Tuesday, March 26, 2013

First results from the Russia-China partnership

Results from the new Russian-Chinese strategic partnership are coming in fast.

First, Russia has agreed to sell China 4 advanced diesel-electric submarines of the "Lada" class (aka Project 677):

Project 677

This type of submarine is one of the most advanced in its class, even superior to its formidable predecessor the "Kilo" class Project 636 which was already so silent that it was nicknamed the "Black Hole" because for its ability to avoid detection.  Lada class submarines excel in many roles including anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare and reconnaissance, and it has an advanced automated combat system.

Second, Russia will also sell China 24 of its advanced SU-35 multi-role combat aircraft:


The Sukhoi SU-35 is considered a 4++ generation aircraft meaning that while the airframe is still of the 4th generation, the systems installed on-board are already of the 5th generation.  Though these are very different aircraft, it is widely admitted that the only aircraft which could match or even exceed the formidable capabilities of the SU-35 in air-to-air combat would be the American F-22 (in the ground attack role the SU-35 is far more capable than the F-22).

In other words, China is now acquiring the kind of military hardware which no other Asian country possesses and which will present the United States with a very serious challenge.

Third, Russia and China also signed a huge energy deal.  The WSJ reports:
After more than a decade of talks, Russia has agreed to supply China with natural gas, a deal that could see China surpass Germany as the largest importer of Russian gas.  Officials Friday signed a raft of other energy agreements, including one to double Russian oil supplies and hand China's state oil company a stake in Russian oil fields, tightening the nexus between Russia, the world's largest energy producer, and China, the hungriest consumer.   Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Moscow on his first foreign trip as leader, called the accords a "breakthrough" at a signing ceremony in the Kremlin Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the visit would have "long-term, historic results."  Russian state gas giant OAO Gazprom  said it would conclude a 30-year supply deal with the Chinese by the end of the year, just as the company is struggling with declining demand and regulatory pressure in its core market of Europe.  Under the terms of the memorandum, annual deliveries of 38 billion cubic meters of gas will start in 2018. Supplies could eventually reach 60 billion cubic meters a year, Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller told reporters after the signing ceremony. Germany, long the largest consumer of Russian gas, imported 33 billion cubic meters last year.
One particularly interesting aspect of all this are the comments made by the state-run China Daily which described this strategic partnerships as "a well-deserved riposte to Washington for America's military 'pivot' to Asia. Xi is executing China's own 'pivot' - the visit to Moscow to cement ties with Mr Putin.  Xi's decision to make Moscow the destination of his first official visit as China's president will give the US a sharp reminder that it is not the only power able to flex its muscles" the report, translated by BBC Monitoring, went on.

No kidding!

The Saker

Defense Ministers Chang Wanquan and Sergei Shoigu

Monday, March 25, 2013

Russia between Cyprus and China

The last couple of days have been truly of immense, historical, importance for Russia, first because of the hugely important visit of  Xi Jinping, the President of the People's Republic of China, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. During this visit the Chinese side stressed that it was highly symbolic that Xi Jinping had chosen Russia as the first country to visit following his election.  The Russians responded with their own highly symbolic gesture - they invited Xi Jinping to visit the Operational Control Center of the Russian Armed Forces, something no other head of state had ever done before.

Xi Jinping visits the Operational Control Center of the Russian Armed Forces
Both sides insisted that what took place was absolutely unprecedented.  For example, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin spent a total of seven hours in direct, face to face, consultations.  Both heads of state declared that the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership was of the highest possible importance for both countries and that the two nations would closely collaborate on all levels including long term energy and defense issues.  A large number of strategic agreements and contracts were signed and both Putin and Xi Jinping announced that Russia and China would also closely work together and support each other in all international questions.  Both leaders stressed that the past was forever gone and that the nature of the new relationship between their two countries will have no historical precedent.

While the western corporate press went out of its way to minimize the importance of this meeting, the Russian and the Chinese press stressed the truly tectonic shift such a close partnership represents for the future of the planet.  While everything was said in the most diplomatic language, it is rather clear that what we witnessed over the past few days is the birth of a new strategic alliance which is rather clearly aimed against the West both in economic and even military terms.  The goal of Russia and China is not to trigger some kind of confrontation with the West as much as it is to globally counter-act Western imperialism.  This is why both delegations insisted on the respect of international law in a multi-polar world were no one country or block can dictate its will.

It will be interesting to see what the impact of this strategic alliance will be upon the SCO, the CSTO and the BRICS countries.  My personal sense is that Russia and China will use their combined power to strengthen all these institutions.  I also see this strategic alliance as yet another manifestation of the new power of the "Eurasian sovereignists" inside the Kremlin who are now clearly pushing Russia towards a deeper integration with the East.

It is ironic that while this new strategic partnership between Russia and China was finalized in Moscow, the West found nothing better to do than to basically commit and act of pure highway banditry towards Russia.  I am referring, of course, to what is happening in Cyprus.

To make a long story short I will sum up what is taking place in the following sentence.  The EU bankers and their US sponsors have basically decided to rob Russian bank account holders of about 30% of  their money in Cyprus in order to repay the banks which gave dirty loans to Cyprus, in other words, to pay themselves.  Not only is such an action a direct violation of all possible laws and regulations pertaining to banking, but it is done against a background of vicious anti-Russian propaganda which basically claims that all the Russian money in Cyprus is dirty money from the Russian Mafia.  What the EU leaders are basically telling Russia is "yes, fuck you, we will simply take your money and dare you to do something about it".

Interestingly, the Russia media is very much aware of who is really pulling the strings of this entire operation and no Russian politician spoke out against the Cypriots themselves who are, in reality, as much the victims of the international banking cartels as the Russian investors.  The line chosen by Russian politicians and the media is the same one: what is happening here has little or nothing to do with Cyprus and everything to do with the entire EU zone becoming dangerous for Russian investors. 

The Russian economy will not suffer from any of that.  First, because Cyprus is way too small to matter.  Second, this situation only strengthens the position of the "Eurasian sovereignists" who have always been warning against placing money in Western banks.  Third, this act of banditry by the EU will only further fuel anti-Western sentiments in the already very hostile Russian public opinion and it will hurt all the pro-Western parties and movements in Russia.

The vast majority of the people in Russia see what is happening in Cyprus as yet another manifestation of the Western anti-Russian racism which appears to be the prime motivator of current Western policies towards Russia.  For example, Russian journalists were quick to remember that the last time somebody in Europe simply seized the bank accounts of foreigners was Hitler who did so to grab more money to finance his policies.  While I find this parallel a little far fetched, it is, I believe, very indicative of the mood in Russia which is deeply disgusted with the West.  This is hardly surprising: after the NATO expansion to the East (which it has promised not to do!), the support by the West for all the anti-Russian regimes, including the most aggressive (Georgia) and racist (Latvia), following the deployment of the US anti-missile system, the support for Jewish oligarchs like Berezovsky or Khodorkovsky, the support for Chechen separatists and their atrocities, the adoption of anti-Russian laws like the Magnitsky Act, the support for Pussy Riot and the homosexual parades in Russia, now the big Cypriot robbery.  It is hardly a wonder that the Russians are globally disgusted with the West and its seemingly infinite capability for hypocrisy and lies.

Still, the creation of this strategic partnership between China and Russia is excellent news for the world wide resistance against the US-run international global new world order and its turbocapitalist ideology.  Both Russia and China clearly and unambiguously stand for the ideas of sovereignty and social solidarity, in other words, what is arguably the most powerful alliance on the planet is clearly anti-capitalist in its ideological basis.  Sure, this is not the anti-capitalism of Stalin or Mao, and both Russia and China are more than happy to play the corporate game to their own benefit, but it remains that they are not willing to surrender their sovereignty to the trans-national banking interests and nor are they willing to give up the core value of social solidarity (what most Americans think of as "socialism") in their society.

At a time when Latin America is clearly wobbling and unsure about its future course and when Africa is becoming the next hunting ground for Western predators, it is extremely encouraging to see the emergence of a strategic alliance between the two most powerful countries to resist Western imperialism and the New World Order.

The Saker

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"The Syrian Diary" - Russian TV documentary (subtitled)

Why I believe that this is a "must watch" documentary:

This is a documentary by Anastasia Popova, a correspondent for the Russian TV station "Rossia 24".  Don't expect any kind of sympathy for the FSA from these reporters who are 100% behind the Syrian Army and who are absolutely outraged at what they strongly believe is the rape of a nation by a coalition of international terrorists and NATO special forces.  It is precisely this strong identification with one side which makes this documentary so important: it shows the point of view of those whose voice and opinion is absolutely *never* heard in the western corporate media.

It is a sad truth that history is written by victors, and there is a really good chance that the side represented in this video will be the loosing one.

Finally, this is a woman's view on a civil war, something which is also very rarely seen.

For all these reasons I urge everybody to watch this documentary.

The Saker

Friday, March 22, 2013

CrossTalk: Cypriot Bail-In

Has Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made an empty threat? (UPDATED)

If this is not yet another case of mistaken translation, as there have been many in the past, then it appears that the Iranian Supreme Leader,  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has made a completely empty threat towards Israel.  According to RT,
Iran’s most powerful authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the Islamic Republic would raze the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa “to the ground” if Israel launched a military strike against it. “At times the officials of the Zionist regime [Israel] threaten to launch a military invasion, but they themselves know that if they make the slightest mistake the Islamic Republic will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during an address on live state television.
Sure enough,  the Zio-media turned that into yet another "proof" that the Iranians are hell-bent on genocide.

The biggest problem with all that is that this threat is nonsensical.  Never in the history of warfare has a city been razed by missile attacks.  From the Nazi V-1/V-2 strikes on London, to Saddam's strikes on US forces in the Persian Gulf and on Israel, missiles were never effective in striking cities.  In fact, unless they carry nuclear warheads, missiles are not at all suited for that task simply because of the relatively small payloads they carry.  For example, the throw-weight of the Iranian Shahab-4 is reportedly less than 1000kg.  Sure, 1 ton of high-explosives or cluster warheads will result in a huge explosion, but that is no bigger than the old V-2 rocket were capable of.  It will bring down any building, or even a street block, but you would need a huge number of missiles to really raze a major city.  Frankly, there are only three ways to raze a city: nuclear warheads, carped bombing from the air, or a massive and sustained artillery barrage.  Iran can deliver none of these.

Iran does have an impressive missile force, and Iran's missiles can painfully strike Israel, these missile can destroy key buildings in Israeli cities, which will create a panic and chaos, and if Hezbollah joins in these strikes with its own missiles the panic in Israel will be total, but even in these conditions no city in Israel will be "razed to the ground".

The Iranian leadership should be very careful to avoid making bombastic but empty threats as these only damage Iran's credibility and serve Zionist interests.

The Saker

UPDATE: alas, the translation has been confirmed by PressTV.  This is most unfortunate and, I would add, rather uncharacteristic of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Russia and Islam, part seven: the weatherman's cop out

In the bad old days when I used to do analysis for a living, I had a boss which always insisted that I offer him several possible outcomes.  He wanted me to tell him, "either X or Y could happen, but if not, then Z is a definite possibility".  In his mind, by covering all the possible outcomes our department's "analysis" would never be wrong, and he would ways been seen as "systematic" and "competent" by his bosses.  I always hated that.  From my point of view, this is exactly what the local weatherman does when he predicts "a hot mostly sunny day, with some clouds and possible afternoons showers with local thunderstorms".  This, of course, describes almost *any* day in Florida, but this is hardly an acceptable cop out for an analyst who, I strongly believe, should be paid not to list all the possibilities, but to make a prediction based on his knowledge and expertise.  I still believe that the difference between a real expert and a ignorant "pundit" is that the former has the skills to make the right call, and yet I am about to do exactly what I dislike pundits so much for: I will mention possible events, some general trends, but without making any firm prediction. And I will do that for exactly the same reasons as the pundits: I am simply unable to confidently predict what will actually happen.

I can, however, draw a few basic conclusions from the preceding installments, the most important one is that Russia is in a state of high instability and of constant change.

To illustrate what I mean by that, I have written two descriptions of modern Russia which appear to be contradictory or even mutually exclusive, but which both contain more than a few factual truths.

Russia version one:

Russia is: a country which is in the process of finally breaking off from the Western domination which, depending of whom you ask, began in the 17th century, February 1917, November 1917 or 1991.  Between 1991 and 2000 the entire political system was re-designed according to US orders (all key ministries at the time were literally crowded with US "advisers" who basically told their subservient Russian "Ministers" "do this, sign that").  As for the Russian economy, it was totally controlled by the Jewish oligarchs which basically plundered it sharing the proceeds with their US patrons.  As soon as Putin came to power he embarked on a massive program to get rid of US "advisers" and Jewish oligarchs and that, of course, earned him the eternal hatred of the West.  As part of this national liberation process, Putin has also given the full support of the state to the main traditional/historical religions of Russia, which in practical terms means Christian Orthodoxy and Islam (nominally about 40% and 7% of the population respectively, only a much smaller proportion of which are truly religious).  Pro-Western religions (Papism, Protestantism and Judaism taken together account for less than 0.5% of the population).  Likewise, there are no pro-Western political parties in the Russian Duma, not because of any "stolen" elections, but simply because these parties could not even make the needed 5% to get a single representative.  In other words, it is reasonable to assume that only about 5% of the population of Russia has any sympathies with the Western cultural, economic, political or societal model and 95% of Russians clearly want another course for their country.

The example of Chechnia has proven that the combined efforts of local traditional Muslim forces and of the Federal authorities are capable of dealing even with the worst forms of Wahabi extremism.  As a result of this, patriotic (but not nationalist) Russians and Muslims are joining forces against a common enemy: the Anglo intelligence services (CIA/MI6 & Co.) and their proxies, the Wahabi preachers and guerrillas.

The reelection of Vladimir Putin to the Presidency has now triggered a deepening and acceleration of the movement initiated under his presidency during his first terms: following US advisers and Jewish oligarchs, it is now the turn of the proponents of the "Atlantic integrationist"  viewpoint to be given the boot: the process which began with the now disgraced ex-Minister of Defense Serdiukov might well end with a dismissal of Premier Medvedev who, in many ways, is the lead representative of this "Atlantic integrationist" worldview.  Should that happen, and should the "Eurasian sovereignists" gain full control over Russia's foreign policy, this will result is a major shift of Russian policies towards Iran whom the Eurasian sovereignists always cite as the natural ally of Russia in the Middle-East.

Along a revamping of relations with Iran,  Russian foreign policy priorities will be, in order of importance, the establishment of a Eurasian Union, the deepening of the political collaboration with the SCO member countries and the BRICS, in particular China and India.  While Russia will continue to see the EU as an important economic partner, it will keep this relationship purely on a economically mutually beneficial basis with only "symbolic shows of togetherness".   In the Middle-East, Russia will continue to staunchly support Iran and Syria with all available means short of overt military intervention.

Russia number two:

Historically, Russia has always been an objective ally of Western imperialism, and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.  The main reason why Putin gave the boot to US advisers and Jewish oligarchs has little to do with some deeply-felt political beliefs and has everything to do with a typically Russian power struggle inside the Kremlin.  The various factions in the Kremlin are now skillfully impersonating a conflict between pro-Western and nationalistic groups.  This purely rhetorical propaganda campaign makes it possible for the Russian elites to remain in power.  Once we realize that elites are only interested in one thing - their own power and wealth - we also can easily predict their view of the West.  For these Russian elites the West is primarily a source of more wealth and power, a giant which can be played against your opponents, an overlord which will let you share in the spoils of the vicious exploitation of Russia and its people as long has the West's interests are not truly threatened.  Thus, is is equally obvious that the Kremlin will never openly challenge the West, much less so do something which could truly trigger a determined response from the West.

Take the example of Chechnia: this conflict was "resolved" only when the West, busy with 9/11 and the GWOT, gave the "green light" to the Russian forces to butcher the Chechen people and install their own puppet-thug Kadyrov.  The Russians have learned that simple lesson: as long as the West considers you "their SOB" then you are free to do pretty much anything at home but if you decide to take an independent course, you end up like Noriega, Saddam, Gaddafi and Assad (this threat was openly made by demonstrators during the recent color-coded revolution attempt in Russia).

Yes, most of the highly visible Jewish oligarchs have been exiled and one, Khodorkovsky, is in jail.  But what does really mean?  That these oligarchs, tired of a their decade long pillaging of Russia, have decided to follow the example of a satiated tick, and simply fell-off from their host, to go and happily digest their orgy of blood in a friendlier place: Israel, the UK or somewhere else in Europe.  Every departing Jewish oligarch has now been replaced with another, equally predatory and cynical, oligarch (either Jewish or Russian).  The system of predatory bloodsucking of Russia and its people is still very much in place and is unlikely to ever change.

As for religions - they are practically irrelevant to Russia.   Each religious denomination in Russia has a traditionalist wing which is too small to ever make a difference, while the rest of the country is populated by people who are either wholly lukewarm or even hostile to any religion.  The Orthodox propaganda finds some followers in Russia only because it provides for a "patriotic" substitute for the now discredited Marxism-Leninism.  As for the Wahabi propaganda, the only reason why it is popular in some nominally Muslim ethnicities is because it gives a cachet of religious legitimacy to what could only be referred to as the basic thuggery of some ethnic groups which have lived from crime and robbery for centuries.

As for Russian foreign policy, it will continue to be a bizarre mix of petty grandstanding and grand collaboration with the USA and whoever has enough power to pressure the Russian elites.  The only "natural ally" of Russia in the Middle-East is Israel, if only because both countries are run by pragmatic thugs who skillfully impersonate nationalists.  The Russian mob and the Jewish Mafia are, for all practical purposes, one and the same phenomenon, and they have never ceased working together for their mutual benefit.  Religion or ethnicity are irrelevant for these people whose only loyalty is to themselves.

So which version of Russia do you prefer?  Which one do you believe is correct?

Personally, it is pretty clear that I think that version number one is the correct overall description of what is taking place.  I cannot deny, however, that version two still has a lot of factual basis behind it.  In fact, version two is very much the version which "Atlantic integrationists" are instinctively comfortable with.  And as long as the "Atlantic integrationists" will remain a powerful segment of Russian society Russia number two will remain a reality, at least in part.

What does that mean for Muslims in Russia and abroad?

From a pragmatic point of view, there is really very little Muslims can do to affect the processes currently taking place in Russia.  Inside Russia Muslims have no other option than to support the regime in power for a very basic reason: any "success" of Wahabi Islam in Russia will inevitably turn into a total disaster for all the Muslims affected by it.  First, because Wahabi Islam is a direct threat to the traditions and culture of Muslims in Russia.  Second because, unlike what happened during the first Chechen war, Russia now has all the means to crush any separatist or extremist movement at any stage of its development, ranging from effective counter-intelligence work to the engagement of fully armed and trained units and formations in a spectrum of operations ranging from counter-insurgency to combined arms operations.  Yes, there still are Wahabi terrorist attack in Dagestan and southern Russia, and there are Wahabi preachers still involved in all kids of murders of traditionalist Muslims, primarily in the region of Kazan but also in other parts of Russia.  The primarily reason why this is still taking place is that the nuisance of these attacks is below the "reaction threshold" of the main Russian "power ministries" (State Security, Defense) and are dealt with mostly by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (sometimes assisted by local elements of State Security).  After all, the murder of a few policemen or clerics is hardly a reason to justify the involvement of special forces or the military - the regular cops and courts should learn how to deal with this.  But should the situation get out of control then the "Federals" will show up and deal with it, rapidly and ruthlessly.

Outside Russia, Muslims are all more or less stuck into doing more of the same.  Iran, Syria and Hezbollah can only keep hoping that Putin's Russia will be a better ally or partner than Medvedev's, while the bulk of the rest of the Islamic countries does not need to give Russia much thought at all, if only  because pretty much all of the Muslim countries on the planet besides Iran and Syria are now firmly under the control of Uncle Sam who, of course, will tell them what to think, say or do.

The main paradox

I wrote this series of articles on the topic of Russia and Islam because I saw both of these categories as a part of what I would call the global resistance against the West's imperialism.  And most of my discussion has been focused on trying to see whether Russia would ever turn into a consistent part of this resistance or not.  And my conclusion is, in this respect, a very hopeful one because I very much believe that Russia will not only turn into a consistent part of this resistance, but because I even see it as the most important and powerful actor in this movement (what other major country today has a population with only 5% of pro-Western elements and sits on top of a booming economy?).  In contrast, it appears to me that most of the Islamic Ummah is now firmly in the hands of the West, either openly (Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, etc.) or through its Wahabi proxies (Qatar, Libya, Pakistan, etc.).  In this context, the differences between the Egyptian Ikhwan, the "Syrian" FSA, the Palestinian Hamas, the Albanian thugs in Kosovo or the al-Qaeda constellation make very little difference to me.  Fundamentally, they all,  I repeat *ALL*, have been co-opted and are controlled by the USA, at least to a degree sufficient to be manipulated and used as proxies.  Thus, from the Russian point of view, they are all potential, if not actual, enemies at least as much, if not more, then the regime of Saakashvili in Georgia or the Latvian and Estonian nationalists.

As far as I can tell, the Shia are the only Muslims still resisting the West's imperialism.  And when I look at the actions of the Iraqi government, I cannot even say that all Shia resist, as even nominally Shia politicians can be found amongst Western collaborators.  Finally, just one thought about what could have happened in Iran if the Gucci Revolution of Rafsanjani & Co. would have toppled the Islamic Republic immediately tells me that even the Shia world is not nearly as stable and contradictions-free as I wish it was. 

Personalizing ideas

I will now do something else which is usually a bad idea.  I will speak of people rather than ideas.  But I will do this only to illustrate a simple point.  My belief is that Vladimir Putin, Ayatollah Khamenei and Hassan Nasrallah are, or at the very least, should be, natural allies.  By extension, I would say that what these three people individually stand for should naturally bring them to support each other and join their efforts.  The question is whether these political leaders will survive long enough to join forces.

My focus on "Russia and Islam" was probably flawed from the outset since it looked primarily at two high-level concepts whereas the most interesting developments are happening at a deeper, sub-national, level. Still, if my prediction about Russia proves to be correct, resistance in Russia to the West will soon go from sub-national to national, and if by that time the Islamic Republic is still in power in Iran, and I believe that it will be, the potential of a Russian-Iranian alliance could become truly immense, in particular if it is supported by other countries elsewhere (Venezuela at the OPEC or China at the BRICS).  Such an alliance could not only save Syria, but also protect Lebanon - via Hezbollah - from a foreign takeover.

This last segment concludes my series on Russia and Islam.  I am sorry that I was unable to give some kind of confident and optimistic prediction.  My hope is that at the very least I might have contributed to the dispelling of some myths and clichés, an admittedly far more modest goal.  For example, if I have succeeded in showing that while Russia and France both struggle with seemingly similar problems (immigration, extremism, crime, separatism, etc.) they are doing so in very different contexts and one should not think of Russia as some kind of "bigger France in the East".  Muslims, in particular, should refrain from transposing Western realities to a fundamentally non-Western context.

My only confident prediction is that Russia in 10 years will be dramatically different from the Russia of today.  Whether that will be for the better or the worse is, unfortunately, not something I can predict with confidence, though my personal and very strong feeling is that it will be for the better, and possibly even for the much better.  

As always, time will show.

The Saker

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How some (most?) Americans feel about Russians

I have to admit that there is probably a logic to this method :-)

A New Pope and "The Most Corrupt Vatican Since the Borgias"

Matthew Fox (former Catholic priest) discusses the Vatican's work with the CIA and it's alliance with far right political forces and Pope Francis' opposition to liberation theology in Latin America.

Comment: There is a contradiction in Matthew Fox' position.  He blames the Papacy for its alliance with the CIA, but he also says that the Dalai Lama should be the next Pope because he represents a real spirituality.  The Dalai Lama is, of course, a long-time CIA asset which the USA is using to subvert China.  Hardly an example of true spirituality, IMNSHO.

BTW - I have no personal opinion about this Pope about whom I know nothing, but I will say that he at least has a very pleasant face and warm smile, unlike his predecessor who really reminded me of Count Dracula in old black and white movies.

The Saker

British double-standards in the Falklands

By Adrian Salbuchi for RT:

Islanders take part in the "Proud to be British" parade along Ross Road in Port Stanley, Falkland (Malvinas for Argentina) Islands, on March 10,

The British government and press are noisily congratulating each other over the results of a referendum amongst the 1800 or so voting “Kelpers” as Britain’s second-rate nationals in the Falklands/Malvinas Islands in the South Atlantic are called.

Clearly a useless but highly politicized exercise in UK-brand “democracy” that serves, however, to unmask British double-standards.

All along, self-determination has been the excuse the British Government has wielded far and wide for carrying out this referendum on those bleak and distant islands, more than 8000 kilometers from Britain’s coast and a mere 600 km from Argentina’s Patagonian coast. Islanders voted almost unanimously to remain under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

"We believe in self-determination.”, Cameron dixit… “The Falkland Islanders have spoken so clearly about their future and now other countries right across the world, I hope, will respect and revere this very, very clear result."

Argentina, however, maintains that this was an illegal and "pointless" vote because the entire population of the Falklands is an "implanted people" who actually have no voice in a dispute that is not with them but between Argentina and Britain.

There are several overtones to this, not least of which are the enormous oil reserves in the area. That Britain should play the “champion of the right to self-determination” role - even if only of a very tiny group of less than 3000 inhabitants in some far-away windswept islands – is grotesque and hypocritical so say the least.
Because it begs the question: was it always so with Britain?

Answer: not quite…

We need not go back too far in British imperial history to learn how dictatorial and unjustly Britain behaved towards its vanquished colonies, systematically trampling on their right to “self-determination” and just about every other human right in the book.

Islanders celebrate after the annouce of the referendum's result in Port Stanley, Falkland (Malvinas for Argentina) Islands, on March 11, 2013 (AFP Photo / Tony Chater)

We could point to the Opium Wars of 1839/1842 and 1856/60 when the Crown-backed British East India Company forcibly pried China open to the glories of opium, imposing death and destruction upon tens of millions of Chinese all in the name of huge financial profit for the likes of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corp (aka, HSBC) and Mathieson Ltd.

We could also mention how in the first half of the 20th century Britain fully ignored the right to self-determination of millions in India using genocidal tactics to retain that colony for the British Crown until Jawaharlal Nehru and the great Mahatma Gandhi rallied the Hindus and threw Britain out of India after the second world war.

We might even mention the nice concentration camps Britain invented and in South Africa during the Boer War at the turn of the 20th century.

But no. No need to go that far back. Just take a look at the more recent case of Diego Garcia Island, which look so much like the Falklands and yet Britain handled so differently.

"We have always been clear that we believe in the rights of the Falklands people to determine their own futures and to decide on the path they wish to take. It is only right that, in the 21st century, these rights are respected.”

How shrewd of Mr Hague to be so forward-looking into this 21st Century, whilst he avoids looking back at the UK’s track record, which fully condemns Britain politically and morally.

Diego Garcia Island

This is (or was) the only inhabited island in Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, another remote UK colony officially known as the British Indian Ocean Territory.

In 1966, at the height of the Cold War, then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson agreed with US President Lyndon Johnson to lease Diego Garcia to the American Military, who badly needed a military base in the Indian Ocean to monitor Soviet activity. Diego Garcia was just perfect!

In return, the Americans made a major financial contribution to the UK’s Polaris submarine program.
One small snag, though: the 2.000 “natives” that had been living on Diego Garcia since the 18th century; before the Brits had even taken a look at the Falkland/Malvinas.

These “Chagossians”, as they are called, were the descendants of slaves originally brought to Diego Garcia by the British for forced labour in their coconut plantations. To comply with Britain’s agreement with the Americans, in a bout of high respect for the “self-determination” of the Chagossians, starting in 1968 the British government promptly threw them all off their island.

As The Guardian newspaper reported in February 2012, “from the late 1960s onwards, those leaving the islands for shopping trips or emergency medical treatment often found their return barred. Bfy 1973, all the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, the descendants of slaves… had been forcibly removed – dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles, where they were left to fend for themselves. Four decades on, the Chagossians – who gained full British citizenship in 2002 and now have a 1,000-strong community in Sussex – are still struggling to return home.”

This handout photo of the Mauritius based charity association "Group de Refugies de Chagos" and dated 09 April 1971 shows John Todd (C), the administrator of the Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean Chagos Archipelago, announcing to the population the introduction of a law that will have all the Chagos Islands population deported toward Mauritius and Seychelles (AFP Photo / HO / Chagos Refugee Center)

Why the different treatment? Well, maybe the fact that the Falkland Kelpers are of white British stock - “Aryan” WASP’s (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants)! - might help to explain London’s eagerness to protect their “self-determination rights”, whilst - Alas! - the Diego Garcia Chagossians are of far swarthier stock… Ergo, no self-determinations rights for them!!

Racism you say? No, just another example of how Britain respects “21st rights” as Mr Hague so eloquently put it. 

But there’s more to this. Today, the US military operates a Naval Support Facility (NSF) on Diego Garcia with around 4000 troops, used after 9/11 to support combat operations against Afghanistan and Iraq. They also operate a Guantanamo-like CIA manned prison facility there which former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said back in 2004 the US had “repeatedly assured him that no detainees had passed in transit through Diego Garcia or were disembarked there”.

Nevertheless in 2007 the all-party Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament announced it would launch an investigation on the continued allegations of a clandestine prison camp on Diego Garcia, a fact confirmed by repeated comments made by Retired US Army General Barry McCaffrey. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, in turn, said there is credible evidence supporting allegations that ships serving as CIA “black sites” use Diego Garcia to incarcerate and torture detainees.

That’s Britain and its US ally spreading “self-determination rights” and “democracy” throughout the world…!

Legitimizing Colonial Occupation

Dick Sawle, a member of the Legislative Assembly in the Falkland Islands government who was at the voting count in Port Stanley, called this week’s referendum results "absolutely fantastic".

Exiled Diego Garcians demonstrate outside Downing Street in London (AFP Photo)

Dick: what’s so fantastic about asking a small group of staunch Britons who hate the Argentinians whether they wish to remain British or become Argentinian?

The UK’s referendum in the Falklands is exactly the same as asking the 400,000 or so ultra-right wing illegal Israeli Settlers in the West Bank and elsewhere in Palestine to vote whether they want to remain Israeli or wish to switch over to Palestinian National Sovereignty!!

Mr Sawle then added that the vote will "send out the strongest possible message to the rest of the world about our right to self-determination, a right which was fought for in 1982 and which we've honored tonight."

The real reasons for this mock referendum are otherwise: Britain and its second-rate local Kelper puppets need to justify to global public opinion that the Falklands are “British” - even if only with this thin layer of “referendum legality” - because full-fledged oil exploitation is about to commence with US and British oil companies getting ready to gobble up trillions in profits.

Oil, oil and more oil

Recent estimates indicate that oil reserves in the shallow Argentine continental shelf in the South Atlantic are over 60 billion barrels. This seems to have caught Britain’s (and the US’s) eye in the Falklands in recent years, especially after other primary oil sources have become geo-strategic hot spots - notably the Middle East and Venezuela - as a consequence of gross geopolitical mismanagement on the part of the US and Britain.

A group of refugees from the Indian Ocean island of Chagos gather outside the High Court in London on October 31, 2002. They are seeking compensation from the British government for forcibly removing them to make way for the Diego Garcia U.S. military base 30 years ago (Reuters / Michael Crabtree)

Thus, over the past three years oil exploration companies like Premier Oil plc, Nobel Oil Corp, Rockhopper Exploration plc, Argos Resources, Falklands Oil Co, Desire Petroleum, Borders & Southern Petroleum and Cairn Energy, all profusely financed by mega-banks like Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC (“ah… the good old Imperial days are back!”), Bank of America and JPMorganChase.

After them will come, Exxon/Mobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron/Texaco…

The glories of “self-determination”

Yes, once again, it’s all about oil. This is clearly one of the reasons why George W Bush reactivated the US Fourth South Atlantic Naval Fleet in 2008, after it had been deactivated in 1953.

Further afield, it’s also about British claims over Antarctica which houses incalculable natural resources wealth in terms of oil, mining, potable water, fishing… and where Argentina’s traditional presence there today is all but non-existent.

Maybe it’s even about the vast, sparsely inhabited and immensely rich in natural resources Patagonian Region of Argentina itself, where the Brits, Americans and Israelis would love to get their hands on…

But I’m getting ahead of myself by some 10 or 15 years… Because first comes “Latin American Spring”.

Adrian Salbuchi for RTAdrian Salbuchi is a political analyst, author, speaker and radio/TV commentator in Argentina. www.asalbuchi.com.ar

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Russia and Islam, part six: the Kremlin

This is a topic which I have been most hesitant to cover for many reasons, including the fact that my views on this topic have come to change, and that they did so not as a result of the discovery of indisputable facts, but under the combined action of  much "in between the lines" readings of events, many indirect events pointing in the same direction, combined with a very strong, but inevitably subjective, gut feeling.  To state my thesis bluntly, I have come to the conclusion that for many years already there have been several interest groups fighting against each other in the Kremlin and that one group has decided to break cover and engage in a quiet but still visible attack against the other.  As a result of that, a profound revolution has now begun in Russia and that the next 4-5 years will see either huge changes or a major power struggle inside the Kremlin.

The Muslim world and the "Islamic factor" inside Russia play little or no role in this struggle, but the result of this struggle will define Russian policies both towards Muslims inside Russia and towards the Middle-East and the rest of the world.  This is why I have decided to address this issue now.

In the past, I was of the opinion that Putin and Medvedev were the representatives of the same interest group which could be loosely described as a mix of security services and big money.  I credited this group with very skillfully deceiving the US-controlled regime of Eltsin and his Jewish oligarchs only to systematically crush it as soon as Putin came to power.  I still believe that this model is fundamentally correct, but I now also have come to realize that it has a deeper dimension which I have missed in the past.

First, I used to see the events of 1999-2000 as basically a victory of the "Putin people" against the Jewish oligarchy (which it was) and against US interests.  The latter is not so simple.  Yes, when Putin came to power he did basically "decapitate" the top figures of the oligarchy, but he simply did not have the means to change the system which the oligarchs and their US sponsors put in place.  The people were changed, the system remained fundamentally the same.  Berezovsky and Gusinsky fled Russia, Khodorkovsky was offered a much deserved trip to tree logging camp in Siberia, but the system these guys had built stayed: the media toned down some of its most obnoxious propaganda (in particular on Chechnia), the "New Russian" millionaires stopped trying to simply buy the Duma (like Khodorkovsky had), the various separatists groups decided to keep a low profile, and the Russian mob decided to be more careful in its actions.  But the basic laws, the Constitution, the system of government, all remained pretty much unchanged.   Furthermore, inside the "Putin people" there were some who very much wanted to deepen the integration of Russia into the West and its US-controlled international system.  Some were clearly CIA/MI6 paid agents of influence, others did that because they truly believed that this was the best course for Russia.  This type of people were often seen "near" Medvedev, "near" both physically and ideologically.  The 1990s also left a lot of these people in key positions in various government agencies, media groups and business interests.  No less important than who was "in" the power circles at the time is who was kept away.  Some extremely popular figures were sent far away from the centers of power.  This is well illustrated by the case of Dmitri Rogozin sent to Brussels.

So what we have witnessed between 2000 and 2012 is a grand balancing act, a compromise, between at the very least two interest groups:  I will call the first one the "Atlantic integrationists" and the second one the "Eurasian sovereignists".  The first groups wants Russia to be a respected strategic partner to the West while the second group aims at the creation of a multi-polar world in which no one country or alliance would hold supreme power.

Just as the late 1990s the "Putin & Medvedev" people succeeded in outwitting the Jewish oligarchy, in the past couple of years the "Putin" people have, apparently, succeeded in outmaneuvering the "Medvedev" camp.  I very much doubt that the people around Medvedev realized what they were doing when they let Putin run for President, officially under the argument that his popularity was higher than Medvedev's (which is true).  They probably were told that another 6 years of compromise and continuity were ahead, but in reality Putin has fundamentally change the course of Russia since he came to power a year ago.

In the past, cracks between the two camps had already appeared over a number of issues, including the S-300 sale to Iran, the UNSC Resolution or the response to the 08.08.08 war against Georgia, but these differences were always settled under the fundamental fact that the role of the President and the one of Head of Government ("Prime Minister") were clearly defined and each had to remain within his own sphere of competence.  Medvedev made the point himself when he publicly declared that the decision not to veto the UNSC Resolution on Libya allowing a US/NATO war was his personal one and that he personally instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  In contrast, Putin denounced this decision in no uncertain terms, but could do nothing about it.  Every time Medvedev and Putin butted heads over something, Medvedev's popularity sagged while Putin's rose.

This conflict came to a head around the person of Anatolii Serdiukov, the former, and now disgraced, Defense Minister.  I will skip all the well-known details about how Serdiukov was caught, but I will state one obvious fact: neither the journalists who "uncovered" Serdiukov's indiscretions nor the Investigative Committee which opened an investigation could have done so without the direct approval of the Presidential Administration.  Just like Obama had to "clear" (read: instigate) the Petraeus scandal to get rid of a powerful figure and replace him with a loyal ally, so did Putin really instigate the downfall of Serdiukov.  Let me add here that the widely held belief that Serduikov was Putin's man is based on nothing but journalistic clichés and is irrelevant anyway.  If, like I think, Serdiukov was imposed upon Putin by the "Atlantic integrationists" then Putin would inevitably be considered as co-responsible of Serdiukov's actions regardless of whether Putin wanted Serdiukov in the first place or not. And that made it very difficult for Putin to do something against "his" protégé.

The reason why I am focusing so much on Serdiukov is because in the Russian political system, the Minister of Defense is something of a mini-President: he runs what is truly a mini-state inside the bigger state, it is both highly autonomous and extremely powerful.  As a result, the position of Minister of Defense is one of the most powerful ones in Russia.  I find it also very plausible that the "Atlantic integrationists" could have agreed to have Putin as a President, provided that Medvedev is #2 and Serduikov #3.  Medvedev is still #2, but Serdiukov has been ejected and disgraced, and his successor, Sergey Shoigu, is his polar opposite in almost every conceivable aspect.

As soon as Shoigu took over the Ministry of Defense, he summarily kicked out Serdiukov's Chief of General Staff, General Makarov (a person of exceptional mediocrity), and replaced him with a highly talented and immensely respected combat officer, General Valerii Gerasimov who, in turn, brought back a long list of respected and highly competent generals to key positions in the Armed Forces.  Shoigu also immediately reversed some of the worst excesses of the so-called "Serduikov's reforms" in many fields including military education, medicine, command and control, etc.

Predictably, and unlike Serdiukov, Shoigu has excellent relations with key personalities like Dmitri Rogozin, Vice-premier of Russian Government in charge of defense industry, and Sergei Ivanov, Chief of Staff Presidential Administration of Russia (both of which are suspected by many observers to have played a key role in the downfall of Serdiukov).

There are also other signs of a potential shift in the top echelons of power in Russia.  More and more observers are speculating that Putin's All-Russia People's Front is being developed not only as a movement to generate new ideas, which is what it was supposed to be, but as a tool to influence and, if needed, replace the United Russia party which is seen as too much under the control of the "Atlantic integrationists".  Again, this is speculation, but there are more and more well-informed observers who are predicting that Medvedev might not remain as Head of Goverment all too long.  My personal take on that his that I get the feeling that Medvedev is a decent man, but of small political stature, who can be trusted to administer and manage, but without much of a vision.  Surrounded by powerful visionaries like Putin, Shoigu or Rogozin, he will do as he is told.  But yes, if he does not, he will probably be ejected fairly soon.

Before turning to the next aspect of this process, I  would like to introduce a thesis here which I rejected for a long while, but which I ended up accepting as true.

There is no doubt that in 1991 the Soviet Union lost the Cold War: the country was split into 15 separate pieces, the entire polity was brought down and the state practically ceased functioning, all the wealth of the country was brought under the control of Western interests and their proxies - Jewish oligarchs - poverty literally exploded, as did the mortality rate, NATO pushed forward its forces right up to the border of the Russian Federation, and American "advisers" literally created the new Russian state, the constitution, the system of government and most laws.  Now here is the key concept I want to submit: for all its external appearances of independence, the Russian Federation between 1991 and 2000 became a US colony, a US dependent territory, something similar to the status of Iraq following the withdrawal of most American forces or the status of, say, Poland or maybe Romania during the Soviet era.   Anyone who has any doubts about this needs to carefully study the events of 1993 when the comparatively legitimate Parliament of Russia was shot at by tanks with the full "support" (read: under the control of), the USA acting through its embassy in Moscow which during those days literally became the command post for the entire crackdown on the opposition.  I personally was present in Moscow during these events, and I had first-rate information about what was really going on at the time. I can, for example, attest to the following two facts: a) the number of victims was grossly under reported and b) the scope in time and space of the repression was also grossly under reported.  The true figures of casualties are close to 5'000 (five thousand) people and it took 5-6 days of combat in the entire Moscow metropolitan area (including areas outside the city proper) to eventually crush the opposition (I personally witness a intense firefight right under the windows of my apartment on the evening of the 5th day after the assault).  This entire bloodbath was directed and coordinated by the USA via its embassy in Moscow and most of the atrocities were not committed by government forces in uniform, but by hired guns in plainclothes (including mobsters and Beitar squads) and without any legal authority.  Does that not remind you of another capital?  Yes, of course, that could have been Baghdad.   Predictably the entire Western corporate press presented these events as a victory of democracy and freedom against the dark forces of revanchism, nationalism and communism.

If we accept the thesis that Russia was de-facto a US controlled territory until 2000, we can then immediately understand the next key implication: the coming to power of Putin did not, in itself, magically change this reality.  Think of other examples like Saddam Hussein or Noriega who used to be loyal US-puppets who eventually decided to take a more independent course?  Did their countries change overnight?  Of course not.  The difference with Russia is, of course, that the US did not have the means to wage war on Russia, much less so occupy it and install another puppet regime.  Even the terminally weakened and dysfunctional Russian state of the 1993-1999 years still had the means to transform all US major cites into a rubble of radio-active ashes. And yet, the Russian state could not even get together enough regiments to deal with the Chechen insurgency.  All that the Russians could send to deal with the Chechen insurgency was a limited amount of so-called "Mixed Regiment" (сводный полк - really mixed *battalions*), a mishmash of hastily clobbered together subunits which often had no military training at all.  Thus, by the time Putin came to power Russia has a quasi-dead state fully controlled by the USA.

And yet, Putin achieved some kind of miracle.  First he skillfully crushed the Chechen insurgency.  Then, he ejected the Jewish oligarchs which resulted in an immediate change in the tone of the media coverage of the war in Chechnia.  Then he began to reassemble the state piece by piece and while rebuilding what he called the "verticality of power", meaning that he re-subordinated the various regions of Russia to the central government: mobsters were ejected from the gubernatorial seats they had purchased, the regions began to pay taxes to the Federal government (most had stopped) and Presidential envoys were sent out to restore order in the regions.  If all this was a bitter pill to swallow for the British who had been deeply involved in breaking up Russia into many smaller pieces, it was really no big deal for the Americans who, at the time, and more pressing issues to deal with: the Neocons had just successfully pulled-off 9/11 and the Global War On Terror (GWOT) was in full swing.  Besides, externally, Russia was playing it all very nice, actually helping the USA in Afghanistan.  Logically, while the press in the UK was frantically cooking up all sorts of hysterically anti-Russian propaganda, the US press did not care very much.

I don't think that the Americans really liked Putin, but they probably saw him as a reliable partner that they could keep in check and who would not given them too much grief.  Sure, he prevented the final break-up of Russia, but every good thing has an end and it would have been unrealistic by 2000 to expect another decade of Eltsin-like chaos and collapse.  Besides, its not like Russia really had tossed off the American yoke: the system which the USA had created was still in place and there is only that much that Putin could legally do.

So between 2000 and 2012 Putin and Medvedev began a very gradual step-by-step process of internal reconstruction.  In foreign relations Russia did a lot of zig-zagging, sometimes acting in a way mildly irritating to the Americans, but always subservient when things got really important.

And then the USA did two truly dumb things: feeling buoyed by a sense of omnipotence and imperial hubris, the Americans let Georgia attack Russian forces in Ossetia and then they fully sided with the aggressor.  That, combined with the maniacal insistence on deploying an anti-missile system around Russia resulted in a wave of anti-American anger in Russia which Putin fully exploited.  The Americans probably figured that, sure Medvedev was better, but Putin they had already seen in power, and it was no biggie - they could handle him too.  Except that "Putin 2.0" was quite a different one from the original version.

There had been a warning sign which the West dismissed as just a political speech: Putin's speech at the 2007  Munich Conference on Security Policy (full text here) in which he unambiguously stated that the USA's planetary empire  was the number one cause of all the worlds major problems:
The history of humanity certainly has gone through unipolar periods and seen aspirations to world supremacy. And what hasn’t happened in world history?

However, what is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making.

It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority.

Incidentally, Russia – we – are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.

I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. And this is not only because if there was individual leadership in today’s – and precisely in today’s – world, then the military, political and economic resources would not suffice. What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilisation. 
This speech with its unusually candid type of language did create an initial moment of shock, but it was soon dismissed and forgotten.  The Western reaction was basically "fine, you don't like us, but watcha gonna do about it?!" and a shrug.

What Putin did about it is continue to systematically strengthen the state, launching the economy on a multi-year boom which even overcame the 2008 crisis, and slowly educating the people inside Russia on a new concept: "sovereignization" (суверенизация).

Sovereignization is a powerful concept because it combines a diagnostic (we are not really sovereign) with a goal (we need to become sovereign).  It is not directed against anybody, but anybody openly opposing it immediately looks bad (how can anybody legitimately oppose sovereignization?).  Furthermore, by introducing the concept of sovereignization, Putin pushed the people to ask key questions which had never been asked in the past: if we are not sovereign, why not?  How did it happen that we are not sovereign?  And who is really sovereign then?  And what about those who oppose sovereignization, whose interests are they defending?

By the time the Americans realized that the genie had been let out of the bottle it was literally too late: by a single conceptual push the entire political discourse in Russia had been altered from a state of catatonic stupor to a potentially very dangerous cocktail of opinions.

And this time Putin did not stop at words: he also passed laws demanding that any foreign-financed NGO sign-up as a "foreign agent" and that any government employee with money or real estate abroad either justify its origin or resign.  And these are just test runs, the big stuff is all ahead: Putin now wants to change the laws regulating the activities of the mass media, he plans to implement new legislation making it possible to incorporate major industries inside Russia (currently they are all incorporated aboard), he intends to change the taxation system of major foreign multinationals and, eventually and inevitably, he will have to initiate a revision of the Russian Constitution.  Step by step, Putin is now using his power to change the system, cutting off each instrument of foreign control over Russia one after the other.  Last, but not least, Putin has now openly embared on a process to establish a new Common Eurasian Economic Realm (Единое Евразийское Экономическое Пространство) with any former Soviet Republic willing to join (Belarus and Kazakhstan are already in) which will eventually become a new Eurasian Union (Евразийский Союз).  This, of course, is utterly unacceptable to the USA, which is why Hillary Clinton took the unprecedented step to openly announce that the USA would do everything in its power to either prevent this outcome or, at the very least, to delay it:
"There is a move to re-Sovietize the region. It's not going to be called that. It's going to be called customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that. But let's make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it."
This time around, however, it was Russia's turn to say "fine, you don't like us, but watcha gonna do about it?!".

The fact of the matter is that there is precious little the USA can do about it.   Oh sure, the US did raise a big stink about "stolen elections", the Pussy Riot movement, the Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, and Hillary made her threats.  But all that was way too little and way too late, by the time the Americans came to realize that they had yet another major problem on their hands, there was nothing much they could do about it.

This is not to say that there is nothing that they will do about it in the years to come.  First and foremost, we can expect a surge in the number of terrorist attacks in the Caucasus and the rest of Russia.  If Chechnia seems to be safe, at least for the time being, the situation in the neighboring republic of Dagestan is still very dangerous.  Second, we can expect the anti-Putin propaganda to reach new heights.  Third, the US CIA and MI6 will return to their Cold War practices of covertly funding and directing a dissident movement.  Finally, and if all else fails, the West might try to find some crazy "lone gunman" to get rid of Putin himself.

Putin and his "Eurasian sovereignists" supporters are probably not a majority of the people at this time.  Yes, they are in key positions of power and they can use what is euphemistically called the "administrative resource" (административный ресурс - the power of the state bureaucracy) to promote their agenda, but they will have to deal with a Russian intelligentia which is still fiercely anti-Putin and with a media which is even more hostile to any idea of sovereignization.  And yet, as long as Putin does not engage into any excesses, it will be awfully hard for the media to openly trash a political program aiming at the sovereignization of the Russian nation.  This is why when Putin repeatedly referred to this idea in his Message to the Federal Assembly (full text here) the media either ignored it, or played it down.  And yet, gradually, this topic is becoming more and more common in the Russian political discourse, lead by the very active Russian Internet (known as RuNet).

At this moment Putin has a very strong control of the state apparatus and most key positions in the Kremlin are in the hands of his allies.  The state itself is in halfway decent condition, still plagued by corruption and a legal system designed to make it ineffective, it will work when needed, but it is still far from being a well-oiled machine.  The Russian economy is doing pretty well, in particular compared to others, but it is still very heavy, often ineffective, and most revenue is still channeled abroad.  Likewise, the Russian society is mostly happy that the 1990s are over, but the vast majority of people still are faced with many difficulties and hope for a better future.  Finally, the Russian armed forces have suffered a great deal under Serdiukov, but they are already definitely capable of dealing with any realistically imaginable conflict and they are gradually working on restoring their full-spectrum deterrent capability.  In this context, Putin's chances are overall good, but this is far from a done deal and it would be very naive to underestimate all the potential responses the US Empire could come up with to deal with this emerging threat to its domination.

The time frame to see what will happen is relatively short, 4-6 years max.  If by the end of his term Putin does not succeed in his sovereignization program then all bets are off for Russia and since all parties, including the "Atlantic integrationists", realize that, the struggle inside the Kremlin is likely to only heat up.  We can be sure that the next months and years will see a lot of political upheavals in Russia, possibly beginning by an open fallout between Putin and Medvedev.

And Islam in all that?

As I wrote above, neither the Muslim world nor the "Islamic factor" inside Russia are going to have any influence on the outcome of this struggle.  At the most, the USA and their "Atlantic integrationists" allies will use Islamic terrorists to destabilize Russia.  But as long as the state remains organized and solid, no amount of terrorism will be sufficient to truly influence the course of events.  Besides, a resurgence of Islamic terrorism in Russia might have the exactly opposite effect: it might convince even more Russians that they need a powerful and independent regime to protect the country.

However, the outcome of this struggle might have a deep effect not only on the "Islamic factor" inside Russia, but on the Muslim world in general: "Atlantic integrationists" are by and large anti-Muslim and pro-Israeli; they want to integrate Russia into a Western system of security as opposed to a Islamic one.  To one degree or another, "Atlantic integrationists" are always the proponents of the "clash of civilizations" paradigm.  In contrast, the "Eurasian sovereignists", while not all necessarily pro-Islamic in any way, are all for a multi-polar world and they have no problem at all with the idea that one of these poles of power would be an Islamic one.  In other words, the only circumstance when "Eurasian sovereignists" see a threat in Islam is when Islam is used by the US Empire as a tool to destabilize those countries who dare resist the USA.  From this point of view there is an "Islam" in Bosnia, in Kosovo or in Chechnia which is a clear enemy of Russia, but there is an Islam in Iran, Lebanon or Kadyrov's Chechnia which is an objective ally of Russia.  It is characteristic that the "Atlantic integrationists" always see Israel as Russia's natural ally in the Middle-East while the  "Eurasian sovereignists" always name Iran.

As long as these two forces continue to fight each other for the control of the Kremlin and Russia the Russian policies towards Islam inside Russia and the Muslim world will be inconsistent, at times indecisive, and therefore only moderately predictable.  My personal sense is that Putin and his  "Eurasian sovereignists" are currently in a much stronger position than their opponents and that is definitely good news for the Arab and Muslim world, in particular for Syria.  This process is far from over and it would be unwise to make too many predictions about what Russia might do, or to count on Russia to do the "right thing" just because logic would indicate that it should.  The appalling example of Russia essentially given the US/NATO a green light at the UNSC to invade Libya should serve as a reminder that Russia is still not a truly sovereign and that it cannot be counted on the always resist the USA's immense power.

The Saker

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Russia and Islam, part five: "Islam" as an ally

Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Russia has become the first enemy of Islam and Muslims because it has stood against the Syrian people; more than 30,000 Syrians have been killed by the weapons supplied by Russia"

Reading the words of al-Qaradawi, who is arguably one of the most influential Muslim clerics on the planet whose TV show is followed by 60 million Muslims, one might wonder how anybody could ever think of Islam as an ally of Russia.  But then, reading the rest of the article which quoted him, we see that he also "called on pilgrims to pray for topple (sic) of Bashar al Assad, elimination of Syrian army, Iran, Hezbollah, China and Russia".  If we think of the logic of his own words, the list of enemies he names, and if we consider that he believes that Russia is the worst of them, does that not indicate that Russia must therefore be the main force behind of the others, behind Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and China?  If so, then unless we assume that the Russians are irrational, we can probably conclude that Russia sees Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and China as allies which, of course, it does.  And since Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are most definitely Muslim, this clearly shows two fundamental things:  there are many different brands of "Islam" out there (Hassan Nasrallah would definitely not agree with al-Qaradawi's point of view) and some of these brands of Islam are already objective allies of Russia. So, once again, we need to set aside the vast category of "Islam" and look a little deeper into what has been going on inside the Muslim world.

The following is a self-evident truism:

The Muslim world is not a united, coherent, entity with a common goal, ideology or ethos.  While some Muslims want to entertain that fiction, and while all Islamophobes are more than happy to support and propagate such claims, they are patently false.  While all Muslims share certain common beliefs, this list is extremely short.  In fact, all that is required to convert to Islam is a single heartfelt recitation of the Sahhadah: "there is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God".  Everything else is left to the interpretation of the various of various sects and schools of jurisprudence.  This is why all the usual generalizations about Islam are so misleading - they ignore the immense diversity of Islam, from Morocco to Indonesia, from Saudi Wahabism to Kazakh Sufism.

And yet, some generalizations can be made, even if accompanied by various disclaimers and caveats.

The first is that the richest segment of the Muslim world is definitely the one of the type of Sunni Islam found around the Persian Gulf, in particular the one represented by the Saudi type of Wahabism.  This Saudi brand of Islam combines three separate elements into one explosive mix: a primitive but extremely aggressive ideology, immense disposable income and a militant dedication to proselytism and expansion.

Second, Sunni Muslims are all potential targets of Saudi/Wahabi indoctrination and recruitment efforts.  This does not mean that all Sunnis will turn into al-Qaeda types, but that Saudi/Wahabi recruitment efforts have already been successful in pretty much all Sunni groups, regardless of geography or tradition.  Conversely, this also means that for traditional Sunni Islam the brand of Wahabism the Saudis are spreading is a most dangerous foe.

Third, The United States have to be credited with the following: they took a local, largely irrelevant, sect and, with the complicity of the House of Saud, they literally federated all the Wahabi crazies worldwide into if not one organization, then at least one movement.  While the USA initially wanted to organize the resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, they have since always commanded, if not always controlled, these movements worldwide, and they still are doing so today.  From the US and Turkish "black flights" in Bosnia, to the arming of the KLA in Kosovo, to 9/11, to the uprisings in Libya and Syria, the United States have always directed the Wahabi crazies towards the enemies of the US global Empire.

Fourth, in contrast to the rest of the Islamic world, the Shia have always been a determined opponent of Wahabi Islam and the US Empire.  Conversely, this also means that for the US Empire and the Wahabi crazies, the Shia are at the top of their enemy list and that they will spare no efforts into weakening, subverting or destroying any Shia movement or country.  Remarkably, so far they have failed and that in itself is a testimony to the formidable intelligence, courage and resilience of the Shia people.

What does that mean for Russia?

While there are some circles which fully subscribe to the "clash of civilization" theory and who consider Islam as a threat (see in my previous installment the "Islam through the prism of the "clash of civilizations"  section), there are also several influential groups who very much see Islam as a natural ally:

a) Orthodox patriots: best represented by the views of the well-known journalist Maksim Shevchenko, these are Russians nationals who as patriots, but not Russian nationalists, believe that Russia has a vocation to be an multi-ethnic country and civilization and who, as Orthodox Christians, believe that traditional Islam shares most, if not all, of the key values of Orthodox Christianity.  Shevchenko, who is a long-time Orthodox activist, is also a specialist of the Caucasus region who has extensive contacts in the various Muslim communities in Russia.  Unlike the "Orthodox Ecumenists", Shevchenko has no interest at all in finding some theological common ground with Islam, for him the value of Islam is in what it stands for culturally and politically.  The fundamental belief of Shevchenko and those who support his ideas is that traditional Islam is the natural ally of Orthodox Christianity and the Russian civilization in its struggle against both Western imperialism and Wahabi extremism.  Needless to say, Russian Islamophobes absolutely despise Shevchenko and they regularly spread rumors about his (totally fictional) conversion to Islam.

b) The security services: Russian security services have enough analysts and experts to fully realize the potential of an Orthodox-Muslim alliance against their common enemies.  It is not a coincidence that a former KGB officer like Putin put so much efforts in supporting the Kadyrov clan in Chechnia.  There is an old tradition in the Russian security services to seek alliances with some Muslim movements against common enemies.  From the long-standing alliance of the Soviet GRU with Ahmad Shah Massoud, to the SVR's support for Assad, to the FSB's support for Akhmad and Ramzan Kadyrov - the Russian security services have always sought allies in the Muslim world.  They have always done that due to a mix of pragmatic considerations and real admiration for their counterparts (I can personally attest to the real and sincere admiration in which Massoud was held by commanders of the Kaskad/Vympel Spetsnaz force).  Putin has personally stated many time that the traditional Muslim communities can count on the absolute support of the Russian state and that this support for traditional Russian Islam is a key strategic objective of the Russian state.

Christian or Muslim?
c) Orthodox traditionalists: take a look at this photo, it shows some of the dresses which would be considered traditional Orthodox dresses in modern Russia.  Though not exactly identical, they are very similar to what many Muslim women would wear, are they not?  Now compare that with the kind of civilization model the various Pussy Riots, Gay Pride parades and other LGBT movements present.  The fact is that traditional Islamic and traditional Christian Orthodox ethics are very similar, and that they stand for the same values: traditional families, moderate patriotism, social responsibility, modesty, sobriety, charity, honor and respect for traditions including for other traditions.  At a time when most Russian TV stations are spewing a constant stream of immorality, materialism and outright filth, Orthodox Christians look with understanding and admiration at those Muslim families who raise their children with respect for the elders and the traditions they represent. 

Recently, there have been a few high visibility scandals around the issue of whether Muslim girls should be wearing a scarf over their heads in public schools.  Just like in France, some Russians felt threatened by such religious displays, in particular in the southern regions of Russia were immigration is a big problem, but interestingly the traditionalist Orthodox commentators sided with the Muslim girls saying that they are actually giving a good example to Russian Orthodox girls too.  It is a fact that before the Bolshevik Revolution almost all rural Russian women wore a headscarf which is very much a traditional Russian way of dressing (those doubting this are welcome to check any Russian matrioshka doll).

d) The Russian foreign policy establishment, while not necessarily as pro-Islamic as the Russian security services, is also largely convinced of the importance of supporting countries such as Syria and, in particular, Iran, which most Russian diplomats see as a key Russian ally in the Middle-East.  There also is, however, a strong pro-Western minority in the Russian foreign service which does believe that Iran has to submit to the orders of the UNSC even in cases where the UNSC takes decisions which are highly unfavorible to Russia.  This is also the group which prevailed at the time when Russia betrayed Gaddafi and did not veto a resolution which was clearly designed to allow a US/NATO agression on Libya (Russia also betrayed Iran on several occasions at the UNSC).  Still, the prevailing thought, in particular since Putin's return to power, is that Iran is an important ally that Russia must support.

The Russian state, as a whole, is not a unitary actor.  In fact, there is a lot of very intense infighting taking place right now, and there is strong evidence that at least two clans, one associated with Medvedev and one associated with Putin, are now in the midst of a covert war against each other.  This topic, and what that means for Islam, will be the subject of the next installment of this series.

The Saker