Tag: Vladimir Putin

The Strategika Podcast: Angelo Codevilla on Our Ambiguous Russia Policy

 

Codevillo-Angelo-bio-photoThings always get lively when Angelo Codevilla joins us on the Strategika podcast. In this installment, Angelo looks at the history of American policy towards Russia and Ukraine and argues that we’ve been weakened by a tendency to say one thing and do another. To hear his full diagnosis of the situation, listen in to the podcast embedded below or subscribe to Strategika in iTunes or your favorite podcast player.

The Strategika Podcast: Victor Davis Hanson on Understanding Putin

 

victor_davis_hansonAt the Hoover Institution, we’ve just released a new set of podcasts from our Strategika series on military history and foreign policy (subscribe to Strategika on iTunes here). We begin this series — which focuses on Russia and Ukraine — with a conversation with the great Victor Davis Hanson, who, amongst his many other accolades, chairs the Military History/Contemporary Conflict Working Group at Hoover that produces Strategika. In this episode, Victor attempts to get inside Vladimir Putin’s mind: analyzing his motivations, his ultimate goals, and the possible means of deterring him.

The Kremlin’s Explanation of the Nemtsov Murder Is Starting to Unravel

 

 Êðåìëå ïðîøëà ðàáî÷àÿ âñòðå÷à ïðåçèäåíòà ÐÔ Âëàäèìèðà Ïóòèíà ñ ëèäåðîì äóìñêîé ôðàêöèè ÑÏÑ Áîðèñîì Íåìöîâûì.The official reaction to the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was supposed to play out according to a time-tested formula. The standard script, as perfected after the murders of troublesome journalists (Anna Politkovskaya, Paul Khlebnikov and Mikhail Beketov), calls for the eventual capture, confession, and sentencing of the contract killers, but not the contractors. The killers, of course, would profess to have no idea who their contractor was. They would then disappear into the Russian prison system, knowing their families would be taken care of as long as they maintained their silence.

The news out of Russia, however, suggests that the formula is breaking down this time around:

TASS, the official Russian news service, leading newspapers, and press services reported the sensational news that surveillance cameras around the Kremlin had identified two of the killers (first reports claimed that they were turned off for maintenance), one of whom confessed to being a participant in the crime. Four other suspects were arrested in their Caucasus havens, and another killed himself with a hand grenade while resisting arrest.

Does the Kremlin Have Hillary’s E-mails?

 

shutterstock_166350926With Hillary Clinton set to hold a press conference today over the scandal regarding her State Department emails, I thought this might be a good time to call your attention to a piece of mine over at The Blaze, highlighting the very real prospect that Hillary’s communications may have fallen into Moscow’s hands. As I write there:

Putin’s Kremlin has one of the most sophisticated cyber-warfare systems the world has ever seen.

According to Smoking Gun (which broke the story in 2013), when [the Romanian hacker] Guccifer breached [Sidney] Blumenthal’s account, he discovered Clinton’s email address, hdr22@clintonemail.com. When Guccifer supplied Russia’s RT, an official Kremlin media agency, with the Blumenthal emails, it’s a distinct possibility that he supplied the Clinton email address as well.

Putin Blames Enemies of the State for Nemtsov’s Murder

 

Boris Nemtsov, a leading Russian opposition figure, age 55, was shot dead Friday night as he walked across a bridge connecting the Kremlin with the embankment district of central Moscow. The youthful and handsome Nemtsov was accompanied by his 23-year-old girlfriend, a Ukrainian model. According to initial BBC reports, he was shot four times by several men emerging from a white car and then speeding away. Nemtsov’s death was confirmed at the site by an aide, who reported that Nemtsov’s corpse lay in front of him on the street, surrounded by police. Contacts in Moscow reported that the murder scene was mobbed by mourners bringing flowers. Nemtsov’s female companion was taken away to be interrogated at police headquarters. (See video) Let’s see how long she’ll remain in custody.

Nemtsov served as Deputy Prime Minister under Boris Yeltsin. He was also mayor of Nizhny Novgorod before joining the liberal opposition to Putin. During his tenure under Yeltsin, Nemtsov was considered a possible successor, but handicapped by the fact that he was Jewish.

What Ukraine Should Do Now

 

Vladimir_Putin_12024In a new piece I have up at Forbes, I lay out exactly what’s at stake for the West with Vladimir Putin’s continued aggression in Ukraine. In short, Putin wants nothing less than to unravel NATO. The U.S. has been decidedly unhelpful in assisting Ukraine, even though our allies there are much more reliable than the ones we’ve been arming in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. So what should Ukraine do now? My suggestion:

If I were Ukraine, I might concede Donbass and Crimea on a de facto but not de jure basis. Russia will not let them go under present circumstances. Let the Donbass (or that part that it presently holds) be a problem for Russia and the separatists to contend with; don’t let its self-appointed leaders dictate Ukrainian policy. When the time is right, the Donbass can come back into the fold. I would maintain a formidable standing army to defend the remaining Ukrainian provinces that have come to hate Putin’s Russia with a vengeance. I imagine that Odessa, Kiev, Zaporozhe and Lviv will make short change of self-appointed Muscovites when they arrive to proclaim new people’s republics. Who knows? If active hostilities ended, maybe even Barack Obama would supply defensive weapons. He’s good at shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

The upshot:

Why Putin Is Less Dangerous Now

 

shutterstock_96507811Many commentators have expressed the belief that Russia is more dangerous now that their economy has collapsed because Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has his back against the wall and may react unpredictably. Perhaps. But I have one question for these prognosticators: with what soldiers will he react?

I ask this question because one of the great sources of Russia’s recent military revival has been the comprehensive military reforms begun in 2008, transforming the Russian military from a large and ponderous conscript army to a modern professional army, like those of the United States or United Kingdom. Because of these reforms, the number of soldiers in the Russian army has dropped to 300,000. For the first time ever, the Russian Army is smaller than its American counterpart.

Though smaller, it is much more capable than before. A large conscript army may be good for repelling a general invasion, but it a poor tool for fighting an expeditionary war such as an invasion of Ukraine. This is because long-serving professionals are more competent and motivated at warcraft than are two-year conscripts,  something the US discovered in Vietnam. The proportion of conscripts in the Russian military is at an all-time low. In addition, the period of conscription has been reduced to one year from the traditional two.

A Teachable Moment for Rand Paul?

 

We now have on our hands Barack Obama’s War, for our latest Middle Eastern war belongs entirely to him. And someone — let it be me! — should alert Sen. Rand Paul to this teachable moment, for Obama’s War (which Rand Paul supports) was brought on by the very policy of non-intervention that he, his father, and the Cato Institute all championed. As Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has testified in word and deed, there is essentially no difference on foreign affairs between left-wing Democratics and arch-libertarians who sometimes vote Republican.

This war might have been avoided. Had Obama taken the trouble to arrange for a few thousand American soldiers to remain in Iraq — as he easily could have — the Iraqi’s coalition government between Shia, Sunni, and Kurd would have held, despite Maliki’s perfidy. That, in turn, would have prevented al-Qaeda’s reemergence in the Sunni-dominated provinces of Iraq. Moreover, ISIS would not be in control of great swathes of Syria had the president followed the advice of his advisors and allies and backed the secular-minded opposition to Bashar al-Assad from the start.

A Modest Appreciation of Vox.com

 

Do be sure to check out this brilliant, marvelous, incandescently stupendous piece by our very own Messiah of the Moment, Max “I used to be Otto von Bismarck in a previous life” Fisher, in which Fisher explains the Obama Administration’s attempt to deter Vladimir Putin from gobbling up any of the Baltic states. Especially wonderful and heartwarming is Fisher’s tendency to breathlessly explain the principles of deterrence to his audience as though (a) he just learned about those principles and (b) his audience consists exclusively of two-year olds. Consider the following excerpt:

President Obama gave a speech on Wednesday, in a city most Americans have never heard of, committing the United States to possible war against Russia. He said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Western military alliance better known as NATO, would fight to defend eastern European members like Estonia against any foreign aggression. In other words, if Russian President Vladimir Putin invades Estonia or Latvia as he invaded Ukraine, then Putin would trigger war with the US and most of Europe.

Member Post

 

If I were Putin, I would send 50,000 troops into Eastern Ukraine and “liberate” it from the vile Ukrainian rebels who shot down MH17. Sure, the rebels are Putin’s own thugs. But Putin’s been pretending they aren’t his thugs all along. By invading Eastern Ukraine, Putin would be demonstrating his power on the world stage, […]

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Russian Terrorist “Demon” Executes Two Hostages on YouTube

 

BezlerThe separatist military commander of the east Ukraine town of Gorlivka is shown, on a new video of his own making, executing two civilian hostages. Russian citizen Igor Bezler — nomme de guerre “Bes” or “Demon” — is shown on the video threatening that he will shoot eight captured military hostages unless the acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchinov, frees a captured Russian agent.

Before giving the order to fire, “Demon” complains that he has waited three days for the hostage exchange and cannot wait any longer. Therefore, Citizens Budnik and Vasiushenko will be executed, he declares. “Demon” then gives the order to fire as he walks away casually. The video records the shots being fired and shows the victims falling to the floor. [Note: the link points to a story about the video that includes an embed of the video itself. It’s no longer viewable, however, as it’s been removed from YouTube.] [Update: the video is viewable via the linked article, where someone has posted a new YouTube address in the comments section. While it is not nearly as graphic as the standard violence you’d see in a Hollywood film, viewer discretion is still advised].

We do not know if the execution is real or fake. Experts must decide that question. The important point is that “Demon” intended to use this action to intimidate Ukrainian officials.

Saving Ukraine … with Night Vision Goggles

 

shutterstock_31342912President Obama’s National Security Council has announced the allocation of $5 million for Ukraine amid the ongoing armed conflict in the southeastern part of the country, money that’s going to go to the purchase of things like night vision and body armor. This gesture is similar to the announcement after Crimea’s annexation that several hundred U.S. troops would take part in maneuvers in Poland and the Baltic States.

If Ukraine uses the entire $5 million to buy top- of-the-line night vision goggles, its hard-pressed army could get exactly 556 pairs … to fight a Russian mercenary army that numbers in the thousands.

Perhaps the president kept the number small so as not to upset Vladimir Putin? Do we still need his help in finding solutions to Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear weapon? Doesn’t Obama understand that the U.S. is already blamed in Russian propaganda for being behind the whole Ukraine mess? If we’re going to be vilified either way, why not give poor Ukraine some assistance worthy of the name?

Why This Idolisation of Putin?

 

shutterstock_181590386I chose that word carefully: idolisation. We in the West are enthusiastically and appropriately critical of our own leaders. That is fair enough, given the amount of ammunition with which they provide us. But we seem to view the enemies of the West as super-beings, chess masters in a real world board game.

Based on much of the media coverage, you’d think that Vladimir Putin has manipulated things ever so cleverly, whereas the reality is that he has messed up big time.

Yes, he now has Crimea, but that is a consolation prize for what he lost: the rest of Ukraine. Go back a couple of years, what did he have then?

When International Law Doesn’t Work—John Yoo

 

Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its continuing military pressure on Ukraine demonstrates that the United Nations-centered system of international law has failed. The pressing question is not whether Russia has violated norms against aggression – it has – but how the United States and its allies should respond in a way that will strengthen the international system.

It should be clear that Russia has violated the U.N. Charter’s restrictions on the use of force. It has resorted to “the use of force against the territorial integrity” and “political independence” of Ukraine in violation of Article 2(4) of the Charter’s founding principles. Russia has trampled on the fundamental norm that the United States and its allies have built since the end of World War II: that nations cannot use force to change borders unilaterally.

Member Post

 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe everything I see in the lame-stream media.  Bought-and-paid-for shills, the lot of ’em.    So I withheld judgment when a few months ago everyone started flappin’ their gums and jumpin’ up and down about what a monster this Vlad Putin guy was.   At first I was confused. […]

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This Ends With a Moscow Beer Summit

 

The typical conservative criticism of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy  — one yours truly has indulged on repeated occasions — is that it fails to account for willful aggression. Under the White House’s reading of the world, there are no animosities, just misunderstandings. Given this line of reasoning, the imperative of international relations is not so much deterring hostility as it is lifting our antagonists out of their false consciousness.

There are two varieties of liberal rejoinders to this proposition. The more forceful rebuttal is that this is nothing more than a caricature, a confusion of diplomatic subtlety with outright weakness. The more guarded version concedes that the president may have been naive in his earlier days, but has developed a more sophisticated reading of the world in office. Evidence for either is hard to find in the interview the president gave to CBS’s Scott Pelley this week, as reported by Politico:

Putin, the Pauls, and the Direction of the GOP’s Foreign Policy — Troy Senik

 

Over the weekend, Politico ran a feature penned by Elizabeth Wahl, the American journalist whose Crimea-inspired on-air resignation from RT (the Russian television network dedicated to bringing Moscow-approved propaganda to the West) went viral —and, a cynic might note, earned her a measure of notoriety she had previously lacked.

The piece doesn’t leave Wahl in the best light — which is probably a sign that she deserves praise for her candor. What emerges is a picture of a somewhat naive young woman who was slow to wrap her head around the fact that RT functions primarily as an annex of the Kremlin, and slower yet to conclude that any such institution is inherently anathema to the practice of anything like real journalism. Still, if ever the phrase “better late than never” applies, it’s probably here.

Why Europe is No Help, Or, Okay, Now What?

 

Even if President Obama demonstrated an appetite for imposing serious sanctions on Russia, it’s not at all clear that the European Union would support him. Why? From the London Spectator:

[T]he gaping rift between the EU and America stands exposed. The Washington hawks gained almost no traction in western Europe, where there was little appetite for conflict. Even if Russia didn’t supply a third of Europe’s oil and gas, other commercial ties still bind. EU trade with Russia was £280 billion in 2012. America’s total was a twelfth of that, little of it in hydrocarbons. No wonder the hawks have been frustrated that the EU won’t do more.