miércoles, 24 de mayo de 2017

Fora Temer


La cosa no da para más en Brasil. El único que no lo entiende así es el presidente legal, pero no legítimo, Michel Temer. Así cuenta los últimos sucesos Russia Today: 


Título: Brasil despliega tropas y evacúa ministerios por destructivas protestas contra Temer 

Subtítulo: Al menos 25.000 personas han protagonizado disturbios en la capital para exigir la renuncia del mandatario y el fin a las medidas de austeridad.

Texto: Manifestantes han abarrotado la sede del Gobierno de Brasil para exigir el fin de las medidas de austeridad y la dimisión del presidente Michel Temer. Según reporta Brasil de Fato, agencias oficiales de seguridad reportan unas 25.000 personas reunidas en la Esplanada de los Ministerios en Brasilia, pero la organización de la manifestación informa sobre unas 150.000.

Las protestas, que comenzaron pacíficamente, desembocaron en violencia: los manifestantes prendieron fuego a los edificios del Ministerio de Agricultura y el Ministerio de Hacienda en ese lugar, con lo que las autoridades decidieron evacuar a todos los empleados de las sedes ministeriales federales.

Además de su caballería, la Policía ha empleado gas lacrimógeno en contra de los manifestantes, y se informa sobre al menos un herido de bala.


Refuerzos militares

El ministro de Defensa de Brasil, Raúl Jungmann, ha informado que el presidente considera "inaceptable" la violencia desatada y que ha pedido "refuerzos" de tropas para defender los edificios del gobierno.

"El presidente decretó [...] la acción de garantía de la ley y el orden y, en este instante, tropas federales se encuentran en el Palacio del Planalto y en el Palacio de Itamaraty (sedes del poder ejecutivo y del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores) y más adelante llegarán tropas adicionales para asegurar que los demás edificios ministeriales permanezcan incólumes", comunicó Jungmann, según informa Globo.


Marchas por todo el país

La marcha fue convocada por los sindicatos que exigen la renuncia del mandatario, que se encuentra en medio de un escándalo de corrupción. Este escenario de protestas se repite por todo el país, incluyendo los alrededores de la residencia de Temer en São Paulo. Tanto sectores de oposición como miembros de su propia base exigen la dimisión del presidente.


Las causas del descontento

La semana pasada salió a la luz una grabación que comprometería al presidente en relación a un supuesto pago de "silencio" para que no se revelaran detalles de su involucramiento en el caso de corrupción en Petrobras.

A pesar de esto, Temer sostiene que es inocente y no pretende abandonar su cargo voluntariamente: "Mantengo la serenidad, especialmente sobre lo que ya dije: no voy a renunciar. Si quieren, que me derriben, porque si yo renunciara sería una declaración de culpa", declaró recientemente.


***


Por su parte, leemos en Página/12:


Título: Temer saca al Ejército

Texto: El presidente brasileño firmó un decreto que dispone el envío de tropas federales a la capital durante una semana, luego de que una masiva manifestación en su contra terminara con enfrentamientos con la policía y destrozos en algunos ministerios.

El debilitado presidente Michel Temer decretó el envío de tropas federales a Brasilia con la excusa de proteger los edificios públicos tras los desmanes provocados por grupos de manifestantes que participaron en una masiva protesta que reclamó la renuncia del mandatario. Temer autorizó la convocatoria al Ejército durante una semana para “garantizar la ley y el orden público”.

"En este momento ya hay tropas federales aquí, en el palacio de Itamaraty [sede de la Cancillería], y ya están llegando tropas para asegurar la protección de los edificios ministeriales", anunció el ministro de Defensa, Raul Jungmann, en una breve declaración de prensa tras los destrozos en algunos ministerios. "Era una manifestación que estaba prevista como pacífica, pero que degeneró en violencia, vandalismo, agresiones al patrimonio público y amenazas a las personas", sostuvo el ministro.

Los incidentes se produjeron al final de una multitudinaria marcha convocada por los sindicatos, que originalmente era contra el ajuste de Temer pero que sumó el masivo pedido para que renuncie el mandatario. El “Fora Temer” y el reclamo de elecciones directas tomó impulso la semana pasada luego de que se conociera la existencia de audios en los que el presidente avala el pago de coimas al detenido diputado Eduardo Cunha, artífice del golpe parlamentario contra Dilma Rousseff.

Los agentes de la Policía se apostaron delante de la sede del Congreso, así como de la sede de Gobierno, para evitar el avance de la marcha. Imágenes de televisión mostraron a los agentes disparando gases lacrimógenos y balas de goma, además de columnas de humo en varias barricadas y fuego en edificios gubernamentales. Después de controlar las llamas en varios edificios, las fuerzas de seguridad empezaron a dispersar a los manifestantes.

El Congreso, por su parte, suspendió temporalmente una sesión debido a disputas, incluso a empujones, entre parlamentarios opositores y aliados del Ejecutivo.

martes, 23 de mayo de 2017

Macron-Putin


Algo podría estar ocurriendo en el normalmente cataléptico mundo diplomático europeo. El recién electo presidente de Francia, Emmanuel Macron, invitó al presidente ruso Vladimir Putin a charlar un rato a fines de este mes. Habrá que ver. Comenta sobre este hecho el sitio web Indian Punchline:


Título: A Franco-Russian ‘thaw’ is in the offing

Texto: The Kremlin made a surprise announcement on Monday that President Vladimir Putin will be travelling to Paris on May 29 at the invitation of his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. The occasion is an exhibition by Russia’s State Hermitage Museum at the Grand Trianon palace at Versailles, to mark the 300th anniversary of Russian Tsar Peter the Great’s visit to France in 1717.

The Russian-French relations have been at freezing point lately. In the recent French elections, Macron pointedly refused to admire Putin, unlike his far-right opponent Le Pen. In turn, Russian media caricatured Macron as ‘anti-Christ’ and poked at his marriage with a woman 26 years senior. Besides, there was the incessant Anglo-American whispering campaign that Russia was interfering in the French election. Le Pen was a popular figure among the Moscow elites too.

Thus, a frosty relationship between Macron and Putin was foreseen as inevitable. But it seems they are letting bygones be bygones and are anxious to turn over a new leaf. Putin would have sized up Macron as someone he can (and should) do business with.

Macron’s equations with US President Donald Trump remain indifferent. Trump had voiced enthusiasm for Le Pen and in turn Barack Obama openly endorsed Macron’s candidature. Macron is a votary of western liberalism and he and Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel are the flag carriers of the opposition to right-wing populism in the European political landscape.

Merkel will benefit out of Macron’s magnificent election victory in her own campaign to get another mandate as chancellor in the upcoming October poll for the Bundestag. Having said that, Macron is both an ally and a potential adversary for Merkel. Both believe in the raison d’etre of the European Union but have vastly different conceptions in regard of the EU’s evolution.

Again, Macron disagrees with Merkel’s approach to the refugee problem. On the other hand, Merkel is hopeful of finding commonalities with Macron when it comes to her hard line towards Russia. Most importantly, Merkel’s unspoken ambition to make Berlin the European capital will run into Macron’s passionate advocacy of robust EU institutions in Brussels. (Spiegel has a wonderful piece on the Merkel-Macron dalliance – Frenemy in the Making?)

Unsurprisingly, Putin is wading into a bay with stunning coral reefs. Of course, he is known to be a strong swimmer (and scuba diver) and can be trusted to make the most out of the visit to Paris. Putin’s main intention will be to defrost Russian-French ties, which is important, given the great fluidity in the western alignments today. Putin is bound to explore what is there in it for Russia. France is a powerful voice in Europe and historically an ally of Russia.

Second, with Francois Hollande out of power, France’s ardour for Qatar, forged in the smithy of the scandalous deal for the Rafel fighter aircraft (and other arms deals) may cool down. Macron has a clean image and has vowed to come down heavily on corruption and sleaze. In a devastating statement, Macron said, “I will put an end to the agreements that favor Qatar in France. I think there was a lot of complacencies…” The French press reported that on Monday, Macron’s Justice Minister Francois Bayrou held talks with leading anti-corruption organizations Transparency International and Anticor.

Simply put, if Macron dials down France’s ties with its Rafel customer, Qatar, Paris is no longer obliged to serve the Saudi-Qatari interests in the Syrian conflict. Despite the terrorist attacks in Paris, Hollande was virulently opposed to the Russian intervention in Syria. Conceivably, Putin will persuade Macron to play its due role as peacemaker in Syria. (In terms of the League of Nations mandate following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, France was the governing country and trustee in charge of Syria during 1923-1946.) It will be a political earthquake if Macron changes France’s disposition toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but then, that will be looking ahead of time.

Meanwhile, France is also a member of the Normandy format on Ukraine. Suffice to say, Putin is doing the smart thing by rebooting Russia’s European options. Russian foreign policy has been far too heavily preoccupied with the Trump administration. A course correction is useful. At any rate, in the civil war conditions in Washington, Russian-American normalization can only be at a glacial pace, no matter what Moscow desires or Trump seeks. The US’ leadership role is also diminishing by the day amidst the chaos enveloping American politics and the weakening of the Trump presidency.

El negocio de la guerra


Crece la preocupación de que el reciente acuerdo entre Arabia Saudita y los EEUU, básicamente una mega-compra de armamentos del primero al segundo, tenga como objetivo de fondo la guerra entre sauditas y persas. Uno se pregunta qué tienen en la cabeza los gobernantes de Arabia Saudita; no pueden doblegar a Yemen, país que tienen inmediatamente al sur y una de las naciones más pobres de la Tierra, y ahora apuntan a Irán. De estas cosas habla la nota que sigue, de Ghassan Kadi para el sitio web The Vineyard of the Saker:


Título: Al-Saud’s Only Gamble Option

Texto: A lot has been said and speculated on about the “real” objectives of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Seasoned veteran British journalist/analyst and Middle East expert Robert Fisk sees it as an attempt to create a Sunni-style NATO to curb the Iranian expansion, and his speculation is on the money, but in realistic terms, what can this visit and its “aftermath” achieve?

Despite the slump on crude oil prices over the last 2-3 years, the Saudis are not short on cash, despite the huge and growing deficit they are running. Their reserve cash is estimated to be a whopping three quarters of a trillion American dollars, and the unit “trillion” has been chosen here because it is the millions of the 21st Century and billions have become too small to consider.

That said, the Saudis have recently pledged nearly a third of their stash on “investments” with the USA. The first allotment came in the form of an undertaking to invest over 100 billion dollars in the American housing sector less than a fortnight ago, and upon Trump’s historic Riyadh visit, the Saudis signed an excess of 100 billion dollar arms deal contract. This is a total of an excess of 200 billion American dollars to be injected into the American economy. But on the scale of trillions again, this huge figure amounts to only a mere 1% of America’s staggering official 20 trillion dollar debt.

A drop in the ocean perhaps if taken into the context of the American economy and debt, but there is little doubt that this Saudi money will create jobs in the USA, and if President Trump is still sticking by the promise of creating jobs, he’s on the money with this one too.

Thus far, and nearly four months after his inauguration, it can safely be said that the most predictable thing about President Trump thus far has been his unpredictability. But with all of his eccentricities and swings, what was it that made him swing in favour of Al-Saud? It may not be very difficult to solve this puzzle if we look at the chain of events.

Surely, the USA has a lot of strategic interests in the area, and these interests are multi-faceted. Among other things, the USA wants to protect the long-term wellbeing of Israel, curb the influence of Russia and Iran in the region, have a share in the decision making of the “War on Syria”, and last be not least, keep a tight control on Saudi oil and cash wealth.

One of Trump’s election promises was to get America’s allies to pay their way, and he was very vocal about the Saudis saying on a number of occasions that protecting Saudi Arabia was costing the USA more than it should be paying for. Those subtle “threats” sent a wave of shivers down the spines of Saudi royals, especially that they were already in deep trouble financially and also bogged down in a protracted and highly expensive war in Yemen that seems unwinnable.

Given that the Saudis believed that former President Obama has let them down and did not invade Syria after the alleged East Ghouta chemical attack of August 2013, the unknown and rather unstable Trump looked like a wild card and they braced for the worst.

Knowing that they are in deep trouble and need America more than ever, feeling extremely nervous about the Iran nuclear deal, the Saudis realized that the only option they have with Trump was to appease him; “but how?”, they wondered. But when they put two and two together, and listened to Trump’s statements about Saudi Arabia, the Saudis realized that they can and will appease him with money; a quarter of a trillion dollars and counting.

Taking the big fat cheque book out is not a modus operandi that is alien to the Saudi psyche, because the Saudis have learned to solve their problems with money. And now, they believe that they are forging a new era of military and strategic alliance with the United States, and paying for this privilege with hard cash.

What they do not know is that whilst they were dreaming big, thinking that they are on the verge of becoming a regional superpower to be reckoned with signing an alliance with America, Donald Trump was signing a business deal, a sales contract; nothing more and nothing less.

The way Trump sees this is a win-win situation. If the Saudis do manage to get the upper military hand and curb the Iranians, he would have reached this zenith not only without having to fight Iran, but also whilst being paid for it. On the other hand, if the Saudis take a gamble to go to war with Iran and lose, he would have received his quarter trillion in advance. So for Saudi Arabia to win or lose, the deal makes America a quarter of a trillion dollar richer; or rather a quarter of a trillion less in debt.

In reality however, what are the odds of Saudi Arabia winning an open war with Iran? Or will this war eventuate in the first place? Back to this question later on.

In a part of the world that is highly volatile, supplying a huge arsenal of highly lethal weapons to a regime that is known for its atrocities, war crimes, inciting regional tension and creating conflict is pouring oil on an already raging fire. Trump’s arms deal with the Saudis probably marks one of the lowest points in America’s history. If anything, after the historic American-Iranian nuclear deal, America was in a position to play the role of an arbitrator and try to get the Saudis and the Iranians to reconcile; coerce them if needed. Instead, Trump turned his attack on Jihadi terrorism by supplying more support to the core and centre of terrorism (Saudi Arabia) and signed a huge arms deal that will only lead to further and much deadlier escalations.

With seemingly very powerful Sunni/Shiite animosities resurfacing after many centuries of dormancy, the pro-American axis happens to be predominantly Sunni and the pro-Russian resistance axis is seen to be Shiite; though it is not as such in reality. That said, the strongest Sunni army in the region is undoubtedly Turkey’s, and Turkey could potentially play a key role in bolstering Fisk’s Sunni-”NATO”. However, the Kurdish issue is a bigger threat to Turkey than Iran has ever been, and Turkey will walk away from its Sunni brothers and “NATO” allies if they were to support Kurdish separatists and arm them; and the irony is that they are.

Without Turkey, a Sunni-”NATO” will be a toothless tiger, unless perhaps it receives enough support from Israel; a support America will not be prepared to offer. But apart from some possible airstrikes and intelligence sharing, how much support will Israel give if any at all? And how much will Putin will be able to weigh in with his clout to keep Netanyahu’s nose out of it? Last but not least, how will the leaders of a so-called Sunni-”NATO” be able to “sell” the idea of getting into an alliance with Israel with its Sunni populace base?

There is little doubt that the Saudis now feel that Trump has given them a carte blanche to attack Iran, and if they swallow the bait fully, they may be foolish enough to take the gamble. But first, they have to finish off Yemen, and then look back and think how they miscalculated when they planned the so-called “Operation Decisive Storm”, and which was meant to be a swift and successful operation. More than two years later, victory seems further than ever predicted all the while the Yemenis have been improving their missile manufacturing capabilities and have been able to hit targets in the capital Riyadh.

Whilst the Saudis were begging the Americans to sell them more advanced weapons to win the war in Yemen, the Yemenis were developing their own. But given that Saudis believe that all problems can be solved provided one is prepared to spend as much as needed, the bottom line for them will always be, “how much?”

The Saudis will not only have to re-evaluate the short-sighted military gamble they took in Yemen, but also the financial one. No one knows for certain what has thus far been the dollar cost that the Saudis had to cough up, but it is in the tens of billions of dollars. With a country that is currently running a near 90 billion dollar budget deficit and diminishing returns, to gamble one third of the national savings on a new war aimed at Iran is tantamount to both, military and financial suicide.

If a war against Iran is at all winnable by the Saudis, what will be the dollar cost?

If the budget ceiling was broken, just like that of Operation Decisive Storm, and if the Saudis realize that the over 100 billion odd dollars they “invested” to buy state-of-the-art weaponry from the USA was not enough, by how much will they be prepared to lift the cost ceiling? They will only need to break the ceiling 3-4 fold before they actually run out of cash reserves. Such a budget overblow is not unusual in wars, and Yemen and Syria are living proof for the Saudis to learn from; if they are capable of learning.

A war against Iran will perhaps be Al-Saud’s final gamble option, but unless the Saudi royals change their rhetoric and seek reconciliation with their Shiite neighbours, this war could well be Al-Saud’s only gamble option.

But the bottom line to any military action is military pragmatism. How can the Saudis think that they can invade and subdue Iran when they haven’t been able to subdue a starved and besieged Yemen? In the unlikely event that they will be able to serve Iran with a swift “shock-and-awe” strike and achieve prompt victory, what will add to their woes is Iran’s ability to close the Strait of Hormuz and to also hit oil production areas and ports. In simple terms, the Saudi war on Yemen is expensive enough, but a war with Iran will be much more expensive, and one that will cut off Saudi life-line; its income.

Do the Saudis believe that expensive imported hardware is going to give the military edge they need? “Knowing” Trump, he will likely wait till the Saudis are down on their knees begging and then extort them by hiking the price of an elusive “super weapon”, perhaps even an A-Bomb, that will tip the war in Saudi favour. But “knowing” the Saudis and Iranians, if the Saudis attack and start an all-out war on Iran, then this may indeed earn the name of decisive storm, but not on Saudi terms. Will Iran virtually walk into Saudi Arabia? Such a scenario cannot be overruled. More than likely however, America will continue to feed the fire for as long as the Saudi cow (female camel in this instance) can be milked and for as long as there is money to be had. For as long as the infamous Al-Saud are on the throne, the kingdom will continue to be run by the same old rules of arrogance that will not stop until that evil legacy is down and vanquished.

lunes, 22 de mayo de 2017

¿Y luego qué?


Seguimos con el posteo de notas melancólicas sobre el fin del Imperio, escritas por algunos de los analistas lúcidos que todavía quedan allí. En este caso, escribe James Howard Kunstler para su blog Kunstler.com:


Título: "They're Going To Get Rid Of Him One Way Or Another..."

Texto: In case you wonder how our politics fell into such a slough of despond, the answer is pretty simple. Neither main political party, or their trains of experts, specialists, and mouthpieces, can construct a coherent story about what is happening in this country — and the result is a roaring wave of recursive objurgation and wrath that loops purposelessly towards gathering darkness.

What’s happening is a slow-motion collapse of the economy. Neither Democrats or Republicans know why it is so remorselessly underway. A tiny number of well-positioned scavengers thrive on the debris cast off by the process of disintegration, but they don’t really understand the process either — the lobbyists, lawyers, bankers, contractors, feeders at the troughs of government could not be more cynical or clueless.

The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible after years without it. Perhaps that’s why so much hostility is aimed at Mr. Putin of Russia, a person who appears to know where his country stands in history, and who enjoys ample support among his countrymen. How that must gall the empty vessels like Lindsey Graham, Rubio, Schumer, Feinstein, Ryan, et. al.

So along came the dazzling, zany Trump, who was able to communicate a vague sense-memory of what had been lost in our time of American life, whose sheer bluster resembled something like conviction as projected via the cartoonizing medium of television, and who entered a paralysis of intention the moment he stepped into the oval office, where he proved to be even less authentic than the Wizard of Oz. Turned out he didn’t really understand the economic collapse underway either; he just remembered an America of 1962 and though somehow the national clock might be turned back.

The industrial triumph of America in the 19th and 20th century was really something to behold. But like all stories, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and we’re closer to the end of that story than the middle. It doesn’t mean the end of civilization but it means we have to start a new story that provides some outline of a life worth living on a planet worth caring about.

For the moment the fragmentary stories of redemption revolve around technological rescue remedies, chiefly the idea that electric cars will save the nation. This dumb narrative alone ought to inform you just how lost we are, because the story assumes that our prime objective is to remain car-dependent at all costs — when one of the main features in the story of our future is the absolute end of car dependency and all its furnishings and accessories. We can’t imagine going there. (How would you, without a car?)

The economy is collapsing because it was based on cheap oil, which is no longer cheap to pull out of the ground — despite what you might pay for it at the pump these days. The public is understandably confounded by this. But their mystification does nothing to allay the disappearance of jobs, incomes, prospects, or purpose. They retreat from the pain of loss into a fog of manufactured melodrama featuring superheros and supervillains and supernatural doings.

Donald Trump could never be a Franklin Roosevelt or a Lincoln. These were figures who, if nothing else, could articulate the terms that reality had laid on America’s table in their particular moments of history. Mr. Trump can barely speak English and his notions about history amount to a kind of funny papers of the mind. A sinister host of adversaries who ought to understand what is happening in this country, but don’t, or can’t, or won’t, are coming after him, and they are going to get rid of him one way or another. They have to. They must. And they will.

And then what?

Siria: cambios en la "Capital de la Revolución"


La ciudad de Homs, que en su momento fuera calificada como la "Capital de la Revolución", ha dado un paso más hacia la normalidad. Los últimos "rebeldes" se han acogido a la propuesta del gobierno sirio y acaban de abandonar el último distrito de esa ciudad en donde quedaba presencia "insurgente". Así lo cuenta el diario catalán La Vanguardia:


Título: El régimen sirio declara “libre de armas y armados” la ciudad de Homs

Subtítulo: Los últimos rebeldes y sus familias han salido del único barrio donde había presencia insurgente en la urbe en virtud de un pacto entre las partes

Texto: Las autoridades sirias declararon hoy “libre de armas y armados” la ciudad de Homs, conocida antiguamente como “la capital de la revolución”, tras la salida de los últimos rebeldes y sus familias del único barrio donde había presencia insurgente en la urbe, en virtud de un pacto entre las partes.

La localidad de Homs es hoy una ciudad segura y ahora la prioridad es la vuelta de la estabilidad”, dijo a Efe por teléfono el gobernador de la provincia de Homs, Talal al Barazi. Al Barazi hizo estas declaraciones después de que el ejército entrara en el distrito de Al Waer, tras la evacuación de los últimos insurgentes y civiles que deseaban abandonar la zona.

989 personas, entre ellas 308 milicianos, dejaron Al Waer en 26 autobuses en dirección a Yarabulus, al norte de Alepo y controlada por facciones respaldadas por Turquía

Aquellos que han optado por quedarse deberán regularizar ahora su situación legal ante las autoridades. Al Barazi precisó que “la última tanda de hombres armados y sus familias salió poco antes de las 20.00 hora local (17.00 GMT)” del barrio.

El gobernador, que hablaba desde el interior de Al Waer, agregó que un 30 % del distrito está destrozado y que los equipos de mantenimiento se afanarán para restablecer los servicios y la normalidad lo antes posible.

Según datos proporcionados por la agencia de noticias oficial siria, SANA, 989 personas, entre ellas 308 milicianos, abandonaron hoy Al Waer en 26 autobuses en dirección a la población de Yarabulus, en el norte de la provincia de Alepo y controlada por facciones rebeldes respaldadas por Turquía.

A estos evacuados se suman otros 463, de los que 151 son combatientes, que fueron trasladados a la provincia septentrional de Idleb, dominada casi totalmente por facciones islámicas e insurgentes.

El presidente del Consejo de la Provincia de Homs Libre, Amir Abdel Qader, en el pasado vecino de Al Waer, elevó a 1.127 el número de personas que viajaron a Idleb, y añadió que un total de 873 han salido hacia Yarabulus.

En el caso de Idleb, Abdel Qader, cuyo organismo se encarga de la administración de las áreas en poder opositor en Homs, indicó que los evacuados se distribuirán por varias localidades, como Sarmada, Al Dana y la capital homónima de la provincia.

Quienes no tengan parientes que los puedan acoger (en Idleb) o no puedan permitirse el alquiler de una casa pueden quedarse en alguno de los campos de desplazados que hay en la región”, apuntó Abdel Qader.

Al Waer era el último barrio que quedaba por pacificar en Homs, que en su día recibió el sobrenombre de la capital de la revolución, tras el inicio de las protestas contra el Gobierno de Damasco en 2011, y que es una de las ciudades más castigadas por los choques y los bombardeos.

Situado en el extrarradio noroccidental de Homs, Al Waer llevaba asediado por los efectivos gubernamentales sirios desde noviembre de 2013, de acuerdo a datos de la ONG Siege Watch (El Vigilante del Asedio). A mediados de marzo pasado, las autoridades sirias y las facciones locales lograron un acuerdo por el que ha sido posible la evacuación del distrito.

El pacto incluía la partida gradual de 12.000 personas de Al Waer, entre ellas 2.500 combatientes, así como el despliegue de una brigada de entre 60 y 100 soldados y oficiales rusos en el barrio, después de la salida del último grupo de rebeldes, para supervisar el compromiso de ambas partes con la aplicación del arreglo.

No obstante, Abdel Qader señaló que un total 23.000 personas han sido evacuadas del área, entre ellas 1.500 rebeldes. El Observatorio Sirio de Derechos Humanos también ha hablado de más de 20.000 evacuados. El acuerdo se logró tras un mes de intensos ataques de artillería y bombardeos por parte de las fuerzas leales al presidente sirio, Bachar al Asad, contra el distrito.

Anteriormente, ya se había producido una evacuación de 700 personas, entre milicianos y civiles, de Al Waer gracias a otro pacto, que no llegó a aplicarse por completo. El arreglo de Al Waer es similar al alcanzado en mayo de 2014 entre las partes por el que los rebeldes se retiraron del casco antiguo de Homs.

domingo, 21 de mayo de 2017

Gente de ojos achinados


En la foto, Mauricio parece empezar a comprender que está asistiendo a la reunión más importante de su vida, y que curiosamente no está presente ninguno de los farabutes que esperaba encontrar en un evento así: los pesos pesados del Imperio y de la UE. En cambio, se topa con un montón de tipos de caras achinadas, gesto adusto y ceño reconcentrado. La nota que sigue habla de esto; fue escrita por Wayne Madsen para el sitio web Strategic Culture Foundation:


Título: World Leaders Gather in Beijing While the US Sinks into Irrelevancy

Texto: While vaudevillian comedy-like shouting matches broke out in the West Wing of the White House between President Donald Trump and his senior advisers and between the White House press secretary and various presidential aides, world leaders gathered in Beijing to discuss the creation of modern-day land and maritime «silk roads» to improve the economic conditions of nations around the world. Nothing more could have illustrated the massive divide between the concerns of many of the nations of the world and those of the United States, which is rapidly descending into second-rate power status, along with its NATO allies Britain, France, and Germany.

While Mr. Trump was threatening to fire his senior White House staff, reprising his one-time role in his reality television show «The Apprentice», China’s President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and presidents and prime ministers from around the world sat down to discuss the creation of new international and intercontinental highways, railways, and maritime routes under China’s proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Even countries that are cool on the Chinese initiative, including India and Japan, sent representatives to the summit that carried a bit more clout than the pathetic representation of the United States, Matt Pottinger, a little-known special assistant to Trump and the senior director for East Asia of National Security Council. In fact, the only reason Trump sent anyone to represent the United States at the Beijing gathering was because of a special request made by President Xi during his recent meeting with Trump at the president’s private Mar-a-Lago Club resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

South Korea, which saw relations with China sour over America’s placement of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea, sent a delegation to Beijing after a phone call between South Korea’s new liberal president, Moon Jae-in, and President Xi. Moon responded to the phone call by sending a delegation led by his Democratic Party’s veteran legislator to Beijing.

Even North Korea, which rankled South Korea, Japan, and the United States by firing a ballistic missile into waters near Russia, sent a delegation to the Beijing meeting headed by Kim Yong Jae, the North’s Minister of External Economic Relations. The Trump administration, which sent a virtual unknown to Beijing, complained loudly about North Korea’s representation at the Silk Road summit. But Washington’s complaint was conveyed by someone as unknown as Mr. Pottinger, Anna Richey-Allen, a low-level spokesperson for the U.S. State Department's East Asia Bureau. The reason why the United States is being spoken for by middle-grade bureaucrats is that the nation that still believes it is the world’s only remaining «superpower» is now governed by an administration rife with top-level vacancies, inter-agency squabbling, and amateur league players.

Even though major European Union member states were not represented in Beijing by their heads of government, Germany sent its Economy Minister, Brigitte Zypries. She warned, however, that the EU would not sign a Silk Road agreement with China unless certain EU demands on free trade and labor conditions were guaranteed. Germany’s reticence did not seem to faze other EU nations, which were represented in Beijing by their heads of government and appeared to be more avid in their support of the Chinese initiative. These EU member state leaders included Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Czech President Milos Zeman, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Moreover, had British Prime Minister Theresa May not been in the middle of a general election campaign, she would have been in Beijing. Nevertheless, she sent British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond in her place.

If the Trump administration hoped to convince world leaders to stay away from Beijing, it was sorely disappointed. The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, was there, along with the President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde. Also present in Beijing were the presidents of Turkey, Philippines, Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Kenya, Uzbekistan, and Laos, as well as the prime ministers of Vietnam, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Fiji, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Myanmar.

Ministerial delegations from Afghanistan, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Finland, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Maldives, Romania, Nepal, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Uganda, and the United Arab Emirates were at the Beijing summit. Japan was represented by the senior adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party, Toshihiro Nikai. France, which was experiencing a change of presidents, sent former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

The Silk Road initiative has projects planned in all the nations whose governments were represented in Beijing, except for the United States and Israel. In addition to the nations represented by their government heads of state and ministers, Silk Road agreements were signed between China and Palestine, Georgia, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Tajikistan, Brunei, Croatia, and East Timor.

The one clear message the Beijing meeting sent out to the world is that America’s «unipolar» vision of the world was dead and buried. Even among Washington’s longtime friends and allies, one will not hear Donald Trump referred to as the «leader of the Free World.» That phrase has been discarded into the waste bin of history along with America’s insistence that it is the world’s only «superpower.» The United States is a power, a second-rate one that happens to possess a first-rate nuclear arsenal. But nuclear weapons were not being discussed in Beijing. Major projects were on the agenda, projects that when completed will leave the United States at sea in the propeller wash.

President Xi, in his keynote address to the conference, said that the «One Belt and One Road» initiative is «a project of the century» and that will benefit everybody across the world. And to put his money where his mouth is, Xi said China will contribute 80 billion yuan (US$113 billion) as added financial impetus to create a global network of highway, railway, and maritime links in a recreation of the ancient Silk Road that linked China to the West. Meanwhile, in Washington, Trump spoke of having recorded «taped» conversations with his fired director of the FBI James Comey, setting off a political firestorm. A new global infrastructure being spoken about in Beijing and political hijinks the major topic of conversation in Washington. The United States has fallen into second-rate global status and is seriously ill as a cohesive nation-state but does not even realize it.

China and Russia used the Beijing summit to showcase several Eurasian initiatives, including the Russia-inspired Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Both the Chinese and Russian heads of state let it be known that the BRICS alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa was still a potent world entity, even though South Africa was not represented in Beijing by its president and India chose not to send any representative to Beijing.

President Putin’s words to the conference about the new geopolitical status in the world were noteworthy: «the greater Eurasia is not an abstract geopolitical arrangement but, without exaggeration, a truly civilization-wide project looking toward the future.» In other words, the European Union, which is losing the United Kingdom as a member and will never see membership for Turkey, is a dying international organism. Other international initiatives, like the EEU, BRICS, AIIB, and the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), are leaving the EU and the United States in the dust. That was evident by the fact that the United States was represented in Beijing by an overrated desk clerk and the EU by a Brussels «Eurocrat,» the European Commission vice president Jyrki Katainen.


***


Por su parte, el sitio web Covert Geopolitics pasó revista a los funcionarios que asistieron a la cumbre de Beijing:


Título: List of Attendees to the 1st Belt and Road Summit in Beijing

Lista:

Afghanistan: Unspecified minister-level delegation
Argentina: President Mauricio Macri
Australia: Trade Minister Steve Ciobo
Azerbaijan: Economy Minister Shahin Mustafayev
Bangladesh: Unspecified minister-level delegation
Belarus: President Alexander Lukashenko
Brazil: Secretary for Strategic Affairs Hussein Ali Kalout
Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen
Chile: President Michelle Bachelet
China: President Xi Jinping
Czech Republic: President Milos Zeman
Egypt: Trade and Industry Minister Tarek Kabil
Ethiopia: Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
Fiji: Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama
Finland:  Minister of Transport and Communications of Finland Anne Berner
France: Jean-Pierre Raffarin, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Defense and Armed Forces in the French Senate
Germany: Minister of Economic Affairs Brigitte Zypries
Greece: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Hungary: Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Indonesia: President Joko Widodo
Iran: Minister of Economy and Finance Ali Tayebnia
Italy: Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni
Japan: LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai
Kazakhstan: President Nursultan Nazarbayev
Kenya: President Uhuru Kenyatta
Kyrgyzstan: President Almazbek Atambayev
Kuwait: Minister of the Amiri Diwan Affairs Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber
Laos: President Bounnhang Vorachith
Malaysia: Prime Minister Najib Razak
Maldives: Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed
Mongolia: Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat
Myanmar: State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi
Romania: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Environment Gratiela Gavrilescu
Nepal: Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara
New Zealand:  Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith
North Korea: Confirmed to be sending an official delegation;  the delegation will be led by Kim Yong-jae, the North Korean minister of external economic relations, according to a number of South Korean media reports
Pakistan: Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif
Philippines: President Rodrigo Duterte
Poland: Prime Minister Beata Szydło
Russia: President Vladimir Putin
Saudi Arabia: Minister of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih
Serbia: Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic
Singapore: Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong
South Korea: Ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo; Park Byeong-seug, National Assembly member for the Democratic Party
Spain: Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Sri Lanka: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
Switzerland: President Doris Leuthard
Syria: unspecificed minister-level delegation
Thailand: five ministers: Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Transportation Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, Minister of Commerce Apiradi Tantraporn, Minister of Digital for Economy and Society Pichet Durongkaveroj, and Minister of Science and Technology Atchaka Sibunruang
Tunisia: Culture Minister Mohamed Zine El-Abidine
Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
UAE: Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of State and Group CEO of ADNOC
Ukraine: unspecified official delegation
United Kingdom: Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
United States: Matt Pottinger, National Security Council senior director for Asia
Uzbekistan: President Shavkat Mirziyoyev
Vietnam: President Tran Dai Quang

Ebola, otra vez


Para la multitud de amigos paranoicos que visitan nuestra página, acá va la amenaza del mes: otro brote del virus Ebola, esta vez en el Congo. La nota que sigue es de Mac Slavco y salió en su sitio web SHTFplan.com:


Título: Ebola Spreading: Infections Up 800% In Last Week, Officials Race To Track Down 400 Possible Contacts

Texto: Last week three suspected Ebola infections were detected in a remote region of the Congo. Since then, World Health Organization officials have been scrambling to contain the virus.

Their efforts appear to have failed.

The contagion continues to spread, and though it’s nowhere near the 11,000 people who were infected during the outbreak in 2014, the infection rate has spiked over 800% in just the last seven days, with at least nine new cases reported in the last 24 hours:

The number of suspected cases of Ebola has risen to 29 from nine in less than a week in an isolated part of Democratic Republic of Congo, where three people have died from the disease since April 22, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.



The risk from the outbreak is “high at the national level,” the W.H.O. said, because the disease was so severe and was spreading in a remote area in northeastern Congo with “suboptimal surveillance” and limited access to health care.

Risk at the regional level is moderate due to the proximity of international borders and the recent influx of refugees from Central African Republic,” the organization said, but it nonetheless described the global risk as low because the area is so remote. (NY Times)
The 2014 outbreak likewise started in a remote region of Africa, but containment efforts were ineffective and the virus eventually spread to the United States and Europe.


***

According to W.H.O., about 400 people have come into contact with the 29 people infected and officials are attempting to track them down for monitoring.

Protective gear has been dispatched to health workers and a mobile lab is being constructed and then deployed to the area. Immediate repairs to air strips and telecommunications are also being carried out. The first six months of the operation are expected to cost $10 million…



With the help of the UN, the first search teams, led by the DRC’s Ministry of Health, flew into Likati yesterday. Their immediate priority is to follow the 400 plus contacts of the suspected Ebola cases. (U.N. News Centre)

As we learned in 2014, all it takes is one infected individual to make it through an airport checkpoint.

With international travel via airports, trains and cars available throughout the region, a single infected individual on an airplane could infect scores of others, who in turn could infect scores more.

The following Ebola model from Yaneer Bar-Yam, who has successfully simulated and predicted such events as the rise of the Arab Spring, shows how an Ebola contagion may look.


https://youtu.be/R7GXAxnfiq8

The above model is based on Ebola’s current infection rates and doesn’t take into account its possible evolution as it spreads from human-to-human.

According to scientists, the 2014 strain began hyper-evolving, to the point that had it not been contained and continued to spread through human contact, it could have gone airborne, making it as easy to catch as a common cold.

In response to this unprecedented threat, US government officials began preparing for mass casualties, reportedly going so far as to develop plans for Community Care Centers where infected individuals, or those suspected of infections, would be detained indefinitely.

As the Ebola contagion spread across the globe, the panicked populace rushed to stockpile emergency supplies like freeze dried foods, bio-protective body suits and gas masks.

The concern, of course, was that a virus with a 90% fatality rate after infection would make its way to local American communities. As Tess Pennington notes in her Pandemic Preparedness Guide, once it’s within 50 miles of where you live, it’s time to worry and take immediate steps to isolate your family from the threat, because most people won’t realize how serious of a situation they are in:

Looking back at the Black Plague, those living in high populated areas were hit hardest by this pandemic.  The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60 percent of Europe’s population. Given our vast array of transportation systems, modern society causes infectious disease to spread far more rapidly compared to any other time in recorded history; and because pandemics are fast moving, vaccinations would be useless. Further, in regards to the world’s transportation system, the morbidity rate in a future pandemic could result in millions seeking medical care at the same time thus overwhelming hospitals and emergency departments.



When an outbreak occurs, many will remain in a state of denial about any approaching epidemics. Simply put, most people believe themselves to be invincible to negative situations and do not like the idea change of any kind. They will remain in this state until they realize they are unable to deny it to themselves any longer. Being prepared before the mass come out of their daze will ensure that you are better prepared before the hoards run to the store to stock up.

Perhaps containment procedures being implemented in the Congo by W.H.O. will be more effective this time around than they were in 2014.

But what if they’re not? What if the virus mutates and goes airborne? Plan accordingly.

Rusia y China contra el mundo unipolar


¿Cuál es la naturaleza de la alianza entre Rusia y China, opuesta al mundo unipolar sostenido a sangre y fuego por el Imperio? ¿Una sociedad de conveniencia (enfrentada a problemas coyunturales comunes) o una asociación estratégica (con una visión de desarrollo armónico de largo plazo)? La nota que sigue intenta responder este interrogante. Es de Federico Pieraccini y salió publicada estos días en el sitio web Strategic Culture Foundation:


Título: Shaping the Future: Moscow and Beijing’s Multipolar World Order

Texto: Once in a while, think tanks such as the Brookings Institute are able to deal with highly strategic and current issues. Often, the conferences held by such organizations are based on false pretences and copious banality, the sole intention being to undermine and downplay the efforts of strategic opponents of the US. Recently, the Brookings Institute's International Strategy and Strategy Project held a lecture on May 9, 2017 where it invited Bobo Lo, an analyst at Lowy Institute for International Policy, to speak. The topic of the subject, extremely interesting to the author and mentioned in the past, is the strategic partnership between China and Russia.

The main assumption Bobo Lo starts with to define relations between Moscow and Beijing is that the two countries base their collaboration on convenience and a convergence of interests rather than on an alliance. He goes on to say that the major frictions in the relationship concern the fate that Putin and Xi hold for Europe, in particular for the European Union, in addition to differences of opinions surrounding the Chinese role in the Pacific. In the first case, Lo states that Russia wants to end the European project while China hopes for a strong and prosperous Europe. With regard to the situation in the Pacific, according to this report, Moscow wants a balance of power between powers without hegemonic domination being transferred from Washington to Beijing.

The only merit in Lo’s analysis is his identification of the United States as the major cause of the strategic proximity between Moscow and Beijing, certainly a hypothesis that is little questioned by US policy makers. Lo believes Washington's obsession with China-Russia cooperation is counterproductive, though he also believes that the United States doesn’t actually possess capabilities to sabotage or delimit the many areas of cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.

What is missing in Lo’s analysis are two essential factors governing how Moscow and Beijing have structured their relationship. China and Russia have different tasks in ushering in their world order, namely, by preserving global stability through military and economic means. Their overall relationship of mutual cooperation goes beyond the region of Eurasia and focuses on the whole process of a sustainable globalization as well as on how to create an environment where everyone can prosper in a viable and sustainable way. Doing this entails a departure from the current belligerent and chaotic unipolar world order.


Moscow and Beijing: Security and Economy

Beijing has been the world's economic engine for over two decades and shows no signs of slowing down, at least not too much. Moscow, contrary to western media propaganda, has returned to play a role not only on a regional scale but as a global power. Both of these paths of military and economic growth for China and Russia have set things on a collision course with the United States, the current global superpower that tends to dominate international relations with economic, political and military bullying thanks to a complicit media and corrupt politicians.

In the case of Beijing, the process of globalization has immensely enhanced the country, allowing the Asian giant to become the world's factory, enabling Western countries to outsource to low-cost labor. In this process of economic growth, Beijing has over the years gone from being a simple paradise for low-cost outsourcing for private companies to being a global leader in investment and long-term projects. The dividends of years of wealth accumulation at the expense of Western nations has allowed Beijing to be more than just a strategic partner for other nations. China drives the process of globalization, as recently pointed out by Xi Jinping in Davos in a historic speech. China's transition from a harmless partner of the West to regional power with enormous foreign economic investments place the country on a collision course with Washington. Inevitably, Beijing will become the Asian hegemon, something US policymakers have always guaranteed will not be tolerated.

The danger Washington sees is that of China emerging as a regional superpower that will call the shots in the Pacific, the most important region of the planet. The United States has many vested interests in the region and undeniably sees its future as the leader of the world order in jeopardy. Obama's pivot to Asia was precisely for the purposes of containing China and limiting its economic power so as to attenuate Beijing’s ambitions.

Unsurprisingly, Washington's concerns with Moscow relate to its resurgence in military capabilities. Russia is able to oppose certain objectives of the United States (see Ukraine or Syria) by military means. The possibility of the Kremlin limiting American influence in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Eurasia in general is cause for concern for American policy makers, who continue to fail to contain Russia and limit Moscow’s spheres of influence.

In this context, the strategic division of labor between Russia and China comes into play to ensure the stability of the Eurasian region as a whole; in Asia, in the Middle East and in Europe. To succeed in this task, Moscow has mainly assumed the military burden, shared with other friendly nations belonging to the affected areas. In the Middle East, for example, Tehran's partnership with Moscow is viewed positively by Beijing, given its intention to stabilize the region and to eradicate the problem of terrorism, something about which nations like China and Russia are particularly concerned.

The influence of Islamist extremists in the Caucasian regions in Russia or in the autonomous region of Xinjiang in China are something that both Putin and Xi are aware can be exploited by opposing Western countries. In North Africa, Egypt has signed several contracts for the purchase of military vehicles from Moscow, as well as having bought the two Mistral ships from France, thereby relying on military supplies from Moscow. It is therefore not surprising that Moscow and Egypt cooperated with the situation in Libya and in North Africa in general.

In Southeast Asia, Moscow seeks to coordinate efforts to reach an agreement between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) of New Delhi and Islamabad (Tehran will be next), with the blessing of Beijing as the protagonist of the 2017 SCO meeting, is a keystone achievement and the right prism through which to observe the evolution of the region. Moscow is essentially acting as a mediator between the parties and is also able to engage with India in spite of the dominating presence of China. The ultimate goal of Moscow and Beijing is to eradicate the terrorist phenomenon in the Asian region with a view to what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East with Iran and Egypt.


Heading to a Multipolar World Order

The turning point in relations between Moscow and Beijing concerns the ability to engage third countries in military or economic ways, depending on these countries’ needs and objectives. Clearly in the military field it is Moscow that is leading, with arms sold to current and future partners and security cooperation (such as with ex-Soviet Central-Asian republics or in the Donbass) and targeted interventions if needed, as in Syria. Beijing, on the other hand, acts in a different way, focusing on the economic arena, in particular with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) at its center.

Initiatives such as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) and the Maritime Silk Road have the same strategic aim of the Russian military initiative, namely, ensuring the independence of the region from a geo-economic perspective, reaching win-win arrangements for all partners involved. Naturally, the win-win agreement does not mean that China wins and then wins again; rather, a series of bilateral concessions can come to satisfy all actors involved. An important example in this regard that explains the Sino-Russian partnership concerns the integration of the Eurasian Union with the Chinese Silk Road. The Russian concerns over the predominant status of the Chinese colossus in Central Asia have been assuaged by a number of solutions, such as the support of the OBOR infrastructure program to that of the Eurasian Union. Beijing is not interested in replacing Moscow's leading role the post-Soviet nations in Central Asia but rather with providing significant energy and economic development to particularly underdeveloped nations that are in need of important economic investment, something only Beijing is able to guarantee.

The linking of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with the One Belt One Road initiative guarantees Moscow a primary role in the transit of goods from east to west, thereby becoming the connecting point between China and Europe while expanding the role and function of the EEU. All participants in these initiatives have a unique opportunity to expand their economic condition through this whole range of connections. Beijing guarantees the money for troubled countries, and Moscow the security. The SCO will play a major role in reducing and preventing terrorist influence in the region, a prerequisite for the success of any projects. Also, the AIIB, and to some extent the BRICS Development Bank, will also have to step in and offer alternative economic guarantees to countries potentially involved in these projects, in order to free them from the existing international financial institutions.

One Belt One Road, and all the related projects, represent a unique occasion whereby all relevant players share common goals and benefits from such transformative geo-economic relationships. This security-economy relationship between Moscow and Beijing is  the heart of the evolution of the current world order, from the unipolar to the multipolar world. The US cannot oppose China on the economic front and Russia on the military front. It all comes down to how much China and Russia can continue to provide and guarantee economic and security umbrellas for the rest of the world.

sábado, 20 de mayo de 2017

La visión desde el Este


Muy lejos de la narrativa histérica transmitida minuto a minuto por las “presstitutes” occidentales, ofrecemos hoy una mirada diferente a la relación de Rusia y sus líderes con el mundo, en particular el occidental. La nota es de Yakov M. Rabkin, profesor de Historia en la Universitdad de Montreal. La nota salió estos días en el sitio web canadiense Global Research:


Título: Russia on the International Checkerboard

Epígrafe: This article is not an exhaustive analysis of Russia’s foreign policy. Rather, it is a reflection based on Russian and Western sources, without adopting mainstream positions of either. Society gives university professors time to think; presenting original views is our way of repaying our debt to society. Regurgitating mainstream ideas would betray this vocation of the intellectual. It would also contribute to the growing trend of demodernization in foreign policy discourse: ephemeral media images tailored for emotional impact on those with a short attention span take place of rational analysis of broader context and history.

Texto: First, two preliminary remarks. One has to do with the personification of policies. In recent years, identification of policies of countries with single individuals has become common. This gross simplification does away with the complexity of the political environments in which these individuals operate. However powerful a Bashar Assad, a Donald Trump or a Vladimir Putin may be, they have to contend with many different forces within their countries. Moreover, it is a worn-out propaganda trick to refer to political systems not to our liking as someone’s “regime”. Irritation with recalcitrant heads of state have taken the form of epithets like “killer”, “monster” and “animal”, used not only by media commentators but also by prominent politicians in the United States, including the president. This kind of discourse tends to impede our understanding of international politics.

My second remark has to do with a related issue: moralistic arguments in Western foreign policy discourse. There are more than ‘cowboys and Indians’ in the picture. Policies of states must be understood in terms of their respective geopolitical interests and realities, not in light of their adherence or lack thereof to liberal post-Christian values embraced by Western countries barely a few decades ago. Denunciations of treatment of dissidents or homosexuals should not substitute for political and strategic arguments.

Such denunciations, amplified by mainstream media, produce default thinking (to the extent this phenomenon can be termed thinking altogether). If a “regime” is deemed evil, military action, with or without a U.N. sanction, is in order. This is how the United States attacked an air base in Syria in April 2017. Washington had produced no evidence that the responsibility for the use of chemical weapons, which triggered this reaction, rested with the Syrian government. The United States also ignored the conclusions of U.N. monitors who documented that the government of Syria had relinquished chemical weapons. Meanwhile, most Western media reported on the event strongly suggesting that the fault lay with “the Assad regime”. The general public in the West was therefore largely supportive of the U.S. attack. Similar default thinking led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In 2006, the then Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper publicly condemned Iran for allegedly obliging Jews to wear yellow signs on the basis of a fake news article published in The National Post and later retracted. Harper had not bothered to check the fact with the Canadian embassy in Tehran before saying that Iran was “very capable of this kind of action”, comparing it with Nazi Germany. In 2012 he made his country break diplomatic relations with Iran without citing any specific reason but in line with this self-righteous sentiment that triggers default thinking.


Immediate Background

In order to understand Russia’s behavior, it is important to review its recent history. Russia (or rather the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, RSFSR) was one of the fifteen republics of the Soviet Union, which was dismantled in December 1991. The referendum on the maintenance of the Soviet state in March 1991 not only showed a remarkable turnout of 80%, but, more importantly, that a vast majority of Soviet citizens did not want their country dismantled. In Central Asia the vote for the preservation of the Soviet Union was over 95 %, while it was also overwhelmingly strong in the Slavic republics of Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine

(http://www.zaoerv.de/75_2015/75_2015_1_a_141_166.pdf).

It is therefore not surprising that many in Russia, the Ukraine, and other republics, continue to see the end of the Soviet Union as one of the tragedies of the last century. This does not mean, however, that they seek to reconstitute it. As Putin put it:

Those who do not regret the dissolution of the Soviet Union have no heart; those who want to remake it have no brain”.

Gorbachev tried to reform the country and its foreign policy. He called on the East European members of the Warsaw Pact to decide their own policies and agreed on the reunification of Germany. Yet neither Gorbachev nor the population of the former Soviet Union believed then, or believe today, that they had “lost the Cold War.” This is a serious source of misunderstanding and disconnect. While it is common in the United States to hear “We won the Cold War”, few, (if any) in Russia believe that they lost it. Many Russians attribute the loss of international stature to what they see as “Gorbachev’s unilateral and unwarranted concessions”.

The gap becomes even larger when some American politicians and journalists argue that the Russians should assume defeat and behave like the Japanese did after 1945. However, decision makers in Moscow see no reason to act as a defeated nation; for them, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was largely a result of internal pressures and decisions. This kind of disconnect has led to a dangerous mismatch of expectations between Moscow and Washington, and continues to plague the relations between the two countries.

Following the dismantlement of the Soviet Union., President Yeltsin presided over massive and less than equitable privatization, which weakened Russia economically, socially and politically. The country had no clear policy direction and was left to the mercy of the rapacious oligarchs surrounding the Russian president. While their wealth grew with breathtaking speed, the vast majority of former Soviet citizens suffered radical pauperization. The neo-liberal scenario of broadening the gap between the rich and the poor was thrust upon one of the most egalitarian societies on the planet. Tens of millions of people found themselves below the poverty line. It was only under Putin that the country’s economy actually began to benefit the citizens. In the mind of many Russians, this improvement in the citizens’ welfare is associated with a less servile foreign policy.


Unipolar World

The end of the Soviet Union may not have meant the end of history, as some had predicted, but certainly the beginning of a unipolar world, with the United States at its helm. The term “unipolar” was first introduced in France, where there exists acute sensitivity to American hegemony.

Under Yeltsin, American geopolitical interests prevailed, and NATO inexorably moved east, eventually absorbing three former Soviet republics and all the East European members of the Warsaw Pact. His foreign policy varied, as the initially fawning Yeltsin came to resent this development but Russia’s interests were routinely ignored in the West as a result of the self-mutilation that the country experienced during his mandate.

One episode illustrates Russia’s frustration and impotence. When NATO began bombing Serbia (including Kosovo) without a U.N. sanction in 1999, Evgeny Primakov, a career diplomat and political analyst, who then held the position of Prime Minister in the Yeltsin administration, was on his way to Washington. As soon as he found out about the bombing, he turned the plane around and headed back to Moscow. There was little else he could do.

Similar bitter experiences, coupled with the unprecedented impoverishment of the majority of the country’s population during the Yeltsin years, became etched in the collective memory of Russian citizens and their leaders. When Putin succeeded Yeltsin, Gorbachev’s hope of becoming part of “a common European home” had long vanished. Quite a few in Russia see Gorbachev and Yeltsin as naïve and misguided to have expected to be treated as equals in Washington.

Indeed, the Project for a New American Century, which is the name of a Neocon think tank founded in Washington in 1997, clearly articulated the vision of an American hegemony. Many of the authors of this concept found themselves in the upper ranks of the George W. Bush administration. They affirmed that “American leadership is good both for America and for the world,” and called for “moral clarity.” Double standards were thus proudly proclaimed as “moral”, as American self-righteous exceptionalism became the pillar of the country’s foreign policies. According to the new doctrine, no country should ever be allowed to reach military parity with the United States, a clear signal to Russia that it would not be treated as an equal.

At the same time, the Russian government repeatedly stated that they had no intention of competing with the United States in terms of military budgets. Russia acknowledged on many occasions America’s military superiority while expressing concerns regarding the ways in which it was being put to use. Russia’s foreign policy under Putin went through several stages. He was the first to telephone President Bush in the wake of 9/11 offering sympathy and full cooperation. This reinforced friendly and conciliatory overtures toward Western interests, bringing internal critics, even quite a few usually pro-Western ones, to accuse Putin of returning to the submissive attitudes reminiscent of Yeltsin’s mandate. Within a few years, however, it became clear that hopes for becoming an equal partner of the West were indeed unrealistic.

When Primakov, as a special emissary of the Russian president, tried and failed to prevent the American attack on Iraq in 2003, he remarked:

when one sees an enraged bull rush for the precipice, let it pass”.

Indeed, the American experience in Iraq and later in Libya confirms this perceptive comment. Both interventions resulted in chaos; millions were left dead, wounded and displaced, and the political systems that had held those countries together were destroyed, resulting in violence and instability that continue to this day.

By the middle of his mandate, Putin became a consistent critic of the unipolar structure of international relations and called for multilateral cooperation. Ever since his speech at the security conference in Munich in 2007, Putin has affirmed an end of the unipolar world. Bernard Bradie, a French political scientist, summarized the new reality in the title of his book The Impotence of Power (l’Impuissance de la puissance). Trump has also been critical of unipolar globalization, insisting that he is not “the president of the world”. Another configuration of American involvement in the world may emerge, even though its contours remain uncertain as the institutional inertia in Washington seems to determine actual policies.


Morality Play

After the Western intervention in Libya, authorized by the U.N. Security Council, went well beyond its authorized scope and operated a regime change, leading to a cruel murder of the country’s leader in 2011, two permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China, realized that they had been duped. Henceforth, they obstructed attempts by Western powers to intervene elsewhere, namely in Syria. Claims of violations of human rights used to legitimize armed action against other countries under the banner of R2P (“Responsibility to Protect” civilian populations) came under closer scrutiny by non-Western powers. Massive civilian casualties inflicted by the U.S. and its allies in Yugoslavia, Syria, Libya and Yemen misuse the otherwise noble principle of defending civilians as just another excuse for military aggression. American politicians found the loss of automatic support from the U.N. disconcerting as Russia and China became overtly critical of American attempts to export values and impose democracy on the tip of a missile.

One may recall how the issue of homosexuals was highlighted by American media on the eve of the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014. A moralistic campaign portraying Russia as oppressive of homosexuals firmly placed it in the category of evil nations, while Western nations assumed a high moral ground. It was default thinking that promptly put the blame for downing a Malaysian plane over Eastern Ukraine in July 2014 on Russia while no conclusive evidence had been produced. Excuses like human, gender and sexual rights have been used in attacks, military or political, on Afghanistan, Iran and a score of other countries that do not find grace in the eyes of Washington, while no such accusation is leveled against Saudi Arabia or Israel, which remain America’s loyal allies and major purchasers of American weapons. Manifest double standards are at the root of this default thinking. Concerning the export of values to the rest of the world, Foreign Minister Lavrov in a December 2016 interview said half-jokingly,

Americans should have asked us. We have experience in exporting an ideology. We know what harm it does.”


Cordon sanitaire or a wrecking ball?

Presidential hopeful Trump had voiced his country’s need to cooperate with Russia throughout his electoral campaign. His election brought a degree of enthusiasm in the Russian media and public. One newspaper even parodied a slogan which had become popular soon after the integration of the Crimea into Russia: Krym nash (Crimea is ours). In the wake of the election, Trump nash! ran the headline. However, official Russian circles were pointedly reserved, adopting a wait-and-see posture. This proved to be wise, as a concerted effort of the defeated Democrats, most U.S. media and American Neocons led President Trump to put off or abandon all overture towards Russia. Old Cold War warriors like Senator McCain joined the effort to ban all thought of improving relations with Russia.

The resignation in February 2017 of Michael Flynn, one of Trump’s close advisers, for lying about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador in Washington added further caution to that posture. Trump has been under consistent attack from those who interpret contacts with Russia’s officials as virtually criminal and continue to accuse Russia of interfering in favor of Trump’s election. His decision to attack the Syrian air base in April 2017 put serious stress on the relations with Russia and brought the two countries to the brink of a military conflict.

Another Western tool to “contain” Russia has been the enlargement of NATO right up to Russia’s borders. Most new NATO members are Eastern European nations that had been created in the wake of the Russian revolution of 1917 as a barrier, a cordon sanitaire, against Bolshevism. While Bolshevism is long gone, the strategic role of these countries remains. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are now being cast in the role of potential victims of Russia’s malevolence. NATO troops have been stationed in all three Republics, within a few hundred kilometers from Russia’s second largest city, Saint Petersburg.

Curiously, both publicly and privately Baltic leaders have admitted that there is no danger of a military invasion from Russia. One of them is former Foreign Minister of Estonia, Jüri Luik, who, when asked to define the worst-case scenario at a public lecture on foreign policy in July 2016, replied that there was no danger of military invasion but, rather, a concern about stronger influence from Russia. However, in the same breath he said that he was very happy with the British troops in Estonia because they would serve as “a tripwire against Russian forces.” Similar non-sequiturs were voiced by other Baltic leaders in the post-Soviet space who rejoice in the arrival of Western forces in their countries.

In Russia, this is seen as a continuation of the policy of containment that characterized the Cold War. In fact, the “long cable” authored by George Kennan in 1946, spelling out the need to “contain Russia”, admits that this policy should be pursued regardless of the dominant ideology there.

Of even greater concern to Russia’s foreign policy makers is the situation in the Ukraine. In 2013, Russia negotiated the relinquishment of chemical weapons by Syria, thus averting an imminent military attack from Western powers. The Neocons severely criticized President Obama for agreeing to this peaceful settlement. Within a few days of the agreement on Syria, turmoil began in Kiev. The failure to contain Russia in Syria seems to have reinforced the hand of those in the United States who had challenged Russia in its immediate neighborhood ever since the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008. In Russia, the Ukrainian crisis is seen as having been largely encouraged and funded by Western governments and the NGOs at their service. Pictures of a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State distributing cookies to Maidan protesters have become a visual symbol of Western meddling, while decades of consistent work of American foundations to form anti-Russian elites in the Ukraine and elsewhere in the region have proved crucial albeit largely removed from media attention.

As the crisis aggravated, Russia continued to look for a peaceful solution in concert with the European Union at the same time as radicals continued their anti-Russian agitation. On February 21, 2014, an agreement was signed by the Ukrainian president and opposition activists, and signed by representatives of France, Germany, Poland and Russia. It stipulated a peaceful transfer of power and an early election. However, days after this agreement was signed, Ukrainian radicals violently overthrew their government and a new overtly proAmerican and anti-Russian administration was put in its place.

One of the first measures considered by the new Ukrainian government was to abolish the official status of the Russian language. This caused severe concern in many areas of the Ukraine, where the Russian language is dominant. Those were the days when many local administrations in the Ukraine were overtaken by local activists: by anti-Russia radicals in Western Ukraine and Kiev, and by their opponents in the east and south of the country. One of these regions was the Crimea, where a referendum to re-join Russia was held on March 16, 2014. Russian forces stationed in the Crimea (according to a long-standing agreement with the Ukraine) were put on alert in case of violence, but none occurred. The vote was overwhelmingly supportive, and Russia annexed the peninsula that had been part of the RSFSR prior to 1954 and has been home to Russia’s major naval base for over two centuries.

The referendum reflected the opinion of a population which is overwhelmingly Russian speaking. In Russia, this is viewed as an expression of the will of the peninsula’s population to return to Russia in the face of the violent takeover in Kiev in February 2014. Moreover, as Putin argued, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had transferred the peninsula to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 without parliamentary approval in either the Russian or the Ukrainian republics. Questioning the legitimacy of that transfer, the Russian leader emphasized the popular vote of the Crimean population supporting the return to Russia. He also recalled that no such referendum had been held in Kosovo before it was separated from Serbia in the wake of the NATO air bombing of that country. In his speech accepting the Crimea into the Russian Federation, Putin accused the U.S. of double standards and of pursuing a policy of containment by surrounding Russia with hostile regimes like the one currently in Kiev.

Western countries deemed the Crimea referendum and the ensuing reunification with Russia illegal. They promptly imposed economic sanctions on Russia. This contrasts with Western refusal to impose sanctions on Israel for its occupation of the Palestinian territories, which, while also deemed illegal, will soon reach the milestone of fifty years. Needless to say, the Palestinians have not been asked to vote on whether they want to be occupied.

The Ukrainian crisis continues. Russia currently offers limited support to the rebel provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk while arguing for reconciliation and a peaceful settlement. An all-out involvement by Russia in the early stages of the conflict would have vanquished the Ukrainian military in a matter of days. Since then, Western powers have come to train Ukrainian forces, including overtly radical ones, but so far largely abstain from supplying the Ukraine with lethal weapons. The Ukrainian government, however, positions itself as a barrier against an alleged Russian aggression targeting the rest of Europe. Since it no longer hopes to join NATO in the near future, Kiev asked Washington to be recognized as a major non-NATO ally of the United States (such as Japan and Israel). Economic ties with Russia continue, albeit on a reduced scale since the Ukraine banned all cooperation in military industries, which had constituted an important source of revenue for both countries. Ukrainian authorities have severed direct air links with Russia and access to Russian TV.

Questions have been asked in Moscow as to whether the new strategic role of the Ukraine is limited to joining the cordon sanitaire or, rather, it has assumed the function of a wrecking ball directed against Russia. The recent inauguration of a new logo of the Ukrainian Intelligence Service, largely trained and funded by Western powers, suggests an answer. It depicts an owl pointing a sword at Russia. The logo was inaugurated by the Ukrainian president seated beneath a slogan “Ukraine above all!”, which has awakened ominous associations with “Deutschland über Alles!” in Russia, Belarus and among quite a few people in the Ukraine, millions of whom suffered from Germany’s aggression.

In order to understand the dominant view of the Ukrainian crisis in Russia one should imagine a scenario of radicals violently replacing the legitimate government in Ottawa with a virulently anti-American one. The radicals in this scenario are supported and financed by Russia or China, who also fund and train vigilantes and a brand new Canadian army. The reaction from Washington would be prompt and determined, to say the least.


Partners in Asia

Western sanctions have encouraged Russia to establish closer relations with partners in Asia, including China, Israel, India and the somewhat volatile Turkey led by President Erdogan. Russia has actively promoted the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which, by the end of 2017, should see India and Pakistan join the founding members of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Russia has taken part in all of its joint military exercises, which also include anti-terrorism and cyberwarfare. Membership in the SCO largely overlaps with that of the Eurasian economic community, and three of the BRICS are also members of the SCO. It is significant that the meeting Russia organized on the Syrian crisis in January 2017 took place in Astana, Kazakhstan, deep in Asia. At the same time, the recent visit of Putin to Japan greatly simplified visa requirements for travel between the two countries and ensured Japanese investment in the development of Russia’s Far East. While China and Japan are important as Russia’s trading partners, trade with Europe continues to remain strong.

Russia’s relations with Israel, which is home to the largest Russian speaking diaspora outside the former Soviet Union, are important in spite of its small size. Putin once remarked, “Israel is a little bit of Russia”. Indeed, several Soviet-born ministers have served in Israeli cabinets, and the largest number of visitors to Israel from Europe comes from Russia. This cultural affinity also manifests itself in official public events, such as the inauguration of a monument to Soviet soldiers’ decisive role in the Second World War. Netanya has thus become the only city to erect a Soviet war memorial while these are being destroyed, removed and daubed with Nazi symbols in many cities of Eastern Europe. It was inaugurated three years ago by Putin and Netanyahu in a manifestation of friendship between the two countries. There is also significant economic cooperation, including the joint production of drones. In the wake of Western sanctions against Russia and of Russia’s countersanctions, Israel promptly began supplying food products to Russia, including over one half of its imported vegetables.

There has been regular military coordination between Israel and Russia with respect to Syria. Netanyahu has visited Moscow several times in the last three years. At the same time, Russia continues to support Palestinians and maintains relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia. This positions Russia strategically with respect to the major powers in the region. In a speech at the Munich conference on security in February 2017, Russia’s Foreign Minister reiterated his country’s position:

Each country, based on its sovereignty, will strive to find a balance between its own national interests and the national interests of partners.”

They separate issues, some on which they can cooperate, while on others they cannot. Israel, albeit dependent on the United States, openly undermines Western sanctions against Russia, including military cooperation. This also enables Israel to diversify its international support network.

Israel’s coordination with Russia did not prevent it from treating wounded members of Al-Nusra, sending them back to fight and even bombing Syrian government positions at will. Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry admitted using such terrorist groups as an instrument against the government of Syria.

Russia views the emergence of Daesh and other militant groups involved in Iraq and Syria as a direct menace to its security. They may penetrate Russian territory and reignite some of the terrorist movements within Russia. The explosion in the metro of Saint-Petersburg in April 2017 suggests that this fear is justified. Russia is more concerned about a spillover of terrorism into Russia than about keeping its military base in Syria, which is no match to the large number of U.S. military bases in the region.

Russia also emphasizes that its intervention in Syria is legitimate as it responded to a request from the Syrian government, while Western intervention routinely contravenes international law. Lavrov repeatedly argued that pursuing a regime change in other countries including the mantra “Assad must go!” is illegitimate as it brazenly violates the U.N. charter.


Internal background of foreign policy

There has been consistent internal criticism of Russia’s foreign policy, much of it directed at Putin. He has been called indecisive, hesitant, and negligent in terms of the events in the Ukraine. The government has been blamed for failing to develop an effective support network there, abandoning pro-Russia forces in southern Ukraine in the face of radical violence, particularly after dozens of opponents of the takeover in Kiev were burned alive by militants in Odessa in May 2014 (this tragic episode has never been properly investigated by Ukrainian authorities and simply disappeared from mainstream media in line with the usual default thinking). Russia did nothing to support the population of those coastal areas and to ensure land access to the Crimea, which is now surrounded by Ukrainian territory in the north and by the Azov and Black Seas from the other three sides. Internal criticism of Russia’s foreign policy is part of a larger anti-government sentiment, which is, however, limited in scope.

While a few thousand people demonstrate occasionally in various Russian cities against corruption, opinion polls suggest that most Russians support Putin. He is gaining support precisely because many consider that Russia is cornered into a weak position. And he is trying, according to public opinion, to resist those Western pressures. While Western media often interview individuals billed as “opposition” there is little, if any, organized opposition to Putin. A recent report by Carnegie Center in Moscow, hardly a pro-Kremlin outfit, concluded that there is practically no ideological opposition in Russia and those who consider themselves as such are marginal and so far lack a coherent policy alternative (http://carnegie.ru/commentary/?fa=67873).

Some shift the blame for Russia’s failure in the Ukraine to Putin’s inner circle, high officials with money and children in the West. Russia’s economy has grown dependent on Western financial institutions, making it vulnerable to punitive sanctions. These critics recall that the Soviet Union was impermeable to this kind of pressure as it was largely self-reliant. This echoes criticism of globalization heard in both Europe and the United States in recent months.

In Russia, there appear two distinct groups with respect to the current crisis in relations with the West. One argues for pragmatism and suggests greater integration with the unipolar world created by the United States. The other sees an end to the unipolar world and stands for continuing diversification of economic and political ties without, however, compromising national independence. The latter group, mostly comprising professional diplomats and other state officials, currently defines the country’s policies, while the former consists of those linked with western business circles, a sort of comprador bourgeoisie in Marxist parlance. Since the ascent of Putin to the presidency, direct influence of the oligarchs on the Kremlin has dwindled but the balance of forces may change again after Putin’s departure.

There exists an immense gap between the image of Putin in Russia and his characterization in mainstream Western media. In the West, he is presented as a virtually omnipotent evil genius, capable of influencing election results in the United States, France and other countries and scoring important points for Russia in the international arena. Images on the cover of The Economist provide a good illustration of this demonization in Western press around the globe. These kinds of images cannot be found in Russian mainstream media with respect to Western leaders. The characterization of Putin as devil incarnate is part of the moralistic discourse in the United States, Britain and a few other countries. Putin seems to be presented more negatively than Stalin ever was in the midst of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was disliked and feared, but its status of a superpower was never questioned: its victory over Nazi Germany and subsequent achievements in science and technology earned it begrudged respect.


What does Russia want?

In order to answer this question, one must compare Russia’s foreign policy discourse and the facts on the ground. Russian doctrine of foreign policy is available in English and several other languages. It specifies that Russia has interests in various parts of the world, but does not pursue regime change by trying to impose its ideas and values onto other countries. 

(http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/official_documents/-/asset_publisher/CptICkB6BZ29/content/id/2542248).

Russia’s priority remains the preservation of its relations with Europe and the United States while rejecting their moralistic approach to foreign policy. In principle, this should be congruent with the views of President Trump as outlined in his inauguration speech. Russians view their country’s foreign policy as reactive and defensive rather than proactive and aggressive. Russia does not have the means to compete with the United States and recognizes its military superiority. Rather, Russia tries to make use of the force of the United States in order to undermine its position. (Some believe that this policy reflects Putin’s proficiency in martial arts.) Thus Russia regularly voices its support for international law and the United Nations as a strategy to challenge the unipolar hegemony of the United States. International law – like any law – can only be upheld when there is a balance of forces. Currently such a balance is absent, which explains why international law, including the International Criminal Court in The Hague, fails to be activated with respect to the United States and its allies.

One of Russia’s immediate interests is the removal of Western sanctions. Eastern European countries, as well as the overtly anti-Russia Ukrainian government, support the sanctions, while there is markedly less support for them in France, Italy, Germany and even Hungary. Europe is hardly united on this issue, and the growth of nationalist right-wing parties is likely to benefit Russia since most of them openly oppose the sanctions. At the same time, the sanctions do not seem to concern public opinion in Russia which continues to support the reunification of the Crimea, the reason invoked in the application of sanctions. Rank-and-file Russians often joke that the sanctions may hurt wealthy Muscovites, depriving them of Parmigiano or foie gras while having little effect on their own daily diet.

Russian foreign policy spokespeople, particularly Lavrov, emphasize that their position is rational. Stateowned media such as Voice of Russia on the radio and Russia Today on television also articulate this position. Western countries seem unhappy with these broadcasts. Fearful of Western ideas, Soviet authorities used to jam Western short-wave broadcasts, while Soviet publications were available in the West. Nowadays, CNN, Fox News and BBC are freely available in Russia while Russian media encounters growing difficulties reaching Western audiences.

Russian leaders remain patient in the face of Western opprobrium, arguing that their country has been cast in the role of a foe in order to restore Western unity shaken by Trump’s election rhetoric. A better understanding of Russia’s foreign policy should help make sense of the increasing post-Cold War volatility on the international checkerboard.


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The author gratefully acknowledges advice and criticism received from Yuri Akimov, Yann Breault, Richard Falk, Jacques Lévesque, Samir Saul and my daughter Miriam.