Via Slate, here's a nifty webcam that shows you live images of Russia taken from across the international dateline in Alaska. (Actually it's the Russian island of Big Diomede from the Alaskan Little Diomede):
Here's an interesting graphic from today's Financial Times, related to a Harris opinon poll conducted for the paper after the war in Georgia. It seems that an increasing number of Europeans in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain see Russia as a threat, but few of them want to increase defense spending as a result.
Plus, Vladimir Putin is no doubt pleased to have confirmation that although the Baltic states are NATO members, in none of the countries surveyed would a majority sending troops to defend them against Russia if that country "were to take military action against them."
European governments frequently accuse Russia of playing pipeline politics with its energy supplies, but a group of enterprising smugglers found a way to keep a different kind of liquid fuel flowing into Eastern Europe.
Estonian authorities recently discovered a two-kilometer underwater pipeline that was set up to pump cheap Russian vodka under a reservoir into Estonia where it could be sold at a markup without export tarrifs. The smugglers managed to pump 6,200 liters of the stuff under the border before they were shut down.
With this supply cut off, Western diplomats will, no doubt, soon be dispatched to strong-arm Caucasian states into an amibitious trans-Caspian project to pump Uzbek vodka into southern Europe.
I finally had the chance to read U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's big speech on Russia (thanks, Jeff).
And it's pretty good. If you can, read the whole thing and not just the press accounts, because it contains more nuance than the reporting would suggest. (And do also check out Defense Secretary Robert Gates's call for "caution" among NATO states along Russia's periphery.)
Yes, Condi did say Russia's leaders had a "paranoid, aggressive impulse" to control their neighbors. And yes, she made clear that the United States would seek to deny Russia its strategic goals and exclude it from international institutions such as the WTO and the OECD. "Russia's international standing is worse now that at any time since 1991," she claimed, pointing out that Russia has found scant support for its actions in Georgia. "A pat on the back from Daniel Ortega and Hamas is not a diplomatic triumph," she pointed out. Zing!
Still, Rice acknowledged the Russian view of the situation, saying she remembered Russian friends describing the "humiliating sense that nothing Russian was good enough anymore" during the 1990s, though she didn't mention that many if not most Russians blame the West for this state of affairs.
I'm not yet convinced, however, that bringing Georgia (and for that matter, Ukraine) into NATO is a smart move. Think back to that disastrous Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson. When the vice presidential nominee said that "perhaps" the United States might have to go to war with Russia, a nuclear power, to meet its Article Five obligations, she was being clumsy where a more seasoned politician might decline to be so explicit or dismiss the question as hypothetical.
But, technically speaking, she was right on the merits. War with Russia may be inconceivable, but putting Georgia in NATO means that protecting that country is a collective obligation of the trans-Atlantic alliance. U.S. leaders should think long and hard about whether they would really send Americans to die so that Mikheil Saakashvili can regain control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Because Vladimir Putin is betting that they wouldn't.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin's Latin American trip took an odd turn in Cuba earlier this week. After searching for ways that Moscow could help clean up the mess that Hurricanes Gustav and Ike left behind, the two countries had a more lofty goal to discuss: building a Cuban space center.
Yes, really. Though the details are unclear, Russia and its famed Cold War ally discussed the possibility of sharing technology to build Cuba's space program. Russia's Federal Space Agency issued a press release officially announcing the intent to collaborate this morning (sorry, it's in Russian).
Imagery of Cuba and Russia collaborating on anything that flies, of course, conjures up alarmingly unpleasant memories. Too bad the bargaining doesn't end there. After Havana, Sechin took off for Venezuela, where Russia is looking to close a deal to sell fighter jets and air defense systems to President Hugo Chávez after joint military exercises last week.
Just like the Cold War days, get used to Russia reaching for the stars.
Dmitry Medvedev stepped up the brewing territorial conflict in the Arctic today by announcing that Russia would formalize its northern border. The competition for energy resources in the Arctic region has been heating up as global warming has made them more accessible.
Under international law, the five countries with Arctic claims -- Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway, and Denmark (Greenland) -- can exploit resources up to 200 miles off their coastlines. The Russians say their continental shelf extends under the North Pole, where they used a miniature submarine to plant the Russian flag last year in a widely reported publicity stunt.
Our first and fundamental task is to turn the Arctic into a resource base for Russia in the 21st century. Using these resources will entirely guarantee Russia's energy security. [...] We must finalize and draft a law on setting the southern border of the Arctic region.... This is our responsibility to future generations."
The folks in Canada, which has a massive Arctic claim as well, aren't taking this very well. Canada was already looking north uneasily after the invasion of Georgia and has been conducting military excercises in the region. Some commentators are now calling for Canada to increase its activity in the Arctic in order to bolster its territorial claim. There is apparently no ban on weapons in the area so it's not hard to imagine things getting out of hand.
As for the United States' own Arctic rights, I can't help thinking that this is an international topic that the governor of Alaska might actually be expected to know about. Maybe Sean Hannity could ask her for us tonight?
I somehow missed this story about how Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov allegedly swore a blue streak in a recent phone conversation with David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, on the subject of South Ossetia.
According to the Telegraph, Lavrov berated his boyish British counterpart, asking at one point, "Who are you to f------ lecture me?" The Daily Mail has it as "Who the f--- are you to lecture me?" and quotes a Whitehall source saying, "It was effing this and effing that. It was not what you would call diplomatic language. It was rather shocking."
The Russian foreign minister vehemently denied the report and said he was quoting a European diplomat referring to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, according to Kommersant:
'F------ lunatic' were the words that Lavrov quoted in an attempt to convince his British counterpart that it had been Saakashvili that had started the war for South Ossetia.
Lavrov promised that a transcript of the conversation would be posted on the ministry's Web site, but it has yet to materialize.
The Guardian's Luke Harding has a great piece on the potential for a South Ossetia-type conflict in Ukraine's Crimea region:
Russian-speaking residents say the peninsula, a mass tourist destination in Soviet times, ended up in Ukraine by mistake. The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic in 1954. Russia affirmed the modern borders of Ukraine in a 1997 friendship treaty. Last April, however, Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, contemptuously described Ukraine as "not even a real state".
Nationalist Crimean MPs now liken Crimea to Kosovo - the former Serbian province largely recognised as independent by the west this year. According to Leonid Grach, a pro-Russian communist MP, Crimea will declare itself independent should Yushchenko press ahead with his plans for Ukraine to join Nato.
"If Yushchenko declares that Russia is the enemy, Crimea won't accept it," Grach said. "It means that Ukraine will break up. In Crimea there will be a war - maybe even a world war." Ukraine should renounce Nato, agree a friendship and cooperation treaty with Russia, and prolong the lease for Russia's Black Sea fleet, Grach said.
I had been skeptical that Russia had the same capacity to undermine the Ukrainian state as it did with fractured Georgia, but after Ukraine's governing coalition collapsed today over disagreement as to whether to condemn the Russian invasion of Georgia, it's starting to seem less far-fetched.
ABC News has released excerpts of Sarah Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson, which airs in T-minus-22 minutes. Here's what the Republican vice presidential nominee has to say about Russia:
We cannot repeat the Cold War. We are thankful that, under Reagan, we won the Cold War, without a shot fired, also. We've learned lessons from that in our relationship with Russia, previously the Soviet Union.
We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it's in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.
GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?
PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.
GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.
PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.
Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but...
GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?
PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help.
But NATO, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely, at this point and I think that we need to -- especially with new leadership coming in on January 20, being sworn on, on either ticket, we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those NATO members.
We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to defend one another in a very dangerous world today.
GIBSON: And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States to go to war if Russia were to invade.
PALIN: What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.
And we have got to be vigilant. We have got to show the support, in this case, for Georgia. The support that we can show is economic sanctions perhaps against Russia, if this is what it leads to.
It doesn't have to lead to war and it doesn't have to lead, as I said, to a Cold War, but economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, again, counting on our allies to help us do that in this mission of keeping our eye on Russia and Putin and some of his desire to control and to control much more than smaller democratic countries.
His mission, if it is to control energy supplies, also, coming from and through Russia, that's a dangerous position for our world to be in, if we were to allow that to happen.
After the South Ossetia war, I'm the last person to accuse Russia's government of making empty threats, and I have no doubt that Putin and Medvedev will use every means at their disposal to assert power over neighbors and rivals.
But I have to say, I'm getting a little tired of headlines that follow the form "Russia warns ______ over_______." It's seems like there are new ones every week. Only today, Russia managed to warn Poland, Ukraine, and "the West" more generally. (The West has yet to respond.)
Russia has been vocally opposed to NATO expansion and missile defense for years, so it shouldn't really be a big news story when Putin, Medvedev, or Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov give a press conference to denounce such policies and make vague threats to the parties concerned.
I'm far more interested in what concrete steps Russia can actually take to make trouble for its enemies, other than sending their bomber pilots on a tropical vacation. These warnings aren't meaningless, but a bit more skepticism by the media in the United States and Europe would be welcome.
Update: Maybe two can play this game. From ABC News via Marc Ambinder:
GOV. SARAH PALIN WARNS WAR MAY BE NECESSARY IF RUSSIA INVADES ANOTHER COUNTRY
The Washington Post reports today that domestic criticism of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is growing now that wartime freedom of speech restrictions have been lifted. But while a number of opposition figures are hoping to capitalize on the crisis that has weakened the president's political standing, all are wary of being associated with Russia's calls for Saakashvili's ouster.
For this reason, Putin and Medvedev's constant hurling of insults at Saakashvili seems counterproductive. The one thing Georgians of all political stripes seem to agree on is the need to resist Russian domination, and it will be hard for an opposition movement to gain momentum as long as it's suspected of having Russian backing. Saakashvili was using this to his advantage well before war broke out.
If Medvedev really wants to undermine Saakashvili, why doesn't he just invite him up to Sochi for the weekend?
I don't think that "well he did it so so can I" ought to be the basis for a country's foreign policy, but clearly Russian President Dmitry Medvedev thinks otherwise:
Russia said on Monday it would send a heavily-armed nuclear-powered cruiser to the Caribbean for a joint naval exercise with Venezuela, its first major maneuvers on the United States' doorstep since the Cold War. [...]
Medvedev asked on Saturday how Washington would feel "if we now dispatched humanitarian assistance to the Caribbean...using our navy".
Vladimir Putin may no longer be the president of sexy after all. The Russian magazine Sex & the City just released a ranking of Russia's hottest politicians and the shirtless-fishing, tiger-shooting prime minister is ranked... No. 2.
Adding insult to injury, Putin was pushed into second place by Boris Nemtsov (right), a former deputy prime minister and leader of the opposition party Union of Right Forces. Nemtsov's recent white paper on corruption under Putin was described by the Carnegie Endowment's Lilia Shevtsova as a "bomb, which anywhere but in Russia would cause the country to collapse."
Putin's loyal toadies in the Duma were quick to step forward and defend their fearless leader's staggering sexiness:
Sergei Markov, a United Russia deputy in the State Duma, said he was taken aback by the result.
"Putin is way better than Nemtsov," he said. "He's one of the sexiest politicians in the world." His looks may be average, he conceded, but his "decisive, harsh and unbending" character makes him extremely attractive.
This is probably not Markov's proudest day in public office.
If Putin's feeling are hurt, he can take comfort in his number-one ranking on Vanity Fair's new "most influential" list and the fact that he's still way hotter than Dmitry Medvedev, number 7 on the Sex & the City list.
Russia's campaign to win international recognition for the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia isn't going as well as they may have hoped. So far only Nicaragua, of all places, has signed on. Belarus and Venezuela were both staunch supporters of Russia during the war with Georgia but haven't yet indicated that they intend to recognize the two regions. Moscow will push its case at a meeting of seven former-Soviet republics today in Moscow.
If you're keeping score for the "new cold war" at home, that's Kosovo: 46, South Ossetia and Abkhazia: 2.
Reading off McCain's teleprompter, Mark Halperin releases this tidbit from tonight's speech:
“We will make it clear to Russia’s rulers that acts of violence and intimidation come at a heavy cost.”
It will be interesting to hear how specific he gets in describing that cost.
In a related point, it was strange to hear Rudy Giuliani say last night that Barack Obama's "first instinct" when the war broke out was to "create a moral equivalency" between Georgia and Russia by calling for both sides to show restraint.
Obama's initial statement on Georgia was nearly identical to those from the State Department and White House. He also mentioned the need to "truly stand up for Georgia" during his convention speech and spoke with Mikheil Saakashvili on the phone yesterday. He certainly hasn't been as outspoken in support of Georgia as McCain, but Giuliani's statement was plain dishonest.
Oleg Shchredov, the Kremlin correspondent for Reuters, has an interesting analysis today arguing that the Georgian war has boosted the status of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev:
Throughout the crisis, Medvedev appeared as a confident leader who made the key decisions, from ordering the invasion to signing a ceasefire deal.
In a live television address announcing the recognition of Georgia's two breakaway regions as independent states, he spoke in clipped sentences and looked presidential beneath a gold-coloured two-headed eagle, Russia's national symbol. [...]
Medvedev's double act with Putin -- which some observers predicted would implode when the first crisis hit -- not only held up but proved to be effective by allowing them to perform a diplomatic "good cop, bad cop" routine.
It's interesting since this is not at all how the tandem's operating procedure was perceived internationally. Remember, it was Putin's terse statement, "War has started," that signaled to the world that this was something more than the sporadic border clashes that had been going on for weeks.
And while it was indeed Medvedev who signed the ceasefire and pledged withdrawal, the fact that Russian troops stayed put for weeks afterwards only reinforced the perception abroad that Medvedev's statements couldn't be taken seriously. As for his tough words for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, those came out sounding like a second-rate Putin impression.
Shchredov is certainly in a better position than I am to judge Russian public opinion, but I still don't really see how his logic adds up. Medvedev came into office promising economic reforms and better relations with Europe, both of which, Shchredov concedes, were badly damaged by the Georgian war. And if his word can't be trusted by the likes of Condoleezza Rice, he's not going to be a very effective diplomat either. So what besides the opportunity to "look presidential," (and I'm not even so sure about that one) has the Georgian war done for Medvedev?
Some new polling would certainly be welcome.
When FP spoke with analyst Paul Goble last week about the conflict in Georgia, he made the following interesting point:
I believe that one of the reasons the fighting stopped was not because there weren't people in the defense ministry who thought it should go on for a bit longer, but because in the first two working days of the war, there was a total of some $8 billion net capital outflow from Russia. You're talking about serious consequences for wealthy Russians [...] Polls tell us that for many Russians, the single most important right they acquired after 1991 was the right to travel. If getting a visa becomes more difficult, Russians are going to have a harder time moving about. It's going to be harder to get their children into elite international schools. There's going to be less money around. So, there's probably a constituency, and a pretty large one among an influential group of people, who are going to go to the Russian government and say, "You're hitting us where it matters most: in our pocketbooks." And that's a source of influence that should not be discounted at all.
Today, Andrei Piontkovsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow reads some tea leaves in the Kremlin and warns of the opposite effect: that hardline nationalists could be the ones who gain the upper hand.
Piontkovsky sees a split between "global and national kleptocrats." For now, he puts President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the global camp with Goble's wealthy Russians, and agrees that the two men restrained generals who were eager to roll the tanks into Tbilisi.
But the national kleptocrats, who "seem to believe that they can live without overseas assets, or without educating their children and maintaining residences in the West," present a growing threat, Piontkovsky argues. "They are content to own properties in elite residential areas around Moscow and in Russia, such as Rublyovka, Valday, and Krasnaya Polyana," and care little for the fruits of globalization.
While no one yet knows the national plutocrats' names, I believe that they are new, influential players in or associated with the Kremlin, and that they have now become bold enough to challenge both Putin and Medvedev. Russia's military chiefs, for whom it is psychologically difficult to be ordered by politicians to abruptly end a large-scale and successful military operation, are their natural allies.
I cannot predict who will win this growing confrontation. But even if the global kleptocrats sustain their more "moderate" position on Georgia, theirs could be a Pyrrhic victory. Every day and every hour, by means of their own propaganda, these globally minded kleptocrats, are setting the path to power for the nationalists.
Piontkovsky ends with an ominous premonition:
Putin once said that "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century was the fall of the Soviet Union." The national kleptocrats may soon start calling for its reversal, and they are in an increasingly strong position to do so.
Is there anything that Russian prime minister and all-around Nietzschean superman Vladimir Putin can't do? Putin was in the Russian far-east on Monday for a photo-op showcasing efforts to protect endangered Siberian tigers. As if the image of Putin walking through the forest in camouflage carrying a rifle wasn't enough, Putin apparently also sedated a tiger that had escaped by shooting it with a tranqualizer dart, saving some hapless journalists from being devoured. Or at least that's how those journalists reported it. The video evidence is a bit vague.
Is it too late to name the tiger Mikheil?
That was quick.
Soon there will be no North or South Ossetia — there will be a united Alania as part of Russia," [Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Tarzan] Kokoiti said, using another name for Ossetia.
"We will live in one united Russian state," he said.
Only this morning, the New York Times ran a feature on Ossetian nationalists imagining a future as the Andorra or Liechtenstein of the Caucasus. Oh well.
Vladimir Putin's made it fairly clear over the last few years that he's not all that concerned about his popularity in the West. Still, it's strange to see the normally well-spoken prime minister descend to Ahmadinejad-level paranoid bombast:
"The suspicion arises that someone in the United States especially created this conflict with the aim of making the situation more tense and creating a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US President."
Dmitry Medvedev may have hoped the Shanghai Cooperation Organization would evolve from a loose security bloc into an anti-NATO counterweight, but so far things don't look like they're going in the Russian president's favor.
On Thursday, Medvedev asked the group, which also includes China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to back Russia's response to Georgian "aggression." Instead, while the group welcomed "Russia's active role in contributing to peace and co-operation in the region," it condemned the use of force and reaffirmed its support for the sovereignty of the countries involved:
The SCO states express grave concern in connection with the recent tensions around the South Ossetian issue and urge the sides to solve existing problems peacefully, through dialogue, and to make efforts facilitating reconciliation and talks," their statement said.
That China and the others spoke of respecting territorial integrity should come as no surprise. From its relations with Sudan abroad to its concerns with seperatists in Tibet and Xinjiang at home, China has long expressed a policy of non-intervention.
Russia, too, was often a strong opponent of Western interventions -- in Iraq and Kosovo, among others -- which makes its military action in Georgia all the more galling. Its Asian allies, though, haven't jumped on board. That, at the very least, should be a comforting sign for the West amid cries of a new Cold War.
For more on how Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia may backfire, check out FP's interview with regional expert and CIA veteran Paul Goble.
|Abkhazian flag||South Ossetian flag|
Russia's State Duma unanimously approved a resolution today to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the breakaway regions of Georgia, as independent states. This move has been hinted at for months but obviously, as RIA-Novosti observes, "the Georgian-Russian conflict has dramatically changed the position of the self-proclaimed republics."
President Medvedev still has to approve the resolution, but it's not too early to consider the implications of Russia's recognition. This development seems to be the best indication so far that the dreaded Kosovo effect -- the emboldening of separatist movements around the world in the wake of Kosovo's recognition -- was more than just hype. This was exactly what the Georgians had in mind when they decided not to recognize Kosovo last winter.
While U.N. membership for the two new states is about as likely as Putin and Saakashvili taking a fishing trip this fall, it will be interesting to see if any countries follow Russia's lead and recognize them. Recognition has historically had much more to do with politics than international law and it's quite possible that countries hoping to curry favor with the Russians --Belarus and Venezuela come to mind -- might set up ties with the de facto states. Analyst Paul Goble believes 15 to 20 countries might join in, hardly an international consensus but still enough to avoid a "Cyprus scenario" where the states would be recognized by only one other country.
This month's events have given some other frozen conflict participants pause as well. Medvedev was leaning pretty hard on Moldova's president this weekend, urging him not to repeat the "Georgian mistake" by trying to retake control of the quasi-independent Transnistria region, which is tepidly supported by Russia. The Moldovans seem to have gotten the message and I wouldn't be surprised if Moscow continued to use the former Soviet Union's separatist movements for political leverage. (Crimea, perhaps?)
Let the recognition wars begin.
Mikheil Saakashvili on why Georgia didn't launch an insurgency against Russia, à la Chechnya:
Eventually we would have chased them away, but we would have had to go to the mountains and grow beards. That would have been a tremendous national philosophical and emotional burden."
In light of today's news about the financial shock and awe that international investors are raining down upon Russia's markets, Dan Drezner highlights this bit from our recent Seven Questions interview with the very smart Clifford Kupchan:
As far as portfolio investors and the Russian stock market are concerned, the main tipping point was the four days following July 24, when TNK-BP's Robert Dudley left the country, and shortly after that, Putin went after the steel company Mechal and took about $6 billion off its capitalization. Those behaviors really rattled investors and caused a steep dip in the Russian stock market. The war’s effect has been less dramatic.
More broadly, I think Russia as an island of stability and a safe haven from the credit crunch—that perception of Russia is on life support. Essentially over. There’s been four reasons: TNK-BP, Mechal, the Russian government’s willingness to use administrative means to break up cartels and implement de facto price controls (which means there's more strategic risk in consumer sectors as well as strategic sectors), and fourth is the war. When you add those four together, the investment climate has taken a real, real hit over the last month.
As the always-insightful Peter Baker noted yesterday, many of those hardest hit by the recent decline in Russia's stock market index have close ties to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Call it karma.
It seems increasingly clear that Russian troops are not, in fact, pulling all the way out of Georgia:
Russian units said they had orders only to fall back as far as South Ossetia and some platoons were still dug in near roads outside Gori, while Russian troops bearing new peacekeeping badges dominated the main east-west highway, a key trading artery. A senior Russian official said Russian military checkpoints ringing South Ossetia would be permanent.
Moreover, it seems the Russian high command hasn't put much thought into the whole public diplomacy thing. Here are two more shots of Russian peacekeepers flipping Getty photographer Uriel Sinai the bird:
If Dmitry Medvedev is trying to looking tough, these kinds of photo ops won't help him change his image:
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev drives in a buggy at the presidential residence in Sochi on August 20, 2008.
All the bluster of a "new Cold War" of late has been a bit much for my tastes. Recent developments in the Middle East, however, have been hard to ignore:
As Syria renews its Soviet-era close ties with Moscow, many here fear that the Middle East could once again become a theatre for the two great powers to exert their spheres of influence, militarily and politically, in the volatile region.
As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visits Russia today seeking deals for new missile systems, he's been dutifully trumpeting the Kremlin's party line on Georgia. He accused the West of "total disinformation, distorting facts and attempts at international isolation" (and he would know a bit about international isolation) but also took aim at Israel's alleged role in the conflict in the Caucasus:
Moreover, the West and Israel continue to put pressure on Russia. ... I think that in Russia and in the world everyone is now aware of Israel's role and its military consultants in the Georgian crisis.
(Israel says its government does not sell arms to other countries but its private firms are free to do so.)
In the wake of recent indirect talks between Israel and Syria, it would be a shame for Russia's resurgance to ruin any potential progress. As an editorial in The Asia Times notes, the very same neoconservatives who want to escalate the showdown with Russia may be harming their interest in the security of Israel at the same time.
This is a couple of days old but I'm really surprised that British Conservative Party leader David Cameron hasn't gotten more flack for this idea:
Russia’s elite value their ties to Europe - their shopping and their luxury weekends. We should look at the visa regime for Russian citizens. Russian armies can’t march into other countries while Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges.
First of all, I'd like to hear aspiring prime minister Cameron explain to the owners of Selfridges -- not to mention London club owners looking for someone willing to buy cocktails flecked with flakes of 24-carat edible gold -- why they're being punished for Vladimir Putin's foreign policy. Also, wouldn't it actually help Russia's economy to make jet-setting noviy russkiy spend their hard-earned petrorubles in St. Petersburg instead of Soho?
There's some interesting Kremlinology (or Moscvology as Blake might have us call it) from Anna Smolchenko in today's Moscow Times. She notes that Dmitry Medvedev's bellicose comments in North Ossetia yesterday -- vowing a "crushing response" to future attacks on Russian citizens and referring to Georgia's leaders as genocidal morons are sharply at odds with the more conciliatory rhetoric he has used in the past. Smolchenko suggests that the president may be getting tough in an effort to reassert his own relevance.
This seems plausible to me. Last Tuesday I noted that it was Medvedev who declared a ceasefire while Vladimir Putin had been the one who effectively started the war. This seemed to be evidence of a good-cop-bad-cop approach from the tandem. But Russia's continued operations in Georgia this past week while Medvedev has repeatedly assured the world that a withdrawal was taking place have only helped confirm what most already suspected: that Medvedev is a glorified PR guy with no power over a state still run by Putin.
Condoleeza Rice seemed to be not-so-subtly hinting at this over the weekend:
The word of the Russian president needs to be upheld by his forces or people are going to begin to wonder if Russia can be trusted."
Members of the foreign press were barred from attending any of the events on Medvedev's trip to the Caucasus which could suggest that the president -- known to read several foreign newspapers every day on the Internet -- isn't happy with how he's being portrayed in the international media.
He might be calculating that if he can't actually influence the policy set by hawks like Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he might as well just out-hawk them at the podium.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev plays to the gallery in North Ossetia:
The world has seen that even today, there are political morons who are ready to kill innocent and defenseless people in order to satisfy their self-serving interests, while compensating for their own inability to resolve complicated issues by using the most terrible solution -- by exterminating an entire people."
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