Pro-Democracy Revolutions a Big Problem for US - January, 2011

Just recently, the Lebanese ousted Beirut's Western-backed Hariri government and chose the dreaded Hezbollah to lead the troubled nation. And now, Tunisians, Jordanians, Yemenis and Egyptians are rising up against their American-backed dictators. Could all this be the birth-pangs of a pan-Arabic movement to finally shed the region of its American/Western/Zionist backed dictators? I don't know, only time will tell. It has been over forty years since the region in question experienced widespread popular uprisings or a pan-Arabic movement. Incidentally, even Albania, a lawless nation that just happens to be yet another Washington stronghold, has been stirring as of late. Tens of thousands of Albanians have reportedly been marching against the NATO-backed corrupt leadership in Albania - a nation that has been a center for human trafficking, narcotics trafficking and organ trafficking (but you wouldn't know any of this because Albania is an important Western ally).

Nevertheless, closely assessing the political history of places like the Balkans, Central and South America, Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and South Eastern Asia, one immediately comes to the realization that for decades the world's bloodiest dictators and despots have tended to be ones placed into power by Washington.

Fearing a drastic reversal of fortunes in the Middle East today, Washington and Tel Aviv are naturally alarmed. And although they would never admit it publicly, you can bet your life that "freedom and democracy loving" officials in Washington are doing everything in their power to undermine or crush any "democratic" movement that can potentially install an anti-American and/or anti-Israel government in the Middle East. In the eyes of Western officials, a democratic process is only acceptable when agents/mercenaries of the West are "elected" or simply installed into public office. In troubled places like the fledgling nations of the former Soviet Union, for example, one can be an authoritarian war criminal (e.g. Saakashvili) and he'll still be considered by Washington a "great reformist" president and one can be a vile thieve and a bloody dictator (e.g. Aliyev) and he'll still be considered by Washington as "our strongman" in office.

God forbid there be a president like Armenia's Serj Sargsyan, a farsighted president that bravely chooses to have a Russian bedfellow instead of an American one. Simply due to his unabashedly pro-Russian politics, there is nothing President Sargsyan of Armenia can do to please officials in Washington these days. In the eyes of Washington officials and their utterly brain-dead followers within Armenian society, Armenia today is considered to be one of the most corrupt, most undemocratic and one of the most authoritarian nations on earth today. The truth of the matter is that even with all its internal and external problems today, Armenia is arguably one of the world's freest, stablest and safest countries. Considering the immense odds stacked up against it, not the least of which are its volatile geographic location, its troublesome neighbors, its minuscule size and its lack of resources, Armenia is doing quite well - relatively speaking.

Nevertheless, the point is that had Serj Sargsyan been America's strongman in Yerevan, he could have easily canceled the nation's presidential elections and held on to power for decades. Had Serj been Washington's willing bitch, he could kill, maim, torture and illegally imprison tens-of-thousands of his countrymen - with impunity. Had Serj been an active agent of the West, he could chase his "opposition" out of the country, l
iterally at gunpoint. Had Serj happily bent-over for the oil interests of the Anglo-American-Zionist global empire, he could do all this and much-much more and still be considered a great ally and one fully worthy of public office. Don't believe me? Just read American Vice President Joseph Biden's comments appearing below about Egypt's absolute ruler, Hosni Mubarak.

I am not attempting to make excuses for the widespread corruption that goes no in Armenia nor am I seeking to protect our nation's gluttonous oligarchs. Having said that, however, it must also be emphasized that any effort to curb corruption and/or injustice in Armenia needs to be meticulously measured and carefully assessed under a geopolitical light.

When there are foreign agents and mercenaries waiting on the sidelines to grab power, one needs to be very careful about the pursuit of domestic matters in a forceful or drastic manner. Sadly, the fact is that an overwhelming majority of Armenia's so-called "independent journalists", "human rights advocates" and "opposition" figures are either inspired by the self-serving rhetoric of coldblooded reptiles in Washington or directly trained and funded by them.
Armenia needs political evolution - not a Western funded revolution. The almost successful color revolution in Armenia several years ago plainly revealed to us all that we Armenians are not yet ready to make rational decisions when it comes to political matters. Our nation's self-destructive peasantry simply cannot be trusted to make political decisions when it comes to Armenia.

Getting back to the matter at hand, they will never tell you this in the government controlled mainstream news press here in the United States, but what we are seeing happen in places like Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon is essentially a wide-scale popular uprising against Washington-backed dictators. What the West failed to accomplish in Syria and in Iran is now coming back to haunt them.

Although the most pressing matter at hand is the mini revolution currently taking place in Egypt, the other most significant recent political development in the region was that of the mandate Hezbollah was handed in Lebanon as a result of Christian and Druze support it received. The Hezbollah, the Iranian and Syrian backed social-political-military entity that defeated the Zionist state during two different military confrontations in recent years, has been chosen by various Lebanese political factions to lead the nation.

The political significance of this development is great indeed and it is all very alarming for the West; for Washington in general and for the Zionist state in particular. Will they allow a capable force to deepen its roots on Israel's northern borders or will the empire strike back? It must also be said that the overall situation at hand today is extremely troubling for the American-backed Sunni dictatorships infesting the Arabian peninsula as well.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. At a time when Washington, Tel Aviv and various client states in the region had been diligently preparing to violate Iran's national sovereignty (Iran is the only independent Islamic nation in the region that is stable and growing more-and-more powerful),
these democracy movements under Western noses are proving very troublesome. Simply put, in the wake of these widespread protests, Washington cannot remain idle and allow things to progress "democratically". As I have said countless times in the past, Western officials will never allow something as insignificant or silly as "democracy" to get in the way of realpolitik.

People's choices are deemed acceptable or legitimate only when they occur WITHIN the political or financial structures of the Anglo-American-Zionist global order.

Consequently, the West doesn't really have a choice in the matter. At the very least, Western officials will have to attempt to manipulate and/or exploit events taking place on the ground. And they seem to be doing just that. They are currently trying hard to hijack the political momentum on the streets in Cairo. In an effort to - seed - the mini revolution taking place in Egypt, just in case their strongman in power is suddenly deposed,
another Western lackey, Mohamed El'Baradei, has been sent to the country as an "opposition" figure. We see here a classic example of how powerful nations can actually create their opposition that which they can control. Moreover, there are strong indicators that political/social activists trained by Western NGOs are being sent into the melee as well. Most probably, they are resorting to all sorts of countermeasures, we are just not aware of them at this time.

Washington and its allies realize that despite their wishes to the contrary, they can no longer count on Egypt's aging Mubarak to remain in power indefinitely, especially now that the pan-Arabic genie seems to have been let out of the bottle. In fact,in attempting to curb Arab nationalism, Islamic militancy will again prove to be West's best friend. So look for Western officials collaborating with Islamist types.

The sheeple may chose to run a muck from time-to-time, but ultimately it's the appointed shepherds that end-up leading them. It will be a good idea to wait and see who emerges as the leader or leaders of these protests in Egypt.

Nevertheless, here are the ironies: Hezbollah and Hamas are the only two democratically elected political entities in the Middle East that are NOT recognized by the West. Iran is, arguably, one of the only democratically run nations in the Islamic world - yet it is under the constant threat of annihilation. Every single Mideast dictatorship, with the exception of Syria, are Washington-backed tyrannies. I hope this ordeal in Egypt has thought us hopelessly naive Armenians a thing or two about the real face of Washington and its shallow and self-serving rhetoric concerning freedom and democracy.

What we are currently seeing take place around the world is the gradual continuation of major geopolitical shifts that started occurring soon after the turn of this century as a result of the backlash the United States began suffering due to its reckless global military campaigns, economic uncertainty and, if I may add, Vladimir Putin's rise to power in Russia. Have no doubt, a major international war is looming in the not too distant horizon. Anytime there are major geopolitical realignments and/or major global economic downturns, the world goes to war. What we are seeing currently are in essence the political posturings before the inevitable large-scale bloodletting begins.

The following are some news articles and video presentations that caught my attention in recent weeks. There is a lot of misinformation and disinformation being put out by various news agencies and governmental offices. Therefore, it is imperative to carefully navigate through the provided information, and as usual - read between the lines and use your judgment.

January, 2011


Pro-Democracy Revolutions a Big Problem for US

CrossTalk on Egypt: Power to People?(RT video):

The pro-democracy revolutions in Northern Africa and the Middle East have been a big problem for the region’s assorted dictators, but may well be an even bigger problem for the US, whose leaders don’t have the luxury of simply fleeing to Saudi Arabia with a big chunk of the national treasury when things turn sour. The only comparison for the US can be to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, in which the US backed Shah was ousted in favor of a Shi’ite theocracy. In this case, however, President Obama must contend with unrest in not one, but several key allied nations. For decades it seemed that the US was able to keep its authoritarian allies propped up more or less indefinitely, but the simmering unrest combined with crumbling economies across the region have combined to produce a region-wide phenomenon, where every US-backed dictator appears at risk.

But in the near term, it is two of the most important President-for-life figures, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, that are at the most risk. In each case the US is giving lip-service to the notion of some “reforms” but are conceding they won’t want anything that might threaten the rule of their allies, particularly any pesky elections. Officials are concerned with what sorts of governments might emerge in those nations, surely, but the bigger problem is that giving a meaningful political voice to tens of millions of people who have spent decades being repressed by US-backed dictators is going to yield governments, regardless of their general policies, will insist on independence from US regional policy.


Protests Swell as Obama, Mubarak Trade Lip-Service, Platitudes

A young protester chants slogans in front of a banner with images of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak during a sit-in organised by Lebanese activists in front of the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, to show support for the Egyptian and Tunisian people January 29, 2011.

Ron Paul on Crisis in Egypt (Campaign for Liberty video):

Amid rumors that he was potentially fleeing the country, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak made a late night television appearance, lauding his own crackdown on dissent and chiding the “criminal” behavior of protesters in what is being compared conversely to President Obama’s State of the Union Address and the Iranian Shah’s last public speech before his ouster. There may have been vague mentions of changes in the future, but no concrete promises of changes, beyond a cabinet shuffle amongst powerless Mubarak loyalists that few really had a problem with in the first place. Aimed at calming the revolt, the Mubarak speech actually seemed to spark a new flurry of late night protests demanding his ouster. Then President Obama called.

US officials had denied he had any contact with the Egyptian government so far in the course of the protest (constrasting Egyptian reports that Obama had repeated reassured Mubarak of his support during that time). But once the call was made, a second round of lip-service to “meaningful dialogue” cropped up, again with no specifics. Perhaps most insultingly, President Obama termed the protests, the mass censorship, and the brutal crackdowns by the US-backed dictator “a moment of promise,” even as officials make it abundantly clear that there is no American appetite for any serious change inside Egypt and the best officials can say is they support “the basic right to use social media.”


Joe Biden says Egypt's Mubarak no dictator, he shouldn't step down...

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) talks with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak during a meeting at the Egyptian sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh June 7, 2010.

Mortimer Zuckerman: Muslim Brotherhood would be a disaster for Egypt (BBC video):

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the PBS NewsHour tonight with the most direct US governent comments yet about the gathering Egypt protests against President Hosni Mubarak's 29-year reign. Mr. Biden's comments are unlikely to be well-received by regime opponents, as they fit a narrative of steadfast US support for a government they want to bring down. About eight protesters and one policeman have died this week as Egypt has sought to bring down the heavy hand of the state against opponents. Since the US provides about $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt a year, the repressive apparatus of the state is seen by many in Egypt as hand in glove with the US.

Tonight in Cairo, activists said that internet service was being systematically blocked, as was the use of instant messages on local cellphones, despite repeated calls from the US State Department for Egypt to allow social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to remain available to the nation's people. Egypt is bracing for a showdown tomorrow. Organizers have called for massive protests against the regime after noon prayers on Friday, seeking to build on the unprecedented wave of public demonstrations this week calling for an end to Mubarak's rule.

Whether the protests will be as large as democracy activists hope is an open question. Overnight in Egypt, the government was doing everything it could to head them off. Ahead of a day that could prove decisive, NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has "come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?" Biden answered: "No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some... of the needs of the people out there."

Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.” He also appeared to make one of the famous Biden gaffes, in comments that could be interpreted as questioning the legitimacy of protesters' demands. Monitor Cairo correspondent Kristen Chick, other reporters in the country, and activists have generally characterized the main calls of demonstrators as focused on freedom, democracy, an end to police torture, and a more committed government effort to address the poverty that aflicts millions of Egyptians.

Biden urged non-violence from both protesters and the government and said: "We’re encouraging the protesters to – as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we’re encouraging the government to act responsibly and – and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out." He also said: "I think that what we should continue to do is to encourage reasonable... accommodation and discussion to try to resolve peacefully and amicably the concerns and claims made by those who have taken to the street. And those that are legitimate should be responded to because the economic well-being and the stability of Egypt rests upon that middle class buying into the future of Egypt."

Egypt's protesters, if they're paying attention to Biden at all, will certainly be wondering which of their demands thus far have been illegitimate.

Western hypocrisy towards the Arab world stands exposed

CrossTalk: Times of Uprisings? (RT video):

Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt...the arc of popular discontent continues to grow. But it is the tumultuous scenes from Egypt this week, culminating in the running battles in many cities yesterday after Friday prayers, that highlight the volatility of the situation – and the dilemma for the United States and the rest of the Western world. That such a dilemma exists at all, of course, is largely of our own making. We have long observed a double standard in relations with most Arab countries. We turned a blind eye to internal repression and stagnation, so long as the appearance of internal stability was preserved and the oil routes remained secure. The consequence was a chain of undemocratic regimes from North Africa to the Gulf, which enjoyed Western, primarily US and British, patronage. When, as in Iran, popular anger led to the overthrow of the pro-Western regime, we called foul and were surprised to be shunned. Leaving aside our differently lamentable treatment of Iraq, this is the state of affairs that persists pretty much to this day.

As demands for change reverberate further and further from Tunisia, the hypocrisy separating the West's words and deeds can no longer be sustained. But finding a new response is not easy in this fast-moving situation. France, although the former colonial power, conspicuously kept its distance from the events in Tunisia, wisely refusing asylum to its former protégé. The reticence of the United States has spoken volumes, as disturbances in Egypt have spread.

The instincts of the Obama administration pull it in conflicting directions. On the one hand, it is all in favour of democratic reform, especially democracy sprouting from the grass roots up. On the other, Egypt is a crucial ally in the region – a partner in Middle East peace, guardian of the Suez Canal, a beacon for other Arab countries – and allies need to be orderly and predictable. Here the forces of democracy and stability seem to be at odds. How much simpler it would be for the West to take a (negative) stand if the protests had been mounted in the name of fundamentalist Islam rather than in pursuit of elementary political and economic change.

There is a multitude of contradictions here. The copious amounts of US aid to Egypt, as the reward for supporting Middle East peace, may have had the perverse effect of reducing the pressure for domestic reform. America's neoconservatives, once such vocal champions of democracy in the region, have fallen strangely silent over these latest protests. And how rich an irony it was to hear Tony Blair – the man who so heedlessly helped to topple Saddam Hussein – speak yesterday of the need above all for stability in Egypt.

For the Arab countries, these are complicated, even revolutionary, times. As it is, the West has little choice but to watch and wait, while cautioning those who would cling to power against the sort of excesses that would exacerbate their plight. It is not for us to dictate the direction in which the people of these countries eventually decide to go. But it is in our interests to do nothing that would discredit, or make less likely, a democratic choice. As the broad participation in these protests has shown, it is by no means inevitable that militant anti-Western Islam will emerge the victor, and we should not assume the worst.


Thousands Protest Against Jordanian Govt

Thousands of Jordanian demonstrators attend a protest against Jordan's economic policies, demanding 'bread and freedom' and that the government resignation, on January 21, 2011 in Amman.

US urges reform in Egypt (Al Jazeera video):

The pro-democracy protests spreading across the Middle East have found some eager supporters in Jordan, where thousands took to the street of Amman to demand that Prime Minister Samir Rifal step down and that a new, elected government be allowed to take its place. Official figures from police said that roughly 3,000 people attended today’s protests, including Islamists, leftists, and union members. As with the protests elsewhere in the region, the combination of inflation and unemployment is combining with long-standing resentment at authoritarianism and producing explosive results. Under Jordanian law, the King appoints the Prime Minister, the Senate and the entire cabinet, so while the bicameral legislature does have an elected “Chamber of Deputies,” in practice elections mean very little. Interestingly enough though, the pro-democracy protesters are targeting the prime minister in their calls for free elections, rather than demanding that the king himself step down. This suggests they may envision some sort of constitutional monarchy in which the king retains figurehead powers but relinquishes most of his authority to elected officials.


Egypt protests: America's secret backing for rebel leaders behind uprising

A protester stands in front of a burning barricade

Webster Tarpley: CIA fuels 'mob rule' in Arab world to change power (RT video):

The American Embassy in Cairo helped a young dissident attend a US-sponsored summit for activists in New York, while working to keep his identity secret from Egyptian state police. On his return to Cairo in December 2008, the activist told US diplomats that an alliance of opposition groups had drawn up a plan to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak and install a democratic government in 2011.

He has already been arrested by Egyptian security in connection with the demonstrations and his identity is being protected by The Daily Telegraph. The crisis in Egypt follows the toppling of Tunisian president Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, who fled the country after widespread protests forced him from office. The disclosures, contained in previously secret US diplomatic dispatches released by the WikiLeaks website, show American officials pressed the Egyptian government to release other dissidents who had been detained by the police.

Mr Mubarak, facing the biggest challenge to his authority in his 31 years in power, ordered the army on to the streets of Cairo yesterday as rioting erupted across Egypt. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets in open defiance of a curfew. An explosion rocked the centre of Cairo as thousands defied orders to return to their homes. As the violence escalated, flames could be seen near the headquarters of the governing National Democratic Party. Police fired rubber bullets and used tear gas and water cannon in an attempt to disperse the crowds.

At least five people were killed in Cairo alone yesterday and 870 injured, several with bullet wounds. Mohamed ElBaradei, the pro-reform leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was placed under house arrest after returning to Egypt to join the dissidents. Riots also took place in Suez, Alexandria and other major cities across the country. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, urged the Egyptian government to heed the “legitimate demands of protesters”. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said she was “deeply concerned about the use of force” to quell the protests.

In an interview for the American news channel CNN, to be broadcast tomorrow, David Cameron said: “I think what we need is reform in Egypt. I mean, we support reform and progress in the greater strengthening of the democracy and civil rights and the rule of law.” The US government has previously been a supporter of Mr Mubarak’s regime. But the leaked documents show the extent to which America was offering support to pro-democracy activists in Egypt while publicly praising Mr Mubarak as an important ally in the Middle East.

In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year. The memo, which Ambassador Scobey sent to the US Secretary of State in Washington DC, was marked “confidential” and headed: “April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt.” It said the activist claimed “several opposition forces” had “agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections”. The embassy’s source said the plan was “so sensitive it cannot be written down”.

Ambassador Scobey questioned whether such an “unrealistic” plot could work, or ever even existed. However, the documents showed that the activist had been approached by US diplomats and received extensive support for his pro-democracy campaign from officials in Washington. The embassy helped the campaigner attend a “summit” for youth activists in New York, which was organised by the US State Department. Cairo embassy officials warned Washington that the activist’s identity must be kept secret because he could face “retribution” when he returned to Egypt. He had already allegedly been tortured for three days by Egyptian state security after he was arrested for taking part in a protest some years earlier.

The protests in Egypt are being driven by the April 6 youth movement, a group on Facebook that has attracted mainly young and educated members opposed to Mr Mubarak. The group has about 70,000 members and uses social networking sites to orchestrate protests and report on their activities. The documents released by WikiLeaks reveal US Embassy officials were in regular contact with the activist throughout 2008 and 2009, considering him one of their most reliable sources for information about human rights abuses.


State Dep’t says democracy is OK for Tunisia but not Egypt because of Israel

Police and protesters clash in Cairo (Al Jazeera video):

Thanks to Pulse, here is a wonderful interview of State Dep't spokesman P.J. Crowley by Shihab Rattansi of Al Jazeera that shows why Obama talked about Tunisian democracy in the State of the Union but said nothing about democracy in Egypt. At about 5:40 Rattansi asks Crowley why the U.S. with all its leverage over Egypt doesn't pressure it to call off the dogs and let the society move toward democracy? Says Crowley: "We respect what Egypt contributes to the region, it is a stabilizing force, it has made its own peace with Israel, and is pursuing normal relations with Israel, we think that's important, we think that's a model that the region should adopt broadly speaking. at the same time, we recognize that Egypt, Tunisia other countries do need to reform, they do need to respond to the needs of their people, and we encourage that reform and are contributing across the region to that reform." Rattansi: [paraphrased] but if Egypt can't guarantee stability, what's the point of all your financial support. Crowley: "We rely on Egypt as an ally to be a stabilizing force in the region... that has benefits across the region." Rattansi: "Democracy would be destabilizing to the region generally, wouldn't it?"

Is This Lebanon’s Final Revolution?

ALMOST exactly six years after the Cedar Revolution led to a rapid withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the United States’ dream that it could use this fragile country as a launching pad for a New Middle East — one with a decidedly pro-American bent — has seemingly collapsed. One could argue that it crumpled at exactly 11:58 a.m. on Tuesday, when a Christian member of the Lebanese Parliament from the Bekaa Valley named Nicola Fattoush strode into the presidential palace and cast his ballot against Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Mr. Hariri is the son of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister whose assassination in February 2005 is the basis for soon-to-be-expected indictments by the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Although the new prime minister, Najib Mikati, didn’t need Mr. Fattoush’s support to defeat Saad Hariri — the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah and the Parliament’s largest single bloc of Christians, headed by Gen. Michel Aoun, along with some Sunni Muslim and Druze members, provided the numerical edge — Mr. Fattoush’s vote held particular significance. Not only had he been an ally of Saad Hariri’s, but he had just days before received a widely publicized visit from the United States ambassador, Maura Connelly, in his home district.

That a small-time figure known for his political horse-trading would spurn a superpower’s attempt to retain his vote for its man provides an exclamation point on just how poorly Washington’s policy of “maximalism” — applying sporadic bouts of pressure on its allies while refusing to sincerely negotiate with its adversaries — has fared in Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole. The Obama administration is going to need a very different approach when it comes to dealing with the “new” Lebanon.

Unfortunately, though, such a change will be far more difficult today than it would have been just six years ago, when Hezbollah had its political back against the wall, lacking support outside its Shiite base and the insurance of Syrian troops in the country. In April of that year, Hezbollah went so far as to send one of its affiliated politicians, Trade Hamade, to meet with State Department officials to work out a modus vivendi. He left Washington empty-handed: the Bush administration believed that American influence was on the rise in Lebanon and that Hezbollah could be cornered into agreeing to disarmament before any substantive negotiations.

Instead of undermining Hezbollah’s political support by broadening alliances with pro-American figures in Lebanon and addressing the concerns held by many Lebanese — the sentiment that Israel still occupied Lebanese territory in the south, that there were Lebanese in Israeli jails and that the country needed a stronger national defense — the Bush administration cultivated a narrow set of local allies and pursued a “with us or against us” strategy aimed at eliminating Hezbollah.

Sadly, it took this policy less than a year to result in a botched Israeli invasion that killed and wounded thousands of Lebanese citizens and gave Hezbollah unprecedented popularity in the region.

Today, Syria has regained much of its hegemony in the country — this time without the cost of stationing troops — and is again at the center of regional politics. Hezbollah’s military capacity, by all accounts, has soared, and many of its leaders seem to harbor the dangerous belief that they can decisively win a “final” confrontation with Israel. The Party of God has also deftly maintained and even expanded its political alliances — including one with about half the Christians in the country — that gave it the power to change the government this week by constitutional means.

Perhaps most frustratingly, Hezbollah has largely succeeded in undermining the legitimacy of the United Nations tribunal in the Arab and Islamic worlds. In this effort it had unintentional American help. As a recent report from the International Crisis Group put it, the manner in which the investigation was established, “pushed by two Western powers with clear strategic objectives” — the United States and France — “contaminated” the process.

So, what can the United States do to reverse Hezbollah’s new momentum? Its options are limited. Given the change of government, Congress may well try to cut off all aid to Lebanon and the Lebanese Army. The Obama administration will likely reiterate its support for the tribunal and push for any indictments of Hezbollah figures. But neither step would have much of an impact on Hezbollah’s core calculations or desires.

Hezbollah will continue to increase its military power, edging ever closer to what Israeli officials have called a “redline” of capabilities that would prompt Israel to mount a major “pre-emptive” attack. Such a move would, as it was in 2006, be devastating for Lebanon, probably for Israel and certainly for United States interests in the region, not least because Hezbollah would likely survive and even gain new adherents among those affected by Israeli strikes on Lebanese infrastructure and civilian areas.

Still, there is a way for Washington to stake out a reasonable, nonviolent alternative: by pushing for the immediate revival of peace talks between Syria and Israel. Eleven years ago, a peace agreement between the two countries that would have included the disarmament of Hezbollah fell apart, largely because the Israeli prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, found it too politically difficult to hand over to Syria the last few hundred yards of shoreline around the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee bordering the Golan Heights.

Although a new deal on the Golan would not lead to the end of Hezbollah in the immediate term, it would contain the movement’s ability and desire to use violence, as Syria would need to commit to cutting off the supply routes by which Iranian (and Syrian) weapons are now smuggled into Lebanon. Militarily weakened, and without Syrian or much domestic political backing to continue in its mission to liberate Jerusalem, Hezbollah would find it extremely difficult to threaten Israel’s northern border.

Certainly some Israelis see the benefits of such a deal. Ilan Mizrahi, a former deputy chief of the Mossad and national security adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told an interviewer recently that on his first day on the job, he recommended that Mr. Olmert make a deal with Syria because it would “change the security situation in the Middle East.” He said he still believed that.

When asked if a pullout might create a threat to Israel along the Golan, Mr. Mizrahi answered: “Our chief of staff doesn’t think so. Our head of intelligence, military intelligence, doesn’t think so ... the best Israeli generals are saying we can negotiate it, so I believe them.” Would pressuring Israel into a full withdrawal from the Golan be politically difficult for President Obama? Surely — as it would be for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. But given the alternatives for Lebanon, Israel and the United States, anything less would be merely setting up temporary roadblocks to an impending regional disaster.

Nicholas Noe is the editor in chief of and the editor of “Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.”


One Small Revolution

THE West stands captivated by Tunisia, where a month of peaceful protests by secular working- and middle-class Arabs has toppled a dictator, raising hopes that this North African country of 10 million will set off democracy movements throughout a region of calcified dictatorships. But before we envision a new Middle East remade in the manner of Europe 1989, it is worth cataloguing the pivotal ways in which Tunisia is unique.

Start with a map of classical antiquity, which shows a concentration of settlements where Tunisia is today, juxtaposed with the relative emptiness that characterizes modern-day Algeria and Libya. Jutting out into the Mediterranean close to Sicily, Tunisia has been the hub of North Africa not only under the Carthaginians and Romans, but under the Vandals, Byzantines, medieval Arabs and Turks. Whereas Algeria and Libya were but vague geographical expressions until the coming of European colonial map makers, Tunisia is an age-old cluster of civilization.

Even today, many of the roads in the country, particularly in the north, were originally Roman ones. For 2,000 years, the closer to Carthage (roughly the site of Tunis, the capital, today), the greater the level of development. Because urbanization in Tunisia started two millenniums ago, tribal identity based on nomadism — which, as the medieval historian Ibn Khaldun says, has always disrupted political stability — is correspondingly weak.

After the Roman general Scipio defeated Hannibal in 202 B.C. outside modern-day Tunis, he dug a demarcation ditch, or fossa regia, that marked the extent of civilized territory. The fossa regia remains relevant. Still visible in places, it runs from Tabarka on Tunisia’s northwestern coast southward, and then turns directly eastward to Sfax, another Mediterranean port. The towns beyond that line have fewer Roman remains, and today tend to be poorer and less developed, with historically higher rates of unemployment.

The town of Sidi Bouzid, where the recent revolt started when a vendor of fruit and vegetables set himself on fire, lies just beyond Scipio’s line. Tunisia is less part of the connective tissue of Arab North Africa than a demographic and cultural island bordered by sea and desert, with upwardly mobile European aspirations.

Tunisia has a relatively large middle class because of something so obvious it goes unremarked upon: it is a real state, with historical and geographical legitimacy, where political arguments are about budgets and food subsidies, not the extremist ideologies that have plagued its neighbors, Algeria and Libya. It is a state not only because of the legacy of Rome and other empires, but because of human agency, in the person of Habib Bourguiba, one of the lesser-known great men of the 20th century.

Bourguiba was the Arab Ataturk, who ruled Tunisia in a fiercely secular style for its first three decades after independence from France in the mid-1950s. Rather than envision grandiose building projects or a mighty army, Bourguiba devoted generous financing to birth control programs, rural women’s literacy and primary-school education. He cracked down on the wearing of the veil, actually tried to do away with Ramadan, and advocated normalizing relations with Israel more than a decade before Anwar Sadat of Egypt went to Jerusalem. Yes, he was an authoritarian, but the result of his rule was that Tunisia, with moderate political tendencies and no serious ethnic or sectarian splits, has been poised since the 1980s for a democratic experiment.

In 1987, while faced by an Islamic rising, Bourguiba became too infirm to rule, and was replaced by his former interior minister, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, essentially a security boss with little vision, much like the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Ben Ali’s strategy was to keep order, which largely meant killing and torturing Islamists and other dissidents.

But before we dismiss Mr. Ben Ali entirely, we should keep in mind that for many years he presided over a growing economy and middle class, with progress penetrating to the areas beyond the fossa regia. What happened was classic development theory: rising expectations along with uneven economic growth that led to political upheaval. Unlike Bourguiba, who was always revered as the man who led the country to independence, Mr. Ben Ali had no particular cachet to save him, despite an outrageous personality cult, and his extended family was famously corrupt.

Because Bourguiba insisted that the army remain small and apolitical, it is now the most trusted institution in the country. Indeed, the Tunisian Army is a benign Leviathan that may well ensure public order and thus allow for the tumult of democracy. Nevertheless, despite all these advantages of history, prosperity and stability, Tunisia’s path forward is treacherous. As for other benighted countries in the Arab world — the ones that many observers hope will be shaken to the core by Tunisia’s revolt — they are in far worse shape.

Egypt has been effectively governed by military emergency law since 1952, with Islamic militants waiting in the wings for any kind of opportunity, even as the country is rent by tensions between its majority Muslims and Coptic Christian minority. Algeria and Libya have neither the effective institutions nor the venerable tradition of statehood that Tunisia has. Libya, should Muammar el-Qaddafi fall, would likely be much more of a mess than Tunisia post-Ben Ali.

Then there is Lebanon, with its vicious communalisms, and Syria, which has the potential to break up the way Yugoslavia did in the 1990s, given its regionally defined sectarian divisions. Syria held three free elections from 1947 to 1954 that all broke down along sectarian and regional lines, and the military regimes that have followed in Damascus did nothing to prepare their people for another bout of democracy.

As for Iraq, once the dictator was removed, tens of thousands — and perhaps hundreds of thousands — died in sectarian and ethnic violence. Often, the worse the dictator, the worse the mess after he is toppled. There have been many comparisons between Tunisia 2011 and Europe 1989, but the idea that the coming of democracy in the Middle East won’t have far more disruptions than occurred in Eastern Europe following the collapse of Communism seems naïve.

And there are plenty of reasons to think we are not on the cusp of a democratic avalanche. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 began as a revolt against the tyranny of the shah, but ended with a theocratic regime that was even worse. The seizure of the Grand Mosque at Mecca the same year by Islamic radicals might have brought a tyranny far worse than that of monarchial Saudi Arabia. In any event, it was put down and so remained a localized revolt. The Cedar Revolution in 2005 in Lebanon was stillborn.

There are some promising factors. For one, Arabic-language cable television makes the Middle East a virtual community, so that an event in one part of the region can more easily affect another part. It’s worth hoping that Tunisia’s secular Jasmine Revolution can seed similar uprisings in a restive Middle East that has undergone vast economic and social change, but suffers under the same sterile national security regimes that arose half a century ago.

Still, as the situation evolves in Tunis, and as we watch other Arab capitals expectantly, we would do well to focus less on what unites these places than on what divides them. Just as Tunisia’s circumstances are unique, so are those in all the other countries. The more we focus on the particularities of each place, the less surprised we will be by political developments.

Another thing to keep in mind: in terms of American interests and regional peace, there is plenty of peril in democracy. It was not democrats, but Arab autocrats, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan, who made peace with Israel. An autocrat firmly in charge can make concessions more easily than can a weak, elected leader — just witness the fragility of Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank government. And it was democracy that brought the extremists of Hamas to power in Gaza. In fact, do we really want a relatively enlightened leader like King Abdullah in Jordan undermined by widespread street demonstrations? We should be careful what we wish for in the Middle East.

Robert D. Kaplan, the author of “Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia and the Peloponnese,” is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic.


The Arab Freedom Epic

What a supreme irony it was for me to be in London and Paris between Saturday and Tuesday this week, as the popular revolt against the Hosni Mubarak regime reached its peak in Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities. To appreciate what is taking place in the Arab world today you have to grasp the historical significance of the events that have started changing rulers and regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, with others sure to follow. What we are witnessing is the unravelling of the post-colonial order that the British and French created in the Arab world in the 1920s and ’30s and then sustained — with American and Soviet assistance — for most of the last half century.

It is fascinating but quite provincial to focus attention — as much of the Western media is doing — on whether Facebook drove these revolts or what will happen if Muslim Brothers play a role in the governments to be formed. The Arabs are like a bride emerging on her wedding day and many people are commenting on whether her shoes match her gloves, when the real issue is how beautiful and happy she is. The events unfolding before our eyes are the third most important historical development in the Arab region in the past century, and to miss that point is to perpetuate a tradition of Western Orientalist romanticism and racism that has been a large cause of our pain for all these years. This is the most important of the three major historical markers because it is the first one that marks a process of genuine self-determination by Arab citizens who can speak and act for themselves for the first time in their modern history.

The two other pivotal historical markers were: first, the creation of the modern Arab state system around 1920 at the hands of retreating European colonial powers. Some of them were intoxicated with both imperial power and, on occasion, with cognac, when they created most of the Arab countries that have limped into the 21st century as wrecks of statehood. Then, second, the period around 1970-80 when the Euro-manufactured modern Arab state system turned into a collection of security and police states that treated their citizens as serfs without human rights and relied on massive foreign support to maintain the rickety Arab order for decades more.

Now, we witness the third and most significant Arab historical development, which is the spontaneous drive by millions of ordinary Arabs to finally assert their humanity, demand their rights, and take command of their own national condition and destiny. Never before have we had entire Arab populations stand up and insist on naming their rulers, shaping their governance system, and defining the values that drive their domestic and foreign policies. Never before have we had self-determinant and free Arab citizenries. Never before have we had grassroots political, social and religious movements force leaders to change their cabinets and reorder the role of the armed forces and police.

This is a revolt against specific Arab leaders and governing elites who implemented policies that have seen the majority of Arabs dehumanized, pauperized, victimized and marginalized by their own power structure; but it is also a revolt against the tradition of major Western powers that created the modern Arab states and then fortified and maintained them as security states after the 1970s. The process at hand now in Tunisia and Egypt will continue to ripple throughout the entire Arab world, as ordinary citizens realize that they must seize and protect their birthrights of freedom and dignity.

It is a monumental task to transform from autocracy and serfdom to democracy and human rights; the Europeans needed 500 years to make the transition from the Magna Carta to the French Revolution. The Americans needed 300 years to transition from slavery to civil rights and women’s rights. Self-determination is a slow process that needs time. The Arab world is only now starting to engage in this exhilarating process, a full century after the false and rickety statehood that drunken retreating European colonialists left behind as they fled back to their imperial heartlands.

It takes time and energy to relegitimize an entire national governance system and power structure that have been criminalized, privatized, monopolized and militarized by small groups of petty autocrats and thieving families. Tunisia and Egypt are the first to embark on this historic journey, and other Arabs will soon follow, because most Arab countries suffer the same deficiencies that have been exposed for all to see in Egypt. Make no mistake about it, we are witnessing an epic, historic moment of the birth of concepts that have long been denied to ordinary Arabs: the right to define ourselves and our governments, to assert our national values, to shape our governance systems, and to engage with each other and the rest of the world as free human beings, with rights that will not be denied forever.

In January 2011, a century after some Arabs started agitating for their freedoms from Ottoman and European colonial rule, and after many false starts in recent decades, we finally have a breakthrough to our full humanity.

Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of Beirut’s Daily Star, and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.


The American Way of Abandonment

Pat Buchanan

Hosni Mubarak, it appears, is not going to go quietly, or quickly. He is not going to play the role assigned him in the White House script that has him resigning and fleeing Egypt in the face of mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square. After U.S. diplomat Frank Wisner came to give Mubarak his marching orders, the Egyptian apparently decided that, if the Americans, whose water he has carried for years, are going to abandon him, he will play out this hand himself. And the old fighter pilot is not without cards to play. While the army has said it will not fire on the demonstrators, the army also seems to want an end to the demonstrations -- and appears reluctant to dump over a president who has been a friend and patron for decades.

And now that Mubarak has pledged on national television that he will not run again, and elections will be held in September, the cause that united the crowd -- Mubarak must go! -- appears victorious. Indeed, some demonstrators took Mubarak's announced departure as victory and went home. Why start an insurrection to deny the man his last six months? Wednesday, Mubarak played another card -- his own "people power." Mobs of toughs pushed into Tahrir Square, throwing bricks, bottles and rocks, and using whips to drive out the remnant of Tuesday's "million-man march." The army did nothing.

The ball is now in the democracy demonstrators' court. If, as Mohamed ElBaradei has proclaimed, today is Departure Day for Mubarak, it is also D-Day for them. If the army balks, they will have to force the president of Egypt out of power themselves. How do they do this if Mubarak stands his ground and the army stays neutral? Will the demonstrators keep bringing women, children and elderly into Tahrir Square when there is the possibility of a riot that could get them injured or killed?

Some demonstrators feel they have won and ought not press on. The rest seem to have no clear leader, no compelling slogan, no agreed-upon agenda, other than that Mubarak must go. ElBaradei is seen as an international bureaucrat and opportunist more at home in Viennese cafe society than Cairo, who flew in to lead a revolution he did nothing to bring about. And though Washington appears to have cut him loose to appease the crowds the White House now sees as the future of Egypt, Mubarak has sturdier allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia. Across the Middle East, monarchs and autocrats must be urging Mubarak to quash the revolution and prevent its spread to their own countries, as it has spread to Jordan and Yemen.

Mubarak has another advantage. He is an old man -- perhaps a sick man close to death -- but a soldier with a sense of honor, who has spent his life in his country's service. And he is no coward. When he says: "I have lived for this country. I have fought for it. ... I will die on this land," one ought to take him seriously.

Moreover, he knows that if he abdicates and flees, he goes into history with Ferdinand Marcos and the Shah as a despot and absconder who will be remembered for having let himself be run off by the crowd. Only if he survives this challenge of the streets -- as Charles De Gaulle survived the student riots of 1968, as Richard Nixon survived the mammoth antiwar riots and demonstrations of 1969 by calling on the Silent Majority to stand by him -- can Mubarak hope to maintain his place in the history of modern Egypt. My sense: Mubarak is determined he will be seated as president on the inaugural stand when the next Egyptian president is sworn in, and the crowd in Tahrir Square lacks what it takes to deny this to him.

But what must Mubarak think of us? He stood by us through the final Reagan decade of the Cold War. At George H.W. Bush's request, he sent his soldiers to fight alongside ours against fellow Arabs in Desert Storm. He stayed faithful to a peace with Israel his people detested. He cooperated with George Bush II in some of the nastier business of the War on Terror. A dictator, yes, but also our man in the Arab world. Yet a few hundred thousand demonstrators in Cairo's streets caused us to abandon him.

In the last half-century, how many others who cast their lot with us have we abandoned as "corrupt and dictatorial" when they started to lose their grip? Ngo Dinh Diem, Gen. Thieu and Marshal Ky, Lon Nol, Chiang Kai-shek, Marcos, the Shah, Somoza, Pinochet -- the list goes on. When we needed them, they were hailed as America's great friends. When they needed us, we abandoned them in the name of our rediscovered democratic values. "In this world, it is often dangerous to be an enemy of the United States," said Henry Kissinger, "but to be a friend is fatal." Hosni Mubarak must be thinking something like that today.


Related news:

Three killed at Albanian protest rally

Three people were killed by firearms Friday in Albanian capital Tirana after a protest rally organized by opposition Socialist Party turned into a riot. "Unfortunately, three people have died," Alfred Gega, the deputy director of Tirana's Military hospital. He added more than 30 protesters and 17 policemen had been hospitalized. One policemen and one protesters were in a critical condition. Police in riot gear took control afterwards of the main boulevard, beating some of the protesters in the street and even inside some commercial areas off the street. Reports of one more dead could not be independently confirmed.

President Bamir Topi called for calm and maturity. His calls were echoed by Socialist Party leader Edi Rama, who blamed police for provoking the protesters. Police fanned out through the main boulevard, chasing some protesters and beating them with truncheons. Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who said he had been in his office as the protest raged outside, blamed Rama and other opposition leaders for trying to oust the government in a scenario similar to the one in Tunisia. He confirmed three people were dead and said they had been shot with weapons not carried by the security forces. "Albania is not in an extraordinary situation and will not pass into an extraordinary situation. But the scenarios of violence will not be tolerated," Berisha told a news conference in his office. Amnesty International has urged the authorities to investigate the deaths.

"The police have a right to maintain order and protect the public, but they must not use excessive force against those carrying out their legitimate right to protest," said Andrea Huber, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

The European Union, the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said they deeply regretted the demonstration was not peaceful and resulted in casualties. "Violence and excessive use of force cannot be justified and should be avoided. We urgently appeal for calm and restraint on all sides and to abstain from provocations," the EU, U.S. and the OSCE said in a statement. "Albania is a democratic country and aspirant to EU membership with the necessary democratic institutions in place. We therefore renew our call for constructive dialogue and compromise to resolve the existing political differences," they added. The riot began while the crowd was walking past Berisha's office and a small group and police clashed, with protesters fighting with sticks and throwing stones. Police pushed them back by firing tear gas and rubber bullets and spraying the crowd with water cannons.

The thumping of stun grenades and tear gas bombs shook the air and there were also sounds of live ammunition being fired. Some in the crowd moved to the side of the premier's office building and began throwing stones from a museum nearby and set on fire a police car and other cars later. Two palm trees in front of Berisha's office was also set on fire. Upset with inconclusive dialogue over its demand to investigate what it calls the fraud of the June 2009 parliamentary elections, the Socialist Party called for the rally to ask for fresh polls and the resignation of the deputy premier over corruption allegations. Albania is scheduled to hold local elections on May 8.


Russian Bear Has Finally Awoken, Who Will Tame It? - January, 2011

The Russian Bear has finally awoken, who will tame it? That's a good question being asked by the EU Times online newspaper (see corresponding article below). They did all they could to keep the Bear in hibernation, which included bloody terrorist attacks against Russian targets as we just saw. But despite their best efforts, the Russian Bear has finally woken up. And fully awake, not to mention angry, Moscow has managed to reverse many Western advances throughout Eurasia. Soon, it will be poised to project its powers beyond its immediate zones of influence. During the past several years, Moscow has been revitalizing its nuclear deterrence, it is refitting/modernizing its conventional forces and it is engaging in a full-blown diplomatic blitz in various theaters of operation. As mentioned in previous posts, a balance-of-power, that which the world desperately needs today, is finally being attained once again.

According to the internationally recognized daily, the Wall Street Journal, Russia has moved tactical nuclear missiles (short range missiles with smaller nuclear warheads) close to the borders of Europe and this reportedly is fueling serious "worries" in the United States, even though America is said to have over 1000 tactical nuclear devices in its possession - of which about half are stored in European countries. Obviously, these Europe-based weapons are there against Russia. With around five hundred disclosed American-made nuclear weapons already stationed in Europe, with a European based anti-Russian missile defense shield already in the works, with over a thousand American military installations around the world (many of which are found right on the periphery of the Russian Federation), with several sovereign nations already invaded and with several more invasions already on the drawing board, Washington has the AUDACITY to complain about Moscow responding to the strategic encirclement of Russia by moving its tactical nuclear weapons closer to NATO borders?

Needless to say, Russia's reemergence as a superpower has begun flustering Western officials. And it seems that the "political right" here in the United States has finally stopped asking - what would Jesus do? The spiritual mantra of America's right now seems to be - what would Reagan do? The Wall Street Journal rant appearing on this page by two seasoned servants of the Anglo-American-Zionist empire, Edwin Meese and Richard Perle, more-or-less fantasizes about what their godman Reagan would have done with a belligerent and pesky Russia had he resurrected himself. Nonetheless, Russian Federation President Dimitry Medvedev's recent nationally televised speech had a stern warning to the West. As Britain's Telegraph reported, Medvedev said: "embrace us as a fully-fledged partner or have us as a potential foe." There was a flurry of activity in Moscow during the closing months of 2010. The following news articles deal with some of them.

January, 2011


Russian Missiles Fuel U.S. Worries

Full Video of Medvedev's Key Presidential Address (RT video):

Missile Defense or New Arms Race: Medvedev puts choice on table (RT video):

Strongest ever nuke warhead in Russian hands:

The U.S. believes Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads to facilities near North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as recently as this spring, U.S. officials say, adding to questions in Congress about Russian compliance with long-standing pledges ahead of a possible vote on a new arms-control treaty. U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers. The U.S. has long voiced concerns about Russia's lack of transparency when it comes to its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, believed to be many times the number possessed by the U.S.

Russia's movement of the ground-based tactical weapons appeared to coincide with the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile-defense installations in countries bordering Russia. Moscow has long considered the U.S. missile defense buildup in Europe a challenge to Russian power, underlining deep-seated mistrust between U.S. and Russian armed forces despite improved relations between political leaders. The Kremlin had no immediate comment. Republican critics in the Senate say it was a mistake for President Barack Obama to agree to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, or New Start, without dealing with outstanding questions about Moscow's tactical nuclear weapons. New Start would cap the Russian and U.S. deployed strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 per side. It doesn't address tactical weapons, which are smaller and for use on a battlefield.

Senior administration officials say New Start, like most arms treaties before it, deals only with strategic nuclear weapons, adding that only after it is ratified can Washington and Moscow begin to negotiate a legally binding, verifiable treaty to limit tactical warheads in Europe. The positioning of Russian tactical nuclear weapons near Eastern European and the Baltic states has alarmed NATO member-states bordering Russia. They see these as potentially a bigger danger than long-range nuclear weapons. Tactical weapons are easier to conceal and may be more vulnerable to theft, say arms-control experts. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said he raised concerns about the weapons this month with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior defense officials in Washington.

"Being a NATO member, of course, someone could say, 'Don't worry.' But when you're living in the neighborhood, you should always be more cautious," Mr. Azubalis said. He added that American officials "expressed worry but they also don't know too much" about where the weapons are and the conditions under which they are kept. Classified U.S. intelligence about Russia's movement of tactical nuclear weapons to the facilities has been shared with congressional committees.

"Being a NATO member, of course, someone could say, 'Don't worry.' But when you're living in the neighborhood, you should always be more cautious." AUDRONIUS AZUBALIS, LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER, ON CONCERNS THAT RUSSIA MAY BE MOVING NUCLEAR WARHEADS NEAR NATO ALLIES' BORDERS.

During a September hearing on the new arms-reduction treaty, Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, spoke of "troubling" intelligence about Russia without saying what it was, adding it "directly affects" the arms-control debate. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D., Mass.) countered that it had "no impact" directly on Start, without elaborating.

Sen. Christopher Bond (R., Mo.), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, refused to comment directly on the tactical nuclear warhead issue, but he said the Russians cannot be trusted to make good on their arms-control promises. "We know from published reports of the State Department that the Russians have cheated on all their other treaties, Start, chemical weapons, [biological weapons], Open Skies," he said. U.S. officials say Mr. Obama's revised approach to missile defense, and warming personal ties with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, have fostered cooperation in key areas, from isolating Iran to opening new routes to transport gear to Afghanistan.

But mistrust runs deep, U.S. diplomatic cables released by the organization WikiLeaks over the weekend showed. A February cable quoted Defense Secretary Robert Gates telling a French official that Russia was an "oligarchy run by the security services," despite Mr. Medvedev's "more pragmatic vision." A Gates spokesman declined to comment. Two senior Obama administration officials didn't deny the tactical warhead issue has arisen in private discussions with lawmakers, but said the 1991 pledges, known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, weren't legally binding on either side and were difficult to verify.

Administration officials say U.S. and Russian negotiators plan to turn their attention to tactical nuclear weapons, as well as larger strategic warheads that aren't actively deployed, as soon as New Start goes into force. "If we don't ratify Start, we're not going to be able to negotiate on tactical nuclear weapons," one said. Poland's minister of foreign affairs, Radosław Sikorski, called Start a "necessary stepping-stone" on the way to a deal to reduce tactical arsenals.

Western officials say the Russian military views its aging arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons as a way to compensate for its diminished conventional capabilities, and as a hedge against the U.S.'s expanded missile defenses and China's growing might. U.S. officials point to steps Russia has taken to meet its arms-control obligations over the last two decades, including reducing the number of nuclear-weapons storage sites, once many hundreds, to as few as 50. But officials are skeptical Russia has fulfilled all of its pledges to destroy and redeploy tactical nuclear weapons in line with the 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives.

According to the U.S. assessment, Russia has expanded tactical nuclear deployments near NATO allies several times in recent years. An example is Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. A State Department cable from April 2009 said Russia had warned it would take countermeasures, including putting "missiles" in Kaliningrad, in response to expanded U.S. missile defenses in Europe. U.S. officials believe the most recent movements of Russian tactical nuclear weapons took place in late spring. In late May, a U.S. Patriot missile battery was deployed in northern Poland, close to Kaliningrad, sparking public protests from Moscow.

Some officials said the movements are a concern but sought to play down the threat. Russian nuclear warheads are stored separately from their launching systems, U.S. officials say. In the fall of 1991, the U.S. had about 5,000 tactical nuclear weapons deployed overseas, most assigned to NATO, according to the Arms Control Association. The U.S. destroyed about 3,000 as a result of the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives. Today, the U.S. is believed to have some 1,100 tactical nuclear warheads, of which about 480 are nuclear gravity bombs stored in six European countries.

Estimates on the number of Soviet tactical nuclear weapons in fall 1991—just before the fall of the Soviet Union—ranged from 12,000 to nearly 21,700. At a May 2005 conference, Moscow said its arsenal "has been reduced by four times as compared to what the Soviet Union possessed in 1991," and was "concentrated at central storage facilities...." Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, this month reiterated the position that Russia won't withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons behind the Urals until the U.S. takes its battlefield weapons out of Europe.


Dmitry Medvedev warns of Cold War-style arms race

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev delivers a speech during his annual state-of-the-nation address in the Kremlin in Moscow on November 30, 2010. Medvedev opened his state-of-nation address by vowing to modernize the economy and help solve the country's rapid population decline. Vowing to bring down inflation and achieve stronger growth, Medvedev said his government had helped recover the nation from the worst consequences of the 2009 global financial crisis.

Dmitry Medvedev has warned the world will be plunged into a new Cold War-style arms race within a decade unless Moscow and the West can strike a deal on a new missile defence system. Mr Medvedev, the Russian president, who was giving his annual state-of-the-nation speech in the Kremlin, issued the stark warning in an apparent attempt to strong-arm Nato into caving in on the sensitive issue. He is reported to have presented his own blueprint for a joint Nato-Russia missile defence shield at the Nato summit in Lisbon earlier this month but to have got only a lukewarm response. Analysts said his blunt message to the West on Tuesday appeared to be: embrace us as a fully-fledged partner or have us as a potential foe.

"In the coming 10 years, we are facing the following alternative," he told an audience of Russia's top decision makers including Vladimir Putin, the prime minister. Either we agree on anti-missile defence and opt for fully-fledged joint co-operation, or – if we fail to get constructive co-operation – (we will face) a new round of the arms race." To stormy applause Mr Medvedev warned that Russia would be forced to start thinking about where to deploy "new offensive weapons" if there was no agreement with Nato, raising the spectre of the Kremlin pumping billions more into a new nuclear weapons programme. Such a scenario would be "very grave," he noted.

Though he made it clear his preferred option would be to cut a deal with Nato, his outburst is unlikely to win him many friends in the 28-member military alliance. Whilst Nato has made it clear it is keen to co-operate more closely with Russia, it has not so far given any indication that it is ready to integrate its defence architecture with Russia's as fully or as quickly as Mr Medvedev seems to want. His tough talk appeared to reflect growing Russian anxiety that a landmark US-Russia nuclear arms reduction pact known as the new START will be scuttled by newly emboldened Republicans in the US Senate.

A close aide to Mr Medvedev said after his speech that if START faltered it would "mean nothing good." Separately, reports on Tuesday that Russia had moved tactical nuclear weapons up to Nato member states' borders as recently as this spring were seized upon by opponents of the treaty who said the move showed that Russia could not be trusted. The Kremlin declined to confirm or deny the claims which had purportedly originated in a US intelligence report.

Mr Medvedev's arms race warning came in an otherwise lacklustre speech. He pointedly said nothing of substance about his own future or Russian politics, stoking speculation that he will hand the presidency back to Mr Putin in 2012. Mr Putin has said the two men will decide which of them will run for president nearer the time depending on the country's economic and political situation. With his political future so uncertain, Mr Medvedev has therefore tried to avoid looking like a lame duck president. But analysts said his speech on Tuesday looked like that of a man winding down politically rather than someone who was actively staking a claim for a new mandate. Mr Putin is expected to upstage Mr Medvedev later this week when he gives a long interview to CNN's veteran broadcaster Larry King.


Blunt and Blustery, Putin Responds to State Department Cables on Russia

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin responded Wednesday to criticism of Russia revealed in United States diplomatic cables published by the Web site WikiLeaks, warning Washington not to interfere in Russian domestic affairs. His comments, made in an interview broadcast Wednesday night on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” referred to a cable that said “Russian democracy has disappeared” and that described the government as “an oligarchy run by the security services,” a statement attributed to the American defense secretary, Robert M. Gates. Mr. Putin said in the interview that Mr. Gates had been “deeply misled.” Asked about a cable that described President Dmitri A. Medvedev as “playing Robin to Putin’s Batman,” he said the author had “aimed to slander one of us.”

Mr. King, whose program is carried on CNN’s channels around the world, has long had a reputation for softball questions. So Mr. Putin’s decision to appear on the program allowed his voice to be heard both in the United States and abroad while avoiding being challenged on contentious topics like his own grip on power and the limits on human rights and free speech in Russia. In the interview, Mr. Putin also warned that Russia would develop and deploy new nuclear weapons if the United States did not accept its proposals on integrating Russian and European missile defense forces — amplifying a comment made by Mr. Medvedev in his annual state of the nation address on Tuesday.

“We’ve just put forward a proposal showing how jointly working, tackling the shared problem of security, could share responsibility between ourselves,” he said. “But if our proposals will be met with only negative answers, and if on top of that additional threats are built near our borders as this, Russia will have to ensure her own security through different means,” including “new nuclear missile technologies.” Mr. Putin said Moscow would like to avoid this situation. “This is no threat on our part,” he said. “We are simply saying this is what we expect to happen if we don’t agree on a joint effort there.” Last month, during a NATO-Russia summit meeting in Lisbon, the delegations discussed President Obama’s invitation for Russia to take some role in the future missile shield, perhaps through linkage between Russian facilities and the European shield.

At that meeting, Mr. Medvedev proposed “sectoral missile defense,” which would divide the missile defense shield into “zones of responsibility,” and involve deep coordination between the European and Russian sectors, said Dmitri V. Trenin, a military analyst and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. According to this plan, Russia would shoot down missiles flying over its territory toward Europe, and NATO would shoot down missiles flying over European territory toward Russia, he said.NATO’s proposals for cooperation are less ambitious, and some members remain deeply mistrustful of Russian involvement, he said. Mr. Putin appeared relaxed in the hourlong interview with Mr. King, who first interviewed him in 2000. He said he was “thankful” for President Obama’s softening of rhetoric toward Russia and for his revision of a planned missile defense shield in Europe.

Asked about the arrest this summer of 11 people accused of spying for Russia, Mr. Putin said the agents were not active, but would have “become pertinent in crisis periods, like when diplomatic relations were suspended or cut.” His comment seemed to address one of the central mysteries of the summer spy scandal: why the agents were passing on information that was readily accessible without spying. In the interview, Mr. Putin broke from the restrained response Russian leaders have so far given to the WikiLeaks cables, which have so far offered few real revelations about sensitive topics like corruption. The comments attributed to Mr. Gates, in a cable dated Feb. 8, 2010, used the harshest language made public so far.

Mr. Putin said that several American presidents had been elected through the electoral college system even though they did not win a majority of the popular vote, but that Russia did not press the point. “When we are talking with our American friends and tell them there are systemic problems” with the electoral college system, “we hear from them: ‘Don’t interfere with our affairs. This is our tradition, and it’s going to continue like that.’ We are not interfering. “But to our colleagues, I would also like to advise you not to interfere with the sovereign choice of the Russian people,” he said. He played down the impact of the cables’ release, and went on to suggest that they might be fakes being circulated for obscure political purposes. “Some experts believe that somebody is deceiving WikiLeaks, that their reputation is being undermined to use them for their own political purposes later on,” he said. “That is one of the possibilities there. That is the opinion of the experts.”


New Start: What Would Reagan Do?

President Obama has taken to the airwaves to pump up support for the New Start Treaty with Russia by arguing that Ronald Reagan would have endorsed it. Both of us had the high honor of knowing our 40th president. We worked for Ronald Reagan, and we're sure that's not the case. There are many reasons why this treaty falls short of those negotiated by President Reagan. For one thing, its verification regime is inadequate. For another, it gives the Kremlin an unwarranted influence over the structure of our nuclear deterrent. Most important, it will almost certainly reduce our freedom to deploy vital defenses against ballistic missiles.

Moreover, the administration is asking a lame-duck Senate, dominated by a party that was rebuked at the polls by the electorate, to vote for this major arms-control treaty, in contravention of the settled traditions of our country—a tactic Reagan surely would have deplored. Never in U.S. history has a lame-duck Congress voted on a strategic nuclear arms-control treaty with the Soviet Union or Russia. That is why a group of 10 newly elected Republican senators sent a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanding that they be allowed to perform their constitutionally mandated task of advice and consent on this treaty.

The main reason Reagan would have objected to this treaty is that it may well undermine his dream that our country might one day be shielded by a missile defense system from nuclear attack. On this issue, Presidents Obama and Reagan are diametrically opposed. Reagan was adamant that no arms- control agreement be allowed to encumber the pursuit of advanced ballistic missile defense technology. One of us (Mr. Perle) was present in Iceland when he turned down an otherwise desirable treaty with the Soviet Union precisely because it would have impeded work on his Strategic Defense Initiative.

The administration claims that the treaty has no effect on any American missile-defense program. Surely it knows better. Paragraph nine of the preamble establishes a bias against missile defense. It accepts our "current" defenses while implying that future U.S. defensive systems might undermine the "viability and effectiveness" of Russia's strategic nuclear force. With this unfortunate paragraph, New Start returns to the old Cold War "balance of terror" and assumes that attempts to defend the U.S. and its allies with missile defenses against strategic attack are threatening to Russia and thus destabilizing.

Limiting missile defenses to preserve U.S. vulnerability to Russian strategic nuclear strikes (as defined by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev or their successors) will result in less effective defenses against any and all countries, including Iran and North Korea. Additionally, paragraph three of Article V prohibits conversion of offensive strategic missile launchers to launchers of defensive interceptors. Article XII and Part Six of the Protocol create an implementing body, called the Bilateral Consultative Commission, and gives it a broad mandate which could permit it to impose additional restrictions on the U.S. missile defense program. Article IX, Part Seven of the Protocol, as well as the Annex on Telemetric Information to the Protocol, could require the U.S. to share sensitive telemetric information from missile defense tests.

The treaty also places limits on strategic target missiles and their launchers used in missile defense tests. The Senate should deliberate carefully on these restrictions and their implications for long-term comprehensive missile defense before rushing to a vote. These issues were not adequately addressed during committee hearings on the treaty. And the full extent of their effects can be understood only after a serious examination of the withheld negotiating record. What are they hiding?

The crux of Mr. Obama's "Reagan Argument"—invoked no fewer than five times in his weekly address to the nation—is that New Start is rooted in Reagan's famous dictum "Trust, but verify," an old Russian proverb. But New Start has a very weak verification regime, one that establishes a dangerous precedent and lowers our standards for verification. To cite a couple of problems, under New Start, there is no on-site monitoring of mobile missile production facilities. This procedure was deemed necessary under the original Start treaty to help keep track of new mobile missiles entering the Russian force. There are also fewer on-site inspections, and Russia may declare certain locations to be maintenance areas, which are not subject to warhead inspection.

Secondly, New Start's verification provisions would provide little or no help in detecting illegal activity at locations the Russians did not declare, are off-limits to U.S. inspectors, or are hidden from U.S. satellites. Inspectors would inspect only declared sites, a precedent that could be invoked by others—Iran, for example—and must be regarded as unacceptable. President Reagan knew that in arms control the U.S. should play to win, and negotiate from a position of strength. With all the concessions the U.S. made to the Russians to secure this flawed agreement, the invocation of Reagan's memory on its behalf is at once an ironic acknowledgment that in these matters Ronald Reagan is the gold standard, and a brazen act of misappropriation.

Mr. Meese was attorney general and a member of the National Security Council, and Mr. Perle was assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.


Russian Bear Has Finally Awoken, Who Will Tame It?

Last month, Russia signed a deal establishing a military base in the breakaway state of Abkhazia, reinforcing Russia’s image as a threat to stability in the region. The deal allows for the building of a military base that would house 3,000 Russian troops for 49 years. Plans to build a naval base in Abkhazia’s port of Ochamchire also indicate Russia’s commitment to future presence in the region. Abkhazia is one of two breakaway regions of the Republic of Georgia, the other being South Ossetia. South Ossetia was the center of a conflict between Russia and Georgia, won by the Russians, that elicited condemnations from the world community against Russia and its violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity. Russia withdrew from Georgia but promptly recognized both South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence, taking them under Russia’s protective wing and effectively using them as buffer zones against Georgia. Russia claims that they are in favor of state sovereignty and the interests of both states and their peoples.

But according to Reuters, “both use the Russian rouble and Moscow has issued most residents with Russian passports.” With both regions lacking any realistic form of economic independence, we can only conclude that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are another notch on Russia’s belt. The Russian bear, the symbol and personification of Russian imperialism, hibernated throughout the 1990s, trying to reform its economic system and adapting to a new world. Even though powerful oligarchs controlled the corporate scene contributed to Russia’s financial crisis in 1998, the Russian state continued to use them their advantage. Many times they bought companies in the energy sector, directly funneling revenues into Russia’s pockets. Russia used its natural gas and oil reserves to strong-arm countries like Ukraine, Poland and others in the Eastern bloc into buying its gas and oil, necessary for the area’s frigid winters. Organizations like the European Union as well as NATO only solidify Russia’s mindset in a “them versus us” game. Tensions are running high along the expanding borders of NATO, the military alliance formed to combat the Soviet Union and something Russia still takes to heart. The Berlin Wall may have fallen and the USSR may have collapsed, but old feelings and perceptions run deep.

Russia has awoken from its hibernation, its eye on an empire once again. It has flexed its muscles in the continuing conflict in Chechnya, the war with Georgia in South Ossetia, its continued military buildup in Abhazia and South Ossetia as well as threatening to place short-range nukes on its borders in response to US plans to install a radar station and missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. “Der Spiegel” reported that Mikhail Margelov, a Russian foreign policy expert, felt “Russia’s uncompromising position on the issue” forced the United States to opt out of constructing the missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. In short, Russia’s stubbornness and opposition got the country what it wanted. Russia still knows how to play the game of power politics, throwing its weight around in the right situations. Europe, which receives large reserves of natural gas from Russia, fears being cut off if they institute any economic sanctions and the United States, even with its warm relations with Georgia, can only do so much without risking an international conflict.

Although international treaties can set certain borders and conditions, in the end there are loopholes and gray areas and many of the rules are not enforced. Sometimes there might be a lack of evidence but most of the time it’s because the amount of effort and time required to go through the entire process of charging a country with violations of treaties, especially Russia. The Russians know they hold political sway. They are power brokers who can bend countries to their will with memories of the Cuban missile crisis. Russia has a history of bending the rules, testing the waters and stretching the limits of international law. As long as the present attitudes exist and international laws continue to be ineffective, Russia will stay on its imperial course. The Russian bear has finally awoken. Who will tame it?


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With Ukraine's Blessing, Russia To Beef Up Its Black Sea Fleet

Russia lays down new frigate for Black Sea Fleet. © RIA Novosti.Vasili Batanov

Just a year ago Ukraine was insisting that Russia would be required to vacate the Crimean naval base of Sevastopol when its old lease expired in 2017. That would have posed serious problems for Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet, which is headquartered there. But today, after pro-Moscow President President Viktor Yanukovych took office in February, Russia appears completely secure in its military foothold on Ukrainian soil until at least 2042. In a quiet announcement Monday, Moscow revealed that – with Ukrainian consent – it will "upgrade" its Black Sea fleet over the next decade with at least 18 new warships, including six new frigates, six submarines, two giant troop-landing ships, and new squadrons of naval aircraft. "I am quite sure that the Russian Black Sea fleet will stay in Ukraine till doomsday," says Kirill Frolov, an expert with the official Russian Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States. The Russian naval upgrade is likely to cause waves around the Black Sea, which is bordered by NATO members Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, as well as Ukraine and Georgia. The NATO aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia, both former Soviet republics, had stirred strong concerns in Moscow. But with NATO rules stipulating that member countries may not host non-NATO foreign military bases on their soil, Mr. Yanukovych's agreement to prolong Russia's grip on Sevastopol would seem to block Ukraine from even considering joining the alliance for decades to come.

The tilt toward Moscow

Since the narrow electoral victory Mr. Yanukovych in February, Ukraine's previous pro-Western drift has gone into sharp reverse. The Slavic neighbors now seem headed into a full strategic embrace. Under former President Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine was committed to quickly joining NATO, but Mr. Yanukovych put an end to that last April by quietly closing down the government commission that was preparing for the move. According to an agreement last week between Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his Ukrainian counterpart Mikhail Yezhel, Kiev is now on board with Moscow's wish to restore the potency of its Black Sea naval arm. Until now, the Black Sea fleet has been mostly rusting at anchor in Sevastopol since the collapse of the USSR almost two decades ago.

Russia says fleet protects Ukraine, too

When Russia and another NATO aspirant, Georgia, fought a brief summer war in 2008, Ukraine – which sympathized with Georgia – complained about the use of Black Sea fleet warships deployed against Georgia from Ukrainian territory without Kiev's permission. Russia now says it will inform Ukraine about any future movements of the fleet in advance. Some Ukrainian analysts say that's not enough. "If the fleet is situated on Ukrainian territory, any actions it makes should take Ukrainian interests into account," says Andrei Yermolayev, director of the Sofia Center, an independent think tank in Kiev. "I think Ukrainian military specialists, security experts and politicians have to be given facts about the modernization. We have a right to know what are Russia's plans, goals, and strategy." Last week the two defense ministers also agreed to broaden military cooperation, including holding joint war games in Russia's southern region next summer. "We think that modernizing the Black Sea Fleet is beneficial for Ukraine as well as Russia," says Mr. Frolov of the Russian Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States. "First, Russia is paying an enormous rent for the use of this base. Secondly, the fleet not only protects Russia but also Ukraine."

Popular among Ukrainians

Last April, when Yanukovych agreed to extend the Russian Navy's lease on Sevastopol by 25 years in exchange for a 30 percent discount on Russian natural gas, the Ukrainian opposition in parliament hurled smoke bombs and denounced the deal as "a black page in Ukrainian history." But protests Monday were muted, with Ukrainian analysts pointing out that the bargain to retain the Russian fleet in Sevastopol remains widely popular among Ukrainians – polls show that about 60 percent approve – and many hope the Russian presence will yield further economic benefits. "I don't think anybody is very indignant about the Russians modernizing their fleet," says Viktor Nebozhenko, director of Ukrainian Barometer, an independent Kiev think tank. "It's their own business. It would become intensely popular among Ukrainians if they decided to build some of those new ships in [the languishing Soviet-era military shipyards near the Ukrainian port of] Nikolayev," he adds. "We need the jobs."


France, Turning to a New Partner, Dismays an Old One Over a Ship

After France, one of America’s closest allies, announced in February that it hoped to sell a Mistral — a ship that carries helicopters and can conduct amphibious assaults — to Russia, with the option to sell several more, American officials soon raised objections. The proposed transaction would be the largest sale by a Western country to Russia since the end of World War II. The commander of the Russian Navy has said that if his Black Sea fleet had had such a ship during the 2008 war with Georgia, it would have been able to carry out its operations in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours.

Some Eastern European NATO members, including Lithuania and Estonia, protested the deal, according to a cable by Ivo H. Daalder, the United States ambassador to NATO. The United States opposed it as well. In a November 2009 cable titled “Mistral Sale Could Destabilize Black Sea,” John R. Bass, the American ambassador to Georgia, recommended that the Obama administration discourage the sale or at least seek a stipulation that the Russians should not deploy the vessel in the Black Sea.

“This sale would render the already difficult task of getting Russia to comply with its ceasefire commitments nearly impossible, and it would potentially increase the militarization of, and instability in, the Black Sea region,” Ambassador Bass’s cable noted. Hervé Morin, France’s defense minister at the time, defended the sale in a February meeting with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, arguing that that a single ship would not change the military balance and that the sale was a “way to send a message of partnership to Russia at a critical time.”

But Mr. Gates argued that the sale would send the wrong message to Russia given France’s role in brokering a cease-fire in Georgia, “which Russia was not fully honoring.” The Russians say that they intend to decide shortly between the French proposal and several other offers. A French shipbuilder said that if France won the contract, the first ship would be built in 2013.


Armenia Displays Sophisticated Air Defense Systems

After several years of silence on the issue, Armenia has officially confirmed the existence of the sophisticated Russian-supplied S-300 air defense system in its military arsenal and demonstrated this by broadcasting video evidence. The authorities in Yerevan have also approved a five-year plan to modernize the Armenian armed forces, which envisages the acquisition of precision-guided surface-to-surface missiles.

These developments reflect Armenia’s intensifying arms race with Azerbaijan in the unresolved conflict over Karabakh. They were clearly made possible by a further deepening of Russian-Armenian military ties that led to the signing of a new defense agreement between Moscow and Yerevan in August 2010. The accord signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s state visit to Armenia extended Russia’s lease on a military base in the country by 24 years, until 2044, and upgraded its security mission. It also commits Moscow to supplying the Armenian army with “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware” (Armenian Public Television, December 25).

Moscow had significantly reinforced the combat capacity of the Russian base, headquartered in the northern Armenian city of Gyumri, by deploying a division of S-300 systems and two dozen MiG-29 fighter jets there in the late 1990’s. The two countries agreed to jointly defend Armenia’s airspace in the same period. Their integrated air defense system was given a “regional” status by the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in early 2007. Moreover, in 2007, Russian military officials first indicated that the Armenian military had its own S-300’s. The then commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force, Colonel-General Vladimir Mikhailov, said that Moscow was modernizing Armenian air defense capabilities and would continue doing so in future. Mikhailov’s deputy, Lieutenant-General Aytech Bizhev, revealed that as part of that assistance, Armenian officers had been trained to operate the long-range S-300 surface-to-air missile system known for its precision (, 15 February 2007).

It was not until December 20, 2010 that Yerevan explicitly confirmed possessing S-300’s. In a written statement, the Armenian defense ministry stated that Defense Minister, Seyran Ohanian, visited an anti-aircraft military unit and “familiarized himself with the work of the state-of-the-art S-300 air-defense systems.” The statement added that Ohanian also inaugurated a new Russian-Armenian “air-defense command point” featuring S-300’s.

Five days later, the ministry aired on state television a ten-minute report showcasing the Russian-made systems, test-firing missiles in an undisclosed location in Armenia and providing a detailed description of their technical-tactical characteristics. The footage also featured an excerpt from a speech delivered by Ohanian to military personnel. “We have acquired new means [of air defense] … and those acquisitions will be expanded in 2011. The air defenses of our enemies do not have means of this type and quantity,” Ohanian said (Armenian Public Television, December 25).

Neither Ohanian, nor other military officials specified precisely when the Armenian military received the S-300’s or at what cost. Armenia’s official defense budget in 2010 was an equivalent of about $400 million, a sum comparable to the market price of two or more S-300 divisions. Moscow is thus likely to have delivered the systems to its main regional ally at a knockdown price or even free of charge.

Earlier in December 2010, Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan, and the National Security Council approved the State Program of Developing Weaponry and Military Hardware in 2011-2015. Sargsyan’s office released few details of the modernization plan, saying only that the Armenian army will procure more “state-of-the-art weapons” (Statement by the Armenian presidential press service, December 11).

The modernization plan is essentially based on two documents approved in August 2010 by an ad hoc government task force. Ohanian told journalists then that Armenia will enhance its “long-range strike capacity” and will be able to “thwart enemy movements deep inside the entire theater of hostilities.” Ohanian did not deny that the planned arms acquisitions are a response to the ongoing military build-up in Azerbaijan and Baku’s growing threats to resolve the Karabakh conflict by force (, August 10). Azerbaijani defense spending, fuelled by the country’s massive oil revenues, is projected to total over $3 billion and will slightly surpass Armenia’s entire state budget in 2011.

In a subsequent interview with Radio Free Europe’s Armenian service, Ohanian noted that the precision-guided weapons sought by Yerevan would potentially target the “strategic facilities” of Armenia’s hostile neighbors. The Armenian military is believed to already possess short-range tactical missiles capable of striking military and civilian targets in Azerbaijan (RFE/RL, December 13).

The linkage between the military modernization plan and the Russian-Armenian defense pact was effectively acknowledged by Artur Baghdasarian, the Secretary of the National Security Council. Baghdasarian also reaffirmed the two governments’ intention to set up joint defense ventures to be based in Armenia. The Kremlin called into question its supposedly pro-Armenian stance when it pointedly declined to refute, prior to Medvedev’s visit to Yerevan, Russian press reports that it also plans to sell S-300’s to Azerbaijan. Armenian opposition figures and commentators voiced serious concerns about this possibility, saying that it would change the balance of forces in the conflict zone in Azerbaijan’s favor. Armenian officials dismissed such fears, with Ohanian claiming that his forces “know the ways of reducing the effectiveness of such systems” (Armenian Public Television, December 25).

Whatever the reality, Yerevan sees no option other than to continue relying heavily on military cooperation with Moscow. With internationally mediated Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks remaining deadlocked and the vast majority of Armenians still strongly opposed to any peaceful settlement that would place Karabakh under Azeri control, Armenia currently seems to lack viable policy alternatives.