Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creating facts on the ground

The Western policy towards Ukraine is reminding me more and more of what went went wrong in Yugoslavia. Then as now we see Western countries addicted to creating facts on the ground. And while that sometimes may be a quick way to achieve desired changes there is always a risk that the other side doesn't give in and starts applying the same tactic. And then you are on the brink of war.

In Yugoslavia it started with the secession of Croatia and Slovenia. These republics seceded without following the procedures specified in the Yugoslav constitution that specified mutual agreement. They got support from the Western countries in the form of the "advice" of the Badinter Commission that declared Yugoslavia in "dissolution". Problems arose when the Serbs started to apply similar unilateral tactics.

I don't want to put all the blame on the unilateral secession of Croatia and Slovenia. Before that there were other unilateral acts like Milosevic's takeovers in Montenegro, Kosovo and Vojvodina and his grab into the national bank account. My point is rather that this is an unacceptable type of behavior in modern society and that the Western countries should have gotten the local parties together to find new common rules.

We now see similar processes in Ukraine. First we had the secession of Crimea that very likely was triggered by attempts to throw the Russian navy out of their bases. It may be years - if ever - before we hear the true story. But the first Ukrainian parliamentarians had already asked for a closure of the bases and found all kinds of easy excuses. What happened behind the screens is unknown to us but will have been known to Russian intelligence. But it is clear that the Americans have a huge influence on the present Ukrainian government and are playing dangerous games.

A similar dirty scenario is also playing out regarding Transnistria. Ukraine has closed its border with this area. That puts Transnistria under pressure to make up with Moldova as that is the only other neighbor it has. In the mean time we hear the Americans uttering all kinds of threats and warnings towards the Russians not to interfere.

It looks like we have a madman in the White House who likes to see how close he can get to World War III without falling into it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Strobe Talbott's take on Kosovo

The Washington Post has an OpEd by Strobe Talbott, who was deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration (To understand Putin, look to the past). He offers an interesting view of what happened behind the screens when the Russians occupied the Pristina Airport shortly after the end of the war.

To end the crisis, Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent an envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, to Belgrade to pressure Milosevic into withdrawing his troops from Kosovo and accepting an international peacekeeping force that would include Russian units under U.S. command so as not to be formally part of NATO.

In June 1999, I led a team from the State Department, White House and Pentagon to coordinate final plans for the operation. Soon after landing, we sensed trouble. Chernomyrdin was politically isolated. His military minder, Gen. Leonid Ivashov, was in virtual mutiny against the deal on joint Russian-NATO deployment.

Yeltsin, we were told, was “indisposed,” a word accompanied by knowing looks that translated as drunk. The civilian officials we met with were visibly unnerved at the possibility of a military coup.

The one exception was Putin, whom I met for the first time. As head of the Kremlin security council, he was on the first rung of the ladder he would climb quickly to the presidency.

In our meeting, he managed to seem both relaxed and on guard. He subtly but unmistakably put distance between himself and Chernomyrdin. His personal touches were pointed. For no reason other than to show he had read my KGB dossier, he dropped the names of two Russian poets I had studied in college.

During the meeting, my State Department colleague Victoria Nuland (now assistant secretary of state for Europe) passed me a note saying that Gen. Ivashov had just issued a threat to our Pentagon companions — who were in a meeting at the defense ministry — that the Russian army might break from NATO and deploy into Kosovo on its own, thereby turning what was supposed to be a collaborative operation into a confrontation.

When I read Nuland’s note aloud, Putin smugly waved it off and feigned puzzlement about who Ivashov was, which was patently implausible. His overall message was twofold: He knew details from my distant past but wasn’t going to let me know anything about what was happening in the here and now — or what would happen next.

Within hours, several small Russian units that had been monitoring the cease-fire in Bosnia dashed across southern Serbia into Kosovo, cheered as saviors by Serbs along the way.

The Russian foreign ministry issued a denial and then a lame statement about how the rogue operation was an accident. The Russian contingent hunkered down at an airfield outside the capital of Kosovo, while a multinational NATO force rolled in from Macedonia. What looked at first to be a mouse-that-roared farce turned dangerous when it appeared that the Russian military might airlift reinforcements and trigger a shooting war.

Yeltsin reemerged, none too steadily, in time to defuse the crisis and put the original deal back on track. Not until nine years later did Kosovo declare its independence. And, of course, it has not been annexed by Albania.

Putin’s role in that narrowly avoided military collision 15 years ago remains a mystery, but his attitude was clear then and relevant today. During a dangerous power vacuum in Moscow — when partnership between Russia and the West was at the breaking point; when Russian armed forces, fed up with having to make nice with NATO, took matters into their own hands and tried to rush to the aid of fellow Slavs — Yeltsin’s soon-to-be handpicked successor seemed to be relishing the moment.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The downside of sanctions against Russia

Sanctions are blackmail. And - as is well known - giving in to blackmail often leads to more blackmail.

This is the dilemma that we see now developing in crisis around Russia and Ukraine. Putin cannot afford to give in to threats with sanctions as that will only lead to more calls for sanctions on other subjects. So it looks like instead he is raising the stakes in the hope that that may force the Americans to finally get real about negotiations.

Unfortunately it looks like both Kerry and Merkel are completely wrapped up in their own logic that the coup in Ukraine was a genuine and legal revolution and that they simply don't understand that Putin sees that differently.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


I recently read Michael Moore's autobiography "Here comes trouble". In it he tells what happened after he movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" came out. Republican spin doctors studied its effect and found that it had considerable influence on how people thought about Bush and how they planned to vote in the next presidential elections. So they decided that the only thing that would work was to blacken the image or Moore and his movie so much that no well-thinking Republican would even think about going to see it. They did this with quite some success.

Of course this is not the first time such a strategy is used. One can still find some old Republicans who can get red hot about Roosevelt's New Deal. And more recently the same strategy has been employed against Obamacare.

How the Palestinians are selfdestructing

It is well known that Israel keeps stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank and keeps obstructing the Palestinian economy. As a result the BDS movement that wants to stop investment and economic relations with Israeli firms and institutions that are active on the West Bank is increasing strength in Europe and to a lesser extent also in the US.

Yet this has had little effect among the Jewish population in Israel. There few believe in peace with the Palestinians and most want it only under strong conditions.

The Palestinians can only thank themselves for this. After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and after the Oslo Agreement that brought a partial withdrawal from the West Bank they saw an increase in Palestinian violence. So they have become skeptical.

The Palestinians claim that they have recognized Israel. They have: on paper. But they like to keep believing that one day that Jewish state will be gone. For them withdrawal is only a sign of weakness that invites to bring on more pressure. This attitude can also be seen in Palestinian school books that keep a very negative view of Israel.

Truly recognizing Israel will mean accepting that most Palestinians will never return to Israel. It will mean recognizing that they will never get back the houses and lands that were stolen from them in 1948 or 1967. It means recognizing that Israel is and will stay a Jewish majority state. Yes, it is unfair. But sometimes life is unfair. Thinking that a better deal is available is fooling yourself.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Ukraine is a different kind of test for Obama than most think

Many articles mention that Ukraine is a test for Obama. Usually they mean that the test is whether he is tough enough. In fact the test is the opposite: whether he can resist the pressure of the Republican extremists to escalate the situation.

There is always pressure on presidents who are generally perceived as weak - specially the liberals - to show that they are strong. Often they succumb. Kennedy had his Pigs Bay invasion. Johnson had his escalation in Vietnam. And by making trouble in Libya, Syria and Ukraine Obama is already near the top of the list of most aggressive presidents ever.

It is easy to have liberal ideals. But liberals often lack a clear vision of what the national interests are and that makes them an easy victim for extremists who claim the aren't doing enough to protect those interests.

In Ukraine the Russians have two interests: the position of the Russian population and the Russian bases. As neither is seriously disputed in the West there shouldn't be a problem.

Unfortunately US foreign policy is in the hands of neocons like Victoria Nuland. Like all bullies their aim is to harm Russia no matter how and they are boasting against each other about their achievements. Obama has given them a free hand and they have achieved their regime change and they are now pushing their new puppets to take some anti-Russian measures.

Now they have crossed Russia's red lines and Russia has taken some steps to make sure everyone understands that it means business. Obama reacts like a deer in headlights. He seems incapable of taking the initiative back and formulate some sensible policies and instead allows himself to be caught in a senseless discussion about sanctions.

Revolutions are like heroin

Revolutions are like heroin. They give you a short artificial feeling of happiness and after that you end up addicted and longing for more. In the mean time you neglect the hard work that could bring you real happiness and you sink from one low to another.