Russia Answers Turkey

Today, unannounced combat readiness inspection started in troops and forces of the Southwestern strategic direction under the order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces. This was stated by the Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu during the session.

General of the Army Sergei Shoigu stated that in accordance to the order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, forces of the Southern military district, separate formations of Airborne troops and military transport aviation have been put on “Full” combat alert since 5 a.m. The inspection is held at the Southwestern strategic direction.

The Defence Minister noted that it was necessary to assess combat readiness condition of the Southern MD for responding different crisis situations…

The Head of the military department ordered the Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces Colonel General Viktor Bondarev to organize the inspection of the 4th Air Force and Air Defence Army including redeployment of aviation, repelling and making of massive air strikes…

The Head of the military department ordered that particular attention should be paid to the troops’ control system with deployment of mobile field control centres at full scale. Those tasks are to be carried out jointly with the Central MD…

Looking through the site shows there are a lot of other activities in the Southern Military District since this order was given on Monday. This is clearly a warning to Turkey and a preparation for acting if Turkey doesn’t take the hint.


Telling the Truth© By Lying

First the US “private, nonprofit” channel PBS (or, as they would say, were it Russian: mostly state-funded broadcaster) passed off Russian footage of strikes on Daesh oil facilities as US coalition strikes. This was easily caught because they left the Cyrillic letters on the footage.

Now their French allies have followed through. On a France 2 broadcast (or as they would say if this were something out of Russia – the fully state-owned France 2 TV station broadcast) while castigating the Russians for indiscriminate bombing, moaning about the very difficult choices that the US coalition have to make to seek out the targets, swaggering that every effort is made to avoid civilian casualties, illustrates the castigation, moaning and swaggering with….

….Russian videos.

This time they had the wit to crop the Cyrillic lettering out.

Watch the video for yourself.

The Moment When It Became Impossible to Say Anything Good About Assad

Her first article, published as Syria’s government started to attack citizens, was met with a wave of criticism. Both Buck and Vogue’s editor, Anna Wintour, were accused of taking part in a public relations campaign on behalf of the Syrian regime.

Within a month or so, the article was removed from the magazine’s website. Almost a year later Wintour broke her silence on the matter to explain that “we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society” but “as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.”

Buck’s contract with Vogue was not renewed and that’s when she decided to offer an a 5,000-word explanation for her original sin.

It suggests that she was the victim of of manipulation from beginning to end…


I don’t know when it became impossible to say anything good about Putin, but, as I’m trying to show by my quotations about Putin series, it was pretty early in the game.

But the Assad thing is interesting, isn’t it? The moment when the Word comes down from on high and otherwise trendy and with-it people are instructed that they must eat crow. We don’t often see it in action do we?

The author fired, the article withdrawn and a Big Wheel forced to apologise.






The World According to Putin

Note 2016. And now it transpires that Obama knew all along that the evidence that Assad was responsible for the Ghouta attack was weak.


The dénouement of the Syria crisis provides a learning opportunity for two inimical groups of Americans. For Obama’s admirers there is the uncomfortable revelation of his and his team’s unimpressive behaviour. They will have to process this revelation.

A more conflicted group, however, are the anti-Obamites. They are to a degree delighted to have Obama shown up; they gloat that Putin “schooled him”, made a fool of him and so forth. On the other hand some are starting to complain that the agreement legitimates Assad to a degree and, in the end, may not destroy any weapons. Some, convinced, as these people are, that Putin is not only the sworn enemy of the USA but also devilishly cunning (a favourite gibe is that while he plays chess, Obama plays tick-tack-toe or some other childish game), have decided that the agreement is a huge victory for Russia. Of course this gives them another opportunity to bash Obama’s leadership which is 90% of the point of these pieces, actually.

But none of these people notice the big news. Or, rather, the big non news. And that is that we are not today hearing and seeing attacks – attacks that while “unbelievably small” are not “pinpricks” – commanded by the uncertain; attacks that are unsupported by Congress, the American population or by allies. We do not see an intervention in a savage civil war that will benefit only the jihadist enemies the US is fighting elsewhere. We do not see the light-hearted beginning of another “short sharp” intervention that will drag on and on like the eight month Libyan intervention or the three month Kosovo intervention followed by 12 years of military occupation. That is the big news: the US is not getting stuck into another mess. Were Putin the cunning enemy so many think he is, he would have encouraged Washington: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Instead, he extracted it.

That is what was so unforgiveable about what he did: Putin the Evil saved America the Great from the folly of its leaders.

Russia and the G8: Is Russia isolated or does it represent the global majority?

JRL/2013/ 117/42

Is Putin really as isolated on Syria as we are told? There is plenty of evidence that he is in general agreement with world opinion. He is in better agreement with Americans about intervention than Obama is: a number of polls show opposition to US involvement in the 60s. Better with the British than Cameron is: similar results in the UK. As to the rest of the world, a recent Pew survey shows there is little support for intervention anywhere else either. Putin’s opposition to outside interference much better reflects world opinion than the interveners do. Which may be why there is such an intense campaign against Russia and Putin: he must be discredited.

He does not “support Assad” – that is an accusation to drown out what he is really saying. Putin opposes intervention in Syria (and Iraq… and Kosovo… and Libya…) for three reasons: principled, practical and personal. Intervention violates a key international principle because, like it or not, Assad’s regime is the recognised government of the country. By what right does a fraction of NATO, unsupported by its population, decide to pick a side in a vicious civil war? Once upon a time, interventions were legitimised by the UN (1st Gulf War); then by NATO (Kosovo); now by only some of NATO (Libya). Secondly, there is nothing to suggest that the end result will benefit anyone. Russia is a cautious country that plays by primum non nocere – first, do no harm. Previous Western/NATO interventions have done little for stability and have often resulted in aiding and comforting their enemies (a definition of treason in most countries). Finally, he fears that Russia might be on the list of undesirable governments to be overthrown. He has seen the appetite for intervention grow with the feeding.

Therefore, Putin opposes intervention in Syria because it is questionably legal, sets (another) dangerous precedent, will almost certainly leave behind it a more chaotic, miserable and dangerous situation (vide Kosovo or Libya) and because he fears the extension to Russia. It has nothing to do with any “alliance”, “support” for Assad, the so-called naval base or arms sales. There is no alliance, he does not “support” Assad, the naval base is a corner of a small port with few facilities and most of the arms sales contracts have been placed on hold. But it is necessary to demonise Putin to drown this out. The fuss about the Russian air defence missiles which never appeared was a useful distraction from the (US-crewed) air defence missiles which did appear. The fuss about the so-called naval base distracts attention from new US bases. The ritual reiteration of Putin’s support for Assad smokescreens the surreptitious support for his enemies.

So: not only will Putin be proven correct in that some-of-NATO’s interference will not have a happy ending, not only is his condemnation of intervention in accord with majority world opinion so far as can be determined but it is even in accord with opinion in the countries whose leaders are cheering on NATO’s next adventure in “humanitarian interventions”.

While Putin may be out of step with the G8 majority (somewhat smaller than it pretends to be – does anyone seriously think Tokyo has signed on? Berlin kept out of the last adventure, who expects it to participate in this one? Is Rome on board?), that pseudo-majority is itself out of step with public opinion in its own countries and, so far as can be determined, out of step with world opinion.

Calling him isolated is an attempt to shout down the reality that the interveners’ own electorates do not support intervention.

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.

Syria, Russia, Hysteria

Note January 2016: I would no longer say that the war in Syria was sui generis. I think it’s clear that, whatever combustible material may have been lying around, Washington had a lot of involvement in starting the fire.

JRL/2011/ 135/35

The revolt in Syria, now in its eighteenth month, was not caused by Washington or by Moscow. It is sui generis: specifically it is the consequence of circumstances peculiar to Syria; in general, it is another of the several revolts in the “Arab World”.

But some of the commentary in Western circles – especially, but not exclusively, in the USA – is making it sound like a Manichean battlefield of a new Cold War. Perhaps the epitome of this view is John Bolton’s assertion that “Assad remains in power because of Russia and Iran, with China supporting him in the background.” This is nonsense: Assad remains in power because people in Syria are prepared to fight for him. Naturally, the longer the fight goes on, the more outsiders are attracted: recently the government of Iraq claimed that jihadist fighters were leaving there for Syria and it is quite believable that Teheran is involved as well. But this has nothing to do with Moscow or Beijing. Bolton, perhaps to be given an important position should Romney be elected, goes on to advise what should be done; true to his assumption that Moscow is Assad’s prop, he calls for missile defence installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, withdrawal from START etc etc (No suggestions of how to pressure China. Interestingly.) As to Syria itself, he suggests Washington should “find Syrian rebel leaders who are truly secular and who oppose radical Islam”. Given that “war is deceit”, he may be disappointed in his search. But in truth, Bolton’s piece, like many others from the US right, is not really about Syria or Russia, it is an attack on President Obama: “Obama is not up to the job in Syria.” Indeed, many of the pieces that argue that Moscow is to blame are actually attacks on Obama’s alleged weakness or incapacity. “The Security Council’s moral authority is nil with Russia and China in permanent seats” is followed by “shame on Obama”. This throwaway line “Russia’s belligerent support of a murderous Syrian dictator” is from a excoriation of Obama’s activities, root and branch. Russia is just another boot to throw at him. Not everyone in the US conservative camp is so enthusiastic: this speaks of “strategy creep”, this of the unintended consequences of the Libya intervention, this of past failures and confusions. But many of the strongest calls for intervention, and the strongest kicks at Moscow, come from this side of the argument.

But others, more in the “humanitarian intervention” camp, also see the route to Damascus as running through Moscow: “Many major players in the Syrian crisis consider the peace plan that reached its deadline Thursday as the final speed bump in figuring out how to get Russia to accept enough pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence”. The Canadian Foreign Minister believes “Russia is enabling this regime to soldier on”. French President Hollande implies Russia is “protecting” Assad. US Secretary of State Clinton says Russia’s “policy is going to help contribute to a civil war”. We are solemnly informed that “Russia has put itself on the wrong side of the argument.” Accusations come and go: Russia is supplying Syria with attack helicopters one moment; the next they are already in Syrian stocks. Russian warships sail for Syria, but arrive somewhere else. Massacres change their stories. All this assumes, against any reasonable or factual probability, that Moscow controls or has a decisive influence on Assad’s actions. But Assad is fighting for his very existence. He already has all the weapons he needs. And many Syrians, who fear a jihadist-dominated result (something the Boltons and “humanitarians” seem quite unconcerned about) support him too.

Moscow’s alleged support of Assad’s regime is said to hinge on two vital interests: its “naval base” at Tartus and its desire to preserve arms sales to Syria. But, generally, these motives are asserted without much effort spent looking at either one.

Let us consider the first. While Tartus (or Tartous) is Syria’s largest commercial port, by world standards it is rather small. According to the World Port Source, in 2008 it handled 12.9 million tons of cargo, mostly imports, and occupies a mere 300 hectares. By contrast, Rotterdam, Europe’s largest, and number 4 in the world, handled more than 400 million tons in 2008 and is over 10,000 hectares in area. The Russians have a lease on a corner of this small port and examination on Google Earth does not show anything very military. According to a Russian military thinktank, its normal staff is a few dozen and it is little more than a place where Russian warships, after their long trip from the Baltic or Barents Seas, can obtain fresh food, water and fuel. Moscow has invested little in improving it. While there is no doubt some symbolic value to it, as a “naval base” it is rather insignificant. Paul Saunders has an informed discussion of it here.

As to weapons, we hear much, but few commentators attempt the few moments’ research to find out what. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and its Arms Transfers Database tracks arms transfers and is regarded to be as accurate as open sources get. If we go to its Trade Register page, we can find its record of transfers from Russia to Syria 1990-2011. In these two decades, Russia has supplied Syria with anti-tank, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles; engines for tanks provided by Czechoslovakia and the USSR; 24 MiG 29 air superiority fighters and 2 MiG 31 interceptors were sold – some sources suggest that they were taken out of Russian Air Force stocks so how operable they are is a moot point. More recently 36 Yak 130 trainer/light ground attack aircraft were ordered but have not been delivered. The large majority of weapons in the Syrian arsenal are Soviet-supplied and therefore upwards of three decades old. Given the reports of army units changing sides, many of these weapons will be in rebels’ hands by now. In any case these weapons are not very useful in the kind of war going on in Syria. The missiles are best used against their appropriate targets, the twenty-year-old tank engines power thirty-year-old tanks. The aircraft – if they can still fly – could conceivably be converted to ground-attack roles. But, given that by all accounts the fighting is mostly individuals and small arms, these weapons are hardly key for Assad’s survival. The most useful would have been the Yak 130s but they have not been delivered and apparently won’t be. So the arms market motive is rather overblown – it’s not a very large contributor to Russia’s arms sales and the weapons themselves are hardly the essential thing that is keeping Assad in power (the reader is invited to compare sales with India to see what a truly significant Russian market looks like). I reiterate, pace Bolton and the rest of them, Assad is kept in power – so far – by the fact that people are ready to fight on his behalf. Russia’s so-called support (and China’s) have little influence on this reality. A UN resolution (unless it licences NATO intervention; or, vide Libya, is interpreted as doing so) will not change anything. Assad and his opponents are playing for greater stakes than “world opinion”; they know what happened to Saddam Hussein and to Kaddafi.

Russia’s official position, courtesy of Foreign Minister Lavrov, is here. It is much based on principle. All governments like to claim that their actions are firmly based on principle. But these principles are friable: Washington, for example, was very firm on the principle of inviolability of borders in the Georgian case in 2008 but not so much in Yugoslavia in 1999; Moscow firmly held the opposite position each time. Moscow was very supportive of the human rights of Ossetians but not so much about those of Kosovars; Washington, again, the opposite. Each was adept at manufacturing reasons why inviolable principles in the one case did not apply in the other. Interest trumps principle.

But Lavrov’s piece above has much on caution. And that is very much a Russian interest. Caution is often missing from the “humanitarian interventionists”. The blunt question that must be asked of those who cheered on, and participated in, NATO’s Libyan intervention is this: are the Libyans, and their neighbours, better off today? And, are they likely to be? Western media had nonstop coverage of Kaddafi’s overthrow but there has been rather less reporting on the consequences: gunmen, chaos, jihadists, spillover into Chad and Mali (not that the author of the last can resist a little Putin-bashing when it comes to Syria). But “we came, we saw, he died” and we move on to the next “success”. Moscow is fundamentally a cautious power today, committed to the status quo. If the UN can be by-passed, Russia as a P5 member loses status and influence. If a government in Country A can be overthrown, could Russia’s government be next? And what happens after the government is overthrown: who has to deal with the consequences? A rational discussion of Moscow’s motives may be found here. Some principle but mostly self-interest and a strong mistrust of the West’s motives predominate.

As to “humanitarian interventions”, Moscow is sceptical. They have seen the breathless coverage in Western circles of atrocities fade away afterwards: where are the mass graves and rape camps we heard so much of in Kosovo? Was Kaddafi really “bombing his own people”? (A note on sources, Dear Reader. Because Western media outlets move ever forward, ever forgetting, these uncomfortable reconsiderations only appear in fringe sources or – like this, or this – in the deep back pages; the front page is always reserved for the latest excitement). And, given that so many “humanitarian interventions” are lightly entered into and the downstream effects ignored, what is the result for stability – something Moscow prizes? Syria’s borders are rather artificial (another map drawn on the floor of Wilson’s study at Versailles), the Assads have kept order (brutally): who will replace them? The Boltons (“Syrian rebel leaders who are truly secular”) and the “humanitarians” (“Stop the killing”) either think they know or don’t care. But consequences happen and Malians suffer the results. And (frightening thought!) each “humanitarian intervention” obligates another. After their terrible history, one can understand that Russians would value stability and the status quo. What the Russians see, covered by the shabby mantle of “humanitarianism”, are overthrows of previously recognised governments justified by propaganda campaigns lightly based on reality with a flippant disregard of the consequences. At the end, no one is much better off and unpleasant realities are ignored. And then another campaign starts.

But I may be taking this all too seriously. Maybe something else is going on. Apart from the opportunity to bash Obama, there may be another motive for painting Russia as the obstacle. Previous “humanitarian interventions” proved to be rather more difficult than expected. The Somalia intervention convinced Osama bin Laden that “You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear”. NATO’s intervention in Kosovo lasted for nearly eighty days and at the end ground intervention was being contemplated. NATO’s actions in Libya lasted for even longer – over 200 days – and at the end involved much more effort than merely a “no-fly zone”. Syria would clearly be a tougher nut to crack. Perhaps Washington and NATO have no stomach for another “humanitarian intervention” and find it convenient to blame inaction on Russia. It’s an excuse.