Streetwise Professor

April 20, 2014

May the Farce Be With You, Geneva Edition

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 4:46 pm

Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

Perhaps the best interpretation of Geneva, 2014, is that it is the farcical doppelgänger of Munich, 1938.

It was apparent to anyone not willfully blind that Geneva was doomed to failure. There was no enforcement mechanism. And within hours, it became clear that the Russians intended to use the agreement as a reason to ratchet up its offensive against the Kiev government, and had no intention to force evacuation of any buildings by its forces in eastern Ukraine. The Russians are demanding that the Kiev government go after any group that Moscow does not like.

And you know what will happen. The Russians will use the failure of Kiev  to bend to their will as a pretext for refusing to do anything in Donestk, and for invading or supporting separatists.

I have to conclude that Kerry enjoys getting punked by Lavrov in Geneva. If he doesn’t, why does he do it so regularly?

Insofar as enforcement is concerned, the Geneva agreement lays out a special role for the OSCE. But check out this organizations description of its activities in Ukraine. Totally passive. Merely an observer. I’ve heard of alpha males. I’ve heard of beta males. OSCE comes off as omega males. Who have been eunuched.

And not surprisingly, the Russian forces in eastern Ukraine are totally blowing them off.

But don’t worry, OSCE is going to persuade them with sweet reason!:

After a meeting in Kiev on Saturday with diplomats from the four parties to the Geneva accord, Swiss envoy Christian Schoenenberger, whose country is chair of the OSCE, said its monitors had already spoken to the separatists: “For the time being the political will is not there to move out,” he said.

“That’s the task of the monitors, to create this political will, inform the people, so eventually they will understand that the best option for them is to move out,” he told reporters.

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or pound my head against the wall.

The article I linked to is titled “Surrender talks set with separatists in Ukraine.” It is beyond obvious that it is OSCE whose surrender is being negotiated.

But the farce does not end with Geneva. Perhaps stung by the criticism of his dancing to organ grinder Vladimir’s tune, Eddie Snowden penned a defense of his conduct that ran in the Guardian. Never fear, people, the article had its allotted content of narcissistic Snowden gasbaggery. (Just how many times do you have to mention risking your life, Ed.) But the best (and by best, I mean worst) part was this:

Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.

When this event comes around next year, I hope we’ll see more questions on surveillance programs and other controversial policies. But we don’t have to wait until then. For example, journalists might ask for clarification as to how millions of individuals’ communications are not being intercepted, analysed or stored, when, at least on a technical level, the systems that are in place must do precisely that in order to function.

I have to say it. What planet does this guy live on?

Journalists? You mean the ones that are beaten or killed if they challenge Putin? (The name Politkovskaya ring a bell, Ed?) Civil society? You mean the individuals and organizations that Putin and the Russian state have relentlessly ground into the dust over the past several years?

And just what answer would Snowden expect Putin to deliver to any journalist-with-a-death-wish who poses these questions?

Snowden’s Guardian piece comes off as more of a taunt than serious defense. He was only allowed to ask his question because the FSB approved it, and set up the entire apparatus for him to ask it. The Guardian article means nothing, because the Russians have to at least attempt to maintain the pretense that Snowden is not the organ grinder’s monkey that he actually is.

To show how farcical this is, check out Kucherena’s explanation of the situation:

Mr. Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, denied his client had been pressured to participate.

“He decided to do this himself. There was no negotiation with the Kremlin,” he said. “Edward had the opportunity, so he asked the question.” Questions could be submitted ahead of the event in writing or in video form via a website or mobile application.

Um, just how did this “opportunity” magically appear?

Kucherena’s risible attempt to claim that this was not an FSB-arranged performance is the most telling proof that it was an FSB-arranged circus.

One more item in the farcical chronicles.  German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier is pimping for Putin harder than ever:

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he wished as much emphasis would be placed on preventing an escalation of tensions with Russia over Ukraine as there is at the moment in threatening economic sanctions.

In an interview to appear in Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, Steinmeier appeared to be referring to threats from the United States as well as from within Germany about the need for economic sanctions against Russia.

“I sometimes wish that the same engagement being used for the debate about sanctions would also exist when it comes to avoiding a further escalation,” Steinmeier told the Sunday newspaper, according to excerpts released before publication.

Yeah, because Putin is putting so much effort into avoiding escalation.

Steinmeier is a snake at the bosom of the western alliance. Germany is totally compromised, and the US must accept that when crafting its own actions, such as they are. Germany is giving more proof by the day that whatever resources NSA devoted to spying on it, it was not enough.

One piece of news is that the US is considering going after Putin’s billions. I’ll believe it when I see it. For now, that appears to be just another part of the FUD campaign that the US is waging in place of actually doing something. But FUD doesn’t work unless the threats are credible, and the threats aren’t credible unless you carry through on them. Obama has repeatedly failed to do so, and as a result, these whispered and leaked threats will have zero effect whatsoever.

I fear the farce will be with us, for many years to come. The current farce stems from a fatal lack of will in the west, and that is not going away anytime soon.

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April 17, 2014

Ukraine Update: Charlie Brown, Lucy, the Organ Grinder and His Monkey

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 10:05 pm

The farce involving Ukraine continues. Today John “Charlie Brown” Kerry and Sergei “Lucy” Lavrov met in Geneva, the scene of many previous Kerry pratfalls, mostly involving Syria. (Yeah, the Euros were there. Like that matters. Well, I guess someone has to make sure the places are set properly, with the forks in the right spot and all that stuff.)

Even after having Lucy pull the ball away time and again, Charlie Brown had another go at “diplomacy,” which in Russian means “war continued by other means.” In military terms, the Russians treat diplomacy with the US as a delaying action, knowing the US won’t do anything meaningful as the “process” is “working.” In Syria, Assad has used Russian diplomatic cover to turn the tide of war decisively in his favor.

Kerry and Obama have apparently never heard Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Maybe Kerry should hop the train to Bern and visit the Einstein museum. Maybe he’ll collect a clue.

This time around, Putin and the Russians are using the diplomatic pause to delay the implementation of meaningful sanctions. UST is continuing the FUD game, holding meetings with hedge funds and money managers to inquire about their Russian investments, knowing that the inquiries would be leaked, and perhaps spook the markets. But truly throttling sanctions will remain in abeyance as long as the jaw jaw continues. Putin is also using the diplomatic pause to continue infiltration and subversion in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are constrained by their own divisions, and incompetence, but the US is also restraining them while talks continue.

The meetings produced this paean to the passive voice:

All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.

Who is going to do the disarming? The returning? The vacating? The GRU and the 45th Airborne and the locals are just going to say “my bad” and walk away? Really? I see objects here, but no subjects.

This hardly inspires confidence:

It was agreed [more passivity!] that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should play a leading role in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of these deescalation measures wherever they are needed most, beginning in the coming days.

The OSCE? You mean the guys who were prevented from entering Crimea? My confidence is not inspired! (Damn, this passive voice thing is contagious!)

The Russians deny anyone in eastern Ukraine is theirs, so they can disclaim any responsibility. The Ukrainian military is too intimidated to take them on. The OSCE has no army to back it up. So I doubt much disarming, vacating, etc. will actually, you know, be happening.

But I forgot. “Local communities” are going to do it! This is a job for Community Organizer Man! Obama can follow his true calling!

Just one problem. Those “local communities” in large part support the “Pro-Russian” (or “pro-federalist”) forces, to the point of surrounding Ukrainian APCs so that the “local militias” could seize six of them. (As an aside, let’s give the “pro-Russian” bullshit a rest. It is more accurate to say “Russian pros.”) (Actually, the active supporters are few, but characteristic Russian apathy in the vast majority means that a few can achieve their objectives.)

All meaning that this plan will work out about as swell as the plan to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons that Lucy used to entice Charlie into taking a big kick at the Syrian football, winding up flat on his back as always.

But as hard as it is to believe, the comedy in Geneva pales in comparison to the total farce in Moscow, where Putin held one of his call in shows. The whole thing was a carnival of mendacity, all too familiar to discuss in detail. But the banal absurdity of a VVP presser was excelled by a new high (or is it low) in farcicality: Snowden (in another Wizard of Oz appearance on a large screen) asked Putin whether Russia, that paragon of privacy and individual liberty, engaged in mass surveillance against its citizens. “Nous? Nous? Jamais!” responded Vladimir Vladimirovich. Even worse, Putin answered only after acknowledging Snowden as a fellow Chekist, and hence a man he could understand and respect. The pair posed for a photo after the event (Eddie is on the left):

organ-grinder-monkey

There may be some uncertainty as to whether Snowden was Putin’s monkey before he decamped to Sheremetyovo, but there is no doubt now. Eddie is now totally owned and operated by Putin and the FSB.

But despite all this Obama and Kerry think that Putin and Lavrov are legitimate interlocutors, interested in reaching mutually beneficial deals.

David Ignatius had a column in the WaPo yesterday describing the administration as being “flummoxed” by Putin’s refusal to see reality the same way Obama does. Believe me, “flummoxed” is never a good thing.

I swear to God, mirror imaging is going to be the death of the west. Distressingly, good little mouthpiece that he is, Ignatius reports that Obama’s strategy is “to make Putin pay for his adventurism, long term. Unless the Russian leader moves quickly to de-escalate the crisis, the United States will push for measures that could make Russia significantly weaker over the next few years.”

Excuse me while I go bang my forehead on the corner of my desk. In the long term we are all dead. At least a lot of Ukrainians may be.

And the point of this is what, exactly? Just how will this deter Putin? And note that the administration will just be “push[ing] for measures that could make” Russia weaker. Not implementing. Pushing for: what happened to Mr. Executive Order? (Sounds like more community organizing is involved.) Not measures that will make Russia weaker, but “could.” And Putin cares about tomorrow. The long term-whatever.

To give you an idea of Putin’s mindset, and how little he cares about Obama’s incredible threats to push for some measures that could impose some costs at some ill-defined future date, the Russian president used the term Novarossiya to refer to parts of Ukraine. Meaning that his irredentist goals remain, undeterred. (And does anybody else notice that the only thing that Putin criticizes the leaders of the USSR for is their penchant for redrawing borders in ways that put traditional Russian territories outside of the Russian Soviet Socialist Federative Republic?)

Russia is weak economically, demographically, and militarily. The US is none of those things. It is weak by choice, and letting Putin proceed in his irredentist and revanchist mission.

We are so screwed.

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April 14, 2014

Men Without Chests: The Pusillanimity Riot

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 8:33 pm

The egregious pusillanimity, fecklessness, and cravenness in the US, Europe, and Ukraine, metastasizes day by day.

Today Obama, at Putin’s request, spoke with the Russian president.

That’s problem one. Obama should have said: we have nothing to talk about until you call off your dogs in eastern Ukraine, move your troops away from the border, and cease all economic pressure on Ukraine.

And yeah, all the previous five talks made such a big freaking difference. Hasn’t Obama heard about Einstein’s definition of insanity? Or maybe he is a glutton for punishment, and gets some perverse pleasure out of being Putin’s bitch.

Why do you think Putin asked for the call? The most likely explanation is that he gets off on having Obama being his supplicant, and then telling him to sod off.

Obama expressed “grave concern.” Judas Priest, if I hear “grave concern” or “deep concern” or “great concern” one more time I am  going to have a stroke. The most vacuous phrase in the English language, because this airy “concern” is never transformed into action.

It gets worse, if you can believe that’s possible:

[Obama] urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized.

“Use his influence”? Seriously? Barry-they are under Putin’s orders, as anyone with two eyes and a room temperature IQ can understand.

But it gets even worse!

Obama to reassure Putin: Won’t provide lethal aid to Ukraine

The White House on Monday said President Barack Obama would speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin soon, perhaps later in the day, and made clear the United States was not considering lethal aid for Ukraine.

“We are looking at a variety of ways to demonstrate our strong support for Ukraine including diplomatically and economically,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

“We’re not actively considering lethal aid but we are reviewing the kinds of assistance we can provide,” he said

Reassure Putin? Huh? So he can, after being suitably reassured, proceed to gobble up Ukraine with no fear of humiliating defeat, or even breaking a nail?

Here’s a thought: “Hey, Vlad. Remember those Kornet ATGMs that wound up in Hezbollah hands and caused the Israelis huge problems in Lebanon in 2006? Good times, good times. Well, anyways, since one good turn deserves another, we’re supplying  Javelins and TOWs out the wazoo to Ukraine. And we have all these Dragons that we’ve phased out laying around, but they were designed specifically to take out T-72s, and it would be a shame to have them sit around going to waste.  The C-130s and C-5s are winging their way as we speak. We’re nothing if not generous, and I hope you appreciate the spirit in which these are given. Have a nice day!”

If you can handle more, there’s this:

The President noted Russia’s growing political and economic isolation as a result of its actions in Ukraine and made clear that the costs Russia already has incurred will increase if those actions persist.

Obviously our genius president hasn’t figured out that Putin wants to isolate Russia: isolation is a feature, not a bug. He has made it quite clear that he views the west as a malign force, and fears that western ideas and influence threaten his control over Russia. But Obama so believes that everyone views the world the same way as he and the Harvard faculty and the Euros do, and would  just die! at the thought of being cut off from their wine and cheese parties. Mirror imaging will be the death of us.

And insofar as costs are concerned, even the seriously mentally challenged will have concluded that the “costs” that have been imposed heretofore have not checked Putin in the slightest. This implies that if Obama is serious about deterring Putin, he must dramatically ratchet up the pressure. Dramatically: the costs must be increased by orders of magnitude. The additional sanctions announced last week just convinced Putin of Obama’s lack of seriousness: yeah, like Putin could give a damn about the Crimean oil and gas company. Rosneft and Gazprom, and Sberbank and VTB: maybe that would get his attention.  But instead of stabbing brutally at the jugular, Obama gingerly pricks the capillaries.

Sadly, Obama has plenty of company in his pusillanimity riot.

The Euros have announced that they might have a meeting in a week or so to discuss the “emergency” in Ukraine. If it can wait a week, it ain’t an emergency. Disgusting. The Euros give every impression of someone who hopes that Putin will prevail in the next couple of days, so they can throw up their hands and say “Too bad! There’s nothing we can do now!”

But the Ukrainian “leadership” gives Obama and the Euros a run for their money for the Craven Cup. It is obviously paralyzed at the thought of exercising control over its own territory, and this paralysis just spurs on Putin. Acting President Turchynov declared that the military would undertake an “anti-terrorist” operation against those who have seized government buildings and facilities (including air bases) throughout eastern Ukraine. But as of yet, nothing serious has happened. This is stoking popular anger at the new government: Maidan may very well reconstitute itself to demand ouster of this government out of outrage at the abject failure to defend Ukraine from invasion by Russia.

If the World War II cohort was “the greatest generation,” we are its antithesis. We are the living personification of what C.S. Lewis called “men without chests.” Denatured humans, enervated by a smug rationalism that is profoundly irrational because it fails to take the world as it is, populated by people who see things much, much differently, and who act accordingly.

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

That is where we are now.

 

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April 12, 2014

Putin Loops the West’s OODA Loop

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:35 pm

Russia has commenced its invasion of eastern Ukraine. No, tanks have not rolled over the border, and Sukhois are not dropping bombs on Kharkov or Donetsk. But the invasion has begun, with the seizure of government buildings in several eastern cities by armed men. Men dressed in combat garb carrying advanced automatic weapons (including AK-100s with grenade launchers).

No, these troops have not declared that they are Russian soldiers. But that just adds to the outrageousness. What’s more, this is exactly the Crimea MO. Exactly. Recall that the Russians swore up and down that those who took over Crimea weren’t theirs. Until Putin let the cat out of the bag and bragged how the Crimean operation had demonstrated the tremendous progress that had been made in reforming the Russian military.

Post-Crimea, Occam’s Razor tells you that Little Green Men popping up anywhere in the Near Abroad are taking orders from Putin. This is an invasion.

And why shouldn’t he take another slice of Ukraine? The US and EU have said that they might maybe could ramp up sanctions a little bit if Putin’s tanks roll into Kyiv. But they let him take a slice-Crimea-with virtually no consequence. So why shouldn’t he take another slice? And once he digests this one, another? And another?

It is beyond obvious that the US and EU are desperate to avoid facing hard realities. They don’t want to confront Putin. The bleat about diplomacy and off-ramps and de-escalation, which Putin translates into “surrender.” And rightly so. So he will advance inexorably.

The Ukrainian government is paralyzed. It realizes that if it exercises force against the intruders that Putin will use that as a pretext to unleash the forces massed on the border. It knows that it is unlikely that the US/Nato will provide any meaningful assistance in that event. So it goes fetal.

These are the wages of fecklessness. Yet again.

We are governed by-I will not say led by-craven midgets. Obama played golf today. He spent last week making scurrilous charges of racism against his real enemies: the Republicans. That’s when he wasn’t hyping Obamacare while defenestrating the cabinet secretary charged with its implementation. Biden will be traveling to Ukraine Tuesday. Not this Tuesday, silly:  next Tuesday, the 22d.  Joe is probably still working on his taxes, and has plenty of fundraisers to attend to in the interim. So first things first. It’s the weekend, so Europe is, um, unavailable.

Clausewitz called “the offensive” the first principle of warfare. By this, he meant that the combatant with the initiative has a decisive advantage. He can choose the time and place to attack, and do so in a way that exploits his advantages and his enemy’s disadvantages.

Putin has the initiative. In part this is due to the fact that his adversary-Nato-is a coalition, and decision making in coalitions is inherently slow, and its councils divided. (I recall a story of Napoleon rejoicing to learn that another country had joined a coalition against him.)

But the United States in particular has the ability to act unilaterally, and drag Nato along with it. The US could unilaterally impose crippling costs on Russia, by effectively cutting off its access to the world banking system. Yes, this would cause the Germans and the Brits to squeal. But so be it. Leadership must sometimes be exercised with the flat of the sword laid to the backs of necks.

Putin has the initiative because Obama has conceded it to him.

The western OODA loop-observe, orient, decide, act-is pitifully slow. It is slow because of an intense desire to avoid conflict and to deny the reality of Putin’s behavior. It is slow because of a conscious choice of the US to abdicate leadership, and to defer to countries like Germany that have a deeply compromised relationship with Russia.

This means that Putin can easily keep the initiative because the US has deliberately chosen to cede the initiative to him. He can get inside our OODA loop over and over again. He can present us with faits accompli.

Until Obama-and no one else-bestirs himself to confront Putin, the Russians will continue to take slice after slice of Ukraine. Perhaps some parts will be incorporated into Russia, and other parts set up as formally independent Russian satrapies. But the formalities are irrelevant. Unless Putin is confronted, before long all of Ukraine will be subordinate to Russia.

And once that is accomplished, why should you think that Putin’s thirst to restore the USSR will be slaked? And it is not just about Putin and Russia. Once the idea that irredentism and revanchism will not be confronted takes hold, it will not be limited to the FSU. Obama is sowing the wind. His successors-and you and me-will reap the whirlwind.

 

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April 8, 2014

Tales From the Crypt of Corruption

Filed under: Economics,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:58 pm

The vicissitudes of life have prevented me from writing-or even reading much-for the last few days. But a few Russia-related things caught my eye.

Most notably: Putin calls for swift action to improve Russia’s business climate.

Talk about low hanging fruit! Give me a hard problem, Vladimir Vladimirovich! If you resign, and take your judo clique and Sechin and the rest of the St. Petersburg gang with you, Russia’s business climate would improve dramatically and swiftly!

No charge for this sure-fire advice. It’s on the house.

The Russian economy is sputtering, but it would be quite easy to crater it. As I’ve discussed before, the US could squash the Russian economy like an overripe grape, but the markets have decided that the US and the west are all bark, no bite. The initial post-Crimea selloff has been largely reversed:

President Vladimir Putin’s pledge not to expand beyond the Crimea peninsula in Ukraine is driving short sellers out of the Russian stock market.

Traders have scaled back bets on declines in theMarket Vectors Russia (RSX) exchange-traded fund to 5 percent of outstanding shares from a record-high 21 percent on March 3. That’s the largest drop for a comparable period since June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Markit.

As short sellers retreat, the market is rebounding, with the Bloomberg Index of Russia’s most-traded stocks in New York posting the longest stretch of weekly gains since October. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the end of last month that there’s no intention to go beyond Crimea, fueling speculation that tensions with the U.S. and the EU are abating. Putin told lawmakers in Moscow on March 18 that Russia isn’t about to occupy Eastern Ukraine.

Let me put it this way. The article is wrong. The market isn’t taking Putin at his word that Russia won’t invade Ukraine. The market just believes that even if he does, nothing will happen. The west will wuss out. Again.

Yeah. I’m looking at you, Germany. And you, Obama.

Believe me. Putin is drawing the exact same conclusion.

Make sure you are sitting down for this last one. Sophisticated Russian hackers were responsible for mounting a massive attack on Nieman Marcus. But that’s not the shocking part. The US approached the Russian government for help and . . . nothing. Crickets:

Attempts to shut down the criminal network have failed despite international sting operations and secret meetings with Russian intelligence officials, according to two former U.S. officials who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to discuss the activities. Federal Bureau of Investigation officials visited their Russian counterparts in 2008 and 2009 to share information that could help locate and stop hackers, one of the former officials said.

“The FBI has tried to get cooperation, the State Department has asked for help and nothing happens, so law enforcement options under the current circumstances are pretty negligible,” said Richard Clarke, special adviser for cybersecurity under George W. Bush.

Law enforcement officials describe Russian stonewalling as just one obstacle as they try to curb the burgeoning theft of credit-card data that has sparked a Congressional inquiry and left banks and retail chains blaming each other for the failures of outdated credit-card technology.

This, no doubt, is because the FSB received a cut of the hackers’ take.  I am sure you are standing there, mouth agape, in shock at this stunning news.

But this corrupt, criminal colossus is twisting the far wealthier, far more powerful west around its little finger. There is a pronounced asymmetry in power, but an even greater asymmetry in the will to use it.

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April 4, 2014

Not Willing to Sacrifice the Bonus of a Single Frankfurt Banker

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:52 pm

Few things I’ve read recently are more depressing than this WSJ article about European, and specifically German, enabling of Putin’s and Russia’s aggression:

Opposition to economic sanctions as a way to penalize Russia runs from 36% in Germany to 23% in Great Britain, to 15% in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, according to a YouGov poll taken across Europe from March 21 to 27.

In an interview with the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said he found Mr. Putin’s actions “absolutely understandable” and urged Germans to reflect on history before condemning the Kremlin.

“More important than appealing to international law is the historical development of Crimea,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Historians are divided over whether there is even such a thing as a Ukrainian nation.”

Gerhard Schröder, who as chancellor until 2005 developed a close friendship with Mr. Putin, has expressed his understanding for Russia’s “fear of encirclement” by the West.

Mr. Schröder’s pro-Russian leanings are well known in Germany. The ex-chancellor, now chairman of a gas-pipeline venture majority-owned by Russian state energy giant Gazprom, once deemed Mr. Putin a “flawless democrat.”

While not condoning the Crimea annexation, Mr. Schröder has made light of Russia’s violation of international law, saying that Germany and NATO also broke international law when they bombed Serbia without U.N. authorization—a precedent that Mr. Putin also cites.

Ms. Merkel has used tough rhetoric against Mr. Putin and warned the crisis could inflict “massive damage” on Russia. Much of the German press panned Mr. Schröder, Mr. Schmidt, and other “Putin-understanders” and “Russia-understanders” for excusing 19th-century-style military aggression.

But the sympathetic tone strikes a chord with the German public and some elites. Siemens  AG   chief executive Joe Kaeser cited the two former chancellors’ remarks in justifying his controversial visit to Mr. Putin last week.

Among Germans polled on March 31 and April 1, 49% said the country’s foreign policy should represent a “middle position between the West and Russia,” whereas 46% said Germany should stick to a firm alliance with the West, according to polling company infratest dimap. In another poll taken in mid-March, half of Germans said the EU should simply accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“People who say ‘Russia-understander’ never understand what they are talking about—it’s either black or white for them,” said former German Ambassador to Russia Ernst-Jörg von Studnitz. “Many people call me that, and I don’t mind at all.”

Germany appears dead set on making the French look grateful.

This whinging about Russia being “surrounded by enemies” and having “defenseless borders”  and being threatened by Nato expansion is so much bologna. Nato has neither offensive capability or intent. Russia has more strategic depth than any nation in the world. Just ask Charles XII, Napoleon or Hitler. As they all found out to their bitter chagrin, you can cross Russia’s borders, only to get lost in the trackless wastes that lie beyond.

And if Putin is so worried about Nato moving closer to Russia’s borders, why is he making moves in Ukraine that would move Russia’s borders closer to Nato?

Russian “fears” about a Nato invasion threat are not based in reality: they are either paranoid delusions, or contrived, or both.

Germans whine about not wanting another Cold War. Sorry, Fritz: this isn’t your choice. Putin has a vote too. Or to paraphrase Trotsky: you might not be interested in another Cold War, but another Cold War is interested in you. Courtesy of Vladimir Vladimirovich.

In large part due to the heavy burden of its horrific past, Germany wants a vacation from history and civilizational conflict. But Putin is on a civilizational mission, and if he is not stopped now, he will continue to push until some confrontation occurs in the future.

But to achieve this, Germany is not willing to sacrifice the bonus of one Frankfurt banker, let alone the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. And indeed, it appears that mercenary considerations are paramount. German business leaders, notably from Siemens (one of the world’s technology leaders-as well as a leader in bribery and corruption), are bleating about the economic costs of even mild economic measures against Russia.

Looking over the past several years, it becomes clear that such commercial considerations are paramount in Berlin. Germany abjures any leadership role when it comes to Russia, rationalizing this choice by harking to its bad experience with Führers. But when it comes to German money in Greece or Spain, Germany was quite willing to throw its weight around and push policies that advance German economic interests. That is, it’s not about historical burdens making Germans shirk from leadership. It’s about German commercial interests causing it to conduct a passive foreign policy sometimes, and a very heavy-handed one at others.

In other words: le perfide Allemagne. The common denominator in German policy towards Europe and Russia is what benefits German industry and German banks. Germany’s foreign policy is ultimately corporatist, and the country is quite willing to sell the rope that hangs some poor Eastern Europeans.

Germany has never hesitated to preen about its moral superiority, and to attack the US in particular for doing the dirty work that has kept Germany free and prosperous for going on 70 years. The pretense is beyond annoying.

Germany is enabling Putin, and for the most crass commercial reasons. Its policy is due neither deference nor respect.

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March 30, 2014

Kerry & Lavrov Negotiate Ukraine’s Surrender in Paris: Were All the Rooms in Munich Booked?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:06 am

Following up on Putin’s phone call to Obama, Kerry is making a detour to Paris to negotiate with Lavrov over the fate of Ukraine.

Lavrov has laid out Russia’s terms, and intimates that Obama and Kerry have accepted the principles underlying these terms.

First, Russia demands that Ukraine adopt a new constitution that establishes a federal structure that gives each region considerable autonomy.  Translate this to mean that these regions would be able to pull a Crimea.  Or, more accurately, that Russia would be able to pull a Crimea, slicing off pieces of Ukraine and splicing them onto Russia.

Crucially, Lavrov said: “I can say that ‘federation’ is no longer a taboo word in our negotiations.”  Meaning that if he is telling the truth (always a big if) Obama has conceded that Ukraine’s constitutional order is up for negotiation, on Moscow’s terms.

Second, Russia demands that Ukraine’s new constitution incorporate guarantees that Ukraine will not join Nato or any other alliance.

In brief: the Secretary of State of the United States is traveling to Paris to negotiate the constitution of a sovereign country, without the presence of that country.  The end state of this negotiation would be to turn Ukraine into a Russian satrapy, to be gobbled up piecemeal, and with no ability to conduct an independent foreign policy.

Lavrov’s teaser is that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine.  But if you read his words closely, you will understand that he means Russia has no intention of invading if its terms are accepted. Otherwise, Ukraine is a fascist, Nazi threat to Russia and to Russian “compatriots.”  And we know what Putin believes such a threat justifies.

The 1930s analogies keep coming, fast and furious. Here the analogy is Munich, where France and Germany negotiated Czechoslovakia’s fate with Hitler, without the Czechs being present.  The Czechs called the agreement the Munich Diktat. Will the Ukrainians call this the Paris Diktat?

There are other similarities.  The pretext of the Germans in 1938 was and Russia in 2014 is the necessity of protecting co-ethnics allegedly threatened by independent nations not invited to the negotiations.  Munich resulted in the handover of the major industrial region of Czechoslovakia to Germany: the likely outcome of an agreement on Putin’s terms would be to handover Ukraine’s main industrial region to Russia. The Munich negotiations took place under the threat of a German invasion of Czechoslovakia if Hitler’s terms were not accepted, and German troops were massed on the border to carry out that threat.  The Paris negotiations are taking place under the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine if Putin’s terms are not accepted, and Russian troops are massed on the border with the capability to carry out that threat.

Once upon a time “No More Munichs!” was a catchphrase in US foreign policy. No longer, apparently. Obama and Kerry seem to be saying “Why Not Munich?”

Even if no agreement comes of these talks, or talks that follows, it is deeply shameful that the United States would even engage in such a negotiation on such terms with such a nation.  Deeply shameful.

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March 29, 2014

Putin is From Mars, Obama is From Venus, and Germany is From Denial

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 1:25 pm

Yes, I know the meme is cliché. But clichés become cliché because they capture some basic truths.

Have any doubts? Just compare Putin’s speech on Crimea to Obama’s speech in Brussels.  Compare what Lavrov says to what Kerry says.  Compare the different versions of the various phone conversations between Obama and Putin released by the Kremlin and the White House, most especially the readouts of yesterday’s conversation: the immediate question is “are these people talking about the same phone call?”

Obama is all about diplomacy, community, talk, de-escalation, agreement on mutually beneficial terms.  Putin is all about grievance, righting historical wrongs, battling dark forces (i.e., Ukrainian fascists and Nazis and Western interlopers), winner take all.

The reason their conversations seem disjointed is that they are.  They start from totally different premises, totally different world views.  They are talking past one another.

Oh.  And Putin is doing more than talking.  He is acting.

And this means that  Obama’s Vensuian lets-talk-about-it-and-get-to-win-win approach is utterly without foundation.  For it presumes that your would-be interlocutor and partner-to-be is operating from the same assumptions, premises, and world view as you are.

When that’s not true, the jaw-jaw Venusian approach will be about as constructive as any conversation between two parties speaking mutually incomprehensible languages.

And what’s more, the advantage in this type of contest between Mars and Venus is decidedly on the Martian side in the realm of international relations, where third party enforcement is absent. Especially when the Martian side can deploy little green men on its doorstep against a far weaker neighbor.

Before writing this, I Googled “Putin is from Mars Obama is from Venus,” to see if anyone had used this meme recently. I didn’t find that on the first several pages of search results, but I did find several pieces saying that the US (and hence Obama) is Mars, and Europe is Venus.

Yes, the US-and even Obama-are positively Martian compared to the Euros. And that’s precisely a major problem. Because it means that the Euros are absolutely dead-set against doing anything to confront Russia. And Obama is completely willing to defer to them.

And the worst offender is the nation that was once the most militantly Martian on earth: Germany.  Rather than recognize the similarities of Putin’s Russia to the bad  Germany of old, and understand the need to oppose and deter such conduct, Germany is hell bent on imitating its appeasing opponents of decades past.

Two depressing articles tell you all you need to know.

German businesses whine about sanctions, and complain about the West (!) escalating tensions with Russia. Germany swears it’s not soft on Russia.

My knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology is inadequate to figure out what Europe (and especially Germany) are if Obama is Venus to Putin’s Mars.  I guess I have to back further.  To Egypt.  Because Germany is from Denial.

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March 27, 2014

Obama Speaks. Putin Smiles.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:21 pm

Obama has given two major sets of remarks about Ukraine, one set on teleprompter, the other off.  Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, each was appalling in its own way.  It is hard to say which is worse.

The off-teleprompter remarks were delivered at a press conference.  The statement that garnered the most attention, and rightly so, was Obama’s assertion that Russia was a mere regional power that is not a threat to the US, and invaded Crimea out of weakness.

Where to begin?

Part of the problem is the man’s preternatural pettiness.  He denigrated Russia in  part because he will not, cannot, concede that Romney might have been closer to the truth than he was when the Republican candidate named Russia as our number one national security threat, and Obama responded with a snarky “the 80s called and want their foreign policy back.”  A bigger man would have given Romney his due.  But that would be a different man than Obama.

But the bigger problem is the substance.  First, I would be the first to acknowledge that Russia’s military is decrepit and its ability to project power beyond the Eurasian landmass is limited.  But the Eurasian landmass is pretty damned big, and Russia’s region includes many areas of vital interest to the United States.

Second, Russia has many other sources of power that transcend those of a mere regional power (like Brazil, say).  Most obviously: It has nukes.  It has a UNSC veto.  It has extremely effective asymmetric capabilities, notably cyberwarfare (conducted in large part through private and criminal elements that work for Russian intelligence out of a combination of patriotic and mercenary motives) and intelligence.  (Snowden, anyone?)

Moreover, Putin’s anschluss, and the threatened moves beyond Crimea (not just Ukraine, but reasonably feared in any country with substantial Russian speaking minorities, which includes countries formally allied with the US) upset the entire international order.  Not just the post-World War II and post-Cold War settlements, but the principles of international order stretching back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.   Turning a blind eye to revanchism and irredentism threatens to unleash similar forces on every continent.  The chaos and disorder that would result would present a profound challenge to stability, and the interests of the United States.

Obama appears to believe that it is beneath a stronger power to confront weaker ones.  But what is the point of strength and power, if they cannot be deployed against peer adversaries because that would be too costly, and they cannot be deployed against weaker ones because that’s unsporting?

Indeed, if Obama’s diagnosis is correct, and Russia is a weak power (put aside whether the weakness is the motivation for Putin’s aggressiveness, as Obama claims), given the stakes there is a compelling case to deploy American power (mainly economic, financial, and political, rather than military) to squash the weak upstart.  Because that would contribute to tranquility throughout Eurasia, and pour encourager les autres.

The formal speech in Belgium was a disaster in different ways.  Obama gave a treacly tribute to the bravery of Maidan, and then basically said: “sorry, people, you’re on your own!  Good luck!  We wish you the best!”  He laid out a rather compelling case that Putin’s challenge to the international system threatened dire consequences far beyond Ukraine, but despite this he threatened no measures beyond the oft-repeated gradualism of escalating financial consequences: how many historical examples are required to demonstrate that such gradualism, so appealing in the faculty lounge and think tank, is actually an encouragement to hard men like Putin?

Disgustingly, Obama conceded many of Putin’s arguments, most notably that Russia has special rights in Ukraine due to the longstanding historical relationship between the countries.  This is to make modern Ukrainians subordinate to Russia because their forebears provided a patina of civilization to Muscovite thugs, and then suffered centuries of subjugation at the hands of these thugs which at times lapsed into genocide.  Yes, the Holodomor was truly the epitome of a special relationship, no?

If anything, the historical relations between Ukraine and Russia provide a compelling case to defend Ukraine against further Muscovite predations, rather than an excuse to consign the country to Putin’s tender mercies.

The speech put more emphasis on what the US won’t do, than what it will.  Obama repeated three times that the US will not engage in any military response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.  I’m sure Putin got that message, and smiled.

Obama emphasized a desire for continued diplomacy, and de-escalation.  Both of which Russia has already rejected, repeatedly.  (Look at the picture of Lavrov meeting with the Ukrainian FM.  I am sure The Tarantula would have preferred an appendectomy without anesthesia to that meeting.) This is political onanism of the most embarrassing sort.

But there’s more! Not only did Obama conspicuously put Ukraine outside the American security perimeter, he also slammed the door on Georgia, saying that it was not on a path to membership in Nato.  Given that Georgia is one of Putin’s biggest bêtes noire, you may rest assured that Putin is going to take this as an invitation.

In sum, the speech signaled a supine attitude that will embolden Putin.  Obama appears robust only in comparison to the Europeans, who would have to stiffen considerably in order to become mere boneless wonders (to quote Churchill’s devastating critique of Stanley Baldwin).

Some have claimed that Obama’s speech was tough, both on the Russians and the Europeans.  The markets deemed otherwise.  Gazprom was up.  Sberbank was up.  Rosneft was up.  Micex was up.  The Ruble was up.

And no wonder. Last week’s encouraging expansion of sanctions have been followed by . . . nothing.  Except empty threats to do more: that’s all Obama’s speech contained.  It is clear that there is no appetite in western capitals for aggressive action against Russia, even though it would be possible to crush the Russian economy.

Need convincing? German firms are making pilgrimages to Moscow.  German politicians are loud in their criticism of sanctions, and bend over backwards to rationalize Putin’s conduct.

Just why did we defend these people for 60 plus years, anyways?  They are obsessed with Snowden and the thought that the NSA might be perusing their Amazon purchases.  Never mind that a thugocracy is on the march.  It’s so much easier for the Germans to criticize the US than Russia.  The US doesn’t fight back.

Speaking of NSA, one of the companies that paid homage to Putin in his court was Siemens, a notoriously corrupt firm. Former CIA director James Woolsey said we spy on European companies precisely because of their corruption.  Perhaps some kompromat or prosecutions are in order.

Obama appears to be deferring to German wishes.  Specifically, I smell Merkel’s influence over the Georgia remarks.  Why did Obama have to mention Georgia at all, let alone to throw it very publicly under the bus?  Then recall that Merkel has been adamant over excluding Georgia from integration into Nato on any time frame.

Russian troops are massing on Ukraine’s borders.  Russia’s most capable formations, its paratroops (VDV) and Guards armored/mechanized units are assembled there.  But don’t worry! Russian defense minister Shoygu assures that these troops are only there for maneuvers.  And the drunk who is our SecDef believes him:

At the Pentagon, there remains confidence in the assurances provided to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel from Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu that the Russian troops amassing on the border with Ukraine were there only for exercises.

“[Shoygu] told me that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine,” Hagel said at the Pentagon this week.

Can we really be this stupid?  (Don’t answer that.  The question was totally, totally rhetorical.)

Just why, pray tell, need the Russians conduct maneuvers with 50K of their best troops on a sensitive border? And given that Putin repeatedly lied about his intentions in Crimea, why should we believe Shoygu-especially since there are serious doubts that Shoygu is in Putin’s decision making clique?

In sum, in his various remarks, Obama has revealed that he has many, many cheeks, and is willing to turn them all.  To Putin, anyways: not to Romney or other Republicans. Putin will take this as an invitation, and take all that he can.  If he isn’t stopped now-and rolled back, actually-he will continue to press.  The necessity of confrontation will not be eliminated, just deferred.

 

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March 24, 2014

Kill Me Now

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:58 pm

Quoted without comment, because (a) the stupidity and fecklessness is so obvious that no explication is necessary, and (b) this is so maddening and depressing I can’t bring myself to say anything:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday he hoped the Crimea crisis would not harm cooperation with Russia on international efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government agreed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal as part of a U.S.-Russian agreement negotiated after a chemical attack last August that killed hundreds of people around Damascus.

“All I can say is I hope the same motivations that drove Russia to be a partner in this effort will still exist,” Kerry told reporters in The Hague, where he was due to attend a summit of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.

“This is bigger than either of our countries. This is a global challenge,” Kerry said.

Okay.  One comment.

With such credulous idiots in charge, we are so screwed.  So screwed.

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