Tag Archives: Vladimir Putin

David J. Kramer: The #Dangerous Mr. #Putin

 The problem with “accommodating” Russia in Ukraine is that Vladimir Putin’s goal is sowing chaos as part of a plan to hold on to power in the Kremlin.

By David J. Kramer.The Dangerous Mr. Putin
Over the past several months, President Obama and his Western colleagues have engaged with Vladimir Putin on numerous occasions to try to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. Obama and Putin have spoken nine times and met briefly in France in June; German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken with Putin on close to 40 occasions and met him in France as well as in Brazil during the World Cup.

The problem is not lack of dialogue with Putin. The problem is the leader in the Kremlin who seeks to destabilize his neighbors and prevent them from democratizing and integrating more closely with the West at the same time he cracks down in ugly ways inside his own country.

Were Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and other countries in the region to succeed, their progress would pose a serious challenge to the thoroughly corrupt, authoritarian system Putin oversees in Russia. This is why Putin intervened with Ukraine’s plans last fall to sign agreements with the European Union, and why he invaded Ukraine in late February after Viktor Yanukovych fled Kyiv. Nothing scares Putin like the ouster of like-minded authoritarian leaders by popular movements calling for an end to corruption and a brighter future with the West. That was true in 2003 and 2004 with the Rose and Orange Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, respectively, with his ongoing support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria after several other tyrants in the Arab world fell from power in 2011, and now again with Ukraine.

With record-high popularity ratings, one would think Putin would feel more secure in his position. But before his move into Ukraine, Putin’s numbers, while still relatively high compared to many Western leaders, had plateaued. The Russian economy was already in trouble before the West started imposing sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian system is completely corrupt, with estimates of Putin’s own worth reaching the tens of billions of dollars. (Should Russians see their standard of living decline and food products they’ve grown accustomed to buying become scarce because of the ban put in place in response to the West’s sanctions, Putin’s support could drop.

For more than a decade, Putin has perpetuated the myth that the West and the United States in particular are Russia’s top security threats. He does this to justify his repressive means of control over society, bolster a narrative that his leadership represents the best bulwark against such a threat, and deflect attention from domestic concerns. This is not new. Following the tragic hostage-taking of a school in Beslan in southern Russia in 2004 in which some 300 people were killed, largely at the hands of a bungled rescue operation, Putin said, “Some want to tear off a big chunk of our country. Others help them to do it.”

In his bellicose speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, Putin said, “Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force—military force—in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts…. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?”

Russia’s military doctrine from 2010 cites as Russia’s top “external military danger” the enlargement of NATO and its military infrastructure “closer to the borders of the Russian Federation.” The reality, of course, is that Russia’s most secure and stable borders are with those countries—Estonia, Latvia,

Lithuania, Poland, Norway, and Finland—that are members of NATO and/or the European Union.

Citing this history is not to suggest that Putin is all rhetoric and no danger. On the contrary, a paranoid Putin is very dangerous for Russia’s neighbors and for internal critics. Just ask Georgia, which Russia invaded in 2008, or Estonia, the victim of a Russian cyberattack in 2007, or Moldova, which has endured trade cutoffs, or Ukraine today.

At the end of the day, Putin wants to destabilize Ukraine and other neighbors to make them unappealing to the West. Putin fabricates a threat to ethnic Russians in Ukraine to justify his invasion; the reality is there were no such threats, but more importantly he doesn’t give a damn about their welfare. After all, he doesn’t care about the rights of Russians living in his own country as evidenced by his nasty crackdown on human rights there and the import food ban. Whether Ukraine creates a federal model or some other form of governance is of no interest to Putin; fomenting chaos and separatism in Ukraine are his main objectives.

This is why calls by some commentators for Western leaders to “explore a quiet compromise” with Putin over the crisis in Ukraine and to “understand the Russian leader’s concerns, his demands, his ideas for possibly de-escalating the situation”are pointless, even counterproductive. Putin is not interested in de-escalating unless that would help him with his number one priority: staying in power.

Indeed, Putin is willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power, including, it appears, invading Ukraine under the phony pretext of a “humanitarian intervention.” Making matters worse, through his control over television programming, Putin’s propaganda has tapped into an increasingly ugly mood among Russians (see this “Bike Show” over the past weekend in Sevastopol) that will be hard to tamp down—and may even spin beyond Putin’s control. This makes Putin, and now even Russia, a serious threat. To deal with this challenge requires even tougher sanctions, including adding Putin himself to the sanctions list, and the provision of military assistance by which Ukraine and other neighbors—and not just NATO members—can defend themselves. The last thing we need is a renewed search for accommodation with Putin.

(David J. Kramer is president of Freedom House).

The American Interest.

Those Trucks Putin Sent To Ukraine With ‘Humanitarian Supplies’ Were Mostly Empty

By Paul Roderick Gregory.Trucks of Russian humanitarian convoy are parked in a field outside the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in Rostov region, some 30 km from the Russian-Ukrainian border, Russia, on August 16, 2014. The Ukrainian military had announced that checks had begun on the near 300-truck convoy but later said only that 59 border and customs officials had arrived at a Russian border post to prepare to carry out the inspections. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV .Trucks of Russian humanitarian convoy are parked in a field outside the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in Rostov region, some 30 km from the Russian-Ukrainian border, Russia, on August 16, 2014. The Ukrainian military had announced that checks had begun on the near 300-truck convoy but later said only that 59 border and customs officials had arrived at a Russian border post to prepare to carry out the inspections. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV © AFP

What was supposed to be a PR bonanza is ending up as another black eye for Vladimir Putin, the heralded chess master of world politics.

Did he really expect the world community to force Ukraine to allow in Russia’s gift of humanitarian assistance, no questions asked? Did he really think that Ukraine would allow his convoy to proceed into a war zone as cameras recorded the celebratory reception by starving and suffering civilians? Did Putin really not understand that national leaders look askance at attempts to cross national borders without permission? That is the International Politics 101 lecture that Putin failed to attend.

Ukraine crisis: Russian aid trucks ‘almost empty‘ – BBC News

An official government website, Russia Behind the News, heralded the impending delivery to beleaguered Donbassians of “some 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian supplies” in 280 KamAz trucks, including “400 tonnes of cereal, 100 tonnes of sugar, 62 tonnes of baby food, 54 tonnes of medical equipment and medication, 12,000 sleeping bags, and 69 portable power generators.” What good news, but how were these supplies to get across the border, much less into an active war zone?

As would be expected, negotiations among Russia, Ukraine, and the International Committee of the Red Cross failed on August 14, after international leaders called in protest. Putin could not afford a direct confrontation so he blinked. The white-painted KamAz-truck convoy ended up parked near the Ukrainian border awaiting inspection, as some hundred curious reporters swarmed the scene, taking pictures as they urged drivers to display the contents of the trucks.

To the shock of the reporters, trucks contained a few bags of flour, a large bundle of bottled water, and other miscellaneous items – far from the cornucopia promised by Russian propaganda. In his video report, a BBC reporter reacted to what he had seen: “What strikes me most about these lorries is that they are almost empty.” When asked about another truck that remained unopened, the BBC reporter was told its manifest stated it contained eight tons of buckwheat flour – two tons in excess of the KAMaz’s maximum load. So we have near empty trucks alongside those carrying more than their allowable weight.

The “almost empty” narrative (see also reporter Courtney Weaver’s photos) has turned Putin’s humanitarian gesture into a running joke. One writer has dubbed the convoy the “Trojan Mules.” A social media commentator quips that the trucks are half empty so that they can pick up Polish vegetables and apples on the way back. Another asks why Russia would send 100 trucks that are two percent full instead of five that are 100 percent full? According to my calculation, that would have saved Russia 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

The “almost empty” convoy has conspiracy theorists looking for a rational explanation. One making the rounds is that Russia needs a large number of trucks to extract their mercenary forces from Ukraine, spelling the end or lessening of the guerilla war sponsored by Russia, at least for the time being. A second story is that the 280 transport vehicles would give pro-Russian forces a logistical boost. Sources with extensive military experience, however, tell me that such trucks would not prove of much value on the Donbass war front.

I’ll go with the simplest explanation: Putin wanted to make a big PR splash for his August 14 speech in Crimea – a speech so lackluster that the full transcript has not been published on Putin’s website. (Kremlinologists: figure that one out). He planned to present himself to Crimea and the world as the humanitarian, peace-loving Putin. The world listened, heard his usual pleas for peace, and world stock markets fell. They have heard this story too many times. Even more humiliating is that Ukrainian aid has already arrived with more to follow. To make matters worse, reporters, whiling away their time on the unguarded border, are reporting armored personnel carriers loaded with Russian troops (with Russian insignia no less) whizzing unhindered across the border. Russia’s protests that reporters should not “believe their lying eyes” seem to be falling on empty ears.

What Putin hoped to be a huge publicity triumph is turning into a PR disaster, second only to the downing of MH17. He might go down in history as “empty-truck Putin,” or “Ebenezer Putin.” Next time he should think things through before he embarks on another misadventure.

(Paul Roderick Gregory covers domestic and world economics from a free-market perspective)

Paul Roderick Gregory - Forbes.

Nick Clegg says Russia should not host World Cup 2018

Fifa has ruled out calls for boycott after the shooting down of MH17, insisting the tournament could be ‘a force for good’.

Nick Clegg believes it would be 'unthinkable' for the World Cup 2018 tournament to go ahead in Russia. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty ImagesNick Clegg believes it would be ‘unthinkable’ for the World Cup 2018 tournament to go ahead in Russia. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images.

Nick Clegg has joined calls for Russia to face the axe as hosts of the 2018 World Cup as part of tougher sanctions over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

The deputy prime minister said it was “unthinkable” at present that the tournament could go ahead in the country blamed by the west for supplying arms to the separatist rebels accused of causing the deaths of all 298 on board.

Football’s world governing body Fifa this week ruled out calls from some German politicians for Russia to be boycotted, insisting the tournament could be “a force for good“.

But Clegg told the Sunday Times that allowing it to go ahead without a change of course by president Vladimir Putin would make the world look “so weak and so insincere” in its condemnation of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for the rebels.

The EU has added another 15 individuals and 18 entities to the list of those subject to asset freezes and ambassadors in Brussels are expected to extend the punitive actions to state-owned banks’ access to capital markets and to the arms and energy sectors.

Clegg said however that sporting events should also be part of the package of measures – including the cancellation of Russia’s first F1 Grand Prix, which is due to take place in Sochi in October.

“Vladimir Putin himself has to understand that he can’t have his cake and eat it,” he said.

“He can’t constantly, you know, push the patience of the international community beyond breaking point, destabilise a neighbouring country, protect these armed separatists in the east of Ukraine and still have the privilege and honour of receiving all the accolades in 2018 for being the host nation of the World Cup.

“That’s why I’ve come to the view that if he doesn’t change course it’s just not on, the idea that Russia will host the World Cup in 2018.

“You can’t have this – the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

“Not only would Vladimir Putin exploit it, I think it would make the rest of the world look so weak and so insincere about our protestations about Vladimir Putin’s behaviour if we’re not prepared to pull the plug.

He said that despite F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone’s insistence that there was no case for abandoning the Grand Prix, “the question marks I’m raising will only increase over the next coming weeks and months, over the summer and up to the Grand Prix, about Russia’s entitlement to host these major events.

“Vladimir Putin is a past master at attending these sporting events and, sort of, pretending almost as if everything’s utterly normal and nothing untoward is happening around him.

“And if anyone needed any reminding of how dangerous this conflict is in the heart of Europe, just ask any of the family and relatives of those loved ones they lost in that plane incident last week.”

Clegg said the threat of withdrawing the World Cup would be “a very potent political and symbolic sanction”.

“If there’s one thing that Vladimir Putin cares about, as far as I can see, it’s his sense of status.

“Maybe reminding him that you can’t retain the same status in the world if you ignore the rest of the world, maybe that will have some effect on his thinking.”

He did not rule out the UK as an alternative host given its recent history of putting on successful global sporting events.

“We’ve got the stadiums, we’ve got the infrastructure, and we’ve got the public backing and enthusiasm to host it,” he said.

“That’s a decision for other people. But I’m not saying this just as a, sort of, British land grab to snatch the World Cup from under Vladimir Putin’s nose.”

He joined David Cameron’s criticism of the French deal to supply warships to Russia, saying it would be “wholly inappropriate” for it to proceed in the present circumstances.

“Whilst I can entirely understand that the French may have entered into that contract with the Russians in entirely different circumstances, it is wholly inappropriate to go ahead with that now,” he said.

“And as you know, the Prime Minister has reviewed the outstanding licenses that we have got to make sure that we deliver what we unilaterally announced back in March, which was that there would be no exports from Britain of arms products which could in any way fuel or fan the flames of the conflict in Ukraine.”

He said he had been assured by business secretary Vince Cable that “great care” was taken to check the remaining licences.

Clegg predicted that any adverse effects on EU member states of tougher economic sanctions against Russia would be “probably not very significant” and urged all countries to consider the wider benefit.

“We are now moving, I think, towards a situation – and both the prime minister and I would be united in this – in saying to other European Union leaders, look, even if this incurs short-term political damage to this economy or that economy, this sector or that sector, there is something bigger at stake here and it is the stability of the European continent.”

Clegg said the furore over the £160,000 paid in a Tory fundraising auction by the wife of a Russian oligarch who was a minister in Putin’s first government for a game of tennis with Cameron and Boris Johnson mostly demonstrated the need for reform of political party funding.

“They need to make their own judgments,” he said, when asked if his coalition partners should meet Labour demands to repay the money.

“But all parties … continue to be damaged because of the haphazard way which we have to go around fund raising,” he added – calling on both main parties to stop blocking reform.

The Guardian.

#Russia, #MH17 and the #West: A web of lies

Vladimir Putin’s epic deceits have grave consequences for his people and the outside world.

A web of lies

IN 1991, when Soviet Communism collapsed, it seemed as if the Russian people might at last have the chance to become citizens of a normal Western democracy. Vladimir Putin’s disastrous contribution to Russia’s history has been to set his country on a different path. And yet many around the world, through self-interest or self-deception, have been unwilling to see Mr Putin as he really is.

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the killing of 298 innocent people and the desecration of their bodies in the sunflower fields of eastern Ukraine, is above all a tragedy of lives cut short and of those left behind to mourn. But it is also a measure of the harm Mr Putin has done. Under him Russia has again become a place in which truth and falsehood are no longer distinct and facts are put into the service of the government. Mr Putin sets himself up as a patriot, but he is a threat—to international norms, to his neighbours and to the Russians themselves, who are intoxicated by his hysterical brand of anti-Western propaganda.

The world needs to face the danger Mr Putin poses. If it does not stand up to him today, worse will follow.

Crucifiction and other stories

Mr Putin has blamed the tragedy of MH17 on Ukraine, yet he is the author of its destruction. A high-court’s worth of circumstantial evidence points to the conclusion that pro-Russian separatists fired a surface-to-air missile out of their territory at what they probably thought was a Ukrainian military aircraft. Separatist leaders boasted about it on social media and lamented their error in messages intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence and authenticated by America.

Jerzy Dyczynsk and Angela Rudhart-Dyczynski from Australia, whose daughter Fatima, 25, died on flight MH17, on Saturday visited the crash site in disputed eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images.Jerzy Dyczynsk and Angela Rudhart-Dyczynski from Australia, whose daughter Fatima, 25, died on flight MH17, on Saturday visited the crash site in disputed eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images.

Russia’s president is implicated in their crime twice over. First, it looks as if the missile was supplied by Russia, its crew was trained by Russia, and after the strike the launcher was spirited back to Russia. Second, Mr Putin is implicated in a broader sense because this is his war. The linchpins of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic are not Ukrainian separatists but Russian citizens who are, or were, members of the intelligence services. Their former colleague, Mr Putin, has paid for the war and armed them with tanks, personnel carriers, artillery—and batteries of surface-to-air missiles. The separatists pulled the trigger, but Mr Putin pulled the strings.

The enormity of the destruction of flight MH17 should have led Mr Putin to draw back from his policy of fomenting war in eastern Ukraine. Yet he has persevered, for two reasons. First, in the society he has done so much to mould, lying is a first response. The disaster immediately drew forth a torrent of contradictory and implausible theories from his officials and their mouthpieces in the Russian media: Mr Putin’s own plane was the target; Ukrainian missile-launchers were in the vicinity. And the lies got more complex. The Russian fiction that a Ukrainian fighter jet had fired the missile ran into the problem that the jet could not fly at the altitude of MH17, so Russian hackers then changed a Wikipedia entry to say that the jets could briefly do so. That such clumsily Soviet efforts are easily laughed off does not defeat their purpose, for their aim is not to persuade but to cast enough doubt to make the truth a matter of opinion. In a world of liars, might not the West be lying, too?

People watch from a bridge as a convoy of hearses carries the bodies of those killed on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 through Boxtel in the Netherlands. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.People watch from a bridge as a convoy of hearses carries the bodies of those killed on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 through Boxtel in the Netherlands. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images. Continue reading

Russians in London: ‘It’s official policy now to hate us’

Russians living in London say British media's coverage of the Malaysia Airlines crash is pushing them to side with Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Zuma/Rex FeaturesRussians living in London say British media’s coverage of the Malaysia Airlines crash is pushing them to side with Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Zuma/Rex Features.

Outside Kalinka, a Russian delicatessen and grocers on London’s bustling Queensway, customers were uneasy . “I am shocked,” says one, an electrician, who came to London 12 years ago to work on building sites. He remembers the stereotyping of his fellow Russians back then. “It was Russians are rude. And they are drinking beer. And they are drinking vodka. But it was funny. It was soft humour.

“Now, the newspapers are definitely trying to mix the opinions of people against Russian culture and people. Now it is Russians are killers.”

He is far from alone among Russians living in London to have noticed a backlash since the downing of flight MH17. Like most, he too, speaks only on condition of anonymity.

“There are pictures of Putin. The word “killer” on the front pages,” said Anna, a Russian-born pharmaceutical consultant. “Then page after page, until page 12 or something, when it’s Gaza. Russians are killers. How do you think it affects us?”

“Do you believe in collective punishment? Do you want to bomb people for their nationality?” she asks. “It’s actually official policy now to hate Russians.”

Of course, she said, she has no idea of the exact circumstances that led to shooting of the plane and loss of 298 lives. “But the British culture is to find a culprit. Bully them. Bully those around them. Don’t bother to investigate. Judge on very superficial grounds. Let’s bully his daughter. Let’s find someone who played judo with this man and bully them too.

“Surround him with hate so the Russians will throw him out. But the Russians won’t throw him out,” she added. “Everyone is suffering. Collective punishment is not the answer.”

Among his friends, Sasha, a retired Russian army officer who has lived in London for more than 20 years, now finds “a great deal of sadness, and fear, fear that the lunacy will escalate.

“It is easy to resurrect antagonism towards Russia because people remember the cold war, and when something goes wrong in Russia it’s magnified,” he said. Sanctions would hit the middle and lower income Russians “the tourists, the students who fill the universities” and not “the big people, who don’t care”.

Across London in the City, fears are also for business. One director of a reinsurance broker, whose company works in 20 different countries, many from the former Soviet Union, said his concern about media coverage was “that there is no presumption of innocence in this case.

“It looked as if the story was ready for the mass media before the aircraft came down.

“All this blaming Russians, I am Russian English. I have been living here for 25 years. I don’t quite like Putin’s politics. But, unfortunately, all this has really pushed me over to the Russian side, which I haven’t been since the events started in the Ukraine.”

He fears a break “in connections which have been set up over the last 20 to 25 years, based on information that has not been verified”.

Others fear a trade slump will lead to job losses. “If there is no business with Russia, it inevitably will affect our employability because we sell our language skills,” said one insurance worker.

Now living in London, she was born in Russia before moving to Ukraine, where her parents still live. She was visiting them when the plane was shot down.

“My parents have both Ukrainian and Russian channels. And the story was so contradictory if you switched from Russian TV to Ukrainian TV. It is actually scary how the same event can be shown from a different perspective and you just don’t know what to believe,” she said. “They are trading accusations, and both seem equally credible. My advice would be not to listen to either.”

She has found British media “more or less objective” but is concerned how comments translate into Russian.

“I can hear what David Cameron says in English and it’s sort of alright. Once it is translated into Russian it sounds really harsh. That really is an issue. When it’s taken out of context, and translated, it can sound almost opposite to what was said,” she said.

The Guardian.