The USSR 23 Years On

stock-footage-soviet-union-flag-waving-in-the-windThe Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) ceased to exist exactly 23 years ago on December 26, 1991 by declaration no. 142-H of the Soviet of the Republics of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, acknowledging the independence of the 12 remaining republics of the Soviet Union, and creating the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

On the previous day, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and last undisputed leader of the Soviet Union, had resigned, declared his office extinct, and handed over its attributes—including control of the Soviet nuclear missile launching codes—to Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

That evening at 7:32, the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time and replaced with the Russian tricolor. From August to December, 13 of the 15 republics seceded from the union. The week before the union’s formal dissolution, 11 republics—all except the Baltic states and Georgia—signed the Alma-Ata Protocol formally establishing the CIS and declaring that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. The dissolution of the Soviet Union also meant the end of the Cold War.

The Revolutions of 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union led to the end of decades of hostility between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact, which had been the defining feature of the Cold War.

The modern Russia now shares its western border with, from the north, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine then Georgia with Azerbaijan and Armenia are to the south west and separate the Russian Federation from Turkey.

These six countries are all that separate Russia from mainland Europe.

Although many of these countries suffered internal conflict in the aftermath of the breakup it had, on the whole, settled down. The buffer countries between Europe and Russia have become conduits to the massive trade between these two super powers. There is now an installed infrastructure connecting the Russian Federation to Europe by road, rail, pipeline, and wire and with it a lot of vested interest in keeping it all flowing smoothly.

Even with all that vested interest in harmony the compromise usually reached between the financial and political aspirations of the few has recently been out of balance. Most recently we have seen the Russian leader, Putin, shake his political fists at the world in what looks worryingly familiar to anyone who recalls Hitlers rise to power and desire to conquer the world.

When back in February the Ukrainian government fell apart under the pressure of their people who wanted the country to align with Europe while their leaders prepared to sign deals with Russia. Russia invaded Crimea.

The world, not wanting to upset the many vested interests, did nothing and Russia completed the annexation of Crimea with little or no opposition. The Ukrainian forces backed away in the face of overwhelming arrogance and formed a new front line in mainland Ukraine.

The UN, western leaders and the US swore a lot and banned the import of AK47s while still shipping everything from missile guidance systems to battleships to Russia. When Russia backed the “Ukrainian Nationalists” and invaded the south east of mainland Ukraine western powers distracted the world with other news stories in the hope that we would forget the on-going war in eastern Europe.

It was a moderate success and Putin continued to orchestrate the invasion of Ukraine while the world searched for MH370.

In truth the entire region, all those buffer countries and Poland were working with NATO to organize an escape from the threat of Russia.

On this auspicious day, the 23rd anniversary of the demise of the USSR and with it the end of the First Cold War we are on the brink of the second.

It is too late to suggest the UN should have honored the Budapest Memorandum and driven Russia out of Crimea. It is too late for the nearly 5,000 people who have died in Ukraine in the last 10 months. It may be to late too stop the Second Cold War.

And lets face it, those with the power to stop this from happening have a vested interest in a Second Cold War, most of those who could intervene are share holders in the security and weapons companies that will thrive in the Second Cold War. For them the wealth of a few is more important than the lives of so many.


Violent Deaths in 2014

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISISFrom the comfort and safety of my home in England it is easy to ignore the fact that across the world there are 44 violent conflicts going on right now. Some have been rumbling on for decades, for example the Korean conflict started in 1948 and has claimed the lives of more than 4.5 million people but no one is recorded as being killed there 2014.

However this year we added 2 new violent conflicts to the list; The Libyan civil war has claimed at least 2,295 lives in 2014 and the war in Ukraine has killed over 4,132 people.

More than half of the Earths surface is officially at war as I write this and on average one person dies violently in conflict every 4 minutes of every hour of every day of the year.

In total at least 118,959 people have died violently in conflict so far this year.

From the relative safety and comfort of your office or home, while you plan your Christmas break with family and friends, spare a thought for those who simply want to live long enough to see 2015.

If you want to learn more about the on going conflicts around the world The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research is a great place to start.

Enjoy your Christmas.



The Strange Story of Hoovers and the AK47

It has been a strange and disturbing few weeks in the world but between the lines there is a story sometimes amusing and at the same time disturbing. This is a story that highlights the extreme cultural differences between middle aged English Man and middle aged American Man.

140822dysonhoover_0Mild mannered, middle class, BMW and power washer owning suburban English man reacted badly to the following headline; EU ban on high-power vacuum cleaners comes into force, hitting five of the seven best-rated products.

The EU directive is tied up in the member countries commitment to clean up our environment and although the headline is shocking it hides the true message. Manufacturers have to design better, more efficient products. A bit like changes in the rules for Formula 1 cars mean they dont use massive petrol guzzling V8 engines. Natural evolution and great design has evolved the small, ultra high revving frugal but ultimately powerful engines that carry the cars round the tracks of the world at amazing speed. Vacuum cleaners need to go the same way. This change in the law will force manufacturers to make fester, leaner and more efficient cleaners.

Unashamedly riotous and provocative headlines prompted a veritable rush on the shops to buy the last remaining stocks of high powered vacuum cleaners, rumor has it that the 2,200 watt Miele s8330 is selling for more on ebay now than you could buy them in the shops a month ago, I should have stocked up!

140718104131-kalashnikov-620xaWhile this story played out in England the middle aged American man was suffering an equally terrible, but much more disturbing loss as UN sanctions placed on Russia began to bite. Intended or not by Obama and his administration the ban on imports of some Russian goods came to a head when Americans realized their beloved AK47 assault rifle was made in Russia and was now a victim of the war in Ukraine. It was announced that there will be no more imports of Russian made arms to America [the hypocrisy of this will become apparent soon] and so a rush began on the gun shops of every American town as the last of these iconic machine guns was snapped up.

And now for the hypocrisy. While America has used sanctions to ban the import of Russian made weapons the Europeans have continued to supply Russia with weapons ranging from hand guns to war ships.

On the 23rd July, just a month ago, the Guardian reported “UK arms export licenses for Russia still in place despite claims of embargo”

More than 200 licences to sell British weapons to Russia, including missile-launching equipment, are still in place despite David Cameron’s claim in the Commons on Monday that the government had imposed an absolute arms embargo against the country, according to a report by a cross-party group of MPs released on Wednesday.

A large number of British weapons and military components which the MPs say are still approved for Russia are contained in a hard-hitting report by four Commons committees scrutinising arms export controls.

Existing arms export licences for Russia cover equipment for launching and controlling missiles, components for military helicopters and surface-launched rockets, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, body armour, and military communications equipment, the committee says. They also include licences for night sights for weapons, components for operating military aircraft in confined spaces, and surface-to-surface missiles.

The French also have two battle ships on their way to Russia, the orders were not cancelled as that would make 1,000 French men and women unemployed.

Like I said, a strange and disturbing few weeks in the world.

Plausable Deniability, How superpowers fight their battles.

imageWhen the little green men began appearing in Crimea in February 2014 Russia denied they were their own troops claiming they were local Crimean security forces but on March 28, Putin revealed the truth when he congratulated Russian officers in the Kremlin for their conduct of the Crimean operation. The Russian Defense Ministry issued a victory medal for the “return of Crimea.”

Then in a May 18 telethon, Mr. Putin acknowledged that the troops in Crimea were Russian.

As the operations in Crimea came to a close Russian troops began massing on the borders with Ukraine for what was advertised as military exercises. The Russians were not alone in the dissemination of misinformation as the Americans and British conducted naval exercises in the seas to the south of Crimea.

Publicly the NATO countries, the EU and the Americans made statements to the effect that they would apply sanctions against Russia if they continued. So Russia organized, armed, trained and deployed “Pro Russian Ukranian nationals” while the Ukraine government asked for help and didnt get any.

Now a war is taking place in the east of Ukraine between the Russian sponsored troops and the Ukrainian Army.

Mostly forgotten by the western press the Ukraine crisis landed squarely back on the front pages last week when a Russian supplied ground to air missile, fired by a Pro Russian fighter in the east of Ukraine brought down the Malaysian airliner MH17 killing 298 people.

In an environment where everyone was turning a blind eye to the events this should have been the moment of revelation, the time the whole world could have sat up and voiced their protest.

Then, as I write this in what is a chilling reminder of what triggered the Russian invasion of Crimea this arrives on my desk;

Donetsk, Ukraine (CNN) — Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his Cabinet announced their resignation Thursday.

“I announce my resignation after the collapse of the coalition and the blocking of government initiatives,” Yatsenyuk told parliament.

And in perfect syncronisity Russia drops the charade and begins firing directly on Ukraine from its own side of the border.

Clearly Russia considers it has no opposition and is planning on taking Ukraine even if the UN, America and the UK will threaten to hold a meeting to discuss more sanctions.

That will be after the meeting when they decide it is fine to continue shipping weapons to Russia.

Im sorry Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Shot Down By Russian Missile

0_6801e_a0f09a3f_XXLWhat we know.

  • Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was flying over the war-torn region of eastern Ukraine when it disappeared from radar.
  • Pro Russian forces were recorded discussing the shooting down of the jet on the radio.
  • Armed Russians were filmed at the scene of the crash.
  • Some 283 passengers and 15 crew members who were on board died in the crash.

Its been a bad year for Malaysia Airlines but in this case it is clear nothing went wrong with the plane, it was not hijacked, it did not disappear. It crashed to the ground in flames killing all on board after it was deliberately shot down with a Russian SA-11 Gadfly surface to air missile supplied to the pro Russian militants by the Russians.

Whatever you might feel about the fate of the 298 passengers and crew on board the plane our focus must now return to the problems within Ukraine.

Six months ago almost to the day nearly 100 people died in in the city of Kiev. Since then many more have died every day in what amounts to a David and Goliath battle between the Davids who want to retain their autonomy in Ukraine and the world super power Russia playing Goliath.

And what is the United Nations doing about it? Nothing. In fact in this respect the UN has fallen apart, the Europeans have done precisely nothing while the Americans have attacked Russia with “Sanctions”. Just to ensure the Russians didnt suffer to much from the sanctions they gave them plenty of warning.

The emasculation of the UN revealed by its lack of action in Ukraine directly affected the chances of peace in the Middle East.

How much longer can the world stand by and allow this war to continue? How many more MH17’s have to be shot down before someone decides to stop this madness?

Ukraine, Update.

putlerSo there is a war going on in Ukraine and it has absolutely zero impact on the news until Prince Charles whispers the obvious observation, “Putin is just like Hitler”.

There is nothing we didn’t already know in that statement, many journalists have made the connection including myself in earlier thoughts on the Ukrainian crisis.

The thing that shocks me is the lack of interest being shown in the media. I wish I had the impact to motivate people all over the world to demand the UN, US and Europe stand by their promises made in the Budapest Memorandum and protect Ukrainian sovereignty and the people there and allow them to decide their own future.

This coming weekend there are elections in Ukraine, this could be the turning point, a uniting of ideals in Ukraine. Or it could be the trigger point, a moment of weakness as it was when the last government collapsed and Putin used the vacuum to begin his invasion of Crimea.

Crimean Tatars Homes are Marked in Ukraine

CRIMEA-LEAFLET-JEWSThe situation inside Ukraine has become increasingly difficult to discern. Certainly in the last few weeks the majority of the reports published have come from the US, Russia and UN and very little from within Ukraine.

That all changed a few days ago with this leaflet, first published by the USA Today. I shall not repeat the story, you can read it in its original form if you follow the link.

The content is extremely disturbing. It echoes of Nazi propaganda in the run up to WW2 and for this reason I felt it had to be questioned so I asked my correspondent in Kiev for his view.

This is what he said;

This one looks like a hoax to me. But I won’t be surprised if anti-Semitic actions will take place their. Pro-Russian propaganda is really heavy their. For example:
  1. In prime time news narrator tells that “Great Russia is again respected. It’s the only country that can turn the USA into the radioactive dust.”
  2. Putin in his news conference warns that all journalists/activists who have a position different from the government are “national-traitors” (a term actively used by Hitler).
  3. The propaganda lays the blame on the Ukrainian government and tells us they are fascists. In reality there were a lot of Jews on Maidan who died fighting for the current leaders.
  4. The current governor of the central region is Ihor Kolomoisky. He offered rewards yesterday for AKMs (1000 usd), machine-guns (~1500 usd) and captured Russian soldiers (10.000 usd).
Again I doubt there are any documents that prove such behaviour of pro-Russian activists, but from what I know they blame the Jews for supporting Ukrainian revolutions.
Finally I know that pro-Russian activists have marked the houses of Crimean Tatars in the same way the doors of Jewish households were marked with a red cross in the build up to WW2

Tell me, what part of this do you find most disturbing? To me, the similarities to the situation that prevailed before the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and before that, in 1914 is striking. We have all the ingredients required to spark war.

For those who think this isn’t possible, that a modern cultivated Europe, the UN, with all its education, history and wealth, war in Europe could not happen again, I remind you that what we now call WW1 was simply known as the “War in Europe” or “The Great War” until WW2 started.

A Letter From Kiev

01bccd9f-dce8-45e9-b0cb-7f528aa4f921_16x9_788x442Along with this personal commentary I maintain a constant reportage resource of news concerning the troubles in Ukraine. Initially news was flooding out of Kiev at such a rate it was hard to keep up with it but over the last week the news feed has dried up.

Now I actively search every day for updates from the news agencies and from my friends and contacts in Kiev. When there are multiple sources it is easy to route out the truth from the propaganda but as the flow reduces, the truth is harder to find.

I received an email from a friend in Kiev last night, he said;

  • “It’s pretty worrisome here, but we try to remain positive. From news I hear about a lot of Russian troops near borders, but I doubt they will move to mainland Ukraine. It will mean WW3. Though if you watch Russian news – it looks like they actually want to start a war. I’ve never though I would see much a heavy propaganda in our century. And the worst thing that people in Russia believe this propaganda. I hope for the best. This situation is a good test for UN and other organizations.”

Looking for verification of his report of troops near the border we found this quote from a top Ukrainian defence official on Thursday he said

  • “Almost 100,000 Russian troops have amassed on Ukraine’s border”

This figure is much higher than U.S. military estimates.

Andriy Parubiy, chairman of Ukraine’s national security council, said via webcast from Kiev.

  • “Russian troops aren’t in Crimea only. They’re along all Ukrainian borders. They’re in the south, the east and the north,”
  • “Russia is plotting to incite separatist sentiment in other areas after its successful intervention in the Crimea region” He told the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

The deployed forces are well-trained special forces, he said, adding that Kiev fears a potential Russian invasion of the country’s east any day now.

Meanwhile a senior U.S. defense official on condition of anonymity expressed scepticism at Parubiy’s estimate of the number of Russian forces saying;

  • “That sounds too high,” he told Agence France Presse;
  • “The Pentagon said more than 20,000 Russian troops have been deployed along the border with Ukraine, included airborne units and armored vehicles.”

Parubiy said his country supported the sanctions against Russia imposed by Western countries, and appealed for visible military support, a visible presence of our partnership to send a signal to Moscow over its actions.

  • “We’re calling on our partners to hold a common military exercise” that would “show that the cooperation and partnership is still there,” he said.

Other reports circulating this evening would lead us to believe the UN with NATO are actively monitoring the situation to the west of Russia with surveillance aircraft but they did not say weather that coverage extended to the Ukraine – Russia border. I suspect it does not for fear of a US spy plane being shot down by the Russians, again.

At best the Second Cold War has its icy grip on us. At worst we have all the ingredients of WW3.

Should We Be Arming Russia?

If financial sanctions against a few dozen individuals don’t prevent Russia from invading Europe the officials meeting in Brussels today to discuss sanctions may be advised to consider the content of this interview;

[The following clipped from here]

445BDF31-9F60-4F67-A0BD-76245FC059B2_mw1024_n_sDefense analyst Tomas Jermalavicius, writing recently in the ” EU Observer,” called on EU states to halt arms sales to Moscow if they are serious about punishing Russia over its intervention in Crimea.

RFE/RL’s Farangis Najibullah asked Jermalavicius — a research fellow at the International Center for Defense Studies, a Tallinn-based think tank — if it’s realistic to expect EU countries to give up weapons deals he estimates are worth billions of dollars.

RFE/RL: What kind of military equipment and military technologies are EU countries currently selling to Russia?

Jermalavicius: The obvious thing is they’re not selling something which adds to firepower of Russian armed forces. But there are technologies, which you may call “enablers” — enablers in projecting military power, enablers in terms of increasing the maneuverability, and improving command and control of the armed forces.

An example is the Mistral amphibious assault ship that France is building for the Russian Navy. Two are currently being built, and [there are] two other options, which might be built in Russia later on. Examples also include a German brigade-level staff [training] simulation system, which allows the brigade-level staff to train themselves in command-and-control procedures, which also enhances greatly the military capability of a military unit. So, in that sense there are many projects ongoing, which allowed the Russian armed forces to modernize itself [militarily] and increase its capability.

RFE/RL: Why do you suggest that any EU arms deals with Russia should be suspended as part of a sanctions regime against Moscow over the Crimea crisis?

Jermalavicius: The key point here is that as we see now Russia is using its military force for purposes which violate international law, which create regional instability and conflicts around the perimeter of the Russian Federation. And in that regard we shouldn’t do anything which [can] enhance the military strength and power of the Russian Federation.

Defense analyst Tomas JermalaviciusDefense analyst Tomas Jermalavicius

A simple point, and I understand that in earlier times Europeans viewed Russia as a partner, but I think we should stop seeing Russia as a partner. NATO and the EU should stop seeing [Russia] as a partner in military affairs and security affairs. It’s a country which is a troublemaker, and troublemakers should not be rewarded with military contracts.

We don’t sell arms and military equipment to China. The EU has an arms-trade embargo [to China], and there were discussions about lifting it, and I’m not sure where they stand now. But China — compared to Russia — has not invaded a neighboring country. It has not seized parts of the territories of neighboring countries, but still we do not sell to China any military equipment because we see it as a potential geopolitical rival not only to ourselves but also to the United States — our key ally in the trans-Atlantic alliance. But we sell to Russia, which is completely illogical.

RFE/RL: How realistic is to expect EU countries that have arms deals with Russia to give up lucrative contracts that boost their economies and allow them to keep their defense industries afloat?

Jermalavicius: I have serious doubts not only about the military exports and military relationships but also the trade relationships. I mean, there are many business circles who have invested in Russia, or have businesses in Russia or trade with Russia, and the question of…financial sanctions, targeted trade sanctions, might be very difficult to push through, [and] I’m not even talking about the military ones.

There are encouraging signs and signals. [French] President [Francoise] Hollande has recently mentioned that a third round of sanctions, if it comes to that, [involving] military cooperation would be on the table. And we might see a suspension, at least, or those [military] contracts being put on hold for a while.

But I’m not very optimistic. Seeing where things are, and where they are heading — the defense industry in Europe, which is quite fragmented needs contracts, needs money, needs cash, and the European customers cannot provide that because of declining defense budgets. They are looking for customers outside Europe and Russia, apparently, has been quite a good customer to them.

RFE/RL: If they indeed suspend arms transfers to Russia, to what extent would it restrict Russia’s military capabilities?

Jermalavicius: Russians have set out to modernize their armed forces, and they have a very ambitious program which is quite costly. And in certain regards, of course, as we can see the economic situation of the Russian Federation is not the best. Its federal budget will be running a higher and higher deficit, especially if oil prices decline. In that sense the whole modernization program will be put in question.

However, we have to [realize] that with the transfer of arms and technology, and cooperation in the military and technical spheres, we not only enhance their military capability, we also transfer the know-how, or knowledge — an example being the Mistral ships. If those are built in Russia, that would be a boost to the Russian shipbuilding industry, which has lost its competence in managing such complex, large projects, and in that regard, if that knowledge transfer doesn’t take place, that would certainly slow down the modernization program in the Russian armed forces.”

RFE/RL: What message would you hope to send by halting arms sales?

Jermalavicius: If we impose sanctions, whatever the impact is — minor or not minor — I think that morally it’s wrong to participate in improving the military of a country which is behaving the way it is. Both domestically in terms of repression of human rights — which is going on now and increasing — and now externally, in foreign policy. It’s morally just not right and probably also strategically very short-sighted.

Are The U.S. and the E.U. Deliberately Assisting Russia?

Dateline: Thursday 20th March 2014

U.S. and E.U. officials are meeting today to discuss possible further sanctions over the Russian occupation of Crimea. Sanctions so far enacted are limited to financial and visa restrictions on some 25 Russian individuals.

I wrote in The Art Of War about how military or political tacticians usually planned all possible options well in advance and kept those plans secret. In fact secrecy is an essential component of all success in this context.

The officials meeting in Brussels must be familiar with these concepts so what I do not understand is why are they meeting now, after the fact, and why are they telling the world what they are doing?

Or not doing. This may be closer to the point. So far the political tactic seems to be one of public inactivity and incompetence and when actions are to be taken plenty of warning is given to the aggressor.

This can only be explained one of two ways; Either the U.S. and the E.U. are deliberately assisting Russia in their mission to absorb Crimea or they are genuinely stupid.

I am not sure what I would prefer to believe. Either way it begs the question of where Putin will stop on his march across Europe. The Russian propaganda machine will use almost any argument if it gets them what they want.

crimea-referendum_2850933bFor example they used this poster in Crimea in the days before the referendum, the outline is Crimea, the message reads [Nazis] Or [Russia].

The Russian argument for supporting the occupation [and supply of unmarked troops] in Crimea is ethnic Russians living there need protection [from what?]. And they are preparing to use this argument for their occupation of Ukraine.

The Russian propaganda machine has also indicated they are concerned about the welfare of their nationals in Poland.

I ask again, why are the people who could do something about this doing noting?