Tag Archives: Russia

Loose Ends, Dots, and Access

First, could we, as Charlie Pierce suggested, turn the presidential debates back over to the League of Women Voters?  I think I might be tempted to stay for the entire program under those circumstances.  Further, it might free up some reporters to investigate topics which seem to get lost in the muddle.  Some examples–>

Saudi Arabia and the whole nuclear thing. There appear to be some story lines converging. There’s a crown Prince of dubious reputation involved with the murder of a journalist for an American newspaper.  How much involvement is unresolved.  There’s a deal for nuclear technology in which a long time backer of the current president is involved, and reporting of a deal struck with Israeli psy-ops which includes Saudi connections. The deal, the details, and the possibility of interconnections are a bit murky, but they could be part of a more integrated piece.  It would seem there is much more reporting gold to be mined from these seams.

Russians. Both FBI Director Wray and DNI Coats mentioned ongoing efforts by the Russians to continue their assaults on our elections, and on our political system in the past several days. Not that we shouldn’t already be aware of this systemic assault. Senate Majority leader McConnell may not like the appellation Moscow Mitch, but as long as story lines entangle him with the likes of Deripaska, and an aluminum plant, and lobbyists seeking preferential treatment for Russian concerns, that appellation may stick. Dots remain to be securely connected.

Add to this the strange tale of sanctions being legislated against Russia (and Saudi Arabia too) only to be left unimplemented or lightly enforced by the administration, or of sanctions being vetoed by the President (Saudi arms deal.)

Did someone get played when Trump launched his trade war with China and see them retaliate with tariffs on soy beans, only to discover later China decided to purchase soy beans from…Russia?

And yet, there’s the President out there for his chopper talk this week with reporters challenging the veracity of reports about ongoing Russian assaults on the US.  There’s Senate Majority Leader McConnell blocking election security bills in the 116th Congressional session.

This advice is far from original, but it’s perhaps useful to remind members of the 4th Estate “you ain’t learning anything when you’re talking.”  Please, sign off Twitter and other social media, use your telephones the old fashioned way, to contact sources, or to add sources and information to your reporting.  You don’t need to be on every pundit panel every hour during the A block. You really don’t need to be on pundit panels at all. Investigate, verify, report. Stop worrying about access.

Access is highly overrated.  Access didn’t break open the Tea Pot Dome Scandal, nor did it bring into light the Watergate Scandal.  Access gives you information someone wants you to have. Investigation gives us information the rest of us need to have.

Please follow the loose ends, see if the dots connect, uncover what you can, reveal what you can verify. We will be better off for your efforts.

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Filed under Health Care, media, Politics

Some Questions? Chasing C Words

The new GOP talking point is “it’s over,” “it’s done,” or some variant thereof. The “it” in question is the investigation of Trumpian malfeasance. Not. So. Fast. There are questions yet answered.

1. What explains the curious hiring of Paul Manafort as the chair of the 2026 Trump presidential campaign?   And, the even more curious change in the Republican 2016 platform concerning Ukraine?

2. What explains the efforts by Trump administration transition and early administration personnel to establish insecure back channels with the Russians?  What explains the fact that General Flynn is kept in place well after the administration is warned he has not been honest about his connections with the Russians?

3. What explains why the Trump administration expresses its desire to ease sanctions on Russian oligarchs in the face of Russian intransigence in Ukraine? Crimea?

4. What explains the reluctance of the Trump administration to follow standard procedures with regard to diplomatic relations and contacts involving the Russians? Why are there no note takers? Witnesses? Or, others who could verify US statements made during or as a result of these meetings or talks?

5. What explains the alignment between Russian efforts to weaken the NATO alliance and the rhetoric coming from the White House?

One possible explanation rests on the premise we’ve been chasing the wrong C words.  While the recent public investigations have centered on Collusion (a diversionary term of art) and Conspiracy, a legal term with a more precise definition, the C word we should be considering is COMPROMISE.

Has the President of the United States of America been compromised by a hostile foreign power? And, if so, how and to what extent?

So, no, Mr. President, until we more fully understand the underlying motives and results of your strange foreign policy decisions, until we can be assured there is no Compromise involved…it isn’t done and it’s not over.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics

Flashback: The Long Telegram

Every once in a while at least one of the pundits on the Chatty Channels appears to have a functioning grasp of the history of US / Russian relations, and a sense of how prescient former diplomats have been in the past.  Such was the case when Ambassador Kennan’s 2/22/46 “Long Telegram” was referenced.

Kennan was describing “soviet” policy in post WWII relations but he might easily have been describing current Russian foreign policy.  What are some important Russian goals? Are they similar to what Kennan listed in 1946?

“(a) Everything must be done to advance relative strength of USSR as factor in international society. Conversely, no opportunity most be missed to reduce strength and influence, collectively as well as individually, of capitalist powers.

(b) Soviet efforts, and those of Russia’s friends abroad, must be directed toward deepening and exploiting of differences and conflicts between capitalist powers. If these eventually deepen into an “imperialist” war, this war must be turned into revolutionary upheavals within the various capitalist countries.

(c) “Democratic-progressive” elements abroad are to be utilized to maximum to bring pressure to bear on capitalist governments along lines agreeable to Soviet interests.

(d) Relentless battle must be waged against socialist and social-democratic leaders abroad.”

“…deepening and exploiting of differences and conflicts between capitalist powers” isn’t far from the current Russian efforts to create divisions and undermine coalitions like NATO, the European Union, and the United Nations.  We should also notice that it was, and is, a Russian goal to create problems for western nations both “collectively as well as individually.” Then as now.   There is another paragraph which deserves reflection, and Kennan delves into the origins of Russian opposition to western nations.

“At bottom of Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area. But this latter type of insecurity was one which afflicted rather Russian rulers than Russian people; for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively archaic in form fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries. For this reason they have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about world within. And they have learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.”

This analysis goes a way toward explaining the Russian efforts to control news, indulge in state propaganda instead of a free press, and its propensity to destroy those who would provide information about Russian machinations to western authorities.  [EveningStandard] Witness the changing Russian stories about the Salisbury Attack: (i) It wasn’t Russia; (ii) If it was a Russian nerve agent it wasn’t us; (iii) We don’t know if it’s Russian because the British won’t share all the elements of their investigation; (iv) It’s a false flag operation by the British themselves. As the British Prime Minister explained, there really is no other plausible narrative concerning the Salisbury Attack other than Russian operations.

Substitute “Russian” for “Soviet” in the Kennan telegram, and we see substantiation for the Prime Minister’s conclusion:

“Soviet policy, as Department implies in its query under reference, is conducted on two planes: (1) official plane represented by actions undertaken officially in name of Soviet Government; and (2) subterranean plane of actions undertaken by agencies for which Soviet Government does not admit responsibility.”

Kennan’s perspective is also applicable to current Russian diplomatic “objectives.”

“(e) Everything possible will be done to set major Western Powers against each other. Anti-British talk will be plugged among Americans, anti-American talk among British. Continentals, including Germans, will be taught to abhor both Anglo-Saxon powers. Where suspicions exist, they will be fanned; where not, ignited. No effort will be spared to discredit and combat all efforts which threaten to lead to any sort of unity or cohesion among other [apparent omission] from which Russia might be excluded. Thus, all forms of international organization not amenable to Communist penetration and control, whether it be the Catholic [apparent omission] international economic concerns, or the international fraternity of royalty and aristocracy, must expect to find themselves under fire from many, and often [apparent omission].”

Using the evaluation offered above by Ambassador Kennan, the negative diplomatic reaction to the US President’s failure to mention Article 5 of the NATO agreement last June is more understandable.

Among the recommendations there’s this paragraph from the 1946 document which should remind us that “America Alone” is not the best way to face the Russian regime:

(2) Gauged against Western World as a whole, Soviets are still by far the weaker force. Thus, their success will really depend on degree of cohesion, firmness and vigor which Western World can muster. And this is (?) factor which it is within our power to influence.

“Cohesion, firmness, and vigor” should be a matter of collective response between and among western nations if Russian policy is to be thwarted, not a policy of disengagement with our allies.

Kennan’s last recommendation is poignant and compelling:

(5) Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After Al, (?) the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.

I’d highly recommend going to the link for the entire document, and taking a few moments to give serious consideration to its insights, and applicability to today’s diplomatic situation.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics

Representative Government?

Not that popular polling is always the best way to govern, but the current capacity of the Republican controlled federal government to ignore public opinion is amazing.  For example, the Republican tax plan has a 26% approval rating [PR] 91% of Democrats, and perhaps more importantly, 61% of independent voters disapprove of the plan.  66% of Republicans approve of the plan, but we have to remember 37% of the American public identifies with the GOP. [HP]

While we’re remembering the horror at the Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago (and not forgetting the massacre at the Las Vegas music concert) we know that 32% of Republicans, 83% of Democrats, and 62% of independents support stronger guns laws in this country. Overall support for stricter control of firearms stands at 60%. [PR]

The FCC decision to eliminate the net neutrality rules, some of which go back to the less than golden age of dial up, isn’t popular either.  Polling found that 83% of registered voters disliked the idea, 75% of whom were Republican and 89% of Democrats.  86% of registered voters who were independent didn’t like the idea either.   However, the FCC marched on with a 17% approval rating for its new “light touch” policy.

It seems that whenever the President* starts feeling the heat from Congressional, popular, or media sources he retreats to his anti-immigration rhetoric.  The Wall seems either literally or metaphorically important to him, but it isn’t all that much in the eyes of the nation he’s supposed to be leading.  36% of registered voters support The Wall, while 62% oppose it. [PR]   Voters were given three choices about Dreamers, stay and apply for citizenship, stay but not as citizens, or leave the country.  The December Marist poll found 58% supporting the stay/citizenship option, 23% supported stay but not as citizens, and only 15% supported deportation.   As of the week of December 6th the Quinnipiac Poll found 77% supporting the stay/citizenship application option, 7% supported the stay with no citizenship option, and only 12% supporting the deportation option.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen polling about Vladimir Putin, the other half of the Trump-Putin bromance.  There was some polling done last Summer which might be instructive.  Last July only 15% of Americans had a positive feeling about Putin, and as of late June 2017 approximately 50% of Americans felt the President* was too friendly with the Russian leader. [PR]

A person might think that a leader who isn’t stone deaf to public sentiment or stonewalling to protect his self image might want to consider how best to reach toward a broader audience, and to cultivate something more than a 32% approval rating.  Apparently that consideration isn’t getting much traction in the current White House.

Nor does it seem like the first session of the 115th Congress is paying much attention either.  In fact, it looks like the GOP is doing the drafting of the Democratic Platform for 2018 — Net Neutrality, DACA, common sense gun regulation, immigration reform, and real tax reform for working Americans.  The 32% President and his 37% party are perhaps doing the best they can to elevate the Democratic Party in the mid term elections?

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Filed under Gun Issues, Immigration, Net Neutrality, Politics, Taxation

Scary Stuff Indeed

Yesterday was an extremely interesting day, replete with all manner of scary stuff compliments of social media platforms and a Special Counsel. However, not all of the frightening items were associated with the Trump Campaign’s eagerness to get the produce of Russian hacking, and Russian assistance.  Here’s some other stuff in the GOP treat basket:

ICE again proves its ultimate heartlessness and horrifying lack of understanding of what it means to “protect” Americans; illustrated by the case of Rosa Maria Hernandez — a ten year old with cerebral palsy undergoing gall bladder surgery.  And, this isn’t the only case — there was the story of parents arrested while their child was having brain surgery, the arrest of an undocumented Iraqi man who was serving as a bone marrow donor for his niece, and a brain tumor patient pulled from a hospital.  ICE thus becomes the ultimate Halloween Scary Story.  Candidates for public office ought to be ask outright how they would assist in the process of getting immigration officials to adhere to their own guidelines on “sensitive locations.’

Nobody in the GOP appears to be all that outraged that the Trump Campaign not only accepted assistance from the Russians, but actively sought to get the goods on Secretary Clinton from Russian sources.  This isn’t normal, or even paranormal — it’s the kind of thing that would make any other campaign (Democratic or Republican) call the FBI if the Russians showed up at the door with treats.  But still, #45 refuses to accept the fact that the Russians at least meddled and at most attacked the US with campaign “assistance” — social media help; opposition research; and, (the part we keep ignoring) attempts to hack into the voting systems of at least 21 and possibly 39 states.  We do need much more attention paid to the last item on the list since the Cult-45 group persists in saying this is a Spook, there’s nothing to see here.

Somehow a tiny company in Montana got a whopper contract, now cancelled, to supply power to the entire island of Puerto Rico.  Nothing puts a place like Whitefish, Montana on the map like having the Secretary of the interior stammering he’s nothing to do with this — and if I believe this then you could easily get me to believe that all the little spookies at the door are Real!

It’s been 30 days since the tragic Las Vegas Shooting, and what has the Congress done to limit high capacity magazines? Bump stocks? Anything?  This month has been a nightmare for the families of the deceased, and the families of the injured.  The nightmare will continue until politicians stop being terrified of the National Rifle Association.

Republicans have been unable to explain away the specter of Opioid Abuse while cutting massive amounts of funding from Medicaid.  The GOP budget calls for cutting some $1.5 trillion from the program over the next decade — while 30% of opioid treatment is covered by Medicaid insurance.   States, already strapped by the crisis will have to either come up with more funding or ration care — speaking of Death Panels…

The Senate of the United States believes that individual Americans are perfectly capable of taking on The Big Banks all by themselves — Super Heroes in Litigation.  So, on October 24, 2017 the Senate voted to dismiss a CFPB rule that would have allowed class action law suits against the Big Banks by ripped off customers; forcing those customers into individual arbitration.  Senator Dean Heller was pleased to vote in favor of this nightmare.

This list seems long enough to send sentient beings into the closet for the Halloween Season, one almost shudders to think what more the Republicans have in mind — like the tax cuts for the 1% and questionable benefits for the rest of the population…

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Filed under anti-immigration, Gun Issues, Immigration, Medicaid, Politics

Whatever Happened to HR 3364? The Amazing Disappearance of the Russian Sanctions Law

On July 25, 2017 members of the House of Representatives voted 419-3 to pass the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act; and on July 27, 2017 the Senate voted to pass it 98-2.  [HR 3364]  This is about as close to “veto proof” as any bill is likely to get.  The President* signed it on August 2, 2017.  [Hill]  Thus, HR 3364 became PL 115-44.

“Per the legislation, the administration was required to issue guidance by October 1 on how it was implementing the sanctions against Russia. That process includes publishing a list of the people and organizations who will be targeted by the sanctions, which are primarily aimed at Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.” [TDB]

Yes, it’s now October 25, 2017 and what have we heard about those published lists of people and organizations targeted for (among other things) cyber attacks on our election systems and democratic institutions?

About all that’s come from the Oval Office is “we’re working on it,” at the Treasury Department, State Department, and Director of National Intelligence…but that October 1 deadline is in the rear view mirror and members of Congress aren’t getting any answers.  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) did the ‘aw shucks’ reaction last Sunday:

“The Trump administration is slow when it comes to Russia. They have a blind spot on Russia I still can’t figure out,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. When asked what Congress could do to force the administration to act, Graham was vague, saying only: “The Congress will have a way to hold the president accountable.”  [TDB]

Perhaps the South Carolina Senator can’t figure it out, but it’s getting ever more obvious the President* is singularly unwilling to address anything even remotely critical of Russia and its klepto-dictator Putin. [see also VF]  A person might even think PL 115-44 has been sent to Siberia? That “blind spot” doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. [MSNBC]

However, there is some evidence the administration is aware of the requirements of the sanctions bill, there simply isn’t a sensation of alacrity or urgency?

“Several recent actions suggest that the Trump administration is aware of the bill’s sectoral sanctions requirements. For example, on September 29, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum delegating “to the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, the functions and authorities vested in the President by” Section 231. Additionally, the administration has complied with other 60 day sectoral sanctions-related deadlines. For example, Sections 222 and 223 effectively codified and intensified pre-existing sectoral sanctions that had been imposed under Executive Order 13662. The government made the modifications that Section 223 required be done within 60 days on September 29. Moreover, although President Trump’s signing statement included a number of constitutional objections to specific provisions of the bill (including Section 222), Section 231 is not among them.”  [Lawfare]

There’s no great urgency demonstrated when a bill is signed on August 2, 2017 and the initial instructions don’t go out to the departments until September 29, 2017.  Section 231 (Russia) isn’t all that complicated, and more could certainly have been done to implement the provisions.

It isn’t often that every member of the Nevada congressional delegation votes in unity on any major piece of legislation, and it seems a shame that the President* hasn’t seen fit to move on this topic of important national interest.  Unlike the South Carolina Senator, I think we can guess why little action is taking place concerning Section 231.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Heller, Lindsey Graham, Nevada politics, Politics

Focus on the issue, not the straw man in the corner

First, let me say I am utterly uninterested in re-litigating the 2016 election results. My attention to the Russian Connection(s) is based on my concern that the Russian government — read Vladimir Putin — sought to influence the trajectory and substance of American foreign policy such that it would align with Russian interests.

Russian national interests (elimination of sanctions for its actions in Ukraine, diminishing NATO support for the Baltic States, reintegrating Crimea within Russian borders, separating the interests of the United States and Germany, retaining the Assad Regime in Syria to secure its naval base) are not necessarily American interests.

Secondly, there is ample evidence that the Russians sought to influence the direction of US foreign policy.  If there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, then why was Paul Manafort, a man with copious ties to Russian backed opponents of the Ukrainian government, hired as part of the campaign organization? What was the role of Carter Page in the campaign and its foreign policy pronouncements? Why did General Flynn lie to the vice-president about his discussions with members of Putin’s government? Our Commerce Secretary is tied to the Cyprus Bank and its connections to Russian money laundering.  And, now did Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions meet with the Russian ambassador on matters related to the Senate Armed Forces Committee, or did the agenda include aligning US policy with that of the Putin government?

And all the while the press reports the Oval Office incumbent said things like, “Russia is not going into Ukraine,” and trying to clean up this mess later when it was pointed out that Russia was in Ukraine — in Crimea. Further, the incumbent repeated his comments that ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we had better relations with Russia?’

The Obama Administration placed sanctions on Russia for (1) its activities in Ukraine, especially eastern Ukraine where it is still supporting rebel forces, and (2) for its hacking of American political organizations and individuals — the DNC, etc.  I think we can agree that Russian arms and personnel shipments to eastern Ukraine are a violation of that nation’s sovereignty.  So, why has the current Oval Office been silent about Russian recognition of citizenship documents issued by Ukrainian rebel forces? Or, the continued military operations in eastern Ukraine?  If the administration is not aligning its foreign policy interests with those of the Putin government then it is doing a remarkable impersonation of precisely that.

The Russians perceive the expansion of NATO as a direct threat, what does the Oval Office say — we must require that all nations chip in more money to insure our support, leaving the Generals to clean up the mess and seek to alleviate the confusion on the part of our allies.  If this doesn’t align with Russian interests its hard to image what would.

The bottom line is that we need to focus on our national security, this isn’t selfish, it’s security.  We need to know if the current administration is compromised.  We need to know if the current administration is compromising American security interests.  We won’t be able to answer these questions if the Republicans are successful in driving the narrative as one of partisan politics informed by a reaction to election results.

The issues raised begin with Russian tampering in our election processes, but they don’t end there.  At issue is whether or not US foreign policy is focused on long term American interests, and is NOT predicated on promoting the interests of a hostile government.

Focus please.  The election result argument is a straw man. The “wouldn’t it be nice” argument is a straw man. The pontification upon whether specific laws were broken is a straw man.  The parsing of phrases in Senate hearings is a straw man. These subtopics are related to the essential issue but they should not be confused with it. Should these straw men take center stage, then it will be all the more difficult to discern IF American foreign policy is made based on OUR interests, or if American interests have been compromised.

We need an independent commission to investigate the possible compromising of American security interests, and the sooner the better.

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Filed under Confirmations, Foreign Policy, Politics

My List

Monday morning the need for accountability becomes paramount.  There are some issues which require continuous investigation and reporting, my list:

  • The efforts of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. Investigations have been launched, some ongoing since last summer.  Efforts to curtail or stall these investigations could easily be characterized as evidence substantiating the charges.
  • The efforts of Tom Price as a cabinet member to implement the elements of his Empowering Patients First Act, which would send the health insurance system back to the days of junk insurance and perhaps worse should the corporations be allowed to bypass state consumer protection systems.
  • The unholy alliance of Pruitt, Perry, et.al. to deconstruct environmental protection in favor of protecting the interests of exploiters and polluters.
  • The efforts to suppress voting and civil rights.
  • The privatization of public education, and coordinated efforts to use public funds to support religious efforts.
  • The tendency to demonize members of minority/ethnic communities.

That should keep journalists busy for a while?

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Meanwhile: What We Aren’t Talking About

World Map I have this miserable feeling that what is purported to be a debate including foreign policy on October 19th in Las Vegas, NV will devolve into a session about emails/Benghazi… both manufactured outrages which are GOP specialties.

Meanwhile in our very real world there are some important issues which are not being addressed, not being explained for the American public.  Here are a few —

Greece.  If we thought this issue of a European Union country in dire financial straits as over – think again.  There is currently more happy talk about the restoration of the Greek economy, but yet more bail out money is in the offing.  Another $3.1 billion loan has been authorized to the government.

“Greece’s debt stands at about 180 percent of Gross Domestic Product and the International Monetary Fund has been arguing that the primary surplus targets set by Athens’ creditors to secure the massive rescue loans will prove too tough to respect. It remains unclear whether the IMF will take part in future loans without some form of debt reduction, something the 19-nation eurogroup is reluctant to discuss, given the many billions already spent on keeping the country afloat.” [USNWR]

In other words the economic/foreign policy questions related to the Greek economic crisis and its implications hasn’t been resolved, it’s merely been postponed.  I’d like to hear candidates discuss how the US should address problems created in the Greek/Eurozone economy by the aggregation of debt and the reluctance of bond holders to reduce their interest rates or renegotiate the rates. I don’t think we’re going to hear it.

China. There will probably be some references to China in terms of US trade, and the balance of trade between the US and China – but let’s guess that there will be radio silence on the freedom movement in Hong Kong.  The democracy movement is still alive in that area, the vestiges of the Umbrella Revolution survive, but the delicate balance of interests has implications for US policy in the region.  Will the fate of the Umbrella Revolution be referenced in foreign policy debates? Probably not.

South China Sea.  Here’s a situation fraught with consequences for the region, and for US interests.  China seeks to expand its influence in the area, the position of the Philippine government remains unclear.  China has made inferences to US ‘intervention’  in the area, and has told New Zealand to ‘butt out.’ [NZHerald]  Meanwhile, Indonesia has made a show of force in the South China Sea, and Japan is joining US patrols.  Singapore has expressed concern over the safety of fishermen and coast guard patrols, even though it is not a claimant in any territorial disputes.  Explication? Again, likely not.

Democratic Republic of Congo.  The election disputes turned deadly in late September.  President Kabila’s term is supposed to end in December, but elections have been put on hold, precipitating the violence.  The Vatican has weighed in, calling for a peaceful resolution of the election issues.  The US State Department issued a revised travel warning for the country five days ago.

“The potential for civil unrest remains high in Kinshasa and other major cities. In addition armed groups, bandits, and some elements of the Congolese armed forces continue to engage in murder, kidnapping, and robbery in a number of areas of eastern DRC. Very poor transportation infrastructure throughout the country and poor security conditions make it difficult for the U.S. Embassy to provide consular services anywhere outside of Kinshasa.” [USSoS]

Is the US prepared to react to continued civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo?  At what point does the US express its position, and make it clear we’d support UN initiatives to secure a peaceful transition of power?  We aren’t likely to find out during campaign season.

Turkey.  The coup attempt in Turkey created problems for US – Turkey relations.  [Fortune]  The relationship was complicated in the first place, and isn’t likely to get simplified any time soon. [WaPo]   Subtopics include our relationship with the Kurds, our relationship with the Erdogan government, our relationship with NATO.  And then there are Pentagon discussions about arming the YPG.  The situation is further complicated by talks between Russia and the Erdogan government over a pipeline.  

Russia and Eastern Europe.  Two days ago the Polish government expressed its disapproval of Russian missiles being deployed in Kaliningrad, in an area bordering Poland and Lithuania. [Reuters]  The Estonians weren’t pleased by the moving of the Iskander-M missiles either. [Guardian] The situation became more ‘touchy’ with Estonian charges of Russian incursions into Estonian air space. [EuOnline]  These aren’t issues to be minimized especially in light of Russian activities in Ukraine.

Putin is now claiming that Russian was “forced” to defend Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, “Putin had denied sending troops into Crimea, before annexing it in 2014, and issued similar denials regarding Donbas. However, he has issued statements seemingly admitting to armed Russian presence in both regions since.”   Said Putin, stating the obvious.  The situation is rendered more tenuous as Germany is downplaying the idea of Four Way Summit on Ukraine. [Reuters]  There are talks scheduled for this Thursday and Friday, but evidently not much hope for any progress toward ending Russian incursions or the ‘separatist’ movement in eastern Ukraine.  The fighting continues.  

Without a better and fuller discussion of foreign policy issues in the political arena, Americans may have to live up to the old saw, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”

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Filed under Foreign Policy

Ukraine 101

As Ambroise Bierce once put it, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” [BQ] It needn’t be a full fledged conflict, in these days of cable media it can be a threat of armed conflict in a volatile region.   Unfortunately, what we learn in the form of geographic knowledge we tend to subsume beneath a pile of pre-existing and often simplistic assumptions.

In the interest of complicating a complex situation further, perhaps it’s time to test a few assumptions.

1.Vladimir Putin wants to rebuild the Russian Empire.” This conclusion has been drawn by former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell. [CBS] Morell opines that the current problems between Russia and Ukraine stem from the ouster of the former Ukrainian prime minister who sought closer economic ties to Russia.   Yes, Putin has decried the break up of the old Soviet Union, so this line of argument has a kernel of consistency.  However, it also requires ignoring the instances in which Putin has observed that Ukraine is an independent nation. [NPR]  The two notions are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but “nostalgia does not presupposed expansionism.” [IndUK]  A little more thought may be in order before we leap to this conclusion.

2.If Ukraine falls then Moldova, etc. are next.”  Slow down. If Putin’s nostalgia isn’t a ‘plan’ for Russian expansion then the argument falls apart, no matter how many nations formerly affiliated with the old Soviet Union are added to the list.

3.It’s just like Georgia.”  Every analogy, or attempt to argue by analogy, eventually crumbles into absurdity, and this one falls apart more quickly than most.   The European Union sponsored a three volume study on the 2008 conflict in Georgia and concluded the conflict was started by…the Georgians.  [EU vol 1 pdf] Specifically, a “sustained Georgian artillery attack on the town of Tskhinvali.”   Given the vast military superiority of Russian forces, had the Russians wanted re re-annex Georgia it would not have been an insurmountable task.  They didn’t. The Russians didn’t even take the Georgian capital at Tbilisi.   Georgia is still an independent entity, with a prime minister elected from a unicameral parliament. [CIA]  That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hard feelings, “Russia’s military support and subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence in 2008 continue to sour relations with Georgia.” [CIA]

Abkhazia has a long history of association with Georgia, but not one without periodic conflicts. [BBC] The problems with South Ossetia are more profound.  Their language is more closely related to Persian than Georgian, and Georgians account for less than 1/3rd of the South Ossetian population. [BBC] While the Russians have formally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia  only  Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, and Tuvalu followed suit.  Abkhazia uses the ruble as its currency and about 50% of its total state budget is financed by the Russians.  The economic situation in South Ossetia is a bit more dire, it has one major asset — the Roki Tunnel, which connects Russia to that portion of  Georgia.  Most of its economy is based on subsistence farming.

In short, it’s one thing to ‘declare’ a region independent and offer it recognition, but quite another to present the world with a fait accompli.  And, we’d also be well advised to note the geographic and economic ties between Russia and the two portions of Georgia upon which it has bestowed recognition are more complicated than a superficial glance would evoke.

4.We have to DO something.”   That would be a good thing, had we major compelling interests in Ukraine.   The major imports (in order) are (1) refined petroleum 13%, (2) crude petroleum, (3) semi finished iron, (4) hot rolled iron, and (5) railway freight cars. [OEC]  32.4% of the country’s imports come from Russia, 9.3% from China, 8% from Germany, 6% from Belarus, and 4.2% from Poland. [CIA]  The amount of refined petroleum imported might suggest that U.S. companies might be able to Drill Baby Drill into relevance.  This, of course, assumes that U.S. petroleum products sold on the international oil market would dominate the Ukrainian market.  However, when a country has a neighbor with an abundance of natural gas and refined petroleum (Russia) readily available at lower cost, then both the cost and the convenience outweigh U.S. capacity to get more involved in that market. [WaPo]  The arguments for the TransCanadian Keystone pipeline and fracking are essentially for our own domestic political consumption, and have little relevance for the petroleum (refined or otherwise) on global markets.

If we aren’t a major trade partner with Ukraine what vested interests are we to protect by involving ourselves in their political turmoil?   The related question is: Are we the global police force?  If we adopt this stance then we have to be ready to assume the costs associated with it.   We are paying approximately $816 billion for our operations in Iraq, another $701 billion for operations in Afghanistan [GP]  how much more are we prepared to pay for incursions into Ukraine…Syria…Libya…?

If we don’t adopt this stance then are we prepared to acknowledge that other nations, specifically members of the European Union, and even more specifically Germany, have greater interests involved in the stability of their relations with Ukraine and Russia?  [CarnegieEurope] [New Yorker]

Might a better American policy on the current issues between Russia and Ukraine be to allow those with more immediate interests take the lead in defusing the situation?  Or, in basketball parlance, should we be the player who makes other players on the court more effective?

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