Saturday, August 31

EMMA BONINO: SAGGIA E INTELLIGENTE IN MEZZO A IDIOTI

"Si parla di attacchi mirati, ma è chiaro che tutti cominciano come attacchi mirati, senza un mandato dell'ONU la Siria ovviamente reagirà, ovviamente non è Belgrado del 1999 e dobbiamo temere come possano reagire Hezbollah, Russia e Iran". 

Insomma, da un "conflitto drammatico e terribile corriamo il rischio di una deflagrazione addirittura mondiale". 

Lo ha detto il ministro degli Esteri, Emma Bonino, ricordando che "quello che è in corso in tutta quella parte del mondo è uno scontro micidiale nell'intera famiglia musulmana e all'interno della famiglia sunnita (vedi i due fratelli Assad)".

"Quindi - ha precisato - ci troviamo di fronte a una complessità che va analizzata", che "aggiunge allo scontro tradizionale sunniti-sciiti uno scontro micidiale all'interno della famiglia sunnita. Risultato: il tutto è una vera polveriera, a volte non è proprio saggio buttare dei fiammiferi in una polveriera".

"Io credo che la tenuta e la durata della pressione diplomatica e della politica sia l'unica strada perseguibile, l'ho sempre pensato, non c'è soluzione militare in Siria" ha aggiunto Bonino, ribadendo che "senza un mandato" del Consiglio di Sicurezza dell'ONU "rischiamo di aggiungere ulteriori complicazioni e ulteriori lacerazioni".

"E' vero - ha affermato - che tutti gli indizi portano ovviamente al regime di Bashar al-Assad, ma è proprio per questo che abbiamo l'interesse a rendere pubblici gli indizi e a renderli sottoponibili" ad analisi di esperti. "Gli ispettori" dell'ONU che torneranno dalla Siria "porteranno delle prove indirette, perché va pure detto che i gas dopo 20 minuti non si ritrovano".

E se ci sarà un mandato del Consiglio di Sicurezza dell'ONU, per quanto riguarda l'Italia "certamente ci sarà un passaggio parlamentare. Il governo assumerà ovviamente le sue iniziative, le sottoporrà di tutta evidenza ad un vaglio parlamentare. Questo dice il nostro sistema e questo dice anche il buon senso politico". "Credo - ha concluso - che per assumere questo tipo di responsabilità è bene che sia con l'appoggio dell'intero Parlamento".

Friday, August 30

NO A "ESPORTAZIONE DI DEMOCRAZIA" IN SIRIA E DINTORNI

Dal giorno dell’attacco con le armi chimiche a Ghouta, nella mente di Barack Obama e del suo Consiglio di Guerra l’ipotesi dello strike in Siria ha subìto una rapidissima accelerazione e poi un’improvvisa frenata. Frenata tattica per coordinare l’intervento con l’attività degli ispettori dell’ONU, sondare gli intenti di una coalizione dei volenterosi sempre meno volenterosi e placare un Congresso in subbuglio perché nessuno l’ha informato circa le varie opzioni militari sul tavolo di Obama. 

In un’intervista alla PBS il presidente ha ripetuto che una punizione per il regime di Bashar el Assad è inevitabile, ma il primo scopo della comparsa era quello di sottolineare che non sarà un altro Iraq, anche a beneficio di un’opinione pubblica americana decisamente contraria all’intervento. Non un dettaglio per un presidente così attento ai sondaggi.

Ieri sera il segretario di Stato, John Kerry, e il capo del Pentagono, Chuck Hagel, hanno fatto un briefing ai membri del Congresso, e alla conference call hanno partecipato anche il Consigliere per la Sicurezza Nazionale, Susan Rice e il direttore dell’Intelligence USA, James Clapper

La scelta di informare il Congresso risponde alle richieste dello speaker repubblicano della Camera, John Boehner, che con una lettera alla Casa Bianca ha leggermente placato l’attivismo presidenziale: “Servirà il sostegno pubblico e del Congresso per appoggiare gli sforzi dell’Amministrazione e i nostri soldati meritano di sapere che abbiamo una strategia”. Una strategia, ecco il punto oscuro nelle manovre di Obama. 

E anche il riflesso di un Consiglio di Guerra diviso fra interventismo e cautela. Qualche giorno dopo l’attacco con le armi chimiche nella periferia di Damasco, la posizione di Obama si è fatta più decisa, sull’onda delle consultazioni con un gabinetto di guerra affollato di interventisti liberal che hanno costruito la loro credibilità pubblica sull’uso della forza per motivi umanitari. 

Susan Rice e Samantha Power, ambasciatrice americana all’ONU, hanno cominciato un’operazione di "Twitter diplomacy" per illustrare le ragioni dell’intervento. 

Da posizioni diverse avevano sostenuto una battaglia analoga per l’intervento in Libia. Power ha fatto capire chiaramente che nulla di sensato può venire dal Palazzo di vetro: “Il regime siriano deve essere costretto a rispondere, cosa che il Consiglio di sicurezza ha rifiutato di fare per oltre due anni". 

Gli Stati Uniti considerano una risposta "adeguata”. Con prese di posizione decise ha cercato di far dimenticare una falsa partenza nella gestione del dossier siriano: quando i missili con il gas sarin si abbattevano sui civili, lei era in vacanza in Irlanda, e ha mandato il suo vice a protestare. Era il diciannovesimo giorno di lavoro dell’ex attivista per i diritti umani.

Domenica mattina Rice ha mandato una e-mail a Power e ad altri “falchi umanitari”, come li chiamano a Washington, del Consiglio di sicurezza: “L’indagine dell’ONU arriva troppo tardi e ci dirà quello che sappiamo già: sono state usate armi chimiche. Non ci dirà nemmeno da chi, cosa che sappiamo già”, ha scritto Rice. 

Power ha riportato al pubblico la sentenza: “Il verdetto è chiaro: Assad ha usato armi chimiche contro i civili in violazione del diritto internazionale”. A quel punto l’Amministrazione ha tentato di cancellare la missione degli ispettori ONU, svuotata di significato dalle prove raccolte dagli americani e potenziale impedimento per un’azione unilaterale. I “falchi umanitari” non sono riusciti a far saltare l’operazione e il “momentum” interventista che avevano generato presso Obama – anche grazie all’aiuto di John Kerry, che da oltre due mesi preme per un intervento – si è leggermente sgonfiato.

Richieste del Congresso a parte – che Obama non può non collegare alle altre battaglie interne, dal debito pubblico all’applicazione dell’Obamacare,  la triade Rice-Power-Kerry che ha convinto il presidente ad accelerare sulla via dell’attacco è ostacolata da Martin Dempsey, il capo delle Forze armate americane

Il Pentagono è scettico sull’opportunità di uno strike in mancanza di un’idea strategica complessiva e teme gli effetti che questo potrà provocare nel lungo periodo. Donald Rumsfeld, segretario della Difesa nell’Amministrazione Bush, ha esplicitato il sentire dei militari parlando di una “mindless strategy”, una strategia che non tiene conto delle conseguenze sull’area, in particolare sul regime iraniano che protegge Assad.

Mentre le ragioni degli interventisti sono filtrate alla stampa attraverso leak tambureggianti il portavoce della Casa Bianca ieri si è lamentato delle “blind quotes” che abbondano negli articoli di questi giorni quelle più prudenti dei militari sono passate inizialmente sottotraccia, salvo poi emergere sotto forma di anonimi funzionari secondo cui le prove nelle mani degli americani “non sono uno slam dunk”. 

Un riferimento all’immagine usata nel 2002 dal direttore della CIA per descrivere le certezze del governo intorno alle armi di distruzione di massa di Saddam Hussein.

Thursday, August 29

NATO Secretary General - Statement on NAC meeting on Syria.

G20 A SAN PIETROBURGO IL 5 SETTEMBRE 2013

Alla vigilia del G20 che si aprira’ il 5 settembre a San Pietroburgo, nel mirino degli esperti si e’ trovato il problema del debito sovrano. Secondo gli accordi di Toronto di tre anni fa, il deficit di bilancio dovrebbe essere dimezzato nel 2013 e il volume del debito estero dovrebbe essere stabilizzato entro il 2016.

Secondo alcuni analisti, oggi la crisi finanziaria sarebbe gia’ alle spalle, ma passato il peggio, ora l’economia mondiale deve far fronte alla “terza grande depressione”. 

Le radici affonderebbero in una fiducia eccessiva nella globalizzazione, e alcuni di fronte alla crisi hanno preso delle misure a cui difficilmente avrebbero fatto ricorso se non avessero contato sull’ aiuto altrui. Gli esempi piu’ clamorosi sono la Grecia e Cipro.

Sul piano generale, oggi le economie nazionali non hanno piu’ riserve per investire nella crescita, perche’ i soldi servono a coprire i debiti di misura astronomica. Quello mondiale, secondo i calcoli di The Economist, e’ superiore ai 51mila miliardi di dollari.

Negli ultimi anni il debito sovrano dei paesi fondatori dell’UE e’ superiore all’80 % del PIL. Su questo sfondo l’indice della Russia, - l’8,2 % del Pil - sembra ottimo.

Oggi all’ordine del giorno le misure fiscali per stabilire, in prospettiva, che il debito non potra’ superare il limite del 90 % del PIL, in quanto cosi’ sarebbe possibile rispettare gli impegni del debito e affrontare i problemi dell’economia nazionale.

Il che non significa pero’ che questo livello sia sufficiente per uscire dalla depressione, specie tenendo conto i fattori negativi come le guerre valutarie che saranno affontate al G20.

I rappresentanti dell’Unione Europea sono propensi alle misure piu’ drastiche, con il tetto del debito del 60 %, con l’ulterione crescita delle tasse e il taglio dei programmi sociali, anche nei Paesi con una quota significativa della popolazione che vive proprio grazie ai programmi sociali.

La Russia, per la quale, visto le cifre, la riduzione del debito non rappresenta una questione di vita e di morte, propone, per il bene dei suoi partner, di non aspettare il 2016 come anno cruciale per la stabilizzazione dei debiti, in quanto la situazione globale oggi sta cambiando molto rapidamente. 

Il fallimento, de facto, della Grecia e di Cipro, sarebbe soltanto il primo segnale d’allarme. Altri Paesi li seguiranno. Presto.

SYRIA: NO "SMOKING GUN" VS ASSAD FAMILY

These sources have told the news agency that there is no irrefutable evidence linking the Syrian president or his inner circle to attacks where chemical weapons were allegedly used.

They claim that it is not clear who controls the stock of Syria's chemical weapons and that it is also uncertain "whether Assad personally ordered this attack." 

The report of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence states that Assad's forces are likely responsible, but also points out that "there are gaps in the U.S. Intelligence picture". 

U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the Syrian government was "undoubtedly responsible" for the use of chemical weapons, which - according to the Syrian rebels fighting the Syrian government forces - killed more than 1,000 people

Still, Obama said that he had not made a final decision on a military intervention. 

Today, UN's investigators examining whether Syria used chemical weapons on August21, said the evidence they obtained suggested that "some chemical substance" was used that killed hundreds of people. However, it was added that it would take "a few days to test everything and make a conclusion." 

Britain, which was among the first countries to advocate in favor of an intervention in Syria, now faces a fierce debate in its parliament. The opposition does not intend to support the plan of Prime Minister David Cameron to militarily intervene in the Middle Eastern country. 

On the other hand, Russians, as well as the Western powers, have begun to accumulate weapons of war near Syria. The Russian Federation remains opposed to any intervention in Syria. 

Wednesday, August 28

SIRIA DEJA-VU

Il rappresentante della Siria alle Nazioni Unite ha accusato i ribelli (CIA) di aver utilizzato armi chimiche per provocare un intervento militare straniero, nel momento in cui un'azione della comunità internazionale contro il regime di Bashar al Assad sembra imminente.

Il Consiglio per la Sicurezza Nazionale si riunisce in serata a livello di governo per discutere della situazione in Siria e valutare i dettagli del possibile attacco.

Barak Obama si è confrontato anche con il premier britannico David Cameron sulla crisi della situazione siriana. Un comunicato della Casa Bianca ha riferito che i due leader hanno analizzato le «possibili risposte della comunità internazionale all'uso indiscriminato di armi chimiche avvenuto il 21 agosto e hanno concordato di mantenere strette consultazioni nei prossimi giorni». Fonti di Downing Street riferiscono che Obama e Cameron «non hanno alcun dubbio sulle responsabilità del regime di Assad».

L'amministrazione Obama ritiene che l'Intelligence americana (CIA, NSA) abbiano potuto stabilire come le forze del regime siriano abbiano immagazzinato, assemblato ed usato le armi chimiche che sarebbero state utilizzate nel corso dell'attacco fuori Damasco. Lo sostengono funzionari statunitensi citati dal Washington Post
L'amministrazione USA potrebbe divulgare già domani le prove della responsabilità di Assad di un "innegabile" attacco chimico

Il rapporto, è stato messo a punto dall'«Office of the Director of National Intelligence», è uno degli ultimi passi che l'amministrazione sta compiendo prima di una decisione del presidente Barack Obama su un attacco militare americano in Siria. No comment.

Tuesday, August 27

SIRIA: ISRAELE IPSE DIXIT

Secondo fonti militari, riprese dall’emittente nazionale israeliana Channel 2, il regime di Bashar el Assad non risponderà a un’azione internazionale colpendo Israele. Se osservatori e analisti militari pensano che un’operazione americana avrà contorni limitati – un attacco con missili cruise a obiettivi specifici – un’eventuale reazione israeliana a un contrattacco siriano potrebbe essere invece molto più robusta e rischiosa per un esercito siriano impegnato in un conflitto logorante contro le forze ribelli da oltre due anni
Israele conta dunque sulla sua “deterrenza”, scrive il Jerusalem Post, secondo il quale il governo non ripeterà quanto accaduto nel 1991, ai tempi della guerra del Golfo, quando l’esercito non rispose al lancio di missili Scud iracheni. La reazione israeliana al lancio, avvenuto giovedì, di alcuni razzi katyusha dal Libano su Israele è sembrata essere un messaggio di determinazione. 

L’aviazione ha infatti bombardato in territorio libanese, pochi chilometri a sud di Beirut, presunte postazioni di lancio di missili usati da gruppi armati estremisti vicini alla Siria. Israele non portava a termine un raid aereo in Libano dalla guerra contro le milizie sciite di Hezbollah del 2006 e in passato, in risposta a simili attacchi, ha sempre reagito soltanto con l’artiglieria.

Un’operazione militare contro la Siria coinvolgerebbe gli alleati degli Assad. E proprio per evitare il rischio di attacchi da oltre il confine, secondo i mass media israeliani, nelle scorse settimane sarebbe stata rafforzata la presenza di truppe lungo le due frontiere settentrionali, siriana e libanese, e da mesi l’intelligence lavorerebbe senza sosta nell’area.

Finora, i vertici militari e politici israeliani sono stati molto chiari sull’entità di possibili reazioni: “Sapremo sempre difendere i nostri cittadini”, ha detto domenica il premier Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Se fino a oggi Israele ha evitato di prendere una posizione sugli eventi della guerra civile siriana, le recenti notizie su presunti attacchi chimici così vicini alla porta di casa hanno fatto cambiare i toni alle autorità: “I più pericolosi regimi del mondo non possono avere le armi più pericolose del mondo”, ha detto Netanyahu, che non ha né approvato né criticato una possibile operazione militare internazionale. 

Per la prima volta durante il weekend, accanto al francese Laurent Fabius, in visita nella regione, il ministro della Difesa israeliano Moshe Yaalon ha confermato l’utilizzo di armi chimiche in Siria: “Non è la prima volta che il regime, sostenuto da Iran e Hezbollah, usa armi non convenzionali”, ha detto. “E’ chiaro che la Siria abbia usato armi chimiche”, ha ribadito ieri il responsabile per gli Affari strategici Yuval Steinitz.

La verità non trionfa sempre.

MIDDLE EAST: WHAT'S GOING ON ?? READ HERE!!

There are rivals who share mutual enemies, allies who back opposite sides of the same conflict, conflicting interests and very strange bedfellows

There are two categories of Countries: the ones that meddle (the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel) and the ones that are meddled with (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories). Each of the former is pushing for a different outcome in each of the latter, falling in and out of cooperation and competition. 

And that long-running interference is an important part of why conflict persists.

It’s all kind of a scramble. The Big Pharaoh writes: “I keep on updating this chart because every time I look at it I discover that I’ve missed an arrow. That’s how complicated it is.”

The chart is a spin-off of the most amazing letter to the editor ever written, which appeared in Thursday’s Financial Times. It also explained the entire Middle East, in a few short sentences. Here they are: Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad!!! Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi. But Gulf states are pro-Sisi! 

Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!Iran is pro-Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!

What could be simpler than the Middle East? A well-known Egyptian blogger who writes under the pseudonym The Big Pharaoh put together this chart laying out the region’s rivalries and alliances. He’s kindly granted me permission to post it, so that Americans might better understand the region. The joke is that it’s not a joke; this is actually pretty accurate.

Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the U.S.!!!

Gulf states are pro-U.S. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro-Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.

Wednesday, August 14

MONTENEGRO: ONE BILLION EUROS AS INDEMNITY

Mr. Oleg Deripaska, which is also KAP's co-owner, announced earlier today that it will sue Montenegro in front of Montenegrin and international Courts over alleged failure to honour the settlement contract during the launching of insolvency procedure in KAP, and also for non-performance of obligations related to electricity subsidies and the forging of financial statements. 

En+ Group demands a one billion euro indemnification a huge amount by all standards, in particular if applied to the tiny former Yugoslav republic, which total GDP in 2011 amounted EUR 3.23 billion.

In its reaction, the government stated that „it did not make any move that was not in compliance with the applicable domestic and international legislation“, that it has fulfilled all of its obligations under the settlement contract signed in 2010 with En+ Group, and that the insolvency procedure was instituted in July in accordance with the law. 

KAP, the largest industrial company in Montenegro, was sold to Deripaska in 2005 for the sum of 48.5 million EUR but, following the conclusion of the settlement contract, the state took back a share in the company's ownership with 29.3% of its capital, which is exactly how much the Russian company retained.

In July, the government introduced insolvency procedure in KAP, from which creditors claim around 360 million EUR, which is more than 10 percent of Montenegro's GDP. The largest creditors include the state of Montenegro, Deripaska's company and the national power company EPCG.

The Government recently asked the Parliament to approve a budget revision for this year, in order to borrow more and be able to pay 102 million EUR, the value of guarantees granted to KAP in order to borrow additional funds. 

However, the parliament rebuffed the government initiative, which is why the cabinet of PM Milo Djukanovic withdrew the budget revision proposal and is preparing a new one for September.

The Government of Montenegro has rebuffed today the claims by Russian En+ Group tycoon Oleg Deripaska on the breach of contract and the forging of financial statements of the Podgorica Aluminium Complex (KAP) - the reason why En+ Group said it will sue the state of Montenegro.

Monday, August 12

THE DEADLY KISS BETWEEN TWO FAKE LOVERS.

Russia hedges its collaboration with China—starting with its close cooperation with India, Beijing's historic rival. Moscow cannot afford bad relations with its largest neighbor and, like other Asian states—including those who are close allies of the United States—one of its major trading partners. 

Russia was never going to be drawn into any sort of overtly anti-Chinese alliance or serve as one of the pillars of a U.S. pivot to the region. Yet there have been plenty of signals that Russia wanted to have a much more balanced relationship between Beijing and Washington

The reformist factions around Dmitry Medvedev pushed the strongest for the "reset" in relations with Washington, driven in part by their assessment that the nadir in U.S.-Russian relations during the second term of the Bush administration would push Russia into a closer embrace with China. 

But even among the so-called "siloviki" in the Kremlin (the "power" factions), there is concern about an overdependence on Beijing. Igor Sechin, the CEO of the state oil company Rosneft, has taken steps in recent years to tie his company's future to the Chinese market. Yet, in proposed projects for the Russian Far East, he has also solicited Japanese and Western investment—to counterbalance Beijing's influence.

One of the defining features of the post-cold-war era is the absence of a peer or near-peer competitor to the United States. This reality, combined with the military inferiority of regional adversaries, has meant that the United States and its allies have enjoyed considerable freedom of action in imposing their will on midsize and smaller states that persistently pursue policies either in gross violation of international norms or counter to U.S. and allied interests.

Unfortunately for America, this is unlikely to be a permanent feature of the international security landscape. So what could the future hold? What should we be preparing for? One very plausible-and very less-than-desirable-scenario looks something like this. 

We call it the "Eurasian entente

Writing in these pages five years ago, Peter A. Wilson, Lowell Schwartz, and Howard J. Shatz sketched out the outlines of what they termed a "very less-than-desirable-scenario" for the United States: the "Eurasian entente"—a situation where China and Russia would work together to frustrate the U.S. goals around the world and in the process institutionalize their collaboration in a variety of fields, from business and energy to military cooperation. 

While not all of their predictions have come to pass (as of yet), Moscow and Beijing have moved to solidify their use of the "double veto" in the United Nations Security Council to block preferred U.S. outcomes, have continued to carry out joint military exercises, and signed billions of dollars in new deals. 

The U.S. reaction has been largely to see this as inevitable, as the formation of some sort of Axis of Autocracies.

Saturday, August 10

DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KHAN AS SERBIAN SPECIAL ADVISER

Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is interested to come as "economic special adviser" to Serbia. He will coming to Belgrade with fifteen his experts. The matter has really gone far since the former first man of the IMF is to meet personally with the First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as early as tomorrow.

Mr. Sinisa Mali, Economy Advisor to Aleksandar Vucic, acquainted him with the goals of Serbia. Strauss-Kahn is expected to send within a week or so a preliminary proposal of what he would do and that program would be in force for the following three years at least’.

Mr.Strauss-Kahn is expected to give his advices regarding reconstruction of Serbian public finances, public debt as a part of them, South Stream Gas-Project, etc. etc. Of course, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has huge experience in the same or similar jobs. By his experience he is also expected to tell what we should do to boost serbian economic growth.

If the agreement is reached, it is certain that Strauss-Kahn would bring with him ten to fifteen of his people. His future earnings are "top secret".

Friday, August 9

THE THIRD SIRYAN PROTECTOR AFTER RUSSIA AND IRAN

“I don’t think that any sane human being would think that terrorism can be dealt with via politics”. “There may be a role for politics in dealing with terrorism pre-emptively,” said Al Assad. Syria’s crisis will only be solved by stamping out “terror”, President Bashar Al Assad said, in reference to rebels fighting his regime. 

In a rare speech on Syrian state television, Al Assad also dismissed the political opposition to his regime as a “failure” that could play no role in solving the country’s brutal war. “No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist,” said Al Assad.

“There may be a role for politics in dealing with terrorism pre-emptively,” said Al Assad, adding that as soon as “terrorism” has arisen, it can only be struck out.

The Assad regime has been engaged in fierce fighting against its own people for well over two years. Syria’s embattled leader was quoted recently as saying “no solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist,” illustrating his belief in a military solution to the current crisis.

Whilst Russia and Iran (backed by their Shia allies Hezbollah) have rightly received the majority of international criticism, China has escaped proper scrutiny for its role in supporting the embattled Assad regime militarily, politically and economically.

A 2011 report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service highlighted the role China has played in arming Assad’s military, providing $300 million worth of arms from 2007 to 2010.

For proof of continuing support, February 2013 saw the United States impose sanctions on China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation, a state-owned company, for allegedly conducting military transfers to Syria in violation of nonproliferation legislation.

China seems happy to let Russia and Iran take on the role as Assad’s main supporters. Even though China is less obvious than the other two nations, it is nonetheless far from neutral.

Despite Chinese rhetoric of supporting a political solution, its actions suggest otherwise.

China’s selective use of its “non-interference” policy has seen them (alongside Russia) veto three Western-backed Security Council resolutions seeking to bring Assad to the negotiating table. As a permanent member of the Security Council, any international solution would require Chinese acquiescence.

Furthermore, in an interview given to the Financial Times in June, Kadri Jamil, Syrian deputy prime minister for the economy, boasted that China has joined Iran and Russia in delivering $500 million a month in oil and credit to Syria. The majority of Syria’s oil is in the largely rebel-held north and northeast of the country, and the network of pipelines connecting the wells to the population centres are vulnerable to rebel attack. 

As a result, Syrian oil production has fallen by as much as 95 percent during the ongoing conflict, and the importance of Chinese aid should not be underestimated. Chinese financial and material support supplements Russian and Iranian aid and has allowed the Assad war machine to remain militarily effective.


Aside from strong economic and military ties to Assad’s government, which predate the current crisis, China fears radicalization of its own Sunni-majority Muslim population, some of whom it accuses of travelling to Syria for combat training with the rebels.

Assad’s survival is also tied up in a Chinese geostrategic consideration of the energy-rich Middle East, whereby supporting Assad is seen as an effective block on Western power in the region. Moreover, the Chinese government is nervous of creating a precedent for intervention on human-rights grounds due to its own insecurities at home.

With the news that the rebels have opened up a new front near the port city of Latakia, a gateway for foreign supplies, it appears they at least understand the importance of foreign aid to Assad. The United Nations estimates that over one hundred thousand people have been killed and 1.7 million people displaced in the Syrian crisis so far, and a diplomatic solution looks less likely than ever.

Whilst Russia and Iran have been instrumental in allowing Assad to survive, the international community should not overlook China’s crucial role.

INDECENT PROPOSAL FROM SAUDI RETURN BACK TO U.S.

Vladimir Putin rejected Saudi Arabia’s proposal of $15 billion in weapons contract and protections of Russia’s gas interests in the Middle East if the Country abandons its stance on Syrian crisis, according to diplomats involved to a negotiations process.

The information became public after a meeting between the Russian president and Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, general secretary of the National Security Council of Saudi Arabia, in Moscow.

The proposal of Saudi side would come into force if Russia agrees not to oppose any upcoming resolutions by the UN Security Council on Syria.

As Prince suggested, there is only one way to solve Syrian civil conflict – a military operation. In order to start it, nference because the Syrian opposition is not going to attend it as there is no unity among its groups and their lRussia should forget about the Geneva-2 international peace coeaders.

Any direct involvement in the region by either the US or any former European colonial powers would be perceived as an affront. “But with the given arrangement, any initiatives by the influential, authoritarian regional super power (and Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly that) are taken for granted”.

Some Russian experts believe that the Gulf State acts according to the US agenda.“Clearly, this is stove-piping,” director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Vitaly Naumkin, told Interfax news agency. 

“Its purpose is either to influence the position of the Syrian authorities or, more likely, to discredit Russia. To sow doubt on the fact that Moscow has a serious and reasoned position on Syria, and to create the impression that Russia may change its point of view in exchange for Saudi promises.”

Saudi Arabia is the main U.S. ally in the region and chased the goal to become a major power in the Middle East. As for today only two Countries oppose its plan: Syria, which is torn by the ongoing crisis, and Iran, which is put under serious pressure from the international community.

Yet, there has been no official commentaries coming from Moscow or Riyadh about the results of the meeting.

Thursday, August 8

THE MAGNITSKY ACT

The tormented Obama-Putin relationship did not start well even in 2009, when Mr. Barak Obama described Putin as having “one foot in the past” while on the way to meet then-president Dmitry Medvedev and Putin in Moscow. Differences over the 2011 U.S. and NATO intervention in Libya also had a significant impact on U.S.-Russia ties, though it was contained at the time and some progress continued. 

What a bold move. Except for the fact that Putin has little to gain from a bilateral summit with the United States just now. What are the deliverables Russia could expect from a face to face? There are no policy issues ripe for agreement. Putin could expect to be harangued by Obama about Edward Snowden (we extradite criminals to you without a treaty), Syria (end your lucrative defense supplies and use your influence with Assad to create an outcome you don't want and set a precedent you may suffer from), visa liberalization (not after Boston), gay rights ("I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them"), and nuclear reductions (a safer world is in all our interests even if it takes away your only military leverage). Who wouldn't want to skip out on that meeting?

The recent downturn in U.S.-Russian relations began with Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he planned to return to the presidency in September 2011 and escalated during opposition protests following Russia’s December 2011 parliamentary elections. By past U.S. standards, the administration’s reaction to these two events was measured—and provoked some criticism in the United States for being too weak—but by Russian standards it was unwanted interference in the country’s internal affairs that deepened existing resentments and built on an existing sense that America wanted Putin and his supporters out.

Putin may well benefit from discomfiting the American president, but he achieved that only weeks ago at their bilateral meeting in Ireland, where news stories carried pictures of tense, dissatisfied expressions and stories of stalemate, and in the granting of asylum to Edward Snowden. No need to stoke those embers again so soon, especially if Obama might step on Putin's preferred story line that by granting asylum he's preventing Snowden from revealing damaging information about the United States. Putin might like to play up supposed American hypocrisy, but you can't fault his understanding of realism: the man has an unapologetic insistence that goals come before morals. 

Still, the Kremlin would likely have gotten over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s sharp words but for two problems. First was the administration’s lack of a strategic vision for U.S.-Russian relations, and its related inability to define a positive agenda. [Note to Obama defenders: don’t tell me about arms control—regardless of its potential security benefits, most Americans and Russians don’t care about it, and therefore it does little or nothing to build a basis for a sustainable, cooperative relationship between the United States and Russia while simultaneously cranking up the worst-case scenario generators in the basements of the Pentagon and Russia’s Defense Ministry.] Absent vision and an agenda, U.S.-Russian differences are more likely to dominate.

There is nothing now that Putin seems to want that Obama can give him. Or, to put it differently, the things Putin wants Obama has already given him: a de facto veto on American policies, from Syria to missile defenses, and quiescence on Russia's authoritarian descent. The Obama administration has compromised a core U.S. interest -- the ability to take action unilaterally or with like-minded allies -- in return for Russian cooperation on second-order issues like Iran sanctions (which should be just one element of an Iran policy). Realists would never make that trade. In classic liberal fashion, Obama is constraining American power by rules and norms to which all states could be subjected.

The second was the administration’s foolish decision to change Ambassadors—prematurely, outside the State Department’s normal schedule—in this already tense environment. The Obama administration removed a capable career Ambassador and replaced him with a talented scholar-turned-White House official who managed relationships well at the National Security Council but whose background as a democracy advocate made him instantly a symbol and a lightning rod in Russia.

U.S.-Russian relations have been on a downward slide for over eighteen months and the deterioration has only accelerated since Edward Snowden’s unexpected arrival at Sheremetyevo airport six weeks ago. Nevertheless, while there are some important underlying reasons for the trouble between the White House and the Kremlin, including differing interests, values and perspectives, the mutual disillusionment is much deeper than it needed to be. And in many respects, the Obama administration’s Russia policy is a self-inflicted wound. Hopefully, administration officials will find a way to stop the bleeding before it becomes more serious—which it could.

Had U.S. officials been able to wait, the new ambassador could have assumed his post after Vladimir Putin was inaugurated in May—and without having to comment personally on Russia’s March presidential election or holding de rigueur high-profile meetings with Russian opposition figures during a very tense election cycle. Regular minor controversies during the period between Russia’s two elections, some clearly manufactured by Russian official media, perpetuated existing problems.

Once Putin was back in the Kremlin, Washington and Moscow began to face the unintended consequences of their success in concluding a bilateral agreement that cleared the way for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization, a long-held goal for both nations for which each government deserves credit. Ironically, because Russia’s WTO membership required the Senate and the House of Representatives to repeal Cold War–era Jackson-Vanik Amendment trade restrictions to avoid penalizing American companies, it created an opening for the Magnitsky Act, a bill that would almost certainly otherwise have languished and died at the end of the legislative session, as it had done previously

Russia’s July 2012 law on Non-Governmental Organizations, which applies pressure to NGOs accepting foreign funds, added fuel to the fire in Washington and may have discouraged the administration from any serious effort to block the Magnitsky legislation by spending its political capital with Congressional Democrats.

The Magnitsky Act gives the executive branch authority it already had to block visas and freeze assets of Russians suspected of involvement in serious corruption or human-rights violations—and its passage prompted the Russian State Duma to retaliate by passing the Dima Yakovlev law, which blocked adoptions to the United States, ostensibly out of concern for the health and safety of children who often face more systematically disturbing conditions in Russian orphanages. This parliamentary tit-for-tat accelerated the downward spiral in the second half of 2012 and early 2013.

President Obama prides himself on being cool, calm, and collected. But his latest move—cancelling a summit meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin—suggests that he is having a hissy fit, succumbing to peevishness. It's wholly counterproductive. In attempting to cow Russia into releasing Edward Snowden, he isn't showcasing American power but its limitations. The more Obama seeks to challenge Putin, the stiffer Russian resistance will become. Obama's persecution of Edward Snowden is singlehandedly transforming him into a Russian hero.

From the outset, Obama has bungled the Snowden affair. He elevated a minor National Security Agency employee into a worldwide hero by pulling out all the stops to capture him even as he proclaimed that he would not. This turned out to be malarkey. The president who said he wouldn't scramble jets after Snowden then scrambled them in Europe to ground the Bolivian president. In his contempt for Bolivian sovereignty, Obama's actions were more reminiscent of the old Soviet Union than American democracy. But it is Obama, more than any president since George W. Bush, who has displayed palpable contempt for American freedoms. 

Perhaps the former constitutional-law professor is afraid of being deemed weak by the military and intelligence establishments. Or maybe he truly believes that it's necessary to curb freedoms in order to protect them. Either way, he himself appears to have become a hostage of the Intelligence Agencies, which will relentlessly attempt to expand their reach as they seek what Admiral John Poindexter once termed total information awareness.


Obama seems barely aware of his transformation. His administration has relentlessly tried to track down leakers, imposing draconian penalities on govenrment employees who are either whistleblowers or have committed minor infractions. And in the more serious case of Bradley Manning, Obama presided over what amounted to a "show trial."

The reason President Obama's Russia policy is on the rocks is that the White House pretends to be realist but acts like a liberal. It hesitates to acknowledge the legitimacy of Russian interests, perseveres in policies that are not achieving results, and refrains from using power to deter or punish actions contrary to U.S. interests. All the while it earnestly explains why what it wants is what Russia should do, when Moscow clearly believes that preventing Washington from achieving its aims is a central goal.

Why has Russia policy gone so wrong? Not for lack of effort or desire for a fresh start. The Obama administration rightly set out in 2008 to refashion U.S.-Russian relations, which were in a dismal state after years of mutual disappointment and creeping authoritarianism in Moscow. One of the benefits of changes in government is a routine reevaluation of policies and the sense of a new beginning. President Bill Clinton tried to build a solid partnership with President Boris Yeltsin. President George W. Bush, too, took his chance, saying after his first early meeting with Russia's leader that he had looked into Putin's eyes and could see his soul.

The Obama administration put talent on the team for this problem: Mike McFaul is both a serious scholar of Russia and an ardent advocate of democratization who, before joining the Obama campaign, had run an important study of the opportunity cost to the Russian economy of Putin's governance. In showing quantitatively the ways authoritarian policies inhibited economic growth, the study up-ended Putin's argument that his policies were responsible for increased Russian prosperity. 

But, of course, McFaul is a poor choice of advisor to the president and plenipotentiary to Moscow if getting along with Putin's Russia is the administration's aim. If realists were actually in control of Obama policies, he wouldn't have been nominated. Belief that our values are universal -- that all people deserve and yearn for freedom -- and can take root even in the Russian tundra would have been disqualifying. No amount of private correspondence and Tom Donilon's shuttle diplomacy makes up for it.

BROKEN STEP: "CUP OF TEA FOR DUMMIES AND BLIND"

In line with agreements Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama reached on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Lough Erne on June 17 this year, the heads of the Russian and US foreign policy and "Defense Agencies" will hold joint consultations in Washington today and tomorrow.

Serghej Shogju defence ministar: "It is planned to pay special attention to missile defense problems, which remain a serious irritant in our bilateral relations. We expect that the American side is preparing for a substantive and constructive conversation aimed at reaching mutually acceptable solutions on this matter," it said.

The Russian and US officials also intend to "thoroughly discuss prospects for further interaction on arms control, safety of space activities and WMD non-proliferation and also expect to consider some relevant aspects of bilateral cooperation in the military field," it said.

In addition, the participants in the consultations plan to exchange opinions on some urgent regional issues, the Russian Foreign Ministry Mr. Serghej Lavrov said. Anti-missile defense has long been an integral part of meetings between Russian and US ministers. It traditionally manifests itself in the form of declarations.

The gathering of US and Russian deputy chiefs of foreign affairs earlier this week ended up in Moscow declaring its “disillusionment” with the progress. Mikhail Troitsky, a Russian political analyst, believes the issue of anti-missile defense should be discussed against all odds.

“The US has made the most open proposal it is capable of, saying it is not going to build a missile shield that will threaten the potential of Russia’s retaliatory strike – mind you, the retaliatory attack and not the first strike – in response to US’s possible aggression against Russia,” Mr. Troitsky said. “Russia, in its turn, has been demanding guarantees that this system won’t be built at all. The US will never agree to that. 

Nevertheless, the Putin-Obama agreement to hold more meetings of this kind is a very positive trend. It may act as an effective mechanism that will help them tackle many deep-rooted controversies, including the ABM.”

Ministers of both Countries were to harmonize their agendas on this and many other problems by the beginning of the September summit in Moscow. Experts point out that the talks have never been cancelled, meaning the ministers may still hold a pre-summit meeting of their own on tomorrow.

Russian Chief of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov is expected to go to New York ahead of Washington talks, for a brief working lunch meeting. The goal is to exchange opinions on routine topics, including Afghanistan, Middle East and Syria.

In a separate development, the UN has confirmed it is going to dispatch a team of "chemical weapons" experts to the region before long.

AL-QAEDA REPLACING ASSAD. U.S. DIRTY GAMES.

Acting CIA Director Michael Morell

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell said the prospect of the Syrian government being replaced by al-Qaeda his biggest worry.

The second-in-command of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) says that the toppling of Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria is the largest threat to United States National Security and may help al-Qaeda acquire chemical weapons.

And with al-Qaeda close to the action, Morell warned that they could pounce on the opportunity to gain Assad’s equipment. 

Morell’s statement is especially surprising considering America’s official position on the Syrian civil war. US President Barack Obama and his officials have repeatedly called Assad a "dictator" who is responsible for more than 92,000 lives lost in a bloody conflict between government forces and rebels - some of whom are openly affiliated with al-Qaeda.  

Should the current regime collapse without a stable government to step up to the plate, Morell said the warheads being held by Assad may end up in the hands of America’s adversaries.

The US remains embarked on a plan that would aid Syrian rebels by way of supplying them with arms. With al-Qaeda extremists entwined in that same war against Assad, however, one wrong turn could cause the US to accidentally equip its most feared enemy.

According to Morell, the Syrian government's weapons "are going to be up for grabs and up for sale" if Assad is ousted. Unless the US has a plan of attack ready for that moment, munitions and warheads currently controlled by Assad could end up in the hands of just about anyone.

With al-Qaeda increasing the scope of its operation in Syria, the US could have a whole new front in its war on terror. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 brought American troops to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and later to Iraq. In the decade-plus since, the US has launched drones over locales like Yemen and Somalia to take a stab at diminishing al-Qaeda’s presence. As hostilities increase in Syria, a new adversary could worsen the current situation. 
Given what the US has reported about the current Syrian government, al-Qaeda stands to collect all sorts of goodies if they can grab hold of Assad’s goods as well. The White House has insisted that Assad deployed chemical weapons on citizens during the civil war, and the opposition and government have both relied on whatever weapons they can collect in order to fight off their foes. That hostile environment is increasingly being populated by al-Qaeda extremists, and Morell says that’s not good for US security.

Notes: "Al-Qaeda has had its own victory as well. The dispersal of al-Qaeda is their victory... I don't remember a time when there have been so many National Security issues on the front burner as there are today, Michael Morell said".

Tuesday, August 6

VLADIMIR PUTIN AND RUSSIAN MONEY LAUNDERING

United States Department of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Read here

History Board: as Russian Duma Deputy Dmitry Gorovtsov noted on the new law banning state officials overseas assets, "This law is about political, and not legal, control. It will be applied selectively and subjectively."

The statement is particularly prescient due to the fact that corruption is an integral part of Vladimir Putin's rule, forming the foundation of his patronage system but costing an estimated $300 billion in an economy of $1.5 trillion, or 16 percent of its yearly GDP. 

Unsurprisingly, Russia was rated worst among countries surveyed for the perceived likelihood of paying bribes in Transparency International's 2011 Bribe Payers Index. 

As NYU Professor Mark Galeotti notes, "Politics determines everything and corruption is mobilized as a weapon against enemies (and a treat for friends). Your abuses get publicized as a result of your losing influence within Putin's court, not the other way round, reflecting the vagaries of factional politics in that court."

Hence, Putin's calls for action at the G8 summit in June on offshore tax havens, de-offshorization and the recent tightening of anti-money laundering laws are aimed at strengthening his ability to control the elites of the country and to shore up his political base.

But patronage is only one aspect of the tandem that underpins the stability of the Kremlin; the other is coercion. Supporters are kept in line through an implicit threat to throw them in jail and to seize their assets should their loyalty be called into question. 

The ability to provide financial incentives--through the acceptance of dubious business practices--acquires their support, the threat of jail and repossessing their assets ensures it. 

A silent agreement between Putin and business elites was reached in the aftermath of Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky being thrown into jail in 2003 for attempting to challenge Putin politically (Khodorkovsky was also charged with additional money laundering and fraud charges in 2010 as he was nearing the end of his first sentence). 

As William Partlett of Columbia University and the Brooking's Institute said about the incident, "The message to other oligarchs was clear: follow the rules or face devastating legal consequences."

This approach has its origins in the beginning of Putin's rule in 2000, when he began to institute a system of governance carefully modeled around the needs of a vertical power structure controlled by himself. 

The political and business elites of the country were allowed to continue their activities as usual, in exchange for their personal loyalty to the system and their promise to forgo any opposition to the Kremlin.

This support was ensured through the selective enforcement of Russia's financial and money laundering laws. "His (Putin) plan was to use reformed formal legal institutions to complement his personalized rule," Partlett notes, "In fact, strong legal institutions were a means to an end--a tool for ensuring that he could punish those who did not comply with his informal rules of the game through selective prosecution."

The crux of Putin's ability to punish dissenters revolves around Russia's financial intelligence unit, Rosfinmonitoring. Putin created Rosfinmonitoring--under the direct control of the president and placed it in the charge of a fiercely loyal subordinate, Viktor Zubkov (also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the natural gas and oil giant Gazprom). 

Rosfinmonitoring, and the laws criminalizing money laundering (Russian Federal Law No. 115-FZ ), were established on the recommendation of the U.S. and European powers, who sought to institutionalize a global anti-money laundering regime in the 1990's and early 2000's. 

This push was led by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris based organization that sets rules and recommendations for countries to combat money laundering--its head is now Vladimir Nechayev (a veteran of the defunct Federal Tax Police and more recently Rosfinmonitoring). 

One of their primary recommendations was the creation of a financial intelligence unit to oversee the country's banks and financial institutions. These units require financial institutions to pass along information regarding transactions and account information that are considered suspicious. 

In the West, this information is used to combat organized crime and terrorism. In Russia, it is also used to create a compendium on the financial holdings of the country's elites. This information is held as assurance in the event that it is needed to draw up legal charges.

Moreover, businessmen like Browder or Khodorkovsky are not the only targets of money laundering charges. Opposition figure and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny is currently being tried in the provincial city of Kirov on charges of embezzlement stemming from his time as an advisor to the regional governor. 

The likely turnout of this highly politicized trial is unfortunately already clear: in Russia 99 percent of defendants tried by judges are convicted, with the judge overseeing Navalny's case has not given a single acquittal in 130 cases over the last two and a half years.

The use of money laundering laws against not only businessmen but opposition figures is aimed at giving Putin a degree of legitimacy in his crackdown against human rights. By using accusations of financial impropriety, crackdowns can be labeled law enforcement actions as opposed to directed political actions.

As Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute notes, "Putin's variation of the repression regimen is what might be called the suffocation- with-a-soft-pillow approach: selective but constant harassment of opposition leaders and activists; the 'investigation' of these figures' private affairs, often resulting in administrative and criminal charges that lead to fines or short-term detentions..."

But Rosfinmonitoring's power derives from their monopoly over information, namely, the unfettered access to anyone's business dealings and financial accounts. But its monopoly ends at Russia's borders, and that makes offshore tax havens like Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg and Israel, to name a few, all the more dangerous. 

They undercut Putin's ability to threaten the elite's financial dealings when they move their assets and businesses outside Russia. Accordingly, offshore tax havens became the centerpiece of the recent G8 meeting, and why Putin plans on using Russia's G8 presidency in 2014 to forge a consensus on offshore tax havens. 

These agreements will enable access to financial information no matter where accounts are held, increasing the strength of Rosfinmonitoring further.

The effectiveness of Rosfinmonitoring and financial laws has become glaringly apparent in recent years. The verdict on Thursday was merely another example. And because of this, Magnitsky will now be famous not only for the landmark Magnitsky Act passed by Congress, but for becoming the first person in Russian history to be tried and convicted posthumously.

Last monday, Sergei Magnitsky was convicted of tax evasion. The only problem was he was not there to hear the verdict read. Magnitsky was killed in Moscow's Butyrka prison in 2009, likely as a result of beatings and a lack of medical treatment. His crime was uncovering a $230 million tax fraud involving members of the government while working as a lawyer for William Browder (an American investor who was also convicted in absentia).

But Magnitsky's conviction is not simply an example of the capricious nature of the legal system in Russia; it is a view into how the use of money laundering, financial laws, and Russia's financial intelligence unit are used to control political dissent.

Recently, Putin launched a much publicized "de-offshorization" campaign aimed at fighting corruption and countering the flight of money from the country, much of it acquired illicitly. This initiative was launched in response to revelations that Russia was losing vast sums of money every year (estimated at $56.8 Billion in 2012), and that many state officials -from the Heads of Security Agencies- to the chair of the Russian Duma's ethics committee had significant overseas assets (including condos in Miami, worth an estimated over $2 million). 

Much of this wealth was being sent to offshore tax havens in Europe and beyond. Russian holdings in Cyprus amounting to over $30 billion (largely the proceeds of corruption or deposited as a form of tax avoidance) also inspired this campaign. 

This scheme of tax avoidance is called "round tripping," whereby the proceeds made in Russia are registered with a shell company based in Cyprus, then repatriated to Russia avoiding taxes due to a taxation agreement between the two countries). 

These revelations gave Putin the expedient cover with which to launch "de-offshorization," which included banning state officials from having overseas assets. The idea is that, by forcing Russian elites to hold their money inside the country, Putin can cement their loyalty by threatening their bank accounts.

Why Vladimir Putin has pickings this "money laundering"? Maybe, just for "charges" the "great control" of his enemies and opponents.