financial aid and proper land rights.

“This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not? Who asked me?” said Shevkaye Assanova, a Crimean Tatar in her 40s. “For the rest of my life I will be cursing those who brought these people here. I don’t recognise this at all. I curse all of them.”

 

Crimea’s 1.5 million voters had two options: union with Russia or giving their region, which is controlled by pro-Kremlin politicians, the broad right to determine its own path and choose relations with whom it wants – including Moscow.

A local Tatar television channel broadcast the count at one small polling station. It took just a few minutes for officials to stack up the papers, virtually in a single pile. One gave the result as: “166 for, 2 against, 1 spoiled”. By “for” she clearly meant the first option on the paper, for union with Russia.

Russia has the right to keep forces on the Black Sea peninsula, including at its naval base in the port of Sevastopol, under a treaty signed after Ukraine gained independence from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But Ukrainian acting defence minister Ihor Tenyukh accused Moscow of going far beyond an agreed limit on servicemen – which he said was 12,500 for 2014.

“Unfortunately, in a very short period of time, this 12,500 has grown to 22,000. This is a crude violation of the bilateral agreements and is proof that Russia has unlawfully brought its troops onto the territory of Crimea,” he said.

This figure had risen from 18,400 on Friday. “Let me say once again that this is our land and we will not be leaving it,” he told Interfax news agency.

Tenyukh later said that the defence ministries in Kiev and Moscow had declared a truce until March 21 during which Russian forces, who have been arriving by boat and helicopter, would leave Ukrainian military facilities untouched.

Many Crimeans hope union with Russia will bring better pay and make them citizens of a country capable of asserting itself on the world stage. But others saw the referendum as a land grab by the Kremlin from Ukraine, whose new rulers want to move the country towards the European Union and away from Russia’s sway.

Putin defended the vote in a phone call on Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying it complied with international law, including Article 1 of the U.N. Charter which states the principle of self-determination of peoples. “It was emphasized that Russia will respect the choice of the Crimean people,” a Kremlin statement said.

Putin has said he must protect the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine from “fascists” in Kiev who ousted Yanukovich. Western powers largely dismiss his characterisation of the new authorities as successors of Nazi-allied Ukrainian forces which fought the Red Army in World War Two.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Kerry on Sunday to encourage authorities in Kiev to stop what he called “massive lawlessness” against the Russian-speaking population.

In their second phone conversation in two days, Lavrov and Kerry agreed to seek a solution to the crisis by pushing for constitutional reforms in Ukraine, Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

However, Kerry told Lavrov that the United States would not accept the referendum result and said Russia must pull back its forces to their bases, a senior State Department official said.

The White House also warned Putin that he faces international isolation that will hurt Russia’s economy. “You can expect sanctions designations in the coming days,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told NBC’s Meet the Press.

The administration is preparing to identify Russians whom the United States will seek to punish with visa bans and asset freezes that President Obama authorised last week.

At the United Nations, 13 Security Council members voted for a draft resolution on Saturday saying the Crimea result should not be recognised internationally, but Moscow exercised its veto while China abstained.

Tensions over Crimea appear also to be spreading in cyberspace. Unidentified hackers brought down several public NATO websites with attacks on Saturday, the alliance said.

Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Twitter that the attacks, which began on Saturday evening, continued on Sunday, although most services had now been restored.

“It doesn’t impede our ability to command and control our forces. At no time was there any risk to our classified networks,” another NATO official said.

A group calling itself “cyber berkut” – named after riot police formally disbanded by the central powers in Kiev – said the attack had been carried out by patriotic Ukrainians angry over what they saw as NATO interference in their country.

Apart from Crimea, tension is also running high in parts of the Russian-speaking industrialised east of Ukraine near the border with Russia, with clashes between rival demonstrators that Moscow has seized on to support its case that ethnic Russians are being victimised.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: Newsmax.com

Elliott Abrams: US Companies Must Not Dictate Russian Policy.


As tensions mount over Russia’s aggression into Crimea, a handful of American companies with business interests in Russia must not dictate U.S. foreign policy as the White House considers economic sanctions, said Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush.

“We can’t have our foreign policy determined by a few companies that are going to have some investments marked down,” Abrams, also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Fox News’ “Happening Now.”

Story continues below video.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held last-minute talks with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergey Lavrov on Friday over security in Ukraine before a vote in Crimea Sunday. Citizens of the region of Ukraine will decide if they want to rejoin Russia. U.S. lawmakers are considering economic sanctions to punish Russia for invading Crimea, and to deter further aggression into Ukraine.

Abrams suggested the White House was afraid of how Russian President Vladimir Putin would respond if the United States decided to impose sanctions against Russia. He said the administration of President Barack Obama might be fearful Putin would “hurt some American companies that are invested in Russia.”

“Putin is trying to scare us. And I’m actually unhappy, disappointed that he seems to be succeeding — not in the State Department. But he seems to be scaring people in the White House,” Abrams said.

Abrams called it “bizarre” for the United States to fear Russia’s reaction to sanctions.

Abrams said U.S. credibility in the world could be destroyed “if the Russians commit this kind of aggression, and we don’t even impose sanctions.”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

By Wanda Carruthers

James Baker: Ukraine Crisis is New Cold War.


The crisis in Ukraine has the potential for spiraling out of control and could lead to “serious problems in the heart of Europe,” says former Secretary of State James Baker.

“It is clearly the most serious East-West confrontation since the end of the Cold War,” Baker said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

“For someone who was the last U.S. secretary of state during the Cold War, it’s very disappointing to me to see that we’re moving now from cooperation with Russia to confrontation again.”

Story continues below video.

Baker was secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1992.

Baker said he has no substantial disagreement with the way the Obama administration has handled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine so far, but added, “I’m not sure that all of this would have happened had we stuck with our red lines.”

Many Republicans have blamed President Barack Obama’s waffling over a “red line” he set with Syria over use of chemical weapons. When it was revealed last year the Bashar Assad regime had used the weapons on Syrian civilians, Obama first promised action, then went to Congress and allies.

Both Congress and the United Kingdom balked at backing an attack, and the situation was resolved only after Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to monitor Syria’s elimination of its chemical weapons stockpile.

Baker said he doesn’t agree with those who think Putin sees Obama as weak after that confrontation. But he does think Putin sees Obama as inconsistent.

Baker said he hopes a diplomatic solution can be reached because he thinks there’s no good endgame for the Russian Federation.

The risks are “very substantial,” Baker said, of the situation turning into more than a “small new Cold War, which I think we are pretty much in right now. I look at this as a Cold War lite.”
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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Greg Richter

Gingrich: Obama Ineffective No Matter Where He Is.


Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered a “defense” of President Barack Obama during the closing day of the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday.

“A lot of people are criticizing him for going to Key Largo” for vacation while the crisis in the Ukraine still rages, Gingrich told a full house at the Maryland conference. “The president spent all of last week proving that he was capable of being as ineffective in Key Largo as he is in the White House.”

Gingrich, to laughs from the audience, challenged them to also stand up for the president.

“[You should] stand up for Obama’s right to be utterly ineffective wherever he happens to be,” said Gingrich. “Don’t expect more than that, because you ain’t gonna get it.”

Story continues below video.

But while Gingrich poked fun at Obama’s ineffectiveness, he offered a serious warning to his audience: Don’t focus solely on what the Democrats are doing wrong.

“If our movement is primarily anti-Obama, we will reduce our number of victories,” said Gingrich. “If we focus on Hillary, we will lose.”

Instead, he said, conservatives must emphasise that “it is what we do that is right, not what the left is doing that is wrong.”

Gingrich believes conservatives can “break out” if there is a combination made of American exceptionalism along with science and technology.

By using science and technology, said Gingrich, America can move into the future free from  the efforts of the “prison guards of the past” who do all they can to block the nation’s future.

For example, he said, newly elected New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is blocking charter schools because of his support from the teacher’s union, “the biggest blockers of the future.”

He continued that if the United States had the government in the 1800s it has now, stagecoach lobbyists would have fought to keep trains from running faster than horses.

But there are many keys to the future that conservatives can embrace for now. For example, take the smartphone, he said, joking that with iPhone’s Siri “you no longer need a map because you have some woman telling you where to go.”

On a more serious note, he decried the Food and Drug Administration’s takeover of the approval of health-related apps on smartphones.

Such acts go against conservatives’ hopes for an “effective, accountable government under the Constitution,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich said the future also holds hope for the energy industry, especially with the development of hydraulic fracking.

“We are now once again the largest producer of natural gas in the world, ” said Gingrich. “If this president had any sense of seriousness about Russia, he would have signed an order to ship natural gas to Europe.”

Further, Gingrich said that the president should tell Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States is going to drive down the price of oil Russia is bankrupt.

“A poverty-stricken Putin is not a dangerous Putin,” said Gingrich, noting that the United States can develop strategies to weaken Russia in ways that are peaceful, just as late President Ronald Reagan did years ago.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Pete Hoekstra: What Happens in Ukraine Doesn’t Stay in Ukraine.


Russia has invaded Ukraine militarily and electronically. Already strained, P5 plus 1 negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons programs are breaking down.

Examined in isolation they would appear to be international outliers existing separately in their own vacuums. But are they really?

Not at all. What happens in Ukraine doesn’t stay in Ukraine.

What happens in Iran doesn’t stay in Iran. Events in the two countries are in fact closely intertwined.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has always resented the collapse of the Soviet Union and harbors ambitions in which he absorbs the breakaway sovereign satellite states – such as Ukraine – to once again become a global superpower.

At the same time, a defiant Iran continues to advance its nuclear weapons programs, expand its sphere of influence, extend its support of global terror, build its ballistic missile stockpile, and grow its cyber capabilities.

Both Russia and Iran have significant global aspirations and view the United States as the biggest obstacle to achieving their goals. Recent events have pushed Russia and Iran closer together, which will result in dangerous consequences for the United States.

Russia always had very few reasons to support the West during negotiations over lifting sanctions on Iran in exchange for halting its nuclear weapons program. It now has no reason to support the coalition given its aggression in Ukraine against strong Western opposition.

The nuclear talks with Iran will now inevitably fail without Russian support, and there will be no hope of re-imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Events in Ukraine will provide Iran with a significant amount of time to further work on its nuclear weapons program and build upon an already well-developed cyber capability.

The cyber capability may be the most troubling. Cyber reaches globally and crosses borders effortlessly. It can cause massive damage and is difficult to attribute.

Only a few years ago most experts rated Iran at tier two or tier three in its cyber capabilities. Today, with Russian assistance, Iran has closed the gap significantly and ranks closely behind tier one cyber powers such as the United States, China, and Israel. Experts are not only surprised, but they are perplexed at how Iran could have made up so much ground so quickly.

Iran’s cyber warfare program is now sophisticated enough to have carried out attacks on major U.S. financial institutions and penetrate into an unclassified U.S. Navy computer network that reportedly took four months to resolve.

Russia will continue its support for Iran’s aspirations of having a world class cyber warfare capability, both offensive and defensive.

Russia will also continue to extend its own global sphere of influence by antagonizing its neighbors and by moving into a perceived vacuum in Middle Eastern affairs created in part by Syria’s brutal civil war. Russia and Iran have long been suspected of sending weapons and other support to the Bashar al-Assad as the civilian death toll mounts.

The national security calculus for the United States is changing dramatically. It has at its core a developing relationship between Russia and Iran, an Iran with its nuclear program, terrorism support competencies intact, and a tier one cyber capability: none of which bodes well for the United States or the West.

Recent events should teach us that we cannot view any development in isolation, that it would be wise to consider the unintended consequences of any action or inaction.

What happens in Ukraine doesn’t stay in Ukraine. It can have ripple effects that alter the national security map around the world.

Pete Hoekstra is the former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the Shillman Senior Fellow with the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

By Pete Hoekstra

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