Archive for the ‘former Soviet Republics’ Category

NATO caught between expansion, Russia’s ire

March 7, 2008

By Nicholas Kralev
The Washington Times
March 7, 2008
BRUSSELS — Divisions surfaced in NATO yesterday over the future membership of Ukraine and Georgia, with some nations reluctant to anger Russia by admitting the two former Soviet republics.
Some allies want to offer Ukraine and Georgia a “Membership Action Plan,” the formal path to preparing for membership. But several European ministers expressed concerns about angering Russia.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer answers questions ...
 NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer answers questions after a ministerial meeting in Brussels.Greece has stood firm and refused to allow Macedonia to join the NATO military alliance until a row over its name, which has festered for more than 17 years, has been resolved.
(AFP/John Thys)
“I will not hide that I’m skeptical, but we’ll discuss that calmly today,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said before yesterday’s meeting of foreign ministers from 26 NATO nations.

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Permanent President Putin?

September 5, 2007

James T. Hackett
The Washington Times
September 4, 2007

Russia may be a democracy, but it is rapidly morphing back into an authoritarian state. President Vladimir Putin looks very much like a man running for re-election. The question is whether he plans to scrap the constitution and become president for life or rule from behind the scenes and return to office later.

The constitution adopted in 1993 by the new Russia states in Chapter 4, Article 81, “No one person shall hold the office of president for more than two terms in succession.” Mr. Putin was elected in 2000 and won re-election by a landslide 71 percent in 2004. He will complete two terms next year, so is ineligible under the constitution to stand for re-election.

Elections to the Duma will be held Dec. 2, after which the political parties will nominate their candidates for the presidency. That election will take place March 2, with the new president taking office May 7. Barely six months before the election, Vladimir Putin dominates Russian politics like a colossus, with polls showing an approval rate as high as 80 percent.

Videos have been released showing Mr. Putin in campaign mode, a vigorous 55, horseback riding and fishing, stripped to the waist. For months he has taken step after step to appeal to the majority of Russians who yearn for a return to the great-power status their country lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. He has been taking advantage of the booming global market for energy, renationalizing the oil and gas industry and using the proceeds to rebuild the Russian military.

For years Russia has been developing the Topol-M mobile ballistic missile, the Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile, the S-400 missile interceptor, a new evading warhead, fifth-generation fighter planes and missile-launching submarines. Progress was slow and funds were scarce, but the surge in oil and gas wealth made it possible to overcome problems and accelerate these programs.

Now Mr. Putin is using his improving military to throw his weight around, confronting countries from Georgia to Norway. He has resumed long-range nuclear bomber flights, refuses to cooperate with Britain on a KGB murder, claims the North Pole for Russia, sells air defense missiles to Syria and threatens to target NATO countries by basing missiles in Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave.

Instead of joining Europe and America to oppose the threat of militant Islam, Mr. Putin has turned to China, Iran and other authoritarian regimes against the West. He is recreating the Warsaw Pact in Central Asia — the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Known as a “dictator’s club,” it is led by China and Russia and includes four former Soviet republics but expected to grow with Iran and other countries seeking to join.

All this is fine with most Russians, who have the strong leader they wanted. A poll by the Yuri-Levada Institute published in February found 68 percent of Russians said their top priority was “security.” Democracy was hardly mentioned. Other findings were that 75 percent consider Russia a Eurasian state, while only 10 percent think they are part of the West.

Mr. Putin has said he will honor the constitution.  Nevertheless, he could decide to emulate his friend, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, and make himself president for life. Amending the Russian constitution requires large majorities of both the Federation Council and Duma, which he undoubtedly could get from these rubber-stamp bodies, but it would require payoffs or concessions he may not want to make.

So he appears to be grooming First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as his successor. Since the constitution bars him from running more than twice “in succession,” but leaves open the possibility of a later return, he may plan to have Mr. Ivanov run next year for one term and then replace him. Meanwhile, he would expect to control the country as a “gray eminence” from behind the scenes.

But that is easier said than done. Mr. Ivanov is a highly capable former KGB officer and defense minister. If he wins the vast powers of the Russian presidency, it may not be easy for a former president to control him. Once out of power, Mr. Putin may find it hard to get back in. Of course, he could anoint a more pliable candidate to serve as caretaker president.

Russian democracy is at risk. For the future of his country, Mr. Putin should honor the constitution and retire permanently next year.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in Carlsbad, Calif.

The essay above was used with permission.


Cold War Redux?
(Our own commentary on Mr. Putin and Russia)

Cold War Redux?

August 22, 2007

By John E. Carey
For The Washington Times
August 22, 2007

Russia watchers and military analysts say some of Russia’s recent military moves speak louder than the words of Russia’s leaders.

But the words of President Vladimir Putin of Russia and others at the top of the Russian hierarchy have sent an icy chill though relations between Russia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the U.S.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Владимир Владимирович Путин
Vladimir Putin

In just the last week:

–Russia reinstituted long range bomber surveillance patrols of U.S. vital areas including the military installation at Guam and our aircraft carriers at sea. These are the first routine bomber patrols since the Cold War.

–Russia announced an intention to again deploy Russian naval forces to the Mediterranean Sea. This activity also is a return to Cold War-like military deployments and operations. The head of the Russian Navy Admiral Vladimir Masorin said, “The Mediterranean is an important theater of operations for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. We must restore a permanent presence of the Russian Navy in this region.”

–Russia joined with China and several oil-rich Central Asian former Soviet Republics who are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to conduct war game maneuvers.

For the first time ever, Russia hosted Chinese soldiers in peaceful yet provocative training exercised on Russian soil. The U.S. Embassies in Moscow and Beijing said the United States had requested participation in the events but were informed that any U.S. participation or observers would not be welcome.

–Finally, President Putin from Russia and President Hu Jintao of China participated in a multi-nation meeting of the SCO that included non-member luminaries such as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad took the opportunity to rant against the U.S. proposed deployment of missile defenses to Poland and the Czech Republic; a deployment also criticized by China and Russia. China and Russia have blocked attempts by the U.S., U.K. and France to sanction Iran in the U.N. for its nuclear program.

“Diplomacy between Russia and the West is increasingly being overshadowed by military gestures,” says Sergei Strokan, a foreign-policy expert with the independent daily Kommersant. “It’s clear that the Kremlin is listening more and more to the generals and giving them more of what they want.”

Said President Putin at the SCO’s largest annual gathering of regional leaders ever, “Year by year, the SCO is becoming a more substantial factor in ensuring security in the region,” he said. “Russia, like other SCO states, favors strengthening the multi-polar international system providing equal security and development potential for all countries. Any attempts to solve global and regional problems unilaterally have no future,” he added.

Ex-Soviet members of the SCO include Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.

For more than two years the SCO, prompted largely by Russia, has called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from two member countries, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan evicted American forces that were supporting American and NATO operations in Afghanistan, but Kyrgyzstan still hosts a U.S. base. Russia also maintains a military base in Kyrgyzstan.

Much of regional wrangling and politics in Central Asia relates to oil. Russia’s new hubris and military activity is funded by recent oil wealth. China has an agreement to buy Russian oil and during this last week the leaders of China and Kazakhstan agreed to finance and build a network of pipelines to supply China with oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region.

“The SCO clearly wants the US to leave Central Asia; that’s a basic political demand,” says Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow director of the independent World Security Institute. “That’s one reason why the SCO is holding military exercises, to demonstrate its capability to take responsibility for stability in Central Asia after the US leaves.”

Believing that the U.S. too greatly dominates the post-Cold War world, Russia and China agreed to for a “strategic partnership.” The creation of the SCO in 2001 is a key part of that relationship. But the outreach by Russia and China to leaders like Iran’s Ahmadinejad has caused western analysts to refer to the SCO as the “club of dictators” or “OPEC with nukes.”

Moreover, a year’s worth of bellicose rhetoric from Mr. Putin worries many western observers.

Last February at the Annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, President Putin called American foreign policy “ruinous” in a speech reporters called a “scathing attack.”Mr. Putin also said the United States was a reckless “unipolar” power. He accused United States of making the world more dangerous by pursuing policies that led to war, ruin and insecurity.

America’s new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a follow-up to Mr. Putin’s speech, “As an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost..” He added: “One Cold War was quite enough.”

At the end of July, the secretary-general of NATO, Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said, “Nobody wants a new Cold War, neither the Russians nor NATO, nobody.” He urged Russia to abandon its “confrontational” rhetoric and join the Western allies to combat the common threats of terrorism and failed states.

Judging by Russian activities last week, it is not clear that Mr. Putin is listening.

John E. Carey is former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc. and a frequent contributor to the Washington Times.