Posts Tagged ‘Putin’

Check and Checkmate in Syria

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Iran, Russia, Syria
Tags: , , ,


Our Daily Challenge: Checkered I too went with the obvious choice.


Today it was reported that Russian aircraft targeted sites outside of Homs which contained no ISIS elements but rather CIA funded rebels fighting the Assad regime.


Any hope that Russia is in Syria to take on ISIS is held only by the White House and its supporters. Vladimir Putin has no track record of being on “the right side of history” (as the White House has a proclivity to say).  To believe Russia would be an honest broker and a credible actor is nothing short of naive.

What is shocking is how bewildered this White House is in its reaction to Putin’s successful gambit of aiding President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the eleventh hour. From Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s remarks of “this is like pouring gasoline onto the fire” to John Kerry’s joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following the announcement of Russia’s unilateral military action — this administration’s actions defy logic or explanation.

The Kremlin, in cooperation with Iran, has made an obvious promise to the Assad regime.  The Russians and the Iranians have promised to see the Assad regime through the present crisis. Russian airpower is the first strike in this promise. It has been reported in the UK press that Iranian and Hizbollah forces have entered the northwest area of Syria (targeted by Russian aircraft) in preparation for a ground attack on Syrian rebel forces holding that territory.

Inaction by the US has now brought on a wider conflict, leading to the real possibility of greater lethal complexity in Syria.  The White House has been checkmated but the true losers in this fiasco are the Syrian people themselves.




The NATO summit this week in Cardiff, Wales will have a full agenda but a priority issue is finally bringing Georgia into NATO.

In 2008 Georgia engaged Russia in a ill-timed and poorly planned conflict with Russia over the its breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That short conflict was more about Georgia seeking closer ties to NATO rather than those two  breakaway provinces.  Georgia went forward in that conflict believing that NATO would be there as a deterrent to Moscow and Putin’s expansionist goals.  NATO did not show up.

Today Georgia still faces a threat from Moscow and Vladimir Putin’s idea of a Russia as the successor state to the former USSR.  As with all former Soviet republics today, Georgia faces an increasingly belligerent Russian foreign policy which is being designed as a buffer for Russia essentially against the rest of the globe.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia continue to act as forien countries even though they are in reality a part of Georgia and the people that live there continue to believe that Russia will guarantee their future.  Moscow has clearly abandoned any idea of absorbing these two orphan districts except for the fact that Putin would never allow them to be anything more than what they are today–anything but a part of Georgia.

NATO has been slow to this point in bringing Georgia into a closer relationship–that pace must now be quickened. Prior to this year it was NATO’s policy to not provoke Moscow by offering Georgia membership in NATO. Over the past year, however, Moscow has plundered Ukrainian sovereignty with a land grab in Crimea while attempting to create a new frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to bisect a sovereign country.

What more egregious behavior on Moscow’s part must happen for NATO to take action?

One dynamic that Vladimir Putin understands is decisive and focused action. The time for Georgia to be welcomed into NATO is now. The time to send that decisive signal to Vladimir Putin and his hegemonic dreams is long past due.

Russia’s Lost Convoy

Posted: August 18, 2014 in Russia, Ukraine

Russian humanitarian convoy moves to Ukraine

The long and winding road from Mosow to Lugansk for Russia’s “humanitarian” convoy is now held at the Ukrainian border as the Red Cross (ICRC) begins the transfer to its authority.

The next step will be ensuring there will be no Russian military presence associated with the aid and that the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine will allow the ICRC safe and unfettered access into the region they currently control which is the intended destination of the cargo being transported from Moscow.

This convoy of nearly 300 Russian military vehicles, which were hastily repainted a non-threating white from their normal green camouflage, originated from military bases outside Moscow with Russian military drivers and escorts. Both Kiev and Western officials are not convinced that this is a benign humanitarian effort on the part of Vladimir Putin.  Some believe it could even be a precursor to a “peacekeeping” mission by Russian military units which continue to build in numbers on the Ukrainian border (NATO now estimating 20,000 Russian troops).

In reality this convoy is yet another diversion by Vladimir Putin as he attempts to minimize the impact of western sanctions and to maximize the benefits of instigating chaos on the frontier border with Ukraine. This is a classic example of the arsonist offering assistance in putting out the blaze that he himself set.

If this cargo is humanitarian aid it will be well received in Lugansk, although calling the situation there a “humanitarian crisis” is somewhat overplaying the reality. That, however, serves the propaganda machine of Putin and gives necessary pretext for any “peacekeeping” operations to come rolling over the border and into Ukraine.

This convoy, as described in these pages, has been widely referred to as Putin’s trojan horse.  As the days and kilometers have dragged on and now the delay at the border, these white trucks from Moscow are quickly becoming Putin’s white elephant.




A Trojan Horse Painted White

Posted: August 13, 2014 in Russia, Ukraine


The latest ploy from Moscow, unilaterally organizing a “humanitarian” convoy from a military base outside Moscow paints Russian President Vladimir Putin as the last 20th century leader on the world stage.

The most recent chapter in Moscow’s once mysterious but now bizarre actions in supporting the rebels in eastern Ukraine sees a convoy of 280 trucks from Moscow snake their way toward Lugansk in eastern Ukraine. The ongoing isolation of that city is due to Ukrainian forces slowly tightening the circle around separatist forces in the region including Donetsk, the makeshift HQ of Putin’s proxy forces in the region.

Now Putin orders Russian military trucks quickly repainted white and stuffed with items known only to the Russian military who are wholly in charge of its destination.  This clumsily concealed movement is said to be coordinated through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) but ICRC officials have stated they are in no way control of this action and are completely in the dark as to the contents of these trucks.

Ukraine has stated it will not allow this convoy to pass through its territory in its journey to Lugansk. If this happens Moscow can redirect the route to pass through several porous checkpoints between eastern Ukraine and Russia which are still under the control of separatists. At best this is a clumsy propaganda ploy by Putin using food as his latest weapon against Kiev, at worst it is a trojan horse being deployed in advance of a full scale military move into eastern Ukraine to stem the recent advances by Ukrainian forces.

Either scenario takes the reader back to the middle of the 20th century when such actions where common and blindingly transparent. It’s clear that Vladimir Putin is a creation of not only the KGB bureaucracy but of the late 20th century.

He feels most comfortable with confrontation and petty role playing which characterized the intelligence services of old. Putin, however, has awaken to 2014 and the realization that he has overplayed a well worn hand of cards which leaves him with very few rational options as he has now bluffed his way to the end of his game.


The past 72 hours have seen the US, and the EU hit Russia hard with a third round of sanctions, this time targeting sectors of the economy not just individuals.  The stakes have been raised by Moscow, Washington and Brussels as they enter into a new and dangerous phase of their relationship.  Moscow appears unwilling to back down from its support of rebels in eastern Ukraine while Washington and Brussels have reached their limit for Russian interference in a sovereign state. The sanctions against Moscow now raise this confrontation to a level not seen for decades.

There are those who believe that sanctions will cause Vladimir Putin to reconsider his support of the unrest in Ukraine and adjust his behavior.  These sanctions, necessary as they are, will in all likelihood not alter the Kremlin’s support for these proxy forces in eastern Ukraine and could produce the inverse reaction–belligerently countering these sanctions by increasing rebel support while rallying local support for Putin himself as he “stands up against Western aggression.”

In 1999 NATO carried out a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in reaction to Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign in Kosovo.  This page has no intention of delving into the politics and ethics of that bombing campaign, however, the actions of the people of Yugoslavia who suffered the consequences of that bombing should be examined as the West looks to punish Vladimir Putin for his policies in eastern Ukraine.

There was a wide spread belief throughout the policy community in Washington during the 1999 NATO bombing that within seven to ten days Milosevic would drastically change his policies and acquiesce to the West’s demands for a separated Kosovo from Yugoslavia.  What happened instead was a prolonged and ultimately a disastrous situation as NATO’s campaign went for over 80 days and began to exhaust its stockpile of “smart weapons” which caused a number of highly publicized incidents such as the bombing of the hospital in Nis as well as wide spread suffering across Serbia.

In short, Washington believed the threat of action and the first effects of the bombing would bring about an immediate and wholesale change in Milosevic’s behavior. In fact, it didn’t. Milosevic personally wasn’t impacted, the population of Serbia was and they did what anyone patriotic citizenry would do–support the government.

Similarly today, if there is a streak of belief that sanctions in Russia, and there is no alternative now but sanctions, will bring about an immediate change of heart in Vladimir Putin there will be only disappointment.  Putin has brought on these sanctions by his reckless actions in seizing Crimea and supporting unrest in eastern Ukraine. These sanctions, however, will be used by him and his United Russia party as a rallying cry to stand up against the West as it “attempts to bring down the Russian state” as has already been decried by the state run media.

At the end of the day both Washington and Brussels should admit that we have entered a new phase in this post Soviet relationship with Moscow and it’s not a healthy one but one that Russia itself has brought about by its own actions.  Also, it’s a phase in which Russia will retreat back to its own borders and rally its citizens around Vladimir Putin rather than rise up against his hegemonic dreams.

In short, we are all in for an uncomfortable ride which will last for the foreseeable future.

The Frenzied Fringe Element

Posted: July 28, 2014 in Russia, Ukraine



When operating on the edge there’s always the risk of being on fringe, living in a self made world that rarely reflects reality.  This is especially true when this fringe element is a diaspora, a people separated by geography but joined by self-perceived societal adhesives.

Diasporas tend to be societies unto themselves.  They don’t fit with the society they derived from and they choose to separate themselves from the societies that they reside.  Their “identity” stems from the uniqueness vis-a-vis the country they grew up in but do not consider home.  This is the case with diasporas from Cuba living in the United States (Miami)  after the fall of the Batista regime and the rise of Fidel Castro to Vietnamese living in the United States following the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 to the Balkan diaspora (Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia) living in the United States during the devolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s.

In every case the diaspora is generally out of touch with the land it claims is home (not the land they were born and live in) and they tend to fight the last war that has become part of that society’s great narrative.

This brings us to eastern Ukraine and the pro-Russian minority who live in Ukraine but desire a different identity–and the Russian government that is all too willing to allow this fantasy to live to see another day.

The pro-Russian rebels that are Moscow’s proxy force in Ukraine believe that their destiny has been somehow betrayed by history and they live in a place that they don’t belong.  This fantasy of novorossiya is a 19th century dream which has morphed into a 21st century nightmare that these rebels are living if only in a self-created bubble along the Ukrainian-Russian border.

Nevertheless, they believe they can shape the future even though they believe they have been cheated by modernity.  The danger in this delusion is when these dreamers are given massive infusions of lethal weapons and a mandate from whom they believe they serve thereby causing a horrific situation such as the downing of Malaysian Air 17 this month.

Moscow appears prepared to redouble its efforts in fomenting instability in eastern Ukraine to the point where it is hard to argue that Vladimir Putin has in effect declared war on Kiev.  In this multi-pronged policy it is clear that the Russian diaspora in eastern Ukraine is playing a pivotal role in creating the chaos that now engulfs the region.

For its part, the Russian diaspora is all too willing to play the role of the obedient estranged child in being “more Russian than the Russians” by whipping up anti-Ukrainain sentiments long since dormant. Meanwhile, it acts out the role of the neglected child in an attempt to gain approval from the parent.

That parent, in this case, is Vladimir Putin who once again is more than willing to play off insecurities and psychological profiles within society in order to reshape the world according to his design.


Written for radicalizing Russia at the turn of the 20th century by Vladimir Lenin, these words now are echoing in the halls of government in Washington and Europe as next steps are contemplated in responding to Russia’s continued support of unrest in Ukraine.

These words published in 1902 expounded on Lenin’s ideas in revolutionizing the working class.  In this work Lenin advocated that an active political party, a vanguard, should be created to convert the rank and file working class to Marxism.  More was needed than simply protesting wages and policies. The ideology should be organic to the people.  One suspects that Lenin, relegated to the back shelves of the Kremlin’s bookcases for the past twenty years,  once again can be found on the night stands and coffee tables in Vladimir Putin’s world.

The events of the past weeks would have seem far fetched and unlikely only months ago.  The continued and unabated transfer of Russian arms to proxy forces in eastern Ukraine, the downing of fourteen Ukrainian planes by pro-Russian separatists and the horrific act of bringing down a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 have Washington and Europe blaming the rebels with the possibility of Russian complicity.

Now the West stands on the threshold of a choice whether to take significant economic and political action against Vladimir Putin’s unrelenting campaign to destabilize Ukraine–or allowing his egregious behavior to become the new normal.

EU ambassadors will meet today to discuss more crippling sanctions against Russia’s economy.  A similar meeting took place this past Monday with foreign ministers from EU member states which produced minimal results. Although there were more individuals within Putin’s inner circle that would be impacted by sanctions, the EU failed to take on entire financial institutions and sectors of the Russian economy.  Without sweeping sanctions that impact the Russian economy writ large, it seems Putin will be allowed to continue to support unrest on his border.

Washington as well will need to treat the unrest in eastern Ukraine as an international conflict rather than a simple crime scene. The downing of MH17 is a tragic symptom of a larger issue that allowed events to spiral out of control and tragically brought a civilian airliner down and the murder of nearly 300 innocent lives.

What is to be done? Vladimir Putin is under no illusion what the answer is to Lenin’s question about how to bring about unrest in order to foment revolution–he’s doing it. The final question is will the West take the necessary steps to meet his challenge.