Month: November 2009

Reichstags

“Well then, guys: is it to be fascists, the Caucasus or a man-made disaster?” …

“I don’t know, boss … The Caucasus won’t cut it right now – it’ll look as though we’ve got no stability down there again. People will ask what we’ve been doing for the past ten years. And Ramzan will get upset …. ”

“I’m totally against a man-made disaster. Wasn’t the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant enough for you? Actually. at the time I came out for a terrorist attack … they should have listened to me  … We might have been able to turn the screws a bit … But this way it just harms the government’s image.”

“Or maybe it’s the machinations of western intelligence services? To stop us getting up from our knees … ”

“Don’t be silly – for God’s sake, it’s a serious story … ”

“Well, so what is it to be?”

“They’ve decided it’s fascists.”

“If it’s fascists it’s fascists… Listen, but what really happened?”

“Hell if I know… Isn’t it all the same to you?”

 

from Alexander Ryklin, “The Reichstags go on burning” (ej.ru)

Mistral: a cold French wind blows east

epl Originally published in Estonian as Mistral: külm Prantsuse tuul puhub itta

http://www.epl.ee/artikkel/483208

David J. Smith*

The French Navy amphibious assault ship Mistral—named for a cold French wind—visits Saint Petersburg today. This is not just a port call; it is a sales call—with ominous geopolitical implications.

“We plan to buy one Mistral class ship in France and with technical support from the French to build four helicopter carriers of this class under license,” said Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, First Deputy Chief of the Russian Navy Staff. It would be the biggest ever NATO country military supply to Russia.

The Mistral class of ships is designed to attack the shore from the sea, an ideal weapon for Russia to intimidate its neighbors. Mistrals can carry 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters, 4 landing craft, 900 soldiers and up to 70 military vehicles, including up to 40 tanks.

At about $800 million apiece, France’s motivation to sell Mistrals is understandable. Besides, sale proponents argue, a few modern ships to Russia’s barnacle-ridden navy will hardly threaten American dominance at sea.

However, is Paris prepared to reward Russian aggression against Georgia, ignore shredding of the ceasefire agreement negotiated and signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, accept the help of Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan but enforce an unacknowledged arms embargo on Georgia, and meanwhile sell advanced arms to Russia? Does France really want Russia to have this littoral combat capability?

Ignoring these questions may evoke pleasant noises in Moscow for a time, but Russia will not reciprocate in any concrete way. Indeed, it will demand ever more to be appeased. And eventually Russia will employ the Mistrals in another act of aggression, thereby making France complicit.

Regrettably, the potential sale of Mistral class ships to Russia appears to spring from worse than unprincipled economics. France’s partnership with Russia, Prime Minister Francois Fillon recently said, “can take several forms in the defense sphere, from military cooperation to close industrial partnership.” Recall that Fillon a day before the April 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit, told France-Inter radio, “We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think it is not the right response to the balance of power in Europe and between Europe and Russia.”

It is difficult to imagine what power Fillon imagines France will balance with the sale of Mistrals to Russia. However, one can readily discern Russia’s motivation for the purchase.
Moscow will not soon challenge US Navy dominance of the oceans. The Russian Navy for the foreseeable future will be a green water navy, operating close to home, largely as a complement to Russian land forces. And those forces undergird Russia’s intent to halt NATO’s eastward enlargement, particularly to Georgia and Ukraine; to retain its Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol beyond the 2017 expiration of its leasehold; to discourage NATO from planning and exercising the defense of the post Cold War NATO allies; to challenge American cooperation with those allies; and eventually to roll back what it characterizes as encroachment from the west.

“All that we consider ours will remain ours,” said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, toasting the 80th birthday of well known Soviet and Russian foreign policy specialist Yevgeny Primakov. The Baltic Sea, once a Soviet lake, is no doubt one of the places that Putin had in mind. When the Mistral navigated Skagerrak and Kattegat, the straits that lead from the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea into the Baltic Sea, it steamed by the shores of united Germany; by Gdansk, catalyst to the upheavals that toppled the communist world that Putin so reveres; by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, now NATO members, once occupied but never cowed by the Soviet Union.

On Baltic shores, apart from Saint Petersburg, only Kaliningrad—headquarters of the Baltic Fleet founded by Peter the Great—remains of the world for which Putin yearns. And it was no coincidence, therefore, that in Kaliningrad on September 28, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Russian troops who had participated in the exercise Zapad 2009, “I am convinced that we will be able to reestablish our navy in the next decade…We need a strong navy.”

And the Mistrals are part of the plan. On inland seas such as the Baltic or the Black Sea, Mistral class ships would make a big difference—and the Russians know it. Referring to Russia’s August 2008 invasion of Georgia, Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy recently remarked, “A ship like that would have allowed the Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not 26 hours, which is how long it took us.”

Consequently, the Mistral’s call in Saint Petersburg must capture the attention of every NATO ally. The French sale of Mistral class ships to Russia would be a major adverse geopolitical development and a potential alliance buster—it must be stopped.

*David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.

From an interview – 4

Yuri Felshtinsky: Where I see the main problem, of course, is that the government hoodwinks the people and the people go along with it. In other words, the people have no objection in principle to such an approach. I personally don’t like it, but on the other hand I find myself imagining someone who fell asleep in 1988, say, during perestroika, waking up in 2001 or 2008, under Putin, anyway. And this person had slept through the whole of the Yeltsin era, slept and didn’t even know that the Yeltsin era had ever existed. Imagine newsreels where someone just took a pair of scissors and cut out all the Yeltsin-era material from 1990 to 2000. And actually, let’s be honest, the picture we see today is absolutely wonderful, if we compare it with the Soviet era, or the period  of 1988-89-90. There’s no Communist Party, or at least, the CP exists only as one of numerous political parties. There’s no ideology. There’s a market economy, there’s freedom to travel abroad. The elections can’t really be called elections, of course, but that’s only if we compare them with elections in France, or America, or Britain. And if we compare them with the elections there were in the Soviet Union, the elections in Russia nowadays are simply beyond one’s wildest dreams. Both at a local and at a national level.

There is absolutely no freedom of speech, of course, let’s be frank about that. Nevertheless, there is a sort of opposition press, there’s Novaya Gazeta, there are some journalists, there’s Latynina. Yes, journalist are killed from time to time. But even so, we’re not talking about the millions of people who lost their lives in the purges of the Stalin era – we can speak, we can have different opinions, these statistics are always sad, and some of the people who’ve been killed were my very close friends, Anya Politkovskaya, for example (that was a personal loss) but we are nevertheless talking about 200-300 journalists being killed,  not about total political control.

And while there is absolutely no question that some politicians have been murdered, there is no global political terror of the kind there was in the former Soviet Union.

So you know, it all depends on how we compare those different eras. And perhaps we really need to agree that yes, Russia is not capable – at this point in history, at least. and we’re not talking about 10-30 or even 50 years – Russia is not capable of becoming some European, civilized, democratic country, it’s not ready to become that yet.

Russia is still trying to find its place in history and its path in history. Another thing is that, as history shows, Russians must constantly pay for this quest. Russia’s search for its path in history is an expensive venture in the world of today. Of course, I would prefer it if Russia and the Russian people, or the Russians, would calm down and realize that they don’t have a path of their own in history.

Mikhail Sokolov: A special one.

Yuri Felshtinsky: They have no special path.

http://felshtinsky.livejournal.com/2434.html

From an interview – 3

Mikhail Sokolov: So is Russia continuing to travel along the path laid out by Putin – anti-Westernism, “soft” dictatorship, and so on, or not?

Yuri Felshtinsky: You know, I can’t really call what’s happening in Russia today anti-Westernism, or even soft dictatorship. The people in the government are mostly those who worked for the KGB all their lives, or sometimes for other law enforcement agencies. In addition to the fact that all these people were born and lived in the Soviet era and were trained in the Soviet system, these people have passed through the school of the law enforcement agencies.

I don’t mean to offend the former or current leaders of the KGB, but you and I both know how the selection process for this organization, especially the KGB, worked. In other words, let’s put it this way: there are no good people there. I can’t emphasize this enough. A good person did not go to work for the KGB. I know it from Sasha Litvinenko. I always said to Sasha Litvinenko: “Sasha, you know, there are two people in your organization. One needs to be rewarded, and the other needs to be punished.” He would say: “Who are they?” “The person who should be rewarded is whoever chose you to work in the FSB and the KGB. Because it’s incredible, I mean, you’re a typical KGB officer. And the person who ought to be punished is whoever let slip the moment when you decided to defect from the KGB, because it’s extremely dangerous for the KGB to have you as an enemy.” And as an enemy of the FSB Litvinenko was indeed very dangerous, and so they killed him. They couldn’t find any other way of fighting him, they had to kill him.

To return to our topic: a good person did not go to work for the KGB, so by definition absolutely all the people who served in the KGB were bad people. That may be a naive thing to say.

Mikhail Sokolov: Not very scientific.

Yuri Felshtinsky: No, but it’s true. In everyday terms, you and I and all of us know that all those people are bad people. So what can one expect of the political system of our country, whether present or future, when it’s overwhelmingly led by these same bad people? Of course, nothing good can be expected of it. The fact that from time to time we encounter some anti-Western statements, for example, or some minor wars such as the one in Georgia –it’s all the result of the fact that these people run Russia today. They can’t act any differently, it’s just the way they’re made.

http://felshtinsky.livejournal.com/4745.html

New moves in the North Caucasus

At Prague Watchdog, Andrei Babitsky and German Sadulayev comment on President Medvedev’s new North Caucasus policy, announced in his recent address to the Federal Assembly, and his appointment of an “overseer” for the region, which is now for the first time being perceived by the Kremlin as a political entity. Also, a new Reuters report quotes ChRI leader Akhmed Zakayev as saying that Russia intends to significantly increase the numbers of its troops in the North Caucasus, as part of a planned surge.

From an interview – 2

Mikhail Sokolov: So you mean that in the coming decade Russia is doomed to give the world yet another negative lesson of the kind it gave in the past: we’ve had Communism and Stalinism, and now Russia is to be run by the secret police, or corporations composed of Putin’s managers?

Yuri Felshtinsky: In your question I hear a note of sad reproach, but in fact one can take a slightly different view of the way the world sees Russia. It’s really a matter of comparisons. The West and the whole of the rest of the world have to compare Russia’s present leadership with, for example, Stalin and Khrushchev. Of Stalin, of course, the less said the better.. Khrushchev beat his shoe on the podium. Brezhnev – also the less said the better. Now and then Yeltsin was drunk in public. Listen, against that background, Medvedev is quite simply the flower of the Russian intelligentsia. And against that background even Putin, on the whole, is a young progressive politician who knows how to smile, talk, behave himself more or less, not always, not everywhere, we know about all the blunders he committed as leader of the country: like when he joked about the sinking of the “Kursk” submarine, or when he told a journalist to go and get circumcised, and when he talked about flushing the Chechens down the toilet. We know about all that, the list is too long to enumerate. But even so, if we compare this with Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, then sorry, it’s not surprising that the Western community thought Putin was the best Russian president it had ever had to deal with.

On this level Medvedev is even better, because they don’t even have to deal with him, because they know that he doesn’t decide important policy matters in the country. So in that sense what awaits the West is not such a bad option.

The West takes a cautiously sceptical view of Russia. Russia is like the classroom bully. Between ourselves, no one ever expects anything good of Russia. Everyone expects something bad. When bad things happen, like the war in Chechnya or the war in Georgia, everyone says: “Yes, well, of course, what else can you expect of them? And when bad things don’t happen, they put a tick in the checkbox: “Listen, it could have happened and it didn’t.” In other words, Russia is treated like this naughty boy who is a member of the family but whom no one can do anything with, he’s just there.

And (this is a serious point, by the way) they all understand that that Russia is there, that it was there in the past and that it will go on being there in the future. Russia will be there both as a participant in all the political dialogues [with the West] and as a very important economic partner, especially for Europe. So we all have to live with Russia. And it is absolutely the task of everyone to make life easier for ourselves, to make this life together with Russia as easy and painless as possible.

http://felshtinsky.livejournal.com/4745.html