Russia in 2015

Written by  //  December 17, 2015  //  Russia  //  1 Comment

Ukraine 2015

Munk Debates: Be it resolved the West should engage, not isolate Russia
Sanctions and isolation or engagement and co-operation: What should the west do about an increasingly active Russia?
Mark MacKinnon poses question to chess great and pro-democracy advocate Garry Kasparov and journalist and author Vladimir Pozner (April 2015)
Why My Love Affair With Russia Has Gone Sour
Leonid Brezhnev was in the Kremlin and Richard Nixon was about to resign from the White House when I first arrived in the Soviet Union in July 1974. I was setting out on a life-long love affair with Russia and like the most intense and passionate affairs, it has had its moments of joy, sadness, mirth, anger, fascination and frustration.
And yet I’ve never felt more uncomfortable in Russia than I have on my most recent visits.(Moscow Times, August 2015)

Putin: Trump Is Brilliant
“Very talented, no doubt about that.”
(World Post) Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday, but declined to weigh in on whether the real estate mogul would be a good president. “He is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that… He is an absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today. He says that he wants to move to another level of relations, to a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome it,” Putin told reporters in Moscow, according to Reuters.

9 December
Russia, Turkey Fight Spreads to Energy Sector
Tensions between Moscow and Ankara keep heating up after the downing of a Russian jet. Now, multi-billion dollar energy projects like pipelines and nuclear reactors could be axed.
(Foreign Policy) On Wednesday, Reuters reported that construction work had been halted at the $20 billion Russian-led Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Turkey, which was meant to be the culmination of Ankara’s half-century quest to develop nuclear energy. Akkuyu’s apparent woes come just days after Turkey and Russia froze a natural gas pipeline that was at the heart of the two countries’ “strategic partnership” unveiled one year ago.

6 December
Russian serviceman with shouldered rocket launcher ‘seen on Bosphorus’
Turkish TV channel broadcasts pictures of alleged incident, which took place on strait that bisects Istanbul
(The Guardian) Turkey accused Russia of a provocation on Sunday after a serviceman on the deck of a Russian naval ship allegedly held a rocket launcher on his shoulder as the vessel passed through Istanbul.
The Bosphorus, which bisects Istanbul, offers the only passage to the world’s oceans for the Russian Black Sea fleet. A first world war-era treaty obliges Turkey to allow all ships to pass during peacetime. Since the Russian plane went down, Moscow has introduced economic sanctions including a ban on Turkish foods and other products worth as much as $1bn.

3 December
Vladimir Putin calls for international anti-terror front, accuses Turkey of supporting ISIS
Russian president spoke during televised state of the nation address

1 December
Here are further examples of Russian falsehoods: Since the start of the Ukrainian revolution, subversive Russian media has been transformed into an outright propaganda machine. Since that time, the Kremlin’s factory of lies extended its operations, along with Putin’s expanding geopolitical objectives. This installment of Russia’s debunked falsehoods includes examples from different parts of the world, writes Yulia Davis for Russia Lies.  Then there are the accusations that the EU and Ukraine are running concentration camps for Russian speakers, that Ukraine intends to put Hitler on its banknotes, that the US is in league with ISIS and was involved in shooting down the Russian plane.
Disinformation Review: Week Five DOWNLOAD DISINFORMATION REVIEW WEEK FIVE (.pdf)
There are many factual inaccuracies in the reporting on this subject. For example, Sputnik ( claims that France condemned the downing of Su-24 during a NATO summit and said that Turkey’s actions undermined the operation against ISIS. But on the same day as publication (27 November) the French Ambassador denied he made the comment, sayings: “The remarks that Sputnik is attributing to me are pure fiction” ( The Sputnik article remains unchanged as of this Review date (Tuesday, 1 December).

19 November
The West Needs a Strategic Pause before Working with Russia

(E-international relations) There are a number of reasons why empowering Russia in the Middle East is a dangerous idea, and should create serious pause for Western states. Firstly, while Putin has been trying to appear magnanimous at the G20 and as a possible ally against ISIS, he has simultaneously escalated Russia’s military aggression in Eastern Ukraine, showing quite clearly that his agenda differs greatly from that of the West. It is important to note that in March of this year Russia formally withdrew from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty which placed limits on tanks, artillery, armoured personnel carriers and armed helicopters. Secondly, Putin’s interest in Syria has less to do with ISIS and more to do with protecting its own national interests in the area, including Assad. While Russian rhetoric in recent weeks has focused on a possible transition plan in Syria, bear in mind Putin has talked about such transitions numerous times in the past while doing everything possible to prevent Assad from leaving power. Thirdly, by legitimizing Russian behaviour in Syria and in the Middle East, Western states are in essence giving up on Ukraine and acknowledging that the West is completely unable or unwilling to stand up to aggressors on the international stage. This has put a chill on NATO member states in central Europe and potential future member states and could have the strategic effect of splitting the alliance.
Beyond the above reasoning, Putin will most certainly want a series of concessions on the part of the West in return for taking a lead or playing a significant role in coordinating strategy against ISIS.
17 November
Putin fires cruise missiles, vows to punish ‘criminals’ who bombed plane
Russian warplanes on Tuesday fired cruise missiles on militant positions in Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo provinces, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said, adding bombers hit Islamic State positions in Raqqa and Der-ez-Zor.
9 November
Confirmation of Attack on Russian Jet May Strengthen Putin’s Resolve in Syria
(NYT) First, Mr. Putin said the Russian Air Force’s bombing campaign in Syria was partly intended to help dismantle the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which includes up to 7,000 fighters from Russia and the former Soviet Union. One worry is that they might return to wage a terrorist war in Russia. An attack against a civilian airliner would confirm that Russian interests were already being threatened — and might cause Russia to begin targeting the Islamic State more aggressively.
1 Novemmber
Russian plane crash in Sinai: Questions swirl as 224 aboard are mourned
(CNN) A Russian passenger jet broke into pieces in midair, a top aviation official said Sunday, but he said it was too soon to say what could have caused the crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
The plane crash Saturday morning killed all 224 people aboard Kogalymavia Flight 9268 and left debris strewn across a remote area of a region plagued by a violent Islamic insurgency.
“Disintegration of the fuselage took place in the air, and the fragments are scattered around a large area (about 20 square kilometers),” Viktor Sorochenko, executive director of Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee, told journalists, according to reports.
Authorities Consider Terrorism, Technical Failure as Possible Causes of Russia Plane Crash
(Slate) The
Associated Press talks to an Egyptian ground service official who carried out a pre-flight inspection of the Metrojet plane and insists everything was fine before the plane took off. But the co-pilot apparently complained about the plane’s conditions. A woman described as the wife of the co-pilot told a Russian TV channel that her daughter “called him up before he flew out. He complained before the flight that the technical condition of the aircraft left much to be desired.”
C Uday Bhaskar — Russian Aircraft Crash: Why IS Claims Aren’t Totally Misplaced
16 October
The Citizen Journalists Challenging Assad And Putin’s Story Of War
(World Post) Since Russia launched airstrikes inside Syria in late September, the Kremlin’s claim to be bombing Islamic State militants and other unnamed extremist groups has been scrutinized and challenged by Western diplomats and independent analysts.
None has done so more thoroughly than Eliot Higgins, who runs the Bellingcat network of citizen investigative journalists. Last week, Bellingcat set up a platform to geolocate and analyze Russian airstrikes in Syria. The findings echo those of other analysts around the world — Russia is not targeting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, but rather an array of Syrian rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad, an ally of the Kremlin
10 October
A New Cold War Or Russia’s Quagmire?
(World Post) Has Russian President Vladimir Putin succeeded in his oft-stated goal of reasserting Russia as a great global power by filling a geopolitical vacuum in Syria? It may appear so in the short term, but Syria could end up being his quagmire as Afghanistan was for the Soviet Union. He may end up stuck in a war that drags on, at great economic, political and human cost.
If wiser heads prevail, it is still possible that leaders will set aside both East-West and Sunni-Shia tension to work together to fight the Islamic State and to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s slaughtering of his own people. A Syrian political transition could then curb the flood of Syrian refugees currently overwhelming Europe as it has already overwhelmed Syria’s neighbors.
Complicating matters further, Russian jets violated Turkish airspace this week, prompting NATO and Turkey to express concern. Writing from Istanbul, Behlül Özkan explains that although Ankara wants Assad gone and Moscow’s fighting to keep him in, Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan hasn’t pressed Putin because they are linked by crony capitalism.
From Beirut, former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke makes the case that Russia’s aim in Syria is to defeat ISIS and al Qaeda. Ben Judahreports that Putin is purposely confusing us about his intentions in Syria and that information war, or propaganda, is a standard part of Russia’s military textbook. Writing from Moscow, Vladimir Ryzhkov sees the number of Russians now living below the poverty line increasing in tandem with the number of Russian airstrikes in Syria
9 October
Putin’s Imperial Adventure in Syria
By Dr Simon Sebag Montefiore, historian and novelist
Mr. Putin may end up channeling Catherine [the Great] and trade Syrian influence to end Western sanctions and secure annexed Crimea — for this military showmanship concerns Mr. Putin’s political survival. In some ways, his defense of Syria’s autocrat is a defense of his own authority against rebellion.
(NYT) Today, President Vladimir V. Putin has many motives in Syria, but we should keep in mind Russia’s vision of its traditional mission in the Middle East, and how it informs the Kremlin’s thinking. And not just the Kremlin: Russia’s Orthodox Church spokesman said that Mr. Putin’s intervention was part of “the special role our country has always played in the Middle East.”
Russia’s ties to the region are rooted in its self-assigned role as the defender of Orthodox Christianity, which it claimed to inherit from the Byzantine Caesars after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 — hence “czars.” … Until the recent intervention, the closest Russia came to fighting was the Israeli-Egyptian War of Attrition from 1967 to 1970, during which Soviet pilots dueled with Israelis. When Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, expelled the Russians, they cultivated a trio of dictators, Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez al-Assad in Syria. All three, running merciless, dynastic-Mafia regimes behind the facade of socialistic parties, central planning and Stalinesque cults of personality, took quickly to their new benefactors: General Assad and Colonel Qaddafi were regularly photographed in moist fraternal hugs with the Soviet general secretary Leonid Brezhnev. And General Assad, trained as a pilot in Russia, granted Moscow access to its Tartus naval base, now its last asset in the region.
1 October
Iran troops to join Syria war, Russia bombs group trained by CIA
Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Lebanese sources said on Thursday, a further sign of the rapid internationalisation of a civil war in which every major country in the region has a stake.
Russian warplanes, in a second day of strikes, bombed a camp run by rebels trained by the CIA, the group’s commander said, putting Moscow and Washington on opposing sides in a Middle East conflict for the first time since the Cold War. … Moscow said it had hit Islamic State positions, but the areas it struck are mostly held by a rival insurgent alliance, which unlike Islamic State is supported by U.S. allies including Arab states and Turkey.
30 September
Andrei Kolesnikov: Putin’s Crooked Road to Damascus
In the early years of this century the combination of high oil prices and economic growth dulled the elites’ appetite for strategic thinking and allowed them to ignore the subsequent rollback of health-care, education, and social-welfare reforms. The regime and the public now see the current situation as more or less normal – a “non-crisis crisis.” Because perception shapes reality, everything is normal, nothing has to be done, and Putin – having supposedly restored Russia’s dignity – can enjoy his approval ratings of more than 80%.
To Putin, restoring Russia’s dignity is the same as resurrecting its “great-power status” following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its humiliating “defeat” by the West in the Cold War. Exercising power externally apparently compensates for the fact that dignity within the country is far from restored: Today’s Russian citizen remains defenseless before his bosses, the utility companies, the courts, and the police – and yet, whatever his hardships, he remains proud of his nation and its leader.
There is, of course, another explanation of why Putin’s popularity is still growing in the face of a worsening economy: those unable to fend for themselves naturally look to the state for help – and are hardly likely to bite the hand feeds them.
Russian Lawmakers Grant Vladimir Putin The Right To Use Force In Syria
The last time the Russian Parliament gave Putin the right to deploy troops abroad, Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine last year.
(Reuters) – The Russian parliament on Wednesday unanimously granted President Vladimir Putin the right to deploy the country’s military in Syria, a move a top Kremlin aide said related only to the air force.
Russia has been building up its military presence in Syria, where it supports the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad in a conflict that pits him against Islamic State militants and Western-backed rebels.
Sergei Ivanov, the head of the Kremlin administration, said after the vote in the Federation Council, the Russian parliament’s upper chamber: “The Syrian president asked the leadership of our country for military assistance.”
27 September
All eyes on Putin
At a time of icy relations with the U.S., Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a rare — and surprising — interview to Charlie Rose & 60 Minutes
Syria and Iran Taken Hostage by Putin’s Geopolitical Goals
Moscow and Tehran are considered as allies in the fight to keep Assad in power, but Russia’s decision to play a larger role in Syria could end up being at Iran’s expense.
(Haaretz) The Russian president could decide, for example, as he apparently already agreed to at his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, to coordinate his steps with Israel as well and to permit the Israeli air force to continue to fly over Syria and attack Hezbollah weapon convoys (as foreign reports claim Israel has already done in recent years). With the consent of Europe and the United States, he could force elections on Assad as well as cooperation with members of the opposition, including those who oppose Iranian involvement in Syria. Putin could decide that it would be better for Russia to involve Iran’s Sunni rivals – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – in a future solution to the civil war. Moreover, at any stage, he could also decide to bring the Russian forces home with their gear
read more:
15 September
Russia seen as expanding support for Syria’s Assad
Pentagon says tanks sent to airfield near Latakia, the base at the centre of apparent Russian military build-up.
Russia has positioned about a half dozen tanks at an airfield at the centre of a military build-up in Syria, according to two US officials.
The officials said on Monday in Washington DC that the intentions of Russia’s latest deployment of heavy military equipment to President Bashar al-Assad’s army were unclear.
Russia has come under increased international pressure in recent days to explain its moves in Syria.
Could Syria be Putin’s Afghanistan?
Putin sees the Middle East as another region on his global chessboard that can serve as a spoiler of Western policy.
Today, Russia makes no secret of the fact that it has “advisers” in Syria. Even more, Russian warships have been called into Syrian ports, and Russian warplanes and helicopters can be spotted on Syrian airfields. Social media accounts have shown Russian soldiers on the ground in Syria. There have even been reports that Russia is building a military base in Syria.
The actual number of Russian troops and the extent of their involvement in day-to-day combat in Syria are not yet clear. If there is a large number of Russian soldiers on the ground, their presence will not be kept a secret for long. …
When US President Barack Obama said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “has to go”, he did nothing to back up his words; when Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Assad will remain in power, he did everything to back up his words. Russia’s ultimate goal in Syria is the preservation of the Assad regime. If Assad goes, Russia stands to lose its only naval base in the Mediterranean Sea at the port city of Tartous. As Russia’s only port in the Mediterranean – and its only toehold in the Middle East – this would be a major blow to Moscow.
9 September
Why Russia is suddenly interested in Syria’s civil war
By George Petrolekas, fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He has served in Bosnia and Afghanistan and has been an adviser to senior NATO commanders.
(Globe & Mail) Russia has long-supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and along with China vetoed any UN-sanctioned security efforts in Syria due to how the Responsibility to Protect norm in Libya morphed into opportunity to overthrow. For years, Mr. al-Assad held on to power while what once might have been called a democratic opposition was eclipsed by and co-opted by various jihadi extremist groups.
But this stalemate, which prevailed for the past three years, has shifted toward a situation in which Mr. al-Assad is losing ground. He admitted as much earlier this year saying that “we will have to focus on areas that are key to us, we cannot defend everywhere.” What Mr. al-Assad is defending is his power base, which is an Alawite minority (a Shia offshoot) and the Christian population, which numbered between 10 and 12 per cent of Syria’s population at the start of the war in a land that is predominantly Sunni.
With Mr. al-Assad now controlling only 17 per cent of the country, and fighting on an axis running from Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Latakia (oddly enough the centres of Alawite and Christian populations), the fear is that without any discernible moderate opposition the groups best positioned to take advantage of an Assad collapse are IS – the best organized – and any number of splinter Islamist groups such as the al-Nusra Front. IS was not spawned by the Syrian civil war but took advantage of it, flowing in from Iraq. The thought of a clear victory by IS or some other Sunni Islamist group is unimaginable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
For Mr. Putin, Islamist success in Syria will reverberate in his own backyard in Chechnya – a number of the best IS field commanders are Chechen. An Assad collapse potentially leaves Syria as one mega-jihadist state, or splintered into two or more Islamist states. Often forgotten in the West is that the majority of Christians in Syria, the land of one of the oldest Patriarchates in Christendom (the Patriarchate of Antioch) – founded by Peter and Paul in 34 AD before Peter founded the Holy See in Rome – is resident in Damascus and has collegial relations with the Patriarchate of Moscow.
8 September
Why do Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin cronies look so nervous?
(Reuters) The annexation of Crimea and surge in Russian patriotism have pushed his approval rating to levels no Western leader can hope to replicate. The only place they can really go is down. Yet despite having no serious domestic political opponents, Putin’s path to re-election may prove complicated.
At the top of his agenda is how to manage Russia’s elites. The Kremlin has sent a clear message that it needs the elites to help manage the fallout from the current economic crisis — though the threat of public discontent with the regime or significant street protests looks manageable. That helps explain, however, the endless barrage of aggressive anti-Western rhetoric and initiatives, which resonates with a patriotically inclined electorate.
28 August
Russia’s Middle East ship drops anchor in Suez Canal
Clearly, Egypt is fast emerging as Russia’s number one partner in the entire Middle East region. It makes sense for Russia to make such a strategic decision. For, Egypt is the most populous Arab nation and it has always played a lead role in the geopolitics of the region.
(Asia Times) … what emerges out of the two-day official visit by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Moscow on August 25-26 is that Egypt has become a pivotal country for Russia’s Middle East policies.
Looking back, President Vladimir Putin made a smart decision to back Sisi to the hilt when the latter snatched power from the elected president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
When Sisi chose Russia for his first visit abroad after the coup, Moscow was delighted. Putin publicly offered him Russia’s backing for his bid for presidency (which Sisi was yet to announce at that point.) Indeed, Putin played his card brilliantly – and cold-bloodedly. It was a magnificent display of realpolitik, with no pretensions of any high principles involved, except that Russia’s self-interests shall always be the leitmotif of its foreign policies.
15 August
Russian Economy Approaching ‘Perfect Storm’ – OpEd
(Eurasia review) Vladislav Zhukovsky, an economist known for predicting disasters in the Russian economy and for then turning out to be right, says that the situation is more dire than almost anyone imagines because oil is heading to 25 US dollars a barrel, the ruble to 125 to the US dollar, and inflation to 30 percent.
If he is even partially correct, Russia faces not a “black Monday” or a “black September” but a “black” and bleak future (
Indeed, Zhukovsky argues, the combination of falling oil prices, the collapse of the ruble exchange rate, and rising inflation means that Russia is entering what might be described as “a perfect storm,” one with the capacity to destroy much of the country’s economy this year and next.
And this situation is made worse by the fact that many at the top of the Russian economic pyramid are behaving as they did in 1998, betting on an ever weaker ruble by buying hard currency and then planning to get back into the Russian market later at firesale prices and thus improving their position but not the country’s.
In 1998, at the time of defauls, the Russian stock market fell 80 percent, the ruble fell 84 percent, “and all our bureaucrats … took the money they had and converted it into hard currency. “When the market collapsed, they bought shares at three cents on the dollar. The very same thing is happening now.”
Moreover, Zhukovsky adds, after the coming collapse “the American, European or Chinese investors will come.” They too will take advantage of the low prices just as they did in 1992 and 1993
Unless the government changes course, the ruble has no prospects even at the current price of oil, and oil prices are going to continue to fall, the economist says. Eleven of Russia’s 14 oil processing firms are now operating at a deficit; and consequently, “what we see today is just the quiet before a very strong storm.A must read is Vivienne E. Perkins’ comment below the article.
11 August
A Country Haunted by Starvation Burns Its Food
A government plan to destroy hundreds of tons of food would probably be bizarre in any country, but Russia’s relationship to food is particularly troubling. The entire history of the twentieth century in Russia is possibly best told through a chronology of hunger.
(The New Yorker) A hundred and fourteen tons of pork were annihilated in the Russian city of Samara, on the Volga River. The pork, which had been imported using Brazilian documents, was revealed to have come from the European Union. More than two hundred tons of other food followed—cheese in Orenburg, pork in St. Petersburg, nectarines and tomatoes in the Leningrad Region.
None of this is a joke. All of it has been reported in the last couple of weeks by what passes for reputable media in Russia—that is, sources that publish news that the Kremlin wants people to know. It was the Kremlin that initiated the food slaughter in the first place. To start, on July 29th President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering the destruction of all foodstuffs brought to Russia in violation of sanctions that the country has imposed on imports from the European Union and several other Western countries, which have themselves subjected Russia to economic sanctions. The counter-sanctions, imposed a year ago, appeared designed to deliver a dual message—“We didn’t need your food in the first place” and “Russia will only win by eating what it produces”—and the new measures seem intended to reinforce the message of Russia’s resolve against the continuing onslaught of banned food from the enemies.
FT reports: Russia’s economy shrinks by 4.6%
Economists warn that a renewed drop in oil prices and falling rouble make a quick recovery unlikely
5 August
If Vladimir Putin’s Russia crumbles, a nuclear nightmare looms. Here’s why
(Financial Review) Under Vladimir Putin’s presidency, Russia is seen in the outside world as an expansionist power trying to revise post-Soviet borders and rebuild an empire. But what if Russia itself — a country of nearly 200 nationalities that stretches across 11 time zones — is in danger of crumbling?
It would not be the first time that Russia tried aggression and expansion as a defence against modernisation and by doing so undermined its own territorial integrity. In 1904, when Russia was on the verge of a revolution, Nicholas II tried to stave off change by looking for national traitors and starting a small war with Japan. The war ended a year later in Russia’s defeat and 12 years later the tsarist Russian empire faded away in a few days. In 1979, as Communist rule struggled under the weight of its own contradictions, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; 12 years later the Soviet Union collapsed just as suddenly.
In 2011 Moscow’s urban middle class took to the streets to demand modernisation. Mr Putin responded by picking out alleged national traitors, annexing Crimea and starting a war against Ukraine. The idea that Russia’s latest foreign-policy adventures might end in the same way as previous ones — with the collapse of the state and disintegration of the country— is not as far-fetched as it might seem.
3 August
Nato reports surge in jet interceptions as Russia tensions increase
In Europe, over the Aegean and in the Asia-Pacific region, interceptions are ‘almost routine’ but the sheer volume of incidents risks escalation
(The Guardian) Russian activity has included several more provocative – albeit isolated – incidents. These have included aircraft flying several times over military ships and bombers taking unconventional paths in proximity to US, Portuguese and British airspace.
But, according to Russia, this is all driven by an increase in the activities of “Nato countries and their partners” encroaching on its airspace.
30 July
MH17 crash: Russia vetoes UN resolution for international tribunal
(BBC) Russia has used its veto at the UN to block a draft resolution to set up an international tribunal into the MH17 air disaster in July 2014.
10 July
Big loser in any nuclear deal with Iran may be Russia
(Reuters Great Debate) The recent Russo-Iranian alliance has been more a marriage of convenience than a genuine partnership. Russia uses Iran as a geopolitical foothold in the energy-rich Persian Gulf and to poke a finger in the eye of U.S. allies in the region. In return, Iran takes advantage of Moscow’s veto power at multinational forums such as the United Nations. An Iran that is engaged with the West in areas such as energy, trade and peaceful nuclear power generation would no longer see Russia as protector of its interests. It is a fact that Iran’s fractured and vitriolic relationship with the West has driven it to form political, commercial and military ties with Russia. Those ties are still fragile, at best. … Russia and Iran have competing interests in energy more so than in any other area of strategic importance. If Iran is able to sell its oil unencumbered by sanctions, it would result in downward pressure on global oil prices and hurt Moscow’s bottom line.
5 July
Armenians have lost faith in Russia
Unrest in Armenia reflects a renewed sense of outrage over Russia’s arrogance towards this small, landlocked country.
4 July
Vladimir Putin’s Independence Day greeting calls for US-Russia dialogue
Despite differences, Kremlin says working with Obama remains important for global stability and Clinton weighs in – the US has to be ‘smarter’
(The Guardian) Tensions remain high over Russian influence and involvement in Ukraine, where fighting between government forces and pro-Russia rebels continues despite a ceasefire. A truce was signed in February. Last year, Russia annexed Crimea after similar fighting.
On Wednesday, a Pentagon report identified Russia, with China, as a major military threat to US interests.
Russia has “repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbours and it is willing to use force to achieve its goals”, the 2015 National Military Strategy said.
3 July
Aurel Braun: All quiet on the Russian front?
(Globe & Mail) Russian relations with the West appear to be settling into a desultory summer calm. The two sides may be facing each other with clenched teeth, but with the West preoccupied with multiple crises – from ISIS to Greece – it appears increasingly inured to confrontational Russian rhetoric and multiple periodic provocations. The Western desire to contain and calm may be understandable. But complacency could prove to be really dangerous in an atmosphere ripe for miscalculation. …
The risks then are that Russia may inadvertently glide from provocations to confrontation and conflict. Unwilling to engage in needed fundamental reforms and haunted by the spectre of democracy in Ukraine, which the West is promoting, the Kremlin, fearing for its legitimacy, recklessly keeps playing the ultranationalist card. It feels safe to do so because it counts on Western disunity and weakness. Therefore, despite its desire for calm, the West needs to reach into its vast economic and political toolbox as the early warning signs of trouble multiply to send Moscow an unambiguous message that provocations are not cost-free and that confrontation and conflict are in no one’s interest.
1 July
The Baltic Balance — How to Reduce the Chances of War in Europe
(Foreign Affairs) Opponents of the U.S. deployments will argue that last week’s announcements are evidence of chronic U.S. aggression and are undesirable because they could exacerbate tensions with Russia. Objections to further measures, especially permanent deployments, would be even more strident. But these objections are misplaced. Over the medium and long term, such reinforcements will reduce the chance of miscalculation by Moscow and, hence, of war. They also reduce a point of leverage that Moscow might seek to use against NATO during a crisis elsewhere.
29 June
See lengthy comment posted below which refers to a number of exchanges among several Wednesday Nighters and Canadian experts
How World War III became possible
A nuclear conflict with Russia is likelier than you think
Europe today looks disturbingly similar to the Europe of just over 100 years ago, on the eve of World War I. It is a tangle of military commitments and defense pledges, some of them unclear and thus easier to trigger. Its leaders have given vague signals for what would and would not lead to war. Its political tensions have become military buildups. Its nations are teetering on an unstable balance of power, barely held together by a Cold War–era alliance that no longer quite applies. …
Putin’s Russia is weak. It can no longer stand toe to toe with the US. It no longer has Europe divided in a stalemate; rather, it sees the continent as dominated by an ever-encroaching anti-Russian alliance. In the Russian view, the country’s weakness leaves it at imminent risk, vulnerable to a hostile West bent on subjugating or outright destroying Russia as it did to Iraq and Libya.
This is made more urgent for Putin by his political problems at home. In 2012, during his reelection, popular protests and accusations of fraud weakened his sense of political legitimacy. The problem worsened with Russia’s 2014 economic collapse; Putin’s implicit bargain with the Russian people had been that he would deliver economic growth and they would let him erode basic rights. Without the economy, what did he have to offer them?
Putin’s answer has been to assert Russian power beyond its actual strength — and, in the process, to recast himself as a national hero guarding against foreign enemies. Without a world-power-class military or economy at his disposal, he is instead wielding confusion and uncertainty — which Soviet leaders rightly avoided as existential dangers — as weapons against the West. …
As RAND’s F. Stephen Larrabee wrote in one of the increasingly urgent warnings that some analysts are issuing, “The Russia that the United States faces today is more assertive and more unpredictable — and thus, in many ways, more dangerous — than the Russia that the United States confronted during the latter part of the Cold War.”
Joseph Nye, the dean of Harvard University’s school of government and one of America’s most respected international relations scholars, pointed out that Russia’s weakness-masking aggression was yet another disturbing parallel to the buildup to World War I.
“Russia seems doomed to continue its decline — an outcome that should be no cause for celebration in the West,” Nye wrote in a recent column. “States in decline — think of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914 — tend to become less risk-averse and thus much more dangerous.”
6 June
The Russian Challenge, Chatham House Report
Keir Giles, Philip Hanson, Roderic Lyne, James Nixey, James Sherr and Andrew Wood
This report examines four key questions. First, what caused this challenge? Second, where is Russia heading? Third, what are the possible geopolitical consequences in the widest sense? And finally, at the tactical and strategic levels, how should the West act and react?
The authors of this report believe that the major Western actors have yet to absorb the full implications of Russia’s descent into authoritarian nationalism. It will take greater imagination than has been shown to date to develop an effective response to Moscow’s manoeuvres, supported as they are by both traditional and unconventional methods and means. Western strategy will have to take account of two incontrovertible facts.
First, Moscow and the West have competing, conflicting and entirely incompatible agendas.
Second, Putin is a fundamentally anti-Western leader whose serial disregard for the truth has destroyed his credibility as a negotiating partner. Consequently, it is unwise to expect that any compromise with Putin will produce long-term stable outcomes in Europe (June 2015)
President Vladimir Putin tells West not to fear Russia
(BBC) In his interview with Corriere della Sera, Mr Putin said some countries were “simply taking advantage of people’s fears with regard to Russia” in order to receive “some supplementary military, economic, financial or some other aid”.
“There is no need to fear Russia,” Mr Putin said.
“The world has changed so drastically that people with some common sense cannot even imagine such a large-scale military conflict today. We have other things to think about, I assure you.”
Russia Steps Up Propaganda Push With Online ‘Kremlin Trolls’
(AP) — Deep inside a four-story marble building in St. Petersburg, hundreds of workers tap away at computers on the front lines of an information war, say those who have been inside. Known as “Kremlin trolls,” the men and women work 12-hour shifts around the clock, flooding the Internet with propaganda aimed at stamping President Vladimir Putin’s world vision on Russia, and the world.
The Kremlin has always dabbled in propaganda, but in the past year its troll campaign has gone into overdrive, adding hundreds of online operatives to help counter Western pressure over its role in the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. The program is drawing Serbia away from its proclaimed EU membership path and closer to the Russian orbit, and is targeting Germany, the United States and other Western powers. The operation has worried the European Union enough to prompt it to draw up a blueprint for fighting Russia’s disinformation campaign, although details have not yet been released.
28 May
Putin Says FIFA Arrests Show U.S. Meddling Abroad, Backs Blatter
(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin defended Russia’s right to host the 2018 soccer World Cup on Thursday and accused the United States of meddling outside its jurisdiction in the arrest of top officials from world governing body FIFA.
Putin said the arrests in Switzerland on Wednesday were an “obvious attempt” to prevent FIFA head Sepp Blatter’s re-election this week but that the 79-year-old had Russia’s backing.
14 April
Joseph S. Nye: The Challenge of Russia’s Decline
(Project Syndicate) As Europe debates whether to maintain its sanctions regime against Russia, the Kremlin’s policy of aggression toward Ukraine continues unabated. Russia is in long-term decline, but it still poses a very real threat to the international order in Europe and beyond. Indeed, Russia’s decline may make it even more dangerous.
Make no mistake: what is happening in Ukraine is Russian aggression. President Vladimir Putin’s pretense that Russian troops were not participating in the fighting was all but shattered recently, when a Russian fighter in Donetsk confirmed to the BBC Russian service that they are playing a decisive role in rebel advances. Russian officers, he reported, directly command large military operations in eastern Ukraine, including the siege and capture of the important transport center of Debaltseve in February.
But the threat posed by Russia extends far beyond Ukraine. After all, Russia is the one country with enough missiles and nuclear warheads to destroy the US. As its economic and geopolitical influence has waned, so has its willingness to consider renouncing its nuclear status. Indeed, not only has it revived the Cold War-era tactic of sending military aircraft unannounced into airspace over the Baltic countries and the North Sea; it has also made veiled nuclear threats against countries like Denmark.
Weapons are not Russia’s only strength. The country also benefits from its enormous size, vast natural resources, and educated population, including a multitude of skilled scientists and engineers.
28 March
Boris Nemtsov
Putin letter to Arab summit triggers strong Saudi attack
(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of hypocrisy on Sunday, telling an Arab summit that he should not express support for the Middle East while fuelling instability by supporting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The Saudi rebuke may have been awkward for summit host Egypt, which depends heavily on billions of dollars in support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab allies, but has also improved ties with Moscow.
22 March
Russia Threatens To Aim Nuclear Missiles At Denmark Ships If It Joins NATO Shield
(Reuters via WorldPost) Denmark said in August it would contribute radar capacity on some of its warships to the missile shield, which the Western alliance says is designed to protect members from missile launches from countries like Iran.
Moscow opposes the system, arguing that it could reduce the effectiveness of its own nuclear arsenal, leading to a new Cold War-style arms race.
In an interview in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, said he did not think Danes fully understood the consequences of joining the program.
“If that happens, Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles,” Vanin told the newspaper.
16 March
Crimea leader says it will never again be part of Ukraine
Sergei Aksyonov said the annexation of the peninsula by Russia one year ago had been a “democratic act”.
In a pre-recorded interview which aired on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had been ready to put nuclear weapons on standby at the time.
Crimea – a year in Russian hands
(Deutsche Welle) It has been a year since Russia annexed Crimea. Now, Moscow is transforming the Black Sea peninsula into a military fortress. The biggest losers in this new situation are the Tatars.
The only thing that’s clear is that Crimea’s 2.3 million residents are living in a new reality. Transportation problems are just one piece of the mosaic. When the West imposed sanctions on Russia, many US companies pulled out of the peninsula. There are no more McDonald’s, and Visa and MasterCard, the world’s two largest credit card companies, no longer serve customers there. Apple stores in Crimea have also been forced to close down.
The biggest changes have concerned the military. Russia is feverishly transforming Crimea into a fortress. According to Russian state media, the number of soldiers stationed on the peninsula could increase from the current 25,000 to over 40,000.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin dismisses ‘gossip’ over absence
(BBC) While the Kremlin press office is having the last laugh about all the wild rumours of the past week, it’s still saying nothing about why he cancelled meetings and was not seen in public for what was, for him, a long absence.
And so at least some of the rumours may persist about what was happening behind the scenes.
What is known is that on this the day of his return to the limelight, he has ordered the northern fleet of the Russian navy to conduct a massive combat readiness exercise.
Putin’s Chief Bodyguard Killed
Sources in Moscow are reporting on the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal chief bodyguard, General Viktor Zolotov. Ukraine journalist Alex Mochanov has also confirmed the rumours.
15 March
When the tsar vanishes
Disappearing acts have served past Russian leaders well
In the absence of better information, one might ask what it has meant in the past when rulers of secretive governments vanished from public view. Of course, analogising current Russian politics to a distant and vastly different past can easily mislead. But in situations like this such comparisons can be educational, and they are certainly lots of fun. …
Perhaps Mr Putin really has been sick. He is scheduled to meet with Almazbek Atamaev, president of Kyrgyzstan, in St Petersburg on Monday, which may dispel the rumours. In the meantime it is useful to recall that when an autocrat disappears, it is not always a sign of weakness. As many analysts point out, Mr Putin’s vanishing act has Russians as keenly aware as ever of the government’s dependence upon him. Mr Putin, if healthy and unbothered, will not mind the reminder.
Putin missingKremlin declines to comment on report on Putin’s absence from Moscow: Dozhd
(Reuters) – Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on a report from the independent news outlet Dozhd on Sunday that said Russian President Vladimir Putin had not been in Moscow for the last several days.
Putin’s silence in the past week has fueled feverish speculation on everything from the state of his health to his grip on power and whether he went to Switzerland to watch his girlfriend give birth. (BBC) Speculation rife as world waits for Putin to reappear — there’s been no verifiable sighting of the omnipotent and normally omnipresent Vladimir Putin since 5 March. Such a long, unexplained absence from public view has fuelled rumours that something is wrong – that the president might be sick or even dead or he could be the victim of a palace coup.
Putin says Russia was ready for nuclear confrontation over Crimea
Reuters) – Moscow was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert to ensure Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, President Vladimir Putin said in a pre-recorded documentary aired on Sunday.
Putin also said that Russia had saved the life of Ukraine’s former pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovich, who he said had been in danger after ‘revolutionaries’ seized power following weeks of violent street protests in Kiev last year.
1 March
Air of hatred grips Russia as theories abound over Nemtsov’s murder
The tens of thousands who joined a memorial march through the Russian capital on Sunday had no qualms making the connection Russia’s police dare not. The country’s opposition – already tiny, now terrified – is convinced it was Mr. Nemtsov’s politics that got him killed. “Russia without Putin!” many chanted as they walked. Others held a long banner reading “these bullets were meant for each of us.” …
It’s easy to see how a hard-core nationalist – the kind Russia has been encouraging to go “volunteer” in the war in eastern Ukraine – might have thought he was doing his country a favour by shooting Mr. Nemtsov as he walked across the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge with his Ukrainian girlfriend on Friday night.
27 February
Russia opposition politician Boris Nemtsov shot dead
(BBC) An unidentified attacker in a car shot Mr Nemtsov four times in the back as he crossed a bridge in view of the Kremlin, police say.
President Putin has assumed “personal control” of the investigation into the killing, said his spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
19 February
Putin a threat to Baltic states, Western officials say
(Reuters) – Senior Western officials accused Russia on Thursday of redrawing the map of Europe by force and posing a threat to the Baltic states.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “real and present danger” to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and NATO was getting ready to repel any aggression, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said.
Valdis Dombrovskis, vice president of the European Commission, said a stronger NATO presence was needed on the alliance’s borders.
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is very worrying for Baltic states,” Dombrovskis, a former prime minister of Latvia, said at an event in London.
“It shows that Russia is looking to redraw Europe’s 21st century borders by force, and it must be noted that Ukraine is not the first country to face Russia’s aggression.”

Our friend Nick Rost van Tonningen comments:
On February 25th the Russian Army launched, near the Estonian border city of Narva1, a five-day military exercise, simulating the capture & destruction of a foreign-held airfield, that on its first day involved a 1,500 parachutists’ drop – While likely intended to intimidate the Baltic states’ governments & test NATO’s intestinal fortitude, some sources say it was prompted by NATO, as a ‘sign of its strength & solidarity’, having organized, just metres from the Russian border2, & in an overwhelmingly ethnic Russian city, a 1,300-strong military parade, complete with armoured personnel carriers & tanks, and a 100-strong complement of soldiers from other NATO countries, most noticeably Britain. But whatever Putin may believe, throughout history what are now the Baltic states had closer links to the Germanic states to their West than to the Slavic one to their East; thus in Latvia (pop. 2.1MM), the dominant religions are Lutheran & Roman Catholic, and in Lithuania (3.3MM)3 Roman Catholicism, while in Estonia (pop. 1.3MM) over half the population professes no religious affiliation & only one in six is Orthodox Christian. These countries were annexed by the Soviet Union following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 & the 1939/40 “Winter War’ between the Soviet Union & Finland. While present day Estonia & Latvia have significant (25%-27%) ethnic Russian minorities, these are largely due to policy-driven Russian inmigrations during the Stalin era; for according to their mid-1930’s censuses, the ethnic Russian share of their populations had then only been 8.2% & 10.6% respectively (while in Lithuania it was, & still remains, much lower, at 2.5% & 6.6%). Putin no doubt will try & inflame greater hostility in Estonia & Latvia towards the ethnic Russians in their midst, so as to have an excuse to move in to “protect” them (which won’t take much in the case of Latvia, where in the recent past there have already been some initiatives targeting its ethnic Russians (over half of whom live in its capital, Riga, whereas in Estonia their highest concentration is in its extreme Northeast, incl. Narva) that could be construed as anti-Russian.

17 February
Putin Offers Hungary Natural-Gas Deal
Energy reliance on Russia underscores Europe’s challenge in defying Moscow over Ukraine
(WSJ) Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said a political agreement on the gas deliveries had been reached, though technical details needed to be completed. He made a joint appearance with Mr. Putin in Budapest, a public-relations victory for a Russian president who has found himself unwelcome in other European capitals due to the conflict in Ukraine.
14 February
Goodbye, Putin — Why the President’s Days Are Numbered
By Alexander J. Motyl
(Foreign Affairs) The longer the Russian war against Ukraine continues, the more likely it is that President Vladimir Putin’s regime will collapse.
Despite Putin’s bluster, the authoritarian regime he has constructed is exceedingly brittle. At the center stands Putin; surrounding him, the power-hungry loyalists he has folded into his inner circle. Some, called the siloviki, belong to powerful institutions such as the secret police or the army. Others, formally affiliated with various government agencies, are loyal only to Putin. In such a system, sycophantism is rewarded above good governance, empire-building runs rampant, policy loses its effectiveness, and corruption becomes routine.
The neo-tsarist ideology of Russian imperialism, Orthodox revival, and anti-Western Slavophilism that Putin has constructed has limited appeal to the cynical men who help him run Russia. Therefore, Putin’s ability to retain their loyalty rests primarily on his control of the country’s financial resources. Thanks to the record-high energy prices that accompanied his assumption of power in 1999, Putin was able to personally purloin some $45 billion and still have enough money to raise the country’s standard of living, strengthen the Russian military, and keep his cronies happy. No longer. Oil prices have collapsed and are likely to stay low; Western sanctions are hitting hard; and the Russian economy is on the downswing.
15 January
Putin’s defence fixation deepens Russian budget problems
(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin’s insistence on huge defence spending makes it hard to see how a government plan to make deep budget cuts will see Russia through a deepening economic crisis.
Finance Minister Anton Siluanov called on Wednesday for a 10 percent cut in planned expenditures, warning that if oil were to average $50 a barrel this year, the budget would face a shortfall of 3 trillion roubles ($46 billion).
But defence spending will not be affected because of a Putin directive that dramatically limits room for manoeuvre: military and security costs swallow up more than a third of the budget and are set to rise by about 30 percent this year.
11 January
Is This The End of Putin’s ‘New Russia’ Fantasy?
Infighting, corruption and murder. Novorossia is falling prey to Russia’s old demons.
With the deepening economic crisis, Moscow seems to prefer that Kiev take responsibility for the semi-criminal leadership in Donetsk and Luhansk, and in the last two months, Putin has been avoiding the use of the term Novorossia and focused his major statements entirely on “sacred” Russian Crimea.
(Daiy Beast) Leaders of Novorossia, or New Russia, the pro-Russia separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, are publicly admitting their failure. The Kremlin’s ideologues wanted Novorossia to stretch from Donetsk to Odessa, and to provide a transport corridor to Crimea. Russian nationalists believed that Russia had to annex the entire Novorossia together with its rebellious Donetsk and Luhansk republics. But the Moscow-inspired and orchestrated project fell apart from the beginning—rebel leaders and warlords quit the movement one after another, or ordered one another’s murders.
In a recent interview, former prime-minister of Donetsk rebel republic, Alexander Borodai, and Igor Bezler, one of the most feared rebel commanders—both key Novorossia figures—admitted that Novorossia could not succeed in the current economic crisis brought on by the pressure of Western sanctions.
10 January
Chechen Leader Threatens Radio Echo of Moscow After Poll Shows Support For Charlie Hebdo
(Daily Beast) Last month, also on Twitter, Kadyrov promised to burn the houses of the families of terrorists without any investigation. At his annual press conference, Putin was asked what he thought of these calls for violence. “Nobody, including the leader of Chechnya, has the right to engage in extrajudicial reprisals,” Putin said about his loyal appointee, Kadyrov, also known in Chechnya as Imam Ramzan.
Cartoons mocking religious symbols are nothing unusual for Russia, where anti-religious propaganda was official policy in the Soviet Union for decades. Magazines and newspapers regularly published caricatures of Jehovah, Jesus Christ, and Allah. But things have changed in the past two decades in Russia, a country with about 20 million Muslims.
9 January
Putin’s Long Shadow
(The Fifth Estate) He casts a long shadow over globe. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has outlasted three U.S. presidents and is on track to stay in power until 2024. But a joint investigation by the fifth estate and PBS’ Frontline reveals an even darker side to one of the world’s most powerful leaders: Allegations of criminal activity dating back to his early days as a top official in St. Petersburg; ties to organized crime and money-laundering activities; and a secret personal fortune said to be in the billions
8 January
Vladimir Putin’s personal vineyard at multimillion euro Marbella mansionPutin-zagaleta-house
EXCLUSIVE by Tom Powell
HE is one of the richest, most controversial men in the world and – it seems – somewhat the wine buff.
Russian president Vladimir Putin is planting his very own vineyard at the multimillion euro home he is developing in the hills above Marbella, it can be revealed.
Olive Press sources insist that the Russian gourmet, 62, has dug 25 plants from Spain’s top bodega Pingus into a series of terraces around the mansion, in Benahavis.
In a huge mega-deal he has also contracted the vineyard’s owner Danish oenologist Peter Sisseck to oversee production of the wine.
The wine will be produced in two huge underground cellars at the 10-bedroom palace in the exclusive enclave of Zagaleta – complete with private helipad and 22-car garage.
A series of French oak barrels will store the wine.
5 January
Putin’s Eurasian trade bloc is born not with a bang, but a whimper
On Jan. 1, something called the Eurasian Economic Union – a free-trade zone consisting of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan – lurched into being. Tiny Armenia joined a day later.
For a decade, [Putin] had been the driving force behind the idea of “Eurasian integration,” a phrase many saw as code for re-establishing Russian hegemony over much of the old USSR. But the Kremlin’s hopes that the EEU would give it the economic and cultural influence to again stand on even footing with Washington, Brussels and Beijing collapsed last February, when the old regime in Ukraine was ousted by pro-Western revolutionaries. … Mr. Putin’s grand geopolitical project – a Russian-led Eurasia – is in shambles. Even in parts of Ukraine that were long considered “pro-Russian” because they voted for leaders like Mr. Yanukovych, the popularity ratings of Russia, Mr. Putin and the EEU have fallen almost as fast as the ruble. See: Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union gets ready to take on the world (28 October 2014)

One Comment on "Russia in 2015"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson July 6, 2015 at 4:19 am ·

    Max Fisher wrote a provocative article captioned How World War III became possible: A nuclear conflict with Russia is likelier than you think. This has prompted an exchange of views between several of us. I have sought permission to make everyone aware of others’ expressed views, and have received no objections. Indeed, all of us appear to be unanimous in encouraging the sharing of views on this highly important topic.

    Many of us don’t know Max Fisher, but all seem to agree that his views as expressed in his WW III article merit careful attention and circulation. We all seem to agree that the article is correct in its major premise – the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

    In this message, I’m trying to present something of an orderly summary of what’s been expressed so far.

    Sound analysis requires the ready availability of reliable facts.

    The Fisher article mentions Russian paranoia about right-wing or fascist elements in the Ukraine. Brief mention in the media of such elements and their influence may have from time to time come to your attention, but detail has been lacking – understandably, many of us think that we have not read nor seen enough to enable us to make informed judgments. How influential are the fascist elements? How strong was support for the German army in the Ukraine during World War II? (In short, does Russian paranoia have some rational historical and factual basis?)

    Just as Russian policies are presumably not reliably clear to NATO planners and observers, there is the reciprocal worry that NATO policies are not clear to Russia. Again the starting point for clear policies is accurate facts, of which, re Russia and Eastern Europe, we in Canada suffer a deficiency.

    Apart from the risks of miscalculation and misapprehension, this sentence in the Fisher article provokes concern: “Many Western Europeans, asked in a poll whether they would defend their own Eastern European allies from a Russian invasion, said no.” The split in the West seems to some to be one of our biggest problems – perhaps the very biggest. Some of us are particularly perturbed by the absence of a NATO consensus on how to respond to Russia in the event of a crisis arising in eastern Europe, and particularly in the Baltic states. A recent Pew Center Poll revealed that 70 percent of Poles see Russia as a major threat, while only 38 percent of Germans would agree. Also, in Germany a favourable view of NATO has declined by 18 percent since 2009. What is perhaps most striking is that only 38 percent of Germans responded that Germany should use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia. Quite a lot has been written on this subject lately. See e.g.

    We Canadians must recognize that we are small players. Some Canadians are concerned about the role that the Canadian Government and particularly PM Harper are playing, which has not been limited to providing military and logistical support to causes that Canada supports. What are the potential benefits from the Canadian plan to send a military training mission and military supplies to the Ukraine? This ploy conceivably may have been designed more to gather support from Ukrainian Canadian voters than as part of a careful NATO strategy to counter the Russian moves in that part of Europe. Further, Canada is doing next to nothing to improve Ukrainian military capability. Yet we may be feeding Russian paranoia about western intentions.

    And is PM Harper right in trying to keep Putin out of the G7, or is the PM playing into Putin’s hands? The latter possibility is supported by Putin’s attempts to win most of his major battles as propaganda battles on the homestead rather than by way of territorial advance in neighbouring countries (so far, Ukraine being the notable exception). Presumably he welcomes activity by the West that may arguably imply that the West is trying to demean, isolate and weaken Russia.

    Concern has been expressed that extending NATO any further eastward would be a mistake. The “old” NATO countries are unlikely to be supportive of the “new” NATO countries in case of at least some occurrences of confrontation with Russia, particularly as there will be serious splits in attitudes not only within the “old” NATO countries (see the Pew Center Poll figures above) but also within the “new” NATO countries. In the “new” NATO countries, there are on the one hand those who support Russia and those who have no wish to see their countries become a battlefield once again; and on the other hand, those who lean to the West .

    The Russian threat of limited tactical employment of nuclear weapons no doubt exacerbates the foregoing difficulty. Google “Russia tactical nuclear weapons” and you will be led to many articles reporting and discussing threats explicitly or implicitly made by Russia to make limited use of tactical nuclear bombs to support its military missions. These threats reinforce the importance of articles such as Mr Fisher’s.

    An important point missing from the Fisher article is the way in which the President of the United States, as a potential chief decision maker, is perceived abroad. Some view Obama as being weak. That view could encourage every potential mischief-maker (Putin, ISIS, the Mullahs in Iran) to perceive themselves as having a grace period of a year-and-a-half to fish in troubled waters, with the swearing-in of the next President as the terminal date. The foregoing suggests that we shall see interesting times between now and January 2017. If during this period Obama feels called upon to show himself to be tough, dangerous miscalculations might come into play.

    It is difficult to assess what motivates President Obama in making the statements and taking the action that he chooses. It seems possible that he wishes
    – to reduce US intrusion into the battles of non-allied countries, both to reduce risks of US losses, human and financial, and also to subdue the reputation of the US as an unwelcome intruder;
    – to eliminate or reduce fresh alliances of the US with unsavoury allies;
    – to coax allies of their own accord to make decisions welcomed by the US, rather than shoving US precepts down allied throats;
    – to the extent possible, to disentangle war from its religious complications;
    – to find middle ground that will be supported at home by both Democrats and Republicans;
    – to avoid adding to existing international commitments of the US, especially if from a strategic standpoint for at least an interim period, related conflicts can be resolved abroad by those directly involved in them with no involvement or only minimal involvement by the US.

    If at least some of the foregoing guesses about Presidential preferences are accurate, their adoption and implementation by the US President could certainly be interpreted by some as weakness. Note that these comments could apply in several different and largely unrelated contexts, including the middle east, Ukraine, the Arctic, and the South China Sea.

    For example, the mutual slaughter of Shias and Sunnis is not yet necessarily per se a danger to world peace. Iran and the Saudis are financing much of that mayhem and are contributing militarily. When these warring parties turn on Israel, the conflict may spread and invoke the participation of other countries, including Russia and the US, who may not share their respective goals and strategies. The Mid-East is a permanent tinderbox, but Putin is the only one who has actually threatened to use nuclear weapons, although many are conscious of a potential Israeli capability to do so. We must also recognize that Iran and militant Islamists have as a fundamental objective the destruction of Israel and Jews.

    Another concern is the prospect that outside forces, such as IS and its soulmates – even lone wolves – meddling in Russia / NATO situations, or for that matter in other tinderbox situations such as the highly volatile Kashmir problem, may stir up major conflicts amongst their “enemies” as defined by the Koran.

    Of further general interest on the subject of our messages are:

    1) All quiet on the Russian front? by Aurel Braun, a professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto and an associate of the Davis Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. His brief article is viewable at

    2) The Baltic Balance – How to Reduce the Chances of War in Europe, by Christopher S. Chivvis, published currently (01 July) by Foreign Affairs and viewable at Mr. Chivvis is associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. He specializes in national security issues in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, including NATO, military interventions, and deterrence. He is also an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
    A summary of the Chivvis article: Moscow’s calculus and future trajectory are highly uncertain, and its recent sabre-rattling along NATO’s eastern flank has heightened tensions throughout the region. NATO has no choice but to take the risk of conflict seriously, and increased U.S. military support for the Baltic nations is a crucial step.

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