HISTORY AGAIN. Tuesday was the anniversary of the German attack on Poland which is generally taken as the beginning of the Second World War and many gathered in Gdansk to commemorate it. Putin was there for Russia and preceded his visit with an article he wrote (or caused to be written) in Gazeta Wyborcza. It called for a balanced view: one that speaks of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact to be sure, but also of the Munich agreement and the generally flabby response to Hitler than many countries practised. All very historically accurate and reasonable (although he couldn’t resist the temptation to remind us that Poland grabbed a bit of Czechoslovakia after Munich). As to Western MSM coverage of this, ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances, but I’ll bet you won’t see this quoted: “The people of Russia, whose destiny was crippled by the totalitarian regime…”. In any event, none of this is very new and Putin is quite correct: no country has much to be proud of. Here’s Putin’s speech (Eng Russ) making the same points.
MILITARY REFORM. Yesterday the top military leaders of Russia met to discuss military reform. A no doubt painful discussion. One topic would be whether to bring naval units under command of the North Caucasus Military District. It is said that one of the problems last year was the lack of unity of command.
SUICIDE ATTACKERS. Ingush Republic President Yevkurov says he has information that a group of suicide bombers has arrived in the republic. There is good evidence that suicide attackers are a world-wide resource and are moved around the various battlefields. Iraq is not the attractor it formerly was and they are being sent elsewhere (at least one in Dagestan this last week). It’s not just about Russia; pieces like this are exceptionally naïve: the war in the North Caucasus became international when Khattab arrived from Afghanistan in 1995.
GAS WARS. Putin and Tymoshenko met in Poland and agreed that Ukraine will only pay for the gas that it actually consumes. I’m not sure what this means. Gas producers prefer to produce gas evenly over the year although demand is usually higher in the winter; and so summer gas is pumped into storage facilities to be released in winter. In the Soviet days, understandably, storage facilities were built in the Ukrainian SSR and that fact has led to a lot of the problems today. Does this agreement mean that Gazprom will own the gas in the Ukrainian storage tanks and, in the winter, sell it to Ukraine and to Western Europe as needed? Anyway, the two seem to have quite a convivial and useful meeting. No doubt, Tymoshenko will be claiming, when she runs for president, that she can deal with Russia in a reasonable way.
BOTH ENDS AGAINST THE MIDDLE. Lukashenka has just said that Belarus will steer an equal course between Russia and Europe. Perhaps the Kommentariat, rather than persisting in its usual zero-sum assumptions, should look for examples of this, the sensible strategy for small powers with powerful neighbours. And one that usually pays off: the Kyrgyz Republic managed to pry money out of both Moscow and Washington while getting a better deal on Manas.
TURKEY-ARMENIA. Switzerland has mediated talks between Turkey and Armenia on mutual recognition. There was no recognition when the USSR disappeared and Turkey closed its border in the 1990s during the Karabakh wars. At least two issues have to be cleaned up: Yerevan’s demands on Ankara re massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and Ankara’s taking sides in the Karabakh issue. But both sides are hopeful and the Turkish Foreign Minister hopes that this will be an impetus to resolving the Karabakh problem.
SHIPS. Tbilisi maintains that Abkhazia is part of Georgia and that no one may trade with it. Accordingly Georgia forces have been apprehending ships suspected of trading with Abkhazia. On 16 August Georgian warships impounded the tanker Buket carrying gasoline and diesel to Abkhazia and on Monday, the Turkish captain was sentenced to 24 (24!) years in prison by a Georgian court. I suspect that Ankara will not be amused especially since the Turkish operator of the ship claims the seizure was made well outside Georgia’s territorial waters. On the 28th, claiming that 23 ships had been stopped this year, the Russian Border Service announced it would start protecting ships passing through Abkhazian territorial waters. Those who enjoy nightmarish speculations can image US warships backing up Georgian warships seizing Turkish merchant vessels with Russian warships trying to stop them.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)