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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 14th, 2017
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


RED HOUSE? Yes. It was the intelligence Putin served Trump – directly and indirectly – that was in big part responsible for his defeating Hillary Clinton. And yes, it was FBI’s help that eventually built that wall. Michael T. Flynn should never have been inside that wall except we really do not know what messages he passed from the Trump campaign as promises to Putin via his Ambassador in Washington. How will the Trump=Putin link impact on Europe? On European States – Trump relations? On the future of Ukraine? On the price of Oil? On the Midle East?
On the Planetary Globe? On Outer Space? On the Future of God? ?????


THE NEWS: Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, resigned on Monday night after it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.


On Monday, a former administration official said the Justice Department warned the White House last month that Mr. Flynn had not been fully forthright about his conversations with the ambassador. As a result, the Justice Department feared that Mr. Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.


To us at SustainabiliTank this is just the tip of the iceberg – we already wrote that Trump himself is susceptible to Russian blackmail as by hacking into US cyberspace they did not have just the pittance of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta info, but the much juicier Trump business and taxation info. Those are real bombs in hiding! Blackmail in the making!


“I am tendering my resignation, honored to have served our nation and the American people in such a distinguished way,” Mr. Flynn wrote.

The White House said in the statement that it was replacing Mr. Flynn with retired Lt. Gen. Joseph K. Kellogg Jr. of the Army, a Vietnam War veteran, as acting national security adviser.

Mr. Flynn was an early and ardent supporter of Mr. Trump’s candidacy, and in his resignation he sought to praise the president. “In just three weeks,” Mr. Flynn said, the new president “has reoriented American foreign policy in fundamental ways to restore America’s leadership position in the world.”

But in doing so, he inadvertently illustrated the brevity of his tumultuous run at the National Security Council, and the chaos that has gripped the White House in the first weeks of the Trump administration — and created a sense of uncertainty around the world.

DOCUMENT
Michael Flynn’s Resignation Letter
Michael T. Flynn, under scrutiny for his communication with Russia, resigned as President Trump’s national security adviser late Monday.

OPEN DOCUMENT
Earlier Monday, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, told reporters that “the president is evaluating the situation” about Mr. Flynn’s future. By Monday evening, Mr. Flynn’s fortunes were rapidly shifting — his resignation came roughly seven hours after Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, said on MSNBC that Mr. Trump had “full confidence” in the retired general.

And when he did step down, it happened so quickly that his resignation does not appear to have been communicated to National Security Council staff members, two of whom said they learned about it from news reports.

Officials said Mr. Pence had told others in the White House that he believed Mr. Flynn lied to him by saying he had not discussed the topic of sanctions on a call with the Russian ambassador in late December. Even the mere discussion of policy — and the apparent attempt to assuage the concerns of an American adversary before Mr. Trump took office — represented a remarkable breach of protocol.

The F.B.I. had been examining Mr. Flynn’s phone calls as he came under growing questions about his interactions with Russian officials and his management of the National Security Council. The blackmail risk envisioned by the Justice Department would have stemmed directly from Mr. Flynn’s attempt to cover his tracks with his bosses. The Russians knew what had been said on the call; thus, if they wanted Mr. Flynn to do something, they could have threatened to expose the lie if he refused.

The Justice Department’s warning to the White House was first reported on Monday night by The Washington Post.

In addition, the Army has been investigating whether Mr. Flynn received money from the Russian government during a trip he took to Moscow in 2015, according to two defense officials. Such a payment might violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits former military officers from receiving money from a foreign government without consent from Congress. The defense officials said there was no record that Mr. Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, filed the required paperwork for the trip.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement late Monday that Mr. Flynn’s resignation would not close the question of his contact with Russian officials.

“General Flynn’s decision to step down as national security adviser was all but ordained the day he misled the country about his secret talks with the Russian ambassador,” said Mr. Schiff, noting that the matter is still under investigation by the House committee.

Two other Democratic lawmakers — Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland — called for an immediate briefing by the Justice Department and the F.B.I. over the “alarming new disclosures” that Mr. Flynn was a blackmail risk. “We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security,” they said in a statement.

Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the chairman of the House intelligence committee, was supportive of Mr. Flynn until the end. “Washington, D.C., can be a rough town for honorable people, and Flynn — who has always been a soldier, not a politician — deserves America’s gratitude and respect,” Mr. Nunes said in a statement.


The White House had examined a transcript of a wiretapped conversation that Mr. Flynn had with Mr. Kislyak in December, according to administration officials. Mr. Flynn originally told Mr. Pence and others that the call was limited to small talk and holiday pleasantries.

But who was Flynn to talk to the Russian Ambassador? What role did have within the Trump machine? Did Pence send him there or was it his own eagerness to please the incoming Administration before it actually became an Administration? Was he an old time Russian contact? What we used to call a double spy? This clearly can not be washed down by eager-to-please Republicans.

But the conversation, according to officials who saw the transcript of the wiretap, also included a discussion about sanctions imposed on Russia after intelligence agencies determined that President Vladimir V. Putin’s government tried to interfere with the 2016 election on Mr. Trump’s behalf. Still, current and former administration officials familiar with the call said the transcript was ambiguous enough that Mr. Trump could have justified either firing or retaining Mr. Flynn.

Mr. Trump, however, had become increasingly concerned about the continued fallout over Mr. Flynn’s behavior, according to people familiar with his thinking, and told aides that the media storm around Mr. Flynn would damage the president’s image on national security issues.

Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, asked for Mr. Flynn’s resignation — a move that he has been pushing for since Friday, when it became clear that the national security adviser had misled Mr. Pence.

Around 8:20 p.m. Monday, a sullen Mr. Flynn was seen in the Oval Office, just as preparations were being made for the swearing-in of newly confirmed Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. Soon after, Mr. Flynn’s resignation letter started making the rounds.

Administration officials said it was unlikely that Mr. Kellogg would be asked to stay on as Mr. Flynn’s permanent replacement. Mr. Flynn brought Mr. Kellogg into the Trump campaign, according to a former campaign adviser, and the two have remained close. K. T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser who also was brought on by Mr. Flynn, is expected to leave that role, a senior official said.

One person close to the administration, who was not authorized to discuss the personnel moves and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that retired Vice Admiral Robert S. Harward is the leading candidate to replace Mr. Flynn, although Mr. Kellogg and David H. Petraeus are being discussed. It was not clear whether Mr. Petraeus is still expected to appear at the White House this week, as initially discussed by advisers to the president.

Mr. Flynn’s concealment of the call’s content, combined with questions about his management of his agency and reports of a demoralized staff, put him in a precarious position less than a month into Mr. Trump’s presidency.


We at SustainabiliTank believe that under the circumstances – the choice of General Petraeus would be an excellent idea in the manner of Trump – this because it would take away the media attention from Trump and transfer it to Petraeus’ own problems with that woman. Flynn will then be forgotten and left to his past-driven future behaviour.

Vice President Pence can continue his clean right wing persona to allow him a smooth take-over when the Trump balloon eventually implodes.

Few members of Mr. Trump’s team were more skeptical of Mr. Flynn than the vice president, numerous administration officials said. Mr. Pence, who used the false information provided by Mr. Flynn to defend him in a series of television appearances, was incensed at Mr. Flynn’s lack of contrition for repeatedly embarrassing him by withholding the information, according to three administration officials familiar with the situation.

Mr. Flynn and Mr. Pence spoke twice in the past few days about the matter, but administration officials said that rather than fully apologize and accept responsibility, the national security adviser blamed his faulty memory — which irked the typically slow-to-anger Mr. Pence.

The slight was compounded by an episode late last year when Mr. Pence went on television to deny that Mr. Flynn’s son, who had posted conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton on social media, had been given a security clearance by the transition team. The younger Mr. Flynn had, indeed, been given such a clearance, even though his father had told Mr. Pence’s team that he had not.

Officials said classified information did not appear to have been discussed during the conversation between Mr. Flynn and the ambassador, which would have been a crime. The call was captured on a routine wiretap of diplomats’ calls, the officials said.

But current Trump administration officials and former Obama administration officials said that Mr. Flynn did appear to be reassuring the ambassador that Mr. Trump would adopt a more accommodating tone on Russia once in office.

Former and current administration officials said that Mr. Flynn urged Russia not to retaliate against any sanctions because an overreaction would make any future cooperation more complicated. He never explicitly promised sanctions relief, one former official said, but he appeared to leave the impression that it would be possible.

During his 2015 trip to Moscow, Mr. Flynn was paid to attend the anniversary celebration of Russia Today, a television network controlled by the Kremlin. At the banquet, he sat next to Mr. Putin.

Mr. Flynn had notified the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he once led, that he was taking the trip. He received a security briefing from agency officials before he left, which is customary for former top agency officials when they travel overseas.

Still, some senior agency officials were surprised when footage of the banquet appeared on RT, and believed that Mr. Flynn should have been more forthcoming with the agency about the nature of his trip to Russia.

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 6th, 2017
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


SHOCKING OF THE UN-INITIATED? NOW IT IS OFFICIAL – PUTIN PERSONALLY WAS INVOLVED IN CREATING US ELECTION RESULTS. WAS THERE FURTHER COLLUSION WITH THE US RIGHT – IN THE PERSON OF THE HEAD OF THE FBI WHO CHOSE THE TIME WHEN THE PUTIN INTERFERENCE WOULD BEAR MOST FRUIT?

The US intelligence community concluded in a declassified report released Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” aimed at hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

The report was the first official, full and public accounting by the US intelligence community of its assessment of Russian hacking activities during the 2016 campaign.

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the report said.

The campaign — which consisted of hacking Democratic groups and individuals, including Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and releasing that information via third-party websites, including WikiLeaks — amounted to what the intelligence report called “a significant escalation” in longtime Russian efforts to undermine “the US-led liberal democratic order.”

Trump earlier Friday downplayed Russia’s role in the election after what he called a “constructive meeting” with top US intelligence officials.

Trump tried to defuse controversy over his criticism of the intelligence community and said he will appoint a team within 90 days to figure out ways to stop foreign hacking.

=====================================

National Security: Declassified report says Putin ‘ordered’ effort to undermine faith in U.S. election and help Trump.

By Greg Miller, The Washington Post, January 6 at 4:49 PM


Russia carried out a comprehensive cybercampaign to upend the U.S. presidential election, an operation that was ordered by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and “aspired to help” elect Donald Trump by discrediting his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a report released Friday.

The report depicts Russian interference as unprecedented in scale, saying that Moscow’s assault represented “a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort” beyond previous election-related espionage.


The campaign was ordered by Putin himself and initially sought primarily to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, “denigrate Secretary Clinton” and harm her electoral prospects. But as the campaign proceeded, Russia “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump” and repeatedly sought to elevate him by “discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”


The document represents an extraordinarily direct and detailed account of a long-standing U.S. adversary’s multi-pronged intervention in a fundamental pillar of American democracy.

Trump emerged from a briefing on the report by the nation’s top intelligence officials Friday seeming to acknowledge for the first time at least the possibility that Russia was behind election-related hacks. But he offered no indication that he was prepared to accept U.S. spy agencies’ conclusion that Moscow sought to help him win.

Report on Russian hacking released after Trump briefing Play Video3:04
U.S. intelligence agencies released a declassified version of their report on Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. election on Jan. 6, just hours after President-elect Donald Trump was briefed by American officials. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
Instead, Trump said in a statement issued just minutes after the high-level meeting ended that whatever hacking had occurred, “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.”

Trump’s statement seemed designed to create the impression that this was the view of the intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and CIA Director John Brennan, who had met with him.

But weighing whether Russia’s intervention altered the outcome of the 2016 race was beyond the scope of the review that the nation’s spy agencies completed this week. And Clapper testified in a Senate hearing Thursday that U.S. intelligence services “have no way of gauging the impact .?.?. it had on the choices the electorate made. There’s no way for us to gauge that.”

Trump’s statement came after his first face-to-face encounter with the leaders of intelligence agencies whose work he has repeatedly disparaged. Others who took part in the meeting included FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Agency chief Adm. Mike Rogers.

All four of the spy chiefs have endorsed a classified report that was briefed to Trump and circulated in Washington this week that concludes that Russia used a combination of aggressive hacking, propaganda and “fake news” to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

Trump appeared to acknowledge that hacking of Democratic and Republican computer networks had occurred, but was apparently not prepared to accept the consensus view of U.S. spy services that Russia sought to help him win.

“I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the intelligence community,” Trump said. He acknowledged that “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber-infrastructure of our government institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee.”

U.S. intelligence captured Russian officials’ communications celebrating Trump’s victory.
(a Video 2:42 minutes presented}

The Post’s Adam Entous reports that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted electronic communications, known as “signals intelligence,” in which top Russian officials celebrated the outcome of the U.S. election. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

The session was seen as an early indicator of whether Trump could reach some sort of accord with U.S. intelligence agencies or is determined to extend his increasingly bitter feud with America’s spies and analysts into his first term.

In an interview with the New York Times before Friday’s briefing, Trump said the focus on Russian hacking “is a political witch hunt.”

In Thursday’s testimony, Clapper appeared to take aim at Trump and the stream of social-media insults he has targeted at the intelligence community over the Russia issue.

“There is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policymakers, to include policymaker number one, should always have for intelligence,” Clapper said. “But I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement.”

The meeting, which was requested by Trump, comes on the heels of a series of revelations about Russia’s role and motivations in last year’s campaign.

The Post reported in December that the CIA and other agencies had concluded that Russia sought not only to disrupt the election and sow doubt about the legitimacy of American democratic institutions but also to help Trump win.

U.S. intelligence agencies based that determination on an array of interlocking intelligence pieces, including the identification of known “actors” with ties to Russian intelligence services who helped deliver troves of stolen Democratic email files to the WikiLeaks website.

U.S. spy agencies also monitored communications in Moscow after the election that showed that senior officials in the Russian government, including those believed to have had knowledge of the hacking campaign, celebrated Trump’s win and congratulated one another on the outcome.

Trump has rejected intelligence agencies’ unanimous conclusions about Russia, saying it could just as easily have been China or “some guy” in New Jersey.

Trump has seemed to court conflict with U.S. intelligence agencies on several fronts. During his campaign, he vowed to order the CIA to return to the use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation measures widely condemned as torture. Since his surprise victory, Trump has skipped the majority of the daily intelligence briefings made available to him, saying that he has no need for sessions that he finds repetitive.

But the president-elect softened his message on Thursday, saying on Twitter that he is a “big fan” of intelligence, although, as has been his practice, he set off the word “intelligence” in quotes.

============================

The United States’ most senior intelligence officials briefed Trump on Russian hacking during the election campaign just hours after the President-elect doubled down on his dismissal of the threat as an artificial and politically driven controversy, calling it a “witch hunt.”

Trump also tried to defuse controversy over his criticism of the intelligence community and continued refusal to accept Moscow’s actions, calling the Friday meeting “constructive” and offering praise for the senior intel officials. He said he will appoint a team within 90 days to figure out ways to stop foreign hacking.

Trump’s meeting with the intel officials took around 90 minutes at Trump Tower. A Trump spokeswoman said the officials who gave the briefing were Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey.


Officials: Hackers aggressively targeting US 02:26

A senior TRUMP transition official described the meeting between Trump and intelligence community officials as “cordial,” not contentious. Trump asked questions and made clear his admiration for intelligence community employees, the official added.

Based on the presentation Friday, which included new information, the TRUMP official insisted that it’s the transition’s view that the hacking was intended to harm Hillary Clinton more than to help Trump. This official pointed to what they were told at the meeting, that the cyberactivity began in late 2015 and early 2016, before it was clear Trump would be the nominee. So, the official asked, how could the hacking be a pro-Trump operation if it began so early on. “This was more an effort to discredit her than anything else,” the Trump official said.

=======================================================

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 4th, 2017
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Rex Tillerson to put Exxon nest egg in a trust over conflict of interest concerns

by Jethro Mullen @CNNMoneyInvest January 4, 2017

ExxonMobil and Rex Tillerson have announced their plan to address concerns about the huge nest egg the oil giant has promised to its former CEO.

Tillerson, who Donald Trump has picked as his secretary of state, is due to receive more than 2 million Exxon shares — worth more than $181 million at current prices — over the next decade.

To tackle the ethical and legal problems raised by the massive payout, Exxon said late Tuesday that if Tillerson is confirmed for the job, it plans to put the value of the shares he would have received in an independently managed trust, which won’t be allowed to invest in the oil company.

Tillerson, 64, has also agreed with the State Department to sell the more than 600,000 Exxon shares he owns at the moment, the company said. They’re worth more than $54 million at today’s prices.

Related: Exxon’s Tillerson retiring to prep for Senate confirmation

Richard Painter, a former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said the measures appeared to satisfy concerns he had expressed previously about Tillerson’s financial ties to Exxon.

“He should convince President-elect Trump to come up with a similar arrangement to divest his conflicts of interest,” Painter said, comparing Tillerson’s deal to what was done for former Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson when he became treasury secretary in 2006.

Tillerson’s arrangement, which Exxon says was drawn up in consultation with federal ethics regulators, involves giving up various payouts and perks, according to the company’s statement.

He’ll no longer be entitled to more than $4.1 million in cash bonuses that he was set to receive over the next three years — or medical, dental and other benefits from Exxon. He retired as the oil company’s CEO on Saturday after working there for more than four decades.

As America’s chief diplomat, Tillerson could have a tremendous impact on Exxon’s business, from negotiations over a climate change treaty and sanctions on Russia to the nuclear deal with Iran and general geopolitical unrest in the Middle East.

Exxon said that if Tillerson returns to work in the oil and gas industry during the 10-year payout period from the trust, he would forfeit the funds.
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“The money would be distributed to one or more charities involved in fighting poverty or disease in the developing world,” the company said. “Neither Tillerson nor ExxonMobil would have any control over the selection of the charities.”

Painter described that part of the plan as “an added benefit” that will make it “highly unlikely” that Tillerson will go back into the oil industry.

“Most public servants have no restrictions on where they can work after government … and we have to worry about them trying to help future employers,” he said, pointing to Treasury Department officials who go back to Wall Street.

Related: The problem with Rex Tillerson’s nine-figure nest egg

Over all, the arrangement would cost Tillerson about $7 million in compensation he would have received, Exxon said.

As with all political appointees who sell assets that may pose conflicts of interest, Tillerson would be allowed to defer any capital gains tax he owes on the more than 600,000 Exxon shares he’s agreed to sell so long as he reinvests the proceeds within 60 days into so-called “permitted property.” That basically means U.S. Treasury securities and diversified mutual funds.

It’s not immediately clear, however, what the tax implications are for Tillerson from Exxon agreeing to set up the trust for the value of the more than 2 million shares he’d otherwise have coming to him over the next 10 years.

— Jeanne Sahadi and Chris Isidore contributed to this report.

OUR COMMENT:

Rex Tillerson during the years 2006 to 2016 changed his views on Climate Change from total denial by EXXON to a controlled acceptance of the Paris outcome.
Exxon had a history of funding false scientists – ten moved on to join what seemed to be the winning crowd, but took positions that slow change.

ExxonMobil k nows the global oil industry and understandably will promote it above everything else. This leads to alliances with Saudi Arabia and Putin’s Russia that will turn away the US from the Obama path of disengagement from te dependence on oil as the true path to slow down climate change and the harm the use of fossil fuels causes to the environment.

And besides, Foreign relations of the USA contain many other topics besides the negotiation of oil contracts. What are the visions of Rex Tillerson when he gets of the Oil Barrel?

###

Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 27th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


WE POST THIS AS WE WONDER IN WHICH SCHOOL OF DIPLOMACY STUDIED ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – WHO SITS ALSO IN THE CHAIR OF HIS FOREIGN MINISTER. HE SEEMINGLY DOES SUCH A BAD JOB UNDER BOTH HATS SO THAT HE IS EVEN BEING CRITICIZED IN PUBLIC BY HIS OWN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER. THIS WOULD BE FUNNY IF NOT INVOLVING NUCLEAR POWERS. TO BRING THIS HOME, A STATEMENT BY A FORMER ISRAELI MINISTER LAST WEEK CAUSED THE RATTLE OF NUKES BY PAKISTAN.

FROM OUR POINT OF VIEW -IT BECOMES IRRELEVANT TO TALK OF CLIMATE CHANGE WHEN THE FRY AND THE BIG ONES – i.e. Messrs. Putin and Trump SEEM BENT TO TELL THE WORLD THAT NUKES ARE THE FUNDAMENT OF SECURITY IN A POST-OBAMA ERA.

MIDDLE EAST

Defying U.N., Israel Prepares to Build More Settlements

By PETER BAKER – The New York Times DEC. 26, 2016.


Introducing Photo – Housing construction last week on the outskirts of Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish housing development in East Jerusalem. CreditJim Hollander/European Press photo Agency

JERUSALEM — Undeterred by a resounding defeat at the United Nations, Israel’s government said Monday that it would move ahead with thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and warned nations against further action, declaring that Israel does not “turn the other cheek.”

Just a few days after the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Israeli settlements, Jerusalem’s municipal government signaled that it would not back down: The city intends to approve 600 housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of town on Wednesday in what a top official called a first installment on 5,600 new homes.

The defiant posture reflected a bristling anger among Israel’s pro-settlement political leaders, who not only blamed the United States for failing to block the Council resolution, but also claimed to have secret intelligence showing that President Obama’s team had orchestrated it. American officials strongly denied the claim, but the sides seem poised for more weeks of conflict until Mr. Obama hands over the presidency to Donald J. Trump.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at Security Council countries by curbing diplomatic contacts, recalling envoys, cutting off aid and summoning the American ambassador for a scolding. He canceled a planned visit this week by Ukraine’s prime minister even as he expressed concern on Monday that Mr. Obama was planning more action at the United Nations before his term ends next month.


The Times of Israel:

Deputy FM questions PM’s diplomatic embargoes after UN vote. In apparent jab at Netanyahu for canceling meetings with world leaders, Hotovely says ‘part of diplomacy is explaining our position’

BY RAOUL WOOTLIFF December 27, 2016,

Introducing photo – Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely speaking at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem (Elram Mendel)

Raoul Wootliff is The Times of Israel Knesset correspondent.

TZIPI HOTOVELY – Deputy Foreign Minister

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Minister of many other things.


The prime minister defended his retaliation. “Israel is a country with national pride, and we do not turn the other cheek,” he said. “This is a responsible, measured and vigorous response, the natural response of a healthy people that is making it clear to the nations of the world that what was done at the U.N. is unacceptable to us.”

The Security Council resolution that passed Friday condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a “flagrant violation under international law” and an obstacle to peace. The Council approved it 14 to 0, with the United States abstaining instead of using its veto, as it has in the past.

Mr. Trump publicly pressed for a veto of the resolution and has chosen a settlement advocate as his administration’s ambassador to Israel. He turned to Twitter on Monday night to air complaints that the United Nations “is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Palestinian leaders made clear that they would use the resolution in international bodies to press their case against Israel. With the imprimatur of a United Nations finding of illegality, they said they would campaign to require that other countries not just label products made in the settlements, but ban them.

“Now we can talk about the boycott of all settlements, the companies that work with them, et cetera, and actually take legal action against them if they continue to work with them,” Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, was quoted as saying by the Palestinian news media.

He outlined other steps the Palestinians could now take, using the resolution to press the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israeli leaders, file lawsuits on behalf of specific Palestinians displaced by settlements and urge the international authorities to determine whether Israel is violating the Geneva Conventions.

“We are looking to devise a comprehensive vision, and hopefully 2017 will be the year when the Israeli occupation ends,” Mr. Malki said.

Israeli officials said such pronouncements showed that the resolution actually undermined chances for a negotiated settlement because the Palestinians now have less incentive to come to the table. By declaring Israeli settlements illegal, they said, the United Nations essentially took away the one chip that Israel had to trade, meaning land.

“The Palestinians are waging a diplomatic and legal war against Israel. That’s the strategy,” Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said in a phone interview. “Their strategy is not to negotiate an agreement with Israel because a deal is give and take. They want take and take.”

Israel’s settlement project, once a scattering of houses across the so-called Green Line marking the borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, has grown substantially over the years. In 2009, the year Mr. Obama took office, 297,000 people lived in West Bank settlements and 193,737 in East Jerusalem. That increased to 386,000 in the West Bank by the end of last year and 208,000 in East Jerusalem by the end of 2014, according to Peace Now, a group that opposes settlements.

Israeli officials note that when Mr. Netanyahu acquiesced to a 10-month settlement freeze sought by Mr. Obama in 2009, the Palestinians still did not agree to negotiate until just before time ran out. But the addition of more than 100,000 settlers during Mr. Obama’s tenure convinced him that it was time to change approach at the United Nations, aides said.

The 618 housing units to be granted building permits in East Jerusalem on Wednesday have been in the works for a while, and the planning committee meeting agenda was set before the United Nations acted. But the committee chairman said he was determined to go forward with units totaling 5,600.

“I won’t get worked up over the U.N. or any other organization that might try to dictate to us what to do in Jerusalem,” Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, the planning committee chairman, told the newspaper Israel Hayom. “I hope that the government and the new administration in the United States will give us momentum to continue.”

Although he did not specify which projects he had in mind, Ir Amim, a private group tracking settlements in East Jerusalem, said he was probably referring to projects in Gilo and Givat Hamatos. Betty Herschman, the group’s director of international relations and advocacy, said it was “defiance demonstrated after Trump’s election, now reinforced by the U.N. resolution.”

Anat Ben Nun, the director of development and external relations for Peace Now, said such construction was problematic. “Netanyahu’s attempt to avenge the U.N.S.C. resolution through approval of plans beyond the Green Line will only harm Israelis and Palestinians by making it more difficult to arrive at a two-state solution,” she said.

Israeli leaders said they had no reason to stop building. The Security Council resolution “was absurd and totally removed from reality,” said Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy for the Yesha Council, which represents West Bank settlers. “Israeli building policies are set in Jerusalem, not New York.”

For the fourth day, Israeli officials accused Mr. Obama’s team of ambushing them at the United Nations. While the White House denied it, Israeli officials pointed to a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and his New Zealand counterpart a month before the Council vote discussing a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. New Zealand was a sponsor of Friday’s measure.

Mr. Dermer, the ambassador, said Israel had other, nonpublic information proving the Obama administration’s involvement but provided no evidence and would not elaborate beyond saying it would be provided to Mr. Trump’s team when he takes office.

“They not only did not get up and stop it, they were behind it from the beginning,” Mr. Dermer said. “This is why the prime minister is so angry. We’re going to stand up against it.”

Israeli officials worried that Mr. Kerry would use a coming speech or a conference in France to outline an American peace plan that would be hostile to Israel’s interests. Mr. Kerry’s office had no comment.

The fury of Mr. Netanyahu’s response has generated debate at home. Mitchell Barak, a political consultant, said the political left considered the resolution “an epic foreign policy and diplomatic debacle” by Mr. Netanyahu.

But to his base, the Security Council action confirmed what they believed all along, that Mr. Obama is inherently anti-Israel, and so the prime minister comes across as a champion beset by enemies. “For them,” Mr. Barak said, “Netanyahu emerges from this unscathed, as the lone wolf in a lion’s den of hatred.”

Since the measure was passed, Israel has taken a number of retaliatory steps against the countries that supported its passage, including an official dressing-down of the Security Council members’ ambassadors to Israel on Sunday, Christmas Day.

Netanyahu on Saturday disinvited Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman after Kiev voted in favor of the resolution.

Groysman, who became his country’s first-ever Jewish prime minister earlier this year, was scheduled to arrive in Israel on Tuesday for a two-day visit that would have included meetings with Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and other senior officials.

Netanyahu’s office has denied reports that he nixed a meeting with Theresa May next month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, saying that no meeting had been set. But the deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, Tony Kay, told The Times of Israel on Monday there had been plans for a sit-down, though Jerusalem had not told London it planned to cancel the meeting.

Netanyahu has also reportedly ordered the Foreign Ministry to minmize all working ties with the 12 of countries that voted in favor of the decision with which Israel has diplomatic relations. Foreign ministers from the countries will reportedly no longer be able to meet with Netanyahu or Foreign Ministry officials.

In addition, travel by Israeli ministers to the countries will be kept to a minimum, an official said.

Of the 15 countries on the UN Security Council, 14 voted in favor of Resolution 2334, which demands a halt to all Israeli settlement activity — including in East Jerusalem — with one abstention, that of the US, whose veto would have nixed the measure.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 27th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Make Russia great again? Aleppo and a plea from another world

JUAN FRANCISCO LOBO – OpenDemocracy – 24 December 2016


During the last days of December, Russia will host a round of diplomatic talks with Iran and Turkey.


A hundred years ago, Ernst Jünger described a peculiar encounter with a frightened British officer in his account of trench warfare, Storm of Steel: “he reached into his pocket, not to pull out a weapon, but a photograph (…). I saw him on it, surrounded by numerous family (…). It was a plea from another world.”


According to conventional wisdom, “war is hell,” as famously sentenced by General Sherman. Hence Jünger’s depiction of the scene as something from another planet. And that is how the world today, more concerned with the holidays and the latest Hollywood blockbuster, is receiving the dire plea for help by multiple civilians caught in the crossfire of the battle for Aleppo. We simply content ourselves with the thought that civilians will always suffer in times of war, for war is hell.

Or is it?

A few days ago, the soon to be replaced Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, gave his last press conference. Referring to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, he remarked ominously: “Aleppo is now a synonym for hell”. But surely the Secretary General did not intend merely to describe a regrettable fait accompli, as someone might depict a natural disaster. His closing official words carry a message for the world to actively engage in Aleppo, and particularly to make belligerents stop targeting civilians, for not everything is allowed in war after all. As Michael Walzer has pointed out in his decades-long effort to revive the Just War tradition, we strive to fight wars justly and to uphold rules even in the midst of hell.

But, who is there to listen this plea from another world? Even if the message gets through, what is the attitude of superpowers vis-à-vis any demands that the rules of war be upheld?

I have previously argued that there is a value to American hypocrisy coming from its blatant breach of international humanitarian law during the last decade when torturing its way through to fight the “war on terror.” If as La Rochefoucauld said once, hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, then the difference between a hypocrite and a cynic lies in the former’s capacity to recognize the existence of rules, only deliberately flouting them, whereas the latter does not even admit the existence of rules. Whereas the day of reckoning eventually comes for the hypocrite, the cynic is forever immune to criticism.


What about Russia?

Has Vladimir Putin’s regime been a hypocrite or a cynic in international relations? We know it has not been an Aliosha Karamazov, a saint, but then, which country has? Has Russia been more of a cynic like Ivan, or a hypocrite like Dimitri Karamazov? The answer is that is has been a bit of both over recent years, behaving as ambiguously as the double-headed eagle in its national coat of arms.

Sometimes Russia has recognized the existence of jus ad bellum and jus in bello conventions and has pledged to uphold them. Indeed, Russia relied on the responsibility to protect doctrine when trying to justify its military advance over Georgia in 2008. In 2013, Russia demonstrated what it could broker in the international arena when stepping in to secure a last-minute deal between Syria and the United States for Al-Assad to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal, absolutely banned under international humanitarian law. Just last Monday morning, on December 19 2016, Russia consented to a Security Council resolution to deploy observers to monitor civilian evacuation procedures in Aleppo.

To be sure, Russia’s use of R2P doctrine in 2008 has been widely condemned as a case of pure hypocrisy; yet, the important thing about the hypocrite is that he acknowledges the existence of rules. Whether he truly respects them or not is something that cannot be ascertained in the present – any more than it can be in the case of the true believer, for that matter.

On the other hand, Russia has of late deployed some alarmingly cynical attitudes in the international arena. During November 2016, Russia announced its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, pragmatically arguing that “during the 14 years of the court’s work it passed only four sentences having spent over a billion dollars”. ( This announcement followed an ominous spree of similar withdrawals from the ICC by African states. It also followed the publication of a Report by the ICC containing its preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine, where allegedly war crimes are being committed by Russian and pro-Russian forces.

Although technically Russia never became a party to the Rome Statute – having signed yet never ratified it, and now just exerting its right to make “its intention clear not to become a party to the treaty” pursuant to article 18 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties – still this announcement comes as a strong sign of Russian contempt towards international legal institutions.

Some other worrisome examples of Russian cynicism towards the rule of international law are its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the law passed in 2015 authorizing its constitutional court to overrule decisions by the European Court of Human Rights.

Regarding the armed conflict in Syria, during recent years Russia has systematically vetoed Security Council draft resolutions aimed at solving the crisis in order to protect the interests of Al-Assad, its strongest client in such a strategic region.

Nevertheless, Russia still has the potential to change the course of the Syrian deadlock, as it demonstrated when it brokered the chemical weapons deal in 2013. Moreover, history arguably presents Russia today with a unique opportunity to become the legitimate heir of a genuine humanitarian tradition that the ancient Russian Empire has practiced since the late nineteenth century. Among the main landmarks of this tradition we find the Saint Petersburg Declaration (1868), the humanitarian intervention which prompted the Russian-Turkish War (1877) and Russia’s key role in the discussion of The Hague peace conferences (1899 to 1907), where the Russian diplomat Fiodor Martens promoted a famous clause to protect people in times of war.

During the last days of December, Russia will host a round of diplomatic talks with Iran and Turkey to try and find a definitive solution to the Syrian civil war. If Putin wants to “make Russia great again,” he should endeavor to honor that tradition. By doing so at least Russia will more probably err on the side of hypocrisy rather than on that of cynicism, and people who suffer the consequences of war would still have a chance to find solace behind the aegis of international law.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 26th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

We visited the village of MARSAXLOKK, of La Valetta, Malta, as part of a MSC Splendida cruise of the Western Mediterranean. This was on a beautiful December 21, 2016 – First Winter Day. Our guide insisted in pointing out the difference from the stormy 1998 day – when right after the fall of the Berlin Wall – this bay was host to the first post Cold War meeting between the the presidents of the USA and the Soviet Union – Messrs. Gorbachev and H. W. Bush.

I decided right there to post about that old event, that closed the era codified at Yalta by the 1945 interim settlement between Stalin and Roosevelt with only Churchill sitting in. Today we seem to enter an era that replaces the global peace that came after the cold war with a Putin-Trump concordance that has the potential to destroy everything that achieved since the 1990s.

We visited today the village of MARSAXLOKK, of La Valetta, Malta, as part of a MSC Splendida cruise of the Western Mediterranean. This was a beautiful December 21, 2016 First Winter Day, and our guide insisted in pointing out the difference from the stormy 1998 day when right after the fall of the Berlin Wall this bay was host to the first post Cold War meeting between the the presidents of the USA and the Soviet Union Messrs. Gorbachev and H. W. Bush.

I decided to post about that old event, that closed the era that was codified at Yalta by the 1945 interim settlement between Stalin and Roosevelt with only Churchill sitting in. Today we seem to enter an era that replaces the global peace that came after the cold war with a Putin-Trump concordance that has the potential to destroy everything that was achieved since the 1990s.

I thought that a new meeting at MARSAXLOKK – BETWEEN PUTIN AND TRUMP – could help both of them open eyes to where they want to lead the global community that by now got glued together in a manner that it is impossible to see any of the old super-powers not cooperating, or not making place for China and India as well, or ignoring the future rise of Africa and Brazil. Could it be that we are the first to call for such a meeting? Is it really far-fetched to attribute to the present two gladiators, that will be active on the global stage into the 2017-2020 years, a sense of the need of covering each other’s back when in the midst of the aspiring powers of China, India, other Asians, and some form of a reformulated Europe. All this while basic concepts of Democracy and Human Rights are being shelved, and replaced with power of oligarchies bent on increased personal gains that leave behind hordes of malcontents – the brew of a new undertow of Despicables a la Les Miserables?

Malta Summit
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

(To be seen a Monument in Bir?ebbu?a commemorating the Malta Summit)

The Malta Summit comprised a meeting between US President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, took place on December 2–3, 1989, just a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It was actually their second meeting following a meeting that included Ronald Reagan, in New York in December 1988.

During the summit, Bush and Gorbachev would declare an end to the Cold War although whether it was truly such – is a matter of debate. News reports of the time referred to the Malta Summit as the most important since 1945, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed on a post-war plan for Europe at Yalta.

No agreements were signed at the Malta Summit. Its main purpose was to provide the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, with an opportunity to discuss the rapid changes taking place in Europe with the lifting of the Iron Curtain, which had separated the Eastern Bloc from Western Europe for four decades. The summit is viewed by some observers as the official end of the Cold War. At a minimum, it marked the lessening of tensions that were the hallmark of that era and signaled a major turning point in East-West relations. During the summit, President Bush expressed his support for Gorbachev’s perestroika initiative and other reforms in the Communist bloc.

The U.S. delegation:

James Baker, U.S. Secretary of State

Robert Blackwill, then Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for European and Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council

Jack F. Matlock, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union

Condoleezza Rice, then Director for Soviet and East European Affairs at the National Security Council

Brent Scowcroft, U.S. National Security Adviser

Raymond Seitz, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs

John H. Sununu, White House chief of staff

Margaret Tutwiler, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Spokeswoman of the Department

Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

Robert Zoellick, Counselor of the Department of State

Venue: “From Yalta to Malta”, and back.
The meetings took place in the Mediterranean, off the island of Malta. The Soviet delegation used the missile cruiser Slava,[2][3][4] while the US delegation had their sleeping quarters aboard USS Belknap.[5][6] [7]

The ships were anchored in a roadstead off the coast of Marsaxlokk
. Stormy weather and choppy seas resulted in some meetings being cancelled or rescheduled, and gave rise to the moniker the “Seasick Summit” among international media.

In the end, the meetings took place aboard Maxsim Gorkiy, a Soviet cruise ship anchored in the harbor at Marsaxlokk.

The idea of a summit in the open sea is said to have been inspired largely by President Bush’s fascination with World War II President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s habit of meeting foreign leaders on board naval vessels.[8][9] The choice of Malta as a venue was the subject of considerable pre-summit haggling between the two superpowers. According to Condoleezza Rice:

“… it took a long time to get it arranged, finding a place, a place that would not be ceremonial,
a place where you didn’t have to do a lot of other bilaterals. And fortunately – or unfortunately – they chose Malta, which turned out to be a really horrible place to be in December.

Although the Maltese were wonderful, the weather was really bad.”[10]

The choice of venue was also highly symbolic. The Maltese Islands are strategically located at the geographic centre of the Mediterranean Sea, where east meets west and north meets south. Consequently, Malta has a long history of domination by foreign powers. It served as a British naval base during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and suffered massive destruction during World War II.

Malta declared its neutrality between the two superpowers in 1980, following the closure of British military bases and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Regional Headquarters (CINCAFMED), previously located on Malta.

Neutrality is entrenched in the Constitution of Malta, which provides as follows, at section 1(3):

“Malta is a neutral state actively pursuing peace, security and social progress among all nations by adhering to a policy of non-alignment and refusing to participate in any military alliance.”


On February 2, 1945, as the War in Europe drew to a close, Malta was the venue for the Malta Conference, an equally significant meeting between US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill prior to their Yalta meeting with Joseph Stalin. The Malta Summit of 1989 signalled a reversal of many of the decisions taken at the 1945 Yalta Conference.

See also:
Revolutions of 1989
Cold War
Cold War (1985-1991)
List of Soviet Union–United States summits
New world order (politics)
References:
Jump up^ “An Interview with Dr. Condoleezza Rice (17/12/97)”
Jump up^ www.nytimes.com/1989/12/03/world/…
Jump up^ articles.latimes.com/1989-12-02/n…
Jump up^ articles.chicagotribune.com/1989-…
Jump up^ www.nytimes.com/1989/12/03/world/…

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 5th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

To stop crippling air pollution, Iranians do car-free Tuesdays
By Karin Kloosterman (KarinKloosterman@greenprophet)

Karin Kloosterman interests intersect in the worlds of the environment, technology, activism and Middle East politics. Blogging for some of the most influential media outlets in the “green” world, such as TreeHugger, and The Huffington Post, Karin founded Green Prophet to share the enormous potential of new clean technologies, and environmental awareness emanating from the Middle East region. For tips, advertising and editorial inquiries Karin can be reached at
karin@greenprophet.com

July 4, 2016

Cities in Iran are some of the most polluted in the world. It’s estimated that 27 people a day die in Tehran from the low quality of air.

Mohammad Bakhtiari, 25, from Arak decided he couldn’t take it anymore, and started car-free Tuesdays –- a day when he’s encouraging Iranians to find alternative ways to get around. He told local media, “With air pollution getting worse, I did not like to sit back doing nothing. I thought everybody is responsible for this problem. And I was thinking of a way to involve more people to help with it.”

So he proposed that people go car free on Tuesdays. Residents in Tripoli, Lebanon tried it once a long time ago, but it didn’t stick.

Mohammad wanted the idea to stick. He went with posters and flyers and explained to locals in Arak until the Department of Environment gave its stamp of approval. It’s catching on in all Iranian cities but there are no reports on how many people are actually doing it.

Tuesday was the day picked because it is in the middle of Iranian week when traffic congestion is high and air pollution is at its worst.

The World Bank estimates losses inflicted on Iran’s economy as a result of deaths caused by air pollution at $640 million, which is equal to 5.1 trillion rials or 0.57 percent of GDP. Diseases resulting from air pollution are inflicting losses estimated at $260 million per year or 2.1 trillion rials or 0.23 percent of the GDP on Iran’s economy.

Leaving cars at home can reduce air pollution: The campaign that started this spring is expected to run for 600 weeks. The idea is to get people to use bikes and more public transport.

Mohammad said: “Sixty percent of the people who know there is such a campaign have supported it. Our first step is to tell people that there is such a movement. The second step is to tell them why they should support it.

“The third step is to have incentives for those who join the campaign.

“And the fourth step is to push the government to carry out its responsibilities at a more rapid pace.”

He is now pushing the government for safe bike routes, and more people to start using electric motorbikes. As well as an overhaul of public transport.

Cities in Russia and India, have made a similar pledge to be car free on Tuesdays.

Read more on sustainable Iran:
Iran Looks to Create Biofuel
Iran Inaugurates Its First Solar CSP Plant
Celebrate Spring and Iranian New Year

View other posts by Karin Kloosterman ?

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 12th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Thursday
12th May 2016

Nord Stream 2: A killer project

NS2, which will pass through Danish waters, is to be operational by 2019

BRUSSELS, EUobserver, 11 MAY, 10:49
By PETRAS AUSTREVICIUS – a Lithuanian MEP in the liberal Alde group.

Scholars of European affairs will one day judge how well EU institutions coped with crises.
However, speaking as an MEP, I must say it is unwise for the European Commission to try to play deaf, dumb and blind to certain serious developments in the real world.

Follow the gas: Russian pipelines are instruments of political pressure.

Drawing attention to one area, it is unwise to pretend that things are normal in the EU-Russia energy business.

The fact is that Russia’s gas pipelines, the little green men that it sent to Ukraine, the money it gives to populist parties in our member states and its anti-EU propaganda are all part of the same programme. The fact is that Russia is exerting great influence to bend, or even break, EU energy law.

One project that lacks principled scrutiny by the EU’s top institutions is the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) gas pipeline.

If it is built, by 2019, it would duplicate existing pipes under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany and its implications would be far wider than many people think.

I would like to hear commission president Jean-Claude Juncker take a clear stand on NS2.

But I myself call it a killer project because I believe it is part of a programme to destroy European unity.

If it is built, the EU would become extremely dependent on a single gas supplier – Gazprom, an entity under the full control of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Europe already imports 39 percent of its gas from Russia. After NS2, 80 percent of Russian gas imports would be concentrated in one route. In Germany itself, the share of Russian gas would increase from 40 percent to 60 percent.

Beyond Germany, 12 EU member states depend on Russia for 75 percent or more of their gas. After NS2, the level of their dependence would also go up.

I call it a killer project because it has no commercial purpose, whatever its lobbyists say.

Independent energy experts agree that there is no market logic for investing €20 billion in new Baltic pipelines. Nord Stream I, which is already in operation, uses less than half of its capacity.

NS2 was never about the energy business, it was always energy politics.

It aims to split and destabilise the EU, to harm individual member states and to degrade Ukraine, which would be eliminated as the main Russia-EU gas transit route.

This is why Ukraine and all other central and eastern European countries are against the Russian-German project.


Cui bono?

It is obvious who would stand to gain from splitting the EU into gas partners and gas slaves – Russia. It is less obvious why Germany is getting involved.

It is also interesting what Denmark’s official position will be, knowing that NS2 will pass through Danish waters.

NS2 contradicts the European Energy Union – a policy of diversification of energy sources and suppliers.

We need the energy union to guarantee a fair gas price for all and to enable imports from the wider world, for instance via liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals.

Some have been built in Spain and in my home country, Lithuania. We have an LNG terminal in the port of Klaipeda and an LNG vessel named Independence. “Independence” is the key word here.

The Juncker commission made big promises on creating a free and secure energy market. It has yet to deliver.

NS2 is a killer project because it shows that Schroederism is back in Europe.

I am talking about the former German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder’s policy of putting Russian money first. It risks making Germany, one of the most powerful EU states, prone to Russian manipulation.

You hear Schroederism from people in chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet.

You sometimes hear it from the chancellor herself. Merkel recently spoke out in defence of EU energy security, but she also defended the commercial merit of NS2.


Shell game

There is no such merit. Behind Gazprom, a giant shell firm, there is only Putinism.

There is no easy way to stop NS2. Two big states are building it and the ones who will pay the price are smaller.


Brussels is being squeezed by Moscow and Berlin.

But for all of Russia and Germany’s influence, if NS2 contradicts EU single market law – specifically, the so called third energy package – then Juncker’s commission must call a spade a spade.

Because of the sensitivity of the issue, a group of independent jurists should also provide its own legal analysis of the project. I will be demanding this as a member of the European Parliament.

When strategic decisions are being made, but political courage and EU values are lacking, the law is our last line of defence.

———————
Petras Austrevicius is a Lithuanian MEP in the liberal Alde group

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 30th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Above the entrance to 21 Zerubabel Street in the Yemenite Quarter in Tel Aviv – next door to the Rabbi Shabzi Synagogue and the warning – a dog in the courtyard – it says – in Hebrew:Sun light is very bleak to someone who does not find sense in his life. Next tomit in English is written: “There is no Fear in Love.”

The Israeli papers that are still not owned by an Israeli government related American individual – The HAARETZ and the Yedioth Aharonot – are now full with hints at internal culture wars started by an uneducated Culture Minister – Ms. Miri Regev who contended that even uneducated people can be educated. That is not my topic here – for those interested please read The New York Times article of today – “Israel, Mired in Ideological Battles, Fights on Cultural Fronts” – By STEVEN ERLANGER January 29, 2016. We are here rather interested in what the rather officialpro-government papers say – The MAARIV and The ISRAEL HAYOM say.

A main report comes from the meeting in Nicosia, Cyprus between Israel’s Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu and His counterparts from Greece and Cyprus titled as the “Mediterranean Alliance.” As I just arrived here from Vienna I am quite familiar with the Merkel & Faymann problems with Greece and Turkey and the simple facts that the EU in ordr to survive tends now to shed Greece and trade it for higher reliance on Turkey. What I sense thus is the contemplation of the Israeli government to look as well for new allies in its troubled corner of thev World.

Then, no misunderstanding here – President Obama just declared for all to hear that Putin is corrupt and Mr. Putin reacted by asking for evidence. No problem on this front – the UK obliged and declared Putin involved in the execution of a financial competitor – mafia style. This sort of language was not heard even in the days of President Regan’s attacks on the Soviet “Evil Empire.”

Obama looks at the mess in Western Asia he inherited from G.W. Bush who really turned all local devils there lose by taking off the lids that kept a modicum of order as left by the British and French colonial powers. G.W. continued the reliance on the Saudis that came down from Democrat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and thus became partial to an evolving Sunni Shia rift with an ever increasing Iranian threat to the US oil supplies from the Middle East. Obviously, US interests did not match in all of this the European effort to build their own power bloc and the difficulties the EU put before Turkey’s attemp to join in the Union. Russia had its own problems with the EU and when life for the US and the EU became difficultbin the Arab region – they jumped in and used the occasion to move on the Ukraine as well.

So what now?

My suggestion based on an acknowledged very superficial reading of the real news – is: By necessity there are now two new potential NEUTRAL Centers in a renewed COLD WAR scenario.

Oman is the Neutral space between the Saudis and Iran – to be cherished by the US.

The small group of Greece, Cyprus, and Israel – a new buffer zone between the EU & Turkey alliance and the Sunni Arab Golf and the US – with Syria and Iraq the actual battle-field that will churn the Arab World until it reorganizes the remaining waste-lands. Russia has gained a footing via the Shiia Muslims and the US will see to limit this by making it more profitable to Iran to play the US in exchange for diminished role to the Saudis. It is all in the new world cards.

And what about the Arab North African States? Will they fall into the hands of extreme Sunnis as preached by Saudi Wahhabism – the source of what has moved to the creation of the new Islamic powder keg? I do not think this is possible in North Africa – simply because there are no Shiia elements there that justify to the Sunnis such an effort. Will there be another neutral zone in the North African region in the Cold War arena? This makes sense eventually.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 23rd, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Why Putin Loves Trump

Ivan Krastev — January 12, 2016

Sofia, Bulgaria — “VLADIMIR VLADIMIROVICH, is war coming?”

The question is asked in the first frame of “Myroporyadok” (“World Order”), a manifesto-style documentary aired in the last days of December on Russian state television. And in the following two-plus hours, President Vladimir V. Putin, aided by diplomats, policy analysts, conspiracy theorists and retired foreign statesmen, attempts to provide an answer.

Though the Russian leader resists sounding the alarm, the audience is nonetheless convinced that if nothing changes in the coming months, the Big War could be imminent. And the Kremlin isn’t doing much to dissuade them: Days after the film’s airing, its new national security strategy, which declares NATO and the United States as fundamental threats to Russia’s future, was unveiled.

“Myroporyadok” is a powerful expression of the Kremlin’s present state of mind. It views the world as a place on the edge of collapse, chaotic and dangerous, where international institutions are ineffective, held hostage to the West’s ambitions and delusions. Nuclear weapons represent the sole guarantee of a country’s sovereignty, and sovereignty is demonstrated by a willingness and capacity to resist Washington’s hegemonic agenda.

The film’s story line focuses repeatedly on NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, the West’s misuse of a United Nations no-fly zone in Libya and the West’s insistent meddling in the domestic politics of post-Soviet states. This is all done to prove the film’s central point: that the West may carry on about values and principles, but all of that masks a realpolitik aimed at world domination.

Some of the accusations have merit: The United States certainly bears considerable responsibility for the catastrophe in the Middle East. Some are patently false: Not every popular revolt in the world is a covert C.I.A. operation. But all of them carry more than a whiff of exaggeration. America, after all, is neither as powerful nor as malevolent as the Kremlin supposes.

The central contradiction in Moscow’s view of American foreign policy is its failure to reconcile its insistence that America is a declining power with the tendency to explain everything that happens in the world as resulting from American foreign policy actions. Is Washington failing in its effort to bring stability to the Middle East? Or is keeping the region unstable the real objective of White House strategy? Improbably, Moscow believes in both.

More important, the film is a challenge to the widely accepted view of Mr. Putin as a coldblooded realist, a cynic who believes in nothing but power and spends his days poring over maps and checking his bank statements. In “Myroporyadok,” we find Mr. Putin the angry moralist who, similar to European populists and third-world radicals, experiences the world through the lens of humiliation and exclusion. As Mr. Putin’s close adviser, Vladislav Surkov, once wrote: “We still look like those guys from the working part of town suddenly finding ourselves in the business district. And they’ll swindle us for sure if we keep stumbling backward and dropping our jaws.”

Such exclusion fuels distrust and the tendency to view the world as a family drama structured around love, hate and betrayal. It is this sensitivity, rather than 19th-century realpolitik, that explains most of Moscow’s policies in recent years.

Russian-Turkish relations are a case in point. Rather than adhering to any foreign-policy realism, the Kremlin seems to have adopted a policy of Great Power sentimentality. Until two months ago, Ankara was Russia’s strategic ally in its struggle for a multipolar world. Turkey had been a brother-in-resentment, the only NATO member that refused to join in sanctions against Moscow after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ankara occupied a central place in Moscow’s energy diplomacy.

But it was enough for a Turkish missile to hit a Russian plane on the Syrian border, and suddenly the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was not a friend anymore, but a traitor who was “aiding terrorists,” Mr. Putin said, sounding personally offended.

At the heart of Russian foreign policy sentimentalism is a tendency to view relationships between states as relations between leaders. It is this highly personalized view of the world that helps explain why Mr. Putin, the man who seeks to defeat America, is such an enthusiastic supporter of Donald J. Trump, the “brilliant and talented leader” who promises to make America great again.

Mr. Putin’s predilection for Mr. Trump has nothing to do with the Kremlin’s traditional preference for Republicans. It also can’t be explained by the fact that had Mr. Putin — a physically sound, aging, gun-loving and anti-gay conservative — been an American citizen, he would have fit the profile of a Trump supporter. Nor is it a function of tactical considerations: that the nutty billionaire would divide America and make it look ridiculous.

Rather, Mr. Putin’s puzzling enthusiasm for Mr. Trump is rooted in the fact that they both live in a soap-opera world run by emotions rather than interests. Perhaps Mr. Putin trusts Mr. Trump because the American businessman reminds him of the only true friend the Russian president has had among world leaders, the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In “Myroporyadok,” there is a lot of discussion about new rules and institutions, about Yalta and about the United Nations. But its message is clear: In a world where hypocrisy holds sway, only angry outsiders can be trusted.

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Ivan Krastev is the chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He writes also for The New York Times.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 20th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Today I had the good fortune to be present at a debate between Professor Franz Cede – former Austrian Ambassador to the Russian Federation and now with the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES), and Russia’s Ambassador to Austria H.E. Dmitrij Liubinskij (Dmitry Lubensky) – in diplomatic service since 1989.

The discussants had agreed beforehand to touch on most topics of contention between the European Union and the Russian Federation – the Ukraine, Syria, Iran, the EU-Russia relations. Being a good diplomat Ambassador Lubensky proposed the official answers as per the the Russian Federation government: Autonomy for the Donbas region as part of an Ukrainian Federation; There was no recent annexation of the Krim this was rather the redress of the annexation that Under Mr. Chruschtschow he gave the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine; about his rule; Russia does not bsck Assad to keep him in Power, only the Syrian people can decide what to do; the Iran deal showed the strength of diplmcy and discussions. Econoic relatios with Iran go on already a long time – he was told – also Germany and Austria. He knows this from his many contacts.

On EU and Russia relations he said that since te 90s there exists the concept of integration of the European Union and the Eurasian Union.

This last item is my reason for writing this up.
My belief is in – rather then using valuable time to discuss ongoing problems for which hardened positions already exist – I would rather start a debate that is intended to create rapprochement by bringing up first – reasonable potential future problems. In today’s case Russia and the West – I would rather start with depicting a situation where China becomes the real danger for Russia – the danger from the East.

The reality is that the Russian Federation is rather a large State but small in the number of its people.
Looking at a future world partitioned between blocks of one billion people plus (each) – neither Russia, nor the EU could make it without supporting each other. The Eurasian Union is only a half backed idea – a much better idea would be a Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok – incorporating the EU and the Russian Federation. In such a Union Russia could find its security much easier then tackling the West in those proposed four areas.

At the end of the meeting I discussed this idea of using potential future problems to help cure present on-going problems,
and it seemed to me that even the Russian Ambassador did not shy away from this idea.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on August 25th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

We react here to the New York Times Editorial of August 24, 2015 that seemingly wants us to believe that Putin and the Ayatollahs found religion when they heard that 250,000 Arabs were killed in Syria. Really – why should they care?

Let us suggest that “THE DEAL” has turned the interest of Iran to revive its International Banking if the Sanctions are removed – and that is the real driving force that eventually can bring Putin and the Ayatollahs to the table IN EXCHANGE FOR A SAUDI AND THE OTHER GULF STATES OIL EXPORTERS PROMISE TO REDUCE THEIR EXPORTS OF OIL.

YES – the US and the Europeans are driven by humanitarian concepts – the Russians and the Iranians think of the PRICE OF OIL that hit them hard in their economies. The US and the Europeans enjoyed the lowering of the price of oil – based on the high supply figures and a decreasing demand that resulted from GREEN ACTIVITIES – higher efficiency and alternate sources of energy.
But also these two developing energy topics can only benefit from a higher price for oil. So what the heck – let us help the Syrians and save whatever cultural monuments the Islamic State has not destroyed yet. We know that one way or another – the Christian population of Syria and Iraq is doomed and the Lebanese Maronites strive already decades in Brazil like the Iraqi Jews who spread all over the globe – from the Far East to the Far West. But let the enlightened world deal with the problem – and explain to the Saudis that time has come for them to listen to the global woes and do their part by selling less oil !!!

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 13th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Reported by Irith Jawetz from Vienna
July 12. 2015

On Friday, July 10, 2015 – a very timely – at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna.
Since the Iran talks are being held in Vienna, the panel discussion was very appropriate and although many people have left the City for the Summer, or at least for the weekend, this round table – and the room were full.
I will try to give a somewhat concise reporting of that event.

The event was called: Iran und der Westen nach den Verhandlungen (Iran and the West after the talks).

The participants were:

Dr. Christian Prosl, Austrian Ambassador to Washingtion 2009-2011

Dr. Walter Posch, Institut für Friedenssicherung und Konfliktforschung an der Landesverteidigungsakademie Wien
( Institute for Peace Support and Conflict Management, Vienna).

Dr. Arian Faal, Journalist, APA (the Austrian Press Agency) and Wiener Zeitung

The excellent moderator was Dr. Werner Fasslabend, President of the Politische Akademie und des AIES, former Austrian Minister for Defense.

—————————–

Dr. Fasselabend opened the discussion stating that only 99.9% of the talks are completed.

He continued by by displaying historic and current maps of the Region, giving us a broad historic overview of Iran and its influence on the region. He stressed that because of Iran’s geographical location it was and still is a very large regional power and stability in the Middle East without Iran’s cooperation is impossible.

Dr. Arian Faal, Journalist for APA (Austrian Press Agentur) and Wiener Zeitung gave us an inside look from the perspective of the journalists covering the talks.

He recalled that after 17 days, 12-16 hours of work, 600 journalists and at a cost of about $1 million for the stay in Vienna by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his delegation at the famous Imperial Hotel, there is still no deal. There have been many improvements since the beginning of the talks, but still no deal. Mr. Kerry has prolonged his stay yet again and said a deadline will not be a factor as long as an agreement can be achieved. The new deadline to be breached is Monday July 13th.

The three major problems that stand in the way of an agreement are:

1) The sanctions on Iran – the Iranian delegation insists those have to be lifted right away;

2) The UN Arms Embargo that includes conventional weapons;

3) Political readiness by President Obama and Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran. Both have to agree to a deal which will be accepted at home.

Dr. Faal said he is an optimist by nature and is still hopeful that an agreement will be reached.

Ambassador Dr. Christian Prosl addressed the matter from the US point of view. He said that for the US the stability of the region and the security of the State of Israel are the main factors and the two problems which the US faces are with Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Both countries, though for different reasons, are against any deal with Iran since they do not trust the Iranian regime.

As for the supply of oil, this is not anymore a factor for the US because of the fracking industry. However, the strained relationship between President Obama and the Republican party may be a factor. The Republicans have tried for a long time now to see that President Obama fails, and they may try to fail him also in this endeavor. Mr. Netanyahu’s speech in Congress against the Iran deal, which was prompted by the invitation of Speaker of the House John Boemer, did not help. However Ambassador Prosl said that he cannot imagine that the Republicans will fail the agreement if it is iron clad and the treaty will be safe for the US.

Dr. Posch addressed the matter from the Iranian point of view and concluded that although the problems are being viewed from different perspective, i.e. US, the EU and Iran, the will is there. Regional security, oil supply and human rights in Iran all play a part in the talks. He also was hopeful that a deal will be signed

At the end of the panel presentations, Dr. Fasselabend invited to the podium Dr. Massud Mossaheb, General Secretary of the Austro-Iranian Society in Vienna.

Mr. Mossaheb said that there is mutual mistrust between the West and the Iranian Government.

In spite of the fact that the Iranian nuclear position has not changed in the last 40 years, there is still mistrust. The people of Iran hope for the lifting of the sanctions so they can have a better quality of life. They suffer from high inflation and lack of supplies, especially in medications. Dr. Mossaheb also hopes for a deal to be reached.

As the end, the consensus was that the talks will go on, of course not for ever, but without the threat of an immediate deadline, and an agreement, which will be safe and beneficial for all participants will be reached.

——————–

From the US MEDIA – I will add to the above
that the personal insistence of President Obama and Secretary Kerry, the opinion is that the White House investment in these talks is so high that a failure to obtain an agreement is unthinkable.

The fact that the Iranians see this deep involvement of the Americans has in itself weakened the position of the United States in these negotiations. But then, the Iran Supreme leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei – whose position is still strong as he is still blindly followed by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) who are in charge of the Nuclear Program – may be using tough talk now just to make sure that his agreeing to an agreement is not viewed as weakness. The Iranian people want an end to the sanctions provided it is not seen as a cave in (the CNN/GPS program of Fareed Zakaria).

The current round, now in its 16-th day, was supposed to conclude on June 30, but was extended until July 7, then July 10 and now July 13. The sides had hoped to seal a deal before the end of Thursday in Washington to avoid delays in implementing their promises.

By missing that target, the U.S. and Iran now have to wait for a 60-day congressional review period during which President Barack Obama can’t waive sanctions on Iran. Had they reached a deal by Thursday, the review would have been only 30 days.

En route to Mass at Vienna’s St. Stephens Cathedral, Kerry said twice he was “hopeful” after a “very good meeting” Saturday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had Muslim services Friday.

Kerry noted that “a few tough things” remain in the way of agreement but added: “We’re getting to some real decisions.”

A senior State Department official also said Sunday that the department will not speculate about the timing of anything during the talks and that key issues remain unresolved.

Iran’s state-run Press TV cited Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday as calling the U.S. an “excellent example of arrogance.” It reported that Khamenei told university students in Tehran to be “prepared to continue the struggle against arrogant powers.”

His comments suggest Tehran’s distrust of Washington will persist whether a deal gets done or not. Khamenei’s comments also have appeared thus to be a blow to U.S. hopes than agreement will lead to improved relations with the country and possible cooperation against Islamic rebels.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, like Kerry, indicated talks could go either way. “We behaved so skillfully that if talks won’t succeed, the world would accept that Iran is for logic and dialogue and never left the negotiating table … and if we succeed by the grace of God, the world will know that the Iranian nation can resolve its problems through logic,” his website quoted him as saying.

The supreme leader’s comments also come after it was learned Saturday that the Islamic Republic’s spies have been seeking atomic and missile technology in neighboring Germany as recently as last month.

Iran’s illegal activities have continued since talks between Iran and the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as rotating member Germany – began with a Joint Plan of Action in 2013, according to German intelligence sources. The JPOA was intended to stop Iran’s work on a nuclear weapon until a comprehensive agreement is reached.

“You would think that with the negotiations, [Iranian] activities would drop,” a German intelligence source said. “Despite the talks to end Iran’s program, Iran did not make an about-turn.”

With a final agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program set for Monday, the intelligence data from Germany raises disturbing questions about the success of the deal.

Tehran has sought industry computers, high-speed cameras, cable fiber, and pumps for its nuclear and missile program over the last two years, according to German intelligence sources. Germany is required to report Iran’s illegal procurement activities to the UN.

Iran is unlikely to begin a substantial rollback of its nuclear program until it gets sanctions relief in return.

But then the Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministers said they will come to Vienna for the signing of the agreement – and the news are that Mr. Sergei Lavrov has said he will be there on Monday.

An Iranian diplomat said that they have a 100 pages document to study and that logistically it cannot be done by Sunday night with parallel meetings going on.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 20th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Russian civil society deemed ‘undesirable’

Tanya Lokshina 20 May 2015, the openDemocracy website, London

Tanya Lokshina is Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, based in Moscow.

A new Russian bill on ‘undesirable organisations’ has been endorsed today which will allow the government to ban foreign NGOs. But are they the real targets?

 www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/…

Today, Russia’s upper house of parliament endorsed a bill on ‘undesirable organisations,’ passed by the lower house just a day earlier, on May 19. The bill will let the government ban the activities of foreign or international nongovernmental groups deemed to undermine ‘state security,’ ‘national defense,’ or the ‘constitutional order.’ There is little doubt that this new piece of repressive legislation will be now swiftly signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
The real targets

Meanwhile, my phone is ringing off the hook: ‘So, this new law the State Duma has just adopted, is it about you? Do you think they want to use this to close down the Human Rights Watch bureau in Moscow?’ Well, to be sure, the bill has the potential to severely damage our work in Russia. The ‘undesirables’ bill is a cause of grave concern for all international rights groups operating in the country.

‘Do you think they want to use this to close down the Human Rights Watch bureau in Moscow?’

Nevertheless, I am genuinely convinced that it’s not about us. The intended targets of this new legislation on foreign and international organisations are actually Russian activists and Russian groups. The bill is aimed at cutting them off from their international partners, further isolating them, and squeezing the very life out of Russian civil society.

Just think about it. Why would the government need new legislation to close down Russia-based offices of foreign groups when the Justice Ministry can do this in one swift move simply by de-registering any organisation, no strings attached? And if Russia wants to stop representatives of foreign groups from entering the country, the authorities can simply blacklist them with no explanation whatsoever.

The bill on ‘undesirables’ not only allows the authorities to ban specific organisations’ activities on Russian territory – it also provides for sanctions against Russian citizens and Russian groups for ‘involvement’ in the activities of ‘undesirable’ organisations.

The bill does not specify what ‘involvement’ might include. So anything goes. Distributing — including by posting online — the statements, reports, or other materials of an ‘undesirable,’ participating in international events jointly with ‘undesirable’ organisations, or even simply communicating with staffers of ‘undesirable’ organisations could be all interpreted by the authorities as ‘involvement’ in their activities and result in punishment of the Russian groups and individuals. Sanctions include hefty administrative fines for the first two offenses, and more than two offenses in one year can result in criminal prosecution and up to six years in prison.

Selective implementation

The bill appears to be designed for selective implementation. The definition of ‘state security’ under Russian law is vague. The prosecutor general’s office can designate an organisation as ‘undesirable’ without judicial review based solely on materials from law enforcement and security services. The Justice Ministry is designated as the keeper of the ‘undesirables.’

There is no requirement for the authorities to give a potential ‘undesirable’ any notice – an organisation may only discover its ‘undesirability’ after it has been already included on the list. Once the law enters into force, any foreign non-governmental group that criticises the Russian authorities, conducts independent activity, and supports civil society in Russia will be under threat of being pegged ‘undesirable.’

The bill appears to be designed for selective implementation.

An ‘undesirable’ organisation must terminate its presence in Russia and stop participating in any projects on Russian territory. Moreover, it won’t be able to reach out to the public through Russian media or websites – all its information will effectively be banned. And any Russian friends, partners or sympathizers of these organisations should know better than to go near them.
Spreading the trend

These new harsh restrictions follow in the footsteps of the ‘foreign agents’ law passed in July 2012, which has been used to demonise in the eyes of the public close to 60 local non-governmental organisations, including the country’s leading human rights groups, as anti-Russian saboteurs. Several of these organisations chose to shut down rather than bear the ‘foreign agent’ stigma.

The new bill on ‘undesirables’ is indubitably part of the Kremlin’s trend of repression against independent voices but takes it even further. While supposedly focused on preventing foreign and international groups from undermining national security, it is evidently meant to deliver another hard blow to Russian groups and activists. Once the authorities have free rein to bar Russians from ‘involvement’ with their ‘undesirable’ foreign counterparts, the authorities can leave critics of the government in an airless limbo and eventually suffocate them.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 1st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The Rise and Fall of a Modern ‘Devshirme’ in Erdogan’s Turkey

by Burak Bekdil
The Gatestone Institute
April 30, 2015

 www.meforum.org/5210/turkey-moder…
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Originally published under the title, “How Non-Muslims “Survive” in Turkey.”

Prominent non-Muslims in Turkey, then and now. Left: an Ottoman Janissary officer. Right: the Armenian Christian intellectual Etyen Mahcupyan, who retired as advisor to Turkey’s prime minister after saying “what happened to Armenians in 1915” was “genocide.”

Last October, Etyen Mahcupyan, a leading Turkish Armenian intellectual, “liberal” writer and columnist, was appointed as “chief advisor” to Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. At first glance, this was good news in a country where Islamists privately adhere to the old Ottoman millet system, in which non-Muslims were treated as second-class (if not third-class) citizens.

In reality, Mahcupyan was a reincarnation of the Ottoman “devshirme” system, in which the Ottoman state machinery produced several non-Muslim converts who enjoyed a place in the higher echelons of the palace bureaucracy, and the finer things of life, because their pragmatism earned them excellent relations with the ruling Muslim elite.

In a December interview with Turkey’s leading daily, Hurriyet, Mahcupyan said, “Whatever has been a [political] asset for Turkey’s Armenian community (they number around 60,000) is an asset for the Jewish community too. But… there is Israel… As long as the psychology of the Israel issue continues to influence politics in Turkey and relations between the two countries do not normalize…” The line, which Mahcupyan shyly did not finish, probably would have gone on like this: “Turkey’s Jews will keep on paying the price.”

Mahcupyan admitted that if Turkey’s Jews felt alienated, it was the government’s responsibility to do something about that.

What more? “I have lived through this personally for the past 60 years,” he explained. “Among Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities, including Jews and Armenians, there is an opinion about humiliating Muslims.” As Mahcupyan’s statement is not true, it therefore just seems a way to justify Islamists’ intimidation of Jews.

Next, Mahcupyan argued, “Both Jews and Armenians are better-educated [than Muslim Turks] and more open to the West. And this brings in a feeling of superiority complex.” In this view, daily attacks on Turkey’s Jews and other non-Muslims happen because Jews and Armenians humiliate Muslims — they are better-educated than Muslims and hence their superiority complex. The charge is, at best, silly.

As in Ottoman times, just one unpleasant utterance can suffice to end a devshirme’s career in government service.

Only a few months later, Mahcupyan would learn how wrong he was about the Islamist supremacists in Ankara and their inherent intolerance to liberal thinking.

Mahcupyan recently commented on Pope Francis’s remarks on April 12, in which the Pope described 1915 as “the first genocide of the 20th century,” and said that the Vatican had “thrown off a 100-year-old psychological burden.”

If, Mahcupyan said, accepting that what happened in Bosnia and Africa were genocides, “it is impossible not to call what happened to Armenians in 1915 genocide, too.”

It was probably the first time in Turkish history that a senior government official recognized the Armenian genocide. Once again, at first glance, that was good news in a country where outright denial has been the persistent official policy. But it seems Turkey was not quite as liberal as Mahcupyan had thought.

Immediately after his remarks became public, EU Minister Volkan Bozkir expressed unease, saying that “Mahcupyan’s description was not appropriate for his title of adviser.” But that was not the only price Mahcupyan would have to pay.

A few days after his remarks on genocide, Mahcupyan “retired” as chief adviser to Prime Minister Davutoglu — after only about six months in the job.

Officially, Mahcupyan had retired in March after turning 65, the mandatory retirement age for civil servants. But it was an open secret in Ankara that his departure came simply because Turkey’s Islamists were not quite the liberals he had claimed they were.

The “Mahcupyan affair” has a message to Turkey’s dwindling non-Muslim minorities: Just like an Ottoman devshirme, a non-Muslim can rise and become a darling of today’s neo-Ottoman Turks. He can win hearts and minds in important offices in Ankara — and a bright career. But to maintain his fortunes he must remain loyal to the official Islamist line, both in deed and rhetoric. Just one unpleasant utterance would suffice to end a devshirme’s career in government service.

That is the kind of collective psychology into which Turkey’s ruling Islamists force non-Muslims: either become a collaborator, or…

There is another Turkish Armenian columnist who looks more seasoned than Mahcupyan in his devshirme career. Markar Esayan, a writer for a fiercely pro-government daily, recently said in reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 2014 statement about the Armenian victims of 1915: “[Erdogan’s] message of condolences illustrates how we have achieved the Ottoman spirit in line with this century and its democratic practice. Furthermore, the practices in the last 13 years [of the Justice and Development Party’s rule] have positively influenced our [Armenian] community and non-Muslims.”

Apparently Esayan is happy with Turkey’s neo-Ottomans and their Islamist rule, including their rigid policies of genocide-denial, which he claims have done good to Turkey’s Armenians and other non-Muslim citizens. Etyen Mahcupyan may have been punished, but Markar Esayan is being rewarded for his loyalty: he has been selected to run for parliament on the ticket of Prime Minister Davutoglu’s party!

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Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Related Topics: Turkey and Turks | Burak Bekdil

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 30th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The THIRD ANNUAL ARCTIC CIRCLE ASSEMBLY
OCTOBER 16 – 18, 2015
REYKJAVÍK, ICELAND

PRESIDENT OF FRANCE – WILL ATTEND THE ASSEMBLY and Deliver an Opening Speech linked to the Climate Negotiations at COP 21.

At a meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris on April 17th, the President of France, François Hollande, accepted an invitation from President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson to deliver an opening speech at the October Assembly. The attendance by President Hollande is linked to the upcoming climate negotiations COP21 in Paris in December and the relevance of the Arctic to those negotiations.

PRESIDENT XI JINPING – And Offered to host a special CHINA SESSION at the Assembly.

President of China XI Jinping has in a recent letter to President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson endorsed China’s participation in the Arctic Circle Assembly and declared his decision that China will host a special Plenary Session at the October Assembly in Reykjavík.


CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL – suggested a special plenary GERMANY and the ARCTIC SESSION at the Assembly.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has in a recent letter to President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced her support for the Arctic Circle and its importance as a venue to present the involvement of Germany in the future of the Arctic. Consequently, the program of the October Assembly in Reykjavík will include a special Plenary Session on Germany and the Arctic.

More Assembly news in the coming weeks.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 28th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Thawing Ice and Chilly Diplomacy in the Arctic.

The Opinion Pages | Editorial
Thawing Ice and Chilly Diplomacy in the Arctic.

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, THE NEW YORK TIMES, APRIL 27, 2015

Photo -The Yamal Liquified Natural Gas project, a Russian-French-Chinese joint venture, in the Arctic Circle. Credit Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

So long as the Arctic was mostly frozen solid, the biennial meetings of the eight-nation Arctic Council attracted relatively little attention with their discussions on ways to cooperate on environmental protection, search-and-rescue operations and the like.

But with melting ice opening up northern shipping lanes and access to vast troves of oil, gas and minerals — and with Russia increasingly alienated from the other members on the council and assertive in its claims to the far north — the past weekend’s council meeting in the far-northern Canadian city of Iqaluit sometimes seemed as frigid as the outside air.

At the meeting, the United States assumed the rotating two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, whose other members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden as well as six indigenous groups of the far north. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that protecting the delicate Arctic environment from the consequences of climate change will be a top American priority over the next two years. As important a task will be to prevent the clash with Russia over Ukraine from undermining the cooperation on which the council has operated for the past 20 years.

Russia has steadily increased its military presence in the far north. On the eve of the meeting, a hard-line Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitri Rogozin, traveled to the North Pole to open a scientific research station — and to make clear that Russia intended to protect its claims to the Arctic region, which he proclaimed “a Russian Mecca” on Twitter. In an added provocation, Mr. Rogozin traveled through Norwegian territory on his way, though he is among the Russian officials blacklisted from traveling to much of Europe.

The Obama administration has declared that tensions with Russia will not change its focus on ocean safety, economic development and climate change.

The danger of the Arctic’s falling prey to East-West hostility was sufficiently clear to prompt a group of 45 international experts, government officials and representatives of nongovernmental organizations to meet in Washington in February and issue a unanimous report urging that the region remain outside geopolitical confrontations.

The Arctic Council, never intended to debate military matters, must remain a forum for finding ways to sort out competing claims peacefully.

At the peak of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to ban military activity on the other end of the Earth, in Antarctica. And today, despite all the hostility over Ukraine, the United States and Russia have continued to work together in outer space, showing that cooperation is possible. In the Arctic, it’s essential.

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A version of this editorial appears in print on April 28, 2015, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Thawing Ice and Chilly Diplomacy.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 6th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Andrei Kolesnikov is a senior Associate, and the Chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program, at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
More from this author…
Why Sanctions on Russia Don’t Work
A Blast From the Past
Russian Opposition “in a Great Depression” After Nemtsov Murder

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The Russian Middle Class in a Besieged Fortress.

Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Moskow Center, Russia.
Article April 6, 2015

 carnegie.ru/2015/04/06/russian-mi…

Summary
There is little reason to believe that the Russian middle class will react to the ongoing financial and economic crisis with protests or renewed calls for change. Instead, it seems almost certain that it will opt for strategies of survival and perseverance.

Introduction

How will the Russian middle class react to the effects of low oil prices, Western sanctions, and deep-set economic problems, a state of affairs that some economists have dubbed the “triple whammy”? Unfortunately, these problems are only part of the broader systemic crisis that plagues Russia today. Yet there is little reason to believe that the Russian middle class will react to the ongoing financial and economic crisis with protests or renewed calls for change. Instead, it seems almost certain that this dynamic segment of society will opt for strategies of survival and perseverance rather than articulating a political agenda that challenges the Russian government or its current policies.

The nature and consequences of Russia’s current crisis cannot be reduced to economic issues. Sberbank President German Gref argued in his January 14, 2015, speech at the Gaidar Forum in Moscow that it is important not to overlook the impact of critical governance shortcomings. But instability or gaps in the quality of the state’s administrative capabilities—however important—are not a root cause. Rather, they are one of the effects of a deeper institutional and values-based crisis. All other aspects of the crisis, including the current political situation, merely stem from it. And there should be no question that Russia is indeed in a political crisis, despite outward manifestations of calmness and the consolidation of society and elites around the head of state.

Unfortunately, the triple whammy is not unleashing the forces of “creative destruction” or disruption that some reformist voices had been pinning their hopes on. In many cases, crises enable states to reform political life and move forward. In this sense, the 2008–2009 financial crisis was a lost opportunity for Russia. The crisis did not change behavior among state capitalism’s elites nor did it spur structural reform. Rather, the struggling economy was simply flooded with money from the state’s reserve funds. The state’s playbook conformed with former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s old axiom: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The Economy After Crimea

Russia’s economic problems are certainly significant.

Economic analysts generally agree that Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) will decline by at least 3–7 percent in 2015 while annual inflation will soar. Inflation is forecast by the central bank to peak at 17.0–17.5 percent in the second quarter of 2015.

Headline inflation was 15 percent in January 2015 (from January 2014 to January 2015), and increasing at a rate of 3.9 percent a month—the highest rate since February 1999. The disaggregated components of the inflation numbers also tell a powerful story. Prices for medicine and medical equipment grew 6.6 percent in January (19.4 percent year-on-year). Food prices, excluding fruit and vegetables, were up 3.7 percent in January (18.4 percent year-on-year). Fruit and vegetable prices increased by 22.1 percent in January (40.7 percent year-on-year).

Assessments of the effect of sanctions on overall GDP vary. Experts from FBK Grant Thornton, a business consultancy, suggest that the sanctions will shave off 1.2 percent of Russian GDP by mid-2015.1 The effect of the sharp decline in oil prices on GDP is even greater. Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy experts Sergey Drobyshevsky and Andrey Polbin estimate that a decrease in oil prices to $40 per barrel would translate into a 3.7 percent decline in GDP in constant prices.


Structural problems, for example, state intervention on behalf of favored industries and companies and the blocking of pension reform, are in part linked to the Russian economy’s dependence on oil and gas. They are also tied to the lack of reform in the sectors of the economy (such as healthcare and education) that are human-capital-intensive as well as the lack of resources allocated to these sectors due to inadequate government financing.


As the labor force has shrunk, economists have begun to notice a decline in the skill level of Russian workers. The rector of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Vladimir Mau, has pointed out that “the unemployment rate in Russia is rather low due to the effects of demographic factors. However, a conflict is brewing: on the one hand, the army of retirees is on the rise; on the other, there are young people who are unwilling to fill the jobs being vacated.”2 ?he low-skilled segment of the labor market is also changing. Inflation and a weak ruble have made Russia unattractive even to migrants—the most unpretentious part of the workforce; there was a 70 percent decrease in the number of migrants arriving in Russia in the beginning of 2015.

Another factor contributing to the current situation is the large percentage of workers who are employed in the shadow economy, which, according to official statistics, accounts for 12.5 percent of GDP. According to Rosstat data, in 2011, 22 million Russians—almost a third of the 71-million-person workforce—were employed in informal sectors of the economy. (This sector comprises, for example, many entrepreneurs and their employees, those providing paid services off the books, and agricultural workers.)3 The number is expected to increase as a result of the ongoing decline in real incomes, worsening labor market conditions, employee realignment and reductions at various large-scale enterprises, and other crisis-related factors. Workers in the informal economy pay no taxes and therefore will not be able to contribute to the Pension Fund. According to data from the Russian Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, 20 percent of the able-bodied population is missing from the Pension Fund databases.4
Politics and Policy

While oil price volatility is certainly not a by-product of current Russian economic policy, the other two components of the triple whammy—sanctions and structural problems—have a lot to do with decisions made by the government. Moreover, they are directly related to the nature and content of domestic and foreign policy decisionmaking. In a nutshell, such decisions are increasingly the province of an extremely close-knit and ever-shrinking circle of decisionmakers around Russian President Vladimir Putin, known as “Putin’s friends,” a description that has become increasingly literal.


It is telling that Russia’s economic downturn worsened after the annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014. Macroeconomic indicators looked dreadful by the end of the year. The ruble was the world’s worst-performing currency against the dollar.5 Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin has suggested that the drop in oil prices only accounts for 25 percent of the ruble’s recent depreciation. Kudrin claims that sanctions account for 25 to 40 percent of the currency’s slide with the dollar’s overall surge contributing an additional 5 to 10 percent. Kudrin also highlights the negative effects of “risks, expectations, and fears,” including investors’ lack of confidence in the government’s efforts to improve the investment climate and support economic growth.6

Economic policymaking is increasingly held hostage by a new and unexpected set of actors. For example, any attempts by the government to mount superhuman policy changes in the economic sphere or complex diplomatic maneuvers could be blown to bits if Donetsk People’s Republic leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko were to order his troops to move on the city of Mariupol. Russia’s investment climate, financial stability, and economic development depend more on the actions of separatist leaders in Donetsk and Lugansk, the chief prosecutor, and the Investigative Committee than the central bank’s official monetary and interest rate policies or deputy prime ministers’ declarations at the Davos World Economic Forum. Amid growing isolationism, nationalism, and anti-Western sentiments, the “Zakharchenko Factor” may not be the sole determinant of current developments, but it plays a very important role.

Taxpayer’s Democracy: An Unattained Ideal

Meanwhile, Russians remain quite passive about their economic situation, even as the consequences of the triple whammy gradually emerge.

Both Hegel and Marx wrote about alienation (Entfremdung), specifically, the mutual alienation of the people and their government. On a conceptual level, governments seek to exploit the benefits from GDP, economic rents, and tax revenues for the sake of self-preservation. This goal in turn leads to unproductive government expenditures on defense, law enforcement, and operations that significantly exceed productive government expenditures in other areas, say, education and healthcare.

In Russia, the clique of Putin-era oligarchs is not constrained by political institutions that would ordinarily help relay public opinion to the government. Of course, the Russian political system has never fully subscribed to the principle of “no taxation without representation.” However, under Russia’s particular brand of state capitalism and heavy dependence on oil and gas profits, closed channels of political representation have practically obliterated it.


The president’s inner circle views economic rent as its personal revenue stream or private property, as evidenced by state-owned oil company Rosneft’s request for substantial subsidies from the National Wealth Fund, which was created in order to accumulate oil-based revenues to compensate for a projected state-backed Pension Fund deficit. This is quite logical for a system in which having power is synonymous with owning property; this so-called power-property relationship is also sanctified by the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church. The church is increasingly playing a role geared toward maximizing the effect of pro-government propaganda and ensuring greater conformity inside Russian society with its socially conservative goals and values. (The persecution of the band Pussy Riot is only the most well-known example of these efforts.)


However, such an arrangement contradicts the Russian constitution, which states that “land and other natural resources shall be utilized and protected in the Russian Federation as the basis of the life and activity of the peoples living on the territories concerned.” Those resources were not intended to be the basis of life and activity for a handful of beneficiaries of state capitalism and their families.


?conomic rent is alienated from the people, and so is the government. People believe that they have no way to advocate meaningful change in their country and thus allow the establishment to make decisions on its own. The classic Putin-era social contract (“freedom in exchange for sausage”) that emerged during the period of high oil prices gave way in 2014 to “freedom in exchange for Crimea and national pride.”

The government is also alienated by virtue of the fact that elections now distort the principles of representation more than ever before. This fact triggered the street protests in 2011–2012, when some in the middle class demanded democracy and fair elections. These demands were perfectly in line with Seymour Lipset’s theory that higher living standards, education, and income are the foundations for a realization by increasingly affluent members of society of the need for greater democracy.7

In 2011, Russia’s urban middle class offered some support for Lipset’s hypothesis by advancing their demands for democracy. Yet in 2014, after failing to achieve their original goal, they set aside such political interests in favor of the “Crimea is ours” (Krym nash) concept. In essence, they agreed that the concoction of hybrid and trade wars was better for the motherland than its presence, to put it pompously, in the family of European nations.

The year 2014 marked the degradation and militarization of state policies and mass consciousness. These policies were a striking contrast to the recent behavior of modern democratic societies, which consider military losses unacceptable and regard appeals to an entity’s sacred status as a relic of bygone theocratic eras.8

Along with the post-Crimean consolidation of Russian society, sociologists have found that Russians stayed true to a core belief: “We cannot have an impact on anything so therefore we do not want to impact anything.” According to a Levada Center poll, about 60 percent of the population agree with the statement that they are unable to affect the situation in the country. Close to 50 percent believe that they can do nothing to influence events in their own city or town.9

Such views give rise to paternalistic attitudes like “let the state decide everything for me.” These attitudes correlate with the relatively insignificant contribution that taxpayers make to federal and local budgets compared with the budget revenues derived from sales of oil and gas.

Kudrin has described the public’s alienation from the decisionmaking process in the following terms. “In the 2000s, the country’s prosperity grew largely due to the revenue from natural resources,” he wrote. “But the people were not the ones benefiting from it. In terms of GDP, out of 37 percent of all collected taxes and other payments, rents constituted more than a third, while individual income tax accounted for only about 3 percent. . . . Officials easily and freely redistributed easy money—as a result, no feedback mechanisms were created.”10

While the Russian citizen is alienated from the rent revenues, he knows that his livelihood depends on them. He is willing to accept them from the state, but at the same time he develops an inferiority complex about his material wealth, knowing that he did not exactly earn the money. This belief allows pro-redistribution coalitions—which divide rent among those close to the authorities’ clans as well as lobbyists and pressure groups—to claim their “right” to “their” share in the redistribution of public funds. This stance seems extremely provocative in the midst of the economic crisis but clearly indicates who holds the keys to the house of Russian politics. For example, Nikolai Podguzov, the deputy minister for economic development, recently announced that “Rosneft requests a total of 1.3 trillion rubles from the National Wealth Fund (NWF) for 28 projects. . . . Rosneft proposes that the NWF finance projects worth over 3 trillion rubles.”11 Not surprisingly, such a state of affairs angers the members of other pro-redistribution coalitions.

Out of this emerges a level of passivity among the public and acceptance of the consequences of the triple whammy as they gradually materialize. It appears that there never was and never will be a taxpayer democracy in the current rentier system—after all, individual contributions to the national well-being are quite small when contrasted with what is received from hydrocarbon-based rents. The public’s impact on government decisions, their own political participation, and their involvement in civic life are just as insignificant. The process of spending taxpayer money does not concern the taxpayers themselves.

But when the oil-oozing, ostensibly collective pie is complemented by the mantra “Crimea is ours,” it destroys both consensus-based and participatory democracy, along with any sense of civic duty or collective effort. Crimea was not a collective effort by any stretch—the Russian public stormed the peninsula while sitting in front of their televisions. Rather, Crimea was a gift from the government.

In their heart of hearts, Russians do not consider themselves creators of national wealth. That further discourages most forms of political participation, which should ideally be directed at achieving a more rational, honest, and equitable distribution of the goods and services produced by the economy.

This reality explains the public’s willingness to tolerate just about everything and its unwillingness to protest. It also explains the lack of incentive for private initiative, for private investment, for innovation, and for the protection of private property. For their part, state investments further discourage private economic activity and fail to spur economic growth. Generally speaking, state-generated investment produces a pool of money that either provokes inflation or encourages capital flight to countries with more attractive investment climates. The Russian economy needs state investment as much as Soviet-era enterprises needed foreign machinery, most of which was never unpacked and rusted away in leaky warehouses.
The Class Pyramid

The triple whammy is a blow to all income levels of Russian society, but it especially affects lower- and middle-income groups who are more sensitive to price increases. The general level of inflation that took off in early 2015 severely impacted the middle class, the major consumer of various services and durable goods. Real disposable incomes fell 7.3 percent in December 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. According to a January 2015 Public Opinion Foundation poll, 62 percent of the population describes the situation as an economic crisis and sees “dreadful inflation” as the main manifestation of the crisis.12

Research on the middle class by the director of the Independent Institute for Social Policy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Tatyana Maleva, suggests that the social structure of Russian households has not undergone significant change in recent years. According to Maleva, about 70 percent of the population are below the middle class. Approximately 40 percent of households belonging to that group are at risk of poverty, while 30 percent could potentially join the middle and upper-middle class.

The size of the middle class can be measured in a number of ways based on different criteria. A rough estimate of the size of the middle class puts the number at around 20 percent of the population.13 While some other studies have come up with different numbers, an approach based on analysis of 2012 Eurobarometer data supports Tatyana Maleva’s conclusions.14

In a political sense, the group at risk of poverty makes up the regime’s social and electoral base. Not coincidentally, they are also the main recipients of public funds. Even amid the constraints imposed by the triple whammy, the government will therefore strive to ensure that this group does not end up below the poverty line. Humanitarian considerations play a fairly minor role in these efforts, which are based on cold political calculations and the regime’s desire to discourage the creation of social tensions. Social mobility from the middle to the upper-middle class, which has been long stifled by the highly monopolistic economy controlled by a small number of political-business elites, may cease altogether as a result of the current crisis.

Thus, the regime’s social goal is to preserve the class pyramid, which emerged during the oil boom and economic recovery of the 2000s and has enabled the system of power-property and crony capitalism to reproduce itself. Evaporating material gains are being replaced with spiritual appeals, which will involve using cruder and more archaic propaganda, including indoctrination by the top brass of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the increasingly selective application of repressive laws.
The Estate Structure of the Resource State

This is only a slight correction of the regime’s principal course of action, which Higher School of Economics Professor Simon Kordonsky describes as “the suzerain takes care of his people—the amalgamation of estates—by distributing resources in a way that ensures that the privileged estates don’t get too brazen and the underprivileged ones don’t die from hunger.” Notably, this theory views modern Russian society as estate-based rather than class-based. And, as Kordonsky explains, “The distribution of resources is at the core of estate-based society, in contrast to class society, whose economy is mainly based on converting resources into capital and their broader reproduction.”15 In essence, this is status commercialization.

Status can be acquired by assuming high office (hence all the talk of regime figures buying top positions, seats in parliament, and so on). It can also be bestowed by the suzerain (look at the members of the Kremlin’s inner circle, who share similar security and intelligence backgrounds with Putin), and it can be inherited. Children of high-ranking officials and state capitalists from the redistributional coalitions take charge of high offices and even receive government decorations. Naturally, concludes Kordonsky, “Such a system does not need democracy as an institution for reconciling interests, nor does it focus on the needs of individuals who fall outside of the estate system.”16

Privatization in the 1990s was a way to utilize (and increase) resources within the market framework. The “re-privatization” of the 2000s in favor of state capitalism and figures from the president’s inner circle was a way to escape the market framework and return to a system based on estates.

Instead of encouraging middle-class growth, this type of estate structure actually slows it down. Quite often, one can only join the middle class—at least in terms of income levels—by working in a system dominated by the most privileged estates, for example, state-run corporations and companies that live off of government contracts or tenders.
The Conformist Class: Survival Instead of Change

How will the Russian middle class respond to the triple whammy? How will its political behavior and socioeconomic well-being be affected?

Some researchers point out that the middle class has been “the main actor of socioeconomic adaptation” in recent years.17 At the same time, it is still not large enough, strong enough, or confident enough in its future well-being to clearly formulate a political outlook or to insist on proper representation in government bodies and decisions. Other economists also talk about its “low bargaining power.”18

This bargaining power decreased even more after the failure of the 2011–2012 protests. After Dmitry Medvedev left the president’s office, both society and the loyal, liberal political elite lost incentives to construct political, lobbying, and civic coalitions in favor of modernization. Thus, modernization coalitions were replaced with redistributional, estate-based ones.

The big question is whether the middle class, which is quite adaptable, even wants such coalition-based bargaining power. In reality, its political behavior and positions are far removed from the romantic image that took shape in Moscow’s streets and squares and in the independent media during the democratic illusions of late 2011 and the first half of 2012.

In a 2014 book, Francis Fukuyama argues that the middle class has been the engine behind practically every recent protest in various countries across the world.19 What’s more, even a fairly elected but ineffective or corrupt government does not enjoy sufficient legitimacy in the eyes of the most advanced segments of the population. As Fukuyama writes, “Government actually had to deliver better results if it was to be regarded as legitimate, and needed to be more flexible and responsive to changing public demands.”20

That was exactly the chief motivation behind the 2011–2012 protests. Russians were dissatisfied with the government, and its legitimacy was diminishing as a result of dishonesty and ineffectiveness.

But the political protests that grew out of the public’s stance against the regime’s corruption were mostly limited to Moscow and involved only a very small part of the educated, urban middle class (although some upper- and lower-income segments of the population joined at times). This social stratum was immediately named the “creative class,” which, in turn, led to the shorter and more derisive word, “creatives.” While this concept does have something in common with the term coined by Richard Florida, the Russian meaning of the term does not actually cover people who are engaged in creative work. It refers instead to a small segment of Russian citizens who are dissatisfied with the regime and its authoritarian rule, predominantly for political and ethical reasons. In their beliefs and goals, creatives today somewhat resemble the democratic intelligentsia of the late 1980s.

Nor is the creative class always synonymous with the middle class, especially in terms of income levels (although its behavior does correspond to that of the middle class). In addition, its opposition activities sharply contrast with the conformism exhibited by the majority of the middle class. Contrary to expectations, this conformism will only grow or remain unchanged as a result of the triple whammy. Despite some sporadic protests, the majority will more readily embrace the strategies and tactics of survival instead of protests and demands for change, at least in 2015.

Consider the 2012 Eurobarometer survey of the middle class.21 According to the data, against the backdrop of blatantly dishonest elections that provoked protests in 2011, the middle class actually voted for United Russia—the pro-regime party. And at higher strata of Russian society, the level of support for the regime actually increased. The motivations underlying voting behavior varied: some voters had benefited handsomely during the economic boom of the early 2000s while others became complacent with their lot. Either way, conformism became the overarching trend.

The middle class was only slightly more active in terms of participation in opposition rallies (2.3 percent versus 1.9 percent at lower-income levels). The upper-middle class seemed to be the most active (11.7 percent), but this stratum was also quite active when it came to attendance at pro-government rallies (6.7 percent versus 1.0 percent of the middle class).

The lack of participation by the middle class—either in opposition to or in support of the government—suggests that its conformism is inherently passive. It does not express passionate or unequivocal support for the government; rather, the middle class is simply not ready to struggle for change. (It seems that active support for the regime manifested itself only after the referendum in Crimea and did not diminish much, if at all, as the Ukraine crisis worsened.)

According to the Eurobarometer survey, the middle class was evenly split in its assessment of the political situation (43 and 44 percent were satisfied or dissatisfied with it, respectively). In fact, the majority of respondents wanted no change to the political situation, while 12 percent preferred radical change.

The middle class’s relationship to the European Union (EU) is further proof of its conformism: 18.2 percent of the middle class and 27.8 percent of the upper-middle class wanted Russia to distance itself from the EU as much as possible. It is quite indicative of the mood in the country that the lower-middle class was the biggest supporter of EU integration, at 23.4 percent. These numbers have changed in the direction of greater “patriotism” for the time being. A January 2015 Levada Center poll, for example, demonstrated an increase in negative attitudes toward the United States and EU countries to 81 and 71 percent, respectively.


Conclusion

In his 1997 work “Anomalies of Economic Growth,” Yegor Gaidar, the architect of Russian reform, noted that two main social groups are interested in liberal market reforms in Russia: “The middle class, which needs a level playing field, effective protection of private property, and a government that is not cumbersomely involved in economic affairs; and the intelligentsia—those who are connected to the science, education, healthcare, culture, and other such sectors—to whom the redistribution of resources objectively reflects the economic needs of the country.” Russia’s developmental perspectives depend on the combined resources of these two groups.

In the nearly two decades since Gaidar began his work, by and large, very little social change has come to Russia: those in the middle class are considered the agents of change. The creative class can be considered the new intelligentsia.

Nevertheless, the coalition for modernization that began to emerge under Dmitry Medvedev was never realized. The signal from above that permitted the very existence of such a coalition was unceremoniously cut off, while the politician who had the best chance to launch perestroika 2.0 surrendered power based on his own free will.

The Russian model of change can only work if the demand for modernization expressed from below is noticed and clearly approved from above. In such a case, the notorious middle-class conformism toward official government policy could yet play a constructive role. If the higher-ups allow democracy, this brand of conformism implies that citizens will recognize that it must be supported and taken advantage of. As for the creative potential of the Russian middle class, it may very well serve as the engine of economic liberalization and political democratization, if it receives a level of representation in the government.

However, the creative forces among the agents of change can lie dormant for extremely long periods of time. After all, modernization coalitions in Venezuela and Iran have never really gained momentum, and those countries have experienced their own analogues to the triple whammy. So far, these forces have not yet fully shaken the Russian middle class.

We are now anxiously waiting for the agents of modernization, who have turned into the agents of mobilization, to finally come to their senses. But we probably will need to wait quite a bit longer. Give it a year or two.


Notes

1 “??????? ????? ?????? 1,2% ??? – ???????????? ???????? ???,” [The price of sanctions to Russia—1.2% of GDP: The research of the FBK company] FBK Grant Thornton, January 12, 2015, www.fbk.ru/press-center/news/sank….

2 “?????? ????????? ?????????????? ????? «????????»: ????????????? ?????? ? ?????–2015,” [The discussion club “Academy” first meeting: The economic challenges and risks in 2015] Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, December 19, 2014, www.iep.ru/ru/19-12-2014-pervoe-z….

3 Maxim Tovkaylo, “???????: 38 ??? ??????? ?????? ‘????????? ??? ? ???,’” [Golodets: It’s incomprehensible what 38 million of Russians are doing and where] Vedomosti, April 3, 2013, www.vedomosti.ru/career/news/1072….

4 Lyudmila Klimenteva, “???????: ????? 20% ????????? ????? ???????? ??? ????????? ??????,” [Topilin: Approximately 20% of the population can remain without noncontributory pension] Vedomosti, January 26, 2015, www.vedomosti.ru/finance/articles….

5 Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik, “The Chilly Fallout Between Putin and His Oligarch Pals,” Bloomberg, January 22, 2015, www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-22….

6 Gaidar Institute, 2014.

7 A number of researchers have found empirical evidence for this controversial modernization hypothesis put forward by Seymour Lipset. For instance, Robert J. Barro, Determinants of Economic Growth: A Cross-Country Empirical Study, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997).

8 Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 99.

9 Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov, ????????? ???????????? ??????? ? ??????? ?????????? ??????? [The potential of the civic participation in solving social problems] (Moscow: Levada Center, 2014), www.levada.ru/books/potentsial-gr….

10 Alexei Kudrin, “????????? ? ???????? ? ??????? ???????” [Economy and politics in search of a balance] ????? ???????, no. 2-3 (Moscow: Moscow School of Civic Education, 2014). otetrad.ru/article-763.html.

11 Margarita Lyutova, “‘????????’ ????????? ?? ??? 1,3 ???? ?????? ?? 28 ????????” [Rosneft asked for 1.3 billion rubles from the National Wealth Fund] Vedomosti, January 28, 2015, www.vedomosti.ru/companies/news/3….

12 “???????? ? ??????????? ?????????????? ???????” [Russians about manifestations of the economic crisis] Public Opinion Foundation, January 21, 2015, fom.ru/Ekonomika/11919.

13 Tatyana Maleva and Lilia Ovcharova, ?????????? ??????? ?????? ???????? ? ?? ???? ?????????????? ????? [Russian middle classes on the eve and at the peak of economic growth] (Moscow, 2008), 73.

14 Svetlana Misikhina, ?????????-????????????? ?????????????? ? ?????????-???????????? ????????? ???????? ?????? ? ?????????? ????????? [Socioeconomic characteristics and value-political choices of the middle class in the Russian Federation] preprint edition (Moscow: Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, 2014).

15 Simon Kordonsky, ????????? ????????? ????????????? ?????? [The estate structure of the post-Soviet Russia] (Moscow: Public Opinion Foundation, 2008), 28.

16 Ibid., 34.

17 Tatyana Maleva et al., ???????????? ????????? ?????????? ???????? ?????????? ????????? ?? 2050 [The long-term concept of social policy of the Russian Federation until 2050] preprint edition (Moscow: Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, 2014), 43.

18 Alexander Auzan et al., ??????? ????? ? ????????????: ???????? ? ???????????? ????????????? ? ?????????-???????????? ?????????? ? ?????? [The middle class and modernization: Hypotheses on the formation of economic and sociopolitical institutions in Russia] (Moscow: 2009), 264.

19 Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), 6.

20 Ibid.

21 The data are cited from Svetlana Misikhina, ?????????-????????????? ?????????????? [Socioeconomic characteristics].

Read more at: carnegie.ru/2015/04/06/russian-mi…

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 10th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Argument
The Kremlin Pulls on Georgia

It’s time for the West to stop taking Tbilisi for granted.

By Michael Cecire
Foreign Policy Magazine, March 9, 2015

As Russian forces consolidate their gains in Ukraine over the flat protests of Western leaders, the specter of Russian revanchism is keeping much of Eastern Europe on edge. But lumbering tanks and legions of insta-separatists aren’t the only concern. Ukraine isn’t Russia’s only target.

Perhaps most alarming are the warning signs going off in Georgia, a steadfast Euro-Atlantic partner where a pro-Western political consensus has long been a foreign-policy calling card. A long-standing opponent of Russian military adventurism, Georgia sought escape velocity from Russian regional dominance by courting membership in Euro-Atlantic structures and earned a reputation as an enthusiastic and credible Western partner. But

Western quiescence in the face of Russian territorial aggression is starting to have an effect.

Western quiescence in the face of Russian territorial aggression is starting to have an effect. After decades of acrimony in which Georgians have watched Russian proxies occupy 20 percent of their territory and ethnically cleanse some 300,000 of their compatriots, certain groups are starting to ask if maintaining close ties to the West is worth all the loss. Increasingly, Georgians are beginning to think that it isn’t.

The groups spearheading Russian influence operations in Georgia fly beneath the international radar under the cloak of local-language media and the oft-repeated surety of pro-Western sentiment. But they can be seen protesting in Tbilisi streets, preaching in Georgian churches, and holding improbably well-funded campaign rallies ahead of elections. The evidence shows that Russian influence in Georgia is growing stronger. (In the photo, a Stalin impersonator poses at a memorial service for the Soviet dictator in his Georgian hometown of Gori.)

But at Washington roundtables and in private conversations, Western officials and experts tend to downplay the possibility of Russian-exported propaganda taking root in Georgia. The root of this complacency is tied to regular polling from the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) that has consistently showed public support for Euro-Atlantic integration at between 60 and 70 percent. Successive governments have relied on this popular approval to justify their Western-facing foreign-policy agendas.

So support for Euro-Atlantic integration is broad. But is it deep? Those who have spent time with ordinary Georgians say the reality, as is often the case, is far more complex.

There, in a scene in the popular Georgian soap opera Chemi Tsolis Dakalebi (My Wife’s Best Friends), revelers at a wedding reception are interrupted by an announcement that Georgia has just been awarded a long-coveted “MAP” (membership action plan), a prelude to NATO membership. The announcement shocks the crowd into a stunned silence, which then gives way to raucous cheers. One character, while clapping and celebrating along with the others, turns to another partygoer and asks: “What’s a MAP?”

While the scene colorfully illuminates NATO’s outsized social, and even civilizational, pull among Georgians, it also suggests a harsher truth: that Georgian society’s Western moorings may be more emotive than well-informed. The headline numbers from public opinion polls don’t tell the whole story. Look deeper into the data, and the picture is much more worrisome.

According to an NDI poll last August, integration with the West was at best a tertiary issue for Georgians. Instead, “kitchen table” issues dominated respondents’ concerns, with worries about jobs (63 percent) and poverty (32 percent) eclipsing other issues. NATO and EU integration came in far behind at 10th and 17th, respectively. And of 21 issues polled, Georgians picked NATO and EU membership as the top issues the government spent too much time discussing.

But most concerning, buried deep in the survey results, were signs of growing support for joining the Eurasian Union, a Moscow-led EU “alternative.” A full 20 percent favored the idea of Georgian membership. This percentage has risen steadily from 11 percent in late 2013 to 16 percent in mid-2014. Who are these Georgians who would surrender their country’s sovereignty to the same power that keeps a steely grip on Georgian territory and carves other neighboring states with impunity?

Part of the answer can be found in a budding segment of the nongovernmental sector, consisting of innocuously named pro-Russian groups like the “Eurasian Institute,” “Eurasian Choice,” and “The Earth Is Our Home.” Many of these organizations pop in and out of existence as needed — the “Peace Committee of Georgia” one week, something else the next — but they are often tied to the same group of pro-Russian ideologues and policy entrepreneurs who make regular pilgrimages to Moscow and, according to Georgian officials in the ruling party and the opposition, almost certainly receive Kremlin funding. Their common message isn’t high-church Russian apologia or Soviet nostalgia, but rather “Eurasianism” and “Orthodox civilization” — Kremlin shorthand for Putinism. Appeals to Georgian social conservatism, economic vulnerability, and lingering anger over past government abuses are winning converts within a population increasingly impatient with Georgia’s unrequited love affair with the West.

In mid-2014, Eurasianist groups made headlines for their raucous opposition to an anti-discrimination bill making its way through the Georgian parliament. Their opposition centered on language in the bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which opponents claimed was tantamount to promoting non-heterosexual lifestyles. But they didn’t come to the protests alone — accompanying the pro-Russian activists were unmistakably garbed clerics from the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The church, too, was nonplussed over the anti-discrimination bill and called for language protecting sexual minorities to be ejected. One of the oldest existing Christian churches in the world, the Georgian Orthodox Church is both a touchstone for Georgian nationalism and reliably polls as the most trusted institution in the country. But the church’s common cause with the Eurasianists was not limited to tactical alliances over anti-gay rhetoric. Although nominally in favor of Georgian membership in the European Union, influential factions within the Orthodox hierarchy openly stoke religious nationalism and express admiration for Russia.

Today, church representatives are increasingly seen as a vanguard for reactionary activity. In mid-2013, clergy members were on the front lines of a horrifying anti-gay pogrom in central Tbilisi. Church officials have justified protests against and attacks on Georgian Muslims. And church leaders have called the West “worse than Russia,” sometimes describing the 2008 Russian invasion as a kind of heavenly intervention against Western integration. Such language is echoed by Georgia’s Eurasianist NGOs.

The growing profile of pro-Russian organizations and the sharpening anti-Western stance of the church is converging with a third leg in an emerging pro-Russian triad: the revitalization of anti-Western political parties.

Since the 2012 change in power, pro-Russian politicians have risen from the darkest margins of Georgian political life into an increasingly viable political force.

Since the 2012 change in power, pro-Russian politicians have risen from the darkest margins of Georgian political life into an increasingly viable political force.

Onetime pro-Western advocate turned pro-Russian political agitator Nino Burjanadze has fashioned a political coalition aimed squarely at breaking Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic consensus. In presidential and local elections in 2013 and 2014, respectively, Burjanadze managed to get about 10 percent of the vote, armed with Eurasianist rhetoric and fueled by massive influxes of what was likely Russian money. And the rapidly growing Alliance of Patriots — a populist party with anti-Western leanings, which recently held a major rally in Tbilisi — won almost 5 percent in June 2014. If these numbers hold, parliamentary elections in 2016 could very well yield a very differently oriented Georgian government. A 15 percent result would be more than enough to send pro-Russian deputies into parliament in force, shattering cross-partisan foreign-policy unity and potentially playing kingmakers in coalition talks.

Irakli Alasania, Georgia’s former defense minister, has Russia on his mind. “There are very active pro-Russia groups and thousands of protesters who are against Western integration,” he told me recently, referring to the Alliance of Patriots rally. He expressed worry that the current government is downplaying a growing Russian threat. With his own Free Democrats now part of the parliamentary opposition, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition’s ranks of solidly pro-Western parties has noticeably thinned, and the leverage of socially conservative, protectionist factions within the coalition has increased.

But this is probably only the beginning. If trends hold, Georgia’s foreign-policy consensus — long taken for granted in the West — could begin to unravel in earnest. Although Georgian Dream, to its credit, has managed to skate the knife’s edge between geopolitical pragmatism and Euro-Atlantic enthusiasm, it is increasingly losing popularity among once-hopeful voters. As things stand, parliament in 2016 looks like it will be very different from today’s parliament. The pro-Western opposition United National Movement will likely see its 51 seats slashed by half or more. In its place is likely to be a collection of openly anti-Western deputies from Burjanadze’s coalition and the Alliance of Patriots. If it stays together, Georgian Dream may well remain the largest parliamentary bloc, but the introduction of large anti-Western groupings into parliament could compel it to dilute, or even abandon, its pro-Western policies out of political necessity.

This trajectory ought to be a cause for deep concern. Even a Georgia that tried to split its orientation between the West and Moscow would likely sink into the quicksand of Russian dominance, as have each of the other paragons of this strategy — Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. This result would mean the consolidation of Russian geostrategic supremacy over the Caucasus and, with it, a complete Russian monopoly over trans-Eurasian energy and trade flows.

There are ways the West could throw a much-needed lifeline to Georgian liberals.

There are ways the West could throw a much-needed lifeline to Georgian liberals. While the association agreement with the European Union signed last June is surely a welcome symbol, and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area has great future potential, the real prize for most ordinary Georgians is the prospect of visa-free travel to the EU. If this is introduced this year, as widely hoped, this could be a real boon for Western credibility. And if not outright NATO membership, other strong gestures, such as U.S. major non-NATO ally status, would be a relatively painless upgrade that would enshrine what is essentially the status quo while recognizing Georgia’s long-outsized dedication and contributions to the Euro-Atlantic space.

What is clear is that the days of taking Georgia’s pro-Western consensus for granted are quickly coming to a close. Russian influence is resurgent across its periphery, from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus to Central Asia, and Georgia remains a long-coveted prize. It may have taken successive military interventions, information warfare, and influence operations, but Moscow looks to be turning a corner in its bid to regain Georgia — both by hook and by crook.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 21st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Israel offers to mediate talks between Ukraine, Russia.

by Maxim A. Suchkov – posted February 1, 2015 – Al-Monitor.

Maxim A. Suchkov, a former Fulbright visiting fellow at Georgetown University (2010–11), is currently a fellow at the Institute for Strategic Studies at the North Caucasian city of Pyatigorsk, Russia, and a contributor to the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Eurasia Outlook. On Twitter: @Max_A_Suchkov

Read more: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/original…

Summary? – Print Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman believes his country is uniquely positioned to negotiate with Russia and Ukraine.

On Jan. 26, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman visited Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. While the encounter took place during the 70th anniversary observance of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, the two diplomats took the opportunity to check up on their busy bilateral agenda. They touched primarily on six main issues — the overall situation in the Middle East, Russia’s role in the region, the course of the “5+1” negotiations on Iranian nuclear program, Lebanon, the situation in Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the eve of his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, in an interview with the Russian media agency RIA Novosti, Liberman said Israel would be prepared, if necessary, to mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

The statement drew mixed reactions from both Israel and Russia, but the very intent, if it is at all serious, could be interesting to think about.

Over the more than yearlong conflict in Ukraine, Israel turned out to be neutral when it comes to Russia’s actions in its neighboring country. Israel’s diplomats were not present during the vote on the US-supported UN resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which made it look as if Israel were avoiding showing its stance on the issue. Although Tel Aviv explained that the vote coincided with a strike of Israel’s foreign affairs workers, few believed this explanation. Later, Israel refused to join the US-led sanctions regime against Russia. In both instances, the Obama administration, which cannot boast good relations with the Netanyahu government, took it as a sign of ingratitude toward Israel’s prime strategic ally at a time when America needed it most.

Essentially, while certainly not an act of support for Russian policies, it also was a sign of no opposition. At the initial stages of the war in Ukraine, in early 2014, the Israeli foreign minister, speaking on a TV program, said that “everybody understands that the situation [in Ukraine] is about standing up for the interests of each party [Russia and the US] in accordance with their own foreign policy courses.” That was a message that Israelis see the situation as a conflict of interests, not a conflict of principles. At the same interview, he declined any meddling with this conflict as a mediator between Russia and the US over Ukraine, saying Israel had enough to worry about with its own challenges.

The Israelis insisted, however, that neutrality didn’t mean inaction. A year hence, Tel Aviv wants to raise its political profile as a peacemaker, not between the Kremlin and the White House, but between Moscow and Kiev.

Indeed, as surprising as it may sound, Israel is uniquely positioned to mediate the conflict and ease the “Ukraine-Russia fatigue” that dominates the European security agenda. In this regard, Israel has three principal advantages. First, it clearly enjoys equally good relations with both Russia and Ukraine — a political luxury few nations can boast in today’s much-polarized context. Certainly, Russian-Israeli relations are far from being ideal, with the majority of the discrepancies lying in different priorities in the Middle East rooted in their own vision of national interests and historic political trajectories. At the same time, the Israeli leadership believes good relations with Russia are a “perceived necessity.”

Second, Israel possesses a key foreign policy resource — the large Jewish diaspora both in Russia and Ukraine. The number of Jews in the two countries is hard to estimate. Due to a well-known history of oppression, many had to flee, while others decline to identify themselves. Current estimates vary: in Russia from 190,000 to 228,000 to 380,000. That represents approximately 0.14% of Russia’s population and 1.7% of the global Jewish population, making Russia the country with the seventh-largest Jewish population. In Ukraine, the Jewish population was historically greater. At present, the figures range from 67,000 to 80,000 (0.16% national share and 0.6% global share). Other accounts say the Jewish population is as high as 300,000.

Most important, many Jewish figures occupy top positions in politics and business and have had significant influence on the two spheres. Therefore, Tel Aviv has a direct interest in their security and peaceful settlement of the crisis. Several influential Israeli public figures and politicians, including some from the Knesset, are actively raising awareness against more frequent instances of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

Finally, the number of Israelis of Ukrainian and Russian descent in Israel itself is high. Many Israeli natives of the post-Soviet states occupying top political leadership positions have contributed to shaping a balanced stance on the conflict. While opinions on the crisis in Ukraine within this group are split, their expertise and action helped the State of Israel shape a policy that remained firm to outside pressure, including that of the US.

Liberman, a native of the Republic of Moldova, said, “It is precisely because we are from these countries that we can understand both parties. … If someone told me some time ago that Russia and Ukraine would become enemies, I would have told them to see a doctor.” Therefore, for a large group of Israeli policymakers, the crisis in Ukraine has a clear-cut personal connection. Yet at the same time, being foreign statesmen, they take a neutral position that potentially makes them “natural mediators.”

This is the benchmark data. In the end, however, the proposal represents the intent of only a fragment of the Israeli political spectrum and society — those coming from the post-Soviet space — and finds opposition from other Israeli groups.

In truth, taking the mediator’s burden in the conflict that already involves — in one form or another — a dozen actors carries high risks for Israel’s reputation and would engender an enormous, perhaps impossible, responsibility; in other words, it is a thorny path that may bear little fruit. At the same time, when no negotiation format seems to be working, Israel offers a straw that Russia and Ukraine could consider grabbing. Israel’s image as a middleman in a conflict may be something not many are accustomed to, and it does have some legitimate limitations. But what it can do is offer an important channel of communication.

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Bennett, Liberman battle for defense portfolio
Ben Caspit

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