THE DARKNESS CLOSING IN ON PUTIN’S RUSSIA

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THE DARKNESS CLOSING IN ON PUTIN’S RUSSIA

by Harry C. Blaney

 

The deepening darkness of fear has accelerated with the take over of Crimea, especially with the threats of military aggression against Ukraine.  This darkness is belied by the poll numbers showing the recent 70% approval rating for Putin’s leadership among Russians. The cold winds of despotism and reckless policies are, in fact, a growing burden for the Russian people.

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WHAT HAS CHANGED AND WHAT HAS NOT AFTER CRIMEA

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WHAT HAS CHANGED AND WHAT HAS NOT AFTER CRIMEA
by
Harry C. Blaney III

The first real change is the overt and brutal nature of Putin’s adventurism in his occupation of Crimea. Also, Putin in his speech at the time of the invasion of Crimea laid out, not for the first time, his vision of an extended Russian revanchism and semi- imperial rule over the “near abroad.” This action has been accompanied by a long period of growing authoritarian acts at home over the last few years and a determination to snuff out any remaining democracy or meaningful opposition. In short, a dictatorship that Russia thought it had abandoned with the end if the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

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Syria : What Should We Be Doing Now?

As we have argued earlier, there is an urgent and vital need for the “Friends of Syria” and our allies in the region to start thinking of how to contain the sectarian violence that is already taking place, but which will likely escalate with the fall of Assad.  The best hope is a series of action which needs to be initiated immediately, which includes establishing a robust Peace Keeping/Peacemaking/ Mediation force to prevent mass slaughter and revenge killings. If this can’t be created by the U.N. then it must be part of a “coalition of the willing” made up of both NATO nations and Arab League and Islamic nations. For this to be up and ready to act swiftly, such a force needs to be mobilized and trained and given strong mandates. A reconciliation and diplomatic mission of experts and diplomats needs to also be created in order to work with the still inchoate Syrian Opposition governance leaders.

This effort will likely need strong American and EU backing as well as help from Turkey, which so far has been lagging in seeing the dangers on its borders and acknowledging that this is time for a “full court” press and the alternative is the spread of sectarian violence throughout the Middle East from Jordan and Lebanon to Iran and beyond.

The other “pillar” of bringing a measure of security to this region would be the creation of a massive development effort for the region with a focus on Syria, but others as well. The focus would aim towards correcting the destruction of Syrian infrastructure, but also at putting to work the youth of Syria to unify the nation toward rebuilding as we did in Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War, but by using the resources of Middle east nations, Japan, the EU and America. This will be a hard lift with the continued global economic downturn but the cost of not doing so would, in the end, be much more horrific.

Lastly, the Syrian Opposition groups and their imperfect governance organization need added help and reinforcement with the direct involvement of Syrian “technocrats” of all sectors of the population.  They also need assistance in keeping in place the reforms of many existing institutions like the national bank, transportation, health, education, police and courts, and other ministries.  This means lots of hands (and eyes) on the ground to ensure that chaos and mass slaughter does not overwhelm reconciliation and rebirth.

In sum, the time is now to alter our reluctance to take a lead in shaping the landscape of Syria and nearby states and helping to contain the spread of a devastating sectarian conflict, which is a disaster for all.

Syria: New Developments and End Goals

DATELINE LONDON

There are new developments in the ongoing saga of the new Syrian opposition coalition.  On the positive side, the French government recognized the new group as the “sole legitimate” representative of the Syrian people. This makes it the first European country to formally recognize the newly formed coalition.  The French president Francois Hollande said at a press conference:  “I announce … that France recognizes the Syrian National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people and therefore as the future democratic government of Syria.”

As noted in an earlier post, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — were the first to recognize the opposition coalition. They declared it as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” Further; GCC Secretary General Abdul Latif al-Zayani said “the GCC will offer support and assistance for the Syrian coalition in order to achieve the hopes and aspirations of the Syrian people.”   Later, the Arab League recognized the opposition alliance on Monday as “the representative of aspirations of the Syrian people” and “legitimate representative” of Syria’s opposition.  But the Arab league seemed short of giving it full recognition as the representative of the Syrian people.

The new coalition largely is composed of opposition groups outside Syria as well as activists from inside the country and some rebels’ commanders.  It is reported that once the new coalition wins international recognition, its members will form an interim government in exile.  It will then call for a national conference as soon as the current Syrian administration is ousted, according to a draft of the Coalition agreement. They will also form a new supreme military group to organize its combat activities. It is looking for material support from abroad on an urgent basis. The head of the new coalition, a former Muslim minister Mouaz al-Khatib, called on the international community to provide major arms to the rebels on the ground to tip the balance in Syria’s 20-month-old crisis. There are reports that the United States also recognized the coalition as the legitimate representative of Syrians but indicated that the group must first prove its ability to represent Syrians inside the country.

Both the Assad regime and apparently some opposition Syrian groups within the country said they rejected the formation of the coalition and the idea of an interim government in exile. The Syrian regime also is saying that the recognition will undermine the mission of the UN-Arab League joint representative, Lakhdar Brahimi. According to press reports, the first official Assad regime response to the new coalition came from Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad, who said the new coalition is “an American and Qatari project used by foreign powers to destroy Syria.” “We think that the opposition is not made in Syria, and as you have noticed it’s an American and Qatari made.”

It is clear that the problem of Syria remains confused and that there is much that needs to be done before qualitative and quantitative support is provided to the new coalition, but it appears that action towards greater support  by the NATO powers and specifically by Britain, France,  and even the U.S. is accelerating. The real question is to what end, what are the barriers to success, and how can one overcome these barriers and also mitigate any spread of this conflict beyond the Syrian borders?

As I have long urged, we need a post-Assad strategy which immediately puts in place multinational constraints on any revenge killings and restrains further ethnic conflict as new government forms.  My own view is that there is need to introduce a robust international peacekeeping force and an expert observer team who would have full authority to act, if necessary with force, to stop major acts of communal conflict, even by rebel groups, and can help work at reconciliation of all factions.  The alternative to this is likely added tragedy and a breakdown in civic order and responsible broad based governance.  That would be a true catastrophe for all. This post-Assad peacekeeping effort should be agreed as part of any assistance package.

We welcome your comments!

Guest Post: Chic Dambach on the USIP

This week we received a submission from Charles F. (Chic) Dambach that discusses the value of the US Institute of Peace.  Dambach, who is the president and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, addresses the unique role that the USIP plays in preventing and resolving conflict and the immense savings the USIP incurs through the mitigation of future military actions and defense spending.  Please read on for some thought-provoking insights and leave your comments below! Thanks, Chic!

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Stop Debating the Value of USIP and Get on with Building Peace

The world community spends close to $2 trillion every year on wars, militaries, and directly related activities. The US is responsible for about half of the total. A small fraction of that figure is invested in diplomacy and development, and a very tiny portion of that small fraction goes into initiatives designed specifically to reduce the frequency and severity of violent conflicts. We call it peacebuilding – resolving the immediate drivers of conflict and addressing the root causes for sustainable peace. As we actually reduce violence, tens of billions of dollars are saved.

The old notion that “war is good for the economy” is rubbish. It may be good for a few weapons manufacturers and arms dealers, but it is dreadful for everyone else. The US economy collapsed in the midst of two wars. Need I say more? The Institute for Economics and Peace found the global negative impact of war and defense spending exceeds $7 trillion every year – about 13% of global GDP.

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Key Decision Coming from UK and Other European Countries on Defense and National Security Policy

This week the Tory-LibDem UK coalition government publicized a Strategic Defense and Security Review. Also this week, Chancellor George Osborne publicized the UK budget cuts. These cuts will define the next decade of security priorities and the limits to Britain’s defense capabilities and role in the world.

Another key indicator is British commitments to international development which was to be protected from deep cuts or “ring fenced”. The other area to watch is funding for the BBC World Service which has been Britain’s only voice to the world for decades.  The decisions are profound and likely long-lasting.  We shall see.

The question remains whether other European governments will follow suit and make drastic cuts in their budgets in areas that impact their engagement with the outside world.

The Financial Time editorial “British Nukes vs. British Troops” (September 3, 2010) on which I commented earlier, made important points about the trade-off between military expenditures on sub-based nuclear weapons, troops on the ground, and air force capability.

Will these cuts make it impossible for Britain to project its power on the globe in times of crises? Furthermore, will all of Europe follow suit and similarly be unable to support peacemaking, peacekeeping, and conflict prevention?  Finally and most importantly, will the UK, and the rest of Europe, increase “preventive diplomacy” capabilities to compensate for cuts to defense expenditures? Don’t hold you breath!

In our opinion, the ability to deploy a conventional army takes priority over increased nuclear capabilities.  So far the new government has indicated that it will minimize the costs of its nuclear option without totally abandoning it. Continue reading