Saturday, August 04, 2007

Russia's Gone Mad

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Russia's Gone Mad

Relations between Russia and the rest of the modern world have plummeted to new lows this month with Presidential madman Vladimir Putin deliberately sabotaging his countrys' relationship with nearly every single neighboring country. A major diplomatic row between England and Russia continues to expand, with Putin gleefully fanning the flames by expelling numerous British diplomats after London threw out several Russian diplomats over the radiological attack that former KGB agents conducted on England last year. This shocking and unprecedented attack killed one person (a former Russian) and exposed hundreds of people to radioactive polonium, forcing the British into reacting and demanding the assassins be sent to London for trial. Putin has refused and continues to worsen Russian relations with the West by pulling out of the successful CFE treaty in a fit of pique. The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (which was signed in the dying months of the Cold War) is regarded as the cornerstone of stability in Europe. It placed limits on the number of conventional weapons and foreign forces that can be deployed among member nations. And Russia had everything to win by freezing the CFE treaty and the West has very little leverage to stop it. Canceling the CFE agreement is an effort by Russia to undermine US and NATO projects. After years of humiliation, Russia is taking its' revenge. The Americans are weakened by, and bogged down in, Iraq and are unable to stop Russia. Putin also intends to pull out of other treaties that Russia agreed to over the last 20 years, including the hugely successful (and popular) INF treaty and threatening to base cruise missiles and other ballistic missiles smack dab in the middle of NATO countries (see the Kalingrad map below).

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The Financial Times reports that First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has said Russia could put cruise missiles Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, if the U.S. goes ahead with plans for a missile defense shield in eastern Europe. “If our proposal is accepted, then the need will disappear for us to place... new weapons, including missiles, in the European part of the country, including Kaliningrad, to counter those threats that... will appear if the decision is taken to place the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic,” Ivanov said in televised remarks.

Also this week, Russia’s ambassador to Britain, Yury Fedotov, has charged that Russian residents and tourists in the UK face discrimination in shops and restaurants and even serious assaults. “I can quote examples where Russians were beaten by youngsters in London,” Fedotov told the Sunday Times. “Tourists, visitors, businessmen. They were severely beaten and the police did not open any investigation on these particular incidents.” Yet offenses committed by Russians are dealt with swiftly and disproportionately, he claimed. “I have an example when a woman had a minor violation, a traffic violation, and she was arrested by police... [and] handcuffed,” Fedotov said. “Maybe that is as a result of the stereotype that any Russian is connected to the mafia.”


Poland and the Czech Republic
Relations with neighboring Poland the Czech Republic have also plunged to new lows as Russia threatened both of those nations with nuclear weapons if they let US defensive interceptor missiles be based in their countries. Russia's highest ranking military officer said that the Poles had better prepare themselves by buying gas masks. This sort of rhetoric was widely condemned by other NATO nations and relations between Moscow and Warsaw plunged to the frostiest levels Europe has ever seen.

Canada and the United States
This week, Russia has seriously irritated the United States and Canada by claiming parts of the North Pole (the underwater Lomonosov Ridge), something that did not amuse the Canadian Foreign Minister. "This isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and plant flags and say 'we're claiming this territory'," Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said. Next week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to tour the Arctic, while a massive military exercise "designed to assert Canadian sovereignty in the north" kicks off at the southern tip of Baffin Island. The exercise would include coast guard frigates, navy submarines and military aircraft. The Russians were notably not impressed, with Russian Dum member and leader of the exepidition Artur Chilingarov saying, “Our task is to remind the world that Russia is a great Arctic and scientific power.” It's becoming very clear that we are going to be unable to work with the Russians at all.....unless we are willing to give back Alaska!

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Denmark and Norway
Russia, Canada, the US, Denmark and Norway are at odds over parts of the 1.2million square kilometres of Arctic seabed. The international rivalry in the region has intensified as the world's energy reserves grow scarce and as the melting of the polar ice caps makes the area more accessible for research and economic activity. As well, time is running out for signatories to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to stake their claims to the region, as deadlines loom to prove their rights. Scientists believe warming could open up the famed Northwest Passage to year-round cargo shipping by 2050, as well as lay bare an estimated nine billion tonnes of Arctic oil and gas deposits. Denmark and Norway are also at odds with Russian adventurism in areas of the ocean that they claim, especially in the Artic region. Putin, however, does not seem to be in a helpful mood at all, dismissing all nations claims unilaterally. Yesterday, Washington bluntly warned Moscow that any attempt to claim sovereignty over the Arctic would not be tolerated after Russia planted its national flag under the North Pole on Thursday.

Iran, Venezuela and Syria
Last week, Vladmir Putin also agree to a huge multi-billion dollar arms deal to arm Iran with over 300 super-advanced military fighters, a blatant slap in the face of US foreign policy. The crisis between America and Iran is boiling over into what could possibly be a major military showdown, and Russia is arming Americas' enemies. If it acquired the Flankers, Iran would enjoy a quantum leap forward in its air power capability. Putin also has signed deals with Venezuela, the South American nation that has practically declared war on the United States. Russia has already supplied Iran with modern surface-to-air missile defense systems, intended to protect nuclear facilities from potential Israeli or American airstrikes. Russian officials have defended those sales, saying they are within their rights to sell any nation weapons for its self-defense. Russia is also selling advanced military weapons to Syria as well, including the effective MiG-31. The MiG-31, considered one of the best fighters in the world, can carry guided missiles with a range of more than 200 kilometres (125 miles) and is capable of striking 24 different targets simultaneously.

Luckily, Iran has a few problems. In the world of arms dealing, Iran is notorious as a stingy and unreliable customer. We're not just talking about the big ticket item like the Russian fighter jets. They've screwed thousands of middlemen when they backed out of numerous nickel and dime deals (like rifles, artillery, etc). The Russian are fully aware of this reputation and past dealings, and they'll be certain regarding cash delivery.

MiG-31
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Israel and the Middle East
Russia stirred memories of the Cold War yesterday when the country's senior admiral called for the establishment of a permanent naval base in the Mediterranean for the first time since the Soviet era. Coming a day after an audacious mission to the North Pole to bolster Russia's territorial claims in the Arctic, Moscow's renewed naval ambitions are likely to spread further unease in NATO capitals. "The Mediterranean Sea is very important strategically," Admiral Vladimir Masorin said on a tour of the Russian navy's Black Sea base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. "I propose that, with the involvement of the Northern and Baltic Fleets, the Russian navy should restore its permanent presence there." His remarks raise doubts about the Kremlin's denial last year of a newspaper claim that new moorings were being built in the Syrian port of Tartus. According to Ivan Safronov, the journalist who died after mysteriously falling from a building in Moscow this year, Russia had also begun to expand the port at Latakia, also in Syria. President Vladimir Putin has been anxious to restore Moscow's influence in the Middle East, signing controversial arms deals with both Syria and Iran that have upset the United States and Israel. If the port plan were to go ahead, Russian vessels and warships from the US Sixth Fleet, based in Italy, would face one another in the Mediterranean for the first time since the Cold War when the Soviet navy was based in Tartus. Russia maintains a symbolic and largely empty logistical facility at Tartus - its only military base outside the former Soviet Union. Washington will be watching both developments with concern.

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