Category Archives: Russia

IPS piece on global power shifts and Iran

It’s here. Also archived here.
One bottom line is here:

    In 2003, Russia and China were unable (both in strictly military terms, and in terms of global power equations) to block the invasion of Iraq. But since 2003, Russia has stabilised its internal governance considerably from the chaotic state it was still in at that time, and China has continued its steady rise to greater power on the world scene.
    Two developments over the past year have underlined, for many U.S. strategic planners, the stark facts of the United States’ deep interdependence with these two significant world powers. One was last autumn’s collapse of the financial markets in New York and other financial centres around the world, which revealed the extent of the dependence the west’s financial system has on China’s (mainly governmental) investors.
    The other turning point has been the serious challenges the U.S. faced in its campaigns against Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Earlier this year, Pakistani-based Islamist militants mounted such extensive attacks against convoys carrying desperately needed supplies to U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan that Washington was forced to sign an agreement with Moscow to open alternative supply routes through Russia.
    Russia and China both have significant interests in Iran, which they are now clearly unwilling to jeopardise simply in order to appease Washington.

The other is here:

    Thursday brought dramatic evidence of the growing weight of non-western powers in policies toward Iran. What is still unclear is when there will be evidence of any parallel growth in their influence in Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy.

In 2009, as 2001: US needs Iran, Russia

On September 12, 2001, as US military planners started examining the options they had t counter-attach against Al-Qaeda and its hosts in Afghanistan, they and their colleagues in the State Department rapidly realized that if they wanted to actually topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan they’d need the help of two key nearby powers: Iran and Russia– and to a lesser extent, India.
They got the help they needed from those regional actors, and went ahead with the invasion operation.
Now, eight years later, the US/NATO forces are still in Afghanistan. And those forces are in deep trouble there. (Osama Bin Laden, btw, is still at large.)
The 95,000 US/NATO forces in Afghanistan are already significantly dependent on Russia and Iran, to be able to maintain their presence in that craggy and distant land. If their commanders are to avert the many worse catastrophes that loom there, they will need even more help from both Russia and Iran.
That is part of the essential background to the decision the State Department announced yesterday, that the US will be participating in the meeting that the Tehran government proposed Wednesday, between Iran and the P5+1 group.
Dafna Linzer of ProPublica notes at that link,

    Iran reiterated many of its previous ideas for talks while scaling back specific requests made in previous proposals [2] (PDF). Among other things, Tehran called for an end to hostilities and for talks on issues of specific concern to Iran, such as drug trafficking and security in the Middle East. Unlike previous Iranian proposals, this one does not contain a litany of past grievances with the United States and does not assert an Iranian commitment to advancing its nuclear efforts.

On Friday, Russian PM Vladimir Putin expressed his country’s clear opposition to any further escalation of outside pressure (whether sanctions or military force) against Iran.
There is now confirmation from Tel Aviv that Israeli PM Netanyahu made a secret visit to Moscow shortly before Putin announced this decision. If, as we can assume, he discussed the Iran file while there, then evidently he failed to prevent Putin from making that clear decision against escalation.
The Israeli government and its many powerful and well-organized supporters inside the US have been vigorously campaigning for all non-Iranian powers– especially the western governments– to ratchet up the level of pressure they place on Iran.
Today in Israel, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who is also Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, gave an interview to Reuters in which he seemed somewhat seriously behind the curve, still arguing that Russia and China might get on board the anti-Israel campaign.
I doubt it. Maybe it’s time for Israel and its supporters in western countries to grow up and take a realistic look at the fact that within the world community that needs to make the decision on this matter they are in a very small minority.
And quite evidently, very few people– even in the strongly pro-Israeli United States– will be in a mood to forgive Israel if its actions towards Iran put at risk the lives of 60,000 US service members in Afghanistan.

Petraeus’s serious Russia mistake

Last Tuesday, the NYT reported that US Centcom chief David Petraeus announced that, to support the NATO campaign in Afghanistan, NATO now had “transit agreements for commercial goods and services in particular that include several countries in the Central Asian states and also Russia.”
Turns out Wonderboy Petraeus jumped the gun badly on that. (HT: B of Moon of Alabama.) Thursday, Russian General of the Army Alexei Maslov told the news agency Itar-Tass definitively that,

    “No official documents were submitted to Russia’s permanent mission in NATO certifying that Russia had authorized U.S. and NATO military supplies transit across the country.”

Turkmenistan also denied having reached a transit agreement with NATO.
Last August, you’ll recall, NATO decided to break off the “partnership”-type arrangement it had with Russia, in protest at Russia’s military actions inside sovereign Georgia.
But NATO also badly needs Russia, if it is to find any kind of a viable alternative to the debilitating reliance it has on Pakistan, to get supplies in to the NATO war effort in deeply landlocked Afghanistan. (Oops, maybe Pres. Bush and his advisers should have looked at a map of Central Asia before they decided to invade and occupy Afghanistan?)
Since August, the Russians have linked the question of NATO-transit-rights-to-Afghanistan to that of restoring the NATO-Russia partnership agreement. (Russia also has several other live concerns about US military policy in the countries on its western border, including the future of the missile defense system Bush insisted on planting into Poland and the Czech Republic.) That’s why Gen. Maslov and other Russian leaders were quick to deny Petraeus’s claim he already had the transit agreement with them.
Today, Russia’s envoy to NATO did get a meeting with the alliance’s 26 member-ambassadors, after which the participants indicated that the restoration of the full former level of relationship might happen as soon as next month.
Tough luck for the reckless, pro-American Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili who actually started the war with Russia last August with, presumably, the aim of drawing NATO troops into his country in his defense.

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NATO trucking woes in Pakistan continue

The Daily Telegraph’s Isambard Wilkinson reports that the main trade association for Pakistani trucking companies that haul NATO goods into Afghanistan from Karachi has now decided to halt all NATO trucking until the security of the trucks and their drivers can be assured.
(HT: Afghanistan Conflict Monitor, again. Great resource!)
Wilkinson quotes Khyber Transport Association head M.S. Afridi as saying, ” “We have stopped supplies to foreign forces in Afghanistan from today. We have around 3,500 trucks, tankers and other vehicles, we are the major suppliers to Afghanistan, transporting about 60-70 per cent of goods.”
He writes,

    the main weak point, according to the Tariq Hayat Khan, the political agent for the Khyber tribal area, is on the outskirts of Peshawar city, which falls outside his jurisdiction and where the truck depots stand.
    The hauliers are asking the government to shift the depots away from Peshawar’s ring-road, to a less vulnerable place.

3,500 trucks is, I believe around five days’ worth of supplies for the NATO force in Afghanistan? Anyway, it looks like a stoppage that will have a significant impact for many ISAF troops in Afghanistan.
Afridi’s statement comes a week after a big attack in the Peshawar area left 160 Afghanistan-bound trucks as charred remains. But evidently there have been other attacks, too, since Wilkinson writes that “Hundreds of Nato and US-led coalition vehicles have been destroyed in the last two weeks after depots were targeted by hundreds of militants in northwest Pakistan.”
He adds this:

    Qudratullah Khan, a transporter from Khyber Agency who runs Al Qadri Cargo Company, said: “Transportation of goods to Afghanistan has become a risky job and even our lives at stake while taking the goods.
    “The vehicles carrying containers for Afghanistan are being looted in a broad day light, the drivers are killed and kidnapped, but we do not see any security or protection to us.”
    He added that there suspicions that drivers were involved in looting vehicles and convoys in collusion with the militants.
    …Mr Khan said the Taliban is taking 30 per cent of the goods as for the Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud’s “Islamic treasury”, and 30 per cent are shared by the drivers and transporters when these vehicles are looted or kidnapped.

So there’s a major problem of trusting the drivers. (And maybe, also, of trusting some of the army and security force units sent in to help guard the convoys?)
This certainly does not look like a problem that will be solved satisfactorily any time soon.
All of which increases the urgency with which NATO needs to conclude the negotiations it’s now holding with Russia about opening a major trans-shipment route into Afghanistan via the Russian railroads. Even more so, since NATO is planning to beef up its presence in Afghanistan, which means it will require an even thicker pipeline of shipments into the country.
Over the past few months Russia has lost a considerable amount of that portion of “leverage” it had with western nations by virtue of its status as oil exporter (though the leverage it derives from its gas exports has not declined as much.) But now, thanks to the deterioration of the security situation in Pakistan, Russia is acquiring considerable new leverage with the west by virtue of its rail network.
Stay tuned for developments in all aspects of this story. The situation in Pakistan does not look stable.

NATO’s Russian route to Afghanistan

NATO’s deputy assistant sec-gen for security cooperation and partnership, Robert Simmons, has been in Moscow pushing forward the plan to open a Russian route to resupply the NATO positions in Afghanistan. (HT: Afghanistan Conflict Monitor.)
This, two days after the well-planned attack on a NATO staging area in Peshawar that left 160 Afghanistan-bound trucks torched to a cinder.
Interfax tells us that Simmons described Russia-NATO cooperation on Afghanistan as “good on the whole.” He said NATO had received a plausible “proposal” from Russia regarding a trans-shipping agreement. However, to get the Russia route open will also require trans-shipping agreements with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Ukraine, so NATO is working on those now.
Simmons also spoke about an agreement under which Afghan servicemen would receive training at “the Domodedovo center near Moscow.”
As I’ve discussed here before, the urgent need the western alliance has to get supplies to its troops in Afghanistan has forced it into a collaboration with Russia which makes any idea of outright confrontation with Moscow– such as Georgia’s President Saakashvili tried to stoke last August– quite suicidal for NATO.
If you look at the handy sketch-map of possible land routes into Afghanistan that B of Moon of Alabama published in November and the list of countries Simmons is talking to you can see that Simmons’s current “Russia route” will run somewhat to the north of B’s Red Line, thus avoiding the serious hassle and expense of transferring the goods to boats to get across the Caspian Sea. I think to get from either Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan into Afghanistan, the goods will also need to go across Turkmenistan. Maybe that leg is already in NATO’s bag?
This little rail map of Central Asia published by Stratfor in January is also handy. It shows that there is at present just one rail connection going from western China into one of the central Asian Stans: the line from Urumqi into Kazakhstan. But it also shows (in red) the two additional connectors the Chinese are currently working on. These will greatly strengthen China’s ability to exert influence in the entire Central Asian region.
As of now, Afghanistan does not have any national rail line. But China is now planning to build one. It will traverse the whole country north to south, linking Afghanistan to both Tajikstan and Pakistan (and not coincidentally also giving China an indirect outlet to the Arabian Sea.)
But the “China route” for getting NATO goods into Afghanistan– B’s Green Line– still seems to be a long way off. (Correct me if I’m wrong, anyone.) That leaves NATO having to juggle between reliance on Pakistan, or Russia, or on the unbelievably expensive option of shipping things in by air. Airlift is totally not a sustainable option over any length of time. Afghanistan is quite a lot bigger and more distant from NATO’s home-bases than West Berlin!
Hence, given the current uncertainties in Pakistan, NATO’s increasing reliance on Russia.

Newsflash! Russia lets NATO trans-ship weapons to Afghanistan

The Kyiv Post reported yesterday that,

    Russia has granted NATO-member Germany permission to ship weapons and equipment for its force in Afghanistan overland through Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

(HT: Afghanistan Conflict Monitor.)
So the Cold War really has ended and is not– despite the efforts of many– about to be cranked up again any time soon?
The Russians and the US have been in talks for some time about the US (or NATO, unclear) getting the right to ship non-lethal goods to Afghanistan through Russia. So this is new.
Check out the RIA Novosti links at the bottom of this Afghanistan Conflict Monitor page.
They do indeed confirm– from an authoritative Russian source– that Russia has now given this permission to both Germany and Spain.

First big global challenges for Obama

While Ahmadinejad and Hamas are making nicey-nice in their first overtures to President-elect Barack Obama, leaders in Russia and China have sent their first rhetorical “shots” across his bows.
The “shot” (challenge) from Moscow came in the fairly familiar language of military threats and escalation: Yesterday President Dmitry Medvedev said he would station surface-to-surface missiles next to Poland if the US stationed an anti-missile system inside Poland.
(Today, there have apparently been moves by both Medvedev and the Bush administration to tamp down tensions over the issue. This is not surprising. Despite the rhetoric and the needs both leaderships have to play to their domestic constituencies, I still think that neither Medvedev nor the Bushites want any very serious tensions in their relations.)
The challenge from China, however, came in a very different form of language: the language of expressing a tough negotiating position, on the issue of climate change.
I have been arguing for some time that climate change is set to become an increasingly big issue in international politics, and this seems now to be happening. Today in Beijing, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao told the UN’s chief climate change official, Yvo de Boer, that,

    rich nations [should] transfer greenhouse gas emissions-curbing technology to China and other developing countries, and address climate change responsibly by changing their unsustainable lifestyles.

The position spelled out by Wen has the twin advantages of (a) having a lot of moral validity, and (b) being very popular among the 88% of the world’s population that does not belong to the “rich” western bloc.
On moral validity, we need remember only two important points: (1) Though China’s total annual CO2 emissions are now roughly the same as those of the United, its population is four times greater; therefore the per-capita emissions rate is only one-fourth that of the US; and (2) Historically, the US and the other long-rich countries have contributed considerably more to the “fund” of toxic greenhouses gases that has been accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere over the past 150 years than have China and other long-poor countries.
China’s Communist Party leadership made some extremely wise judgments over 30 years ago, and they seem to have stuck to them ever since. They have maintained a steadfast policy of seeking ever fuller integration into the world’s numerous economic and political networks, and of sticking as much as possible by the rules of these networks to enhance their effectiveness within them. And they apparently also made a strategic judgment a long time ago that seeking to “compete” on the global stage against the US (or anyone else) in terms of externally directed military power projection capabilities was not a fruitful way to proceed. Hence, China has not engaged in nuclear or non-nuclear arms-racing with the US. It maintains only a “minimum deterrent” nuclear arsenal. And it has won positions of real political influence with all the countries around its periphery– and in some areas considerably further afield– not through military domination but through extensive economic and diplomatic/political cooperation.
These judgments and policies have proved to be well chosen. After all, during the past 30 years, the actual utility of military power in international relations has been declining rapidly– a decline that has been in almost direct proportion to the explosion in the efficiency and reach of global communications.
But I, for one, am not surprised that, when China seeks to send a “hey, don’t stomp on me” message to President-elect Obama, it does so in a way that is (a) quite discreet, and (b) absolutely unrelated to the military realm.
It’s an interesting world we live in…

J. Diehl criticizing Saakashvili

WaPo columnist Jackson Diehl is a quintessential liberal hawk. So when he expresses open criticism of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, as he did today, that means there are serious cracks in the coalition of supporters that Saak had hoped to protect himself with, in Washington.
Diehl’s column was titled “The Trouble with Saakashvili.”
He writes,

    The irony is that, beneath that overweening campaign [I think he means ‘overarching’ not overweening? ~HC] to contain Russian belligerence, American officials are still seething at Saakashvili. His impulsive and militarily foolhardy attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 8 opened the way for Putin’s aggression. True, provocations by Russian-controlled Ossetian militias preceded the Georgian move, and Russian troops’ subsequent takeover of much of Georgia was clearly planned and prepared well in advance. But the mercurial Saakashvili disregarded direct American warnings that he not fall into Putin’s trap. He embarrassed his staunchest defenders in Washington and plunged both his country and the United States into what has been a costly — and so far losing — battle.

I actually want to write a lot more, as soon as I can, about the nature and size of the costs that Saak’s adventurism inflicted on the United States’ posture of military ‘deterrence’ all round the world.

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Georgia-Hizbullah: Dept. of Delicious Ironies

So today, Wired’s Noah Schachtman draws attention to the fact– as indeed, I suspected might well happen– some strategists in the ‘west’ have started to recommend that, as it rebuilds its military, Georgia should use “a Hizbullah model”, rather than the earlier US-Israeli model.
Hizbullah, the latest model for pro-western militaries!
One article Schachtman quotes from is this one, by Greg Grant of DoD Buzz.
Grant wrote:

    The U.S. military has been advising and equipping the Georgian military for some time. I saw Georgian soldiers over in Iraq and they appeared competent enough. The American officers I talked to who worked alongside them there held them in high regard. So what, if anything, does the Georgian military performance say about the training we provided? Did we train the Georgians for the wrong type of war, too much irregular war focus and not enough big battle emphasis?

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US probing Russian Red Lines in Georgia

Two interesting recent posts from Wired’s Noah Schachtman. In this one, Sept. 5, he cites this London Times report as saying that last week, US/NATO military people managed to connect Georgia’s surviving air-defense missile radars to NATO’s own broader air surveillance system.
This would seem to challenge or contradict what I wrote here recently about the US having decided, for now, not to give Georgia any military aid. More on that, below.
But was what happened last week between the Georgian and NATO a/d systems a “re-connect”, rather than a “connect”?
Schachtman notes that back last December, Reuters had already quoted Georgia’s defense minister as saying that “Georgia has plugged into NATO’s integrated air defence radar system.”
It makes a significant difference whether what happened last week was a connect or a re-connect. If the latter, then that presumably means that the Georgian radars were still “connected” to the NATO system back on August 7/8… Which would mean a couple of things:

    (1) Having been thusly connected didn’t actually have the effect of saving the Georgians from getting creamed in the August war. It would even less effect now, since a large portion of Georgia’s ground radars have been destroyed in the interim.
    (2) Somewhere in the archives of NATO’s air surveillance system there almost certainly lie some pretty acurate records of who did what to whom, with what precise timing, back at the start of the war. (That’s a politically important matter, since Pres. Saakashvili continues to claim he was only “responding” to a prior Russian attack rather than– as most of the evidence seems to suggest– actually starting the war himself.)

Anyway, if NATO did indeed (re-)connect Georgia’s a/d radars with the NATO system last week, that’s the most I’ve heard about anywhere regarding western nations having given any concrete military aid to Saak since the war. So it looks as though Washington may be cautiously testing Moscow’s Red Lines regarding rearming Saak’s Georgia.
I actually judge that in Moscow, having Georgia plugged into the NATO system may not, on its own, be seen as strategically disadvantageous, as noted in point #1 above. Indeed, in a situation of gradually mending/evolving Russia-US ties, the “transparency” offered by the plug-in, as mentioned in point #2 above, could be seen as part of a broader regime of reciprocal confidence (re-)building in the region.
Wouldn’t that be a nice thought?
The London Times writer, Michael Evans, made no reference to the idea that what happened last week may have been a re-connection, rather than a first connection. But he did say this about the US (and UK) policy on the question of rearming Georgia, more broadly:

    [NATO] sources said that proposals were currently under discussion to fly Nato Awacs over the region, although they emphasised that no decision had yet been taken on such a development, which would be viewed as provocative by Moscow.
    As part of efforts to develop closer military ties with Georgia the US is also planning to set up a trust fund into which alliance members can donate money to assist Georgian military forces. “It’s basically Nato passing the hat around,” an official said.
    A Nato team of specialists has visited Tbilisi to find out what Georgia needs to rebuild its forces. Washington dismissed the claim by Moscow that the US warships sent to Georgia to offload tonnes of humanitarian aid had been delivering arms secretly.
    “The thrust of Nato’s efforts at present is to help Georgia get through the winter, preventing Russia from strangling the country. We’ve got to try to keep the democracy in the country going, but there’s no talk about accelerating Georgia’s application to join Nato as a member state,” one official said.
    A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence in London said: “In light of recent events, Georgia needs time to reflect on requirements for the future. We intend to provide assistance to Georgia and will consider requests for assistance in discussion and co-ordination with our Nato and EU partners.”

The discussion and indirect ‘signaling’ between ‘west’ and ‘east’ continue. Doubtless on the agenda are a whole basket off issues, not just Georgia. The other agenda items surely include:

    * Iran
    * Afghanistan
    * European energy supplies.

Regarding the latter two of these issues, as I wrote Sept. 4:

    Moscow might have large parts of western Europe over a barrel. But [regarding the US/NATO project in Afghanistan] it has the US over a railhead.

And then, there’s Iran, a policy “challenge” for the US and its European allies in which the US’s hawkishly anti-Iran position has been considerably undermined by Saakashvili’s adventurism…
The story continues to evolve.