Arctic 30: Moscow takes command

Reading Wednesday’s intervention by Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin in the case of the  30 environmental activists now facing altered, though still disproportionate, charges of “hooliganism” as a sign that Moscow is now fully in command, an op ed article in Helsingin Sanomat concludes that “the whole incident has now become highly political, and before long a political solution to it will be sought.”

Cyber-attacks "came from Abkhazia"

A few Russian-language media are beginning to publish reports about the hacking attack against Twitter, Facebook, and other Internet services on August 6, making it clear that the Georgian Internet blogger was attacked for saying that he believed Russia began the conflict of August 2008, and had prepared for it in advance.  Some of the Russian-language news reports are also being hacked, like the one below, from RBC Ukraine. The page containing the news is accessible for a few seconds, but is immediately replaced by a blank page:

РБК-Украина 08.08.2009, Лондон 12:54

Атаки хакеров на популярные интернет-ресурсы Twitter и Facebook были направлены против одного пользователя. По сообщению Би-би-си, целью злоумышленников был грузинский юзер “сухуми”, известный и в “живом журнале”. Атака на его дневники и записи была настолько мощной, что отразилась на сервисах в целом…В своем последнем опубликованном тексте сухуми приводил данные о начале войны, которые, на его взгляд, свидетельствуют о том,что Россия заранее готовила нападение на Грузию. Сам блоггер уверен, что именно Россия стоит за хакерской атакой.

The New York Times quotes Bill Woodcock, research director of The Packet Clearing House, as saying there was evidence that the attacks had originated from Abkhazia, which is now, like South Ossetia, under the Kremlin’s control.

Unwanted allies

Although it may be some time yet before the true implications of the Obama administration’s new foreign policy become unambiguously clear, there are already worrying signs that it is seriously on the wrong track. While some normally critical commentators have been willing to give Obama the benefit of a “wait-and-see” doubt, the aftermath of his European tour has revealed a scenario that is all too familiar. The most glaringly obvious part of it is the attitude towards global security that the Russian leadership is currently taking. As is it usually does, Moscow is talking smooth talk about “encouraging” features of U.S. Russia policy – but this time there are additional, concerning aspects. While it curries favour with the White House, taking advantage of the warm glow that still persists within Western liberal public opinion after the new President’s arrival, Moscow continues to ram home points about its own inflexible and implacable position with regard to issues like NATO enlargement (Russia appears to be positioning its forces for a possible new military intervention in Georgia) and pressure on Iran (Russia refuses to exert more pressure). And the Kremlin isn’t encountering much resistance from Washington. In the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick doesn’t waste time mincing words, and points out:

Whether they are aggressors like Russia, proliferators like North Korea, terror exporters like nuclear-armed Pakistan or would-be genocidal-terror-supporting nuclear states like Iran, today, under the new administration, none of them has any reason to fear Washington.

This news is music to the ears of the American Left and their friends in Europe. Obama’s supporters like billionaire George Soros couldn’t be more excited at the self-induced demise of the American superpower. CNN’s former (anti-)Israel bureau chief Walter Rodgers wrote ecstatically in the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday, “America’s… superpower status, is being downgraded as rapidly as its economy.” 

Glick suggests that in this new highly, insecure situation, the U.S.’s “unwanted allies” – be they Poland, and the Czech Republic, Israel or Japan – will have to build alliances with one another –

covertly if need be – to contain their adversaries in the absence of America. If they do so successfully, then the damage to global security induced by Obama’s emasculation of his country will be limited. If on the other hand, they fail, then America’s eventual return to its senses will likely come too late for its allies – if not for America itself.

Allusions to the past

1) The two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers, which Russian media sources say were intercepted twice by NATO aircraft over Iceland and the Norwegian Sea  on their way westward, landed at Venezuela’s El Libertador air base on the eve of the significant date of September 11.

Their presence is intended as a “warning” to the U.S.

President Hugo Chavez said yesterday: “It’s a warning. Russia is with us. … We are strategic allies. It is a message to the empire.”

2) “For those with a sense of history, a factor behind the 1962 Cuban missile crisis was Washington’s deployment of Atlas IRBMs in Italy and Turkey, which, in the wake of the confrontation, Washington quietly agreed to remove, as the development of ballistic missile submarines, the final component of Washington’s nuclear triad, obviated the need for forward basing of nuclear missiles off Russia’s southern shore. Forty years later, Turkey, sea power, and the Caribbean as subplots in rising U.S.-Russian tensions seem as interconnected as ever.” (John C. K. Daly)

Missing the Point

Two-thirds of the way through an assessment of the U.S. missile defence shield as “Russia’s Red Herring” in negotiations with a Washington administration that is sometimes seen as slow to put two and two together where foreign policy issues – particularly Russia-related ones – are concerned, Robert Amsterdam writes:

Washington’s failure to respond positively to Putin’s unprecedented security cooperation following 9/11 will go down as the greatest wasted opportunity in recent history.

One wonders whether Washington – or indeed any other Western government professing to uphold the values of democracy and human rights – could have responded positively to “security” initiatives by a regime that engendered the documented massacres committed by its armed forces in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, and – it now seems probable – the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia which killed several hundred innocent civilians and served as a pretext for the opening of the second Russian military campaign in Chechnya.

Oligarchs in trouble

In the JC, Yuri Felshtinsky writes about Why the Kremlin wants its oligarchs Jewish. Excerpt:

It is true that Jewish businessmen are crucial for modern Russia in a way Jewish Russians never were under Communism. But that does not mean they are indispensable. The main rule for an oligarch is that you do what the Kremlin tells you. If you cross the line and try to take a piece of pie from Kremlin, you end up like Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, Patarkatsishvili, etc. Russia is a free country, so the choice is yours.

The Russian Finans magazine wrote two weeks ago that there are now more than 101 billionaires in Russia. Many of them are not Jewish. That the Kremlin has at last allowed commercial power to be entrusted to Russians rather than to Russian Jews is a sign that they must have found a satisfactory way of stopping businessmen from becoming too powerful without having to resort to assassinations, as in the late nineties. The Kremlin clearly no longer needs Jewish businessmen; so what they once needed to give, they are now taking away again.