Global Threats

Lukyanov in Stockholm

Tobias Ljungvall took notes during a recent speech given at a Stockholm seminar by Russian political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov. As Tobias observes, Lukyanov more or less reproduces the Kremlin’s current view of world affairs and of Russia’s role in them [my tr.]:

1. Russian foreign policy under President Medvedev has not undergone any fundamental change compared to the foreign policy that prevailed under Putin. The differences in nuance can be partly explained by the fact that Medvedev is a different sort of person.

2. Russia is not like the Soviet Union, partly because it lacks an ideology.The loss of empire in1991 was worse than other countries’ similar experiences (e.g, Britain’s loss of its colonies) as the lost areas were extensions of the country and some were a part of the national identity. The building of the Russian state began many centuries ago in Kiev, and therefore Russia finds hard to accept that Ukraine should join NATO.

3. A key concept is the so-called multi-polar world. The United States’ attempt at hegemony has failed but has made the world more unstable because it cannot rely on international law any more. Relations between emerging new poles will shape the present century.

4. While in the West the Kosovo war of 1999 was perceived positively as proof that it was possible to defend human rights by force, Russia’s interpretation of the Kosovo events was that national sovereignty no longer applies in the world. Russian public opinion turned its back on integration with the West and Western ideas of morality.

5. Instead, Russia was forced to strengthen its own capability. The only real guarantee of sovereignty for Russia is its nuclear weapons. In the absence of the former capabilities of the Soviet Union, Russia has also politicized gas and oil, in a way that Lukyanov thinks ultimately does most harm to Gazprom itself. The Soviet Union never mixed business and politics in the way that is now happening.

6. So now Russia is trying to avoid new gas conflicts with Ukraine. Today it is only Ukraine’s President Yushchenko who tries to provoke them. But hopefully after the elections which are due to take place in two months’ time Yushchenko will go into political retirement. 

There is more.

Mistral: a cold French wind blows east

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

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.

Regime change for Russia?

Writing in the Washington Post, ex-Soviet dissident and strategic studies analyst Natan Sharansky suggests that the “real Russia problem” is a fundamental lack of democracy within the Russian state, and the West’s failure to implement an effective post-Cold War policy in the light of this. The West has not made the inherent connection between internal freedom and external aggression which was at the heart of the now-abandoned Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974. Nothing has been put in the place of this important lever, with the result that now the West is faced with only a few choices where Russia is concerned:

The threat to Georgia, Russia’s other democratic neighbors and America ultimately arises from a lack of democracy within Russia. Changing that should be the focus of statecraft today — if we want to ensure that the Kremlin poses no threat to peace tomorrow.

Sarkozy on War and Diplomacy

In his first major foreign policy speech, made at the Fifteenth Ambassadors’ Conference back on August 27, France’s new President Nicolas Sarkozy created shockwaves when he said that an Iran with nuclear weapons was unacceptable, and warned that Iran could be attacked militarily if it didn’t meet its international obligations to curb its nuclear program. What many commmentators seemed to ignore at the time is that these remarks were made within the context of a speech that was devoted almost exclusively to the possibilities and imperatives of the diplomatic resolution of crises throughout the globe – in particular the confrontation beween the West and radical Islam. The speech needs to be read in that light, for it is an important contribution to the debate. And it doesn’t underestimate the gravity of the threat:

There’s no point in waffling: this confrontation is being called for by extremist groups such as al-Qaida that dream of establishing a caliphate from Indonesia to Nigeria, rejecting all openness, all modernity, every hint of diversity. If these forces were to achieve their sinister objective, it is certain that the twenty-first century would be even worse than the last one, itself marked by merciless confrontation between ideologies.

The violence in Ingushetia – VII

When Russia’s FSB wants to score a more-than-routine propaganda point or two, it generally tries to arrange a “Baltic” connection to some negative event on Russian territory. The latest example of this can be seen in yesterday’s carefully orchestrated attack in downtown Nazran, Ingushetia, which none the less killed two police officers, and probably scared the large crowds of shoppers at the city’s market. A car with what appeared to be Lithuanian numberplates was conveniently parked at the site of the shooting, beside an armoured police vehicle. Then the car sped off, removing the shooters to safety.

For years, Russia’s security forces have attempted to create a link not only in the Russian public’s mind, but also in that of the international community, between the the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (detested by the “law enforcers”) and the events that take place in the North Caucasus – the most memorable being the tales about the “White Pantyhose Brigade”, “supplemented by jokes and the recollections of eye-witnesses, even more funny than jokes. In these recollections, legends and myths, the slender blondes from Lithuanian villages had come to Chechnya to avenge themselves for the misdeeds of Molotov and Ribbentrop hitting our soldiers and imagination from sniper rifles,” as Ilya Milstein wrote in the New Times a few years ago.

At first, the obviously manufactured, artificial nature of the violent events in Ingushetia this year made some observers wonder just who the forces behind these actions were. On the basis of the foregoing, it’s becoming increasingly evident who they are.

The Producers

From the Edinburgh Festival, a production of Jihad, The Musical. The Mail writes:

The controversial satire about Islamic terrorism includes such classic tunes as “Building a bomb today, what does the manual say” and “I wanna be like Osama”.

Perhaps its creators were inspired by the success of The Producers – a runaway broadway hit which attracted criticism for its camp rendition of Nazi Germany.

Taking a careful look

While Western journalists, columnists and politicians increasingly express surprise and disappointment at Russia’s apparently new turn to authoritarianism and repression of political dissent at home and political revanchism abroad, it’s hard not to reflect that the signals of the “new” policy have been in place for quite some time – certainly for the past two years, and probably much longer. As a correspondent to this blog points out, “Almost certainly there would have been earlier alarm bells than the following from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius about Putin’s Russia but the aspect that seems most relevant to me is in these words: ‘the world should take a careful look at what the Russians did here — and demand that such activities stop.’ If that had been done perhaps Marina Litvinenko would not be a widow now and the cyber-attack and other intimidation against Estonia etc, etc, would not have happened.”

The March 16 2004 Washington Post article referred to:
DOHA, Qatar — The tough-guy tactics of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rgime became clear here just over a month ago, when a team of Russian agents allegedly assassinated a former Chechen leader with a car bomb as he was returning home from Friday prayers at a mosque.
The Russians haven’t engaged in this sort of “wet work” outside their borders since the bad old days of the KGB. Indeed, in the midst of denying that the  new Russian intelligence service was responsible, a spokesman said they “had not taken part in such actions” since 1959.
But the Qatari government caught the Russians red-handed, so to speak. And what’s more, rather than cave to intense pressure from Moscow, little Qatar decided to stand firm and insist on the rule of law. A Qatari prosecutor filed criminal charges against two Russians, and a trial is scheduled here this week. U.S. sources say that quiet negotiations have been going on to arrange a compromise. And it’s possible that once the trial is over, some face-saving deal will be reached.
The Qatar case, disclosed here in detail for the first time by U.S. and Arab sources, illustrates just how far Putin has gone in unleashing his beloved siloviki — the security services at the centre of his regime. With Putin’s overwhelming election victory last weekend, the world should take a careful look at what the Russians did here — and demand that such activities stop.
The assassination victim was a Chechen guerrilla leader named Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. He was acting president of the separatist regime in Chechnya in 1996 and ’97, and the Russians allege that after he fled to Qatar about three years ago, he continued to help fund Chechen terrorists. The United Nations included him last year on a list of people with links to al Qaeda.

The Russians had been asking Qatar to extradite Yandarbiyev. The Qataris responded by asking the Russians for evidence of his terrorist activities — saying that they would then try Yandarbiyev in their own courts. Just a week before the assassination, the Russians are said to have agreed that he be tried in Qatar. But by then the car bomb that killed him had already been delivered.
On Friday, Feb. 13, Yandarbiyev went to a mosque with his 13-year-old son. While they were inside, a two-kilogram bomb was attached to the underside of his Toyota Land Cruiser. When the Chechen had driven several hundred yards toward home, the bomb exploded. Yandarbiyev died on the way to a hospital; his son survived with severe burns.

The Qataris cracked the case thanks to good luck and sloppy Russian work. People had seen a van near the mosque, and police were able to trace it to a car-rental agency at the Doha airport, where video cameras had recorded the renters. The Qataris soon closed in on a villa that had been rented recently by a Russian diplomat but that didn’t have diplomatic status. The Qataris were also monitoring the Russians’ calls, from cell phones that had been falsely acquired in the names of two Europeans.

The Russians, both military officers in their mid-thirties, were captured at the villa several days after the bombing. They had been sent to Qatar as temporary embassy staffers about a month before the attack, and they lacked diplomatic immunity. A third alleged Russian conspirator was saved by his official status at their embassy on Sudan Street here.

The two Russian officers are said to have confessed, and to have named several senior officers who sent them. The confessions apparently were obtained through clever interrogation, not strong-arm tactics. The explosives, it turned out, had been carried in a Russian diplomatic vehicle across the Saudi border about a month before the attack.

After the Russians were caught, top officials in Moscow waged a public and private campaign to intimidate Qatar into releasing the agents. Two senior Russian officials even suggested that military force might be used to free the men. Seeking bargaining chips, the Russians also grabbed two unlucky Qatari wrestlers who happened to be passing through Moscow on their way to a competition in Serbia.

Qatar didn’t budge. Perhaps the Qataris shouldn’t have granted exile to an al Qaeda sympathiser such as Yandarbiyev in the first place, but that doesn’t excuse Russia’s outrageous actions.

The war on terrorism is escalating, and authorities from Madrid to Moscow will be tempted to cut legal corners in pursuing a ruthless enemy. At such a moment, it’s good to see a small desert sheikhdom insisting on the rule of law.

Stopping at Nothing

In the latest issue of the Spectator, Anne Applebaum considers that Vladimir Putin will stop at nothing to suppress the new wave of Russian dissidents. Britain is becoming the principal target of the Kremlin’s new assertive anti-Western policy. In the aftermath of last Saturday’s violent break-up by Moscow riot police of a peaceful march and rally, a disturbing event that was widely publicised in the world’s media, she concludes that

The new aggression might […] be evidence that the Kremlin is now so self-confident that it no longer needs to make any gestures to Western public sensibilities at all.

There are many reasons why this might be so. That 80 per cent public support — backed up by a television monopoly which gives no time to potential opponents — is part of it. High oil prices are even more important. Soviet dissidents at least knew that even in the darkest times, they could get some attention paid to their cause in the West: in 1980 a group of Russian women political prisoners sent a message to President Ronald Reagan, congratulating him on his election. It arrived within three days, to the President’s delight, infuriating the KGB. But nowadays, the West is so anxious to please President Putin, and so keen to buy his gas and oil, that Kasparov and Kasyanov can’t count on much press coverage. Reagan is not in the White House; it is hard to imagine a letter from a Russian prison raising many eyebrows today.

In the end, though, some of that self-confidence surely comes from a sense of vindication. For a brief period, in the early 1990s, it looked like the KGB was finished. Now it is back, and more important than ever. If nothing else, the past decade has proven to Putin and his colleagues that the values they imbibed during their years in the Soviet secret services were the right ones. They no longer care if others disagree.

MSNBC on Litvinenko – II

The Financial Times reports that Paul Joyal, the former U.S. Senate intelligence committee security director and political analyst who last weekend alleged on NBC television that the Kremlin was involved in the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, has been shot near his Maryland home.

Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman, said the law enforcement agency was “assisting” the police investigation into the shooting.


Police would not confirm details of the shooting or of the condition of Mr Joyal. However, a person familiar with the case said he was in critical condition in hospital.

See also: MSNBC on Litvinenko