Posts Tagged ‘Russia’


Meteorite crash in Russia: UFO fears spark panic in the Urals

by Pam Suggs
A series of explosions in the skies of Russia’s Urals region, reportedly caused by a meteor shower, has sparked panic in three major cities. Witnesses said that houses shuddered, windows were blown out and cellphones stopped working.
Atmospheric phenomena have been registered in the cities of Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg and Tyumen.
Lifenews tabloid reported that at least one piece of the fallen object caused damage on the ground in Chelyabinsk. According to preliminary reports, it crashed into a wall near a zinc factory, disrupting the fiber-optic connections of internet providers and mobile operators.
Witnesses said the explosion was so loud that it resembled an earthquake and thunder at the same time, and that there were huge trails of smoke across the sky. Others reported seeing burning objects fall to earth.
Police in the Chelyabinsk region are reportedly on high alert, and have enacted the ‘Fortress’ plan in order to protect vital infrastructure.
Office buildings in downtown Chelyabinsk are being evacuated. Injuries were reported at one of the city’s secondary schools, supposedly from smashed windows. No other injuries have been reported so far.
An emergency message published on the website of the Chelyabinsk regional authority urged residents to pick up their children from school and remain at home if possible.
Screenshot from YouTube user Gregor Grimm
The regional Emergency Ministry said the phenomenon was a meteorite shower, but locals have speculated that it was a military fighter jet crash or a missile explosion.
“According to preliminary data, the flashes seen over the Urals were caused by [a] meteorite shower,” the Emergency Ministry told Itar-Tass news agency.
The Emergency Ministry reported that no civil aircraft were damaged by the meteorite shower, and that “all flights proceed according to schedule.” No local power stations were damaged, either.
Residents of the town of Emanzhilinsk, some 50 kilometers from Chelyabinsk, said they witnessed a flying object that suddenly burst into flames, broke apart and fell to earth. A black cloud was reported hanging above the town.
Witnesses in Chelyabinsk said the city’s air smells like gunpowder.
Screenshot from YouTube user Gregor Grimm
Many locals reported that the explosion rattled their houses and smashed windows.
“This explosion, my ears popped, windows were smashed… phone doesn’t work,” Evgeniya Gabun wrote on Twitter.
“My window smashed, I am all shaking! Everybody says, that a plane crashed,” Twitter user Katya Grechannikova reported.
Many speculated on what caused the powerful explosion – some claimed it was a crashed plane, while others said it could have been a UFO.
“My windows were not smashed, but I first thought that my house is being dismantled, then I thought it was a UFO, and my eventual thought was an earthquake,” Bukreeva Olga wrote on Twitter.
It is believed that the incident may be connected to asteroid 2012 DA14, which measures 45 to 95 meters in diameter and will be passing by Earth tonight at around 19:25 GMT at the record close range of 27,000 kilometers.

Russia forced to deny Vladimir Putin's health is preventing him from working

House votes to prevent Obama sharing defense data with Russia

By Pete Kasperowicz

The Hill`s Trending Stories McDonnell, Cantor press event leads to Dem uproar in Virginia delegation See all Trending StoriesThe Hill`s Trending VideosBoehner mourns loss of life in Colorado shooting ‘tragedy’ Boehner: Voters aren’t asking ‘where in the hell the tax returns are’ Romney: Obama’s ‘you didn’t build that’ comment not a gaffe, it’s his ideology McCain: US should form ‘coalition of the willing’ to aid Syrian rebels See all Trending VideosActivity StreamMore from Floor ActionA closer look at next week … House votes to prevent Obama sharing defense data with RussiaBy Pete Kasperowicz – 2012-07-19 01:50:00 PM ETRead by 18 peopleView this article on The HillADVERTISEMENT

The House approved language on Thursday that would prevent the Obama administration from sharing classified information about U.S. missile defense technology with Russia.

The language was proposed by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) as an amendment to the 2013 Department of Defense spending bill and quickly approved by voice vote. Brooks said he proposed it as a reaction to the hot-mic conversation between President Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in which he said he would have more flexibility on the issue of U.S. involvement in European missile defense after the November election.

Republicans have said they fear Obama’s remarks indicate he is working on some secret arrangement with the Russians, and Brooks said his amendment is meant to prevent any sharing of missile defense technology with Russia.

“In light of recent statements by President Obama that he wanted ‘more space’ from the Russians in regards to missile defense, and his statement that he would ‘have more flexibility’ on this issue after the elections, I am concerned… that the United States’s critical hit-to-kill and other valuable missile defense technology may become pawns in a political chess game of appeasement with the Russians,” Brooks said.

Brooks also said the United States should be especially wary of sharing anything with Russia, in light of comments from Russia’s military threatening the nation if it participates in a missile defense system in Europe.

“If Russia’s defense staff is wiling to blatantly threaten the United States, why should the United States hand them the keys to technology that gives America’s war fighter a decided advantage?” he asked.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said he supports the language as a way to shape whatever agreement Obama might be working out with Russia.

“This amendment would say, ‘Mr. President, you won’t tell us what your secret deal is, but that secret deal better not include sharing classified information of the United States with the Russians about our missile defense,’ ” he said.

“This actually may be the most critical amendment that we will consider on this bill today,” said Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense. “There should be no secret deals on our missile defense with the Russian president or any other person not involved with the security of our own nation.”

Democrats let the amendment go without a fight, although Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said he saw it as harmless given the unlikelihood that Obama would share classified information with Russia.

“We don’t have any problem with this amendment,” Dicks said. “I would be very surprised if the administration would give any classified information to the Russian government.”

Brooks said his language is similar to language that was approved as part of the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this year. The House is expected to pass the 2013 spending bill, H.R. 5856, by Friday.

Russia Sends One Third of Remaining Operational "Rust Fleet" to Syria: In 11 Ship "Show of Power" to US

Cr Note: Er….”spooky,”….was that the expected response? Give me a break…sorry, but I remember those cold war days stalking Soviet ships in the Atlantic quite fondly, their remaining fleet is laughable at best

NY Times


MOSCOW — Russia said on Tuesday that it had dispatched a flotilla of 11 warships to the eastern Mediterranean, some of which would dock in Syria. It would be the largest display of Russian military power in the region since the Syrian conflict began almost 17 months ago. Nearly half of the ships were capable of carrying hundreds of marines.

The announcement appeared intended to punctuate Russia’s effort to position itself as an increasingly decisive broker in resolving the antigovernment uprising in Syria, Russia’s last ally in the Middle East and home to Tartus, its only foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union. The announcement also came a day after Russia said it was halting new shipments of weapons to the Syrian military until the conflict settled down.

Russia has occasionally sent naval vessels on maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean, and it dispatched an aircraft-carrying battleship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, there for maneuvers with a few other vessels from December 2011 to February 2012. There were rumors in recent weeks that the Russians planned to deploy another naval force near Syria.

But the unusually large size of the force announced on Tuesday was considered a message, not just to the region but also to the United States and other nations supporting the rebels now trying to depose Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

Tartus consists of little more than a floating refueling station and some small barracks. But any strengthened Russian presence there could forestall Western military intervention in Syria.

The Russian announcement got a muted response in Washington. “Russia maintains a naval supply and maintenance base in the Syrian port of Tartus,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “We currently have no reason to believe this move is anything out of the ordinary, but we refer you to the Russian government for more details.”

The announcement came as a delegation of Syrian opposition figures was visiting Moscow to gauge if Russia would accept a political transition in Syria that excludes Mr. Assad. It also coincided with a flurry of diplomacy by Kofi Annan, the special Syria envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League, who said Mr. Assad had suggested a new approach for salvaging Mr. Annan’s sidelined peace plan during their meeting on Monday in Damascus.

While the Kremlin has repeatedly opposed foreign military intervention in Syria, Russian military officials have hinted at a possible role in Syria for their naval power. The ships have been presented as a means either to evacuate Russian citizens or to secure the fueling station at Tartus.

A statement by the Defense Ministry said ships had embarked from ports of three fleets: those of the Northern, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, and would meet for training exercises in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Taking part, the statement said, would be two Black Sea Fleet landing craft that can carry marines: the Nikolai Filchenkov and the Tsezar Kunikov.

Russia’s Interfax news agency cited an unnamed military official as saying that an escort ship, the Smetlivy, would stop in Tartus for resupplying in three days — though it had presumably recently left its home port of Sevastopol, in the Black Sea.

Another contingent, from the Arctic Ocean base of Severomorsk, in the Murmansk Fjord, will take longer to arrive. That convoy includes three landing craft with marines escorted by an antisubmarine ship, the Admiral Chabanenko.

The voyage to the Mediterranean was unrelated to the Syrian conflict, the official said, but the boats laden with marines would stop in Tartus to “stock up on fuel, water and food.”

Visits on Tuesday by Mr. Annan to Iran, the Syrian government’s most important regional ally, and Iraq, Syria’s neighbor to the east, which fears a sectarian spillover from the conflict, came as a deadline of July 20 approaches. That is when the United Nations Security Council is to decide whether to renew the mission of 300 observers in Syria charged with monitoring the introduction of Mr. Annan’s peace plan. The observers’ work was suspended nearly a month ago because it was too dangerous.

At a news conference in Tehran, Mr. Annan reiterated his view that the Iranians had a role to play in resolving the conflict, despite objections from the United States. Mr. Annan also said Mr. Assad had proposed altering the peace proposal so that the most violent areas of the country would be pacified first. The current plan calls for an immediate cessation of all violence everywhere as a first step.

“He made a suggestion of building an approach from the ground up in some of the districts where we have extreme violence — to try and contain the violence in these districts and, step by step, build up and end the violence across the country,” Mr. Annan told reporters in Tehran.

There was no immediate word on whether the suggested new approach would be accepted by Mr. Assad’s opponents. But in Moscow, a delegation from the Syrian National Council, the umbrella opposition group in exile, suggested they had no interest in engaging with him.

“What brings together the opposition today is our consensus on the need to topple Assad’s regime and build a new political system,” Bassma Kodmani, a member of the delegation, said at a news conference in Moscow.

The delegation members, who are to meet on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, also said they would not ask that Russia grant Mr. Assad asylum — something Russian officials have said they are not considering anyway.Source

Putin's Visit and Israeli-Russian Relations

By George Friedman | June 26, 2012

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Israel on June 25 for his first state visit since retaking the presidency. The visit was arranged in mid-May, and so at least part of the agenda was set, given events in Syria and Egypt. The interesting thing about Israel and Russia is that while they seem to be operating in the same areas of interest and their agendas seem disconnected, their interests are not always opposed. It is easy to identify places they both care about but more difficult to identify ways in which they connect. It is therefore difficult to identify the significance of the visit beyond that it happened.

An example is Azerbaijan. Russia is still a major weapons provider for Azerbaijan, but the Israelis are now selling it large amounts of weapons and appear to be using it as a base from which to observe and, according to rumors, possibly attack Iran. Russia, which supports Armenia, a country Azerbaijan fought a war with in the late 1980s and early 1990s and is technically still is at war with, ought to oppose Israel’s action, particularly since it threatens Iran, which Russia does not want attacked. At the same time, Russia doesn’t feel threatened by Israeli involvement in Azerbaijan, and Israel doesn’t really care about Armenia. Both are there, both are involved and both think Azerbaijan is important, yet each operates in ways that ought to conflict but don’t
The same is true in the more immediate case of Syria, where its downing of a Turkish plane has created an unexpected dynamic for this visit. To think about this we need to consider Russian and Israeli strategy and its odd lack of intersection in Syria.

Russia’s Need for a U.S. Distraction

Russia has complex relationships in the region, particularly focused on Syria and Iran. Russia’s interest in both countries is understandable. Putin, who has said he regarded the breakup of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical catastrophe, views the United States as Russia’s prime adversary. His view is that the United States not only used the breakup to extend NATO into the former Soviet Union in the Baltics but also has tried to surround and contain Russia by supporting pro-democracy movements in the region and by using these movements to create pro-American governments. Putin sees himself as being in a duel with the United States throughout the former Soviet Union.

The Russians believe they are winning this struggle. Putin is not so much interested in dominating these countries as he is in being certain that the United States doesn’t dominate them. That gives Russia room to maneuver and allows it to establish economic and political relations that secure Russian interests. In addition, Russia has tremendously benefited from the U.S. wars in the Islamic world. It is not so much that these wars alienated Muslims, although that was beneficial. Rather, what helped the Russians most was that these wars absorbed American strategic bandwidth.

Obviously, U.S. military and intelligence capabilities that might have been tasked to support movements and regimes in Russia’s “near abroad” were absorbed by conflict in the Islamic world. But perhaps even more important, the strategic and intellectual bandwidth of U.S. policymakers was diverted. Russia became a secondary strategic interest after 9/11. While some movements already in place were supported by the United States, this was mostly inertia, and as the Russians parried and movements in various countries splintered, the United States did not have resources to respond.

The Russians also helped keep the United States tied up in Afghanistan by facilitating bases in Central Asia and providing a corridor for resupply. Russia was able to create a new reality in the region in which it was the dominant power, without challenge.

The Russians therefore valued the conflict in the Middle East because it allowed Russia to be a secondary issue for the only global power. With the war in Iraq over and the war in Afghanistan ending, the possibility is growing that the United States would have the resources and bandwidth to resume the duel on the Russian periphery. This is not in the Russian interest. Therefore, the Russians have an interest in encouraging any process that continues to draw the United States into the Islamic world. Chief among these is supporting Iran and Syria. To be more precise, Russia does not so much support these countries as it opposes measures that might either weaken Iran or undermine the Syrian government. From the Russian point of view, the simple existence of these regimes provides a magnet that diverts U.S. power.

Israel’s Position on Syria

This brings us back to Putin’s visit to Israel. From the Russian point of view, Syria is not a side issue but a significant part of its strategy. Israel has more complex feelings. The regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, while the Soviets were allied with it, represented a significant danger to Israel. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Syria lost its patron and diminished as a threat. Since then, the Syrians under al Assad had two virtues from the Israeli point of view. The first was that they were predictable. Their interests in Lebanon were built around financial and political goals that could be accommodated by the Israelis in exchange for limitations on the sorts of military activity that Israel could not tolerate. Furthermore, Syria’s interests did not include conflict with Israel, and therefore Syria held Hezbollah in check until it was forced out of Lebanon by the United States in 2005.

The second advantage of the al Assad regime in relation to Israel was that it was not Sunni but Alawite, a Shiite sect. During the 2000s, Israel and the West believed the main threat emanated from the Sunni world. Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas were all Sunni. Over the past decade, a corrupt minority Alawite regime has appeared preferable to Israel than a coherent majority radical Islamist regime in the north. It wasn’t certain how radical it would be, but at the same time there appeared to be more risk on the Sunni side than on the Shiite side.

Israel’s position on the al Assad regime has shifted in the past year from hoping it would survive to accepting that it couldn’t and preparing for the next regime. Underlying this calculus was a reconsideration of which regime would be more dangerous. With the withdrawal of the United States from Iraq and with Iran filling the vacuum that was left, Iran became a greater threat to Israel than Hamas and the Sunnis. Therefore, Israel now desires a Sunni regime in Syria that would block Iranian ambitions.

In this sense, Israeli and Russian interests continue to diverge. At the same time, the Israelis are aware that they have very little influence over what happens in Syria. They are bystanders hoping that things work out for them. Whether they favor this or that faction in Syria matters little. Indeed, open Israeli support for any faction can hurt that side. Therefore, Syria is a demonstration of the limits of Israeli power. What happens in Syria matters a great deal, but Israel lacks the power and influence to have an impact.

Coinciding Interests

The Russians do have some power and influence. The weapons they supply to the Syrian government can help the regime survive. Their ability to block or circumvent sanctions helps both Iran and Syria. Russia cannot impose a solution, but it may be able to create the circumstances under which the United States is drawn in and diverted. At the same time, it must be remembered that Russia has its own problem with Islamic in the northern Caucasus. These groups are mostly Sunni, but there are a wide variety of Sunnis. While the Russians want to prevent a radical Sunni group in Syria, they could on this level live with a more moderate Sunni group if they cannot keep al Assad or his regime in power.

Putin’s visit is intended to make the United States nervous and to try to lay the groundwork for shifts in Israel’s relation to Russia that could pay off in the long run. The Israelis, however, do have things they need from Putin. They cannot control regime change in Syria, but to some extent Russia can. And here Israeli and Russian interests coincide. Israel would tolerate the survival of the al Assad regime as long as Syria does not become an Iranian satellite.

Russia could counterbalance Iran if al Assad’s regime survived. If, on the other hand, his regime fell, Israel and Russia both have an interest in a moderate Sunni regime. This is where Russia must make a decision — assuming it has the power to affect the outcome. In the long run, a moderate Sunni regime is in its interest. In the short run, it wants a regime that creates the greatest unease for the United States — that is, either the al Assad regime as an Iranian asset or a radical Islamist regime.

There is a point where all this comes together. Turkey has decided, in response to the downing of its aircraft, to call a meeting of NATO. Turkey is not prepared to unilaterally intervene in Syria, but having lost an aircraft it could ask for a NATO intervention of some sort. Turkey has been hostile to al Assad from early on, and this gives it the opportunity to invoke the alliance under its common defense policy.

How NATO will respond is unknown, save that the rhetoric will be intense and the desire for combat restrained. Neither Russia nor Israel would be upset by a NATO intervention. From the Russian point of view, a NATO intervention involving large amounts of U.S. forces would be the best it could hope for, especially if NATO gets bogged down, as tends to happen in such interventions. From the Israeli point of view, having NATO take responsibility for Syria would be the best possible outcome by far.

Of course, this was not on the table when the Israeli-Russian meeting was set up. At that time, the meeting was meant to explore the differences on subjects such as Syria. But with recent events, the benefits of possible NATO involvement, however unlikely, are something that Russia and Israel agree on. Of course, neither is a member of NATO, and getting any NATO country to commit troops to Syria is unlikely. But what was likely to be a pointless discussion now has some point.

Israel would like Russia as a mild counterweight to the United States but without disrupting relations with the United States. Russia would like to have additional options in the Middle East beyond Iran and Syria but without alienating those states. Neither is likely. When we dig into the strange relationship between two countries deeply involved in each other’s areas of interest yet never quite intersecting, an answer begins to emerge.

There is little conflict between Russia’s and Israel’s interests because neither country is nearly as powerful as it would like to be in the region. Russia has some options but nothing like it had during the Cold War. Israel has little influence in the outcome in Syria or in Egypt.

Still, it is in the interest of both countries to make themselves appear to be weightier than they are. A state visit should help serve that purpose.

Read more: Putin’s Visit and Israeli-Russian Relations | Stratfor

Statement by PM Netanyahu after meeting with Russian President Putin

We agree that Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is a grave threat first and foremost to Israel, but also to the region and to the world.


Statement by Prime Minister Netanyahu:

President Putin, Vladimir, I want to welcome you and your delegation to Jerusalem.

Mr. President, this is your second visit to Israel as President. Following your first visit to Israel seven years ago, Israel and Russia significantly upgraded their relations. You mentioned the considerable expansion in trade, the economy, culture, science, technology and tourism. The foundation for the relations between our two countries is not only common interests, but the more than one million Russian-speaking Israelis. They constitute a vast human bridge, and, in just a few short years, the Russia-speaking immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet Union have become an integral part of Israeli society.

They are partners in the army, in hi-tech, in science and medicine, in art and culture. Mr. President, they are also partners in the government. You know Foreign Minister Leiberman well, but there are many others including:

Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein; Minister of Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov; Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver; the chair of our coalition, Zev Elkin; Natan Sharansky, who heads the Jewish Agency; Eugene Kandel, my national economic advisor; and many others.

I must say that, rumors to the contrary, I do sometimes work with people who are not Russian speakers, but there is no doubt that the public of Russian-speakers in Israel truly serves as a living bridge between Israel and Russia. A lot of people are crossing that bridge. In the past year alone, over half a million Russian tourists came to Israel. That’s an enormous number for a country the size of Israel. It has multiplied by a factor of seven in the three years since we eliminated the need for visas from Russia.

Tourists from Russia come to Israel because they like this country; they like the sun; they like the sea; they like the history, the holy sites, and we look after these as if they were the apple of our eye. In the Middle East, Israel safeguards freedom of religion. All this means that Israel is a country in which Russian tourists can feel at home.

Despite all this, I have no doubt that we have barely scratched the surface of what we can accomplish together, and therefore I am certain that your current visit will lead to a further upgrade in agriculture, science, hi-tech, space and in many other areas.

Mr. President, you are coming at a time of tremendous changes in our region. Yesterday, Egypt elected a new president. Israel appreciates the democratic process in Egypt and respects the results of its elections. We look forward to working with the new government on the basis of our peace treaty. I believe that peace is important to Israel; I believe that peace is important to the Egyptians; I believe that peace is a vital interest for both countries; and I believe that peace is the foundation for stability in our region.

We just had the chance to discuss the current negotiations between the international community and Iran. We agree that Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is a grave threat first and foremost to Israel, but also to the region and to the world.

Israel believes that the international community should have three clear demands of Iran: Stop enriching uranium inside Iran; remove all the enriched uranium from Iran; and dismantle the underground nuclear facility near Qom. That is why Israel believes the international community must now do two things: ratchet up the sanctions against Iran; and also ratchet up the demands that are being made of Iran.

Mr. President, we all aspire to peace. I look forward to discussing with you ways in which Russia can help Israel and the Palestinians advance peace, even during these challenging times, maybe especially during these challenging times.

There is a slight difference between us that we discussed prior to beginning the press conference. Mr. President, when you want to visit a neighboring country, you usually fly from Moscow for several hours. Our neighborhood is much smaller. Tomorrow, you will meet with President Abbas in Bethlehem, which is a four to five minute drive from here. Ramallah is only ten minute’s drive from here. The key to peace is complex, but in the end it is very simple: either President Abbas must come here or I must go to him, and I am willing for either of these possibilities to occur, however we must begin to talk. I hope you convey this simple message tomorrow during your meeting in Bethlehem.

Regarding our neighbor to the north, a way to end the killing and the terrible suffering of the citizens of Syria must be found, and peace, security and regional stability must be pursued as far as is possible during these turbulent times.

Mr. President, two years ago during my visit to Moscow, I promised on behalf of the State of Israel that we would memorialize the historic role played by the Red Army in defeating the Nazis. Today, I am pleased to say, we kept that promise. You just came from Netanya, from the moving ceremony inaugurating that same memorial that recognizes the tremendous contribution of the Red Army in the victory over the Nazis. For us, memory is a part of our existence. We fight against Holocaust denial and we join in the fight against the attempt to deny the important role played by the Red Army in defeating the Nazi monster.

This is a fundamental and important part of our heritage. Approximately half a million Jews fought in the ranks of the Red Army, including thousands of veterans who currently live in the State of Israel. Each year I meet them on Victory Day. They proudly wear their medals and I ask them, “For which battle did you receive this?” One tells me, “In the battle defending Moscow.” Another answers, “In Stalingrad.” A third says, “In Kursk,” and there are those who say, “Many places.” We salute them today. We salute all those who fought and sacrificed their lives for humankind.

Mr. President, over the past twenty years, a special relationship between our peoples was built, and I am certain that your visit in Israel will greatly contribute to the strengthening and deepening of these ties in the years to come.

Welcome to Israel. Welcome to Jerusalem.

Russia's Strategy

By George Friedman

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 reversed a process that had been under way since the Russian Empire’s emergence in the 17th century. It was ultimately to incorporate four general elements: Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Siberia. The St. Petersburg-Moscow axis was its core, and Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine were its center of gravity. The borders were always dynamic, mostly expanding but periodically contracting as the international situation warranted. At its farthest extent, from 1945 to 1989, it reached central Germany, dominating the lands it seized in World War II. The Russian Empire was never at peace. As with many empires, there were always parts of it putting up (sometimes violent) resistance and parts that bordering powers coveted — as well as parts of other nations that Russia coveted.

The Russian Empire subverted the assumption that political and military power requires a strong economy: It was never prosperous, but it was frequently powerful. The Russians defeated Napoleon and Hitler and confronted the far wealthier Americans for more than four decades in the Cold War, in spite of having a less developed or less advanced economy. Its economic weakness certainly did undermine its military power at times, but to understand Russia, it is important to begin by understanding that the relationship between military and economic power is not a simple one.

Economy and Security

There are many reasons for Russia’s economic dysfunction, but the first explanation, if not the full explanation, is geography and transportation. The Russians and Ukrainians have some of the finest farmland in the world, comparable to that of the American Midwest. The difference is transportation, the ability to move the harvest to the rest of the empire and its far away population centers. Where the United States has the Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio river system that integrates the area between the Rockies and the Appalachians, Russia’s rivers do not provide an integrated highway to Russia, and given distances and lack of alternative modes of transport, Russian railways were never able to sustain consistent, bulk agricultural transport.

This is not to say that there wasn’t integration in the empire’s economy and that this didn’t serve as a factor binding it together. It is to say that the lack of economic integration, and weakness in agricultural transport in particular, dramatically limited prosperity in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. At the same time, the relative underdevelopment of the empire and union made it impossible for them to successfully compete with Western Europe. Therefore, there was an economic motivation within the constituent parts of the empire and the union to integrate with each other. There could be synergies on a lower level of development among these nations.

Economics was one factor that bound the Russian Empire and Soviet Union together. Another was the military and security apparatus. The Russian security apparatus in particular played a significant role in holding first the empire and then the union together; in many ways, it was the most modern and efficient institution they had. Whatever temptations the constituent republics might have had to leave the empire or union, these were systematically repressed by internal security forces detecting and destroying opposition to the center. It could be put this way: The army created the empire. Its alignment of economic interests was the weak force holding it together, and the security apparatus was the strong force. If the empire and union were to survive, they would need economic relations ordered in such a way that some regions were put at a disadvantage, others at an advantage. That could happen only if the state were powerful enough to impose this reality. Since the state itself was limited in most dimensions, the security apparatus substituted for it. When the security apparatus failed, as it did at the end of World War I or in 1989-1991, the regime could not survive. When it did succeed, it held it all together.

In the Russian Empire, the economic force and the security force were supplemented by an overarching ideology: that of the Russian Orthodox Church, which provided a rationale for the system. The state security apparatus worked with the church and against dissident elements in other religions in the empire. In the Soviet Union, the religious ideology was supplemented with the secular ideology of Marxism-Leninism. The Soviet Union used its security apparatus to attempt a transformation of the economy and to crush opposition to the high cost of this transformation. In some sense, Marxism-Leninism was a more efficient ideology, since Russian Orthodoxy created religious differentials while Marxism-Leninism was hostile to all religions and at least theoretically indifferent to the many ethnicities and nations.

The fall of the Soviet Union really began with a crisis in the economy that created a crisis in the security force, the KGB. It was Yuri Andropov, the head of the KGB, who first began to understand the degree to which the Soviet Union’s economy was failing under the growing corruption of the Brezhnev years and the cost of defense spending. The KGB understood two things. The first was that Russia had to restructure (Perestroika) or collapse. The second was that the traditional insularity of the Soviet Union had to be shifted and the Soviets had to open themselves to Western technology and methods (Glasnost). Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a reformer, but he was a communist trying to reform the system to save the party. He was proceeding from the KGB model. His and Andropov’s gamble was that the Soviet Union could survive and open to the West without collapsing and that it could trade geopolitical interests, such as domination of Eastern Europe, for economic relations without shattering the Soviet Union. They lost the bet.

The Soviet Collapse

The 1990s was a catastrophic period for the former Soviet Union. Except for a few regions, the collapse of the Soviet state and the security apparatus led to chaos, and privatization turned into theft. Not surprisingly, the most sophisticated and well-organized portion of the Soviet apparatus, the KGB, played a major role in the kleptocracy and retained, more than other institutions, its institutional identity. Over time, its control over the economy revived informally, until one of its representatives, Vladimir Putin, emerged as the leader of the state.

Putin developed three principles. The first was that the security system was the heart of the state. The second was that Moscow was the heart of Russia. The third was that Russia was the heart of the former Soviet Union. These principles were not suddenly imposed. The power of the KGB, renamed the FSB and SVR, slowly moved from a system of informal domination through kleptocracy to a more systematic domination of the state apparatus by the security services, reinstituting the old model. Putin took control of regional governments by appointing governors and controlling industry outside of Moscow. Most important, he cautiously moved Russia back to first among equals in the former Soviet Union.

Putin came to power on the heels of the Kosovo war. Russia had insisted that the West not go to war with Serbia, what was left of the former Yugoslavia. Russia was ignored, and its lack of influence left President Boris Yeltsin humiliated. But it was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that convinced Putin that the United States intended to break Russia if someone like Yeltsin led it. Ukraine is economically and geographically essential to Russian national security, and Putin saw the attempt to create a pro-Western government that wanted to join NATO as Washington, using CIA-funded nongovernmental organizations pushing for regime change, attempted to permanently weaken Russia. Once the Orange Revolution succeeded, Putin moved to rectify the situation.

The first step was to make it clear that Russia had regained a substantial part of its power and was willing to use it. The second step was to demonstrate that American guarantees were worthless. The Russo-Georgian War of 2008 achieved both ends. The Russians had carried out an offensive operation and the Americans, bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, could not respond. The lesson was not only for Georgia (which, similar to Ukraine, had also sought NATO membership). It was also for Ukraine and all other countries in the former Soviet Union, demonstrating that Russia was again going to be the heart of Eurasia. Indeed, one of Putin’s latest projects is the Eurasian Union, tying together Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, a large economic and military part of the former Soviet Union. Add to this Ukraine and the former Soviet Union emerges even more.

Remaking the Union

For Russia, the recreation of a union is a strategic necessity. As Putin put it, the fall of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical catastrophe. Russia needs the economic integration, particularly given the new economic strategy of post-Soviet Russia, which is the export of raw materials, particularly energy. Aligning with states such as Kazakhstan in energy and Ukraine in grain provides Moscow with leverage in the rest of the world, particularly in Europe. As important, it provides strategic depth. The rest of the world knows that an invasion of Russia is inconceivable. The Russians can conceive of it. They remember that Germany in 1932 was crippled. By 1938 it was overwhelmingly powerful. Six years is not very long, and while such an evolution is unlikely now, from the Russian point of view, it must be taken seriously in the long run — planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

Therefore, the heart of Russian strategy, after resurrecting state power in Russia, is to create a system of relationships within the former Soviet Union that will provide economic alignment and strategic depth but not give Russia an unsustainable obligation to underwrite the other nations’ domestic policies. Unlike the Russian Empire or Soviet Union, Putin’s strategy is to take advantage of relationships on a roughly mutual basis without undertaking responsibility for the other nations.

In achieving this goal, the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a godsend. Until 9/11, the United States had been deeply involved in peeling off parts of the former Soviet Union such as the Baltics and integrating them into Western systems. With 9/11, the United States became obsessed with the jihadist wars, giving Russia a window of opportunity to stabilize itself and to increase its regional power.

As the United States extracts itself from Afghanistan, Russia has to be concerned that Washington will supplement its focus on China with a renewed focus on Russia. The possible end of these conflicts is not in Russia’s interest. Therefore, one piece of Russian external strategy is to increase the likelihood of prolonged U.S. obsession with Iran. Currently, for example, Russia and Iran are the only major countries supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Russia wants to see a pro-Iranian Syria — not because it is in Moscow’s long-term interests but because, in the short run, anything that absorbs the United States will relieve possible pressure on Russia and give more time for reordering the former Soviet Union.

The crisis in Europe is similarly beneficial to Russia. The unease that Germany has with the European Union has not yet matured into a break, and it may never. However, Germany’s unease means that it is looking for other partners, in part to ease the strain on Germany and in part to create options. Germany depends on Russian energy exports, and while that might decrease in coming years, Russia is dealing with the immediate future. Germany is looking for other potential economic partners and, most important at a time when Europe is undergoing extreme strain, Germany does not want to get caught in an American attempt to redraw Russian borders. The ballistic missile defense system is not significant, in the sense that it does not threaten Russia, but the U.S. presence in the region is worrisome to Moscow. For Russia, recruiting Germany to the view that the United States is a destabilizing force would be a tremendous achievement.

Other issues are side issues. China and Russia have issues, but China cannot pose a significant threat to core Russian interests unless it chooses to invade maritime Russia, which it won’t. There are economic and political issues, of course, but China is not at the heart of Russia’s strategic concerns.

For Russia, the overwhelming strategic concern is dominating the former Soviet Union without becoming its patron. Ukraine is the key missing element, and a long, complex political and economic game is under way. The second game is in Central Asia, where Russia is systematically asserting its strength. The third is in the Baltics, where it has not yet made a move. And there is the endless conflict in the northern Caucasus that always opens the door for reasserting Russian power in the south. Russia’s foreign policy is built around the need to buy time for it to complete its evolution.

To do this, the Russians must keep the United States distracted, and the Russian strategy in the Middle East serves that purpose. The second part is to secure the West by drawing Germany into a mutually beneficial economic relationship while not generating major resistance in Poland or an American presence there. Whether this can be achieved depends as much on Iran as it does on Russia.

Russia has come far from where Yeltsin took it. The security forces are again the heart of the state. Moscow dominates Russia. Russia is moving to dominate the former Soviet Union. Its main adversary, the United States, is distracted, and Europe is weak and divided. Of course, Russia is economically dysfunctional, but that has been the case for centuries and does not mean it will always be weak. For the moment, Russia is content to be strong in what it calls the near abroad, or the former Soviet Union. Having come this far, it is not trying to solve insoluble problems.

Read more: Russia’s Strategy | Stratfor


Communist Activist Hilda Solis - Sect of Labor - Thinks She is in Communist Russia.

This is the picture that Hilda Solis wants everyone at the Labor Department to see. She posts these posters just as Stalin did in Russia.
The picture is from a march a few weeks ago in Alabama. Solis joined an array of activists to reenact the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

On her right arm is SEIU exec R. Eliseo Medina. On her left is, of course, MSNBC host Rev. Al Sharpton. And that’s Jesse Jackson on the other side of Delores Huerta and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker.

The experience clearly affected Secretary Solis. The Daily Caller reports that images from the event have now been turned into a poster that will hang in elevators at the Labor Department:
The photo depicts Solis acting as an emissary of the Obama administration protesting against Alabama’s strict new law combating illegal immigration. Solis has her arms locked with Sharpton, and Jackson is a few feet away. The poster also carries a message for federal government employees — who are traditionally expected to be apolitical in the performance of their duties.
“Whether we take to the streets or simply do our work with integrity and commitment here at the U.S. Department of Labor,” the poster reads, above Solis’ signature, “We are all marching toward the same goals: safer workplaces, fair pay, dignity on the job, secure retirement and opportunities to make a better life. I believe in the power of collective action.”
The message of the new elevator poster doesn’t sit well with some critics like Rick Manning of American’s for Limited Government:

“This administration seems to be more interested in using public resources to promote extra-legal social change through propagandizing the federal workforce rather than simply enforcing the laws passed by Congress.”

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