Posted on 27-08-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The capture of Russian paratroopers 20 miles inside Ukrainian territory is the latest expose of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine.  Russia laughably claimed that the soldiers happened to get lost and just happened to stumble across the border.

However, reports indicate the Russian military has started military operations in Ukraine attacking Ukrainian forces closing in on Donetsk in the rear.  The downing of Flight MH-17 by his thugs had briefly backed the Russian despot into a corner, but with domestic pressure rising and Ukrainian forces on the brink of victory Putin appears to have decided to send direct military aid.  The half empty aid convoy last week appears to have been a distraction for the real invasion.

This happens as the Putin met the president of Ukraine in Minsk to discuss peace, even while he engages in bald faced lies about his invasion.

The problem for Ukraine is that Putin cares more about Ukraine than either the United States or Europe.  The other problem is that the economic tools at America’s disposal are limited since Russia is a minor trading partner.  Europe stuck in a long recession exacerbated by German demands for austerity is unwilling to risk further harm to its economy.

The result is Tsar Vlad is merrily annexing land from a neighbor with impunity.

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Posted on 18-03-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

For the last few weeks Vladimir Putin has been mocking the intelligence of the world by denying the Russian invasion of the Crimea.  Even if the laughable interpretation that the soldiers taking over the peninsula were “local self-defense units,” the Russians had no explanation for the Russian tanks patrolling the streets.  Then this weekend came the mockery of a referendum on the fate of Crimea.  The status quo was not an option on the ballot.  Resentful Crimean Tatars boycotted the referendum.  Support for unifying with Russia which measured in the 40s somehow manifested in a Soviet style 97% majority (aided by voting miracles like the votes cast in Sevastopol exceeding the voting population).  Fresh off this mockery, Putin then proclaimed that Crimea had “always” been a part of Russia (even though it did not become a part of any Russian state till the late 18th century and the current Russian majority is the product of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing).  The mask is off and Putin has now openly annexed the Crimea.

What happens next is where the danger lies.  Russia is now pushing for the Finlandization of Ukraine – demanding it remain non-aligned and drastically federalize its constitution to meet Russian diktats.  In the last few weeks Putin has asserted the right to intervene on behalf of ethnic Russians beyond his borders – a statement that probably sends a chill down the spines of his neighbors.

Yet in the long run Putin’s embrace of the Chinese model of making friends and influencing people belies a deep weakness – the KGB thug has been unable to steer his most valuable neighbor into his embrace with carrots and now tries the stick.  This model has not worked well for China, which counts on rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea as its ally.  Burma’s junta scared by a future as a Chinese colony choose to release Aung San Suu Kyi and cautiously democratized.  ASEAN countries and Japan scared by Chinese saber rattling have run back to Uncle Sam’s embrace.

This is the future for Russia.  Even if Putin detaches parts of Eastern Ukraine, he now has an extremely resentful neighbor on his western front.  And the reward for this is Crimea – a province that relies on Ukraine for its water and electricity and is currently unreachable from Russian territory by road.  He has ensured Russian expulsion from the G8 (not that Russia belonged there to begin with) and has sent alarm bells ringing in Russia’s former Warsaw Pact prisoners and the Baltic States.  All this because for the second time in a decade Ukraine would not be ruled by Russia’s anointed leader.

Russia has the ability to cause mischief (notably in Iran and Syria) but barring miscalculations that lead to war in Ukraine, not much more.

The reaction in the United States has been typical.  The Republicans agree with President Obama’s plans in substance (other than the silly desire to put missiles in the Czech Republic) but want more effective posturing.  Mitt Romney not realizing his 15 minutes are up showed up to predictably bash the President but had no real substance to add in terms of solutions.  The Obama administration’s hands are tied by the reality that its sanctions can have limited effect on Russia.  The substance has to come from Europe, where the United Kingdom has been cheerfully accepting the wealth of Russian oligarchs and Germany is worried about the economic fallout.  The next week will be critical to see if the Russians spend their time digesting the Crimea of proceed with the dismemberment of Ukraine.

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Posted on 09-03-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The Russian invasion of the Crimea is grist of the Obama derangement syndrome mill.  It is truly impressive how the right can fit their view of President Obama for any point of view.  He is the tyrant, the dictator, the man taking away all of your freedoms.  But now he is weak, feckless and wears mommy jeans.  Coupled with their contempt for the President is the odd fascination with former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (whose stock rose in certain circles after Russia passed statutes restricting the rights of homosexuals.

Putin of course is not the strongman of their wet dreams.  He heads a corrupt oligarchy funded by Russian oil and natural gas.  Russia is a decaying country facing demographic disaster and Putin’s long tenure has not even begun to stem the rot.  Even the invasion of Ukraine occurred from a position of weakness.  Putin’s patsy in Kiev was abruptly toppled and the demonstrators in the Western part of the country indicated that their future is in Europe not in Putin’s corrupt oligarchic embrace.

Jon Stewart has a nice rundown of the derangement infecting the right.  Video below:

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Posted on 03-03-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations read a purported letter today from the impeached  ex-President of the Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych where the corrupt oligarch calls for the use of Russian troops  “to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine.” If genuine it constitutes a major departure from Yanukovych’s press conference last week where he stated the use of military force was unacceptable.

It also indicates Putin is relying on his quisling to find a justification for the invasion of Crimea.  Yanukovych’s letter also claims there have been acts of terror requiring foreign intervention.  Even though parts of the Maidan movement are xenophobic and fascistic, the Crimea is ruled by an autonomous republic dominated by ethnic Russians.  No actual cases of these atrocities in the Crimea have yet come to light.

Putin’s government at present is reduced to talking out of both sides of its mouth, claiming that their quisling is the legitimate president of Ukraine bit acknowledging that restoring his kleptocratic regime to power is not possible.

The concern now is preventing the escalation to a shooting war.  Russia denies that it gave ships of the Ukrainian navy an ultimatum to surrender.  We will find out tomorrow.

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Posted on 03-03-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

It has become an article of faith among American conservatives that Vladimir Putin is a Machiavellian maestro running circles around the United States.  The reality is the Russian despot rules over a petrostate with nukes that is gradually morphing into the stereotypical “Oriental” despotism.  Putin earned plaudits at home by improving on the inebriated Boris Yeltsin and “pacifying” Chechnya in a manner that brings to mind the famous quote attributed by Tacitus to the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus regarding Pax Romana:

Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.

The Russian Federation may not be in a state of anarchy of the Yeltsin years but it is a profoundly diseased state.  Putin has grasped on the sinews of power but has fundamentally failed to regenerate the institutions of the state that create great leaders.  Wealth is concentrated with the oligarchs so long as they remain loyal to the Kremlin.  Public dissent is not tolerated and public protests require permits.  Journalists have been killed and opposition leaders have been locked up on spurious charges.  The last round of elections in Russia and the blatant rigging of the results underscored a deep dissatisfaction with the path Putin’s Russia has taken.  Yet with no rivals visible and with any threats snuffed out, Tsar Vlad continues to rule.  Oil, nukes and size ensure that for now Russia will not be a basket case like the next door (Russian subsidized) despotism in Belarus.

Yet Tsar Vlad is deeply paranoid.  The color revolutions over the past decade (Green in Iran, Rose in Georgia and Orange in Ukraine in 2004), even if they were not all successful, have evidently create a determination that Putin’s creaky aristocracy will not be next.  The fall of his patsy Viktor Yanukovych, even though he distrusted him, was an unwelcome slap in the face that eliminated the buzz from the Sochi Olympics.

The trigger for the protests that brought down Yanukovych was his backtracking on an agreement with the European Union in favor of a Russian led customs union.  Over the course of the crisis Putin dangled the bait for the 15 billion dollar loan Ukraine desperately needed and at times withheld funds when Yanukovych showed signs of wobbling to the protesters in the Maidan.  All of this was to no avail.  His fellow kelptocrat fled Kiev and the despised opposition took over in Kiev.

Ukraine is a divided country with a large Russian speaking population.  It desperately needs Russian natural gas and financial help.  Putin could have disavowed Yanukovych as a corrupt incompetent and made the desperate Ukrainian regime the type of offer that wins friends.  That would have been the act of a statesman.

But Tsar Putin has never been confused with a statesman.  The man who felt the fall of the Soviet Union was a tragedy has over the years been obsessed with restoring Russian prestige in the near abroad.  So the wounded Tsar chose to flex his muscles by invading the Crimea under the shield of a laughable subterfuge.

In the finest Russian tradition of acting to protect its compatriots – who never were really in any danger – Russia sent soldiers in camouflage into the Crimea in violation of a 1994 agreement to respect Ukraine’s borders.  The Crimea has always been a sore sport for Russia since Nikita Khrushchev arbitrarily gifted to Ukraine in the 1950s.  With a majority Russian population it has long seethed at ties to Kiev.  Yet for the last 20 years it has internationally been recognized as a part of Ukraine and has had its own autonomous sub-republic.   More worryingly Tsar Vlad declared a right to interfere on behalf of Russian minorities anywhere which sent chills down the spines of Russia’s neighbors.

The intervention leaves the United States with few options.  Military intervention is unthinkable and Ukraine is not a NATO member.  The United States needs Russian cooperation in Syria and Iran.  Yet the usual suspects have gone to the TV shows bleating about this being due to American “weakness.”  Senator Grumpy already proclaimed that “we [were] all Ukrainians,” a reminder of his similar dumb comment during the 2008 Russian war with Georgia.  Senator Lumpy excoriated President Obama’s weaknesses for encouraging the Russians.  Senator Rubio desperate to regain his conservative bonafides in time for the 2016 Presidential primaries proclaimed that “Russia has a government of liars.”

None of this is immediately helpful for solutions on what the United States should do with Tsar Vlad’s petulant invasion.  Senator Grumpy in his continuing efforts to get us into another war wants the United States to bring Georgia into NATO. The immediate aftermath will be a cancellation of the impending G-8 meeting in Sochi.  Russia which never really belonged in the group will likely be suspended from the organization.  The primary weapon will likely be some type of targeted economic retaliation – even though sanctions have had limited effects on countries in the past.  Hopefully the solution includes a generous economic assistance package to the wobbly Ukrainian government (hopefully without the German depression inducing austerity prescriptions).

But for now we watch and wait…and hope that Putin’s miscalculations and bluster do not trigger a civil war in Ukraine.

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Posted on 24-02-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Over the last year it has become an article of faith among opponents of President Obama that Vladimir Putin has taken command over the world stage.  The event of the last week confirm how ridiculous that view is.  Putin’s corporatist state is essentially a oil producing state with nuclear weapons that struggles to keep control of its “near abroad.”

Since late last year the Ukrainian capital of Kiev has been subject to series of mass protests that would not die.  The trigger appears to have been the sudden decision of President Yanukovych to abruptly abandon a deal with the European Union in favor of one with Putin’s Russia.  The thought of being folded into Tsar Vladimir’s embrace was not a pleasant one for many in the western part of the country and they took to the streets.

Ukraine is a deeply divided country religiously, linguistically and politically.  The western part tends to be Catholic, speak Ukrainian and wants closer ties to Europe.  The East (and the Crimea) where Yanukovych drew his support tends to be Orthodox, speak Russian and favors closer ties to Russia.  These are divisions Russia has eagerly played on over the last decade.

An attempt to rig the presidential elections in favor of Yanukovych in 2004 led to the so called Orange Revolution.  Unfortunately the gains of the Orange Revolution were squandered by incompetence and squabbling allowing Yanukovych to gain power in the 2010 elections.  However, once in power Yanukovych too squandered his victory.  He tossed his election opponent Yulia Tymoshenko into prison on what appears to have been a trumped up charge.  Along with his own coterie of oligarchs he spent his time enriching himself and mismanaging the Ukranian economy.  By late last year Ukraine desperately needed foreign aid and the 15 billion dollars offered by Putin seemed tempting.

Late last year Yanukovych attempted to clear the protesters in the Maidan by force, a move that backfired.  As time dragged on the protests became radicalized with many protesters engaging in violence against the police and starting to seize local city halls.  Then last week Yanukovych appears to have unleashed snipers on the crowd leading to the specter of civil war.

The problem for Yanukovych was that his support base was brittle.  His oligarch supporters appear to have wanted no part of a pariah state and when a final negotiated solution to share power fell through he abruptly fled.

Jubilant protesters stormed parliament and Yanukovych’s mansion outside the city and parliament promptly voted to impeach Yanukovych and revert to the 2004 constitution that weakened presidential powers.  An arrest warrant has now been issued for Yanukovych’s arrest.

The pictures from his estate (complete with a private zoo with peacocks) display just how far Yanukovych went in feathering his nest.


 

Yanukovych has so far refused to accept his deposition and there are rumors that he may have fled to the Crimea, the most intensely pro-Russian portion of Ukraine.  Peeved at the deposition of his patsy and the abrupt pro-EU turn Ukraine has taken, Russia has withdrawn its ambassador from Kiev.  The next step from Moscow is unclear.  Russia has in the past cheerfully splintered some of the former Soviet Republics, a strategy that predates Putin – See Transnistria.  The temptations to play such games in the East and particularly in the Crimea (home of Russia’s black sea fleet) will be strong.  However, so far nobody in Ukraine seems to be discussing such an eventuality.

The challenges for Ukraine are grave.  The country is an economic mess.  Sections of the opposition are notoriously anti-Semitic and fascistic.  Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison a martyr to Yanukovych’s regime but carries with her the baggage of unsavory business dealings from the 1990s and the squabbling in the aftermath of the Orange revolution.  Yanukovych is gone but the core problems remain…added with the worries of a neighbor who controls the switch to Ukraine’s natural gas supply and has been known to use it for leverage.

Once the adrenaline rush from the dramatic fall of Viktor Yanukovych fades the bleak reality of digging out of the rubble lies ahead.

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Posted on 08-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Tsar Vladimir’s (f/k/a Filaret) latest Jacques Cousteu impersonation is a doozy.  Dressed in white coveralls the Tsar flew a hang glider to help guide cranes into a new migration path (basically to avoid Afghanistan where they are hunted).  The actual details of the event are bit farcical and may have actually killed some birds.  But after tacking mammals on land and on sea in the past it was time to take to the air.  This is the latest feat of strength the Tsar has used to distract from the dismal reality of life in his corporatist petrostate.  Of course his infamous archaeological scuba dive defied credulity and was rapidly exposed as a setup.

But the Tsar still knows his limits.  He laughably refers to his luxurious digs as the life of a galley slave.  And recently he recoiled when a priest tried to pay him obeisance and kiss his ring.

 

 

 

Hopefully this means the sight of the Tsar displaying a healing touch is still far away.

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Posted on 07-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Sports) by Rashtrakut
  • Just how bad are the Chicago Bulls?  Opposing player with the ball ties his shoes in live play and no Bulls player even tries to take the ball.  See link (includes video).
  • Not a shocker.  Vladimir Putin hints that he may run for President and take back his previous office in 2012.  Meanwhile legal institutions and the rule of law in his country atrophy.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy shoots off his mouth, ticks off the United Kingdom.
  • Former Pakistani dictator’s graft amnesty challenged in court.  It could affect the ability of President Zardari formerly known as Mr. Ten Percent to stay in power.
  • Iraq may have finally got a deal to hold its elections.  Previous blogs here and here.  The electoral deal staves off a potential civil war over sharing power and oil revenues.  Here’s hoping it holds.  Maybe we can finally start satisfying some of the other benchmarks George Bush talked about.

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