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Over Easy: Putin, Poroshenko and Merkel Meeting in Minsk

4:45 am in Uncategorized by yellowsnapdragon

Minsk House of Government with a statue of Lenin in front

World leaders meet in Minsk to try to create Ukrainian peace.

Ukraine disintegrated into civil war partly over disagreement about whether to join the European Union’s economic integration program, the Eastern Partnership, or to join Eurasia’s new Customs Union (CU). Today, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia will hold CU talks in Minsk, and Ukraine’s President Poroshenko is expected to attend. The CU meeting will be the first formal meeting between Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko since the Ukrainian civil war began. Representatives of the EU will be included in the summit.

Although no agenda for the Minsk summit has been set, talks are expected to include diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukrainian conflict. Poroshenko has indicated that he plans to ask that rebels be withdrawn from eastern Ukraine, while Putin will likely demand greater autonomy for the restive eastern provinces and protection of human rights there. The EU may pressure Poroshenko to make some kind of speedy resolution of the crisis before economic catastrophe spreads to Europe.

Angela Merkel, who traveled to Ukraine over the weekend, lacks confidence that the Minsk summit will yield meaningful results.

My talks in Kiev were aimed in part at preparing this meeting, which surely won’t produce the one big breakthrough in Minsk — just to curb expectations,

However, she has also just indicated that the EU is now willing to accept a decision by Ukraine to join Putin’s Customs Union if Ukraine chooses to do so. That’s an important shift. Meanwhile, Poroshenko dissolved parliament and called early elections for late October.

Off topic is welcome at Over Easy and everyone is invited to join the cat. Don’t be shy. See you in the comments.

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Over Easy: Ballistic Escalation in Ukraine

5:00 am in Uncategorized by yellowsnapdragon

A few days ago, CNN reported that the Ukrainian Army fired several short range ballistic missiles into rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, indicating a major escalation in the war. The exact location of the launch was undisclosed as was the intended target.

NATO confirmed the launch, then retracted after Kiev denied the launch. No damage has been reported from strikes of ballistic missiles in Ukraine.

Over at the Saker, Juan reports that 4 ballistic missiles were, in fact, fired toward East Ukraine and that two were aimed at the ring of territory that encircles a besieged segment of the Ukrainian Army near the Russian border called Saur Moglia. The presumed purpose of the attempted missile strikes was to open a corridor of escape for the trapped Ukrainian troops. Yesterday, more than 400 Ukrainian soldiers crossed the Russian border and became refugees after escaping encirclement.

How, then is it possible that missiles were fired but did not reach their targets? Again, from the Saker:

The 4 Tochka missiles were shot down over Novorossiya territory occupied by Ukraine Armed Forces before the missiles reached their programmed height. They were shot down from inside RF [Russian Federation] according to normally reliable sources. No visual evidence has been provided of RF shooting down the Tochka systems nor of the system used to shoot down the Tochka missiles.

However, separatists claim that parts of an unexploded ballistic missile warhead have been found in Luhansk.

To recap: Ballistic missiles were fired by the Ukrainian Army at the Novorussian forces in the east, but those missiles were intercepted by Russia. That’s a huge development if true.

Judge for yourself where the truth lies among the multiple conflicting accounts of the mysterious Ukrainian ballistic missiles. Maybe there were no launches. Maybe there were. Either way, there is likely a eventful backstory we haven’t been told that may for the first time include overt Russian military intervention. Nevertheless, there are reports that Kiev is amassing ballistic missiles in Donestk.

Off topic is welcome as always. Lurkers and newbies are encouraged to join in. See you in the comments.

Over Easy: ISIS and Saudi Arabia

4:45 am in Uncategorized by yellowsnapdragon

Saudi house's royal crest

A look at how the House of Saud influenced the ISIS crisis.

Last November, the Wall Street Journal reported that about 17,000 foreign nationals joined rebel fighters in Syria against President Assad.

About half fight for the ISIS; of those, officials in Russia say, at least a thousand are from the country’s North Caucasus and from Europe, where many Chechens have sought asylum since the collapse of the Soviet Union and hostilities in Chechnya in the 1990s.

So, about one out of seven or eight jihadi soldiers of ISIS originate from anti-Russian separatist groups fighting for independence. Those are Bandar’s guys — the same ones with which Bandar threatened the Sochi Olympics if Putin interfered with the Saudi plan to depose Syria’s President Assad.

The Caucasus region is a hotspot for foreign investment in recruitment and training of jihadi soldiers to export to wars zones in Russia, the Middle East and beyond. Two major investors in the region are Saudi Arabia and the US.

The Saudi Royal Family holds a tenuous power in the Kingdom. In order to tamp down rebellion against the House of Saud by ultra-Wahhabi extremists, the Saudis have devised a scheme where radical jihadi groups are funded extravagantly through networks of Saudi charities around the world. Radical Saudi citizens are encouraged and funded to express their zeal for jihad outside of the Kingdom in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kosovo, Chechnya, Iraq, and Syria, while leaving the Saudi royals free from rebellion in the Kingdom.

The US never stopped treating Russia (and China) as an enemy even after the Cold War ended and has invested its resources toward weakening Russia’s national alliances and destabilizing its border provinces and neighboring nations. Many of the regions targeted by the US for destabilization overlap with areas where Saudis export their jihadis including Chechnya, Afghanistan, Georgia, Serbia, and Iraq.

Prior to last autumn, the purpose of Saudi Arabia’s network of charities to invest in the Caucasus and the need of the US for a proxy army to keep Russia’s (and China’s) border territories and alliances perpetually unstable aligned nicely. Enter Syria.

Saudi Arabia wants a Sunni ally in Syria, mostly to weaken power rival Iran so that Saudi Arabia can continue to dominate the oil markets and maintain its sizable regional power. The US also seemed to want to remove Assad to weaken Iran and appeared ready to intervene militarily in Syria last summer. However, instead of bombing Assad’s forces as expected, Russia brokered a deal to prevent US forcing regime change in Damascus. What’s more, the US had been in secret talks with Iran to remove the crippling sanctions levied in response to Iran’s nuclear program.

Saudi Arabia was furious. It threatened to pursue its own interests in spite of a historic alliance with the US.

Could the resurgence of ISIS in Iraq be evidence of Saudi Arabia striking out on its own to establish a Sunni stronghold on Iran’s border? An official Saudi press release says:

The Cabinet expressed the extreme concern of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia about of the latest developments in Iraq as they would not arise without the sectarian and exclusionary policies practiced in Iraq over the past years which have threatened its security, stability and sovereignty.

The Cabinet stressed the need to preserve Iraq’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, and the rejection of foreign interference in its internal affairs, inviting all Iraqi people strata to begin taking actions to ensure the real participation of all components of the Iraqi people to determine the future of Iraq and the equality between them to assume powers and responsibilities in the administration of the State’s affairs, conduct political and constitutional reforms needed to achieve this, accelerate the formation of a government of national consensus to work on the restoration of security and stability, and avoid policies based on religious and sectarian instigation practiced in Iraq.

Sounds to me like ISIS’s resurgence in Iraq is a symptom of the US’s broken relationship with the House of Saud.

Off topic welcome. Lurkers are encouraged to join in. (Sorry for typos, sloppy language and lack of links. It’s late and I’m tired)

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Over Easy: Putin Pivots to China

4:45 am in Uncategorized by yellowsnapdragon

A night view of Shanghai's HSBC government building

Putin is in Shanghai to finalize a major gas deal.

Today, Vladimir Putin travels to Shanghai to finalize a huge gas deal with China. The agreement, ten years in the making, guarantees the sale of 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year to China for the next 30 years.

Russia most likely will sell the gas at $350-380 per 1,000 cubic meters, a slight discount from the price Gazprom quoted last January.

‘Of course Russia wants to sell gas and resources at the highest possible prices. But because of the sanctions from European partners, we need to find a partner that can buy our gas long-term, which is why at the moment China looks very attractive to us,’ Aleksandr Prosviryakov, a partner at Lakeshore International, a Moscow-based asset management firm, told RT at a Confederation of Asia Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CACCI) in Moscow ahead of the big meeting on Tuesday.

A 2009 gas deal between Russia and China to supply 30 billion cubic meters of gas to China’s Xinjiang province was never implemented when construction on a pipeline was halted to shift resources to completing the Power of Siberia Pipeline instead. That pipeline will supply gas to China’s populous northern region with natural gas from the deal to be signed in Shanghai. Should both piplines be completed, Russia will be shipping 68 billion cubic meters of gas to China per year.

Perhaps more concerning to Washington is an April 24 meeting of Russian government officials to discuss “De-Dollarization” of Russia’s export operations. Recently, Russia flirted with the idea of doing more business in Yuan. A massive new gas deal done in rubles or yuan rather than dollars could massively impact the global financial status quo.

While Europe is furiously scrambling to find alternative sources of energy should Gazprom pull the plug on natgas exports to Germany and Europe (the imminent surge in Ukraine gas prices by 40% is probably the best indication of what the outcome would be), Russia is preparing the announcement of the ‘Holy Grail’ energy deal with none other than China, a move which would send geopolitical shockwaves around the world and bind the two nations in a commodity-backed axis. One which, as some especially on these pages, have suggested would lay the groundwork for a new joint, commodity-backed reserve currency that bypasses the dollar, something which Russia implied moments ago when its finance minister Siluanov said that Russia may refrain from foreign borrowing this year. Translated: bypass western purchases of Russian debt, funded by Chinese purchases of US Treasurys, and go straight to the source.

Aleksandr Prosviryakov:

‘This deal with Gazprom and cooperation with Russia shows that China is expanding, becoming bigger and bigger, and that this part of the world is dominated by China, India, and Russia, the US role is shrinking,’ said Aleksandr Prosviryakov.

This is exactly what the US has been trying to prevent. Yet, it appears that the US plan to contain Russia by expanding NATO into Ukraine and by imposing sanctions may have backfired. Instead of isolating Russia, the US has provided one more reason for Putin to look east to China. If Brazil, India and South Africa — the remaining members of BRICS — join up for De Dollarization, the future of American Empire will be different than what the neocons expect.

As always, Off Topic is welcome and lurkers are encouraged to join the chat. See you in the comments.

Update: Pepe Escobar writes about the Russia/China gas deal and the challenge to the dollar.

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Over Easy: False Choices and the New Cold War

4:45 am in Uncategorized by yellowsnapdragon

Caricature of John Brennan

Did the CIA’s John Brennan help foment Ukraine’s right-wing revolution?

Direct involvement of the US government in fomenting the Euromaidan protests has long been suspected. After all, that $5 Billion the US spent on democratizing Ukraine went toward some program there, right? Well, yesterday the White House confirmed that CIA Director John Brennan visited Ukraine over the weekend to meet with high level pro-Maidan factions in Kiev. According to Russian media,

Brennan landed in Ukraine on Saturday under an assumed name and held a ‘series of secret meetings’ with the country’s ‘power bloc’ Interfax reported, citing an unidentified official in the Ukrainian parliament. The unidentified official said that there were “unconfirmed reports” that the U.S. security official was behind the decision to use force in eastern Ukraine after pro-Russian separatist forces took control of the city of Slovyansk.

All is not going as planned for the neocons in charge of advising the new government in Kiev. There have been multiple instances of police, intelligence and military officials refusing to follow orders from Kiev to attack pro-Russian protesters occupying government buildings in major cities in the east. According to the Saker, “Everybody seemed to have refused: local cops, SWAT teams, SBU forces and even the anti-terrorist group ‘Alpha.’ This is quite amazing and extremely encouraging.”

The US government has taken a position diametrically opposed to the protesters in the east as it had to the ones in Euromaidan. The contradictory statements coming from the US about the protests are startling. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has asked the US to explain Brennan’s presence there.

‘We can remember when violence on Maidan (Independence Square in Kiev) that ended with dozens and dozens of deaths was called democracy, while peaceful protests that are ongoing now in southeastern Ukraine are called terrorism,’ he said.

‘The hypocrisy is off the scale.’

Even so, Russia has it’s own credibility issues on the matter and is likely the reason that the rag tag group of angry babushkas in the east has become a more organized, armed faction of political resistance. Which brings me to the main point of this post.

After the fall of Yanukovych, the annexation of Crimea, the entirely possible descent of Ukraine into civil war, and a new iron curtain falling between Russia and “the West”, who ultimately benefits?

This new Cold War isn’t about capitalism vs. communism because Russia and China are already capitalist. Is it our oligarchs against their oligarchs? Is it a resource war? Or is the New Cold War a war for the explicit purpose of an elite minority on both sides profiting from military industry?

In that case, alliance with either side — the US or Russia — is not only utterly pointless, it fuels the continutation of a political system whose purpose is the upward transfer of wealth and downward spiral of violence. No thanks. I’m on the side of peace and prosperity.

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