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Vladimir Putin

Tag Archives | Vladimir Putin

NATO to Meet on Steps to Pressure Russia

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Russia has said the troops deployed along its border with Ukraine are taking part in military exercises

NATO foreign ministers are due to discuss ways to help Ukraine and reassure allies in Eastern Europe, at a meeting in Brussels. It is the first time ministers from the 28 member states have convened since Russia’s takeover of Crimea caused a diplomatic crisis. NATO has bolstered annual air drills being held over Baltic countries later. Meanwhile, Russia has reportedly ordered a partial withdrawal of its troops from the border with Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel he had ordered the move in a telephone conversation on Monday, according to the German government. Thousands of Russian soldiers are still said to be deployed along the eastern border of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian energy firm Gazprom is increasing the price it charges Ukraine for gas from Tuesday. Gazprom Alexei Miller said last month that Kiev had failed to pay its bills, believed to be more than $1.5bn (£900,000).

NATO foreign ministers are expected to discuss the formal suspension of co-operation with Moscow at the Brussels meeting. In a statement, the alliance said ministers would speak to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia about ways to support Ukraine with its defence reforms. They are also expected to look at options including situating permanent military bases in the Baltic States to reassure members in Eastern Europe.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine have rattled nerves in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were part of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. NATO jets will take part in air patrols in the region later in a routine exercise that analysts say has taken on added significance due to the crisis. Several NATO countries, including the UK, US and France, have offered additional warplanes.

Earlier, Ukraine condemned a visit to Crimea by Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and a delegation of government ministers. A foreign ministry spokesman in Kiev said the highest-level trip to the Black Sea peninsula by officials from Moscow since its annexation by Russia was a “crude violation” of international rules. Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine for Russia on 16 March, in a referendum condemned as illegal by the UN General Assembly.

Mr. Medvedev announced that he would make Crimea a special economic zone, with tax breaks and reduced bureaucracy to attract investors. He also vowed to quickly boost salaries and pensions, and to improve education, healthcare and local infrastructure.

Tensions between Russia and the West rose after the overthrow of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, following months of street protests. Russia’s subsequent decision to annex Crimea triggered a crisis in relations. The US and the EU have imposed sanctions on members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and other officials. Russia has retaliated with its own sanctions on US politicians.

The West is Unlikely to Slap Meaningful Economic Sanctions on Russia

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Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris, France

Escalation of the Crimean conflict and the risk of an invasion by Russian troops further into Ukraine have raised a concern about international mechanisms of deterrence, economic sanctions being among them.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris, France

Although Brussels and Washington made rather harsh statements at the outset of the crisis, it is quite improbable that they will impose heavy sanctions on Moscow. This means that the international community lacks an adequate response to Russia. The Russian Federation is the third largest trading partner with the European Union (next to the US and China) with $417.4 billion in trade in 2013. Therefore economic sanctions could have an adverse effect on Europe. Considering the current state of several European economies, the results would be grave.

Russia is one of the world’s biggest oil producing countries and the world’s second largest oil exporter. It supplies most of its oil and gas to the European Union. The only way to affect the Russian economy and deter Putin would be to target Russia’s energy sector. The European Union would have to refuse to purchase Russian natural gas, which presently they are not be able to do. In 2013, Russia’s earnings from oil and natural gas exports amounted to $229 billion.

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What Would a Russian Invasion of Ukraine Look Like?

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Would Russia find invading Ukraine easier than Crimea?

I’ve been asked this question a lot, and had the chance to expound on it at a recent event in Parliament sponsored by the Henry Jackson Society, so thought I’d briefly outline my thoughts here.

Would Russia find invading Ukraine easier than Crimea?

That said, though, I should stress that the more time passes, the less likely I think such an attack becomes, because of the shifting political situation and also–as Kyiv moves forces east and mobilises reserves and volunteers–the military calculus. However, it cannot be excluded, so it is worth still considering, not least as the preparatory phases I outline below have all been carried out; the Russian General Staff may well not yet know if it is going to be invading, but it has made sure that if the word does come down from the Kremlin, it will be ready.

In brief, the aim would be a blitzkrieg that, before Ukraine has the chance properly to muster its forces and, perhaps more to the point, the West can meaningfully react, allows the Russians to draw a new front line and assert their own ground truth, much as happened in Crimea (though this would be much more bloody and contested). This would not be a bid to conquer the whole country (the real question is whether they’d seek to push as far as Odessa, taking more risks and extending their supply lines, but also essentially depriving Ukraine of a coastline) but instead quickly to take those areas where there are potentially supportive local political elites and Russophone populations, and consequently pretexts (however flimsy) to portray invasion as ‘liberation.’

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The Bombs that Failed: NATO and Serbia, 15 Years On

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Former Bosnian Serb wartime Commander Ratko Mladic pictured with U.S. General Wesley Clark meeting in Banjaluka on August 27, 1994. Ranko Cukovic/Reuters

It is never fitting to be too morose. Sigmund Freud’s distinction between those who mourn from those who are melancholic was fundamental.

Former Bosnian Serb wartime Commander Ratko Mladic pictured with U.S. General Wesley Clark meeting in Banjaluka on August 27, 1994. Ranko Cukovic/Reuters

To mourn is to concede that an act has happened, that it lies in the realm of the undoable and irreversible. One can only learn. To be melancholic is a concession that things have never entirely left, that it lingers, the memory haunting like the sun defying shadow. The wars in the Balkans have tended to foster the melancholia of a past that never leaves, granting it the status of a permanent stand in for the ever present. Such sentinels can make poor company, but they are unavoidable. As Ukraine’s situation accelerates with actions of sanctions, annexations, coups and counter-coups, it is worth noting how another compact was firstly dissolved and then subsequently tortured in the 1990s. The trends are similar – the moralising, the external interference, the bullying of powers extraneous yet obsessed with holding the levers of a disintegrating country.

The Yugoslavian Federation, an experiment bound by the iron fist and held by the iron glove, frayed and then fell apart during the early 1990s. By the time NATO revealed itself, not so much as a defensive alliance as an offensive one, Serbian civilians found themselves the target of a military offensive ostensibly to punish them for their government’s ruthless policies in Kosovo. Never mind the fact that there was a secessionist movement on home soil also dedicated to extreme violence. Nor did it matter that many Serbs were against the authoritarian insanities of the Milošević regime. As some protesters in Maidan can feel sorrowful over, their voices became the distant echoes of intrusion and interference, railroaded and road blocked by other powers.

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Russia’s Takeover of Crimea Needs Careful Action

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President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of Ukraine in the Oval Office, March 12, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

On Friday March 21 President Vladimir Putin signed the annexation treaty making Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea region a part of Russia.

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of Ukraine in the Oval Office, March 12, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

The port city of Sevastopol on the Black Sea, home to Russia’s naval fleet in the region, was included. Russia flexing its muscle in Crimea was reminiscent of the World War II Stalin era. It was in 1944 that the minority Muslim Tatar’s were deported from Crimea, and shipped off to the Urals. Stalin had accused them of collaborating with the Nazis. Thousands of Tatars died along the way. Ironically male Tatars were serving in the Soviet army at the time. Upon their return home they found their families gone.

As the Cold War was ending in 1989 the exiled Tatars were allowed to return to their ancestral homes in Crimea. Many of the 250,000 Tatars living in the region still remember vividly being expelled from Crimea by the Soviets. They see Putin as Stalin’s protégé, and fear for the future. A number of Tatar’s have joined the ranks of the Islamist rebels fighting in Syria, attempting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, who Putin supports.

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How China Benefits from the Ukraine Crisis

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President Barack Obama talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron during a meeting of G7 leaders on March 24, in The Hague. Jerry Lampen/AP

As the West and Russia face off over Crimea, China is well positioned to exploit a strategic opportunity given the escalating tension between Washington and Moscow.

President Barack Obama talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron during a meeting of G7 leaders on March 24, in The Hague. Jerry Lampen/AP

As has become China’s modus operandi in the chess game of foreign affairs, Beijing’s calculated silence on the Ukrainian crisis is based on several geopolitical issues: the ideological pillar of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states, the China-Russia alliance, Chinese investments in Ukraine, and concerns about ethnic separatism in western China. In due course, China’s response to the Crimea crisis could shed light on three geopolitical questions. First, is China’s support for non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states driven by principle, strategic interest, or both? Second, will China’s respect for the sovereignty of weaker states decline as its own power strengthens? Third, will China’s approach to evolving conflicts – to wait silently in the background while other parties slug it out – continue to reap it rewards when the conflicts are over? The answer to these questions will become increasingly important for the future of international relations.

Having stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Russia on the Syrian civil war, China vetoed three United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on the basis that Syria’s sovereignty was threatened by Western powers. Beijing and Moscow have also defended their aligned positions on a plethora of pariah states and international crises — all under the banner of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign nations. China was therefore placed in a difficult position when Russia was accused of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty by interfering in Crimea. Fearful of being accused of moral hypocrisy, China did not want to be seen as overtly supporting Moscow, but at the same time, China was not eager to align with the West against the Kremlin, given Russia’s growing importance to China’s overall foreign policy.

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Sanctions against Russia look Great on Paper but they’re a Dead-End

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U.S. reliance on Russian uranium makes sanctions difficult

Now that Crimea has voted to unite with Russia and Vladimir Putin has welcomed Crimea with open arms, the Western half of the world, especially the United States and the European Union, are talking at lengths about imposing sanctions on Russia in order to bring Vladimir Putin to his senses.

U.S. reliance on Russian uranium makes sanctions difficult

However, the task seems easier said than done. The United States is simply not in a position to impose long-term sanctions on Russia. Economic and political ties between the United States and Russia are surely not exemplary. Yet, one key American industry relies heavily on a particular import from Russia: fuel for nuclear power plants. American dependency on Russia for its nuclear fuel is not a new development. It dates back to the early 1990s, when the HEU-LEU scheme was launched after the demise of the Soviet Union. Under this scheme, highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Russian nuclear warheads is processed into low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel for American nuclear power plants.

While there are plans of reducing the need for nuclear energy, the United States still receives 100 GW of its power from nuclear power plants (compare this with Russia’s nuclear energy production of 230 GW). As a result, during 2014, 48 million pounds of uranium will be needed to fuel America’s nuclear power plants. Going by data released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the total uranium Oxide produced within the United States is roughly 4.8 million pounds. Barely 10% of the total demand.

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NATO Warns of Russian Army build-up on Ukraine Border

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Russian forces stand guard in the Crimea. Photo: Sasha Maksymenko

NATO’s military commander in Europe has issued a warning about the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border.

Russian forces stand guard in the Crimea. Photo: Sasha Maksymenko

US Air Force General Philip Breedlove said NATO was in particular concerned about the threat to Moldova’s Transdniestria region. Russia said its forces east of Ukraine complied with international agreements. The build-up has been allied with Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, following the removal of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia warned that the risk of war with Russia was growing. “The problem is with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is that he doesn’t want to talk to - not only to the Ukrainian government - but also to the Western leaders,” Mr. Deshchytsia told the BBC. “And this is quite a danger for the decision-making process. We could only expect that he might invade.”

Meanwhile, US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said Washington was reviewing every request Ukraine was making for help. “When it comes to military assistance, we’re looking at it,” he told CNN. But he added: “The facts are these: even if assistance were to go to Ukraine, that is very unlikely to change Russia’s calculus or prevent any invasion.” President Barack Obama earlier ruled out sending US troops to Ukraine.

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Referenda Watching: Crimean Separatism as Fashion

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Rallies in Scotland, Crimea and Spain. Photos: David Moir, Baz Ratner and Gustau Nacarino

It set a trend, but the Crimean referendum has the discussion on separatism tittering away.

Rallies in Scotland, Crimea and Spain. Photos: David Moir, Baz Ratner and Gustau Nacarino

As ever, the narrative of the national compact, bound by mystical unity and statehood, powers the narrative, while separatist movements seek to draw parallels and sketch contrasts. Movements from as far as Catalonia in Spain and Scotland in the UK have taken heed of the referendum. The Spanish case is significant – Spain, along with four other European Union members, have not recognised Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia. Crimea’s new information minister, Dmitry Polonsky, was happy to throw some fuel on the simmering flames of secession across Europe. “It’s the same situation as we will see in Scotland and then Catalonia. So Crimea is the first and we will be happy to share our experiences with them.”

Catalan officials have been on the defensive after the Crimean vote. The desire for independence there, they have argued, can hardly be compared to the heavy handed engineering that took place in Crimea. There was no case of Putin moving his forces into place before the force of the ballot. “The basic difference,” suggests Alfred Bosch, congressional deputy for the Catalan Republican Left party, “is that you can’t compare a process that’s about bullets with a process that’s about ballots. We don’t have any weapons here in Catalonia.” But there is, however, no love lost with Madrid, and the Crimean temptation, by way of comparison, remains strong.

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The Deal that Brought Ukraine to the Brink

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Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the Russian public

There is something about the Olympic games that connects Russia with regional mischief.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the Russian public

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Russia violated Georgian territory with military force, igniting a nasty five-day war. In 2014, while Vladimir Putin attended the winter Olympics in Sochi political trouble boiled over in Ukraine. The European Union (EU) trade bill is the culprit, at least on the surface, that ignited the crisis. The issue is whether to accept the European Union’s trade agreement in order to facilitate economic growth and bi-lateral relationships with the West or to remain under Russian economic and political influence, which the West hopes Ukraine will avoid. So, the question is: should Ukraine accept the European Union (EU) trade deal once the political rupture has subsided?

Yes to the trade bill

The EU trade bill is a direct result of the 2008 Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) between the European Union and the Ukraine. The DCFTA deal is designed to facilitate existing trade and commerce between the two regions, including the expansion of intellectual property rights, energy sectors, ‘public procurement,’ and other services. According to a European Union report, a huge share of Ukraine exports go to the European Union including iron, steel, and heavy machinery.

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Crimea Joins Russia: What International Law Suggests

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Ambassador Samantha Power talks with Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, prior to the Security Council's vote on the situation in the Crimea.  Eskinder Debebe/UN

“There is a strong belief that Russia’s action is violating international law. I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations, but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.” – President Barack Obama, March 4

Ambassador Samantha Power talks with Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, prior to the Security Council’s vote on the situation in the Crimea. Eskinder Debebe/UN

On the basis of Obama’s words, one can assume international law to be nothing beyond a set of beliefs that are classified as acceptable or unacceptable, depending on which side of the spectrum one stands.

As a result, when Crimean voters decided to secede from Ukraine and unite with Russia, what role did international law play in the picture? Again, you cannot properly define something that is viewed as more a matter of ‘strong belief’ than that of ‘codified norms’, but the verdicts and opinions of the International Court of Justice are well worth discussing here.

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Ukraine is not America’s Backyard

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Pro-Putin rally in Moscow. Eugeniy Biyatov/RIA Novosti

It is important to understand the stakes and Russia’s determination to move forward in the Crimea.

Pro-Putin rally in Moscow. Eugeniy Biyatov/RIA Novosti

I think the West is gravely miscalculating Russia because Vladimir Putin views Ukraine as vital to its security. For the Russian Federation, an independent Ukraine is a source of extreme unease because it is an historical path of invasion, the soft underbelly of Russia. Ukraine is a place that armies can live off the harvests and stay warm in the depths of Russian winter. The world saw how mild it is by the Black Sea during the Sochi Olympics. Where else in Russia were temperatures balmy?

Ukraine is a place with a huge coastline – 2300 miles of it, 300 miles longer than America’s Atlantic coast. Invading armies can be supplied by sea quite easily. No other Russian region except Saint Petersburg and Vladivostok has this feature. Ukraine has many port facilities. It is where Russia’s main fleet is berthed. And Ukraine is the 3rd leading exporter of grain. When Europe overtly pulled Ukraine into its orbit, Russian unease became grim resolve. Russia cannot and will not allow Ukraine to escape its control and become part of Europe. To do so is, in Russian eyes, tantamount to national suicide.

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The Secessionist Dream: Referenda, Recognition and Crimea

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A polling station in Simferopol on March 16, 2014. Thomas Peter/Reuters

“The international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.” – White House

A polling station in Simferopol on March 16, 2014. Thomas Peter/Reuters

Referenda tend to be the devices used to seal the kiss of secession. It is an instrument of the ballot box, an expression of popular will. Its first formal use, according to Eugène Solière’s Le Plébiscite dans l’annexion (1901) came in the referendum held by Lyonnais in the 13th century when citizens sought to escape Church rule, with its citizens claiming “themselves subjects of the King of France” and requesting that he “take them under his special care.”

One would think that such action immediately promises it a degree of high status from democratic powers: after all, the ballot box should be gospel, an indicator of “sovereign will” of the people. In practice, responses have been uneven, disingenuous and strategic. International law, for instance, takes an ordered, even glacial view of it. To be recognised, the seceding group must be denied “international self-determination” by the central government. It must also be subject to grave human rights abuses.

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Crimea Votes to Secede from Ukraine as the EU Weighs Sanctions Against Russia

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Triumph or charade? Pro-Russian supporters celebrate in Simferopol. Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

Crimeans have voted by a huge margin to secede from Ukraine. According to early reports released after 50% of the ballots had been counted more than 95% of votes were in favour of joining Russia.

Triumph or charade? Pro-Russian supporters celebrate in Simferopol. Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

EU foreign ministers will meet to consider a parcel of sanctions against Russia, said to include visa bans and the freezing of assets of a number of Russian officials. The Crimea referendum has been hailed in Moscow and Simferopol as an opportunity for the people of Crimea to express their preference for the future status of the peninsula and, equally, has been derided as illegal and illegitimate in Kiev, Washington, and across the EU. Following talks on Friday in London with his US counterpart, the Russian foreign minister said that Russia would respect the will of the people of Crimea.

While the problems extend well beyond the legality and legitimacy of the referendum, these issues are good points to start. Under the Ukrainian constitution, a referendum about questions affecting the country’s internationally recognised borders must be nationwide. In this sense, the referendum was clearly in breach of the constitution and any result would be null and void. Voters only had two options: to back an earlier resolution of the Crimean parliament to seek accession to the Russian Federation or reinstate the Crimean constitution of 1992 (subsequently abolished by the Ukrainian parliament).

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Vladimir in Love

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President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pete Souza/White House

Russian president Vladimir Putin does have a soft spot: Mother Russia. The West continues to have a knee-jerk reaction of vilifying and demonizing the man. This is a huge disservice to the American people and Western world. If we continue to judge him based on assumptions, how will we ever understand the man behind Russia?

President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pete Souza/White House

KGB. Those three letters seem to define Putin’s entire existent. Yes, he spent 16 years as a KGB officer, including working in Dresden when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. However, Putin’s personality—a cross between strategic and reactionary—originates from the sport of judo. As a child, he began in the sport; he practiced hard and earned the title of judo master. This sport requires strict discipline. Unlike the other martial arts, it’s seen as street fighting. One opponent makes a move, and the other must react quickly and strategically. There’s grappling, hair pulling, tugging; it’s not for the faint of heart. In other words, to excel in judo, one must be tough, resilient, strategic, and reactionary at the same time. Sound like someone we know?

Of course, all judo masters don’t act the way Putin does. That’s where the KGB comes in. The training is intense. Showers set to the exact temperature and learning how to imitate others’ facial expresses and gestures in order to break them down is just a taste of how KGB officers are trained. Training plus sixteen years in the field, combined with judo, turned Putin into a super disciplined human being. Like a robot.

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