Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Trump has got a point on NATO, Russia and climate change

15/02/2017, 10:19:43 PM

by Julian Glassford

Winston Churchill is widely regarded as the greatest Briton in history. Here was a larger than life, notoriously brash and uncompromising Western leader, and one who allied himself with a Russian tyrant. 70 years on, and the political mainstream finds itself consumed with juxtaposed vexation. The source of all this consternation: a similarly bold and irrepressible, if relatively uncultured, rabble-rousing “Russophile”.

Granted, Donald Trump is no Churchill, but rather than jumping the gun in mourning the presumed death of American exceptionalism and Pax Americana, perhaps we ought to take the opportunity to pause, contemplate, and culture our concerns.

The cry that “democracy has lost its champion” smacks of selective amnesia regarding a string of less than illustrious foreign adventures from Vietnam to Iraq. It is also as if certain commentators skipped classes on the role of European ‘soft power’ and complex interdependence. It should be clear to any learned, objective analyst that increased stability and human flourishing has in many instances occurred not because, but in spite, of US-led interventions and initiatives.

Clearly, there is much to be said for the exercise of high minded influence by major players on the world stage – no-one wants to see a return to the dark days of American isolationism – but beware the false dichotomy. Notwithstanding the solipsistic antics of a certain “dangerous vulgarian” i.e. widely condemned neo-mercantile Trumponomics and discriminatory migration policy, a United States of Anarchy is not a realistic prospect.

Precarious as the present international order may be, it is unwise to presuppose that an unfiltered US President – or British foreign secretary, for that matter – will send the house of cards crashing down; that is, so long as the UN Security Council remains united in their opposition to nuclear proliferation, and the East-West arms-race in prospect confined to peaceful competition. (more…)

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With Trump in the White House, 2017 will be the year of living dangerously

04/01/2017, 10:27:31 PM

by Rob Marchant

It seems like a statement of the blindingly obvious but, during the current calm of the Obama fin-de-siècle, and before the storm which the Trump inauguration is likely to kick off, it seems like America has almost forgotten itself. The impact of the outsider’s November victory has temporarily become 2016’s giant elephant in the room. But the impacts may well resonate for years.

Those who think Trump is a Good Thing remain delighted, revelling in their apparent vindication, although perhaps slightly nervous at a victory they did not expect. On the other hand, the majority of voting Americans – who did not want Trump, and whose number included many registered Republicans – almost seem to have become numb to what is about to happen. They should not.

As New Republic’s senior editor Jeet Heer put it,


In many ways, this numbness, this complacency is something that Democrats have brought upon themselves. Not, to be clear, because they fielded the wrong candidate: it has now become a particularly dumb conventional wisdom on the left that the Dems should blame themselves, as if somehow the primary process could be manipulated by the DNC to get the candidate they wanted, and they chose Clinton.

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We need to talk about Russia

26/10/2016, 10:14:23 PM

by Rob Marchant

When even the Guardian, which has sustained some fairly alternative views on world geopolitics in recent years – including running a propaganda op-ed by the Russian foreign minister – starts acknowledging that modern-day Russia has slid into a new Cold War with the West, well, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

Like a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome, the West – led by an American president who scornfully told his opponent in the 2012 election that “the Cold War has been over for twenty years” – has spent the last decade trying to convince itself that Russia was friendly and no longer a threat, in the face of stark evidence to the contrary. Obama is now choking on his unwise words, but it’s a bit late for that. Eight years of “engagement” with the US has only encouraged Vladimir Putin.

The charge sheet against Russia’s authoritarian leader is lengthy: the 2008 conflict with Georgia; the 2014 invasions of Crimea and the Donbass; sabre-rattling over the Baltics; the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko; encouragement of homophobia by Putin allies; gradual curtailment of most independent media and increasingly dubious elections (including a referendum in Donetsk whose result was apparently known before its taking place); encouraging the rehabilitation of Stalin; and finally, interfering in US presidential elections, dammit, through Russian hacks to the Democrats’ email system and its clear allying with Julian Assange and Wikileaks in favour of the Trump campaign. Not to mention the recent, utterly reprehensible bombing of civilians in Syria, which surely constitutes a war crime in any meaningful interpretation of international law.

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The geopolitical case against Brexit matters

22/06/2016, 03:08:43 PM

by Rob Marchant

The decision Britain will make tomorrow is clearly a big one. Perhaps truly the most significant of our lifetimes, in terms of its strategic direction of travel as a country and the way the 21st century will shape up for us.

A decision in favour of Brexit will inevitably have short-term impacts. Some of them, such as a potential drop in sterling for exporters, may even be positive. But some vital, long-term effects are likely to be about Britain’s place in the world; its geopolitical power, if you like.

These are difficult-to-gauge, but nevertheless important, effects which are largely drowned out in the current debate by the bread-and-butter arguments about trade or immigration. Or “sovereignty”, that largely meaningless word currently being flogged to death.

Which would be fine, if we lived in a world full of stability, free of threats. Or even such a Europe.

We do not.

It is a good time to remember, for example, that only a few hundred miles of Mediterranean separate Daesh forces from the southern shores of the EU. Or that its eastern fringe – the Baltic states – is currently subject to a very real threat of clandestine invasion by Russia, as has already happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Or even that the Americans and Russians are currently engaged in an increasingly threatening war of words over US presence in the Black Sea. And this is all in the context of a savage war in Syria, exacerbated by the meddling of Russia and its proxy, Iran, which has triggered the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

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A little boost to British defence spending would go a long way to helping keep the international peace

18/02/2015, 10:13:13 PM

by Karl Johnson

It’s good to know what other countries are thinking about us. I was drawn to a recent article in the American Spectator by Australian lawyer Hal G P Colebatch, entitled Setting the Stage for a Losing Falklands War: Are Britain’s Armed Forces Going Over a Cliff? It mentions our delays in completing our new aircraft carriers, speculative reports in our press that the British army might be cut to 60,000 troops in the near future, and the sale of Russian fast jets and helicopters to Argentina. Colebatch concludes that with a defence budget of less than 2% of national income and a ‘bath-tub Royal Navy’, Britain will be unable to protect its territorial interests against an increasingly nationalistic Argentina, with the inference that we will similarly fail to add our weight against Russian expansionism and the spread of Islamist extremism.

My first impression was that it’s encouraging to know that there are sufficient Anglophiles in America to warrant a concerned piece about the state of our armed forces. Then I considered that the article was quite misleading. Yet I still find myself in broad agreement with its substance.

Colebatch’s argument is one that needs taking down and building up again slightly differently, because it is very nearly right. The truth is that the Falklands are fine. The British armed forces have undergone a painful reduction in the past 25 years, but this is part of a wider trend of demobilisation that has affected most of the world since the end of the cold war. The dissolution of the iron curtain led to an era of globalisation and growth in trade in which large-scale defence expenditure was a hindrance. Britain’s defence cuts have been less stringent than those of most other countries in recent years, and our budget is still one of the largest in the world even at 2.3% of our GDP.

Argentina remains in steep national decline and has not experienced any substantial military engagement since the 1982 conflict. There are mischievous rumours that the Argentine government is reluctant to let its warships visit foreign ports for fear of them being seized by creditors (a result of their policy of using the state’s assets as collateral for debts), and according to the South American Mercopress, a flypast of the air force to mark the country’s bicentenary in 2010 was cancelled due to “the risk of the obsolete aircraft over Buenos Aires.”

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Blair switches on Syria: We need to do a deal with Assad and accept he’ll remain president

23/04/2014, 10:47:36 AM

by Atul Hatwal

In a wide-ranging speech on the middle east, Tony Blair today made a significant intervention to recast the British debate on Syria.

Until now, the assumption has been that President Assad would have to go as part of any peace deal. The dividing lines of the conflict seemed to be clear: Assad was the oppressor, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own people, while the opposition represented Syria’s best hope for a more democratic and enlightened future.

The idea of President Assad remaining in power was unthinkable.

But as the tide of the conflict has turned in Assad’s favour, and Islamist factions in the opposition have gained prominence, Blair’s speech signals a fundamental reappraisal of the negotiating position.

At the time of the parliamentary vote on military action in Syria, within Labour it was the Blairite wing of the party which was most in favour of punitive measures against President Assad. There remains an abiding sense of grievance among many in the party at the manner in which Ed Miliband first backed intervention, and then opposed it.

Now, however as the facts on the ground have changed, so has the solution – at least in Tony Blair’s view. In the Bloomberg speech he states,

“But the truth is that there are so many fissures and problems around elements within the Opposition that people are rightly wary now of any solution that is an outright victory for either side. Repugnant though it may seem, the only way forward is to conclude the best agreement possible even if it means in the interim President Assad stays for a period. Should even this not be acceptable to him, we should consider active measures to help the Opposition and force him to the negotiating table, including no fly zones whilst making it clear that the extremist groups should receive no support from any of the surrounding nations.”

Contrast this with his view in June last year,

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Ed gets it: the red line matters – but so does international legitimacy

29/08/2013, 08:34:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Daniel Finkelstein in the Times yesterday quoted Andrew Tabler, a Syrian expert, as saying: “What happens (in Syria) will not stay there.” Which makes it imperative that as large an international coalition as possible is built behind the evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people, constituting a violation of international law that must be punished.

This must not be Barack Obama “shooting an elephant” – the George Orwell analogy employed by Stephen Walt: the strong doing something only because it is expected. It must be the world coming together to protect the weak: those that have been gassed by Assad and those who may have WMD used against them by tyrants in future.

It is incontrovertible that an attack has occurred. It also seems highly likely that the Assad regime carried out this attack. Finkelstein is right that if this breach of the established red line passes without consequence, a green light is given to other evils. Iran and all world-be oppressors would note.

Enforcing that red line is vital. But so is enforcing it in the right way. Transparently drawing upon robust evidence, UN process and established precedent, to build both a watertight legal case against Assad and one that motivates wide support for the actions that follow. Failing to do this would degrade international law and weaken the capacity of the UK and our allies to positively influence the future of Syria and the wider region.

Under a scenario where the US and her supporters retaliate against Assad before UN processes have run their course, they would do so without the support of Russia, China and Middle Eastern states that might otherwise be brought on side. Whatever strikes are executed would be unlikely to remove Assad from power – and may do relatively little to undermine his capacities, while fortifying the resolve of his supporters and backers to resist The Great Satan. Hezbollah may well attack Israel. Western interests would crash under the force of the Electronic Syrian Army. Assad would launch further attacks against his own people – whether using WMD or not.

What would the US then do?

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Five tests for Cameron in Russia

15/12/2010, 05:23:07 PM

by James Watkins

We missed a trick in 1991 – and David Cameron will know this when he visits Moscow in the New Year.

Back in the early 90s the then US president, George H W Bush and John Major,  hunkered down in Downing Street, may not have publicly crowed at the collapse of the Soviet Union, but their actions spoke louder than their words. Though Russia joined the G8 group of wealthy nations, the lack of assistance fully to buttress the Russian economy led to a dive in living standards – rubbing salt into Russia’s already wounded pride.

This chain of events has led to the nationalism we see today, with Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, saying that Stalin was not all bad and that the Soviet collapse was a “catastrophe” while Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, deliberately made a show of visiting islands that are a bone of contention between Russia and Japan.

All of this is not the best backdrop to the British prime minister’s visit, but there have been some developments that have recently boosted Russian confidence.

NATO and Russia agreed this autumn to work together on anti ballistic missile defence. In April, the United States and Russia agreed on a major nuclear arms reduction treaty. The Russian government was able to extend its lease for its Black Sea naval port – thanks to a pro-Moscow Ukrainian government. Russian troops still occupy parts of northern Georgia which – superficially – gives Russia the upper hand in the region. And, as we all know to England’s cost, Russia will host the World Cup. (more…)

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Chris Bryant reports from the Khodorkovsky trial

24/09/2010, 09:58:59 AM

Russia can often seem surreal. Layer upon layer of history. Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Lenin, Stalin, Yeltsin – and now Putin/Medvedev.

For all the oligarchic bling in all the shops, the red stars on the top of the Kremlin towers suggest Communism is still alive and the very walls of the fortress themselves seem to invite kremlinology. Who really pulls the strings? Is it the President, Medvedev, who is organising the probably accurate smearing of the Moscow mayor, which has dominated the state-run media for the last two weeks? Or is it Putin? And why are they doing it now, when mayor Luzkhov’s term runs out soon and he is barred from standing again? All too often, the labyrinthine political chicanery and the extraordinarily tight circle of the very well-heeled elite reminds one of communism, but without the ideology.

At the heart of the parabola of surrealism lies the legal system. Torture is endemic according to Amnesty International. Many prisons would be better termed ‘penal colonies’ or indeed ‘gulags’. Thousands are infected with HIV and have little or no medical care. And the criminal justice system is regularly used to settle political scores.

I went to see one such case this Monday.  The courtroom, on the third floor of a tired Moscow building, was tiny, panelled with cheap varnished plywood, its parquet flooring scuffed by decades of rearrangements of the furniture. At the front, a dais with the double-headed Romanov eagle and the flag of the Russian Federation limply hanging from a thumb tack and a piece of sellotape. To the left a sort of tank, made of reinforced glass and chunky steel, in which stood the two defendants, Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

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