Archives For: Russia

Ukraine Splits The Difference

Sep 16 2014 @ 2:59pm

The Ukrainian parliament had two big items on its agenda today:

In a vote synchronized with the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Ukrainian lawmakers unanimously approved the association pact over objections from Russia, which fears the loss of a market for its goods and damage to its economy from an influx of European products through Ukraine. … Earlier Tuesday, legislators voted behind closed doors to approve two bills granting amnesty to rebels and greater autonomy for eastern regions as part of an effort to consolidate a tenuous Sept. 5 cease-fire and end the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The decision on Tuesday to enshrine in law an amnesty and a framework for self-rule in the east represented a major concession to Russia that in many ways gave the Kremlin what it had been seeking since early in the conflict, long before the violence broadened and thousands died.

Bershidsky doubts Ukrainians will thank Poroshenko for this:

That, in effect, is Ukraine’s signature under the creation of a frozen conflict area.

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The US imposed additional sanctions on Russia’s finance, energy, and defense sectors today over its involvement in the Ukraine crisis, on the heels of another round of sanctions from the EU:

The U.S. Treasury Department tightened on September 12 debt-financing restrictions for sanctioned banks from 90 days to 30 days. And it added Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial institution, to the list of state banks subject to the restriction. It also prohibited the exporting of goods, services, and technology for Russian deepwater or offshore projects for five Russian firms: natural gas monopoly Gazprom Gazprom, its oil unit Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, Surgutneftgas, and Russia’s largest oil producer, Rosneft. Gazprom Neft and pipeline operator Transneft also have new debt restrictions of over 90 days’ maturity. … The European Union’s new sanctions include asset freezes on 24 senior officials and lawmakers, including nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinosvky, bringing to 119 the number of people sanctioned by the bloc over the Ukraine conflict. The measures also include restrictions on financing for some state-controlled Russian companies such as Rosneft, Transneft, and Gazprom Neft.

Noting that the sanctions on Rosneft might freeze a $500 billion joint project with ExxonMobil to drill for oil in the arctic, Matthew Philips comments that “these latest energy sanctions could sever what are arguably the closest ties remaining between Russia and the West”:

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From The Annals Of Chutzpah

Sep 11 2014 @ 4:46pm

Russia suddenly discovers international law:

“The U.S. president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the U.S. armed forces against ISIL positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said. “This step, in the absence of a U.N. Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”

Morrissey retorts:

Gee, I must have missed the UN Security Council resolution that granted Russia sovereignty over Crimea, and the invitation to send armor and infantry into eastern Ukraine. For that matter, perhaps the Kremlin could be kind enough to point us toward the UNSC resolution that authorized the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the seizure of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well. After all, Vladimir Putin’s regime appears to be an expert on international law, so …

All eyes are on the impending ISIS war today, but things are still happening in Ukraine as well. Five days after the announcement of a ceasefire, Kiev now claims that most of the Russian forces that had invaded the country have left, while Poroshenko is making some concessions to separatist sentiments in the east:

President Petro Poroshenko told a televised cabinet meeting Ukraine would remain a sovereign, united country under the terms of a peace roadmap approved last Friday, but said parts of the east under rebel control would get special status. “According to the latest information I have received from our intelligence, 70 percent of Russian troops have been moved back across the border,” he said. “This further strengthens our hope that the peace initiatives have good prospects.” However, Poroshenko said the ceasefire was not proving easy to maintain because “terrorists” were constantly trying to provoke Kiev’s forces. Ukraine’s military recorded at least six violations of the ceasefire overnight but said there were no casualties. Five servicemen have been killed during the ceasefire, Ukraine says. A civilian was also killed at the weekend during shelling of the eastern port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov in eastern Ukraine.

But Morrissey is skeptical of this supposed Russian retreat:

The “terrorists” may be rebels attempting to keep Russia from retreating. Moscow may not need much of a provocation, either. Yesterday, Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine of building up forces for an attack on Donetsk, and multiple reports of artillery fire put the truce into serious question … Hopefully, the retreat of Russia from Ukraine is real and will continue. With Lavrov looking for an excuse to return and the rebels perhaps desperate to provide it, I wouldn’t count on it.

Alec Luhn remarks on the chaotic battlefield, noting that neither Moscow nor Kiev has enough control over its fighters to enforce an airtight ceasefire:

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Nuclear Superpower Is Nuclear

Sep 9 2014 @ 11:41am

The Ukraine conflict isn’t the only thing raising concerns about a resurgent Russia. James Inhofe is even more worried about Putin’s efforts to revitalize and upgrade Russia’s nuke program:

Russia deploys aircraft and submarines armed with cruise missiles around the world that already threaten our allies. But air and submarine bases can be targeted and destroyed by the U.S. military in the event of a confrontation. A mobile GLCM [ground-launched cruise missile], on the other hand, is much harder to find. General Philip M. Breedlove, the senior NATO commander, has said that this new weapon is “absolutely a tool that will have to be dealt with.”

Strategically, the deployment of a nuclear-armed GLCM further increases the disparity in regional nuclear forces between Russia and NATO, which could weaken alliance deterrence and assurance calculations. Russia currently enjoys about a 10-to-1 advantage over NATO in nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe. It provides Russia a counterbalance to those countries near Russia that are developing intermediate-range nuclear forces and, in some cases, long-range conventional strike capabilities, such as China. Russia also feels that GLCM capabilities compensate for shortcomings in Russia’s conventional forces.

Jeffrey Lewis also catches Putin talking nukes:

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Good News From Ukraine, Ctd

Sep 8 2014 @ 2:04pm

The ceasefire that went into effect on Friday appears to be holding – apart from sporadic fighting outside Mariupol – but few expect it to last very long:

Most argue there Ukraine had little alternative to calling a temporary halt to hostilities in order to regroup its shattered forces. “Under the conditions we have, any possibility for a ceasefire had to be accepted,” says Ukrainian political expert Viktor Zamyatin. “We have too many serious challenges piling up, which can’t be dealt with under fire.” But without a workable political agenda, the shooting is liable to resume at any moment. “Both sides have totally different visions of the way forward,” says [military expert Nikolai] Sungurovsky. “They should have focused on a cease-fire, exchange of prisoners and humanitarian issues… instead they tried to identify a political path forward.”

The most controversial measures include a requirement that the Ukrainian parliament pass a law granting “special status” to the rebel-held regions, who would then hold snap local elections. Analysts say there is zero chance Kiev would allow this, since such steps would freeze the conflict in place and allow rebel chiefs to legitimize their rule.

Linda Kinstler declares its failure a foregone conclusion:

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Good News (?) From Ukraine

Sep 5 2014 @ 1:59pm
by Jonah Shepp

A ceasefire was announced today:

The two sides agreed to stop fighting at 6 p.m. local time today, Heidi Tagliavini, a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which will monitor the agreement, told reporters after negotiations in Minsk, Belarus. The talks included representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, where most of the fighting has occurred, and the OSCE. “Proceeding from President Putin’s call to leaders of illegal military formations to cease fire, and from the signing of the trilateral agreement in Minsk to implement the peace plan, I am ordering the General Staff to cease fire,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement. He canceled a summer truce on July 1 after his government cited more than 100 violations by the separatists. … The rebels, though, remained defiant, with the leader of Luhansk, Igor Plotnitskiy, telling reporters that the cease-fire doesn’t alter the goal of “splitting” from Ukraine.

In his press conference today at the NATO summit, Obama attributed the ceasefire to the success of US and EU sanctions on Russia, but the allies still approved a new rapid response force to beef up defense in Eastern Europe, among other measures. Considering the way the conflict has played out so far, I’m hopeful that the truce will hold, but not optimistic. And even if it does, Leonid Bershidsky calls it a win for Putin:

If the peace holds, people like Semenchenko will soon be returning from the front, and they may well decide that Poroshenko gave up too easily and that Ukraine should have fought on and martyred itself. Poroshenko’s plan to get a loyal parliament elected in October now faces many threats, ranging from a new escalation of fighting to a radical nationalist revolt. As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has secured a ringside seat and may settle down with a bowl of popcorn.

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by Dish Staff


David Frum applauds Obama’s remarks on the Ukraine crisis from Estonia yesterday, calling them “the sharpest language any U.S. president has used toward Russia since Ronald Reagan upbraided the Evil Empire” and “the most important speech about European security … of the post-Cold War era”:

One by one, President Obama repudiated the lies Vladimir Putin has told about Ukraine: that the Ukrainians somehow provoked the invasion, that they are Nazis, that their freely elected government is somehow illegal. He rejected Russia’s claim that it has some sphere of influence in Ukraine, some right of veto over Ukrainian constitutional arrangements. And he forcefully assured Estonians—and all NATO’s new allies—that waging war on them meant waging war on the United States. “[T]he defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London,” Obama said. “Article 5 is crystal clear. An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who’ll come to help, you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now.” This is the ultimate commitment, given by the ultimate authority, in the very place where the commitment would be tested—and would have to be honored. There’s no turning back from that. Today, for the first time perhaps, Eastern Europeans have reason to believe it.

Max Fisher, who passes along the above map, interprets the speech as signaling that the US will not go to war to save Ukraine:

This does not mean that the US and Europe are indifferent to Ukraine’s plight. They have sanctioned Russia’s economy repeatedly and heavily, sending it to the precipice of recession. They have isolated Russia politically, for example by booting it from the G8. But these sanctions are about punishing Russia to deter it from future invasions, or at best an attempt to convince Putin that invading Ukraine is not worthwhile.

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Interventionist Insanity

Sep 3 2014 @ 6:38pm
by Jonah Shepp

Shadi Hamid characterizes Obama’s foreign policy as reflecting a lack of faith in American power:

Obama, far from the prudent technocrat some assume him to be, is a believer in the limits not just of American power (which would be understandable) but American agency, colored by a lack of faith in America’s ability to play a constructive role where religious and ethnic divides are paramount. The president has been surprisingly dismissive of the growing number of former U.S. officials and Middle East and Syria experts who have criticized him for not intervening in Syria more than two and half years ago when less than ten thousand Syrians had died. That Obama appears unwilling to question his original assumptions, despite rapidly changing events on the ground, suggests an insularity and ideological rigidity that surpasses even the Bush administration.

The fact that Syria has gone to shit without American help doesn’t disprove the argument that US intervention wouldn’t solve Syria’s problems. Hamid’s logic here is telling: Obama thought it was a bad idea to intervene in Syria in 2012, and today he thinks it’s still a bad idea (and no evidence has emerged to demonstrate otherwise), therefore Obama is insular and ideologically rigid. After a series of disastrous exercises (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya) brought about by an overabundance of faith in American power, where do interventionists like Hamid get off criticizing Obama’s lack of faith in this power as though it were some kind of nebbishy tic? Is that lack of faith not a rational response to repeated demonstrations that there are problems in the world that American power can’t solve? Having “faith” in a course of action that has been repeatedly been demonstrated not to work demonstrates not strength, resolve, or leadership, but rather a failure to see what is in front of one’s face. And lacking faith in it seems pretty smart to me.

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Dissents Of The Day

Sep 3 2014 @ 3:20pm
by Jonah Shepp

My assertion yesterday that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might have had something to do with the eastward expansion of NATO is drawing some fire from the inbox. One reader writes:

I think that you and John Mearsheimer may think yourselves very clever for understanding that the US and NATO’s hubristic expansion is at fault in the Ukrainian crisis. You claim, that without this expansion there would be no Ukraine crisis, a totally ludicrous statement, for which you give no justification. What you fail to appreciate is that the countries in Eastern Europe who clamored to join NATO are also rational independent actors totally capable of acting independently the US or other Western Powers. Poland, the Baltics, Czech Republic, etc.. all know what it is like to be dominated by an imperial power from the east and they certainly wanted protection again such a thing happening again. They chose NATO, not the other way around. In the 90s, most people in the west didn’t think that NATO was even necessary anymore. I think it is completely preposterous to claim that NATO expansion was borne out of some desire for conquest.

Another reader argues that the eternal Cold War mentality belongs to Putin, not the West:

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