Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

“ISIS first, Assad later” gains traction but St. Jeremy makes UK the weakest European actor against ISIS

November 18, 2015

Most of Europe is now falling behind the Russian strategy of “ISIS first, Assad later” as being the only viable way forward in Syria. The UK is also acquiescing with this line, but only verbally, since it is prevented from making any strikes in Syria without parliamentary authority to do so. With the self-canonised St. Jeremy Corbyn now in charge of the Labour party, such a vote may be a long time coming. After Paris, Hollande – though a St. Jeremy soul-mate in normal times – is forced to go all out against ISIS and is now coordinating attacks with Russia. Even Germany is considering supporting military action against ISIS. France has invoked a treaty provision for the first time ever and called for support from the other EU countries. All EU countries have promised that – as yet undefined – support. But the UK is now perceived as the weakest European actor against ISIS terrorism. The instant and automatic opposition of the SNP to any government motion and the naivete of St. Jeremy (which is not so innocent) has seen to that.

The Barack Obama – US led coalition’s “strategy”, if it can be called a strategy, has been to get rid of Assad at all costs. What was to happen afterwards or the question of whether Syria, as a nation , could even exist was left to the future to determine. It has been Russia’s reluctance to abandon Assad and his regime which has prevented any UN resolutions of any significance. Before the Russians recently started their attacks on ISIS they tried to rally support for the strategy of attacking ISIS and other rebels/terrorists first (which would help Assad) and then arranging for Assad to leave the scene after ensuring a transition to something sustainable. Obama and Kerry virtually dismissed that idea but did not go so far as to set themselves up against any Russian strikes on ISIS. The US and their coalition partners did, however, try and project the view that Russian intervention was more harmful than helpful.

After the Russian passenger plane was destroyed by – it is claimed – ISIS, the Western objections to the targets of the Russian strikes were a little more muted. Now after Paris, France has signed up to the line of “ISIS first, Assad later”. The rest of Europe is falling-in line with the notable exception of the UK. The Kurds love this, the Turks don’t. Saudi Arabia is very apprehensive that even if Assad eventually goes, a Shia government could still remain in place. Besides, they are reluctant to be seen to be accepting the demise of a Sunni organisation, even if it is as murderous as ISIS. From Kerry’s recent statements it seems as if the US is preparing the ground to also accept this strategy though the US, of course, can never be seen to falling-in behind Russia.

One way for the UK to save face and even get involved in Syria, would be if a UN resolution establishing “ISIS first, Assad later” could be accepted in the Security Council. Possibly the UK could propose it and recover some of the face they have already lost. Neither the Russians or the US would then veto such a resolution, though one or both might abstain depending upon the text. But it should not be impossible in the present climate. That would give the hapless St, Jeremy something to hide behind when a vote is called for in parliament. But he has already cost the UK a great deal of political clout in the fight against ISIS.

Is the US now tacitly accepting the Russian strategy?

October 9, 2015

The US has abandoned its fiasco of a $500 million program for the training of “moderate rebels” who could then have provided the physical presence in Syria for getting rid of ISIS (and Assad). So while the rhetoric against the Russian line continues, it seems apparent that the US is not prepared to work directly for the removal of Assad any more. They seem to have reluctantly accepted that Assad need to stay for some indefinite transition period. But that is precisely the path that the Russians are trying to follow. So even if the US has not exactly thrown the “moderate rebels” under a bus, it seems that they are not going to go very far out of their way to support them with more than some arms and some money.

The US may not have completely abdicated, but seems to be taking a political back seat. Regime change is on hold. They may well content themselves – like any good back-seat driver – with criticising the competence of, and the direction being taken by, the Russian driver.

There is a risk now that Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states will start throwing large sums of money into Syria. Ostensibly it will be for Sunni rebel groups, but much will end up with ISIS and other extreme groups. Iraq of course has joined Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime in the Russian coalition.


The US is to end its efforts to train new Syrian rebel forces and says it will shift to providing equipment and weapons to existing forces.

Its $500m (£326m) programme was heavily criticised after it emerged that US-trained rebels had handed vehicles and ammunition over to extremists. ……. 

Quoting an anonymous US Department of Defense source, the New York Times reported that the US would no longer recruit Syrian rebels to go through its training programmes in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

Instead, it would establish a smaller training centre in Turkey, where “enablers” – mostly leaders of opposition groups – would be taught operational manoeuvres like how to call in airstrikes, the newspaper said. 

The failure of the programme underscores the wider problem of the inability to create large and effective moderate forces on the ground. It will also have wider repercussions since the programme helped to coordinate support activities between the Americans, the Gulf states, Turkey, and Jordan. The risk now is that those countries may push on with more separate initiatives backing individual client groups.

The end-game is not certain but the Russian end-game is the only one around.

US/Nato lack of strategy being shown up by the Russians

October 8, 2015

The US started its regime change efforts in Syria 4 years ago, in 2011,  with the financing, training and encouragement of selected “moderate rebels”. They have no doubt weakened Assad but have also been instrumental in creating ISIS.

The US and Nato have been taking great pains to avoid providing any support to Assad’s regime, and only providing support to their favoured “moderate rebel” groups. Even though it has always been the fanatic groups who have muscled the “moderate rebels” out of the way whenever they have achieved any gains. US and Nato have had no clear strategy. They have attempted regime change with no idea of what is to come afterwards. They have not been able to even contemplate any plausible end-game scenario, because the “moderate rebels” they support are too fractured and diverse in themselves to form any clear alternative to the regime.

By contrast, the Russians have an end-game in view though it is not clear if that can be achieved. But it does at least provide a clear direction and a focus which is lacking in the US/Nato approach.

  1. rendering ISIS and al-Nusra and Al Qaida and other fanatics impotent, even if it means supporting Assad,
  2. a managed withdrawal of Assad, with the regime still in place but without leaving any power vacuum
  3. a political settlement between the regime (sans Assad) and the other “moderate rebels”

Needless to say, the US and NATO are not amused, though they have no alternatives to suggest when they criticise the Russian cruise-missile strikes from the Caspian Sea. These missiles flew over Iran and Iraq and the strikes were clearly coordinated with them.

4 Russian warships launch 26 missiles against ISIS from Caspian Sea

4 Russian warships launch 26 missiles against ISIS from Caspian Sea


“Four missile ships launched 26 cruise missiles at 11 targets. According to objective control data, all the targets were destroyed. No civilian objects sustained damage.”

Frigate Dagestan image

The missiles flew some 1,500 km before reaching their targets. …. Four warships of the Caspian fleet were involved in the missile attacks, the Gepard-class frigate Dagestan and the Buyan-M-class corvettes Grad Sviyazhsk, Uglich and Veliky Ustyug. They fired cruise missiles from the Kalibr NK (Klub) VLS launchers. The missiles used are capable of hitting a target within 3 meters at a range of up to 2,500 km.

Nato countries and the US are highly indignant at these attacks and the Russian violations of Turkish air space, which I suspect, were deliberate and were meant to test limits even if they had no hostile intent.

Nato defence ministers are promising to support Turkey and the Baltic States as if they were directly being threatened by Russia. But that, I think, is because they have no strategy of their own. The US also does not like the Russian strategy but has none of its own.


A US-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes against IS in both Syria and Iraq for months. But Western countries support rebels who have been fighting to oust Mr Assad since 2011. ….

But US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said coalition forces fighting IS in Syria would not co-operate with Russia. “We believe Russia has the wrong strategy,” he said. “They continue to hit targets that are not IS.”

Protesting too much, I think.

The problem for the US is that the boots on the ground to defeat ISIS are not going to come from their pet “moderate rebels”. They can only come from the Assad regime, Hezbollah, Iran and Iraq (along with a thousand or two Russian “advisors”).


Whose boots will prevail in Syria?

October 5, 2015

It does not require rocket science to see that ISIS will only, can only, be defeated finally by boots on the ground.

The US and its partners assumed that “moderate rebels” in Syria would provide the boots on the ground to take over, once they had managed to get rid of Assad. But the assumption that the “moderate rebels” formed any sort of cohesive group which could bring stability has proven to be grossly wrong. They are so splintered and fractured and cover such a wide range of objectives that they can only ensure instability. The further assumption that the rag-tag being supplied with weapons and money to effect regime change, did not also include radical and fanatic Sunnis and Wahabis has been at best, incompetent, and at worst, disastrous. The Russians are, it seems, making a different calculation.

Any scenario which pictures the defeat of ISIS will require that their followers are left with no physical or political space to occupy and control. And that is going to require that their space is then occupied by someone else. Air attacks by the US led coalition or by Russia can only prepare the way, but without a real physical presence the effects of such air attacks can only be temporary. Without filling up the space with some form of political stability, any political vacuum will always provide room for the fanatics.

Of a Syrian population of about 23 million, 9 million are displaced and are refugees within Syria or abroad. Around 3 million are estimated to have left Syria. Around 75% of the Syrian population were Sunni muslims, 12% were Alawites (a secretive branch of Shia Muslims) and about 8% were Christians. Assad is of course an Alawite. As Shias the regime is supported by the Hezbollah from Lebanon and from Iran’s Shia (90% of Iran’s population are Shia and about 9% are Sunni). If Assad were to step down, but was replaced by another Alawite, then the Alawites, many of the Christians and even some of the moderate Sunnis, could probably live with a regime which provided stability. The fly in the ointment is financial support for the various Sunni and Wahabi rebel groups in Syria (including the hard-line terrorist groups such as Al Qaida, al-Nusra and ISIS) which comes mainly from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. US support for rebel groups in Syria has, under Saudi influence, often supported the Sunni line. ISIS cannot be politically suffocated as long as its external financing continues.

Even with a defeated ISIS, sympathisers will still remain. But they will not be in control. A “defeat” can only mean that they no longer have any control over any settlements within which they might still exist, and that they have no safe havens within which to hole-up. That cannot happen unless control over all geographical areas effectively lies with some body – or bodies – that reject the fundamental claims of the Islamic State.

The mutual hatred between ISIS and Shia Muslims is a key factor. No Sunni rebel group fighting against Assad is not without some sympathy for ISIS. This virtually disqualifies any of the current rebel groups being supported by the US coalition, from being capable of supplying the political control needed to squeeze out ISIS. Certainly the US and its coalition partners are not going to supply the physical presence on the ground. The Russians are not going to send in troops beyond military advisors to Assad either.

So who does that leave? Whose boots on the ground are going to prevail?

The Russian calculation seems to be that the regime (later without Assad) together with Hezbollah, Iraqi Shias and some Iranian presence will be sufficient to defeat ISIS and squeeze them out. It is not impossible, but the Saudis will not take kindly to that. That would be seen as an unacceptable blow to the Sunni ego.

And then whether such an end-game is allowed to stand will depend upon whether the US is prepared to satisfy the Saudis by challenging the Russians (and the Iranians and Hezbollah) in their support of the Assad regime. I suspect that the Russians are calculating that Obama will only keep shifting his red line rather than actually cross it. As long as the Russians keep the eventual stepping down of Assad as being inherent in their plans, Obama will, reluctantly, go along.

It seems a highly dangerous path to this end-game where the regime (without Assad) but with help from Hezbollah and Shias from Iraq and Iran supply the boots on the ground to get rid of ISIS. But at least it is an end-game which is not impossible. And it seems to be the only one available. The US and their European partners seem not to have thought very far beyond the removal of Assad.


Russia claims the North Pole as part of its continental shelf

August 4, 2015

Russia has officially claimed the North Pole as being part of its continental shelf. In 2007, they sent a mini-sub to the North Pole and planted a Russian flag on the sea-bed. It’s only a matter of time before China claims large chunks of the seabed surrounding its artificial islands in the Pacific. Claims for Antarctica will not be far behind. Why Norway and the UK have territorial claims in Antarctica is not much of a mystery but there is no logic to it. Which is also why the Falklands will never be given up in any foreseeable future by the UK to Argentina. It is the promise of Antarctica and not the Falkland Islanders which governs.

Antarctica claims

Barents Observer:

After years of comprehensive research, Russia on 3 August submitted its claims for additional territories in the Arctic. The claim includes both the Mendeleev and Lomonosov Ridges, two major structures beneath the Arctic Ocean.

“… the claim determinating the outer borders of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean is based on the scientific understanding that the central Arctic underwater ridges, among them the Lomonosov, Medeleev, Alfa and Chukotskoye Heights, as well as the in between basins of Podvodnikov and Chukotskaya, have a continental character”, an offical statement, refered to by RIA Novosti, reads.

It will now be up to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to decide if Russia should be entitled to include the huge additional areas under its sovereignty. The Commission confirms that “the consideration of the partial revised submission made by the Russian Federation will be included in the provisional agenda of the next ordinary session”, the Commission website informs.

Russia in 2001 made a first official submission of its Arctic claims to the UN Commission. However, the Commission in 2002 responded that additional research is needed before a decision can be taken.

Neighboring Norway was in 2009 the first country to get its Arctic territorial claims approved, while Denmark/Greenland submitted a claim in December 2014. That latter claim includes ownership of the North Pole and is consequently in conflict with the Russian claim.

If approved, the Russian claim will expand the country’s territory by 1.2 million square kilometers. Estimates indicate that the area include 594 oil fields and 159 gas fields as well as two major nickel fields and more than 350 gold deposits. Initial recoverable fuel resources are estimated to 258 billion tons of fuel equivalent, representing 60 percent of Russia’s total hydrocarbon resources.

Claims to the moon  and Mars can be expected.


The Russian blacklist of 89 nonentities was a “gesture of trust”

May 31, 2015

The Russian “blacklist” of 89 inconsequential EU politicians and bureaucrats banned from entry (a German list from the Finnish site YLE) is here.

Russian blacklist of EU politicians

Most of those on the list have been quite noisy in their condemnation of Russia over Ukraine – but interestingly most are also ineffective nonentities. It has, for example Nick Clegg, Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, former Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg and the EU’s former enlargement chief Stefan Fule on the list. Many are already past it. They could all cease their work tomorrow and not many in Europe or in Russia would even notice. All fairly inconsequential people and not even of very high profile.

So why would the Russians bother to ban such a group of unimportant nonentities?

They say it was as “a gesture of trust” that the list was not published openly and only provided through diplomatic channels. Considering that no-one of any significance is on the list it could even be taken as a “gesture of goodwill”! I suspect it was just part of the diplomatic “game”.

Nothing more than tit-for tat – a game of idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Russian Tass reports

Moscow confirms it has sent to the European Union’s countries a list of persons who were denied entry to Russia but says it would prefer to refrain from comments on personalities, a high-ranking official at the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday. …. Russia recommended long ago that envoys of those countries which imposed sanctions on the Russian Federation should apply to Russian consular offices before their trips for specifying whether they are barred from entering the country, he said.

“However, our partners preferred not to do so and asked to notify them through diplomatic channels,” he said. “In line with this, the above-mentioned lists were sent to them.”

“[The lists] were handed to our European partners as a gesture of trust and their publication may weigh on the conscience of corresponding sides,” he said. “Just one thing remains unclear: did our European co-workers want these lists to minimise inconveniences for potential ‘denied persons’ or to stage another political show?” he said.

Tit for tat: EU politicians among 89 banned by Russia

May 29, 2015

Russia has made and already implemented a list of 89 EU citizens to be banned from entering Russia. From the information appearing today it would seem that there are many politicians on this “blacklist”.

  1. YahooNews (AFP)Moscow has issued a blacklist of European Union politicians barred from Russia in response to EU sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday. “Russia yesterday handed over a list of people to diverse EU embassies who may not enter Russia any longer,” Rutte said at a weekly press conference, adding that two Dutch MPs and a Dutch MEP were on the list. The list contains 89 names, according to a letter from Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders tweeted by Belgian MEP Mark Demesmaeker. The letter, which was confirmed as authentic by the foreign ministry to AFP, said that Moscow had asked for the list not to be made public. Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Liberal group in the European Parliament and a former Belgian PM, is also on the list, his spokesman Jeroen Reijnen told AFP.
  2. Swedish Radio: Russia has banned 80-90 EU citizens including 8 Swedish citizens. The Foreign Ministry has asked the Russian Embassy for an explanation but has not revealed any names.
  3. DutchNews: Three Dutch MPs banned from entering Russia: foreign ministry (update) — According to broadcaster Nos, two members of the lower house of parliament and one MEP have been stopped from entering the country. Former PVV parliamentarian Louis Bontes said in Friday’s AD he is one of those affected. Bontes, who described the list as ‘bizarre’, recently called Russian president Vladimir Putin a ‘KGB crook’. The other two are Labour MP Michiel Servaes and Hans van Baalen, who represents the VVD in Europe. Servaes said he has no idea why he has been included and described the list as ‘absurd’, the Post Online reported.
  4. NewsweekSince the start of the Ukraine crisis several European politicians have been refused entry into Russia, under unclear circumstances sparking rumours of a secret blacklist of European politicians. German MP Karl-Georg Wellmann was stopped at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport yesterday and was told he was banned from entering Russia until 2019. In September German Greens politician Rebecca Harms was denied entry to Russia in similar circumstances and both have said they believe they are on a secret Kremlin blacklist of politicians who backed sanctions on Moscow.

Somehow the banning of Russians from Europe and now the reciprocal banning of Europeans from Russia does not arouse – in me – any great indignation or heat. It almost seems like the orchestrated moves of some diplomatic chess game. Europe started with an Elephant-in-a-china-shop Opening Gambit and Russia has responded with the Dutch Defense.

Putin has not been seen in public for 10 days

March 15, 2015

He has not been seen in public since March 5th and speculation is rife. Being missing for a week-end would be rare but not unknown. Going AWOL for a week would be almost unheard of except for a well-planned holiday announced well in advance. But for a world leader to be “missing” for 10 days would suggest something quite unusual – and rather disturbing. An illness would either have to carry some kind of stigma or leave him unsightly not to have been announced.

  1. He is in Switzerland with his girl friend, gymnast Alina Kabayeva, for the birth of his “love-child”.
  2. He is under arrest after a secret coup by hard-liners who think he is being soft on Ukraine.
  3. He has the flu.
  4. He has bird flu or swine flu.
  5. He is undergoing a face-lift.
  6. He is being held for ransom and negotiations or ongoing over a price for the kidnappers to keep him.
  7. He is dead.

I am not quite sure how much more dangerous or destabilising a Russia without Putin might be. A public meeting with the leader of Kyrgystan is expected on Monday. If that does not happen ……….

Oil reserves to rival Saudi Arabia’s found in the Russian Arctic

September 28, 2014
Kara Sea - Arctic  Google maps

Kara Sea – Arctic Google maps

So much for peak oil!

And that’s even without taking shale oil and shale gasand methane hydrates into account.

World BulletinA joint venture between Rosneft and ExxonMobil has discovered a huge amount of oil under the Arctic. The state-run Russian oil company announced on Saturday that the University-1 well struck oil in the Kara Sea.

Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, said the “oil trap” has 338 billion cubic meters of gas and more than 100 million tonnes (733 million barrels) of oil. The total resources in the area are estimated at 13 billion tonnes (87 billion barrels) of oil equivalent, according to the Rosneft statement. According to experts, the amount of oil and gas is comparable to the resource base of Saudi Arabia.

Rosneft and ExxonMobil started drilling the University-1 well, the world’s northernmost well, in August. The field will be named Pobeda, which means “victory” in Russian

Sanctions against Russia could deprive ExxonMobil of some of the benefits due to them. Even if sanctions are relatively short-lived the Russians will surely extract their pound of flesh while they can.

ExxonMobil announced last Friday that the U.S. Treasury Department has granted it a licence to “wind down” operations at the well, in response to U.S. and EU sanctions imposed on Russia over the unrest in Ukraine.

However the Russians are still dependent on technology from the large oil companies for drilling and exploitation in these frigid conditions. They also have vast quantities of oil and gas shale in Siberia the value of which needs to be protected. The timing for the development of Arctic reserves then becomes a geopolitical and economic strategy call. It makes most sense for Russia not to flood the market and to keep gas prices to Europe high and growing. But the potential availability of this Arctic reserve – even if production is at least a decade away – adds another arrow in the Russian quiver.

But the doomsday scenarios of “peak oil” or catastrophic depletion of gas and oil reserves have vanished over the horizon – at least for the foreseeable future,


Novorossiya: Putin calculates that Obama will bark and show his teeth but will not bite

August 31, 2014

Putin did not cause the descent of Ukraine into anarchy. That was the EU and the US respectively trying to expand the boundaries of Europe and NATO. The EU sold the “benefits” of joining Europe very hard and raised expectations in the country which no President could live up to. In the process they supported the opposition to the elected (but disliked) President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. That included substantial support for Ukraine’s neo-Nazi, nationalist Right Sector. The EU bureaucrats in Brussels were elated at the potential for expanding the EU. Catherine Ashton and John Kerry were so full of themselves and their “success” in spreading democracy that they miscalculated the consequences. Yanukovych was toppled in February 2014 and the EU and the US celebrated. But the Right Sector lost no time in “pushing” and pressurising the Russian speakers especially in Eastern Ukraine. The push-back started and Crimea “voted” to join Russia. Russia ratified the decision and effected the transition on the ground. The EU and the US responded with sanctions. A missile fired by Russian separatists – perhaps aimed at a Ukraine military aircraft flying in the shadow of a commercial jet – brought down Malaysian flight 17. Sanctions were extended. The EU made noises. Obama demonstrated his risk aversion when even the atrocities by ISIS did not lead to any action by the US beyond a few drone attacks.

And so Putin has probably made his calculation that while Obama is by no means toothless, he will bark and show his teeth and foam at the mouth, but he will not bite. NATO will not start a war in Europe except as the tail of a belligerent US. The EU has 28 members and 28 strategies and no real leadership.

The US and EU have now established that regime-change of a government they disapprove of is a legitimate justification for the use of force. Vladimir Putin and Russia and China have taken notice. And the regime-change started by the US and the EU in February 2014 will probably be brought to some kind of conclusion (for the time being) as Putin establishes Novorossiya.

Novorossiya - graphic Washington Post

Novorossiya – graphic Washington Post

Whatever is left of Ukraine will be land-locked and Putin will again have control of the Black Sea.

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