The Malignant Tumor Speaks....
Putin: Righteous Fighters 'Will Always Get Weapons'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 November 2014, 12:45
President Vladimir Putin stuck to his guns as he refused to say where Moscow-backed Ukrainian separatists receive heavy arms from and said that people fighting a just cause "will always get weapons".
"Where did they get the armoured vehicles and the artillery systems?" Putin said in reply to a question from German TV network ARD in an interview broadcast Sunday.
"Nowadays people who wage a fight and consider it righteous will always get weapons."
"But I would like to stress that this is not the issue," he added. "The issue is that we can't have a one-sided view of the problem."
Kiev and the West accuse Russia of sending regular troops into Ukraine to help buttress a pro-Moscow separatist insurgency in which over 4,100 people have been killed over the past seven months.
Putin has repeatedly denied the claim.
At the weekend the Kremlin strongman faced scorn from Western leaders at the G20 summit in Brisbane, where he was isolated and which he left early.
In an interview recorded just before the G20 summit and released in Russia early Monday, Putin also said he was worried about possible "ethnic cleansing" in Ukraine.
"Frankly speaking, we are very concerned about possible ethnic cleansing and Ukraine ending up as a neo-Nazi state," Putin said in the interview recorded on Thursday in Vladivostok.
He reiterated his criticism of the West that he said was siding with Kiev.
"The Ukrainian central authorities have sent the armed forces there (eastern Ukraine) and they even use ballistic missiles. Does anybody speak about it? Not a single word. And what does it mean?"
"This points to the fact that you want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents. Is that what you want? We certainly don't. And we won't let it happen."
Putin once again stressed that the March annexation of Crimea was legitimate under international law, pointing to a referendum in which a majority voted to split from Ukraine.
Putin initially denied that Russian troops were in Crimea but later acknowledged that they were present on the peninsula to help prevent violence after a popular uprising in Kiev ousted a Moscow-backed leader in February.
Source: Agence France Presse
Merkel: Russia 'Will not Prevail' in Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
17 November 2014, 07:06
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday called on the West not to lose hope in what may be a long struggle with Russia over Ukraine, but vowed that the Kremlin "will not prevail".
Russia's annexation of Crimea in March "called the whole of the European peaceful order into question, and it has continued by Russia exporting its influence to destabilize eastern Ukraine," Merkel said after attending the G20 summit in Brisbane.
Western leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama, hammered home their determination to rein in Moscow at the talks, where Russian President Vladimir Putin faced a hail of criticism.
Seven months of fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed the lives of more than 4,100 people, according to U.N. figures. The West accuses Russia of stoking the crisis by supporting separatist rebels, an accusation Moscow denies.
"Who would've thought that 25 years after the fall of the Wall, after the end of the Cold War, after the end of the division of Europe and the end of the world being divided in two, something like that can happen right at heart of Europe?" Merkel said in a speech in Sydney.
"Old thinking, thinking in terms of theories of influence, where international law is violated, this must not be allowed to prevail. I'm convinced it will not prevail."
Merkel -- who held lengthy talks with Putin on the G20 sidelines -- said the West was working hard towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict, but was also committed to economic sanctions against Moscow.
The European Union, United States and Australia have slapped the toughest sanctions on Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union over what they say is its meddling in Ukraine.
Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, said the West could draw lessons from history in how to approach discussions with Russia.
"We need to have the necessary patience for an uphill battle," she said. "My personal experience from the history of the German Democratic Republic is that one should not lose hope too quickly.
"The biggest danger is that we allow ourselves to be separate, to be divided, that a wedge will be driven between us."
Merkel was set to lay a wreath later Monday at the Anzac Memorial in Sydney, which commemorates Australians who served and died in conflict zones.
Source: Agence France Presse
Ex-Latvian MP 'Expelled' from Russia after Spy Claims
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 November 2014, 19:47
A former member of the Latvian parliament expressed "surprise" Sunday after Russian media claimed he had been expelled from Russia for spying, in another Cold War-style incident in the ex-Soviet Baltic states.
Aleksejs Holostovs, a former member of the Harmony political party, which draws much of its support from the country's large Russian minority, told the LETA news service he was "surprised" at the allegation of spying from Russia.
He declined further comment, saying he was unaware that he had been called a spy.
According to a report broadcast Sunday by Russian TV channel NTV, Holostovs was believed to be spying for the Latvian security service, which was in turn working for the CIA.
The channel, using footage apparently shot with hidden cameras, showed pictures of Holostovs saying he was recruited "seven or eight years ago" and had been pressured into spying on Russian officials and members of parliament with threats and blackmail.
Tensions have been high between the Baltic states and their former masters in Moscow since the crisis in Ukraine began in February.
Latvian foreign ministry spokesman Karlis Eihenbaums told Latvian radio the incident was being investigated, but said that Russia expelling Holostovs was not helpful.
"Such behavior is extremely regrettable... What we see now, unfortunately, is that it is happening more and more often. It can be explained by the fact that Russia, in its international relations, is not behaving in line with what we would expect in the 21st century," Eihenbaums said.
The claims come as a police officer from neighboring Estonia is still being held in Russia on spying charges after being "snatched" at gunpoint from the border in September in a blatant violation of Estonian sovereignty, the authorities there claim.
Holostovs served as a Latvian MP from 2006 until 2011 but quit the Harmony party last year and is currently pursuing business interests in real estate.
Source: Agence France Presse
11/17/2014 05:41 PM
Putin's Reach: Merkel Concerned about Russian Influence in the Balkans
By SPIEGEL Staff
Berlin has begun to see Moscow as an adversary rather than as a potential partner. The German government is concerned about efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to increase his influence in the Balkans. Stopping him, however, could prove difficult.
It is a fundamental principle of German foreign policy that talks are the best way to solve diplomatic problems. Such was the rationale behind Gernot Erler's recent trip to Moscow to speak with Russian parliamentarians about the ongoing Ukraine-related difficulties. Erler is the German government's Russia liaison and he has spent much of his political career working towards better relations between Germany and Russia. But his recent trip to the Russia capital was a painful one. There was no one in parliament who was willing to speak with him.
For Erler, the message was clear: Russia is no longer particularly interested in dialogue. That is true for simple parliamentarians just as it is for Vladimir Putin. The Russian president still, to be sure, speaks regularly with Angela Merkel. But the chancellor believes that what Putin says and what Putin does have long since diverged. Russian policy, says Erler, is currently following the "principle of organized unpredictability."
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who sought to establish a "positive agenda" with Moscow when he took office, is particularly frustrated. In recent weeks, Steinmeier has complained several times of significant breaches of trust perpetrated by the Russians and says he doesn't foresee relations with Moscow normalizing any time soon. Merkel is of the same opinion.
From the perspective of Berlin, Russia has gone from being a difficult partner to being an adversary within just one year. The effort launched in 2008 to tighten cooperation on a number of issues, one in which German leaders placed a great deal of hope, would seem to have come to an irrevocable end. Instead, Berlin is now discussing ways in which it might be able to slow down Russia's expansionary drive -- particularly in the Balkans, a region in which some states are not entirely stable. Elmar Brock, a member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Policy Committee, is also concerned about the region. "It is part of a broad strategic approach by Russia to 'infiltrate' the countries politically but mostly economically," he says.
Cold War recipes are coming back into fashion. It is time to begin thinking about a new "containment strategy," says one high-ranking diplomat. The reference is to the concept for curbing Soviet power that was first sketched out in a famous telegram sent in February 1946 by then-US Ambassador to Moscow George Kennan. It went on to become the foundation for Western policy in relations with the Soviet Union.
The Birth of 'Putinology'
Stefan Meister, a Russia expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, agrees, saying that the West needs to focus on self-defense to a greater degree than it has thus far. One official at Merkel's Chancellery says that in some ways the situation is even more difficult than it was during the latter phases of the Soviet Union. Back then, the official says, Moscow at least adhered to agreements.
During the Cold War, Kremlinology was the word used to describe efforts to determine the true intentions of the Soviet leadership. That discipline has now been replaced by "Putinology," but the emphasis on speculation has remained. Even the chancellor, despite dozens of conversations with Putin, doesn't know how far the Russian president is willing to go in the current conflict with the West, or even whether he knows himself. She has spoken to Putin at least 35 times by phone since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. She also requested a transcript of a speech given by Putin at the Valdai Club in Sochi four weeks ago. In it, the Russian president laid out his world view before journalists and political science experts. It is not a view that made Merkel more optimistic.
According to Putin's thinking, the US destroyed the international legal system and is attempting to establish a unipolar global order. He said that the so-called victor of the Cold War is trying to reorganize the world according to its own interests. Putin said that Washington is responsible for the rise of Islamist terrorism as well as the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Whereas the US cavalierly intervenes around the world, Washington reproaches Russia for doing exactly that, Putin said with a view toward Ukraine. "What Jupiter is allowed, the Ox is not," he said, referring to the Latin phrase often used to indicate a double standard. But the bear, he continued, "will not even bother to ask for permission." The bear, he said, is the "master of the taiga" and will not cede it to anyone. Putin then said that he doesn't intend to advance into other climactic zones. The taiga refers to the forested region stretching all the way across Russia, and the sentence from Putin's speech has now led Berlin officials to wonder where the taiga ends for Putin and where other climactic zones might begin. Observers have been keeping close track of the Russian president's comments in this regard, but a complete picture has yet to emerge.
Merkel would seem to have drawn her own conclusions. At a Monday lecture held by the German chancellor at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, where she was following the G-20 summit in Brisbane, Merkel was clear about her view of Russia. "Truly, the Ukraine crisis is in no way a regional issue," she said. "It affects all of us." During the following discussion, she warned that the EU will not yield to Moscow like East Germany once did. "Otherwise, one would have to say: We are too weak, be careful, we can't accept any others, we have to first ask Moscow if it is possible. That's how things were for 40 years; I never really wanted to return to that situation." She then made a particularly notable comment: "And that doesn't just apply to Ukraine. It applies to Moldova, it applies to Georgia. If the situation continues ... we'd have to ask about Serbia, we'd have to ask about the western Balkan countries."
Her concerns about the Balkans are justified. Last Wednesday in the United Nations Security Council, Russia surprisingly refrained from voting in favor of extending the EURFOR mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the first time it has abstained in such a vote. The reason Moscow gave was that the resolution contained language referring to the country's prospective accession to the European Union. At the same time, Russia expressed reservations about Germany's announced candidacy for the 2016 presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Over the weekend, Putin also left the G-20 summit before its official conclusion, though he claimed that his premature departure was related to the long flight back home to Moscow.
What's more, the Kremlin last week expelled Sabine Stöhr, a long-time employee of the German Embassy in Moscow. In a statement confirming the expulsion of the German diplomat, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin said: "An employee of the German Embassy in Moscow has left the country due to a reprisal measure taken by Russian authorities. We regret this unjust course of action and have expressed our displeasure to the Russian government."
The reprisal was apparently taken in response to the case of a Russian diplomat in the general consulate in Bonn who was accused of spying. German domestic intelligence agents had been observing the diplomat for months and ultimately expelled him from the country. In similar cases in the past, Russia has abstained from retaliation. "This is a policy of pinpricks," said a source in the Foreign Ministry. "We don't know where it is leading."
On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that several Polish diplomats have likewise been expelled, a move that also came in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Warsaw. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that "the Polish authorities have taken an unfriendly and unfounded step. In connection with that, Russia has undertaken adequate measures in response."
Apart from such tit-for-tat pettiness, Berlin has observed a broad new approach by the Kremlin in the Balkans. The focus, officials believe, is an attempt to prevent the region's further rapprochement with, or even accession to, the European Union. "RUS attaches great strategic importance to the Western Balkans," reads a Foreign Ministry analysis entitled: "Russia's Influence in Serbia."
The paper, which is classified as confidential, describes Moscow's efforts to link Belgrade closer to Russia. The endeavor goes beyond military cooperation and Russian deliveries of natural gas. Moscow, the paper indicates, is engaging in "public diplomacy with clear pan-Slavic rhetoric" and enjoys high esteem in the population, not least because of its approach to the Kosovo issue. "Putin's goal is to exert so much pressure on Balkan states that they either back away from EU membership or that, once they become members, influence EU resolutions in a pro-Russian manner," says EU parliamentarian Brok.
Russian Soft Power
The same holds true for Serbia's neighbor, Bosnia-Herzegovina. "One gets the impression that Russia is trying to gain influence over all of Bosnia-Herzegovina via the Serbian partial republic Srpska," says German Agricultural Minister Christian Schmidt, who recently made a visit to the region at the behest of Merkel. "That also makes the path of neighboring Serbia into the EU more difficult," he says.
The accuracy of Schmidt's assessment is demonstrated by a paper on "Russia's soft-power strategy" in the Balkans that was drafted for Putin by the influential Council on Foreign Relations in Moscow. The paper notes that: "In this region, which is traditionally tied to Russia, we cannot limit ourselves to investing in companies. We must spend money on infrastructure, and for the people there who see Russia as an alternative to Western power."
Putin would seem to have taken the advice to heart. The Russian Railways company, headed by Putin-ally Vladimir Yakunin, is currently refurbishing a 350-kilometer (217 mile) stretch of track in Serbia at a cost of three-quarters of a billion euros. Furthermore, the Moscow-based oil multinational Lukoil now owns 79.5 percent of the local service-station chain Beopetrol while Gazprom holds majority ownership of the country's largest natural gas supplier. "Russian investments have improved the prospects of regions that were heavily damaged by the NATO bombardment in 1999," the paper reads. In Montenegro, Russia is the largest foreign investor, with Russians controlling one-third of all companies in the country.
The German government believes that Russia's approach in the region has been largely successful. The Foreign Ministry analysis notes that October's 70th anniversary celebration of Belgrade's liberation from the Nazis was moved up by four days to coincide with Putin's visit there. It was also accompanied by a large military parade for the first time in 30 years. The paper doesn't fail to mention that Serbian President Tomislav Nikoli awarded Putin the country's highest decoration during the visit. "Images of tight srb.-rus. bond (are) from our perspective (an) inappropriate signal at a moment when SRB should be emphasizing its EU orientation," the German Foreign Ministry paper pointedly notes.
One particularly odd meeting underscores the methods Putin uses to expand his influence in Serbia. One year ago, Nikoli received the head of the Moscow motorcycle club Night Wolves, Alexander Zaldostanov. Putin refers to Zaldostanov (alias: The Surgeon) as his "brother." The gang has made repeated headlines for its outspoken anti-Semitism and homophobia, stances that are consistent with attitudes widely held in Serbia.
Exerting Pressure Where Necessary
It is not easy for the German government to counteract the Russian offensive. "We can't become party to a bidding war," says Michael Roth, a state minister in the Foreign Ministry. "We have to continually make it clear to the Balkan states that accession to the EU is in their interests."
Angela Merkel has also sought to thwart Putin's efforts diplomatically. At a Balkans conference in the Chancellery at the end of August, she encouraged the gathered heads of state and government to commit to a pro-EU path. She has even shown a willingness to exert pressure as necessary. Moscow's effort to grant diplomatic status to a disaster control center Russia established in the Serbian city of Niš is one example. Merkel called Serbian Prime Minister Aleksander Vuči to urge him not to sign the agreement. Berlin was worried that the center might develop into a permanent center of Russian espionage.
Putin's efforts to expand his influence do not stop at EU borders. The German government believes Putin was surprised that Europe was able to come to a consensus on Ukraine-related sanctions -- particularly the fact that even an accession candidate like Montenegro backed the penalties. Now he is doing his best on influence policy-making in individual EU member states, particularly in Bulgaria.
The country has traditionally been closely allied with Russia and is almost completely dependent on Russian natural gas and oil. An internal report from the German Foreign Ministry notes that around 300,000 Russians have bought property in Bulgaria. Officials in the Chancellery are concerned that Putin could seek to instrumentalize the alleged interests of the Russian minority there. Berlin and Brussels are likewise worried that the Bulgarian government could succumb to Russian pressure and block future EU foreign policy initiatives even more often than it has done in the past.
The fundamental problem from a Western standpoint is the fact that the desire for escalation and the ability to do so is not divided equally. Putin appears prepared to promote Russian interests in his neighborhood economically, politically and, if necessary, militarily. The West doesn't have much to offer in response -- and it is completely unwilling to go to war for Ukraine or Moldova. Even the economic sanctions against Russia are controversial in Germany and elsewhere in the EU.
Bolting the Door
Critics of Moscow, such as Andreas Schockenhoff, the deputy head of Merkel's conservatives in German parliament, believe that the sanctions must be maintained until the costs become too great for Putin. But even during the last round of EU sanctions, Merkel had difficulty convincing skeptics, such as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban to agree to the penalties. She was thus particularly upset by recent comments by the EU's new foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, calling the effectiveness of sanctions into question.
During a recent meeting of current and former state ministers in the Foreign Ministry, several participants likewise criticized Berlin's strategy, saying that more concessions must be made to the Russians. Social Democrat politician Klaus von Dohnanyi, for example, argued that Russia must be allowed a zone of influence in its immediate neighborhood.
The resulting image these days is of a Berlin that is at once impotent, alarmed and perplexed -- perhaps one reason that Germany's frustrated foreign minister, for lack of better alternatives, has committed to staying the current course. "Even if you have been frustrated and unsuccessful 100 times," Steinmeier recently told a confidant, "diplomacy means that you still have to open the door the 101st time."
The question, however, is whether the other side hasn't already long since bolted the door.
By Nikolaus Blome, Susanne Koelbl, Peter Müller, Ralf Neukirch, Matthias Schepp and Gerald Traufetter
Putin says west is provoking Russia into new cold war as ‘spies’ deported
Russian president denies fanning tensions and says Nato expansion in Europe has been ‘geopolitical game changer’
Alec Luhn in Moscow
The Guardian, Tuesday 18 November 2014
Vladimir Putin has suggested to a German interviewer that the west is provoking Russia into a new cold war. The airing of the interview, which was recorded by the German channel ARD in Vladivostok last week, followed Russia’s tit-for-tat expulsions of German and Polish diplomats, as well as the deportation of a Latvian accused of spying.
Asked whether the accusatory rhetoric between Moscow and Washington and a noticeable increase in Russian displays of military strength near western countries points to a new cold war, Putin said two rounds of Nato expansion in central and eastern Europe had been “significant geopolitical game changers” that forced Russia to respond.
Moscow resumed strategic aviation flights abroad several years ago in response to US nuclear bomber flights to areas near Russia that had continued after the cold war, he added.
“Nato and the United States have military bases scattered all over the globe, including in areas close to our borders, and their number is growing,” Putin said. “Moreover, just recently it was decided to deploy special operations forces, again in close proximity to our borders. You have mentioned various [Russian] exercises, flights, ship movements and so on. Is all of this going on? Yes, it is indeed.”
Putin has previously been accused by western leaders of fanning cold war-style tensions, most recently by the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, who said he told Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing last week that Russia should stop “trying to recreate the lost glories of tsarism or the old Soviet Union”. In August, Barack Obama told the late-night talk show host Jay Leno that the Russians often “slip back into cold war thinking”.
In a speech in Australia on Monday, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who spoke at length to Putin during the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend, said western sanctions against Russia would remain in place as far and long as they were needed and warned of growing Russian influence in eastern Europe. She argued that Russia should not be allowed to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States.
Also on Monday, the European Union’s new foreign policy chief, Italy’s foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, called for intensified diplomacy, including trips to Kiev and Moscow, to end the Ukraine crisis. Conservative commentators criticised Mogherini for being too soft on Russia after she was appointed in August, and her first meeting with other European foreign ministers on Monday saw them agree to consider additional sanctions against separatist leaders but not Russian officials.
The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, is to announce on Tuesday that the UK will donate communications equipment and 10 armoured vehicles worth £1.2m to the Ukraine special monitoring mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe , which is being expanded in the face of an increasingly unstable ceasefire in the east of the country.
During the ARD interview, Putin dodged a question about whether Moscow had supplied weapons to the separatists and deployed troops to eastern Ukraine, as Nato and Kiev have argued. “Nowadays people who wage a fight and consider it righteous will always get weapons,” he said, blaming the west for supporting the government forces’ use of ballistic missiles.
“You want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there in eastern Ukraine,” Putin said. “Is that what you want? We certainly don’t. And we won’t let it happen.”
But a report on the weapons used in the Ukrainian conflict released on Monday by the consulting group Armament Research Services (ARES) suggested that rebels were “very likely” to have received arms from Russia “however the level of state complicity in such activity remains unclear.”
“It is very likely that pro-Russian separatist groups have received some level of support (including small arms, light weapons, guided light weapons, heavier weapons systems, and armoured vehicles) from one or more external parties,” the ARES report said, although it admitted that the “most significant sources” of weapons and armoured vehicles were domestic ones.
Putin also said Russia’s “friendship” with Germany was stronger than ever. German business groups have been among the most adamant opponents of sanctions. But in a sign of slipping political relations, Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed to the news agency RIA Novosti on Monday that it had expelled an employee of the German embassy in Moscow in response to Berlin’s “unfriendly actions toward an employee of one of Russia’s foreign institutions in Germany”. A Russian diplomat in Bonn had previously been expelled on suspicion of spying, Der Spiegel reported.
Moscow has also deported Alexei Kholostov, a former Latvian MP known as an advocate of Latvia’s Russian minority, on spying allegations, the Latvian foreign ministry told Interfax news agency on Monday. In a Russian television report aired this weekend, Kholostov said on camera that he was “in Russia on assignment for the Latvian special forces, which work under the CIA’s control”.
In another ongoing spy scandal, the foreign ministry also said on Monday it had expelled “several Polish diplomats” over “activities incompatible with their status”, a common euphemism for spying. Polish television reported that four diplomats had been deported. Poland’s foreign minister called the move a “symmetric response” after Polish authorities arrested a military officer and a Russian-Polish lawyer last month on suspicion of spying for Russia.
The west must be tough on Putin – but it may take a generation to bring Russia back
Putin is the author of his country’s misfortune, and he will probably outlast his western opponents
The Guardian, Monday 17 November 2014 21.04 GMT
In a few days Russia’s last remotely independent radio station could be silenced. Ever since the country’s energy conglomerate Gazprom took a majority holding, Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) has battled against censorship. The station’s editor in chief, Alexei Venediktov, has long become accustomed to threats, but Friday’s meeting could mark the last for him. His station has already been given a final warning for airing a discussion about the fighting in Ukraine – information, said the regulator, that was “justifying war crimes”.
The fate of the station is symptomatic of a country where a clique of political, financial and security interests has trampled on anything in its way. The author of Russia’s misfortune is one man, Vladimir Putin. During the G20 meeting of the top industrial nations in Australia, the Russian president was subjected to a series of public and private criticisms from other world leaders. The question is not why they did it, but why it has taken them so long?
Western policy is driven by a combination of economic self-interest and increasing timidity. The EU mishandled much of the early strategy on Ukraine, sending mixed messages to Kiev and Moscow. Since the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner, the approach has become more consistent. Putin had assumed that the west, and particularly Germany and France (disproportionately dependent on trade with Russia) would buckle. And with the eurozone economies in an increasingly parlous state, Putin still assumes that Angela Merkel and François Hollande will resist, and ultimately remove, the sanctions that are causing growing damage.
To anyone who appreciates the beauty of Russia, the power of its creativity and the potential it has to offer, the events of the past year, indeed past several years, have been dispiriting. In the 1990s Russia had the opportunity to open up, to become integrated into the international community. The goodwill on both sides was intoxicating.
For sure, mistakes were made. I remember the arrogance of western advisers who parked themselves in the economics and finance ministries, acting as neoliberal ventriloquists, oblivious to the damage they were causing.
During the 1996 presidential elections, western governments turned a blind eye to the media manipulations that allowed a drunken Boris Yeltsin to win re-election. And as the first wave of oligarchs enriched themselves, European banks welcomed them in, to launder much of the wealth they had stolen from their own country.
By 1999 those same oligarchs put out a job search for a new president who would do their bidding. They thought that in Putin they had found their man. But within months of taking office Putin changed the rules of engagement. Summoning the billionaires to the Kremlin, he told them he would leave them alone to make their money as long as they kept out of politics, and looked after the financial interests of the political elite.
Those who disobeyed were punished: Vladimir Gusinsky, who owned the robustly independent NTV television channel, was forced out of the country; Boris Berezovsky fled to the UK; Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sent to a labour camp for harbouring presidential ambitions.
Surrounded by men whose fortunes and indeed possible survival depend on his political longevity, Putin has set himself on a course that is fuelled by suspicion of the west. His version of capitalist authoritarianism is based on the Singaporean and Chinese models, with an added dose of Orthodox-church intolerance of “liberal” lifestyles, such as homosexuality. But the Chinese leadership achieves its broader geostrategic ends by the use of greater diplomatic dexterity.
So could it have been any other way? A KGB officer in the former East Germany, Putin is imbued with Soviet-era thinking. He proclaimed that the demise of the USSR was one of the great geostrategic tragedies of the 20th century, and rehabilitated Stalin in school textbooks.
There was a brief window, however. In his first few years in power, even as he began the clampdown on domestic criticism, Putin made overtures to the west. I was witness to one of the moments when his policy was turning. In late 2004, during the Beslan school hostage tragedy, he summoned a group of international writers and experts to his official residence on the outskirts of Moscow. There, for four hours until well after midnight, he vented his indignation at the hypocrisy of western foreign policy.
He had stood by as the Americans used central Asian bases for the war in Afghanistan, he said; he had caused few problems even though he disagreed with the Iraq invasion. And what had he received in return? The orange and rose revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, alongside the eastern advancement of Nato and the European Union.
He could subsequently have added western mishandling of Syria, and he would have been justified in each of his laments. Yet instead of engaging as an equal partner in international forums, agreeing where he could, disagreeing where he couldn’t, Putin has defined his relationships through antagonism.
On one level, he is probably content with his approach. Aided by a state media machine that has resurrected Soviet-style propaganda and added slick modern production values, he enjoys high popularity ratings. Nothing beats an easily identifiable adversary to bind your country together when all else fails.
The wealthy, meanwhile, eat their sushi in swanky Moscow restaurants and holiday in Courchevel, knowing that, as long as they keep their heads down, they’ll remain untouched. Most took their fortunes offshore long ago, and many have taken their families out of the country.
There is nothing romantic about Putin’s Russia. There is nothing to defend in its politics. It is possible Putin will outlast all his western counterparts: he will remake the constitution to meet his needs. It’s also possible that he realises he has chosen a path that is only harming Russia’s economy and national interest, and will try to build bridges again. But given his mindset and recent actions, this remains unlikely.
For the moment, he is a problem that requires careful managing. The west should be tough in its actions, increasing sanctions in the event of further Russian military involvement in Ukraine, while avoiding inflammatory rhetoric. But we also have to accept that there may be no quick solution: it could take another generation for Russia’s leaders to embrace rather than resent the outside world, and to win back the respect their country deserves.
NATO Warns on Russian Troops amid Call to Honor Ukraine Peace Plan
by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 November 2014, 13:42
NATO warned on Tuesday of a "very serious" build-up of Russian soldiers and weapons inside Ukraine and on the border, as Germany's foreign minister urged Kiev and Moscow to respect a tattered peace plan.
The West is keeping up intense pressure on Russia over Ukraine following a bad-tempered G20 summit in Australia at the weekend which Russian President Vladimir Putin left early.
In Brussels, NATO's head Jens Stoltenberg issued a stark warning to Moscow over the seven-month conflict in Ukraine's east which has killed over 4,100 people and plunged relations between the West and Russia to a post-Cold War low.
Stoltenberg warned of a "very serious build-up" of troops, artillery and air defence systems inside Ukraine and on the Russian side of the border as he arrived to meet European Union defence ministers in Brussels.
"Russia has a choice. Russia can either be part of a peaceful negotiated solution or Russia can continue on a path of isolation," Stoltenberg said. "The international community calls on Russia to be part of the solution."
At the same time, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier saw Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Kiev, ahead of a crunch meeting later Tuesday in Moscow with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov -- the first such visit by a senior European minister since July. Germany is playing the lead role in mediating the crisis with Russia.
Steinmeier said the peace plan agreed in Belarus in September, and its ceasefire, which has been frequently violated, "were not perfect but they do form a basis. We have to fulfil the agreements."
As the unrest in eastern Ukraine drags on into the ex-Soviet state's harsh winter, Ukraine's military said Tuesday that fresh clashes over the past 24 hours between government forces and rebels killed five of its soldiers.
The latest deaths came despite the nominal truce that has halted fighting along much of the frontline but failed to stop bombardments at key flashpoints.
Russia rejects claims that it provides military backing for the heavily armed separatist rebels in the east.
It also denies that it supplied the anti-aircraft missile which downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine in July, killing 298 people, an incident which sharpened the West's focus on the unrest.
- Point of no return? -
As the race to defuse the conflict steps up, the European Union on Monday agreed to blacklist more Kremlin-backed rebels in Ukraine.
However, it stopped short of fresh sanctions against Moscow, saying there was hope of restarting dialogue.
New European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said foreign ministers meeting in Brussels had raised the possibility of her visiting Moscow to "re-engage in a dialogue" in search of a solution.
Ahead of Steinmeier's visit to Moscow later Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his government hoped "that the 'point of no return' has not yet been crossed" in Russia-Europe relations.
The comment came as Russia engaged with Germany and Poland in a tit-for-tat series of expulsions of diplomats which has further heightened tensions between the 28-nation European Union and its vast eastern neighbour.
Lavrov cautioned there would be no major breakthrough in the talks with Steinmeier but said Moscow wanted to reach "a balance acceptable to all parties".
The German foreign ministry on Monday said the visit was aimed at assessing the "chances of avoiding a new spiral of violence in eastern Ukraine".
In unusually strong remarks in Australia on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed the Kremlin "will not prevail". She called on Western leaders not to lose hope in what may be a long struggle with Russia over Ukraine.
Ukraine has urged Brussels to go further to send a clear message to Moscow.
During the meeting with Steinmeier, Yatsenyuk lashed out at Russia, insisting that the September peace agreement "is being observed by Ukraine and blatantly violated by the Russian side".
Ukraine PM Calls for Talks with Russia on 'Neutral Territory'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 November 2014, 14:49
Ukraine's prime minister on Tuesday called for fresh talks with Russia on "neutral territory" as deadly fighting rumbled on in the country's east.
"We invite the Russian Federation to hold serious negotiations on a neutral territory. The U.S. and EU are helping us with this," Arseniy Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax Ukraine news agency.
The call came as Germany's Foreign Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeier visited Ukraine ahead of a crucial meeting later Tuesday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Speaking in Kiev, Steinmeier urged both Ukraine and Russia to fulfill a failing September peace plan that has not managed to stop the conflict that has claimed over 4,100 lives since April.
Russia and Ukraine have held a series of negotiations in different formats since the crisis erupted, mediated at varying times by the United States, European Union, France, Germany and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Pro-Russian rebels battling Kiev have in recent days been calling for fresh talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk to revise the peace deal and have accused Ukraine of refusing to engage.
NATO ramped up the pressure on Moscow Tuesday by warning of a "very serious build-up" of Russian troops, artillery and air defense systems inside Ukraine and on the border.
Source: Agence France Presse
Finland back on red alert over expansionist Russia
Almost a century after breaking free from its giant neighbour Helsinki still follows Moscow’s every move
Simon Tisdall in Helsinki
The Guardian, Tuesday 18 November 2014 17.35 GMT
Captain Markus Aarnio, chief of the Gulf of Finland naval command, has the sort of craggy good looks associated with the hero of a cold war movie. Standing stiffly in a control centre overlooking Helsinki harbour against a backdrop of grey seas and driving sleet, he appears poised to dash off at any moment for a real-life remake of the Sean Connery film The Hunt for Red October.
Aarnio’s job, along with those of other members of Finland’s army, navy and air force, border guard and coastguard, and a good chunk of the national political, academic and media establishment, can be summed up in three words: watching the Russians.
Russia-watching has become a national obsession since Finland broke free of the Russian empire in 1917. Two bitterly fought wars with the Soviet Union during the second world war are far from forgotten. Neither are the tense years of the cold war, when Finland pursued a delicate balancing act between the importunate demands of its giant neighbour and its natural attachment to the west.
After the Berlin wall came down in 1989 and political chaos followed the Soviet Union’s implosion, Finland’s 840-mile land border with Russia and its territorial waters still required guarding, though for different reasons.
Now – with a newly expansionist, jingoistic Russia led by President Vladimir Putin set on reasserting itself internationally, with eastern Europe and the Baltic states wondering fearfully what may follow its armed intervention in eastern Ukraine, and with close military encounters between Russia and the west running at cold war levels – Finland is once again on red alert.
Aarnio’s area of operations commands the highly congested approaches to St Petersburg and the oil export terminals crucial to Russia’s economic survival. Each year, 43,000 ships and tankers travel along an often ice-bound, six-mile-wide international corridor leading from Russian waters to the wider Baltic and thence to the Atlantic. And those are the ones Aarnio knows about. As the recent, abortive Swedish hunt for a suspected Russian submarine suggested, not everything Moscow sets afloat may be visible.
“Our work includes maritime surveillance and ship recognition. We maintain 24-hour vigilance,” Aarnio said. His command includes missile boats, a mine warfare squadron, a coastal battalion and special forces, including divers.
Although Russian military activity is up in the past six months, there have been no maritime incidents comparable to three apparently concerted violations of Finnish airspace in August by Russian aircraft, which caused widespread consternation about Moscow’s intentions. “Right now we do not have any trouble with the Russians,” Aarnio said. Judging by the grim look on his face, the Russians may do well to keep it that way.
Alexander Stubb, Finland’s boyish-looking conservative prime minister, agreed on the need to keep things calm. Finland had good bilateral relations with Russia, he said, but it was important western countries understood what they were dealing with.
“The situation is naturally worrying from a European and Finnish perspective. I said in 2008 after the war in Georgia that power politics, spheres of influence and war had returned to the borders of Europe. I hoped I was wrong. Now, unfortunately, we are back to square one. There’s a lot of cold war rhetoric,” Stubb said.
“I think Russia has made two strategic mistakes. Number one is the destabilisation of its neighbourhood, in particular annexing Crimea … I want stable not unstable borders. The second is they still rely on fossil fuels for economic growth, and that is an impediment to modernising their economy.
“We in the west need to reassess our relations with Russia … We have put in a lot of effort to try to integrate Russia into western institutions and we slightly idealistically believed that Russia could become a normal, liberal market democracy that relies on international institutions. It hasn’t. So we have to be both pragmatic and principled.”
In part, that meant strong Finnish support for American and EU sanctions on Russia, even though they were hurting Finland’s economy, Stubb said.
Jaakko Iloniemi, Finland’s former ambassador to the US, said the outlines of the problem were clear. “Their military and naval activity is certainly up. For Putin it’s about showing the flag and restoring pride. The Russians call it [the Crimea operation] ‘fast power’ – there are no democratic encumbrances, executive power is sovereign, the legislature, the military, the media, the judiciary are compliant. Putin’s achilles heel is the economy … So he needs external crises and foreign devils,” Iloniemi said.
René Nyberg, a former ambassador to Russia, said Finland and the west were facing a new situation and it was uncertain where it might lead. Putin did not have a clear plan in Ukraine or elsewhere but had acted opportunistically in reaction to events, he said.
“Fast power became hasty power,” Nyberg said. “The possible loss of Ukraine was seen by Russia as an existential threat. It wasn’t really. But it challenged Moscow like nothing else. It was projected as a Nato-US-international conspiracy.”
The Ukraine crisis had cost Russia far more than it anticipated in terms of forfeited investment, devaluation of the rouble, lost trade and higher prices caused by sanctions, said Nyberg. A falling oil price was also causing serious economic damage. Ironically, with relations with the US at a low point, and China interested in Russia only for cheap energy and raw materials, Moscow needed the EU more than ever.
“The economy is getting worse, the oil price is killing them. Russia needs Europe but these are the very people they are alienating,” Nyberg said.
A senior government insider said Finland backed the EU stance but was concerned about what might happen if Russia’s internal situation deteriorated.
“Russia’s actions in Ukraine are more a show of weakness and fear. This is not expansionism, this is insecurity,” the insider said. “Nevertheless we need to send a signal that we are not soft targets or else Ukraine could happen again elsewhere … You cannot rule it out [but] Russian intervention in the Baltic states is unlikely. It would be much harder for them there than in Crimea. People in the Baltics know they have a better life than those in Russia and inter-ethnic relations are relatively good.
“The bigger point is that the Russian economy is living on borrowed time. There is genuine concern, especially in Germany, that their oil and gas industry is so inefficient that they eventually will be unable to deliver. If they get very desperate, we don’t know what they would do.
“In the near term, Russia will continue to try to bully and threaten us. The EU is in disarray, physically and mentally. But in five to 10 years it will be different … When it comes, it [a Russian collapse] could be like a stock market panic. Putin is no Gorbachev, he is not a guy who is going to give up. He will not go quietly. Remember, this is a global nuclear power we are talking about,” the insider said.
Opinions differ about how Finland should handle the Russian challenge. The country is deeply split, as ever, over the question of Nato membership, with about 60% of voters opposed.
But there is also concern about a return to the bad old cold war days of “Finlandisation”, when Finnish governments sometimes appeared too eager to appease the Soviet leadership at the expense of their country’s values and independence. Some Finns believe this may already be happening. As Lasse Lehtinen, a retired MP and newspapercolumnist, put it, Finlandisation is creeping back.
Practical considerations also apply. Finland, lacking fossil fuel deposits, is also highly dependent on Russian energy imports – 71% of its oil, 66% of its coal and 100% of its gas comes from Russia. In other areas, too, Russia is a major trade partner and export market. Meanwhile, Finland’s own economy is struggling. Controversially, the defence budget is facing a sharp 10% cut. To compensate, closer military integration with Sweden, another non-Nato state, is planned.
Erkki Tuomioja, a lifelong social democrat and foreign minister in Stubb’s ruling coalition, said Finland supported sanctions on Russia over Ukraine. But he was critical of the EU’s handling of relations with the Kiev government.
“The EU made a mistake last year concerning the association agreement with Ukraine in not talking first to the Russians, at least to set their wildest fears at rest,” he said. Europe’s biggest states had failed to give the EU a clear mandate to deal with the crisis. US leadership had also been found wanting.
Tuomioja, who opposes Nato membership, said he did not believe Putin had a grand design for restoring Russian greatness. “I think it’s more an ideal or wishful thinking … Russia overall is going backwards now. The west mismanaged relations in the 1990s but we don’t know whether [what is happening now] could have been avoided.”
More exchanges with Russia’s leadership and ordinary Russians were needed at every level to avoid making the same mistakes in future, he said.
Yet whatever happened, the government insider insisted, Finland would not kowtow to Moscow. “There is zero appetite for going back to the old way of doing things, to placating and appeasing Russia. We’re not looking for a fight. But we need to be able to deal with Russia. Russia is our everyday reality.”
Finland warns of new cold war over failure to grasp situation in Russia
Finnish PM Alexander Stubb set to meet David Cameron and other northern European leaders at conference in Helsinki
Simon Tisdall in Helsinki
The Guardian, Wednesday 5 November 2014 13.43 GMT
Western countries are at the gates of a new cold war with Russia, sparked by the Ukraine crisis and a continuing failure to grasp the depth and seriousness of Vladimir Putin’s grievances with the US and EU, the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, has warned.
Speaking to the Guardian at his official residence before Thursday’s conference in Helsinki attended by the UK prime minister, David Cameron, and Nordic and Baltic state leaders, Niinistö said Finland had a long tradition of trying to maintain friendly relations with Russia. But it would not be pushed around.
“The Finnish way of dealing with Russia, whatever the situation, is that we will be very decisive to show what we don’t like, where the red line is. And that is what we are prepared to do,” Niinistö said, referring to recent violations of Finnish airspace by Russian military aircraft.
“We put the Hornets [US-made Finnish air force F-18 fighter aircraft] up there and the Hornets were flying alongside the Russian planes … The Russians turned back. If they had not, what would we have done? I would not speculate.”
Cameron will join eight Nordic and Baltic leaders at the one-day Northern Future Forum hosted by Alexander Stubb, Finland’s prime minister. Sources said they will discuss a response to Moscow’s official recognition of “illegitimate” weekend elections at the weekend that were won by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, at a private dinner at Stubb’s residence at Kesäranta.
Cameron will be told Britain is seen as an essential player in formulating Europe’s policy towards Russia and that the Ukraine crisis shows how the EU is much stronger when its members work together.
Finland, formerly a grand duchy of the Russian empire, declared independence in 1917 after the Russian revolution. It survived two separate conflicts with the Soviet Union during the second world war. During the cold war, Finland followed a policy of “active neutrality” to keep Moscow at bay. The two countries share an 830-mile (1,300km) land border.
Many Finns worry that the insecurity and uncertainties of the cold war years are returning as the standoff with Russia over its annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of eastern Ukraine continues.
“We are in the position in the west of asking what is Putin up to,” Niinistö said. “Putin keeps saying the west and Nato are hostile. [He says] they have deceived Russia with Nato enlargement and they are undermining and humiliating Russia. “So this is a situation that is not promising. I have said we are almost at the gates of a new kind of cold war that could suck in all of Europe.'
Niinisto discussed the Ukraine situation with Putin in person in August and said he remained in touch with the Russian leader. He said the US and EU were partly to blame for not paying enough attention to Putin’s assertions that the west was weak, hedonistic and hostile to Russia’s values, including religious values. The EU had failed to appreciate its plans for closer ties with Ukraine posed a “huge problem” for Putin.
Putin, under pressure from Russian conservatives and ultra-nationalists, may have been emboldened by last year’s last-minute US decision not to launch bombing and missile attacks in Syria. Russia believed its diplomatic intervention at that time had been a great success, Niinisto said.
For Russia, Syria was only the latest example of perceived western weakness, an influential government insider in Helsinki said.
“A bigger factor is the consistent softness shown by the EU and the US when it comes to Russian actions. They [the Russians] have got away with murder since the first Chechen war and especially since [the Russian military intervention in] Georgia [in 2008],” the insider saidi.
Despite the rise in international tensions with Russia, a clear majority of Finns continues to oppose joining Nato, in part out of concern about Moscow’s possible reaction. Russian officials have repeatedly warned Finland, which is 100% dependent on Russian gas supplies, against taking up Nato membership.
But sentiment may be shifting ahead of Finnish general elections due next April, when relations with Russia and Nato will be a central issue along with the economy.
Niinistö said Finland was supportive of Nato and a contributor to Nato operations in Afghanistan. It also maintained large land forces, unlike some other EU countries. He rejected accusations that Finland was taking a free ride behind Nato’s protective shield.
“We are not passengers,” he said.
“We have a long tradition of keeping out of conflict with Russia … though we did not succeed in the second world war. We can’t change geography. We have a 1,300km border. That is more than all other EU countries together. The Nato-Russia border would be doubled [if Finland joined]. We have to consider that too.
“My main worry is the larger picture of getting close to a cold war. That would be a very uncertain situation and that worries us. But if you are asking are we afraid, directly or indirectly, of Russia, I would say no.”
Don't Meddle in Russia Affairs: Putin Tells U.S. Envoy
by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 November 2014, 14:11
President Vladimir Putin urged Washington's new envoy Wednesday not to interfere in Russia's affairs as he accepted credentials from U.S. ambassador John Tefft amid raging tensions.
"We are ready for practical cooperation with American partners along various directions guided by the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference into domestic affairs," Putin said.
He spoke at the Kremlin where Tefft, Washington's new ambassador to Russia, presented his letter of credence along with envoys from several other countries including North Korea.
Tefft -- known for backing the pro-Western aspirations of former Soviet states -- succeeded Michael McFaul, who abruptly quit his post in February after just two years on the job.
Tefft served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013 and was Washington's representative in Georgia during its five-day war with Russia in 2008.
His predecessor McFaul, a Stanford university professor, frequently sparked Russia's fury with critical comments on Twitter and meetings with Russian opposition activists.
Cold War-era rivals Russia and the United States are locked in a tug-of-war over the fate of ex-Soviet republic Ukraine, with Washington imposing sanctions and U.S. President Barack Obama branding Moscow's actions over Ukraine a "threat to the world".
Meeting with his supporters on Tuesday, Putin claimed the United States wanted to subjugate Russia but would never succeed.
"They want to subdue us, want to solve their problems at our expense," the Russian president said.
"No one in history ever managed to do this to Russia, and no one ever will."
In a fresh sign of mounting Russia-West tensions, Putin at the weekend faced scorn from Western leaders at a G20 summit in Australia which he left early.
In unusually blunt remarks on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia's aggression against Ukraine threatened Europe's "peaceful order".
In an apparent effort to calm tensions, Putin said on Tuesday no one in the West wanted to see an escalation.
"No one wants to ramp up tensions in the world, trust me, and they in the United States do not want this really, I mean the general public, citizens. So everything will sort itself out," he said.
Separately, Putin on Wednesday also accepted credentials from North Korea's ambassador after receiving Kim Jong-un's special envoy at the Kremlin Tuesday evening.
Putin said that developing political and economic ties between Russia and North Korea was in the interests of the two countries and would strengthen "regional security and stability".
The United Nations on Tuesday adopted a landmark resolution condemning North Korean rights abuses and laying the groundwork for putting the Pyongyang regime in the dock for crimes against humanity.
Source: Agence France Presse
The new cold war: are we going back to the bad old days?
With diplomatic tensions and mysterious military activity ratcheting up, Putin’s Russia and the west are increasingly flexing their muscles. Are we on the brink of a new confrontation or did the era of danger and paranoia never really go away?
• Read Luke Harding on Russia’s spies, sleepers and hitmen
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 November 2014 18.49 GMT
Tanks and troops invading a satellite state, tit-for-tat spy expulsions, high-risk military games of chicken involving nuclear bombers and interceptor jets, gas supply cut-offs, and angry diplomatic exchanges – if it sounds familiar, then it should. Newspaper headlines from Moscow to Washington and Sydney to Kiev all agree: the cold war is back.
Well, maybe. Escalating tensions between President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and western countries led by the US are certainly reminiscent of the bad old days in some significant respects. The cold war, a truly global stand-off of immense ideological, military and political import, began, roughly, in the late 1940s and continued until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, an event later deplored by Putin as the biggest tragedy of the 20th century.
But this time around, the battleground is less extensive, the battle-lines less clear. The particular trigger for the resurgence of chronic cold war-itis was Russia’s sudden annexation in March of Crimea, a Black Sea region that Moscow, historically speaking, regards as its own. It is, in fact, part of the sovereign territory of independent Ukraine. Since then, the trouble has spread, with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine fighting for independence, or at least autonomy, from the western-backed government in Kiev, and Russia implicitly threatening western energy supplies.
Last weekend’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, showed just how raw nerves have become – over Ukraine and, more broadly, over what the west has come to see as a pattern of expansionist, confrontational and often illegal behaviour by the Putin regime, including its not-forgotten 2008 military intervention in Georgia. On meeting Putin, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, said: “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.” David Cameron and Barack Obama personally delivered similar messages, in slightly less hostile terms.
Putin left the summit early, in a huff, but showed no sign whatever of backing down. Later, in an interview on German television, he complained that western countries, not him, were pushing the world towards a new cold war.
Putin repeated his old grievance that the extension of Nato membership in central and eastern Europe since 1991 had been a “geopolitical game changer” to which Russia was forced to respond. That response included resumed long-range strategic bomber flights, to counter similar US activities around Russia’s periphery, he said.
“Nato and the United States have military bases scattered all over the globe, including in areas close to our borders, and their number is growing,” Putin said. “Moreover, just recently it was decided to deploy special operations forces, again in close proximity to our borders [a reference to Nato exercises in the Baltic states]. You have mentioned various [Russian] exercises, flights, ship movements and so on. Is all of this going on? Yes, it is indeed,” Putin said.
Putin was also referring to Russia’s recent tit-for-tat expulsion of Polish and German diplomats for alleged spying, another apparent throwback to the cold war era of furtive espionage, John le Carré’s Smiley thrillers, and the very real depredations of Philby, Burgess and Maclean.
Putin’s invocation of the cold war was nothing new. It may be that, like many Russians and more than a few western generals, he actually misses it. Earlier this month, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, reviled by the nationalist rightwing forces around Putin for presiding over the Soviet breakup, issued a similar warning. “We must make sure that we get the tensions that have arisen recently under control,” Gorbachev said. But to the dismay of his admirers in the west, he went on to claim that Ukraine was being used as an excuse by the US to victimise Russia and declared his backing for Putin. “I am absolutely convinced that Putin protects Russia’s interests better than anyone else,” he said.
Auguries of a rising confrontation between Russia and the west are not hard to find. A recent report by the European Leadership Network said close military encounters have jumped to cold war levels, with 40 dangerous or sensitive incidents recorded in the past eight months.
Sweden recently launched a full-scale naval operation to hunt down a mini-submarine, assumed to be Russian, trespassing inside its coastal waters. The hunt was eventually called off after nothing was found. Analysts suggested that was just as well, since the depth-charging of a Russian sub, if it had happened (and the Swedes were angry enough to do it), could have sparked a bigger crisis.
Other governments in the Baltic region have similar worries. In August, Finland scrambled US-made Hornet fighter jets when Russian aircraft illegally entered Finnish airspace on three separate occasions in one week. A Finnish research vessel was also harassed. In an interview with the Guardian, Sauli Niinisto, Finland’s president, added his voice to the chorus warning that the world was “at the gates of a new kind of cold war”.
But the similarities can be overdone, a senior government insider in Helsinki said, arguing that Russia is economically weak, deprived of foreign investment, beset by capital flight, and almost wholly dependent for cash on energy exports at a time when the international oil price is dropping. “Russia’s actions in Ukraine are more a show of weakness and fear. This is not expansionism, this is insecurity,” the insider said.
On the other hand, if backed into a corner, Putin might prove to be an unpredictable opponent. “Putin is no Gorbachev; he is not a guy who is going to give up. He will not go quietly. Remember, this is a global nuclear power we are talking about,” he continued.
Any new cold war-type confrontation would differ in scope and range from the worldwide frozen conflict that dominated the latter half of the 20th century. For a start, it would not be truly global. In the 1970s and 80s, countries as diverse as Nicaragua, Angola, Yemen and Indonesia were the setting for proxy wars fought between rival Soviet or Cuban-backed forces on the one hand, and western-backed, anti-communist militias on the other. These conflicts often centred on movements for post-colonial independence, or in South Africa, freedom from apartheid.
The second decade of the 21st century offers little scope for a repetition. Following the Soviet implosion, the Warsaw Pact (Russia’s Nato equivalent) was wound up. Moscow now has few friends in eastern and central Europe. In the wider world, Russia’s lack of overt allies is now even more evident. Developing countries such as Nigeria, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa and Mexico have no need or wish for Moscow’s political or military backing. As the world’s largest democracy, India looks askance at Russia’s authoritarian system. For its part, China sees Russia primarily as a source of cheap energy and raw materials. As Beijing’s power and influence grows, Russia (like Japan) is more likely to be a future adversary than an ally in a global contest with the west.
Similar considerations apply on the western “side”. When the cold war finished, the US declared itself the victor, paid itself a peace dividend in the form of reduced military spending, and flattered itself that, with the end of superpower rivalry, a unipolar moment had arrived – meaning unchallenged US global hegemony. A quarter of a century later, that smug self-congratulation has disappeared, as has much international confidence in US leadership. As the G20 summit demonstrated, countries such as Brazil have no more interest in following the US lead on Russia than, for example, on national security and privacy laws, the subject of angry exchanges following the Snowden revelations about illegal NSA wire-taps in Latin America. In other words, if the US and Russia want a fight, they will each have far fewer supporters this time around. Indeed, China and the other 21st-century powers may well welcome the idea of the “old” superpowers wearing themselves out in a new slug-fest.
A new cold war would lack other key features that distinguished its forerunner. Ideologically speaking, the once definitive struggle between the monolithic rival systems of Marxist communism and free-market capitalism has largely evaporated for want of interest. It has been replaced by a contest of values, such as fair and open elections, respect for human rights, freedom of expression and movement, religious tolerance and the rule of law, as championed by the US and its west-European allies; and a system of managed democracy, oligarchic governance and limits on individual liberty in exchange for supposed economic benefits, as practised in Putin’s Russia, one-party China, and other emerging states.
Likewise, some the worst excesses of the cold war period, such as the multi-billion-dollar arms races in nuclear and conventional weaponry, are now largely absent. Putin has increased spending on Russia’s nuclear and other arsenals, and the US still maintains a powerful strategic nuclear force. But the strategic arms reduction treaties have significantly reduced warheads and missiles on both sides. The paranoid days typified by Dr Strangelove and the nightmare doctrines of MAD (mutual assured destruction) seem unlikely to return.
Looked at another way, it could be argued the cold war never went away, or at least, that there was merely a brief time-out in the 1990s that ended when Putin rose to power 15 years ago. Bilateral proxy contests for power and influence have continued, though in different forms. In Syria, Moscow’s strong support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which rents Russia a military base at Tartus on the Mediterranean, is one of the main reasons Assad has survived the civil war for as long as he has. In supporting Assad, Russia acts in deliberate, intransigent opposition to the US.
In Iran, similarly, Russia has worked to maintain close ties with the ruling clerical establishment, in open defiance of US and Israeli-led efforts to isolate the ayatollahs. Moscow is a party to the Vienna negotiations on Iran’s suspect nuclear programme, which are due to conclude next Monday. But at the same time, it has announced a new deal to build next-generation nuclear reactors at two sites in Iran, regardless of the outcome in Vienna.
Spying, information theft, economic espionage and assassination also remain an important part of the dysfunctional US-Russia relationship. To crude violence have now been added the new weapons of the information age, including identity theft, cyber-warfare, computer hacking and ever more sophisticated disinformation techniques. Russia may not have changed that much since the Soviet days, but in terms of propaganda, disseminated through slick, sanitised media outlets, it has raised its game significantly.
Yet, more than anything else perhaps, the stridently toxic personality of Vladimir Putin himself fits well in the “new cold war” scenario. Like the Soviet hardmen of old, such as Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Yuri Andropov, the diminutive Putin appears by turns ruthless, charming and ultimately reckless. His passionate, single-minded belief in his nation’s greatness, owing as much to the Tsarist as to the Soviet legacy, drives his mission to project Russian power. His ability to ignore moral considerations, legal norms, and basic human compassion makes him both a dangerous and resourceful foe.
Since he first unexpectedly came to power as prime minister in 1999, western politicians, diplomats and generals have been asking the question: who is Vladimir Putin? Now they may have the answer. He is the man who put the cold war back in vogue.
Spies, sleepers and hitmen: how the Soviet Union’s KGB never went away
Vladimir Putin’s background as a Soviet spy means there can be little surprise at the blatant resurgence of an aggressive surveillance state in modern Russia
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 November 2014 18.51 GMT
Vladimir Putin was never an especially distinguished spy. In the 1980s, the KGB dispatched him not to a glamorous western capital but to provincial East Germany. It was here, in Dresden, that he sat out the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event that filled him with horror and rage.
For a brief moment in the 90s, the KGB – now re-branded as the FSB, the Federal Security Service – was on the back foot. Since becoming president in 2000, however, Putin has transformed Russia into a giant spy state. He has brought back many of the cold war espionage techniques he first learned as a young recruit in Leningrad’s KGB spy school. Not that they ever quite went away.
FSB spies are a paranoid, conspiratorial and deeply xenophobic bunch. They see themselves as the direct descendants of the Cheka, Lenin’s feared, terrifying secret police. They are obsessed, as in cold war times, with finding and defeating Russia’s “enemies”. Some of these so-called “enemies” are foreign, some are homegrown.
In the 70s, the KGB employed a wide repertoire of operational tricks. Typically, they would eavesdrop on western diplomats, harass British and American journalists (slashing the tyres of their cars was a favourite) and carry out break-ins and buggings. Writing about Soviet dissidents or Jewish emigration got you into trouble
When I got to Moscow in 2007 as the Guardian’s correspondent I was surprised to discover that such ancient KGB practices were back. For reasons that are still mysterious, the FSB decided that I was one of its enemies. Unpromising young men in black leather jackets trailed me round Moscow’s icy streets. This time, the reporting taboos were Putin’s money, top-level Kremlin corruption and the vicious war in the north Caucasus.
As well as demonstrative surveillance – always more Inspector Clouseau than John le Carré – Putin’s spies made it clear that they were listening to my calls. They pulled the plug, for example, whenever I made a joke about Russia’s president. Like other despots, Putin doesn’t have a sense of humour (though he can do sardonic repartee).
The FSB also revived another old KGB/East German Stasi tactic: what the exasperated American ambassador in Moscow calls “house intrusions”. Over a period of nearly four years FSB agents frequently broke into the Moscow flat where I lived with my wife and two small children. They left a series of ridiculous clues to show that they had been there. These included open windows, central heating wires cut, family photos deleted from laptops, and – most amusingly – a sex manual in Russian, helpfully left beside my bed.
The British embassy politely advised us that our flat was bugged. There was little we could do about it, it said. The same low-level psychological techniques are used against British and US diplomats in Moscow, as well as against Russian embassy staffers, opposition activists, and many others. In 2011, I was chucked out of Moscow. This was another tactic used repeatedly by the Soviet Union against troublesome western correspondents who annoyed the state, or tried to dodge censorship, from the Bolshevik 1920s onwards.
The FSB’s special wrath, however, is directed not at foreigners but at Russians it regards as fifth columnists and traitors. In 2006, an alleged KGB hit squad murdered the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London. It poured radioactive polonium-210 into his tea. He died in agony three weeks later. The British government believes that only a Russian state agency could have got hold of polonium, a rare and unstable isotope. The row over Litvinenko’s death plunged London and Moscow into a very cold war stand-off, with a tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats.
US diplomatic cables leaked in 2010 reveal that Whitehall is deeply concerned about the number of Russian spies – formal and informal – now based in London. When the west was preoccupied with 9/11, al-Qaida and the Middle East, Putin stealthily ramped up the number of Russian agents working abroad. They included the glamorous Russian US-based sleeper agent Anna Chapman, exposed and later swapped. Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, the SVR, keeps close tabs on Russian exiles in London. It also seeks to influence British politicians.
Some observers, meanwhile, have expressed surprise at Moscow’s takeover of Crimea and its covert invasion of eastern Ukraine. In fact, the “little green men” – undercover Russian soldiers who seized Crimea – come straight from the KGB playbook. Putin’s actions in Ukraine follow a classic KGB doctrine known as “active measures”. The phrase encompasses disinformation, propaganda, political repression and subversion. The goal, then as now, is to weaken the west, create divisions between Nato member states, and to undermine the US in the eyes of the world, especially the developing world.
These days, Russian propaganda comes in the shape of the English-language channel Russia Today and via an army of Kremlin online trolls who post comments on western newspaper websites, including the Guardian’s. The production values are modern, but the thinking entirely Soviet. Russian television is under the Kremlin’s thumb; one of the lessons of the Ukraine crisis is that propaganda, as in Soviet times, is highly effective.
There are a few differences. In the USSR, the KGB was under the direct control of the Communist party. It was subordinate to the Politburo. Now, however, the FSB is subordinate to nobody; it operates with impunity according to its own secret rules. It has become Russia’s most powerful and unaccountable institution.
On the eve of becoming president in 2000, Putin – then head of the FSB – gave a speech to his colleagues. “A group of FSB operatives, dispatched undercover to work in the government of the Russian Federation, is successfully fulfilling its task.” Like most of Putin’s “jokes”, this one was mostly true.
British embassy in Ukraine tweets guide to Russian tanks
UK officials in Kiev post a graphic of a T-72BM tank and photographs of apparent sightings of them in eastern Ukraine
Agence France-Presse in Kiev
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 November 2014 15.59 GMT
Britain’s embassy in Kiev risked provoking fresh Russian anger on Wednesday by posting a diagram on Twitter “to help the Kremlin spot its tanks” in Ukraine.
“Putin still denying Russia’s troops and hardware are in Ukraine. Here’s a guide to help the Kremlin spot its tanks,” said a post on the @UKinUkraine Twitter feed.
Attached was a graphic featuring the logo of the UK Foreign Office showing how to identify a T-72BM Russian tank and photographs showing sightings of the same tanks “not used by Ukrainian military” in Ukraine.
#Путін досі заперечує,що війська та озброєння #Росії в Україні.Ось інструкція,щоб допомогти Кремлю виявити свої танки pic.twitter.com/3oFb1SuWWo
— UK in Ukraine (@UKinUkraine) November 19, 2014
Russia denies military involvement in eastern Ukraine, but the west has been fiercely critical of its role and is putting pressure on the Kremlin to resolve the crisis.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, left last weekend’s G20 summit in Australia early after criticisms from leaders including Barack Obama and David Cameron.
On Tuesday, Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, spoke of a buildup of troops, artillery and air defence systems inside Ukraine and on the Russian side of the border.
The unrest involving pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 4,100 people in the past seven months, according to the UN.
A further two Ukrainian soldiers and five civilians had been killed in fighting in the east during the previous 24 hours, Ukrainian security officials in Kiev said on Wednesday.