He’s Back …… I Think.

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

putin

It seems that after a mysterious disappearance from public view for the past eleven days or so, Vladimir Putin has re-emerged.

Over the past week and more there was a frenzy of speculation as to why he was nowhere to be seen and what had happened to him. His absence was significant, that much was agreed, but nobody knew why he had disappeared.

One of Putin’s former advisors, Andrei Illarionov, who has become one of his strongest critics of late, was quick off the mark to say Putin had been toppled in a backstage coup.

Many, well-connected in Russian matters, speculated that there was a full-scale Kremlin power struggle under way.

Other rumors quickly followed.

General Viktor Zolotov, Putin’s long-time bodyguard, was said to be dead. This was confirmed and denied and confirmed and denied, etc.,

Another of Putin’s top allies, Vladislav Surkov, was speculated to have fled to Hong Kong with his family.

The questions from the media and on the internet were also many and varied.

Had there been some kind of retaliation for the recent murder of opposition leader and former first deputy prime minister, Boris Nemtsov?

Would there be more bloodshed?

Was a coup under way in Russia?

Was Putin finished?

Was he perhaps unwell, which I suppose could be taken as a sign of weakness and spur on those who wished to topple him?

Was he in Switzerland celebrating the birth of a child by his secret lover, the gymnast Alina Kabaeva?

Would he re-appear soon, shirtless, macho and galloping on a horse to show everyone he is still a force to be reckoned with?

Or was the whole thing just a distraction from the murder of Nemtsov and the war in Ukraine?

putin_shirtless_on_horse

The Kremlin, on the other hand, wasn’t asking any questions. It dismissed all such rumors and insisted that nothing was wrong with either Putin or his regime, apart from maybe a dose of the flu.

There is no doubt that, for all his political savvy, Putin has managed to get himself stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. He made his reputation by winning the war in Chechnya, and he cannot afford to cross the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. At the same time he cannot side against the politicians from the security or military services, often the officers of the former KGB, GRU, FSB, and all that, who came into power with him.

As usual, of course, most commentators missed the main question, which was apart from all the usual faffing around, ‘how should we react if such a thing were really to happen’?

Here in the West we, (including those in the intelligence community who are supposed to know about these things and brief world leaders like President Obama), don’t have much of a clue about Kremlin politics. You can be almost certain therefore that, if anything were ever to really happen to Putin, the danger is that the West would respond in entirely the wrong way.

A new Russian leader would be greeted by America and its allies as a more predictable and easier to deal with partner than Putin. But that is forgetting one crucial element. All Russian leaders are tough. Not just Putin. And the person who had the steel to oust someone of Putin’s caliber would have to himself be a very hard man and a shrewd operator.

More significantly, he would have to quickly stamp his authority and hold on power in Russia. The quickest and easiest way of doing that would be with more repression of opposition factions in Russia itself and with more flexing of Russia’s considerable muscles abroad, particularly in the Crimea and the Ukraine.

That would be a real puzzler for Obama, were it to happen during his last few months in office. And a defining moment for his successor.

Sometimes the devil you know is easier to deal with than one you don’t.

putin devil

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They’ve Got It Wrong AGAIN!

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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The Sunday Sermon

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russia-sanctions

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I wrote a short post the other day on the subject of failure. I think it was a success 🙂

What hasn’t been a success, however, is America’s foreign policy. I’ve also written about this many times in the past. I find it very annoying that a country as great as America and with so many brilliant people within it can neither elect a smart politician, or even a not so smart politician but one who has enough brains to hire smart advisers.

The current President, Barack Obama, has continued the trend of failure. Particularly with regard to foreign policy, at which he has not only failed but added indecision and procrastination to the mix.

The examples are many, but the latest foreign policy debacle is the leading role America has taken in the imposition of sanctions against Russia. Sanctions that may have been aimed against Russia but which are already starting to backfire against the US.

I noted in another post that sanctions have been imposed in regard to Russian oil and natural gas, which Europe (particularly Germany and France) needs, but America doesn’t; but that the sanctions were not imposed on nuclear fuels, which America does need.

Believe me, the hypocrisy of that has not been lost on the European governments or its public.

And the hypocrisy does not end there.

rosneft getty

On the one hand there have been hyped up media statements telling everyone that Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, and its head Igor Sechin, have been targeted in the sanctions.

But what hasn’t been trumpeted so loudly is the fact that British oil company BP, owns almost 20% of Rosneft, and has confirmed that it would not be severing ties with the Russian firm.

Similarly, Norway’s Statoil is continuing its partnership with Rosneft to search for oil in the Norwegian section of the Barents Sea.

And France’s major oil and gas company, Total, has announced that it is seeking financing for its next gas project in –  where else? –  Russia. When they get that financing, amounting to something in the region of $27 billion, it will be in Roubles or maybe even Yuan, but certainly not in US dollars – again thanks to the ill thought out sanctions.

This will set a trend for similar deals that will also exclude the US dollar, inevitably lowering its standing as the world’s reserve currency. I expect more such deals to be done with the Russians by German companies in particular as the sanctions fail to bring the promised results and as a consequence start to fall apart.

But it gets worse.

Before any of the US Senators or Congressmen stand up and start to call names at the Brits or the Norwegians or the French for backtracking on sanctions, they would be better to take a look nearer home.

It now seems that American Companies are not paying attention to the sanctions either.

ExxonMobil_Challenges

For example, ExxonMobil, America’s largest oil company, has continued drilling offshore in the Russian Arctic, also with Rozneft.

If the sanctions were anything more than a bit of public posturing by Obama, ExxonMobil shouldn’t (and wouldn’t) be doing any more work with the Russians in Russia. But using the excuse that it is environmentally safer to complete the well than to allow the Russians to do it alone, ExxonMobil got permission to continue.

No doubt the company will express its gratitude when the next round of electioneering fund raising comes along! (Gosh, I’m such a cynic!)

Now, if Obama and his advisers had thought for a moment about the consequences of sanctions, they would have realized that, in cases like this, companies such as ExxonMobile had not really got a choice. If they hadn’t continued to work with Rozneft, the Russian company would simply have gone ahead without them with a consequent dilution of ExxonMobile’s return if/when the well is a success.

In addition to that, if the Russian company did need other help you can be sure there would have been a Chinese energy company there ready and willing and eager to take up the slack.

Whilst Obama and his predecessors have been blundering around the world pissing off friend and foe alike, the strategy of the Russian President has been to cultivate new friends and thereby new markets and customers for his country’s vast energy reserves.

It has been a clever move.

Sanctions or not, game to Putin this time I think.

sanctions against Russia

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What’s That Smell?

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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hypocrite definition

Last week I wrote a post about the resurgence of the Cold War. I called it “Anyone Feel A Chill?” (click here if you would like to read it.)

But, politicians being politicians, they cannot even have a mock war like a Cold War without the stench of hypocrisy attached to it.

For example, the United States blames Russia for interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine, as indeed it is currently doing. But at the same time it attaches no blame to itself for also interfering in the Ukraine’s internal affairs, which it also did – in the process helping to create the mess we now see on our TV screens.

ukraine protests

Now, not content with that, America has been coercing Europe to go along with it in imposing economic sanctions on Russia. And by and large Europe has meekly and unthinkingly followed the US lead.

It started with foodstuffs and freezing bank accounts and assets, which Putin has managed to shrug off without too much trouble.

Now they’ve upped the ante and imposed sanctions on Russia’s supply of energy which is it’s big wealth earner and which given time will no doubt hurt a bit. I say “a bit” because any long term shortfall in energy revenue from Europe will be more than made up for by energy hungry customers like China, India and the rest of Asia. China, for example, recently closed a $400 billion natural gas deal with the Russians.

As a matter of fact, with winter approaching, the sanction game may well end up hurting Europe a lot more that it does Russia.

hypocrisy meter

You see, the thing is, the energy sanctions imposed by the US and Europe are on the sale of oil and gas. These are the things that Europe desperately needs, but are things on which America does not rely on Russia for at all.

Wait a minute, there’s that smell again.

Worse than that, the US did not invoke sanctions on the sale of Russian nuclear fuel, which America does rely on Russia for, since it just happens to power 10% of all American homes.

Now do you smell it?

At the moment it looks like this Cold War is going to get very cold in Europe and very expensive as the cost of heating increases with the shortfall in supplies.

America will be fine though.

So will Russia.

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Anyone Feel A Chill?

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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The Sunday Sermon

USA-and-USSR-Flag

I know the summer is coming to a close, but the chill I’m talking about in this post is the one coming from the Cold War.

You remember it?

The thing that we though we had got rid of in 1992 when Daddy Bush said, “A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one, sole and pre-eminent power, the United States of America.”

That ended the Cold War and everyone was happy. America had won.

So why did it start again? And why did our politicians not have the gumption to avoid it?

Two pretty good questions, I think.

I suppose the answer is that it all started again because America desperately needs a bogey man – a global one, not some terrorist organization like Al Qaeda or ISIS.

It gives them a reason to keep the war machine going which is good for the economy.

It gives them the chance to tell the world that the choice they have to make is between America and Russia (in other words, between ‘good’ and ‘bad’).

good_v_bad

And indeed it used to be that way, when the Russian regime was hell bent on imposing their failed communist philosophy on the free world.

The problem is that America wasn’t content with winning. For some reason it felt it needed to win again.

This time it is trying to do so by bribing and coercing former Soviet satellite states into joining an economic and military (EU/NATO) alliance against Russia.

That has, understandably and predictably, provoked the Russians into once again flexing their muscles, the result of which we are starting to see in the Ukraine.

And so the Cold War begins again.

But it won’t be the same as the last one. Some things are very different.

This time America is bankrupt, not Russia, which on the contrary has massive wealth at its disposal. This time America is being perceived by the rest of the world as dithering and incompetent.

nsa-spying-scandal

And, thanks to the arrogance of organizations like the NSA, this time it is America, not Russia, who is perceived by the rest of the world as untrustworthy and untrusting of its allies. That’s quite the reversal of the old Cold War when it was the Russians who were notorious for listening in on conversations, bugging hotel rooms and the like.

In addition Russia is not currently bound to an outdated and failed communist dogma.

Despite all the bogus posturing of President Obama, who it seems can’t make up his mind to do anything, Russia will not allow NATO to set up shop in its backyard.

America has made a huge tactical mistake interfering so close to Russia. They are leaving Putin with little alternative but to do his own bit of posturing. The only difference is he means it.

When a bear is sleeping, poking it with a stick is never a wise move. Neither is trying to force it into a corner.

This time it may well bring consequences that none of us will like.

poking a sleeping bear

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Vlad The Bad?

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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The Sunday Sermon

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“It was the Russians, they’re the ones to blame.”

“It was Putin. He’s the baddie. We can’t let him get way with it!”

 malaysia-airlines-flight-mh17

So go the cries in the US in the aftermath of the shooting down of Air Malaysia Flight MH17 over the Ukraine.

And that was long before any of the facts had been collected and it was known who shot down a plane on a different continent, or why. 

Russia wants (virtual) control of the Ukraine. There isn’t really any doubt about that. For them it is a strategic imperative. Russia’s history has taught it that it needs to be able to control a vast amount of territory, if only to use as a buffer zone against invasion.

The situation is not helped by various US Presidents and Secretaries of State giving Russia assurances that they would not attempt to involve the peripheral former Soviet states in things like NATO – and then trying to do the exact opposite.

It is now widely accepted that the underlying reason for the unrest in the Ukraine and Russia’s reaction is because of US interference in that country, which included helping to overthrow its democratically elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, and replace him with someone who was a virtual puppet of the West.

That was just asking for trouble. And they should have known it.

And they will get trouble, probably much more than they bargained for.

Unfortunately that will impact on ordinary people, like us.

 Major_NATO_affiliations_in_Europe

Just as the US has its beady eyes on bringing the Ukraine and other former Soviet states into pro-Western organizations like NATO, it is equally certain that Putin will have his beady eyes on not only bringing the former Soviet states back firmly under Russian control, but in perhaps expanding his relationships with other parts of Europe.

Putin has the energy reserves to do it. Whilst there is very little in the way of direct trade between the US and Russia, particularly in regard to energy supplies, (Russia is just the United States’ 20th largest trading partner), Europe is largely dependent on Russian gas to keep it going. Over 30 percent of the European Union’s energy supplies come from Russia and the EU is Russia’s largest trading partner.

Russia’s counter strategy, therefore, will obviously be to use its considerable economic influence as leverage to try to break up the NATO alliance and to separate the European power house, Germany, from its Anglo-American alliance.

Putin is being helped by the arrogance of America’s government spooks who thought they could spy on their friends and allies, even going so far as tapping the phone of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, without there being consequences.  

consequences

Prompted by leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the fallout from America’s spying debacle continues, people have been arrested, and the German government has even ordered the local CIA station chief to pack his bags and leave the country.

Germany may still place some value on its relationship with the US, but not nearly so much as previously, thanks solely to America’s lack of respect for them.

Putin and his advisors know this, even if Obama and Kerry don’t. They see Germany as ready for change. And they may well be right. The German people are angry at the contempt America has shown for them  – just as Americans would rightly have been if the Germans had done the same to them and their President  –  and they are increasingly frustrated at the burden the European Union has become economically.

If the US doesn’t catch itself on and behave differently and with respect towards its foreign friends, it may find that there will be changes it did not expect and certainly did not want.

Kerry Putin Obama

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So Come On America, Do Something Smart This Time.

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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I hate to have to say “I told you so” (actually I love it), but in last week’s Sunday Sermon I was on a well worn theme of mine, the blundering stupidity of American foreign policy – if you can even call it a policy. Particularly the current American lust for getting involved in the turmoil in the Ukraine. (If you want to recap, click here…)

Russia Ukraine map

I offered the theory that it was not unreasonable for a Russian leader like Putin not to want a fully nuclear armed Ukraine as anything other than an ally on his doorstep. And to try to clarify the position from his point of view I used the example of how America reacted (rightly) when the Russian leader of the 1960s, Khrushchev, tried to do the same thing in Cuba – right on America’s doorstep.

Well, I can’t take a great deal of credit for what happened next. It was an obvious consequence of American interference in Ukraine. Obvious to everyone that is except the morons in Washington.

Yes, Valdimir Putin paid a visit to Cuba this week.

Putin Castro

His message could not be clearer, again to everyone except the Congress, Senate, White House, State Department, and the rest. For their benefit rather than the readers’, Putin’s message is simple  –  if you want to **** in my back yard, then I can **** in yours too.

The Cuban economy is in dire straits. The Russians have already forgiven the substantial multi-$billion debt owed to them and will no doubt follow that up with a new infusion of money to help the country out.

The smart move for America would be to immediately end the now pointless economic embargo of Cuba (the desk drawers of the hypocrites in Washington are full of boxes Cuban cigars anyway!) and open up new friendlier relations. I think America would be surprised just how amenable the Cubans would be to better relations with them.

Box of Cuban Cigars

But they’d better act fast.

If they adopt their usual short-sighted warmongering posture, then Russia’s influence will only get stronger and its presence ever closer to American shores. I don’t think anybody wants that outcome.

So come on America, do something smart this time.

The world is watching!

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