Streetwise Professor

April 10, 2010

The Manas Mess

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:24 pm

The overthrow of the government in Kyrgyzstan has opened another chapter in the saga of the Manas airbase used by US forces to resupply operations in Afghanistan.  Certainly the corruption of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and the sharp geographic division in the country, gave plenty of reason for his violent overthrow.  But Bakiyev also gave Putin and Russia plenty of reason to support his violent overthrow too.  Putin had thought that he had bought Bakiyev’s promise to close Manas, but in that part of the world people don’t stay bought for long.  After taking Russia’s coin in exchange for his agreement to close the base, Bakiyev turned around and gave the US a new lease.  I would give better than even odds that by sealing that deal, he sealed his fate.

Of course, we will never know for sure, but Russia is certainly the major beneficiary of his fall.  The new Kyrgyz government immediately high-tailed it to Moscow, and expressed its fealty.  The new government has raised questions about the base’s future.  A Russian official accompanying Medvedev’s delegation to Prague for the signing of the new START deal indicated that Russia expected the base to be closed.  (How’s that reset working out for us, Barry?)  Russia recognized the new government within hours–suggesting that it knew all about the new government before it was even a new government.  (In contrast the US and even the Chinese were caught flatfooted by the change.)  Not dispositive, but all pointing in the direction of Russian involvement.

But what clinches it for me is Putin’s statement: “Neither Russia, nor your humble servant, nor Russian officials have any links whatsoever to these events.”  Humble servant–gag me.  No, this sounds like typical Putinesque wink-wink, nudge-nudge irony, meaning that one should believe the exact opposite.

Removing the US from Manas, or even constraining its use of the base, will crimp our operational capabilities in Afghanistan.  Which makes Russian whinging (yeah, so what else is new?) about the US’s/NATO’s failure to crush the Afghan opium trade all the more outrageous.  Russia has an addiction crisis*and the flow of drugs into the northern Caucasus from Afghanistan is helping finance the insurgency in the region–which, of course, is not limited to the region as the Moscow bombings attest.

So, since opium is such a scourge in Russia, you’d think that Russia would want to do everything possible to help the US and NATO in Afghanistan, right?

Yeah, right.  What happens to Manas, and how Russia is involved in that process, will speak volumes.  I expect that Manas will be closed, and that long-promised Russian logistical assistance will remain just that–a promise.  All the wailing and moaning about the opium problem is just another stick to beat the US and NATO with: the typical Russian refusal to take responsibility for its own failings; the typical Russian compulsion to blame others; and the typical Russian opportunistic tendency to exploit human misery to score some geopolitical points.  Given a choice between reducing the Afghan drug problem and handing the US a defeat (or a bleeding ulcer of a commitment), and a defeat in the Great Game no less, Putin et al will choose more junkies every time; especially since he’ll be able to gull enough of the sheeple in Russia to believe that’s the American’s fault too.

* Why do I have this feeling that a comment or comments will soon appear claiming that the accounts of an addiction problem in Russia are vastly overblown.  That everything there is just great!  After all, the birth rate is up, dontcha know.

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  1. For now, what happened in Kyrgyzstan appears to be strictly internal. Bakiyev didn’t give reason for the Russians to support him.

    Offhand –

    Has there not been some criticism that the US effort in Afghanistan hasn’t been so steadfast in curtailing the poppy fields? Doesn’t Russia maintain a policy of allowing foreign military flights in its air space which are en route to Afghanistan?

    Comment by Mr. Y — April 11, 2010 @ 6:30 am

  2. Incidentally, there’s a commentator on my blog, not a bourgeois reactionary like yourself ;), who is also very concerned about the heroin problem. Now being a logical person, what I do to see if this is a major, rapidly-spreading epidemic is look at death rates for the most-affected demographic groups. Say, 20-25 year old males, amongst whom death rates are low and mostly due to external causes and poisonings.

    Take the death rate for 25 year old males in Russia, a demographic group that would be one of the most exposed to drug abuse. In 2000, i.e. before the Afghanistan campaign, it was 0.0060, and it stayed above 0.0050 until 2007 when it fell to 0.0047, and in 2008 fell further to 0.0041. These improvements, one would think, would have been exceedingly unlikely had there been a sudden jump in Russian heroin consumption.

    Incidentally, the US (and UK) have, as I understand it, pretty much stopped going after Afghan poppy cultivators in the past 2 years in a bid to stabilize the country and undermine Taleban support. So really I don’t see the proposed trade-off between stopping the drugs flow and helping the US win in Afghanistan.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — April 11, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

  3. I agree with Sublime:

    Russia has given the USA plenty of time to tackle Afghanistan opium, but in that time things have gotten worse. Like he writes, there are reports the USA is actually helping poppy cultivation to stabilize the country.

    Russia nationalists might be thinking that this is just another sinister way the CIA is trying to mess with Russia.

    And even if Medvedev is not a Russian nationalist and think the CIA is behind it, he understands that the current way of doing things is broken and something else must be done.

    Professor, the trade-off you propose – helping the US in Afghanistan to stop drugs – is an illusion on your part created by your deep mistrust of Russia. I agree with what you said that you’re not a Russophobe, but you are sometimes a tad too quick on the gun to blame, criticize, or slander Russia.

    Comment by lisa — April 11, 2010 @ 9:13 pm

  4. Putin became a Russian president ten years ago. A bloody “Putin’s era” began. The Editor-in-Chief of the Lithuanian magazine IQ.The Economist and a political scientist Vladimiras Laucius, does not see any positive results in policies pursued by Putin, and now by Medvedev and their clique, the Baltic news agency “Delfi” writes.

    It was under Putin, and not in the 1990’s, that an oligarchic system emerged in Russia, the main result of which became a further disintegration of public consciousness in Russian citizens.

    In an interview with the Baltic news agency, the political scientist specifies:

    “Speaking about the political transformation of Russia after 1991, we are to remember that the system developed in Russia before Putin’s rise to power, was called oligarchic. Berezovsky, Potanin, Gusinsky and other representatives of big business have been labeled “oligarchs”. In fact, it was not the oligarchic system then, it appeared only under Putin.

    With Putin’s coming to Kremlin, the power vertical strengthened and only then the system became oligarchic. It means that the ruling minority is placed above all, and their financial power, rather than some ideological features, has been formed.

    It is impossible to characterize the Putin’s government as conservative, social democratic or liberal. It simply does not fit any ideological frameworks that exist in the West. In Russia, they have a group of comrades, who in addition to financial strength, increased the power vertical.

    The Putin’s system is characterized primarily by the fact that the oligarchs are defined as representatives of big business. The second feature is a “war on terror”. The word “terrorism” has become commonly used, it consistently appears in Putin’s political rhetorics and speeches by his proxies.

    The 9/11 helped Putin’s propaganda, an “anti-terrorist” propaganda, when they started to call “terrorism” the struggle for independence in Chechnya, which is NOT terrorism.

    Chechnya is one of the issues that are associated with the Putin’s rise to power. Remember Putin’s apartment bombings in Moscow and the renewal of war in Chechnya after this, following by its occupation and the creation of a puppet pro-Russian regime in Chechnya. All this took place under the slogan of “fighting terrorism”, although the Chechen state had nothing to do with terrorism.

    In addition to “terrorism”, a concept of “extremism” appeared, aimed at curbing criticism of government by Russian citizens. Somewhere in the middle of the past decade, the Putin’s system finally took shape and began to enjoy a popular support.

    The Russian propaganda has traditionally focused on an “enemy”. Image of an enemy was always present in Russia. In Soviet times, there was an enemy, and in Putin’s times, enemies had to be invented. The old Soviet associations were revived. Such, for example, is an idea that the United States, as in Soviet times, is the main enemy of Russia in the West. The NATO in Kremlin’s official documents has been called a threat to Russia.

    Russia went back to what has become customary for senior and middle-age generation. A threat from its neighbors, the countries of the former USSR, has completely been blended against this backdrop of threats from NATO. Of course, speaking about the Baltic countries, the emphasis is made on a “genocide of the Russian-speaking population”.

    Russian policies always move in a direction that any sign of an independent policy from former members of the Soviet Union is immediately brandmarked as anti-Russian policy.

    It was easy to indoctrinate the Russian population. Russia was allegedly always surrounded by an enemy ring which became more dense with the help of NATO, and these Baltic countries are allegedly aggressive because they have some old scores. to settle with Russia. Under Putin, the above-mentioned cliches became one of the main lines of propaganda.

    The Putin’s oligarchic system needs money here and now. This system fails to plan ahead. If the energy bubble burst, a revolt would happen in Russia, because of the short-sighted policy of the Russian authorities. And then the whole clique, led by Putin and Medvedev, will board a plane and fly to a country where they keep their money, and they will live quiet peacefully there.

    A certain role is played by Russian-Chinese relations. What is happening between Russia and China is a time bomb, which neither Putin nor Medvedev are going to deactivate. The mechanism continues to tick, and Russia is signing an agreement with China on energy supplies at low prices and in the amounts dictated by China. Russia is pretty often defeated in its relations with China. And this concerns its energy policy as well.

    One of the main positive results of Putin’s rule is a further disintegration of Russian state identity in the minds of Russian population. The process that began in 1917 became irreversible, and those patriotic glimpses that we sometimes observe in Russia, as a result of Putin’s propaganda, are very superficial.

    In 1918, there was a population who defended the country out of patriotic feelings. Now “Mother Russia” is defended by military commands, but not out of ideological considerations. There is no people now whose love for “Mother Russia” is strong enough to defend it from collapse.

    The current Russian regime is based on shifting sands, and holds due to its oligarchic nature: on the financial might and police force. It has no future.

    Energy prices again raised, which promises a few more years more of decent life for the representatives of the regime. If can use the words decent life for indecent persons.

    Russia balances on a brink of the complete renunciation of a civilized policy. I would not say that this policy has any positive aspects at all.

    I simply do not see them. Keeping in mind that any civilized society is a political society, it must be admitted that it is very difficult characterize modern Russian politics as positive. Of course, if we do not consider the situation from the viewpoint of the ruling regime.

    Comment by Oleg — April 13, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  5. Very insightful comment, Oleg. Thanks for that.

    The first part of what you wrote reminds me of the title of a book by sociologist Vladimir Shlapentokh (at Michigan State U): “Contemporary Russia as a Feudal Society.”

    I hope to respond more full later. I’ll also write a post linking to your comment, as I think it’s important that readers who don’t necessarily follow the comments read it.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 13, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  6. S/O:

    1. I lay primary responsibility for an opium/heroin problem on those who stick needles in their arms.
    2. I am very skeptical about “wars on drugs,” regardless of where they are fought. I favor legalization. Doesn’t sound too “bourgeois reactionary” to me.
    3. With respect to Afghanistan in particular, a war focused on drugs, and particularly on the farmers who grow them (which is what the Russians are advocating), would cause the country to spin out of control, and drive large portions of the population into the arms of the Taliban. From the bad choices confronting the US/NATO in Afghanistan, that would be one of the worst. Which makes me wonder why the Russians are pushing it so hard. Are they that thick? I don’t think so . . . which leads to other, disturbing explanations.
    4. Your statistical argument, which does not surprise me (considering that you are advancing it), has some merit. But it indicates why I think that the whole drug issue puts Russophiles on the horns of a dilemma; either Russia has a serious drug problem, or the government is lying through its teeth. Your argument is that the drug problem is vastly overstated. Accepting that as true, it means that the Russian government is engaging in hysterical scare tactics. (Not surprising, given that the head of drug enforcement structure that is making the argument is ex-KGB.) Which supports my disturbing explanation hypothesis.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 13, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

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