Will US-Russia Relations Begin a New Chapter in 2013?


A very short answer.


The overwhelming support for the “Magnitskiy Bill” shows that there is a considerable non-partisan majority in Congress that believes that Russia is an exception to normal rules: trade with Russia yes, but never without conditions.

The USA is lost to rational considerations in this respect; for Americans Russia is both the Eternal Enemy and The Brother Who Won’t Listen to Good Advice.

To Americans in power, that is: to ordinary Americans, Russia hardly signifies in the reality of unemployment and food stamps.

The opportunity that opened in 1991 has been squandered: Washington, and we who follow its lead, have taken another step to create an enemy. And at a time when we do not need any more than we already have.


CORRUPTION. Well, there sure are a lot of investigations going on and they reaching levels within sight of the top of the power heap: after all Serdyukov was appointed by Putin who stuck by him for years against the resistance of the generals. This blog entry enumerates some of the biggest corruption investigations: it mentions the Defence Ministry property scandal (the new Minister has just fired another official, but probably not for that connection); RosTelekom; a former Agriculture Minister; GLONASS; a big one in St Petersburg and a swindle in Perm Region. Kommersant estimates the total bill at 57 billion rubles (about US$1.8 billion). And maybe more from the Defence Ministry: there are reported to be 60,000 empty apartments for military retirees. A fraud case has opened in Yekaterinburg. Arrests for mistreatment of convicts and perhaps more coming after the prison riot in Chelyabinsk last month. Typically, a lot of Western coverage sticks to its favourite meme – everything in Russia is other than it seems – and tries to paint this as an internal power struggle (ie Serdyukov’s fatherinlaw). But this is a lot and it’s getting fairly high up. Here’s a website’s list of the “top ten” convicted officials. Russia’s high level of corruption stands in the way of many of the Team’s goals: attracting foreign investment, modernising the economy, improving infrastructure, pinching pennies. Putin’s speech yesterday (“Hold your applause, you may not like what is coming”) called corruption “a threat to national development prospects” and laid out the next level. While we still haven’t seen someone close to him led away to prison (but the investigators aren’t finished with Serdyukov), the tumbrils are in the neighbourhood. It’s will be long campaign and one that is never completed in any country. The best we can hope is that a big bite will be taken out of it.

OPPOSITION. Last week there was a commemoration of last year’s protest which attracted a hundred or so people, including Navalniy. A lot of the steam has gone out of the protest movement. The Western MSM remains welded to its meme that repression has crushed it but I would suggest that larger causes are the undeniable fact that Putin & Co are much more popular than anyone else and, most important, the fatal incoherency of a movement that seeks to unite chauvinists, communists and liberals. Nonetheless, something real happened a year ago even though its effects have not yet appeared. Perhaps “civil society” is the place to look rather than declining street protests. The Investigative Committee claims evidence that a Georgian helped fund and organise the protests. (My view is that I have no view yet: I do not dismiss it out of hand – by now it must be clear to the meanest intelligence that Saakashvili will do just about anything – but I don’t believe everything Moscow says either, especially not when it fits the official line: I await evidence.)

LITVINENKO. The inquest creeps along with the first stages beginning today. Many interesting rumours and possibilities. His widow who, it transpires, has been on Berezovskiy’s payroll (surprise!) is appealing for funds now that Berezovskiy has to pay Abramovich’s substantial legal bills. Two comments: this is very far from being the open and shut case that we’ve been told it was and my suspicion that Berezovskiy is getting to the bottom of his purse is strengthened. I have never believed the conventional account: my suspicion is that Litvinenko contaminated himself handling the stuff, that it was headed south to his friends in Ichkeria, Berezovskiy and his minions created the story and the media passively re-typed it. It has become a major prop of the Putin-as-monster meme and a serious investigation is to be welcomed.

MAGNITSKIY BILL. Has passed the US Senate with a strong majority. And to show that things are stranger than you can imagine, Levada finds that 39% of Russians fully or mostly agree with it.

POLITKOVSKAYA. The policeman who spotted for the murderers is facing 12 years: sentence tomorrow. He testified against five others: their trials to come. The man behind it is either not known or not yet identified.

GABALA RADAR. The Foreign Ministry confirms Russia will no longer rent the station: a new one in Russia will replace it. This doesn’t fit very well with Clinton’s assertion that Moscow is trying to “re-Sovietize the region.

GEORGIA. Ivanishvili’s special representative for relations with Russia hints that the two could resume dialog without preliminary conditions; Moscow is listening. In short, take Abkhazia and Ossetia off the agenda and do what can be done to improve things. Good idea. In the meantime, the Prosecutor General says his office has received thousands of complaints about the Saakashvili regime and its treatment of people it didn’t like.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/ http://us-russia.org/)

Russian Interests in Syria


Moscow’s objections to a NATO-led intervention in the civil war in Syria stand on three legs: principled, practical and personal. I suspect Beijing shares at least some of them.

The principled objections – which are what we hear most about – have to do with Moscow’s belief that the United Nations, for all its imperfections, provides a degree of international order and that the international principles of non-interference in internal activities and the inviolability of borders are important guides for international behaviour. The weakness of the principled argument, of course, is that a nation’s loudly-proclaimed principles vary according to its perceived national interest in each case. For example, in NATO’s Kosovo intervention in 1999, Moscow was strong on the principle of inviolability of borders while NATO spoke endlessly about the humanitarian imperative; each piously claimed the moral high ground. In the Ossetia war in 2008, these positions were exactly reversed while each continued to parade the moral superiority of its new principles. Principled objections, therefore, are selected according to self-interest. States make the arguments, they should not be completely ignored, but they are usually window-dressing for more deeply-felt objections.

Moscow’s practical objections ought to be clear from a consideration of the West’s previous “humanitarian interventions”. No one today ever mentions Somalia (1992) or Haiti (1994); the first being an utter disaster (it convinced Bin Laden of the “extent of your [the USA’s] impotence and weaknesses”) and the second ineffective. As to Kosovo (1999) we never heard about the KLA and organ harvesting at the time nor much else today about the people NATO put into power. The less said about today’s chaos in Libya (2011) the better. In short, the conclusions are – or ought to be – that none of these four “humanitarian interventions” bettered either human rights or stability. Moscow prefers less uncertainty in the world rather than more: it is very much a status quo power at the moment and it would like to avoid the chaos that another NATO-led “humanitarian intervention” would leave behind it.

Moscow’s personal objections are equally easy to understand. NATO has now overthrown Serbian power in Kosovo and Gaddafi’s rule in Libya; who’s next to be destabilised or overthrown? Russians see NATO expansion, all the fuss about Putin-the-monster which is the common stock of Western commentary and the rest and wonder whether there is an attempt to create or push a “coloured revolution” in Russia. (Not that the ones in Ukraine, Georgia or the Kyrgyz Republic turned out so well, come to think of it). Too many Russians see the West’s use of the word “democracy” as a geopolitical code for distinguishing between allies and targets. Another consideration is that every time the UN is bypassed Russia, as a member of the P5, is also bypassed.

So these three easily understandable objections are at the root of Moscow’s attempts to block NATO-led attempts to intervene in Syria,

And, given that the intervention in Kosovo took three and a half months and the overthrow of Kaddafi’s ramshackle regime about eight months, and that each involved much more effort and involvement than was light-heartedly assumed at the beginning, it is clear that a NATO-led effort to overthrow Assad would take a great deal of time and effort.

Perhaps Washington and its willing allies are secretly relieved that they can blame Moscow for preventing them from “resolving” the situation.