At the Crossroads of Strategic Pipeline Corridors - July, 2011

The quicker Armenians comprehend the true nature and character of international relations, the quicker will Armenia develop in an unforgiving world run by cutthroat geopolitics. While for us Armenians issues regarding Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) may be a matter of righting the wrongs of history, or a matter of self-determination, the rest of the world sees it simply as a matter of energy politics! Thus, matters concerning liberated Artsakh is better understood when looked at in the context of superpower politics and the control of energy production and distribution.

It is widely recognized that Central Asia is home to one of the world's largest reserves of energy. The Western inspired Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline is one of the few sources of Central Asian energy that is not under Moscow's direct control or indirect influence. Moreover, Moscow's military presence in Armenia and the historic war that took place between Russia and Georgia in the summer of 2008 has put Moscow in the much enviable position to control the south Caucasus; thus threatening all sorts of Western projects in the region.

Although the Western alliance is desperately trying to preserve its presence in the Caucasus, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Moscow today is ultimately the judge, jury and executioner in the region. More and more nations are beginning to accept this hard reality. And this fact raises the following question: will the West give in to the region's strong Russian presence or will it attempt to intensify its efforts to foment unrest in the region? The ultimate intention for power-brokers in the West of course is to break Moscow's control; their ultimate prize being the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Caucasus.

As I had mentioned in my previous commentaries, in these times of widespread political turmoil, economic uncertainty and dwindling energy resources, various political/economic interests are preparing themselves for a major global confrontation. Strategically placed nations such as Armenia will most probably find themselves on the front-lines of this inevitable war. While there are many variables and factors that will determine the final outcome of the upcoming global bloodletting, those that find themselves in a position to control energy production and distribution will ultimately come out of the crisis as the winner.

When it comes to energy politics, one thing is certain: the Anglo-American-Zionist global empire will not give in to an energy rich Moscow - simply because doing so will ultimately subjugate them economically and make them vulnerable to Moscow's political machinations. How can the West's political/financial elite, who for centuries were the masters of exploitation allow themselves to become the exploited?

Simply put, the West will not allow itself to dance to music emanating from Moscow.

Similar to how its British and French predecessors found convenient opportunities to ally themselves with the dreaded Ottoman Empire in the 19th century simply to weaken Czarist Russia, the current global order will even ally itself with the devil to undermine a resurgent Russian Federation. For hundreds of years, major powers have had their eyes set on the vast territories controlled by Russia. Russia was the enemy when the Czars reigned, Russia was the enemy when communists reigned, Russia continues to be the enemy today. And, as long as it remains politically independent and ambitious, Russia will continue being the enemy in the future. As we see, the more things change the more they remain the same.

Within the high-stakes geopolitical chess game currently being played in the Caucasus, the Armenian factor in this international tournament will play prominently. If Armenia is an obstacle to Western energy interests in the Caucasus, for Russia, Armenia is a pivotal strategic player; a regional fortress against Western, Turkic and Islamic interests. As a result, we can all expect Moscow to fully back Armenia, politically, economically and militarily.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, a strong convergence of interests was developed between Moscow and Yerevan. Under Serj Sargsyan's competent rule, Armenian-Russian alliances has more-or-less been institutionalized. While Russia and Armenia enjoy strategic relations today (and will do so for the foreseeable future or as long as an Islamic, Turkic or Western threat remains in the Caucasus region), the Kremlin's primary job is of course to look after its interests. Thus, Russia's good will towards Armenia may be considered temporary or limited when considered in the long-term. For the foreseeable future, however, there is clearly a great window of opportunity for Armenia. Official Yerevan and the Armenian diaspora need to have the foresight to fully exploit its current relations with Moscow for the long-term benefit of the Armenian state.

It must be pointed out here that this exploitation cannot happen through Russophobia or through suicidal flirtations with the West; it can only happen through Armenia's deeper integration in the political and financial infrastructures of the Kremlin. So, in a certain sense, it's high time for Armenians to stop admiring Jews and begin acting like Jews.

For Armenians, issues regarding Artsakh is simply a matter of justice and nationalism. For Russian policy makers, a pro-Russian enclave in the Caucasus such as Artsakh is a geostrategic barrier against Western encroachment in the region. For Russian policy makers, Artsakh keeps oil-rich and Islamic Azerbaijan in a tight vice, in effect making Baku more-or-less a hostage to Moscow. It must also be pointed out that via the unresolved conflict in Artsakh, Russian officials are able to force Yerevan's dependence on Moscow. For reasons stated above, it's obvious that Moscow does not wish to see a real resolution to the conflict in question. It is obvious that matters concerning Artsakh are taken very seriously by Kremlin officials. The 1999 parliamentary killings in Armenia, in which several prominent Armenian politicians were assassinated, may have been directly connected to an ill-fated and foolish attempt at solving the dispute independent of Moscow.

Nevertheless, it must also be said that the prevailing status quo in the region, however troubling in the short term, is fully in Armenia's favor in the long term.

The longer the so-called peace process is dragged out the better it is for Armenia. There may come a day, however, when Armenia may be forced to pull back from some portions of the liberated territories in exchange of a serious peace deal with Baku. But, as of now, that day, if it is to come, seems to be very far away.
There are no indicators today that Moscow is putting any sort of pressure on Yerevan. On the contrary, all indicators on the ground suggest that Moscow is helping Armenia dig firmly into Artsakh for the long-term.

Again, allow me to remind the reader that a viable and a friendly Armenia is Moscow's security guarantee in the strategic yet troublesome Caucasus. Armenia is Russia's sledgehammer hanging over regional Turkic/Islamic heads. It must also be said that Baku has not waged another war against Artsakh not because it fears Armenia's small military or Armenia's big talking (but under-performing diaspora) but because it fears Moscow's reaction. Despite their constant barkings, the outcome of the historic events of August 2008 may have all but frustrated Baku's wishes of starting another war against Moscow's wishes.

CIA's "Radio Free Europe" quoted the following comment made by a Russian-Muslim political analyst that warrants a closer look:
"Political analyst Ilqar Mammadov told RFE/RL on July 28 that when Azerbaijani officials, including the president, predict that Armenia will collapse as a state, they are mistaken. "Nobody will let Armenia collapse," he said. "If we see a deterioration in the economy and a decline in the population, we should also note Russia's major economic growth.... Even if only 100,000 people lived in Armenia, Russia would protect it as it regards Armenia as its outpost"
This analysts clearly echoes what I have been saying for years: as long as it plays its geopolitical cards correctly, that is as long as it stays allied to the Russian Federation and continues hosting Russian forces on its soil, Armenia can expect unconditional protection from Moscow against regional threats. Armenians need to fully exploit this geopolitical opportunity.

Moreover, for the past several years, Moscow has clearly taken the initiative in conflict resolution efforts regarding Artsakh. Since Georgia's defeat and since the economic weakening of the Western alliance, Moscow has more-or-less been leading the peace process in Artsakh. Again, this is a clear sign that Washington has reluctantly given in to Moscow's influence in the strategic region in question.

Although the overall geopolitical situation at hand provides a clear political opportunity for Yerevan,
it must also be mentioned that the relationship between Moscow and Baku is also developing. Although it sees Armenia as a reliable strategic partner in an unreliable and volatile region, Moscow also realizes that it cannot afford to totally alienate an energy rich Baku. As a result, Moscow is carefully managing the situation as it struggles to maintain military parity between Yerevan and Baku. Despite its dealing with Baku and Ankara, however, it has become painfully clear for Azeris and Turks that Moscow will simply not sacrifice Armenia for mere financial gains.

Nevertheless, official Yerevan cannot become idle, it needs to be proactive and it needs to take advantage of the political, economic and military opportunities Moscow is currently providing it.
Armenians also need to stop wasting their limited resources in an anti-Armenian vipers' nest like Washington and seriously begin making a concerted pan-national effort within the halls of the Kremlin. Simply put, for the sake of Armenia and Artsakh, Yerevan needs closer, more intimate cooperation with the Russian Federation and Russian-Armenians need deeper integration within Russian society. Armenians are already well positioned in Russia. With some effort and foresight, Armenians can be in Russia what Jews are in America.

I have posted several recent articles concerning the on-going dispute between Yerevan and Baku
. The last two articles in particular are significant in that they clearly reveal the American and Russian styles of reporting when it comes to Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh. However, knowing the kind of psychosis that many Armenians suffer from these days, I realize that it may require the daylight bombing of Yerevan by American cruise-missiles to convince our nation's naive populace that official Washington was, is and will continue being an enemy to the Armenian state.

July, 2011


At the Crossroads of Strategic Pipeline Corridors: Settling the Dispute Over Nagorno-Karabakh

BTC Pipeline - Oil Connection:

When compared to the other disputed former Soviet territories of Pridnestrovie (also referred to as Transnistria, Transdniestria, Transdnestr and Trans-Dniester), South Ossetia and Abkhazia - Nagorno Karabakh (which Armenians also refer to as Artsakh) often seems to get the least attention. This despite the latter being the bloodiest of these conflicts. Geographically, Nagorno-Karabakh is further away from the European Union nations and the United States than the other mentioned lands. As is true with a number of other conflicts, some find this contested former Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic territory to have murky conditions, in terms of determining which side (Armenian or Azeri) to fully support. Materialistically, fossil fuel rich Azerbaijan is the greater prize. There is also a degree of understandable sympathy for the tragic past of the Armenian people and some expressed apprehension with the human rights situations in Azerbaijan and (to an overall lesser extent) Armenia.

Since last August's war involving the Georgian government's armed attack on South Ossetia, there has been an increase in diplomatic activity among countries considered as key diplomatic parties in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. In September, the president of Turkey (a country seen as sympathetic to Azerbaijan and historically at odds with Armenia) and his Armenian counterpart met in Yerevan. An optimistic overview was given of that occurrence. The presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia held a November meeting in Moscow, in what was described as upbeat. In February, the Turkish president met his Russian counterpart in Russia. During his stay there, Turkey's president visited the predominately Muslim republic of Tatarstan. The Russo-Turkish meeting further encouraged the growing commercial ties between the two countries.

While differences still exist over Nagorno-Karabakh, a more peaceful climate serves to increase the possibility of a settlement. Azerbaijan remains unable to implement its authority in Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, no nation (including Armenia) formally recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh's independence. Although close to Armenia's border, Nagorno-Karabakh is landlocked within Azerbaijan. With the idea of a compromise in mind, perhaps a unique situation can be arranged, where Nagorno-Karabakh is jointly recognized as a part of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The conditions worked out under this hypothetical agreement would concern the return of refugees and the finer points on how Nagorno-Karabakh would be administered.

A referendum on Nagorno-Karabakh's status (discussed at the November meeting in Moscow) has different options. The one having only the participation of Nagorno-Karabakh's residents is not preferred by Azerbaijan, because of the majority Armenian presence in that territory. The Armenians would still constitute a majority, even if verified refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh were permitted to vote (the 1989 Soviet census listed Armenians comprising around 75 percent of that territory's population). Armenians are not fond of a referendum that would include all of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan's population is over twice that of Armenia's (roughly 8 million to 3 million), with the main ethnic group in each country (Armenian in Armenia and Azeri in Azerbaijan) making up over 90% of the population. This statistic includes Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan (the current population of Nagorno-Karabakh is said to be around 140,000).

By and large, Armenians do not appear keen on the idea of making Nagorno-Karabakh a loose autonomous republic in Azerbaijan. There is analysis noting Azerbaijan's increased military budget in comparison to the Armenians. This reality has been suggestively used against Nagorno-Karabakh's seeking a continued separation from Azerbaijan. Offsetting this view is the notion that a future war over Nagorno-Karabakh is likely to be too bloody of an experience for either side to consider. It is questionable whether a stronger Azeri armed forces would be enough to intimidate the Armenians into accepting a non-war diktat against them. Relative to this point, there is the possibility that a noticeably improved Azeri military might not prevail in an attempt to takeover Nagorno-Karabakh.

Unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (its other members are Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). The American and Azeri governments have discussed and implemented plans to assist Azerbaijan's military capability. In Azerbaijan, Russia leases the Soviet built Qabala (also spelled as Gabala) radar station, whose surveillance covers China, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, parts of Africa and the Middle East. With Azerbaijan's support, the Russian government in 2007 offered to share this station with the United States in place of the Bush Administration's plan to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Bush administration responded by expressing interest, to go along with the planned missile defense system deployment on former Warsaw Pact territory. Under a new presidency, the United States is currently reviewing the latter plan.

Iran is the country being targeted for radar surveillance. Tehran has pursued a policy of maintaining positive relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Iranian-Turkish relations have improved in recent years. Armenia and Azerbaijan have each shown geopolitical flexibility in their respective dealings with Russia and the West. Potentially, this aspect relates well to the desire of improving relations between Russia and the West. Armenia is no doubt partly influenced by its close ties with the émigré Armenian population in the West. Armenia's non-recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh's independence seems to take into consideration how the international community at large views the boundaries of former Soviet republics (a non-independence recognition of separatist claims).

Awhile back, there was commentary saying that Russia received a diplomatic setback at a 2006 summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Moscow. This opinion noted the absence of the Ukrainian, Georgian, Turkmen and Armenian presidents at that gathering (the Armenian president was said to have been ill at the time). Omitted form this thought was the presence of the Moldovan and Azeri presidents. Along with Georgia and Ukraine - Azerbaijan and Moldova are members of GUAM; an organization that was created with the stated intent to promote economic and political development. Although officially denied, GUAM's creation is viewed by some as an attempt to limit Russian influence in the former Soviet Union. In the period since the 2006 CIS meeting, the popularity of the Ukrainian and Georgian presidents has waned (something that was in process beforehand), as Moldova and Azerbaijan appear to come a bit closer to Russia. Moldova and Azerbaijan have been unable to govern over disputed land within their Soviet drawn boundaries. Whether one likes it or not, Russia remains quite influential on some primary matters pertaining to other former Soviet republics.

Of late, Azerbaijan is considering a gas deal with Russia that might undermine the Nabucco pipeline project (a Western initiative, undergone to diversify from the current dependence on Russian gas and its transit route through Ukraine). Last summer's Russo-Georgian war and the increased political unrest in Georgia makes the Nabucco project look like a less secure route. In contrast to the Georgian government's attitude towards Russia, Azerbaijan seems to be taking the position that good relations with the Kremlin is a way of getting a better settlement on Nagorno-Karabakh.


Russia does everything to prevent Karabakh settlement – Stratfor

Russia has taken the driver’s seat over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and does everything to prevent its settlement, Eugene Chausovsky, a Stratfor analyst writes in an article. “A cease-fire was broken between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday after an exchange of gunfire occurred between the two countries on the line of contact. These skirmishes occurred after the latest round of negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a disputed region between the two countries, failed to produce a settlement on Friday,” reads the article.

Further, it says that while negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh have been going on for several years, there are significant geopolitical realities that serve as obstacles to any sort of agreement over this issue. “The primary actor when considering the prospects for a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement is not Azerbaijan or Armenia but, rather, Russia. Russia’s primary goal in the former Soviet Union is to advance its interests in these countries while blocking the interests of foreign powers and particularly the West,” writes Chausovsky.

“This is especially the case in the Caucasus region, which is made up of Armenia, Azerbaijan as well as Georgia, and these three countries are heavily pursued by the West. Within these pursuits, Azerbaijan is the key as it has the largest population in the region, it borders both Russia and Iran in strategic points, and perhaps most importantly, it has significant quantities of oil and natural gas”.

The author goes on to mention that these “energy resources allow Azerbaijan to be a significant exporter of energy to the West and therefore serve as a threat to Russia’s energy relationship and political relationship with Europe. “This then explains Russia’s relationship with Armenia, which Russia supports politically, economically and has a troop presence within Armenia. This also explains Russia’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is to appear that Russia is trying to do everything it can as a negotiator to reach a settlement while in reality do everything it can to prevent such a settlement”.

The article further says that as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains an issue, then Azerbaijan’s access to the west via Turkey is blocked through this corridor. And while Azerbaijan has been increasing its military expenditures on the back of its growing energy exports, the fact remains that Russia’s military presence in Armenia will serve as a significant blocking force to Azerbaijan.

“In addition, Russia also has a military presence in two breakaway territories of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, giving Russia even more leverage over Azerbaijan. Therefore, it ultimately boils down to Russia’s position when assessing the prospects for any meaningful change to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh”.


Russia does not Want any Solution to Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Drawn by Other External Actors

Q: Recently, a meeting was held in Kazan between Azerbaijani and Armenian representatives with the mediation of Russia, achieving nothing at the end over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict just as the other similar meetings. Since Russia is not interested in the solution of the conflict, most experts stress that these kinds of meetings are nonsense in the solution of the issue. If so, in your opinion, what are the aims of holding these sorts of meetings?

A: First of all, describing these kinds of meetings as nonsense is unfair. That is because now, Russia is leading the meetings between Azerbaijan and Armenia itself, and in doing so, it is particularly enjoying being dominant in the region. Before the 1990s, the Minsk Group was the main actor in terms of finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. After that, we started to discuss Kochayev’s statement about Russia’s confrontation with the United States mainly after the Georgian-Russian War, and observed that Russia has been the only dominant actor in terms of finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There are certain implications for the Russian-led negotiations.

First of all, after the Georgian crisis, the aims, targets, and interests of the West were hampered by Russian movement in Georgia. We saw Russia giving a message that it would like to organize its ‘near abroad’ and does not want anybody interfering in its business. Actually, considering the dynamics in 2008, we can say that these kinds of messages from Russia could have been challenged then. However, in 2008, we saw other problems such as the economic crisis which forced Western countries in particular to concentrate on mostly domestic affairs and regional aspects of foreign relations. Considering the American case, there were other pressing issues such as Afghanistan and now the Arab uprisings. In this sense, it was important for Russia to send the message that it is the sole dominant actor in the Caucasus, and these meetings and negotiations emphasize that.

Secondly, if there will be a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh process, Russia does not want any solution to the conflict drawn by other external actors such as the United States, France, or even Turkey. In this sense, the Kremlin is trying to orchestrate the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and even though there were some attempts by the Minsk Group in the post-2008 period, we saw that these efforts were slowly weakened. In this sense, Russia is trying to enjoy the conjectural situation by taking steps forward in bringing these actors together.

As lastly as to why the negotiations are not nonsense, is that these talks should be continued. What we saw in 1990, if the negotiation processes stops, the currently frozen conflict remains as it is. So what we are looking for is the continuation of negotiations and a constructive solution to the problem. In this sense, it is identity building and an important initiative. However, the problem is that it is not pluralist. It is orchestrated by Russia, and we see that the position of Russia is supported by the Minsk Group, hoping that Russia will find a solution to the problem -- a long-lasting solution which will not gave a way an other Georgian-Russian war in the Caucasus. These kinds of skirmishes in the region between two parties are increasing tensions, and as we saw in the 2008 war, it is also negatively affecting international balances.

Thus, it is hard to say that these negotiations are nonsense. The problem is that they are nonsense in terms of Western interests, but in terms of regional and Russian ones, they are helping in some ways to find a solution. The main issue is whose version the solution is going to be.

Q: Eugene Chausovsky, an analyst at STRATFOR, stressed that the primary actors when considering the prospects for a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement are not Azerbaijan or Armenia, but rather Russia. In reality, Russia is trying to do everything it can to prevent a settlement. How would you evaluate these statements and what do you think of it?
A: Actually, it is not a new statement. It was stated by many experts. Nobody believes that Russia would sit and watch a solution to emerge in the region, rather it has a great desire to find a solution in line with its interests. Why is that so?

To begin with, there is a problem of terrorism and instability in Russia’s backyard. The instability in the Caucasus is threatening the unity and stability within the Russian territory. So considering this fact, any solution that would not be in favor of Russia will make the solution leverage on Russian interests in the South Caucasus. Second, after the 1990s when Russia lost its positions mainly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there were signals it may be losing the South Caucasus as well. Russia got the feeling that it was being contained by the Western actors, particularly the United States. This revived previous Cold-War era thoughts about being threatened by the West. In this sense, I believe Russia is trying to enhance its position, especially in the post-Soviet regions by reviving old alliances in Belarus, Ukraine, or Central Asia. Since it could not succeed in creating some kind of alliance with Azerbaijan and Georgia, Russia chose the hard way with its military operation in the region. Considering all these facts, Russia will not let any solution to the conflict be drawn by other actors. However, this should not mean that Russia won’t find a solution in the region. We know that Russia has a military base in Gyumri and that this base is like a Russian fortress in the Caucasus. With the help of this base, Russia has control over the Caucasus region, northern Iran, and the Caspian Sea basin. It has also expanded this position by for instance deploying peacekeeping forces, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh. It formulates this position that if there is going to be a solution, then there are going to be some peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh to help enforce it. However, only so long as we see Azerbaijan and Armenia comfortable with this suggestion, because considering the balances in the region, increasing Russian assistance will not help the regional interests of Azerbaijan and Armenia. In this sense the situation or processes seems stuck. The problem is that there have been certain violations of the ceasefire, causing bigger problems for the near future.

Q: The Reuters news agency stressed the risks of war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you see any risks of war in the conflict zone?

A: As I mentioned in the second question, there is a problem of certain instability due to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, even though we are talking about a ceasefire. The problem is that the parties are not respecting the ceasefire. There are snipers and military forces which have seen some exchanges of fire, causing some losses from both parties between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Our biggest fear is that these kinds of exchanges cause snow-ball and give way to the bigger problem of emergence of another war in the region after 2008.

Secondly, both sides have increased their military expenditures and try to threaten each other with their muscle power, a situation that was observed in Turkish-Greek relations when both sides did the same despite their membership in the same military alliance, NATO. This caused huge burdens for the budgets of both Turkey and Greece. Considering the fact that there is not enough compromise toward a solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and there is an increased tendency of accumulation of military power a possible war will cause more problems than in the 1990s.

The last threat I believe, is Azerbaijan’s stance. In 2010, Azerbaijan ratified its military doctrine by mentioning that it prefers to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue by diplomatic means, but that if diplomatic means proved impossible in solving the conflict, then it would resort to military means in order to restore its territorial integrity. I believe this should be taken into consideration. Azerbaijan may feel that changing dynamics and conjecture in the region will not help her interests, which rely on a wait-and-see approach based on the fact it is enjoying revenue coming from energy resources while Armenia suffers from economic constraints. As we have seen in the Georgia war, I believe there is potential for a change in status quo as a result of Azerbaijan’s choice of possibly using military means. However, that is more unlikely now because Baku believes its wait-and-see strategy under the current status quo is the best option. However, if Azerbaijan sees that the international community isolates it and that negotiations are not serving its interests in the long run, then considering the internal dynamics of Azerbaijan even though it is unlikely, military means can be an alternative policy for the restoration of the state’s territorial integrity.

Q: The Russian expert Vladimir Zaxarov stated that the United States needs Nagorno-Karabakh in order to attack Iran due to the Azerbaijan’s neutrality in the US-Iran conflict, particularly after Iran declared that it will respond to any attack coming from Azerbaijan. How could you comment on that issue?

A: I believe it is too ambitious to give such an explanation for the foreign policy of the United States in the Caucasus. However, a state official Berijinsky during the 1990s stated that Azerbaijan is a pilot country in the region which has the potential to control the Caspian basin around Iran and Russia. In that sense, the strategic position of Azerbaijan in the region cannot be ignored. As we try to draw the dynamics of the Caucasus, Russia’s position there will not be available to the United States. Actually, we saw this kind of initiative from the US in Central Asia, but it did not last long because of it being vacated from Uzbekistan’s Khanabad Air Base. The Caucasus region is more important than Central Asia to Russia, so I believe it will be a source of tension in the area. Additionally, it is hard to fathom Russia allowing American access to the region. So, I believe this kind of a step has a potential to become one of the main sources of tensions in the region. Thus, it is hard to believe that Russia will be comfortable with American bases in the region in the aftermath of the Reset Policy between two parties.


Nabucco pipeline still up in the air

The “Southern Gas Corridor” is a problem for Europe rather than for Russia. This opinion was expressed by Russian experts commenting on the project aimed at delivering gas from the Caspian Sea region to the European countries bypassing Russia. European Commission Head Jose Manuel Barroso is visiting Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to formalize the project. The Southern Gas Corridor consists of three projects of which the Nabucco gas pipeline is an integral. Deposits in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are considered to be the probable resource basis of the Nabucco pipeline that is expected to pass through Georgia and Turkey. The potential importers of gas from the Caspian Sea region are almost the same countries of Europe as that of the Russian-Italian project, Southern Stream. 

The European Commission Head plans to re-energize the Nabucco project since Baku and Ashkhabad have no financial assurances from the European Union to construct the pipeline. Meanwhile, Europeans are quite uncertain about the reliability of the resource basis. In these circumstances, the project has little chances for success, says the head of the analytical department of the National Energy Security Foundation, Alexander Pasechnik. "The Nabucco project is facing financial problems, but how to fill the pipeline is the crucial issue. It has no resource basis. At present, it hopes for the Azeri potential, especially the supplies from the Shakh-Deniz deposit, which may be reserved for this project. However, this cannot be considered a breakthrough because gas from Azerbaijan will be insufficient. The EU has to find some other sources to fill the pipeline,” Alexander Pasechnik said.

Azerbaijan signed a long-term contract to sell gas to Iran ahead of the visit to Baku of Jose Barroso. Earlier, Iran took away part of Turkmen gas from Europe. Turkmenistan, like Azerbaijan, politically supports Nabucco, but has no knowledge of how to link its pipeline infrastructure to that of Azerbaijan to supply gas to Europe. Other Caspian Sea littoral states believe that it will be possible to lay a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan only after the approval of the legal status of the Caspian Sea. This has nothing to do with the visit to Baku, and from there to Ashkhabad, of the European Commission Head. In view of this, the director of the Russian Energy Development Foundation, Sergei Pikin has this to say.

“Until there is no a detailed project where everything is stated from the production of gas to selling it to the consumer and the payback period, we can talk only about the political aspect of the project. Undoubtedly, Europe needs the gas pipeline because this is diversification and an “assurance from eastern neighbours” as the European countries disire to express it. However, whether the project assures Europe is an open question,” Sergei Pikin said. Moreover, the “Southern Gas Corridor” is linked with risks because Kurdish separatists often launch attacks on Turkish territory. It is also a problem to guarantee safety to the gas pipeline in Georgia. This may worsen if Azerbaijan secures the backing of the EU that it will help the country to solve its conflict with Armenia. The reason here is that the Nabucco gas pipeline is expected to pass through a largely-Armenian populated territory.

The danger of miscalculation in the forgotten war over Nagorno-Karabakh

Since the beginning of the year, events have rocked places that seemed locked in time. One outcome has been utterly unpredictable oil prices -- $114 a barrel one month, and the low $90s for a barrel of crude that we see now. Shorn mainly of the Arab Spring, oil prices would be somewhere in the $60-$80 range per barrel, according to market watchers such as ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson and Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal. Traders say the Middle East trouble poses risks to the world oil supply, especially if another big oil producer goes off the market, such as Saudi Arabia. 

One place the market is excluding from its calculus is Azerbaijan, 1,400 miles further east, which has been shipping between 800,000 and 1 million barrels of high-quality oil into the global market for the last five years. As we've discussed, I myself don't usually think about Azerbaijan in terms of market-shaking instability. Yet, no one expected what we are currently observing in the Middle East, either. As we know from history, including the start of World War I, loose tongues, swollen heads, and distracted minds can lead inadvertently to war. Hence, Azerbaijan merits a look.

Tomorrow, the leaders of this Caspian Sea nation and its blood enemy, neighboring Armenia, are to meet in the Russian region of Tatarstan in an attempt finally to begin to bury their 23-year-long, on-and-off violence (Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serge Sarkissian pictured above, respectively, with Russia's Dmitry Medvedev). When the countries fought in actual combat -- from 1988 to 1994 -- Azerbaijan lost badly. Armenia captured about a fifth of its territory, including the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia continues to hold this turf, from which all Azeris have long fled or been expelled.

Yet, for at least the last couple of years, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and some of his ministers have engaged in a loud-mouth, trash-talking contest with Armenia. Earlier this month, a spokesman for the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense said that ultimately his country would "meet the expectations of the people, the government, and the supreme commander-in- chief and will liberate the occupied land from the enemy." Here is a collection of such statements from both sides. In a piece this month, the New York Times' Ellen Barry said she found an antsy, pro-war mood in Baku.

Azerbaijan has spent the last several years rearming, spending more than the entire national budget of Armenia on its military. Thomas de Waal of Carnegie has written compellingly of the chance that one side or the other could miscalculate and trigger a resumption of combat. Seventeen years after the initiation of the current ceasefire, it is at least conceivable that time has softened Aliyev's memory of the mauling that Azerbaijan's soldiers suffered. It is also in the range of possibilities that Armenian President Serge Sarkissian could perceive the imminence of an Azerbaijan attack, and decided to pre-empt.

In either case, global oil prices would run amok. Considering what happened last time, I also personally think that Azerbaijan could be overrun. De Waal says the outcome locally would be a "catastrophe." In the talks tomorrow, I was told by diplomats that both sides are likelier than ever to close an initial deal, which would lead to a much longer period of talks. Friends tell me to temper the optimism. It is worth listening to them if only to be braced.


Ratification of Protocol No.5 between Russia and Armenia

Dmitry Medvedev signed Federal Law On Ratification of Protocol No.5 between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia on Amending the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia concerning the Russian Military Base in the Republic of Armenia of March 16, 1995. Protocol No.5 between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia on amending the Agreement between the two countries on the Russian military base in Armenia was signed in Yerevan, Armenia on August 20, 2010.

The amendments stipulate that in addition to its purpose of ensuring Russia’s interests, the Russian military base in Armenia is to jointly with the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia guarantee security for Armenia. To this end, the Russian side is undertaking to assist Armenia in obtaining advanced and compatible weapons and military (special) equipment. Besides, the Protocol extends the validity term of the Agreement from 25 to 49 years. The term shall be automatically extended for subsequent five-year periods unless one of the parties serves to the other party a written notice of its intent to terminate the Agreement, no less than six months prior to the expiration of the term.

Provisions of arms and military equipment for the Republic of Armenia’s Armed Forces will be conducted in accordance with the Russian legislation on military and technical cooperation with foreign states. Military and technical assistance to the Republic of Armenia will be funded through budgetary allocations to Russia’s Defence Ministry within the federal budget for the corresponding fiscal year.


Nalbandian, Lavrov discuss Armenia-Russia relations, Karabakh

During his official visit to Moscow, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. At the meeting, Nalbandian and Lavrov discussed implementation of agreements reached between Armenian and Russian Presidents, specifically stressing dynamically developing relations between the two countries. The two men exchanged views on a range of issues relating to military, political, economic, humanitarian cooperation as well as collaboration in international organisations' framework. They also focused on Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement, with Armenian Foreign Minister thanking Russian President for his contribution to negotiations. Lavrov, in turn, stressed Russia's adherence to peaceful settlement of the problem. A meeting with representatives of Moscow's Armenian community was also on Minister Nalbandian's visit agenda, RA MFA press service reported.

Armenia is Russia’s ally with all entailing consequences - CSTO

Armenia is Russia’s ally with all entailing consequences, said the Secretary General of CSTO Nikolay Bordyuzha on Yerevan press briefing after the meeting of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) drug control chiefs. Asked what the position of CSTO would be in the event of renewed hostilities with Azerbaijan, Bordyuzha responded in Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s words that Armenia is the ally of Russian Federation with all entailing consequences. “This says everything,” said Bordyuzha, adding that in the light of high sensitivity of the issue further comments would be counterproductive. Secretary General mentioned that serious, exhaustive but positively directed negotiations are still in action therefore it is not the right time for loud statements.


Uncertain World: Armenia and Azerbaijan’s shaky status quo

Russia has made a concerted effort since the fall of 2010 to break the stalemate in Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region. The latest meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia in Kazan in June failed to produce any results. After the talks, Baku and Yerevan predictably accused the other side of standing in the way of an agreement, and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev reminded for an umpteenth time that Baku’s patience is not limitless and that the war is not over yet. Commentators rushed to label Russia’s mediation efforts a failure, some with glee and others with sorrow. But this is not fair.

Under President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia is independently seeking a solution to the issue, albeit with the approval of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This is due to the fact that other members of the group see no hope for progress, nor any benefits from actively participating in efforts. Obviously, Moscow has a greater interest in stability in the region than Paris or Washington. The specter of a military conflict over Karabakh haunts the negotiating process, and puts Moscow in an extremely difficult position.

Russia has formal commitments to Armenia as an ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO) and under bilateral agreements that were extended indefinitely last year. In the event of a military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia will have to defend Yerevan in order to uphold its reputation as a reliable patron. However, Moscow is aware of the growing importance of Azerbaijan as a key player in all energy and, therefore, geopolitical issues of the South Caucasus and Asia Minor. Russia simply cannot afford to ruin its relations with Baku. In other words, Moscow must avoid taking sides at all costs.

It is in Russia’s interests to keep the sides talking (even without results) and to help maintain military equilibrium, which in and of itself promotes a more durable peace. Toward this end, Russia has extended the lease of its military base in Armenia’s Gyumri through the middle of this century, primarily as a counterweight to Azerbaijan’s rapid military buildup, made possible by its vast superiority in terms of resources.

During my recent visit to both Baku and Yerevan I saw for myself that maintaining equilibrium is the only possible tactic under the circumstances. I didn’t see any evidence that the sides are willing to compromise and make real concessions beyond verbal balancing acts and polished statements. But this could be difficult, as the protracted conflict has taught both sides the value of words.

For Azerbaijan, reclaiming Karabakh has become all but a national priority, much like Kashmir for Pakistan. Azerbaijan’s confidence is growing as a result of huge profits from oil exports and rapid economic development, and it sees the occupation of part of its territory as a tremendous historical injustice that must be redressed by all means. This feeling is further aggravated by a suspicious attitude to Armenians in general. Far from receding as the events of the early 1990s fade into the past, this feeling has become institutionalized.

Meanwhile, Armenia does not trust Azerbaijan at all. Yerevan is convinced that any strategic concessions (at the talks the sides have discussed the phased return to Baku of the occupied regions that have not been part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region) will lead to the collapse of its positions and the entire system of checks and balances that took shape in the disputed area in the 1990s. War would be inevitable. Therefore, Armenia believes it should not make any concessions.

Concessions are also made impossible by the fact that the leaders of both countries are not strong enough to risk such unpopular actions. Although Ilham Aliyev enjoys a secure position in Azerbaijan, he lacks his father’s authority. Geidar Aliyev would have had more room for maneuver. The situation in Armenia is even more complicated because its political environment is more fragmented. There are many different interest groups, including outside ones (the Armenian diaspora). An attempt to compromise may trigger an acute domestic crisis, while the loss of Nagorny Karabakh may lead to a civil war and the collapse of the Armenian state. In this context Russia’s efforts to consolidate the status quo are rational and, indeed, there is no alternative for the time being.

The sides are aware of the risks involved in attempting to change the status quo by force. Azerbaijan, which is happily investing its windfall oil profits not only in the military development but also in its infrastructure and economic diversification, won’t put these achievements at risk unless the success of military action is guaranteed. But it cannot be guaranteed in the current circumstances. Armenia has an even greater interest in maintaining the status quo. Even a successful war for Nagorny Karabakh could precipitate an economic disaster in Armenia. Georgia, the only country to have an open border with Armenia, is already greatly dependent on Azerbaijan, and Baku could pressure Tbilisi to help blockade Armenia.

There is one factor that could dramatically alter the political landscape. I’m referring to a powerful outside shock with repercussions spreading all over the region. It could be a large international crisis linked to Iran – a neighbor of both Armenia and Azerbaijan that plays a major, albeit very different role, in both countries. Suppose the United States or Israel decides there is no time to waste anymore and Tehran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. The geopolitical fallout of such a decision could throw everything into disarray and create the grounds for other developments, especially considering that Iran has a substantial Azerbaijani minority.

Another possibility is the spreading of social and political instability from North Africa and the Middle East to the countries that play a major role in the South Caucasus – Iran and Turkey (which is unlikely) or the collapse of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The latter could result in a civil war, which would increase regional instability and unleash a flood of Armenian refugees from Syria. These scenarios may look hypothetical and even far-fetched, but if anything, the last few years and months should have taught us that anything is possible.


Aggression Against Armenia Spells Aggression Against CSTO

“August 2008 events proved use of force brings to no results in resolution of any issue,” CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha said at Moscow-Yerevan video-bridge, commenting on Azerbaijan’s statements on possible military resolution to NKR conflict. “Active meetings between RA and Azeri Presidents and Foreign Ministers prove parties want to achieve peaceful conflict settlement,” Nikolai Bordyuzha noted, adding that resolution of such a serious issue will take a certain time. CSTO supports peaceful settlement of NKR conflict, Bordyuzha said, emphasizing that aggression against one of CSTO member stats spells aggression against CSTO as a whole.


Sarkisian Hits Back At Aliyev's 'Anti-Armenian Slur'

President Serzh Sarkisian continued the war of words with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev after he said "something is missing" in the brains of Armenian leaders, RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services report. Aliyev made the remark at a news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Baku on July 27. Sarkisian promptly hit back: "Was that a statement by a normal person, let alone a head of state?" he said at a press conference in Yerevan on July 28 with visiting Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

The verbal battle between Azerbaijan and Turkey on the one hand, and Armenia on the other, began at a meeting in Yerevan on July 23 between Sarkisian and young people. Sarkisian was asked whether Armenia will ever regain control of territories in Turkey -- including Mount Ararat -- that were once controlled by Armenians. "That will depend on you and your generation...each generation has its responsibilities and they should be discharged with honor," Sarkisian replied. The comment angered Turkish officials.

An Elephant Should Not Be Compared With An Ant.

At a press conference in Baku with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Erdogan said on July 27 that Sarkisian's comments "do not befit a statesman or a president. A statesman should not fill youth with hatred.... Sarkisian has made a serious mistake. He has directly confirmed a historical mistake he has made. He should apologize for it and correct it." Aliyev interjected that he expected such comments from Sarkisian "because I have met him several times." Erdogan, for his part, said he does not know Sarkisian well.

"I know his way of thinking.... They think they have settled the [dispute over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of]Nagorno-Karabakh," Aliyev said. "But they are mistaken. Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan's land. The time will come when Azerbaijan will restore its sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh either through peace or war."

Aliyev added that "making territorial claims on a large country like Turkey indicates that something is missing in these people's minds. They don't live in the real world; they live in their make-believe world. They should wake up from that dream, return to the real world, and at least compare themselves with Turkey. An elephant should not be compared with an ant." He also said that Armenia would collapse if it didn't receive foreign aid.

'Russian Outpost'

Political analyst Ilqar Mammadov told RFE/RL on July 28 that when Azerbaijani officials, including the president, predict that Armenia will collapse as a state, they are mistaken. "Nobody will let Armenia collapse," he said. "If we see a deterioration in the economy and a decline in the population, we should also note Russia's major economic growth.... Even if only 100,000 people lived in Armenia, Russia would protect it as it regards Armenia as its outpost."

On other issues, Aliyev said in Baku on July 27 that Azerbaijani companies have invested over $4 billion in the Turkish economy and will invest a further $6 billion in the petrochemical industry in the next few years. Erdogan implied that Azerbaijan and Turkey have reached an agreement on the second stage of exploitation of the Shah Deniz Caspian gas field. He did not provide details. Turkish media had recently quoted officials from Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR as saying talks on Shah Deniz were bogged down over the issue of legal jurisdiction.


Russia’s proposals on Karabakh resolution may be pro-Armenian - MP

The Azerbaijani side goes on presenting excessive demands at the talks on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Chairman of Union of Political Scientists of Armenia Hmayak Hovhannisyan told reporters on Monday. He stressed Azerbaijan puts obviously impossible demands at each new stage of the peace process. “Meeting Baku’s demands is absurd to Armenia. This would mean for the first time in history the winner in the war actually surrenders,” he noted. The MP from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) Lernik Alexanyan stressed that following the presidents’ recent talks in Kazan, the international community is dissatisfied with Azerbaijan’s behavior rather than that of Armenia, taking into account 10 claims, presented by Baku during the last meeting of Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian Presidents. Referring to the presidents’ next meeting in Sochi, Alexanyan believed Russia’s proposals for peace process would be favorable for Armenia. “I believe Russia will remain a leader in the Karabakh peace process. Western countries are trying to seize Moscow’s initiative,” he emphasized.

Armenians urged to settle in border lands

A former foreign minister of this unrecognized republic in the South Caucasus wants to distribute land in border areas to Armenians who fled Azerbaijan two decades ago when war broke out. Arman Meliqyan says this would be compensation for the property they lost when they fled — and it would also, intentionally, help to wreck the proposed peace deal that is on the table. Azerbaijan, which still claims Nagorno-Karabakh, would be certain to see such a move as an enormous provocation. It says that, as the result of wide-scale ethnic cleansing, a million Azerbaijanis fled the territory now held by Karabakh forces, and that they want to return to their homes.

Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan stopped fighting in 1994, but have never come to terms. Both sides still shoot sporadically at each other across the so-called line of contact. Growing tension has already heightened fears that war could break out again — and that this time there’s a threat of drawing neighboring Russia, Iran and Turkey into the conflict. War would also probably disrupt a key supply route used by the United States to get equipment and other goods to its soldiers in Afghanistan.

Meliqyan’s idea is to move settlers into territories adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh itself that were seized by Armenian and Karabakh fighters during the war and have been held ever since. Those territories are now nearly empty of people, and most of the villages within them have been left in ruins. A framework peace agreement that Russia, France and the United States — together called the Minsk Group — have been trying to sponsor envisions the return of most of these lands to Azerbaijan.

If they were to be populated by ethnic Armenian settlers, that would become considerably more difficult. This is precisely what Meliqyan, who is completely opposed to the Minsk Group formula, hopes to achieve. His plan inevitably raises the question of what compensation would be available for the Azerbaijanis who also fled — out of Karabakh — during the war. But he thinks that’s Azerbaijan’s problem. Under Karabakh law, Armenians who fled Azerbaijan are entitled to land in the territories as compensation. But the program has never gotten underway, though a few settlers have trickled in on their own over the years. Meliqyan, who now heads an advocacy group in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, says his organization has submitted 35,000 applications for land and gotten no response.

“They’re not saying yes, and they’re not saying no,” he said of Karabakh’s leaders. “Sooner or later it will become a real question for them.”

Karabakh’s president, Bako Sahakyan, said the problem is that the territories are in such bad physical shape that it would take a major investment in roads and utilities just to make them habitable. He also made it clear he doesn’t want to undermine the peace talks. Another problem, said Karabakh’s prime minister, Ara Harutyunyan, is that most of those who left Azerbaijan were living in cities there, are used to an urban way of life and would be lost trying to set up farms.

It’s a half-good idea, said Saro Saroyan, a civil defense instructor who has become one of the most outspoken advocates for these dispersed people. (What to call them is a point of contention: Armenians use the word “refugee,” which is commonly reserved for people who have had to cross an international border. Azerbaijanis, who don’t recognize Karabakh’s independence, use the phrase “internally displaced persons,” arguing that they’re still in Azerbaijan. Some people here contend that those who fled Azerbaijan should be called “deportees.”) The problem, as Saroyan sees it, is that a few acres of farmland would hardly compensate someone who had to give up an apartment in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, especially considering the oil wealth and rise in property values that Baku has enjoyed since the war ended.

Saroyan left Baku in 1988, when the first stirrings of the Karabakh independence movement were felt. He went first to Stepanakert but eventually wound up in Shushi — known as Shusha to the Azerbaijanis — where both his grandfathers served time in a Soviet prison in the 1930s: one for being a rich peasant, the other for being the driver of a car in an accident that killed an important communist official. He loves showing visitors around the old quarters of the town, which was Karabakh’s most important city when it was under Persian and later czarist Russian rule.

But being a modern-day homesteader doesn’t have much appeal for him. He misses Baku, where his driver grandfather is buried, and he said that, like others, he’s never felt entirely at home in Karabakh.

Karabakh’s military secret is revealed

Shots are being fired on the border with Azerbaijan, but even under gunfire Armenians are growing wheat

There is no peace between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan – for which mutual distrust and fear of another war are to blame. In military textbooks it is written: “Grad strikes at a distance of 21 km, Smerch – more than 60 km. Armenians say that precisely in order to protect Stepanakert, the capital of the independent and unrecognized Karabakh, from gunfire, the Defense Army of Nagorno-Karabakh occupied seven adjacent Azeri districts so as to ensure that the rival’s artillery does not strike against the ‘holy land of Artsakh’.”

Speaking with us on this subject is Defense Army Deputy Commander Maj.-Gen. Andranik Makaryan: except that he calls the occupied territories a buffer zone. The Karabakh generals don’t drive Mercedes. Andranik Makaryan uses the UAZ army jeep. Every spare penny is spent on weapons and the support of combat-readiness. “Here, take a look,” sighs the general while flipping through a summary report. “In one week alone, our positions were fired at 600 times. In the last 24 hours there were 36 shootings! Grenade launchers, DShK, Dragunov sniper rifles, PK machine guns, AKMs, and other small arms are used.”

“And what do you do?” “We respond! What else?” “How much larger is the Azerbaijani army than your contingent?”

The general understands that I am trying to uncover a military secret, and answers floridly: “We do not, and will not, have the need to shoot at an empty space. Of course, some are talking about the superiority of the other side’s troops or military equipment. But we excel in something else. The most important thing is moral courage. One can defeat an army. But you cannot defeat a nation. We don’t have another choice – to live or to die.”

I look at the map of Nagorno-Karabakh. The frontline, or as it is diplomatically referred to “the line of contact of the armed forces” is drawn with a thick marker and instead of following the administrative borders it is drawn along the natural barriers: dams, rivers, and slopes. I travel to the site to see what is going on, how the small army of Karabakh has been able to stand against the Azerbaijani divisions, which are armed to NATO standards.

As soon as we find ourselves outside Karabakh, our UAZ begins jolting over the bumps on the road. The buffer zone is a no man’s land. There isn’t anyone to fix the roads. Here and there, there are palisades around Muslim headstones. Here, they are disdainfully called “skis” due to the resemblance to the sporting gear. But no one will destroy the graves. Over the decades they have become covered with shrubs, and it is practically impossible to get access to them.

Next to a dried-up dam there are two rusty Niva combine harvesters gathering wheat. Beyond the dam starts the frontline. It is about 200 meters away from the Azerbaijani trenches. “Are you not afraid to work?” I ask Vazgen. “No, we have the dam here, it covers us from bullets,” says the grime-covered combine operator. “Last year, we were shot at in that field, where the dam ends. Now we do not plant wheat where there is no cover.” I, of course, understand that I was brought to the most peaceful section of the frontline. But even here, under the dam, no one can feel completely safe. In addition to snipers, there are also grenade launchers that will strike through any dam. Therefore, as a first order of business, the soldiers put me into an armor vest and a helmet.

The detachment takes a break from service under an awning. Some play chess in deep thought. Others feed doves. Yes, in addition to the dog named Rizhyk, two white doves live on the frontline. This immediately calls to mind Picasso’s “Dove of Peace”. Lieutenant Edmon Saribekyan takes care of the birds. Especially for the journalist, he sends the two beautiful birds into the sky. But they immediately land on a billboard that reads: “Strong-spirited peoples shall not be conquered! Garegin Njdeh, royal general.”

“Are they afraid of snipers?” I point to the dam.

“The red-footed falcon! It’s a raptor of the falcon family. You can’t hunt here, as you could accidentally raise the alarm. So now the red-footed falcon has grown in number. We did have three doves at first…” the lieutenant explains. Although standard trenches have been dug out and lined with concrete columns, I do not sense a state of full combat-readiness, as it is portrayed in the movies, from the ruined vineyard (nearby is the exhausted Agdam district, home of the famous port wine). I share my concerns with the lieutenant.

“Is that so?” he says and issues a sharp command in Armenian. Suddenly, the sleepy trenches turn into a bustling bazaar. Soldiers in armor vests and helmets start moving quickly and in just seconds take their places at the gun-slots. Reports follow. Satisfied, the lieutenant clicks the timer: “In three seconds we exceeded the standard. That’s how we do things!” I approach the gun-slots. Behind rows of barbed wire with attached tin cans (frontline alarm system) stand permanent firing positions. Trenches are laid toward them. Between the Armenian and Azerbaijani fortifications is barren land. Neither there, nor here does anyone want to die.

Nearby, machine gunner Ashot Abramov stands in thought. His mother is from these territories. Ashot was born here. His father is from the Dinskoy District in the Krasnodar region. Then, the Abramovs moved to Russia. But Ashot came back to serve here, on the frontline, leaving his girlfriend, Natasha, school, and friends behind, and coming to bullets and shrapnel.

“You see, I could not have done otherwise,” explains Ashot. “It would be embarrassing for me to stay home while the motherland is in danger.” I think I have figured out the main military secret of the Karabakh people. Their strength lies in the fact that they harvest wheat under gunfire.

U.S. missile defense in Europe 'real threat' to Russia - June, 2011

While Russia's armed forces descended into utter disarray throughout the 1990s, the US military made great strides. By the turn of the new century, Russia's military had become a mere shadow of its Soviet predecessor, while its counterparts in the United States had became an unrivaled force in the world. Of course I am not referring to the fighting spirit of the Russian people. I don't think any nation on earth can rival Russians when it comes to the willingness to fight. The main military advantage the West has over Russia today is in the technological sector, one of the sectors in Russia that suffered greatly throughout the 1990s. Majority of the weapons systems found in Russia's armed forces today consists of hardware produced much prior to the Soviet collapse. More importantly, Russia's Soviet era nuclear armed missiles (the majority within its vast nuclear arsenal today) are said to be in very poor condition.  

Some military analysts are suggesting that the thousands of the Soviet era ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads are in such bad shape that a large percentage of them might not even function properly if ever used.

By the late 1990s, Russia's military capabilities were so degraded that a first strike by NATO forces could effectively disable it's nuclear deterrence. According to some military analysts, there is a window of opportunity, a time period when Russia would be vulnerable to a first strike. With Vladimir Putin's rise to power, this window of opportunity gradually began to shrink. The Russian Federation is currently investing large sums of money in developing new missile systems and upgrading its older ones. Several years ago, Moscow began carrying out missile tests again. It activated its long dormant strategic bomber air patrols. It began pumping more money into its land-based mobile ICBM systems, the procurement of mobile TOPOL ICBMs (SS-27, land and sea versions) and the development of Iskander (SS-26) medium range nuclear missile system. It wasn't by chance that one of Medvedev's first presidential visitations was to an undisclosed TOPOL ICBM site in Russia. Moreover, the quick defeat of the Western backed Georgian armed forces in 2008 did much to boost Russia's troop morale as well.

Despite the aforementioned, however, the West's window of opportunity referred to above has not yet fully closed.

Although great progress has been made in modernizing Russia's military during the past several years, a great deal of work remains to be done. A decade of utter neglect will not be corrected easily.
As unbelievable as it may seem to some today, the Russian Federation is in fact militarily vulnerable. As a matter of fact, this vulnerability will become significantly increased within the next few years when series of new weapons systems come into service in the West. One of these Western weapons systems are new land and sea based anti-missile systems. 

Make no mistake about it; the West continues to have designs on Russia. The American missile defense shield is in fact an offensive shield! As noted above, this threat is the main reason why Moscow has been for the past several years placing much of its emphasis on restrengthening its nuclear deterrence. But it will be many years before the new missile systems fully replace the older ones. It will take time to integrate new systems. Consequently, there will be a certain time period when Russia will be, theoretically at least, vulnerable to an initial nuclear strike.

Why does the Western alliance continue to target Russia long after the collapse of the Soviet Union? A little historical background regarding reasons why:


The greatest long-term threat to the West is not China - it's an independent Russia. Most Americans will have difficulty understanding this today. Americans tend think of China as the biggest long-term threat to American/Western power without realizing that China and the West are financially codependents; they are deeply interlocked in an economic union that neither side will jeopardize for the foreseeable future. While many Washingtonian politicians these days talk about China being the primary threat (see article below), I firmly believe that behind closed doors they see Russia as their number one competitor/enemy. 

Communism per se, was never the real problem for the West, just as Islamic fundamentalism or terrorism per se is not the real problem of the political West today. The real problem has always been, currently is and will always be - who controls the world's natural wealth and who sets the world's economic and political standards. 

Because the Russia state controls something like 10% of all natural resources on earth and it can directly impact all of Eurasia, a truly independent Russia is considered to be the one and only long-term threat and/or competitor that the political West faces. Thus, an independent Russia is the number one obstacle standing in the way of the West's global intentions. As long as it remained independent, even if it miraculously transformed itself into a true democracy overnight, Western officials would still look at Russia as an enemy. More precisely, as long as Russia's national interests interferes with the global agenda of the West, Russia will be looked upon as an enemy.

Russia, not China, is the number one geopolitical problem the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance faces today and for the foreseeable future.

A couple of years ago Moscow officials publicly announced that in several years the West would be capable of successfully attacking Russia with nuclear weapons. Was such claims politically driven alarmist rhetoric? Perhaps. It's clearly alarmist rhetoric meant to rally the people around the Russian flag. Similar attempts to rally the citizenry is carried-out by authorities all across the world. However, in my opinion, the alarmist rhetoric in question here also contains a certain degree of a troubling reality. The paranoia of Russian officials, civilian and military, while perhaps a bit exaggerated, they are nevertheless rooted in reality. Russia's military today, although resurgent, continues to be overall in a very bad shape.

Regardless of whether or not the US is capable of destroying Russia's nuclear deterrence in a surprise attack, Moscow is taking the theoretical possibility in question very seriously. Even a theoretical vulnerability is not acceptable when the matter at hand is concerning a nation's very existence. Therefore, theoretically at least, the US military is currently capable of posing a serious danger to the Russian Federation and Moscow has to take measures against this.

The proposed anti-missile defense systems in western Europe, for example, are seen by Russian officials as a very serious strategic threat from the West. By its very nature, these anti-missile defense systems can potentially null the nuclear deterrence factor that is keeping the peace between existing superpowers. With the help of better aerial/satellite surveillance and real-time military intelligence, the West can theoretically knockout Moscow's nuclear strike capability with a first strike against Russia's nuclear missile carrying submarines and land-based missiles. Surviving missiles that may get launched can then be detected and shot-down by a ring of early warning radar systems and their accompanying anti-missile batteries.
These early waring radars and missile systems are currently being positioned around the Russian Federation.

Whether or not the US is willing to take such a high risk gamble is altogether another story, especially now that the West has more on its global plate than it can handle and also because Russia is rapidly modernizing its armed forces and is currently on high alert. Although theoretically the danger is clearly there, nonetheless, the US today (and for the foreseeable future) is in no shape to attempt such a doomsday scenario. But, as far as military planner in the Kremlin are concerned, they are not about to take any chances. Therefore, the Kremlin will continue seeing Washington's missile defense shield as a direct threat to the Russian state.

June, 2011


Moscow Gets Ahead on Missile Defense

Moscow Gets Ahead on Missile Defense (Stratfor video report):

Two events that took place on Wednesday will please the Kremlin very much. Both had to do with the ballistic missile defense plans by the U.S. in central Europe. And both give Moscow more diplomatic fuel in its competition with the United States over the future of ballistic missile defense in Europe.

First, the Shanghai Corporation Organization, the SCO, issued a joint statement during its meeting in Kazakhstan regarding the Western plans for a missile defense system saying that any system that would threaten international security is opposed by the organization. Second, the Czech government also announced today that it would oppose any sort of a U.S. plan that was of minimal nature, essentially pulling Prague out of the U.S. plans for a ballistic missile defense system in central Europe. The negative statement about the ballistic missile defense from the SCO is not surprising. Since it is essentially led by Russia, and Russia has in the past attempted to portray the SCO as some sort of a counter weight to NATO, although it is nothing of the sort at this moment.

But what is somewhat interesting about the statement is that it is the first time that Beijing has really publicly weighed in on the issue. As a member of the SCO, the statement does have China’s signature on it, which means that Russia did manage to get China to publicly comment on an issue that thus far has pitted Moscow and Washington against one another over an issue of European security. A far more important statement came from Prague, where the Czech government decided to back out of supporting and hosting part of the U.S. BMD system in Europe.

Prague has always had a little more room to maneuver when it came to the BMD system. It is not positioned on the borders with a resurgent Russia nor would any of its buffer states such as Ukraine and Belarus. Furthermore geographically it is behind the Tatra and Carpathian Mountains and has historically been able to play different empires off of one another. As such there was never unity within the Czech population behind the BMD efforts. What really irked Prague was the minimal role that the revamped BMD system had for the Czech Republic. Unlike Poland and Romania, which had missile components of the new BMD system, Prague was left with an early warning system, which really constituted nothing more than a room full of computers. As such the Czech government didn’t really see any reason why to put political capital behind a project that was A, unpopular and B, didn’t really have any large significance. At the end of the day, the BMD system from the perspective of the central Europeans is really about bringing the United States into the region, to offer greater security against Russian resurgence.

The fact that Czech Republic said it doesn’t really need any such reassurance will be fuel for Moscow when it negotiates both with western Europe and with other central European countries. It will also be able to use the Czech decision as a sign that there are central European countries that feel really no threat from either some sort of Middle East intercontinental ballistic strike or, more importantly, from a resurgent Russia. Furthermore Moscow will be able to use the SCO statement to show that it’s not just Russia that has problems with the U.S. plans for BMD in Europe but also for another very important security player in the world - China.

U.S. missile defense in Europe 'real threat' to Russia - General Staff

U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe will pose a genuine threat to Russia's nuclear deterrence capability if they are carried out in full, a General Staff official said on Friday. "The situation completely changes with the realization of the third and fourth stages of the missile defense," said Lt. Gen. Andrei Tretyak, head of the General Staff Main Operations Directorate. "Four hundred interceptor missiles on 40 warships and a missile site in Poland. This is a real threat to our strategic nuclear forces." Russia has never had any plans to deploy missile defense elements outside its borders, he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev warned on Wednesday that Russia would have to build up its nuclear capability if NATO and the United States failed to reach an agreement with Moscow on European missile defense cooperation.

Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama are expected address the missile defense issue in late May at the G8 summit in Deauville, France. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Monday that Moscow was concerned by the United States' refusal to provide legally binding guarantees that its European missile defense system would not be directed against Russia. Moscow has warned it might pull out of the new START Treaty. Russia and NATO agreed to cooperate on the so-called European missile shield during the NATO-Russia Council summit in Lisbon in November 2010. NATO insists there should be two independent systems that exchange information, while Russia favors a joint system. Russia is opposed to the planned deployment of U.S. missile defense systems near its borders, claiming they would be a security threat. NATO and the United States insist that the shield would defend NATO members against missiles from North Korea and Iran and would not be directed at Russia.


Russia on U.S. missile plan: No Poland deployment

Russia on U.S. missile plan: No Poland deployment

On Friday, May 20, Gen. Andrei Tretyak, head of the Armed Forces General Staff Main Operations Directorate (GOU), confirmed Russia's position that the deployment of U.S. missile defense system poses a real threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent. The general said the threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent will emerge after 2015, when the United States modifies its SM-3 anti-missiles and brings its seaborne missile defense group to 40 ships with 400 interceptor missiles. Tretyak put special emphasis on the threat posed by missile defense elements on Polish territory.

While U.S. President Barack Obama's refusal to deploy interceptors in Poland surely stung, Warsaw would be glad to reopen this topic. There can be no doubt about this. For example, Gen. Stanislaw Koziej, head of the Polish National Security Bureau, urged the United States and NATO to return from Asia to Europe. In his opinion, the deeper NATO gets mired in Afghanistan, the greater the degradation of its main function - to protect its member countries against direct threats under Article 5 of the NATO Charter (mutual assistance in case of an attack on one allied member). Poland has made it clear at all levels that it still considers Russia the main threat.

Poland's main political forces and the majority of the media were critical of Obama's decision in September 2009 to cancel the deployment of American interceptors on its territory. Poland never tires of reminding the United States that 2% of the Wojsko Polskie (Polish Army) units are fighting in Afghanistan and that Poland spends up to 20% of its defense budget to support the mission. The Polish troop withdrawal is scheduled for 2012, and the Poles are fearing that an ungrateful America will not keep its promise to modernize the system aimed at protecting Poland against potential "aggression from the East," despite Poland's successful completion of its mission in Afghanistan.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has already expressed regret over the plans to deploy U.S. missile defense hardware in Romania, claiming that the United States is acting as if the Russian-American reset never happened and that the Russian and U.S. presidents did not recognize the interdependence between offensive and defensive missiles at their meeting in Prague. Moscow is bound to react to Poland's participation in missile defense as well. At a news conference in Skolkovo, President Dmitry Medvedev said the further development of American missile defense will compel Russia to develop its own offensive missile potential. Let's recall that it was Poland, Romania and the Baltic countries that refused Medvedev's proposal at the Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon to establish sectoral European missile defense. They declared that NATO will not outsource security, i.e. Russia should not be in charge of the security of Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

Yevgeny Buzhinsky, a member of the International Expert Group of the Moscow-based PIR Center, said at a news conference at RIA Novosti: "Deployment of American missile defense elements in Romania and the Balkans can be justified in a way by the need to counter threats emanating from the Middle East. We merely demand guarantees that this system will not be directed against Russia's nuclear capabilities. But when it comes to Poland or the Czech Republic, the situation is very different - we are ready to prove with figures at hand that this system will enable the United States to intercept missiles from western Russia."

Buzhinsky, who until recently headed the Defense Ministry's International Legal Department, noted that the timing for the U.S.-Romanian initiative was wrong: while Russia and NATO will soon gather for their council meeting, there is a lot of talk about the end of the Russian-American reset. "Events could unfold in several ways," said Vladimir Orlov, head of the PIR Center. "The best possible scenario would be to establish a European missile defense system together with Russia. On the other hand, Russia and the United States could renounce a joint system but continue cooperation on this issue with due account of Russian interests. And under the third and the worst case scenario, Russia quarrels with the United States and its allies and new missile defense systems are built without Russian participation."


Russia Threatens Nuclear Arms Boost if Antimissile Dispute Persists

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday his nation would enhance its stockpile of nuclear weapons if it reaches no agreement with the United States to collaborate on a European antimissile framework, Reuters reported (see GSN, May 11). Moscow and NATO agreed last November in Lisbon, Portugal, to jointly explore areas for possible antimissile collaboration (see GSN, Nov. 22, 2010). A Kremlin proposal that Europe be divided into two sectors of missile defense responsibility, with NATO managing one and Russia the other, has not generated much interest among alliance members. The United States has said it would never place any NATO state's missile protection in Moscow's hands (see GSN, May 16).

"I hope the questions that I put to my colleague and friend President Obama will be answered and we can work out a model for cooperation in antimissile defense," Medvedev said. "If we don't work this out, then we will have take steps to counter it, which we would not like. Then we are talking about forcing the development of our nuclear strike potential," the Russian president said. "This would be a very bad scenario, a scenario that would throw us back to the Cold War era" (Alexei Anishchuk, Reuters, May 18).

Failure to reach an agreement might prompt Moscow to cut short its compliance with the U.S.-Russian New START strategic arms control treaty, the Xinhua News Agency quoted him as saying. The pact requires both nations to cut their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems, and allows for verification inspections in the two countries (Xinhua News Agency, May 18). Meanwhile, Russia's RS-24 ICBM will be suited within two decades to penetrate any antimissile system operated by another government, Russian strategic rocket forces head Lt. Gen. Sergei Karakayev said (see GSN, March 4).

"It is necessary to note the new missiles' ability to be invulnerable before launch thanks to their mobility, as well as their ability to tackle the task of defeating any possible missile defense system within the next 15-20 years, should such a need arise," Russia Today on Tuesday quoted Karakayev as saying. "The first missile regiment, comprised of two batteries armed with Yars advanced land-based mobile missile systems, equipped with RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple warheads, entered duty at the Teikovo missile division, based in Ivanov region, on March 4," he noted. “This is a weapon that has accumulated the best qualities of the Topol-M missile and has acquired new combat possibilities.”

The official did not directly address Washington's missile shield plans for Europe (Russia Today, May 17). Russia intends to begin a new series of test launches next month of its experimental Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile, RIA Novosti reported last week (see GSN, May 11). "The launch will take place between June 15 and 17 from the Dmitry Donskoy nuclear submarine (in the White Sea)," a Defense Ministry insider said. The Bulava is designed to carry 10 nuclear warheads as far as 5,000 miles. Seven of the missile's 14 trial launches to date have been successes, including two tests conducted in October (RIA Novosti, May 13).


Russia’s newest and most advanced sub launches Russia’s most lethal missile, the Bulava

The new-built “Yuri Dolgoruky” yesterday for the first time test launched Russia’s most advanced, and most troublesome, missile, the Bulava. With the successful launch, the sub and the missile, both designed for eachother, passed the test. The “Yuri Dolgoruky” launched the “Bulava” from the White Sea and the hit the test ground in Kamchatka in Russia’s Far East as planned. The launch was made submerged position, military spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies. Captain Vladimir Shirin commanded the historical launch, Kommersant reports.

The test launch has been awaited with major excitement both in Russia and abroad. Of the former 15 test launches of the missile, as many as seven have failed. All the tests have so far been carried out from the “Dmitri Donskoy” - a Typhoon-class submarine rebuilt into a test-platform for the Bulava-missile.

Yesterday’s test was different, it was the first launch made from Yuri Dolgoruky, Russia’s first fourth generation strategic sub, a vessel built in Severodvinsk and specially designed to carry the Bulava. The successful launch is a major releaf for the Russian military, which over a big number of years have spent huge sums on the construction of both the submarine and the missile. More failed launches would be a serious blow to military leaders and a loss of prestige to Russia’s whole military-industrial complex. As BarentsObserver reported, the “Bulava” is expected to be included in the Russian weapon arsenal is this year’s five planned test launches are conducted successfully.


Related materials:

China Deemed Biggest Threat to U.S.

**FILE** Chinese President Hu Jintao

China's nuclear arsenal poses the most serious "mortal threat" to the United States among nation states, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate on Thursday. In candid testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Clapper said he considered China the most significant threat among nation states, with Russia posing the second-greatest threat. He later clarified the comments by saying he did not assess that China or Russia had the intention to launch an attack on the United States.

The testimony contrasts with statements by Obama administration officials who have sought to highlight the dangers of Iran and North Korea while paying less attention to China and Russia. Mr. Clapper said he does not assess that North Korea and Iran pose greater strategic threats because they lack the forces that Russia and China have that could deliver a nuclear attack on the United States.

North Korea has tested at least twice a multistaged long-range missile capable of hitting the United States. On Tuesday, Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, told a conference in Washington that analysts estimate that Iran would be able to deliver a payload by missile to the U.S. East Coast by 2015. Asked by Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, what country he viewed as the greatest adversary of the United States, Mr. Clapper said: "Probably China, if the question is pick one nation state."

He added, "We have a treaty, the New START treaty, with the Russians. I guess I would rank them a little lower because we don't have such a treaty with the Chinese." China, according to successive Pentagon reports to Congress, is building up its strategic nuclear forces and has spurned offers from the administration to begin talks on nuclear arms, missile defenses, space and cyberweapons, as well as an international agreement to limit the production of fissile material.

On Libya, Mr. Clapper said besieged leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi likely will prevail in his regime's battle against rebel forces. He also said the North African state may break into three republics or, in a worst-case scenario, descend into a lawless state like Somalia. That view appears at odds with the position of the White House. President Obama has said Col. Gadhafi should resign from power. This week, senior U.S. officials also suggested that a U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya would not prohibit the transfer of arms to the rebels.

Mr. Clapper's Libya remarks along with his assessment of the China threat earned him rebukes from some senators. In an interview with Fox News, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Mr. Clapper should step down or be fired for saying in a public forum that Col. Gadhafi would prevail over the rebels. During the hearing, Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and committee chairman, said he was "surprised" by Mr. Clapper's statement on China.

After Mr. Clapper clarified that he was speaking about capabilities and not intentions, Mr. Levin said, "I was just as surprised by that answer as your first answer. You're saying that China now has the intent to be a mortal adversary of the United States?" Mr. Clapper responded, "Well the question is who, from my vantage, from among the nation states who would pose potentially the greatest [threat] if I had to pick one country, which I am loathe to do because I am more of the mind to consider their capabilities, both Russia and China potentially represent a broad threat to the United States. I don't think either country today has the intent to mortally attack us."

Defense officials have acknowledged that U.S. intelligence agencies have underestimated China's military capabilities. But the intelligence community is beginning to express more concerns about China's military buildup, which has been carried out largely in secret. Army Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., the Defense Intelligence Agency director, appeared with Mr. Clapper and agreed that China's power projection is growing."While remaining focused on Taiwan as a primary mission, China will, by 2020, lay the foundation for a force able to accomplish broader and regional global objectives," he said.

Gen. Burgess said China's military "continues to face deficiencies in interservice cooperation and actual experience in joint exercises and combat operations." "China's leaders continue to stress asymmetric strategies to leverage China's advantage while exploiting potential opponents' perceived vulnerabilities," the general said. One asymmetric strategy China is pursuing is the use of computer-based cyberprobes into U.S. classified computer networks. Mr. Clapper said the cyber-activity is a "formidable concern."

"The Chinese have made a substantial investment in this area, they have a very large organization devoted to it and they're pretty aggressive," Mr. Clapper said. "This is just another way in which they glean information about us and collect on us for technology purposes, so it's a very formidable concern."

In the hearing, Mr. Clapper stressed that Iran's supreme leader had not given the order to produce nuclear weapons in Iran. The comments on Iran's nuclear program appeared to support a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran halted work on nuclear weapons in 2003. Last month, a CIA report to Congress dropped language from two previous reports that said Iran was keeping open its option to build nuclear weapons, as the National Intelligence Council recently notified Congress that it had altered the 2007 estimate. Officials declined to specify what was changed because the revision was classified.

Gen. Burgess said Iran is helping terrorists train and obtain weapons. "At Iran's behest, Lebanese Hezbollah provides Iraqi insurgents with weapons and training to attack U.S. forces. Iran also provides weapons, explosives and munitions to insurgents in Afghanistan."


U.S. 'plans to neutralize Russian nuclear weapons by 2012-2015'

The U.S.-proposed European missile shield will eventually spread along Russia's borders and may neutralize Russia's nuclear potential by 2012-2015, a Russian political analyst said on Wednesday. Commenting on reports that the United States and Lithuania were formally discussing deploying elements of the U.S. missile shield in the ex-Soviet Baltic state should Warsaw reject Washington's plans to station 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Moscow-based Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, said: "We should expect that elements of a U.S. missile shield will be placed not only in Lithuania, but also in all territories bordering Russia and controlled by NATO." So far, the Czech Republic has agreed to host an early-warning radar on its territory. Poland has taken a tough stance in missile talks with the U.S., demanding that Washington upgrade its air defense systems in return. Ivashov said the main purpose of the U.S. global missile shield was to neutralize Russia's nuclear potential by 2012-2015 and that NATO eastward expansion was part of this plan. He said Ukraine's and Georgia's possible accession to NATO would have dire consequences for Russia's defense capability. "There is no doubt that elements of the U.S. missile shield will be placed in Georgia and Ukraine immediately after they join NATO," the analyst said, adding that Ukraine already had radars [in Mukachevo and Sevastopol] that may be used against Russia. "The U.S. wants to create an impenetrable shield capable of intercepting and destroying Russian nuclear missiles on launch pads, in the initial trajectory, in orbit and on the final trajectory," he said. Ivashov criticized the Russian leadership for "wasting time in empty rhetoric with the West," rather than taking concrete steps to counter the looming threat. He suggested that Russia should threaten to sever all relations with NATO if the U.S. missile shield is eventually placed in Europe. "Russia must also warn the European countries case of a potential military confrontation...capitals, large cities, industrial and communications centers of the countries hosting elements of the U.S. missile shield will inevitably become the primary targets of [Russian] nuclear strikes."


U.S. can attack Russia in 2012-2015 - Russian military analyst

After 2012-2015, the U.S. will be able to annihilate Russian strategic nuclear forces by a non-nuclear preemptive strike, said Konstantin Sivkov, the first vice president of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Problems. "I declare that the likelihood of a military threat is great as never before now," Sivkov told Interfax on Saturday. Western military experts have recently started to talk about the possibility of attacking Russia and annexing its territory, Sivkov said. "Russia is supposed to be dismembered into three parts, with the Western part going to the European Union, the central part and Siberia to the U.S., and the eastern to China. This is a rough scenario," he said. Russian armed forces will be unable to successfully counter an aggression, Sivkov said. "At the present time, the conventional armed forces cannot properly perform their duties in a regional war, like the Great Patriotic War, even in theory. Even if fully deployed, their potential is limited even in local wars. The only factor that deters [the U.S.] now is the nuclear arsenal," he said.


Gates' reference to Russia's nuclear capabilities alarming

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in his address to officers at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia that Russia was focused on strengthening its nuclear capabilities rather than building up its regular armed forces, which makes maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal increasingly important. The two nuclear superpowers may be building up their nuclear capabilities, but no reasonable person can imagine using them. On the other hand, more armed conflicts are taking place in the world every year, which means the world needs more conventional arms, or better still, precision weapons with effects comparable to those of nuclear weapons.

As it draws attention to a Russian nuclear threat, the United States has accelerated its transition to conventional armed forces, lessening its dependence on its nuclear arsenal. Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, John C. Rood, said as much in late May. Why is Gates expressing this concern about Russia's nuclear strategy? Does he know more than we do? And, is Russia really preparing to make a breakthrough in the sphere of conventional weapons? According to Reuters, "Moscow has boosted military spending as part of an effort to make Russia more assertive on the world stage after the chaos of the post-Soviet period. It has also tried to reform its military to create a more professional, well-equipped and mobile army. But that reform has been slow, some critics say."

"Russia is really not investing very much in their conventional forces. It's really clear and for a whole bunch of reasons, demographics and everything else," Gates told reporters after his visit to Langley. It seems to me the Americans are painting the situation in Russia's defense sphere all black. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, president of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Problems, commenting on Russia's triad of strategic nuclear weapons, including ground-based missiles, submarines and bombers said, "We are really worried by what is happening. The mobile Topol-M missile systems are vulnerable to conventional strikes; their mobility is no longer a guarantee of concealment or protection. Rather, they have become a deterrence factor only toward the east." "The airborne component of the nuclear triad is degenerating, despite promising projects underway in design bureaus. The state defense contracts do not stipulate the creation of modern strategic cruise missiles," the general said. "The situation in the naval section is also dramatic; there are no clear ways out of this dead-end."

Ivashov was clearly referring to the Bulava ballistic missile, which is to be produced for the Russian armed forces this year although the missile needs further development. Gates should be happy that even Russian generals, who cannot be suspected of love for the United States, are openly talking about the weakness of Russia's nuclear capability. In early June, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said deadlines for the creation of new weapons for the army and navy should be streamlined. "We must make financial decisions to accelerate the completion of promising R&D projects already launched. We must restore order with deadlines for their implementation," Vladimir Putin told a June 10th meeting devoted to Defense Ministry orders due in 2009-2011. The demand to "restore order" definitely means that there is a lack of order in the development of new weapons.

In late March, Sergei Ivanov, then first deputy prime minister, told arms producers in Tula, "Many defense enterprises are not prepared for serial production of modern high-tech weapons that are in high demand on the global market." He was referring to problems with batch production of the S-400 and Pantsir-S1 air defense missile systems, which can repel precision offensive weapons and form the core of the country's aerospace defense command. The United States is working to create a global aerospace defense system whereas Russia has very few such weapons on combat duty, and all of them were created decades ago. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


Russian Missile Shield in Serbia?

According to the Sunday edition of Belgrade daily Kurir, Moscow has decided to respond to the announced U.S. missile shields in Poland and Czech Republic by installing its missile shield on the river Drina, in Serbia. Allegedly, Serbia has already given its consent. Presumably, this latest development is part of the detailed plans Moscow intends to carry out in order to take Serbia and Republic of Srpska in Bosnia entirely under its wing, outside the EU/U.S. sphere of influence. The greatest majority of Serbs, disillusioned with the West during the past two decades of harsh sanctions, merciless vilification, bombardments, aggression and colonization, during which they were treated as the enemy of the West and continually punished both individually and as a collective, would welcome the more direct Russian involvement. This is especially true at the point where the U.S., UK, German, French et al. drive to dismember Serbia and sever its southern province of Kosovo and Metohija appears to be entering the final stage, goading Kosovo Albanian separatist to obstruct every attempt at negotiated settlement and declare the unilateral independence, which the Western powers have promised to recognize soon after. Twelve years after the Dayton Accords, US, EU and NATO have also continued their anti-Serbian policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, consistently siding with Bosnian Muslims and backing their drive to obliterate Serbian Republic created in Dayton in 1995. The latest decisions of the EU High Representative Miroslav Lajcak, strongly opposed by the Bosnian Serbs, are aimed at rendering Serbian nation in Bosnia voiceless — a first step in dissolution of the Serb entity through imposed “reforms”. Kurir quotes the international politics expert and university professor Darko Trifunovic saying that the possibility of installing the Russian missile shield in Serbia is very real. According to him, United States are targeting Iran for dismemberment by promising an independent state modeled after the Serbian Kosovo province to the Kurds who, together with Azerbaijanis, comprise 48% of total Iran population. Russia and China are opposed. “Serbia has been turned over to Russia not by its choice, because the West views and targets Serbia as a part of the Russian interest zone,” said Trifunovic.

Pro-Western Serbs Abused by the West Like No European Nation Since WWII

Russian daily Izvestya recently noted that “pro-Western Serbs have been hammered by the West like no other European nation since the WWII [...] their common state of Yugoslavia destroyed, their people expelled from each of the former republics with the U.S., German and British help, sanctioned and finally bombed for 78 days by NATO, at the hight of cynicism, Serbs were also scapegoated and blamed for all the civil wars and all the victims.” “As if twenty years of suffering was not enough, Western powers are now insisting on further destruction of Serbia and Republika Srpska, the only two swaths of land where Serbs are allowed to live and call home,” Izvestya writes, concluding that Russia is the only country that can help Serbian nation regain its dignity and peace, and the only one Serbs today trust. The editorial calls for “decisive action on behalf of official Russia” which will put an end to further Western “abuse and killing of a nation.”


Russia Warns of Targeting US Shield

Russia's nuclear weapons chief, General Nikolai Solovtsov said that if the US shield undermines the Russian nuclear capability it could be targeted by intercontinental ballistic missiles. Russia's nuclear weapons chief threatened Monday to target a planned US missile defense shield in central Europe if Washington fails to take into account Moscow's worries, the Interfax news agency reported. General Nikolai Solovtsov, head of strategic missile forces, said such a decision could be taken if the US shield is seen to "undermine the Russian nuclear deterrent capability." In that case "I do not exclude...the missile defense shield sites in Poland and the Czech Republic being chosen as targets for some of our intercontinental ballistic missiles," Solovtsov said.

On Saturday, the Russian chief of staff, General Yury Baluyevsky, warned the launch of US interceptor missiles could accidentally trigger a Russian retaliatory strike. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk denounced the comments as "unacceptable" and said "no declaration of this kind will influence Polish-American negotiations." Solovtsov, speaking hours after state television showed images of a ballistic missile being test fired from a submerged submarine at a target on the other side of Russia, said the US was untrustworthy. "If the Americans signed a treaty with us that they would only deploy 10 anti-missile rockets in Poland and one radar in the Czech Republic and will never put anything else there, then we could deal with this," he said. "However they won't sign, they just tell us verbally, 'We won't threaten you.' "They already cheated Russia once," he said, referring to North Atlantic Treaty Organization expansion into former Soviet-dominated territory after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. "Verbally they already told us that when we re-unite Germany there won't be one NATO soldier there.

Now where are they?" East-West relations are increasingly strained as Russia and NATO countries argue over how to ensure security in the post-Cold War landscape. Russia froze compliance last week with the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which imposes strict limits on deployment of troops around the country. The Foreign Ministry offered reassurance Russia had "no current plans to accumulate massive armaments on our neighbors' borders." However the decision was criticized by NATO, the US and other Western powers.


US interceptors in Europe fast enough to hit Russian ICBMs: researcher

Interceptor missiles deployed in Poland as part of a US missile defense shield would be fast enough to target Russian intercontinental missiles, contrary to US assurances, a US researcher said Thursday. Ted Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a long time critic of the US missile defense system, said the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is understating the speed of the interceptor and overstating the speed of Russian long range missiles. MDA spokesman Rick Lehner said Postol had no access to missile test data and his assertions were "totally false." The United States is negotiating to station 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a high powered targeting radar in the Czech Republic to counter what it says is a growing missile threat from Iran.

Russia has objected vehemently to the plan on grounds that the European site could be used against its missiles, despite repeated denials from Washington. Postol said the Americans "were probably concerned the Europeans wouldn't accept (the plan) so they came up with the false argument that the interceptors won't be fast enough to engage Russians' ICBMs." He argued that the interceptor missiles would have to be faster than acknowledged by the Missile Defense Agency to be effective against missiles from Iran. "The MDA claims the interceptors have a rather slow burnout speed, because you have to have a low burnout speed in order to not overtake Russian ICBMs," he said at a press conference. "They claim a 6.3 kilometers per second speed. At this speed, the interceptor wouldn't be able to engage an ICBM from Russia," he said. "But in fact, the burnout speed of this interceptor is closer to nine kilometers per second, which tends to fit to claims of the MDA that the system can protect from an Iran attack," he said. "If the speed is inferior, then they can't defend places that they said they could defend earlier," he said.

Lehner insisted, however, that the US interceptors are not fast enough to catch a Russian ICBM. "These missiles are more like six kilometers per second or a little more and it is certainly not sufficient to intercept a Russian missile, even coming out of a western part of Russia," he said.


China says U.S. missile shield threatens global stability

The placement of U.S. missile defenses in Europe will not ease global security concerns but will undermine the global strategic balance, the Chinese foreign minister said Wednesday. Washington insists that the deployment of a radar in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor base in Poland will protect the U.S. and its NATO allies from potential missile attacks coming from Iran or North Korea, despite Russia's objections. Speaking at a news conference after a meeting between foreign ministers of China, Russia and India, Yang Jiechi expressed hope that a new concept of global security, characterized by mutual trust and equal rights, could be established in the future.

The Harbin meeting is the third stand-alone meeting of the foreign ministers from the three countries. New Delhi hosted the previous two meetings, which some experts and media said could be aimed at setting up a military-political alliance to counter the influence of the United States in the region. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the news conference in Harbin that Russia has no plans to form a military union with India and China. He said Moscow is developing dialogue with the two Asian countries through bilateral as well as trilateral formats, within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and other structures.

"We are striving to jointly resolve key issues of security through multilateral dialogue, primarily by political and diplomatic means," Lavrov said. "There is no alternative to a multi-polar and equal-rights cooperation in the world if we want to respond effectively to the existing threats," he said.


Putin: US Plan Evokes '62 Cuban Crisis

President Vladimir Putin on Friday evoked one of the most dangerous confrontations of the Cold War to highlight Russian opposition to a proposed U.S. missile defense system in Europe, comparing it to the Cuban missile crisis of 45 years ago. The comments — made at the end of a summit between Russia and European Union that failed to resolve several festering disputes — were the latest in a series of belligerent statements from the assertive Putin.

Emboldened by oil- and gas-fueled economic clout, Russia is increasingly at odds with Washington and much of Europe on issues ranging from Iran and Kosovo to energy supplies and human rights. Putin used a news conference at the summit's conclusion to reiterate Russia's stalwart opposition to U.S. plans to put elements of a missile defense system in the former Soviet bloc countries of Poland and the Czech Republic — both of which are now NATO members. "Analogous actions by the Soviet Union, when it deployed missiles in Cuba, prompted the 'Caribbean crisis,'" Putin said, using the Russian term for the Cuban missile crisis. "For us the situation is technologically very similar. We have withdrawn the remains of our bases from Vietnam, from Cuba, and have liquidated everything there, while at our borders, such threats against our country are being created," he said.

The October 1962 crisis erupted when President John F. Kennedy demanded that Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev remove his country's nuclear missiles from Cuba because they could have been used to launch a close-range attack on the United States. The Americans imposed a naval blockade on Cuba and the world teetered on the edge of war before the Soviets backed down. Putin also suggested that the tension was much lower than in 1962 because the United States and Russia are now "partners," not Cold War enemies. His relationship with President Bush, Putin said, helps solve problems, calling him a "personal friend." The Russian leader said there has been no concrete U.S. response to his counterproposals for cooperation on missile defense, but added that the United States is now listening to Russia's concerns about its plans and seeking to address them.

In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino underscored those remarks rather than the Cuban missile crisis analogy, saying "there's no way you could walk away without thinking that he thinks that we can work together." The U.S. plan is part of a wider missile shield involving defenses in California and Alaska which the United States says are to defend against any long-range missile attack from countries such as North Korea or Iran. Russia strongly opposes the idea, saying Iran is decades away from developing missile technology that could threaten Europe or North America, and it says the U.S. bases are aimed at spying on Russian facilities and undermining Russia's missile deterrent force.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters there were "clear historical differences between our plans to deploy a defensive missile system designed to protect against launch of missiles from rogue states, such as Iran, and the offensive nuclear-tipped capability of the missiles that were being installed in Cuba back in the 1960s." "I don't think that they are historically analogous in any way, shape or form," he said. Turning to his future, Putin said he would not assume presidential powers if he became prime minister after finishing his term next May. Putin is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in the March 2008 presidential election. But he suggested this month that he could become prime minister, leading to speculation that the substantial powers now invested in the presidency might be transferred to the prime minister.

"If someone thinks that I intend to move, let's say, into the government of the Russian Federation and transfer the fundamental powers there, that's not the case," Putin said. "There will be no infringement on the powers of the president of the Russian Federation, at least while it depends on me."

After repeating his insistence that he does not intend to change the constitution in order to run for a third term, Putin said he had not yet decided where and in what capacity he would work as former president. He is expected to remain an influential figure in Russia. Putin will lead the ticket of the dominant United Russia party in December parliamentary elections. An overwhelming victory for the party could turn the legislature into a new power base for Putin and give him a claim to continued authority based on his popularity.

Putin traveled to Portugal, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, for talks with leaders of the 27-nation bloc. But despite a positive spin put on the meeting by Putin and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso — who called it "open, frank and productive" — the summit yielded no major breakthroughs. The EU and Russia have been without a new cooperation agreement for more than a year, during which time doubts have grown in many European capitals about the reliability of Russia's energy supplies and trade policies toward EU member nations, such as Poland. Topping the list of concerns is Russia's energy policy — the reliability of supplies and the intentions of state-run oil and gas companies. Russia already provides 30 percent of EU energy imports, including 44 percent of natural gas imports.

The state-controlled gas giant OAO Gazprom has recently moved to acquire assets in Europe and strike bilateral deals with some EU countries. That has led the EU to consider new restrictions on non-EU companies owning majority stakes in gas pipelines or electricity power grids without additional agreements — much to the Russians' consternation. Earlier, Putin tried to assure European leaders that Russian investment was not to be feared. "When we hear in some countries phrases like, 'The Russians are coming with their scary money,' it sounds a bit funny," he said.


Russia tests long-range missile

Russia announced the successful test firing of an inter-continental ballistic missile from the northwestern Arkhangelsk region to a target on the other side of the country today, news agencies reported. The RS-12M Topol missile, which has the Nato codename SS-25 Sickle, was launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome and hit its test target in the far eastern region of Kamchatka on Russia’s Pacific coast, the Interfax and ITAR-TASS news agencies reported. "The test warhead of the rocket destroyed the hypothetical target with required accuracy at the firing range on the Kamchatka peninsula," the Strategic Missile Forces press service was quoted as saying. "Thus, the stability of the main technical flight characteristics of the missile complex were confirmed," it added. The RS-12M Topol is a three-stage missile fired from a mobile launcher and is similar in size to the US Minuteman ICBM. The first launch was made in 1981. The test launch came amid growing East-West tensions and a dispute between Moscow and Washington over US plans to install a limited anti-missile defence shield in central Europe.


Norway's military: Russian bombers neared NATO summit on unusual practice run

The Norwegian military says two Russian bombers on an unusual practice run neared today the Netherlands, where NATO defence ministers are meeting. Spokesman Lt.-Col. John Espen Lien says that another set of bombers earlier today flew unusually close to far northern Norwegian territory, but remained in international air space. Lien says that the later flight - by two Tupolev 160 strategic bombers - followed a course near the Norwegian coast and between Britain and Denmark, before turning back some 190 kilometres northwest of the Netherlands, where NATO defence ministers were meeting in the city of Noordwijk. Russia has routinely sent up bomber flights from its northern bases in recent months in what is broadly seen as a demonstration that its military is again potent, 16 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union left it with few resources. Russian Air Force spokesman Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky told the Russian Interfax-AVN news agency today that those flights were part of worldwide exercises. He said 10 Russian bombers, including the four near Norway, plus two reconnaissance planes and two refuelling tankers had flown practice missions over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, as well as over the Black Sea during the day.


Russian Bear bombers conduct cruise missile practice

Two Russian Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers will practice on Friday launches of cruise missiles at a testing site in southern Russia, an Air Force spokesman said. Russian strategic bombers began on October 16 a series of long-range training flights over the Arctic region, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Black Sea with simulated bomber raids and missile launches missiles at testing grounds in northern and southern Russia. The exercises will continue until October 30. Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky also said up to 10 Tu-95MS bombers and two Il-78 aerial tankers flew scheduled flight patrols on Thursday in neutral airspace, and were accompanied for at least five hours by NATO F-16 and Tornado fighters. Russia has stepped up practice runs of its strategic bombers ever since President Vladimir Putin announced the resumption of strategic patrol flights on August 17. The president said at the time that although the country halted long-distance strategic flights to remote regions in 1992, other nations had continued the practice, compromising Russian national security. Although NATO countries expressed concern over possible violations of their airspace and scramble their fighters as a "routine response" when Russian bombers fly close to their borders, Moscow says all the latest flights are within air patrolling corridors permitted by international regulations.


10 Reasons Why Russia Can’t Trust Uncle Sam

The West says that it is perplexed by Russia's "aggressive" behavior of late, and suggests that Moscow is desirous to regain its past superpower status, and even a little empire. But if cashing in on oil is imperialism, how do we explain the following U.S. moves:

10. Scrapping the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - In December 2001, three months after 9/11, U.S. President George W. Bush told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S. was pulling out of the 1972 ABM Treaty, a Cold War-era document that specifically forbade the development and deployment of anti-missile defense systems. The treaty ensured that signatory nations adhere to the mutually assured destruction (MAD) concept - if you destroy us we will destroy you formula. Yes, it was certainly MAD, but it kept the peace for 30 years. Former Defense Secrextary Donald Rumsfeld attempted to reassure Moscow that the decision was nothing personal. "It [the treaty] failed to recognize that the Soviet Union is gone and that Russia is, of course, not our enemy." Putin called the move "a mistake."

9. "Mission Accomplished" - On March 20, 2003, the United States - without a mandate from the United Nations, and against the heated objections of France, Germany and Russia - invaded Iraq on the pretext that the secular Baathist state of Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was a proud sponsor of terrorism. Both accusations were proven wrong. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the BBC in an interview that the attack was a violation of international law. "From our point of view and the UN Charter point of view, it [the war] was illegal."

8. Pentagon Spending Spree - The United States, which just put the finishing touches on a $583 billion dollar shopping trip for 2008, accounts for about half of global expenditures (or the next 14 nations). However, as Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute argues, "the trillion-dollar defense budget is already here." Higgs calculated that U.S. military-related spending in 2006 was actually $934.9 billion if we figure in Homeland Security ($69.1bln), the Dept. of Energy, which oversees nuclear weapons ($16.6 bln) and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs ($69.8 bln), as well as other juicy pork chops. In May, the Democrat-controlled House and Senate approved almost $95 billion for the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through September (Go Dems!). Meanwhile, "aggressive" Russia, with a 48 percent increase in military spending since 1996, still spends ‘just' $85 billion annually on military expenditures.

7. NATO XXL - As Dan Simpson, a retired U.S. diplomat argued in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "The United States and other NATO members have taken some actions along the way to lull the Russians into acquiescence as NATO expanded to include the former Warsaw Pact nations... The argument was that these countries wanted to join NATO and that their membership posed no threat to Russia. That line prevailed as NATO membership grew to include also Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, former republics of the Soviet Union. Now the Russians see the same argument being advanced for Georgia and Ukraine. That's getting close to home."

6. New Military Bloopers - As the Pakistani government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf struggles to contain the fallout of an 8-day battle against militants at the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), a U.S. official turned up the heat by telling CNN that if the U.S. "had actionable targets, anywhere in the world," including Pakistan, then "we would pursue those targets." Meanwhile, talk about a possible attack on Iran, a nation that ranked on America's axis of evil hit parade, continues.

5. Think-Tank Saber Rattling - Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press write an article in the prestigious U.S. journal Foreign Affairs entitled "Nuclear Primacy" (March/April 2006), which argues, in a nutshell, that "It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike." Is this the sort of article that America should be supporting if it wants Russia to believe that elements of the proposed U.S. missile defense system in Poland and... oops! Don't want to spoil the plot! Anyways, Moscow ‘responds' with very accurate penmanship one year later as it test-fires its new RS-24 ballistic missile that it said could "overcome any potential missile defense systems developed by foreign countries."

4. Cheney Comfort - One month after the above love letter hit newsstands, Vice President Dick Cheney, during a trip to Vilnius, Lithuania, assuaged Moscow's fears by reiterating, once again: "Russia has nothing to fear and everything to gain" by ‘democratic activity' on her borders.

3. Gates' Gated Community - In early 2007, Pentagon chief Robert Gates urged vigilance when he warned, "We don't know what's going to develop in places like Russia and China, in North Korea, in Iran and elsewhere." Was this a simple case of mistaken identity by a former White House Russian analyst? Whatever the case, it certainly helped to provoke Putin's heated Munich speech in February, where he admonished the world's "one master, one sovereign."

2. EU Culpability - As the War on Terror continues, Europe is losing its Snow White innocence. As the German magazine Der Spiegel reported, "On July 19, 2002, a Gulfstream business jet took off from Frankfurt am Main bound for Amman, Jordan. The flight received an AFTM exempt [pilot code for ‘extreme situation'], although it carried neither patients nor politicians. Instead, the jet was carrying a CIA team that took a Mauritanian terrorism suspect... to Guantanamo." Der Spiegel reported that this "camouflaging of an illegal kidnapping as a rescue flight" was not an isolated event: There were 390 such takeoffs and landings in Germany between 2002 and 2006. And considering Eastern European hotels, it's just too scary to consider those secret terrorist prisons that allegedly exist in Poland and Romania.

1. Don't Worry, These anti-Missile Missiles won't Hurt You, Really - Washington is now incredulous, shocked, mortified that Moscow has the nerve to suggest that there could be less than good intentions involved in the construction of an anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, even though there are no bad-guy technologies on the horizon that such a system could intercept. Go figure!


NATO Scuttles US Plan to Encircle Russia

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ministers in Brussels have decided to ignore the wishes of the United States and delay the admission of Georgia and the Ukraine, in effect indefinitely, in what the George W Bush administration is sheepishly trying to claim is a positive "compromise". The decision, follows the alarm which peaked among European Union member states last August over the prospect of having to go to war with Russia over an erratic leader in the Caucasus who had provoked Moscow into a reaction. The Germans have a far too deep and painful collective memory of the last war with Russia to be willing to treat the prospect as lightly as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or Washington has. The decision deepens growing fault lines across the Atlantic, and next year will be clearly more turbulent even than 2008 in terms of global geopolitics.

The Brussels decision is even more remarkable if taken as indication of Washington's diminishing power over European NATO members. The NATO Foreign Ministers meeting on December 3 issued what to the naive observer might appear a masterpiece of diplomacy. They unanimously agreed to sidestep the usual Membership Action Plan vote for Georgia and Ukraine, the first concrete step towards full membership of NATO. Instead, NATO will expand the activities of two existing bodies - the NATO-Georgia Commission and the NATO-Ukraine Commission - basically to oversee the same reforms as would have been contained in the action plan. NATO ministers also agreed in their communique to renew ties with Russia "in a conditional and graduated manner". Translated into real political language, Washington has undergone a stunning setback in its agenda of encircling Russia with NATO. Despite the fact that president-elect Obama retained Bush Administration Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and named a person to be Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who has strongly supported bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, key European NATO members, led by Germany and France, blocked what must be a unanimous membership decision.

The real reasons

The real reason for the refusal is the growing realization within European officialdom that it was Georgia's unpredictable President Mikhail Saakashvili, not Moscow, who first sent Georgian troops into the breakaway province of South Ossetia, after getting a go-ahead from Washington. On November 28, during Georgian official Parliamentary Commission testimony on the background to the August events, Saakashvili made the surprising announcement that he had indeed initiated the war. According to Saakashvili, the attack on the South Ossetian capital, which involved night shelling of residential areas with multiple rocket launcher systems, was aimed at protecting Georgian citizens. He said it was a response to Russia's "intervention" in the region. "We did start military action to take control of Tskhinvali and other unruly areas. But we took this difficult decision to fend off our territory from intervention and save the people who were dying. It was inevitable," Saakashvili said.

The Georgian president claims Russia moved tanks into South Ossetian territory before Georgia launched its attack. He said: "The issue is not about why Georgia started military action - we admit we started it. The issue is about whether there was another chance when our citizens were being killed? We tried to prevent the intervention and fought on our own territory." Saakashvili's surprising admission came only hours after the testimony of Georgia's former ambassador to Moscow, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, who had testified for three hours before he was shouted down by pro-Saakashvili members of parliament. A former confidant of Saakashvili, Kitsmarishvili said Georgian officials told him in April that they planned to start a war in Abkhazia, one of two breakaway regions at issue in the war, and had received a green light from the United States government to do so. He said the Georgian government later decided to start the war in South Ossetia, the other region, and continue into Abkhazia.

He refused to name the officials who told him about planned actions in Abkhazia, as identifying them would endanger their lives. The official US line has been that they had "warned" Saakashvili against taking action in the two enclaves, where Russian peacekeepers were stationed. Kitsmarishvili's testimony in front of the parliamentary commission was shown live on Georgian television. The chairman of the commission, Paata Davitaia, said he would initiate a criminal case against Kitsmarishvili for "professional negligence". Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, who was called on short notice to comment on Kitsmarishvili's testimony, called the allegations an "irresponsible and shameless fabrication", adding they were "either the result of a lack of information or the personal resentment of a man who has lost his job and wants to get involved in politics". Kitsmarishvili was fired in September by the president. Kitsmarishvili walked out amid the furor last week. "They don't want to listen to the truth," he told reporters. Two days later, Saakashvili proved Kitsmarishvili right.

Full spectrum dominance

As I detail at some length in my book, due out in January 2009, Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order, the strategy of bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO is part of a far larger and more dangerous strategic long-term plan of Washington to ultimately encircle, confront and dismember Russia as a functioning state. Russia, even more than China, is the most formidable obstacle to a Washington-centered sole superpower, Pax Americana. Russia's understandable refusal to abandon its nuclear strike force in the face of US violations of agreements made in 1989 between the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev and then US secretary of state James Baker III, namely that NATO would not expand east to the former states of the Warsaw Pact or USSR, presents a dilemma for any plans for sole US superpower domination. The Bush presidency was a raw attempt to remedy this by brute military force. The militarization of Iraq and the Middle East oil fields was but one step. The creation of a US 'missile shield' in Poland and the Czech Republic, was another, major step.

The misnamed "missile defense shield" would in reality be an offensive capability that when installed by perhaps 2012, will put the world, especially Western Europe on a hair-trigger to nuclear war. When combined with the entry of Russian border states Georgia and Ukraine to NATO this would simply present Moscow with de facto defeat. This is not about Russia returning to old Soviet-style rule under Putin or Medvedev. It's about the ultimate survival of Russia as a nation, as Moscow rightly sees it, not about the finer points of democracy. No one in either Berlin, Paris, London nor Brussels, and certainly not in Washington, is ignorant of that reality. European NATO members are increasingly nervous about the prospect of a military confrontation with Russia. Last August's swift Russian response to act in aid of South Ossetians against the Georgian invasion sent a reality shock through Europe. Neither Germany nor France wish to admit unstable states like Georgia or Ukraine only to be forced to act militarily in their defense in event of a repeat of the madness of last August. That, simply stated, is the real, unspoken reason that Washington on December 3 in Brussels was forced to accept a face-saving compromise. The NATO membership of Georgia and Ukraine to all intent and purposes is dead. As one NATO military official stated, "NATO has lost the glue that once held it together." The statement of Rice following the NATO meeting was telling. She was forced to tell press, "... there is a long road ahead for both Georgia and Ukraine to reach those standards. The United States stands resolutely for those standards, meaning that there should be no shortcuts to membership of NATO." Rice added.

Polish motorcade shoot was 'Georgia stunt'

Further adding to the atmosphere of almost Laurel and Hardy comic farce surrounding Georgia's erratic president - who was filmed shortly after the Russian invasion in August by BBC actually swallowing and chewing on his tie - it has now emerged that an alleged shooting incident a week before the Brussels NATO meeting, which involved the motorcade of the Georgian and Polish presidents, was a staged "stunt". Special services in Warsaw say the alleged attack near the South Ossetian border was a provocation staged by the Georgians. A report by Poland's Internal Security Agency - the Agencja Bezpieczenstwa Wewnetrznego (ABW), published by the Dziennik newspaper, claims Georgia staged the incident for propaganda purposes. The incident took place on Sunday evening when Saakashvili was showing his Polish counterpart Lech Kaczynski the area near the border with South Ossetia. After the convoy stopped at a checkpoint, there was gunfire, which the Georgians claimed was an "attack by Russian troops".

Lech Kaczynski's personal security chief, Colonel Krzysztof Olszowiec, was accused of failing to ensure proper security for the president during his trip to Georgia and dismissed despite objections from Kaczynski, according to the Polish media. The trip to the border area with Russian-backed South Ossetia was the result of a last-minute invitation from Saakashvili, according to Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paskowski. Initially, Warsaw blamed Russia for the incident. But now Polish security forces say it was staged by Tbilisi. Russia had strongly denied the allegations, saying Tbilisi was behind it. President Kaczynski confirmed that shooting had taken place but stopped short of blaming anyone. Russia's position has now been supported by Poland's ABW, who said "the shots fired near the cars of Georgian and Polish president were a Georgian provocation". The Polish document points out that Saakashvili kept on smiling after the first shots and his bodyguards didn't react. The report also highlights another suspicious fact, namely, that the bus carrying journalists was instructed to travel in front of the motorcade, while the car with Kaczynski's own bodyguards was pushed back by Georgian soldiers. The result was that they were not in a position to witness the alleged shooting. All-in-all, it might be Saakashvili's tenure as president that faces major internal challeges over his bent for undertaking such reckless stunts.

F William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics (Pluto Press), and the book, Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation ( His new book, Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order (Third Millennium Press) is due out late January 2009. He may be reached through his website,


US Conducts Successful Missile Defence Test

Pentagon Shoots Down Missile in Simulated Attack:

The US has successfully conducted a test of its missile defence systems. A spokesman for the US military said a missile launched from Kodiak island in the northern most-state of Alaska was destroyed by an interceptor launched from California, on the country's lower west coast. The Pentagon said 12 tests had been carried out on the system since 1999 out of which seven had been successful. Relations between the US and Russia have been strained by the US' plans to place a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, former parts of the Soviet Union. Russia fears that the systems placed in its neighbouring countries could be used to target it in the future, while the US maintains that they are to counter the threat posed by rogue states and do not have Russia in mind. Russia has threatened to place missile systems pointing at its neighbours in Kaliningrad in response to the US plans.


Was US Anti-Missile Test Aimed at Russia and China?

A consultant to the head of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces has said that a simulated anti-missile test by the U.S. was not aimed at stopping a North Korean threat as Washington had claimed. Colonel-general Viktor Yesin said last Friday’s test had China and Russia in mind. He said: “To avoid agitating public opinion, U.S. Missile Defense Agency officials say the test was aimed at intercepting North Korean and Iranian rockets. But we missile specialists understand that it was in fact aimed at stopping Russian and Chinese intercontinental missiles.” During the test last Friday an interceptor rocket was launched from California to knock down a missile launched from Alaska. America spends some $US 10 billion a year on an anti-missile network claiming it's necessary to counteract growing threats from ‘rogue nations’ such as North Korea and Iran.