Russia Steps Into World Leadership Role - September, 2013

After weeks of aggressive posturing and threats of military intervention, the White House has unexpectedly and quite suddenly called-off its military strike against Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry was quoted by the Wall Street Journal on September 14 as saying:
"There is no military solution [to the Syrian conflict]. "It has to happen at the negotiating table."
The calculus for war has suddenly changed and the Western aggression against Syria has - for now at least - been averted. For this, the global community can thank the Russian Federation.

In an absolutely brilliant display of military might and diplomatic acumen, Moscow was able to dismantle the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance's jihad against Syria. Having been confronted with obstacles they simply could not surmount, Washington and friends seem to have decided to pull back and reassess their actions. American officials will make the face-saving claim that it was the American electorate that made them change their mind. Anyone that knows anything about American politics will immediately recognize this as bullshit. The matter was taken to Congress by the White House only as a last minute, desperate measure to find a legal, face-saving way of putting off the attack against Syria - most probably because something must have happened on the military front to have made them change their mind. A couple of weeks earlier we saw a similar thing take place in London.

Make no mistake about it, this is a historic moment in global affairs. This is the first time in well over twenty years that the Western alliance has been dealt a significant blow by a rival superpower on the world stage. Moreover, and more importantly, what happened in Syria heralds the rise of Russia as a global power. If the Russo-Georgian war in 2008 secured Moscow's primacy in the Caucasus, Syria has helped Moscow step onto the world stage as a major player.

A historic victory for Moscow

While we don't yet know for sure exactly what it was that forced Washington to suddenly take a step back. What we do know for sure is that for the past several weeks Moscow's diplomatic corps, led by the Armenian Sergei Lavrov has been conquering hearts and minds around the world.

By calling-off the military strike against Syria (even if temporarily), Washington has in effect placed Moscow in the driver's seat. Moscow's diplomatic corps has outclassed officials fielded by Anglo-American-Zionist alliance at every turn and the Russian military has stood-up against the best the West could deploy in the Mediterranean. Regardless of what happens going forward, this is a historic victory of great proportions for the Russian Federation. Russia today has suddenly become the encouraging voice the global community is impatiently waiting to hear.

The following picture from Geneva, Switzerland says it all -

In a world reeling under the combined weight of the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance, Russia today has become the voice of sanity and the hope of many nations around the world.

Why the sudden and drastic change of course by Washington?

Not only did Washington suddenly pull back from attacking Syria after so much military preparation and threatening rhetoric, American officials are now also doing the unthinkable - they are signaling their willingness to sit at the negotiation table with Tehran. Something very serious must have made Western/Zionist war planners stop, take a big step back, reassess the situation they are in and see risks not worth taking. At this point we can only speculate as to what happened. And speaking of speculation: Some of you may recall that on September 3, Russia's military high command strongly rebuked the US and Israel for having carried-out an unannounced test launch of two ballistic missiles over the eastern Mediterranean Sea -

Russia Defense Ministry Warns About ‘Playing With Arms’ After Israel Launch:
Were US and Israeli officials so irresponsible that they broke away from military protocol and conducted an unannounced missile test in a region of the world that was on the verge of an imminent war? Were Washington and Tel Aviv playing with fire at a time when tensions in the region were extremely high and at a time when the armed forces of various opposing nations were on military high alert? Were they so reckless that they may have risked starting a war by accident?
Or was there something else to the story about the missile test.
Several days after this curious incident, Lebanon's Al Manar news agency, quoting from another Arabic language news source, produced an English-language article in which it reported that the missile launch in question was in reality the initial salvo of the aerial attack against Syria. According to this report, the attack was quickly neutralized by Russian military assets stationed in or near the region -
Al Manar News: Aggression was over the Moment those Two Missiles were Fired:
Now, there is some speculation that a plasma-based weapons system was used by Russia to bring down the US/Israeli missiles. The following is some information about this relatively new technology in warfare -
Russian Plasma Weapon: (Preview)

Plasma in space experiment:

Plasma Shield Able To Protect Entire Planet From Nuclear Threat:
Until recently, Russian scientists used plasma generation to provide conventional military aircraft with stealth capabilities. The technology in question now seems to have matured. There are some indicators today that plasma weapons are being used for anti-missile defense by the Russian military. Possibly related to this plasma air defense system may be the following atmospheric phenomenon seen in the skies over Norway in 2009 -
Although Russian officials at the time claimed that the unusual lights were the result of a failed ballistic missile launch by a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea, many observers remained unsatisfied with the explanation. There have been many failed ballistic missile tests throughout the years, yet 2009 was the first time such a heavenly light display was observed. Therefore, there had to be another explanation. It should be noted that a similar light spiral was also seen in the sky over Syria, Lebanon and Israel during the summer of 2012. Was this also a failed Russian ballistic missile launch over the Middle East? I don't think so -
Mystery spiral lights over Syria, Israel and Middle East:
These may certainly have been atmospheric experiments or tests carried-out by plasma weapons.

Therefore, were the September 3 missile launches a limited, initial strike to assess Syria's air defenses and to assess reactions from Moscow and Tehran? Did Moscow decide to debut their new weapon system by bringing down the missiles? After all, Russian military officials were publicly claiming they would come to Bashar Assad's aid in the event of an attack and Bashar Assad was publicly stating that he was not expecting an attack by the US. Moreover, there had been closed-door meetings between Western and Russian officials in which Russian officials were said to have threatened against any military action against Syria. The following two articles may shed some light on the matter -

The Al Manar report about the September 3 incident makes the astonishing claim that Washington began seeking ways of putting a stop to its military operations against Syria immediately after its ballistic missiles were brought down into the sea by Russian forces. Some curious comments made by President Putin during a meeting back in March, 2012 may be a clue -
Was Washington forced to the table by modern Russian arms?

I would like to emphasize that this is all speculation based on information provided by one news source from Lebanon. The report in question may very well be clever psy-ops (psychological warfare) put out by the Syrian government.

But, as previously mentioned, something very serious must have happened to have stopped Washington. The thing that made them call off their attack must have been more important than what warmongers in Washington wanted, more important than what Israeli, Saudi and Turkish officials wanted and more important than having the US look powerless against Bashar Assad's government. Let's remember that American hype (i.e. the way the US is perceived around the world) is one of the most important strategic aspects of Washingtonian politics. In fact, American hype drives much of Washington's power and influence around the world. Therefore, backing down from attacking Syria - especially at a time when being opposed by Moscow - was something Washington would not have done - unless it was faced with something very ominous, something that military officials in the US saw as a serious danger. Pulling back from a military strike against Syria made Washington look indecisive, weak and in the eyes of its bloodthirsty allies, treacherous. No matter how one looks at it, this was a very serious blow for imperial officials in Washington.

If there are any elements within the Al Manar report that are true to any degree, that is if any form of direct Russian military intervention stopped a Western attack against Syria, it would fully explain Washington's last minute reversal. A military incident involving Russia would fully explain John Kerry's unexpected "off the cuff remark" which was immediately seized upon by Russian officials and led to the unexpected agreement reached between Moscow and Washington in Geneva, Switzerland. From day one, the agreement in question seemed to have been choreographed, Washington had suddenly lost its appetite for war.

I personally think a direct Russian military intervention or perhaps a very stern warning from Russia's military high command made Washington back down. Knowing the imperial hubris of American officials, I am pretty sure that Washington then asked Moscow for a face saving way of getting out of the ordeal. Thus, the agreement in Geneva. This is eerily similar to the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. While US officials and the news press was jubilantly stating that the Soviet Union had backed-off and was to pull its nuclear missiles out of Cuba as a result of strong US military resolve, they of course failed to mention that Washington had secretly agreed on pulling its nuclear missile out of Turkey in exchange. In Washingtonian politics, and by extension in American culture, the way something looks (i.e. public impression) is more important than substance or reality.

Nevertheless, what this all ultimately means is that the imminent military attack against Syria has been called-off, at least for the time being. Even if temporarily, this is a very good development for the region, and the global community can thank the Russian Bear for it.

However, a delay or cancellation in the attack simply means Western powers will simply go back to placing emphasis on arming Bashar Assad's enemies within Syria with the hopes of bleeding the nation slowly. As I have previously mentioned, their primary long-term plan is to omit Damascus from the region's political calculus by turning Syria into a failed state similar to what they have done with Iraq. Western officials realize that with Bashar Assad's government out of the way, Lebanon's Hezbollah will eventually collapse. Without obstacles such as Bashar Assad and the Hezbollah, Iran will ultimately become the main focus of the Anglo-American-Franco-Zionist-Turco-Wahhabist alliance. Therefore, the agenda against Syria is simply too large, too involved, too important and too far far down the road to be abandoned at this stage.

Putting aside the Iranian factor, there is also a greater Western/Zionist agenda to break-up Middle Eastern nations into smaller, more manageable pieces. We see this long term, strategic plan for the region fully expressed in a recent article featured in one of the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance's most prominent propaganda outlets -

Regardless of what happens going forward, however, this unexpected respite will at least give Bashar Assad's government, the Hezbollah and Iran more time to extrapolate, prepare, strengthen and counteract.

The importance of Russia

The Battle for Damascus has shown the global community, quite vividly, the great importance of the Russian Bear on the global stage. And we Armenians in particular are seeing (or should be seeing) the paramount importance of having Russian boots on the ground in Armenia.

In a world reeling under a unipolar political paradigm for well over twenty years now, Russia's rise as a superpower projecting its interests upon the global stage is a very welcome relief. The global community has long been brutalized under the boot of the Anglo-American-Zionist order. The rise of Russia is providing us the bipolarity in global politics we desperately need. For a true 'multipolarity' in global politics, I also hope to see nations such as China, India, Iran and Brazil rise to global prominence as well. For now, however, it's only the Russian Federation that has been able and willing to stand up to the political West.

Syria has thus far been a victory of great proportions for the Russian Federation. Making Washington back-off from attacking Syria (even if temporarily) was a victory the kind of which Moscow has not enjoyed in several decades. Let's hope Moscow can now effectively exploit the new realities it has managed to create on the ground in the Middle East by further strengthening Bashar Assad's regime and by further entrenching Russian military assets in and around the Syrian port city of Tartus.

On the diplomatic front, Moscow needs to be unrelenting for it now has the momentum, the initiative as well as the moral authority in the Middle East.

The recent summit at Valdai Club may have been one of the ways with which Moscow may be attempting to take advantage of its recent diplomatic successes -

Vladimir Putin's Speech at the Valdai Club's Plenary Meeting (full video):
The great Czar of Eurasia gave perhaps the most important speech of his career at the tenth annual gathering at Valdai lake in Russia. The timing, coming on the heels of Moscow's historic victory in Syria was highly significant. The venue, at the tenth anniversary of the Valdai Club (where Russian experts and guests from around the world meet to discuss political matters) was highly significant. And also highly significant was Vladimir Putin's profound message to the world: He spoke candidly about the dangers of Western Globalism, ultraliberalism, multicultralism and unipolarity in global politics, and he underscored the importance of traditional Christian values and national revival.

Recent developments on the world stage should again be reminding us Armenians of the cruel and unforgiving nature of the region in which Armenia is unfortunately located. We Armenians should be reminded that the obsessive pursuit of "democracy" (as per Western demands nonetheless) is a dangerous red-herring for there are much more important tasks that our underdeveloped and inexperienced nation needs to take on before it can afford to play around with such nonsense. Recent years should also have shown us that Western institutions (e.g. IMF, World Bank, USAID, NED) are a grave threat for politically inexperienced, underdeveloped and economically vulnerable nations.

While Western officials keep our Democracy Now(!) idiots preoccupied with silly things like "gay rights", "civil society" and "free elections", keeping Armenia politically isolated and economically stagnant has been their ultimate goal. Therefore, it would be wise to look past the lofty rhetoric of Washingtonian whores such as Raffi Hovannisian, Vartan Oskanian and Paruyr Hayrikian and assess their role in Armenia within the following geostrategic context -
The ultimate goal of high level Western officials continues to be either the strangling of Armenia (through their NATO-member's blockade) or its severing from Russia (through their political activists in Armenia). Thus, it could be said that the West's ultimate intention is to either destroy Armenia or place it under the mercy of their Turkic and Islamic allies. Therefore, by extension, Armenian political activists that push a Western agenda in Armenia are ultimately working to destroy the nation - whether they realize it or not. After all, the main reason why Western powers are interested in the south Caucasus to begin with is their desire to contain Moscow and Tehran. Moreover, without Russian and Iranian presence in the region, Western powers can freely exploit Central Asian gas and oil deposits. In short, Western officials know that without a strong Russian presence in and around the Caucasus, the very strategic region in question will easily become their playground.

We Armenians, however, need to be sober enough to realize that without a Russian presence in the south Caucasus there won't be an Armenian presence in the south Caucasus.

I reiterate: While Armenia's military is its tactical advantage in the south Caucasus, Armenia's alliance with the Russian Federation must be utilized as its strategic advantage on the global stage. Therefore, Armenian lobbyists, activists, politicians, businessmen and military leaders must be a constant presence within the walls of the Kremlin. This effort needs to be pan-national in nature, an effort involving the Armenian Diaspora of western Europe, the Middle East and the US.

In this dog-eat-dog world, we Armenians need to be very grateful that we have a very powerful regional ally like the Russian Federation. We must be very grateful that a neighboring superpower is sincerely interested in Armenia's survival as a nation-state in a very hostile and unforgiving environment. We Armenians must therefore do everything in our power to exploit this opportunity.

The Great Czar of Eurasia has spoken

In what mounted to be a shock-wave felt around the world, the New York Times, one of the most important propaganda organs in the Western world, featured an Op-Ed column written by Russian President Vladimir Putin. In his commentary, coming on the heels of Moscow's success in Syria, the great leader of the Russian Federation directly appealed to the American people. His message was essentially that of peace, caution and political rationality.

He also made a very powerful closing comment: He warned against American arrogance by rebuking "American exceptionalism", the widely held notion amongst Americans that the US plays a special, almost sacred role in the world. By writing this, President Putin was basically telling Americans what the global community had been thinking for many years but was too afraid to express it.

Needless to say, Putin's message was not well received, to say the least.

Watching politicians, journalists and television pundits in the US now spew vitriol against Putin is expected of a people this arrogant, this ignorant yet also unfortunately this dangerous. They seem to have united in their hatred of Putin. In my opinion, they hate Putin because they - instinctually - fear him. They fear him because in him they see their eventual demise. Perhaps they see images like this in their dreams -
Russian Soldiers Burn American Flag:
And since it was brought up, what is American exceptionalism?

In short: It is the nightmarish fairytale in which the US is a sacred entity, a nation blessed by God. It is the nightmarish fairytale in which US officials are believed to be the world's moral authority. It is the devilish idea that whatever the US does it does for the betterment of humanity. In other words, American exceptionalism is ultimately about maintaining Washington's role as the top predator on the global food chain. This nightmarishly arrogant fairytale is propagated by America's imperial elite (through social engineering tools such as Hollywood and mainstream news media) as a means of conditioning the empire's mindless masses towards geostrategic ends.

By its nature and character, American exceptionalism is eerily similar to the ancient Roman belief that Rome was bringing civilization to barbaric lands; the Vatican's belief until recent times that it was bringing God to infidels; the messianic belief amongst the English that the British Empire was bringing civilization to primitive regions of the world; and the equally absurd and ultra-narcissistic belief amongst Jews that they are God's "chosen" people.

The monster known as American exceptionalism was basically born during the Second World War when the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance united with the Soviet Union to defeat National Socialism in Europe, and it grew into adulthood at the fall of the Soviet Union, which left the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance as the world's only superpower. In other words, American exceptionalism reached maturity at a time when the global governance had become unipolar and Washington was sitting firmly on top of the world. Now that the monster in question seems to have reached senility, I hope to see it die very soon. Thankfully, its first death knell may have already come, compliments of the Russian Bear.

More on the dangers of American exceptionalism, Globalism, Democracy and the Political West, please revisit the following blog commentary -

The Menace of Globalism, Democracy and the Political West (July, 2013):
For every action there is a reaction. It's the cycle of nature. When evil grows in the world, saviors appear. Russia's Vladimir Putin is that savior. The Russian nation today is - perhaps literally - doing God's work on earth. In a world drowning under the collective weight of Western powers and their Zionist benefactors, Russia has become the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel called Globalism.

Now that Putin has spoken and the world has taken note of Russia's rise as a global power, we can all expect a flood of commentaries and analysis from around the world either welcoming the Bear's resurgence or cursing its return. And I have no doubt that certain circles will once again begin conspiring to kill the Bear. After all, they loved Gorbachev because he killed the Russian Bear. They adored Yeltsin because he allowed them to feed on the carcass of the Russian Bear. They now fear and hate Putin because be resurrected the Russian Bear.

America's decline as a hegemon

Some political commentators in the West are already predicting Washington's exit from the Middle East as a result of its recent setback in Syria. I do not agree with their shortsighted notion that Washington will be made to exist the region merely as a result of not getting its way with regards to Bashar Assad. Washington is too deeply entrenched in Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to be pushed out of the region quite that easily. Having said that, with momentum fully behind it, if Moscow continues to put pressure on Washington and wisely exploits its recent gains in Syria, Russia may be returning to the Middle East in grand style.

After a twenty year absence, Moscow is now in a very good position where it can become Washington's main antagonist in the Middle East once again. This is good news for secularism in the region, this is good news for the region's Christian populations, this is good news for Arab nationalism, this is good news for Palestinians, and this is good news for Iran. In the big picture, this is good news for the world. Therefore, I am looking forward to the return of the Russian Bear to the Middle East, I am looking forward to Cold War II -
Cold War II - Heralding the Rise of a Bipolar World (May, 2012):
Although Moscow began signaling that its was a global contender several years into Vladimir Putin's presidency, Russia's return as a stabilizing power in the world was first fully felt during the summer of 2008 when it quite effortlessly defeated Georgia's US, European, Turkish and Israeli backed military dictatorship and liberated Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the bloody clutches of the Western-backed dictator in Tbilisi. Moscow's astounding success at the time spawned a great number of Russophobic commentaries as well as some somber analysis in the West. The following is just a sampling from around the time in question -
Russian Bear Has Finally Awoken, Who Will Tame It? (January, 2011):
War in Georgia Was the Beginning of the End of the American Empire (December, 2008):
The Impending Clash With Russia (September, 2008):
West Still Asking: Who is Mr. Putin? (September, 2008):
An anti-American military confederacy may loom in Asia (June, 2008):
U.S. Weakness and Russia's Window of Opportunity (February, 2008):
The Russian Bear Awakens (2007):
Russia has managed to roll back most of the 1990s era Western advances throughout Eurasia in recent years. Moscow has secured its strategic ties with Armenia. Moscow has deepened it relations with Iran. Moscow has deepened its relations with China. Moscow has secured its hegemony over central Asian republics. Moscow has seen Russia-friendly governments come to fore in Georgia and in the Ukraine. Moscow has managed to hold Azerbaijan as an energy hostage. Finally, Moscow has secured Europe's and Turkey's energy dependency.

But Russia's recent role in Syria has propelled Moscow's international prestige to new heights. Who today dares imagine a world without the presence of the Russian Federation?

The Soviet Union may have been backwards and aggressive in many respects, but the political West is evil in many ways. It's high time to wake-up and see the political West for what it is. Being stupid during the Cold War was somehow excusable because there seemed to be something more ominous on the other side of the so-called iron curtain. Being stupid today, in this age of information and awakening is totally inexcusable!

Russia's rise as a global power has coincided with America's waning power and influence around the world. The American mystique, the American hype carefully crafted by a wide ranging, multifaceted PR campaign during the years following the Second World War and refined into a monster of global proportions during the post-Soviet years is gradually crumbling today -
More Empires Have Fallen Because Of Reckless Finances Than Invasion:
BRICS Wants to Get Rid of Dollar:
Here is Chris Hedges on this topic -
Chris Hedges "Brace Yourself! The American Empire Is Over (c-span interview): 
Chris Hedges on "Empire of Illusion":
Chris Hedges: How Corporations Destroyed American Democracy:
And here is former Reagan official Paul Craig Roberts on the topic -
Has Washington’s Arrogance Undone Its Empire?:
With their victory over National Socialism (a system of government that had threatened their very existence) and the emergence of "evil" Communists in the east, their financial agenda was easily implemented and the "Western model" was more-or-less imposed upon the so-called "free world". The post war years essentially gave the financial and political elite in the West a freehand to do whatever they pleased.

But the years of infallibility, political impunity and opulent living for Western powers are fast coming to an end.

A lot has changed in recent years: The Anglo-American establishment has lost its humanitarian mask; The European Union has overgrown and is terminally ill; China is fast emerging as a superpower; Russia has reemerged as a global power; Iran is emerging as a regional power; Brazil and India are making great headway; and the US, once looked up to by much of the world is now feared and hated worldwide.

The hegemony of the US Dollar and the global paradigm created at Bretton Woods towards the end of the Second World War is slowly coming to an end. A new, east-leaning world order will be born in the coming decades. Yet another, domestic sign of America's decline is the political crisis currently being witnessed within Washington. Although it sounds a bit more ominous than it actually is, the partial shutting down of the US government - essentially do to political infighting within the nation's two party elitist system - is nevertheless another sign that America is a civilization in decline and the days when Washington reigned supreme in the world is long gone.

Yes, as incredible as it seems, the world's greatest, wealthiest and most powerful nation is being shut down due to political infighting and money problems. But Americans need not worry - money problems or no money problems - the growing police state apparatus in the US (perhaps the fastest growing sector in the nation) continues to function as well as it ever has.

Americans, long asleep as a result of mindless entertainment, centuries of secure borders, a government controlled news media, proliferation of prescription drugs and a school curriculum that is designed to dumb-down society, are slowly waking up to realize that as they comfortably slept their nation was usurped by special interest groups and turned into a rampaging imperial power and a massive police state - that is currently on the verge of bankruptcy. It's only a matter of time before the social fabric of American society (already weakened by imperial wars, fiscal waste, government corruption, sexual decadence, materialism, individualism, Wall Street banksters, special interests groups, ultra-liberalism, Holocaust worship, multiculturalism and third world immigration) is fully torn apart.

As bad as the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse was for former Soviet people's, the chaotic aftermath of the Soviet collapse will look mild in comparison of the sociopolitical hell awaiting American society when the federal system in the US eventually falls apart.
Although American politicians are in denial, political observers around the world, including American ones, have began talking about the decline of American hegemony. And some Americans are now even soul searching -
Are we Rome?
Mark my words, America's decline will ultimately be blamed on Barack Obama, the house negro relegated by the empire's elite to the task of peddling wars to the American public. After all, blaming the blackman is natural. In fact, blaming the blackman is quintessentially the American way. Therefore, Barack Obama will be the scapegoat for most, if not all of America's failings henceforth. Taking a quick look at some of the hate rhetoric being expressed against him by many in the US today, it's obvious that the process has already begun. Let's see where the process will lead.

For nearly ten years I have been publicly claiming that Russia is the last front against Anglo-American imperialism, Western Globalism, Islamic extremism, Jewish Zionism and Pan-Turkism. For nearly ten years I have been sternly warning those who would listen about the corrosive toxicity of Western Globalism. In a world reeling under the combined weight of the Anglo-American-Zionist global order and Western Globalism, the rise of the Russian state as a Slavic/Christian nation imposing its political will on the global stage will eventually prove to have saved classical European/western civilization, apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state from destruction.

I am glad to report that the Russian Federation is living up to its expectations.

September, 2013


A Plea For Caution From Russia

By Vladimir Putin

Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes. No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded. We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations. If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.”

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Vladimir Putin Steps Into World Leadership Role

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts

Putin’s article in the September 11 New York Times has the stuck pigs squealing. The squealing stuck pigs are just who you thought they would be–all those whose agendas and profits would be furthered by an attack on Syria by the obama Stasi regime. Included among the squealing stuck pigs are Human Rights Watch bloggers who seem to be financed out of the CIA’s back pocket.

Does any institution remain that has not been corrupted by Washington’s money?

Notice that the reason Putin is being criticized is that he has blocked the obama regime from attacking Syria and slaughtering countless numbers of Syrians in the name of human rights. The stuck pigs are outraged that obama’s war has been blocked.  They were so much looking forward to the mass slaughter that they believe would advance their profits and agendas.

Most of Putin’s critics are too intellectually challenged to comprehend that Putin’s brilliant and humane article has left Putin the leader of the free world and defender of the rule of law and exposed obama for what he is–the leader of a rogue, lawless, unaccountable government committed to lies and war crimes.

Putin, being diplomatic, was very careful in his criticism of obama’s September 10 speech in which obama sought to justify Washington’s lawlessness in terms of “American exceptionalism.” Obama, attempting to lift his criminal regime by the bootstraps up into the moral heavens, claimed that United States government policy is  “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.”

What obama told Americans is exactly what Hitler told the Germans.  The Russians, having borne more than anyone else the full weight of the German war machine, know how dangerous it is to encourage people to think of themselves as exceptional, unbound by law, the Geneva Conventions, the UN Security Council, and humane concerns for others. Putin reminded obama that “God created us equal.”

If Putin had wanted to give obama the full rebuke that obama deserves, Putin could have said:  “obama is correct that the policy of the US government is what makes the US exceptional. The US is the only country in the world that has attacked 8 countries in 12 years, murdering and dispossessing millions of Muslims all on the basis of lies.  This is not an exceptionalism of which to be proud.”

Putin is obviously more than a match for the immoral, low grade morons that Americans put into high office.  However, Putin should not underestimate the mendacity of his enemies in Washington. Putin warned that the militants that Washington is breeding in the Middle East are an issue of deep concern. When these militants return to their own countries, they spread destabilization, as when extremists used by the US in the overthrow of Libya moved on to Mali.

The destabilization of other countries is precisely the main aim of Washington’s wars in the Middle East. Washington intends for radicalization of Muslims to spread strife into the Muslim populations of Russia and China.  Washington’s propaganda machine will then turn these terrorists into “freedom fighters against oppressive Russian and Chinese  governments,” and use Human Rights Watch and other organizations that Washington has penetrated and corrupted to denounce Russia and China for committing war crimes against freedom fighters.  No doubt, chemical weapons attacks will be orchestrated, just as they have been in Syria.

If Washington’s NATO puppet states wake up in time, the warmongers in Washington can be isolated, and humanity could be spared WWIII.


The West Dethroned: Washington is “The Axis of Evil”

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts

“The European race’s last three hundred years of evolutionary progress have all come down to nothing but four words: selfishness, slaughter, shamelessness and corruption.” Yan Fu

It only took the rest of the world 300 years to catch on to the evil that masquerades as “western civilization,” or perhaps it only took the rise of new powers with the confidence to state the obvious. Anyone doubtful of America’s responsibility for the evil needs to read The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.

The “New American Century” proclaimed by the neoconservatives came to an abrupt end on September 6 2013 at the G20 meeting in Russia. The leaders of most of the world’s peoples told Obama that they do not believe him and that it is a violation of international law if the US government attacks Syria without UN authorization.

Putin told the assembled world leaders that the chemical weapons attack was “a provocation on behalf of the armed insurgents in hope of the help from the outside, from the countries which supported them from day one.”  In other words, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Washington–the axis of evil. China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia, and Argentina joined Putin in affirming that a leader who commits military aggression without the approval of the UN Security Council puts himself “outside of law.”  

In other words, if you defy the world, obama, you are a war criminal.

The entire world is waiting to see if the Israel Lobby can push obama into the role of war criminal.  Many are betting that Israel will prevail over the weak american president, a cipher devoid of all principle.  A couple of decades ago before the advent of the american sheeple, one of the last tough Americans, Admiral Tom Moorer, Chief of Naval Operations and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly declared that “no US president can stand up to Israel.” America’s highest ranking military officer could not get an honest investigation of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.

We are yet to see an american president who can stand up to Israel. Or, for that matter, a Congress that can.  Or a media.

The obama regime tried to counter its smashing defeat at the G20 Summit by forcing its puppet states to sign a joint statement condemning Syria.  However the puppet states qualified their position by stating that they opposed military action and awaited the UN report. 

Most of obama’s bought-and-paid-for “supporters” are impotent, powerless. For example obama counts the UK as a supporting country because of the personal support of the discredited UK prime minister, david cameron, despite the fact that cameron was repudiated by the British Parliament in a vote that prohibits British participation in another of Washington’s war crimes. So, although cameron cannot bring the British people and the British government with him, obama counts the UK as a supporter of obama’s attack on Syria. Clearly, this is a desperate count of “supporting countries.”

The Turkish puppet government, which has been shooting its peacefully demonstrating citizens down in the streets, with no protest from obama or the Israel Lobby, supports “holding Syria accountable,” but not itself, of course, or Washington.

The puppet states of Canada and Australia, powerless countries, neither of which carry one ounce of world influence, have lined up to do the bidding of their Washington master. The entire point of having the top government job in Canada and Australia is the payoff from Washington. 

The obama cipher also claims the support of Japan and the Republic of Korea, another two countries devoid of all diplomatic influence and power of any kind.  Helpless Japan is on the verge of being destroyed by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, for which it has no solution. As the radiation leaks spread into the aquifer upon which Tokyo and surrounding areas rely, Japan is faced with the possibility of having to relocate 40 million people.

Saudi Arabia, implicated in the transfer to al-Nusra rebels of the chemical weapons used in the attack, supports Washington, knowing that otherwise its tyranny is toast. Even the neoconservatives headed by obama’s shrill National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, want to overthrow the Saudis. Obama claims also to have support from France and Germany. However both Hollande and Merkel have stated clearly that a diplomatic solution, not war, is their first choice and that the outcome rests on the UN.

As for Italy and Spain’s support, both governments are hoping to be rewarded with the Federal Reserve printing enough dollars to bail out their indebted economies so that both governments are not overthrown in the streets for their acquiescence to the looting of their countries by international banksters. Like so many Western governments, those of Italy and Spain, and, of course, Greece, support the international banksters, not their own citizens. 

The president of the European Commission has declared that the European Union, the central overlord over Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, does not support a military solution to the Syrian Crisis. “The European Union is certain that the efforts should be aimed at a political settlement,” Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters at the G20 meeting. The EU has the power to issue arrest warrants for the heads of EU governments that participate in war crimes. 

What this reveals is that the support behind the liar obama is feeble and limited.

The ability of the Western countries to dominate international politics came to an end at the G20 meeting. The moral authority of the West is completely gone, shattered and eroded by countless lies and shameless acts of aggression based on nothing but lies and self-interests. Nothing remains of the West’s “moral authority,” which was never anything but a cover for self-interest and murder, and genocide.

The West has been destroyed by its own governments, who have told too many self-serving lies, and by its capitalist corporations, who offshored the West’s jobs and technology to China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil, depriving the Western governments of a tax base and the support of its citizens. 

It is difficult to know whether citizens in the West hate their corrupt governments any less than do Muslims, whose lives and countries have been devastated by Western aggression, or than do citizens of third world countries who have been impoverished by being looted by predatory First World financial organizations.

The idiot Western governments have pissed away their clout. There is no prospect whatsoever of the neoconservative fantasy of US hegemony being exercised over Russia, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, South America, Iran.  These countries can establish their own system of international payments and finance and leave the dollar standard whenever they wish. One wonders why they wait. The US dollar is being printed in unbelievable quantities and is no longer qualified to be the world reserve currency. The US dollar is on the verge of total worthlessness.

The G20 Summit made it clear that the world is no longer willing to go along with the West’s lies and murderous ways. The world has caught on to the West.  Every country now understands that the bailouts offered by the West are merely mechanisms for looting the bailed-out countries and impoverishing the people. 

In the 21st century Washington has treated its own citizens the way it treats citizens of third world countries. Untold trillions of dollars have been lavished on a handful of banks, while the banks threw millions of Americans out of their homes and seized any remaining assets of the broken families.

US corporations had their taxes cut to practically nothing, with few paying any taxes at all, while the corporations gave the jobs and careers of millions of Americans to the Chinese and Indians. With those jobs went US GDP, tax base, and economic power, leaving Americans with massive budget deficits, a debased currency, and bankrupt cities, such as Detroit, which once was the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.

How long before Washington shoots down its own homeless, hungry, and protesting citizens in the streets?

Washington represents Israel and a handful of powerful organized private interests. Washington represents no one else. Washington is a plague upon the American people and a plague upon the world.  (See )


Putin the Peacemaker: The warlords of Washington hate him – which is why we should listen to him

By Justin Raymundo

The Washington know-it-alls are all atwitter over Vladimir Putin’s New York Times op ed: their outrage is the best endorsement. All the Very Serious People are up in arms over the "hypocrisy" of the Russian leader for taking the US to task for rushing to war in Syria. It was the timing that rankled them: the foreign policy cognoscenti have only just barely gotten over their palpable disappointment when Congress and then the President backed down in the face of vocal outrage emanating from out in the cornfields. And now this!

If the revolt of the hoi polloi depresses them – how dare those un-lettered ruffians in flyover country interfere with their fun (and their career plans)! – the decision by the editors of the Times to publish Putin energized their moral preening instinct and reconfirmed their conviction that they represent humankind’s last best hope. They point to Putin’s 1999 Times op Ed – yes, this is his second – wherein he purported to explain Russian intervention in Chechnya – what hypocrisy, they cry! Of course, many on Twitter made the mistake of actually linking to this piece, in which Putin presciently speculated that Islamist radicals might one day attack the United States:

"I ask you to put aside for a moment the dramatic news reports from the Caucasus and imagine something more placid: ordinary New Yorkers or Washingtonians, asleep in their homes. Then, in a flash, hundreds perish in explosions at the Watergate, or at an apartment complex on Manhattan’s West Side. Thousands are injured, some horribly disfigured. Panic engulfs a neighborhood, then a nation."

A few years later, Americans didn’t have to imagine it, because they experienced it. At the time the piece was written, however, Putin was at pains to point out:

"Russians do not have to imagine such a calamity. More than 300 of our citizens in Moscow and elsewhere suffered that fate earlier this year when bombs detonated by terrorists demolished five apartment blocks."

The Chechen rebels were and are supported by the West, and I’m not just talking about our Russophobic media: the US and British governments have granted asylum to the worst terrorists imaginable. When Ilya Akmadov, the Chechen rebels’ "foreign minister," applied for asylum in America, the Department of Homeland Security protested – the man, after all, was complicit in the slaughter of almost 200 schoolchildren at Beslan, alongside his leader, Chechen commander Shamil Basaeyev, when Chechen jihadists attacked a Russian school.

Ah, but "the children" don’t come into the conversation unless it serves the purposes of the foreign policy elite. That elite gave its ringing endorsement of Akmadov’s asylum application: Madeleine Albright, Frank Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezkinski, Ted Kennedy, and of course John McCain – the jihadists’ best friend – all signed a letter appealing to Homeland Security, which promptly backed down. Akmadov was not only granted asylum but also a plum position with the misnamed "US Institute of Peace," a government-funded entity that does its best to justify America’s wars.

Now yet another US-backed jihadist crusade is threatening Russian interests in the region, this time in Syria: flying the black flag of Al Qaeda, they’re slaughtering "heretics," burning down churches, and eating the livers of Syrian government soldiers on YouTube The cause of these cuddly rebels has been taken up by all the usual suspects, with Senator McCain carrying their bloodstained banner in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the American media describing them as innocuous Syrian "activists." After a months-long campaign to come up with some alleged atrocity that would trigger US intervention on their behalf, as in Libya – a public relations effort rife with hoaxes so crude that not even the American media could bring themselves to fall for it – they finally came up with a good one in Ghouta, a village outside Damascus where someone indubitably did deploy some kind of poison gas.

The liberal moaners, led by Samantha Power, and the outright Russia-haters left over from the cold war, such as Bill Kristol and his neocon cabal, joined hands and jabbered in unison that the US has a "responsibility to protect" (as Power has phrased it). For well over a year, the chorus of Washington-centered voices had been caterwauling for some "action," and with Ghouta the shrieking reached a crescendo: War! War! War! A visibly reluctant President Obama finally caved, and the news media drooled at the prospect of more Shock-&-Awe: any day now, they averred, and the bombs would be flying. Oh goodie! Except they forgot about one important factor in the equation: the American people.

That figures, now doesn’t it? These Wise Men (and Wise Women) live in the Beltway Bubble, where paeans to the glory and divine sanction of American military power are an obligatory rite of entry into the exclusive club of foreign policy "experts." It’s a place where a 26-year-old with a fake "doctorate" can be cited by the War Party as an Authority on the vaunted "moderation" of the jihadist "opposition" while working for the pro-rebel Syrian Emergency Task Force and living high off the hog on government contracts. It’s a place where the neoconservatives, who brought us into what the late Lt. Gen. William Odom called "greatest strategic disaster in United States history," are still respectfully listened to.

The American people, in the view of this self-anointed priesthood of Ares, are to be steadfastly ignored when it comes to foreign policy: their ill-informed opinions only matter around election time, and then only marginally – since both candidates usually reflect the foreign policy priesthood’s own interventionist bias. This time, however, Americans didn’t politely defer to their betters: against the tide of "expert" opinion, and all the moralistic jeremiads of paid shills and other exemplars of internationalist virtue, they rose up and delivered a resounding "No!"

And Vladimir Putin heard their cry, which he echoed and amplified in his Times piece. Touching on all the arguments critics of US intervention gave voice to – in Congress and on congressional phone lines – even Max Fisher in the rabidly interventionist Washington Post had to admit he had a point, even a fair number of points. Yes, he’s right about the illegality of the aborted-for-now military strike, yes he is correct when he talks about the jihadist element so prominent in the "opposition," and yes US intervention would risk rapid escalation and a regional conflagration, but Fisher balked when it came to the two key points that most rankle Washington. Putin wrote:

"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack – this time against Israel – cannot be ignored."

The Western media have already decided how their narrative is going to read, just as they did in the run up to the Iraq war – when the "intel" was "a slam dunk," as the then head of the CIA put it. Everyone knew Saddam Hussein was harboring "weapons of mass destruction," and anyone who denied it was … well, a "denialist." As it turned out, the real denialists were in the news media, but that was then, and this is now: as someone by the name of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad puts it in the present context, those who wonder whether the rebels themselves have possessed or deployed poison gas are "the new truthers." That this smear appeared in The New Republic – a magazine that not only accepted the Saddam-has-WMD narrative unquestioningly, but also plumbed tirelessly for war with Iraq – is hardly shocking. And while the public seems to be buying this war propaganda for the moment, it’s only a matter of time before this "intel" is thoroughly debunked.

No one doubts Assad is capable of using poison gas, given the right circumstances, i.e. given the probability that he’d get away with it. But it’s just too much of a coincidence that the Ghouta incident occurred at precisely the moment when UN inspectors had only just arrived in Damascus at the invitation of the Syrian regime to verify claims the rebels had twice used poison gas – at Aleppo and Khan al-Assal. Did they invite the inspectors just in time to witness the "atrocity" the rebels had been waiting for and hoping would motivate the West to intervene? Aside from the timing, there’s the fact that the rebels had been steadily losing ground to the Syrian armed forces: there was no military reason to use gas, especially with the inspectors a few miles away.

As it is, the UN report will not deal at all with the Aleppo and Khan al-Assal incidents, but one wonders how long the pretense of the rebels’ moral purity can be kept up. Reports are surfacing that rebels in possession of homemade poison gas had been arrested by the Turks near Aleppo, and the testimony of two journalists kidnapped and held by the rebels for months indicates the rebels were openly talking about the Ghouta incident weeks before it happened. Add to this the 100-page Russian intelligence report on the rebels’ use of homemade sarin gas – supplied by jihadists in Iraq – and the Official Narrative that disdains all others as the product of "truthers" is bound to fall apart.

Oh, those Russians, with their crazy conspiracy theories! The scoffing of the Washington know-it-alls is all over Twitter. Yet the Russians, after all, were right about Tamerlane Tsarnaev – and we were wrong. Dead wrong. Not to mention Putin saw the 9/11 attacks coming years before they occurred. What really rankles the pundits and assembled "experts" at the Court of King Obama, however, is the final paragraph of Putin’s missive, in which he delivers what could be a fatal blow to their vanity:

"My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

The mystic doctrine of "American exceptionalism" has long dominated the foreign policy consensus in Washington. It has both "right" and "left" versions, but in both cases the idea is essentially the same: John F. Kennedy gave voice to it in his 1961 Inaugural Address, when he declared the US must "pay any price, bear any burden" in the international struggle to contain the Communist Menace in Latin America and elsewhere. It was the rhetorical prelude to the Bay of Pigs disaster and our increasing military presence in Vietnam.

Although Communism was the bogeyman of the moment, the "pay any price bear any burden" mentality survived the cold war: Indeed, the demise of the old Soviet Union emboldened America’s political class to update and upgrade this exceptionalism, which supposedly gives us a divine mandate to police the post-cold war world order in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan – and now Syria. If any other nation arrogated this task to itself, it would be called by its right name: imperialism. Yet that’s what "American exceptionalism" is all about: we’re supposedly the exception to this rule.

Except we’re not, as Putin points out – and the American people agree. The US public is often characterized as being "war weary," as if they are slouches, selfish monsters who have put down this noble burden at the very moment it must be taken up with fresh vigor. Yet what they are weary of is the arrogance that engenders our foreign policy of perpetual war: the self-satisfied smugness with which our elites weave narratives that turn out to be a passel of lies. Americans are empire-weary because they see the corroding effects of imperialism on their own society – the decline in living standards coupled with the deterioration of civil liberties and the ongoing corruption of the political class.

Putin is speaking directly to them – and the warlords of Washington hate it. Which is why we should all of us love it.

Heritage Foundation: Russia Is Back

President Obama has accepted an exit strategy from the Syria crisis proposed by Vladimir Putin. Obama surmised that if the plan works, it might lead to a breakthrough. In his Tuesday speech to the nation last week, Obama indefinitely postponed a crucial Congressional vote on whether to strike the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. No wonder: Obama most probably would have lost that vote. By Saturday, he agreed to a deal negotiated by John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in Geneva.

This was hardly a glorious case of presidential crisis management. Many influential Senators—including Democrats—would have opposed authorizing force. The House was clearly against the President. A majority of American voters, exhausted by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, did not support the strike, and Congressional elections are only a year away.

Obama seemed to have climbed up the proverbial tree, and it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who played a crucial role in providing him a ladder to climb down—at a price. Thus, Putin, in a typical geopolitical “judo” move, stepped closer to Obama—in order to neutralize him politically. By providing a way out for the American president from a perceived tight corner, Putin made himself appear more powerful. And the optics matter as much as substance.

In a tactically impressive move, Putin, ever eager to assert Moscow’s role in the Middle East and oppose the U.S. and her Sunni allies, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, offered to put Syria’s chemical arsenal under UN control and then destroy it under international supervision. Damascus has joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and signaled consent to the Putin plan.

In what appears as yet another strategic blunder, Obama even elected to forego a binding UN Security Council resolution on Syrian disarmament under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for enforcement, while Putin may hit the geopolitical jackpot.

If the disarmament initiative succeeds, Obama will “owe” Putin. America will be enticed to forget quickly the damage caused by the NSA and CIA defector Edward Snowden, who received asylum in Russia. America will remain mum as a Russian court has sentenced anticorruption crusader and whistleblower Alexei Navalny. Moscow is rife with rumors about preparations for the third trial of jailed oil tycoon and political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It is equally unlikely that Russia’s ambitious plans to expand the Eurasian Union to include Armenia and Ukraine into the Customs Union will meet a vigorous U.S. response.

Obama may not realize that Putin, a former KGB recruiting officer, seems to have played him like a violin. Putin has demonstrated that he is capable of stopping the world’s only superpower from using force—making him “the go to” man, to whom many on the U.S. blacklist will run to seek protection.

Putin will also have demonstrated that Russia, despite being seven times smaller than the U.S. economically, and weaker militarily, is capable of gaining impressive geopolitical results even when dealt a poor hand. As the military operation against Assad is postponed, Putin has increased the chances of the pro-Iranian regime’s survival, and possibly ensured the continued presence of a modest Russian naval facility in Tartus.

Moscow also has a growing interest in a Shia strategic belt extending from Lebanon via Syria and Iraq to Iran, as it prevents Sunni radicals from flooding into the North Caucasus and Central Asia—Russia’s soft underbelly. Moscow also sent a signal that a U.S. military operation against the Iranian nuclear program may not happen—without the UN Security Council—i.e., the Kremlin’s—sanction. And that sanction will not be forthcoming.

Not bad for a week’s work.

It appears that at least for now, Russia is winning a zero-sum game—the Kremlin’s favorite geopolitical sport. The Kremlin is boosting its status as the great balancer of America. This benefits Moscow—and further encourages it to stand up to America.

Ariel Cohen, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy at the Heritage Foundation.


Weekly Standard: Putin Didn't Save Obama, He Beat Him

With the Russian proposal on Syrian chemical weapons, the United States is being escorted out of the Middle East.

The Rise of Russia in the International System

The civil war in Syria and the consequent threat of the superpower attacking that part of the territory still controlled by the alliance supporting Assad's government has given the Kremlin a unique opportunity. At the start of the so-called Arab Spring and the escalation in conflicts within countries governed by autocratic despots and regimes, Russia kept its distance from the region, leaving the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia under the "control" of the United States and its sole staunch ally, Israel.

Vladimir Putin's government's problems were concentrated in the Caucasus region, specifically the so-called Chechen ethnic groups, hegemonized by Al Qaeda-linked fundamentalism. The threat against the regime in Syria and the composition of its Alawite government led by the Assad clan, with leading members of the Ba'ath Party (a secular politico-military faction), supported by about 35% of the minority groups in the country, placed the old Tsarist Empire at a crossroads. Either it would have to throw itself into the conflict, serving as a shield against the virtually unilateral actions of the USA, or it would have to focus entirely on resuming its hegemony in Eastern Europe, advancing its area of ​​influence over central Europe and projecting Gazprom through the Nord Stream pipeline into the Baltic Sea.

If Putin's cabinet were to abandon its last ally in the Middle East to its own devices, that would mean losing its last naval base in the Mediterranean (in the Aegean Sea, to be precise), located in the port of Tartus, the second-biggest in Syria. When part of the 6th Fleet of the US Navy positioned itself to bomb Bashir al-Assad's facilities by launching Tomahawk missiles, the Russian warships sailed out to them, by way of deterrent.

Besides the naval manoeuver, Russia has threatened not to recognize Assads responsibility as author of a war crime in his use of gas against the population of the suburbs of Damascus. By raising suspicions about Saudi Arabia (as financer of the chemical weapon), it threatened to destroy the Saud dynasty, US allies and partners of the Bush family. In parallel, it went ahead with its diplomatic action, seeking a multilateral solution through the strengthening of the UN Security Council, where it has the power of veto.

The Russian advance comes at the same time as hesitation from the White House, which lacks congressional support for the attack and does not have the support of public opinion. The two military allies of the United States in Europe/NATO - France and Britain - reviewed their position to the extent that parliaments and the expressed will of the voters said they were against any possible bombing action against Syria.

The checkmate against the USA came shortly after the meeting of the G-20 in St. Petersburg, in early September 2013. When the Syrian regime accepted the Russian solution, delivering its chemical arsenal into UN hands for safeguarding, Russia moved up in the International System, as the only country in the world with the real conditions to become a superpower.


Wall Street Journal: Russia Gains Clout With Syria Initiative

The Kremlin's 11th-hour initiative to forestall Western military intervention against its client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has vaulted Russia to the center of the global stage in its most dramatic diplomatic coup in years.

For President Vladimir Putin, who has publicly lamented Russia's fading influence and the woes of what he saw as the U.S.'s dangerous global hegemony since he came to power in 2000, the turnabout is especially sweet, two weeks after it looked as if Moscow was running out of options. But the Syria initiative, which calls for bringing Damascus's arsenal of chemical weapons under international control, has risks for Moscow, which now must ensure that its often-recalcitrant ally is cooperative enough to avoid sabotaging the process.

Taking their cue from Mr. Putin's op-ed article in the New York Times last week, in which he lectured Americans on the failings of U.S. policy in the Middle East, Russian officials have been jubilant for days.

"Putin is the one getting applause for preventing war," read a comment over the weekend on the Twitter account of Alexei Pushkov, a senior member of the ruling party and chairman of the International Affairs Committee in parliament. "Obama didn't convince many people. Half the world is with Russia in this tug of war."

Mr. Putin sought to underline that on Friday, meeting in Kyrgyzstan with the leaders of China, Iran and a number of Central Asian countries for a regularly scheduled summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Sino-Russian-led security bloc. The leaders all hailed Moscow's handling of the crisis. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani invited Mr. Putin to try his hand at easing the standoff between Tehran and the West over Iran's nuclear program.

"Now is the best opportunity for new steps on your part," Mr. Rouhani said at the start of the meeting.

The effusive praise from around the world was repeated in the Kremlin-controlled media. Though a client since the Soviet era, Syria itself isn't a major issue in Russia, polls show. But nostalgia for the great-power status enjoyed in the Soviet era is a powerful force across the political spectrum there.

Since he returned to the presidency in 2012, Mr. Putin has sought to capitalize on this sentiment with a consistent campaign of anti-Westernism inside Russia, increasingly portraying Moscow as the center of a conservative civilization at odds with the U.S. and Europe.

Until now, however, most of the Kremlin's efforts to reassert itself internationally were confined to relations with its former Soviet neighbors. Initiatives further afield, such as proposals for easing tensions over Iran's nuclear program or grand plans for European security, got little traction.
"Russia has been in the best case a marginal actor," said a senior European diplomat.

"There's been nothing like this before," said Georgy Mirsky, a Middle East specialist at the state-run Institute for World Economy and International Relations in Moscow. "Russia has won," he added. "America didn't so much lose as it was humiliated."

Mr. Mirsky said the Kremlin appears to have seen Western ambivalence about military action as an opening, catching the Obama administration off guard. Days before the initiative was announced, Mr. Putin lambasted the U.S. in undiplomatic language even by his brusque standards, accusing Secretary of State John Kerry of "lying" to Congress about the extent of al Qaeda influence among the Syria opposition.

On Saturday, Mr. Kerry publicly thanked Mr. Putin "for his willingness to pick up on the possibility of negotiating an end to Syrian weapons of mass destruction."

"Putin can now present himself as a great peacemaker—his acolytes in Russia are calling for him to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize—and the leader of a country that has reasserted its "great power" status alongside the United States," said Mark Kramer, professor of Cold War studies at Harvard University. Moscow remains committed to protecting the Assad regime from being held responsible for using chemical weapons, or for the roughly 100,000 deaths in the civil war, he said.

While Moscow's assertiveness did unsettle some U.S. diplomats, U.S. officials say the Kremlin has, at least temporarily, gone from being part of the problem in Syria to part of a possible solution. The idea of pushing Damascus to give up its chemical weapons had been discussed by U.S. and Russian officials for at least a year, diplomats say, but Moscow appeared unwilling or unable to force the Assad regime to comply. The current deal has changed that.

"The agreement reached [Saturday] is a win for both Moscow and Washington—provided that it is implemented, which remains far from certain," said Steven Pifer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former ambassador. "Implementation could well require the Russians to lean on Damascus if the Syrians drag their feet. Is Moscow prepared to do that?"

For the moment, the Kremlin has bought precious time for the Assad regime to continue pressuring the opposition on the battlefield and likely won new loyalty from its client. Though Moscow decries supplies of arms to the rebels, it has kept up a steady flow of sophisticated weapons to the regime.

"Even if in the end, Bashar al-Assad loses and he's driven out or killed, Putin won't look like a loser," said Mr. Mirsky. "The propaganda line will be that we weren't defending him, we were defending the principle" of nonintervention and international law.

In addition to demonstrating the limits of U.S. global power, the Kremlin is eager to show others in the region that it can be a powerful player there, officials say. Containing the Syrian conflict—even if that means it goes on for years—is also an important priority, given Russia's concern about the spread of Islamic extremism, a problem Moscow faces on its own territory as well.


The National Interest: The American Public's Foreign-Policy Reawakening

Political analysts over the next year or so, and historians well into the future, are likely to point to the fall of 2013 as a fundamental inflection point in American politics. That period, they will say, is when the American people forced a major new direction in American foreign policy. Before the events of this fall, the country’s electorate largely delegated foreign policy to its political elite—and largely supported that elite as it projected American military power with more abandon than the country had ever before seen. Even as the government steadfastly expanded the range of international problems that it said required U.S. military action, the electorate accepted that expanded international role and that increasingly promiscuous use of force.

Those days are gone now. The American people conveyed emphatically, in public opinion surveys and in communications to their representatives in Washington, that they did not want their country to launch air strikes against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Not even if Assad used chemical weapons against his people, as they generally believe he did. Not even if the strikes are limited in magnitude and duration, as Obama promises they will be. Not even if the president of the United States says the strikes are in the country’s national interest. They don’t buy it, and they don’t want it.

Poll numbers in recent days have demonstrated this turnaround in stark fashion. In addition, congressional reluctance to support the president’s authorization request was growing inexorably. The New York Times reported [3] Tuesday that the president was "losing ground in both parties in recent days," while the Wall Street Journal said support for Mr. Obama’s position on Syria "was slipping in Congress [4]." If Russia’s Vladimir Putin hadn’t interrupted the U.S. political process with his call for a negotiated end to Assad’s possession of chemical weapons, it seems inevitable that the president would have suffered a devastating political defeat in Congress. That’s still the likely outcome if it ever comes to a vote.

And there’s no doubt that his difficulties in Congress are driven in part by recent poll numbers, which are startling. Gallup reported recently [5], based on polling between September 3-4, that American support for the Syria attack was the lowest at this stage in a prospective military action seen over the past twenty years—36 percent, compared to 59 percent for the 2003 Iraq invasion, 82 percent for the initial Afghanistan action in 2001, 62 percent for the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and 43 percent for the Kosovo bombing of 1999.

But the 36 percent support number in the Gallup poll quickly was overtaken by lower numbers in subsequent polls. A later CNN poll showed [6] that nearly 70 percent of respondents believed it wasn’t in the U.S. interest to get involved in Syria’s civil war, and a slightly higher percentage said airstrikes wouldn’t achieve any significant goals for the United States. A Reuters/Ipsos poll from September 5-9 pegged [7] support for U.S. involvement in Syria at just 16 percent, down from 20 percent just a week earlier.

In a survey reported in Tuesday’s New York Times, the paper asked [8] broader questions about American foreign policy, and the results were revealing. Fully 62 percent of respondents said the United States shouldn’t take a leading role in trying to solve foreign conflicts, while only 34 percent said it should. On a question whether the United States should intervene to turn dictatorships into democracies, 72 percent said no. Only 15 percent said yes. The Times said that represents the highest level of opposition recorded by the paper in various polls over the past decade.

To understand the significance of these numbers, along with the political pressures building on lawmakers on the issue, it’s important to note that American political sentiment doesn’t change willy-nilly, for no reason. What we’re seeing is the emergence within the American political consciousness of a sense that the country’s national leaders have led it astray on foreign policy. And, given the country’s foreign-policy history of the past two decades, it isn’t surprising that the people would begin to nudge their leaders with a certain amount of agitation.

They were told in late 1992 that the U.S. incursion into Somalia was for the benign purpose of merely feeding starving people. A year later that adventure ended in a disaster for America and a major embarrassment for President Bill Clinton, who had expanded the Somalia mission. The American people were told they had to invade Iraq because it had weapons of mass destruction and serious ties to Al Qaeda. Neither was true. They were told that the Iraqi people would embrace some form of Western-style democracy once Saddam Hussein was out of the way. Didn’t happen. They were told that Hosni Mubarak’s departure in Egypt would lead to the emergence of democratic institutions there. They got, first, an Islamist government through election, then another military coup of the kind that has characterized that country and region for decades. They were told the Libyan people would be better off without Muammar el-Qaddafi, and the result was societal chaos, with Qaddafi’s weapons streaming into the hands of Islamist radicals (and being used against U.S. diplomatic personnel). They were told to embrace "globalization," and it led to the worst economic dislocation since the Great Depression.

In other words, the country’s elites—of both political parties and across the political spectrum—have been wrong on just about everything they have done since the end of the Cold War. And the voters, as a collective, aren’t stupid. They know that these fiascos have been the products of particular philosophical concepts that have emerged since the beginning of America’s "unipolar moment" around 1990.

They may not understand these philosophical concepts in all their complexities and nuances, but they know the Republican neoconservatives and the Democratic humanitarians have been driving the agenda.

Thus, you can look now for the American people to take back the agenda. When this sort of voter clawback occurs in American politics, as it has from time to time, you see it first in the polls, then in defensive congressional actions, and then in voter punishment directed at those who can’t seem to get the message. It’s going to be an interesting time in the politics of American foreign policy over the next few years.


Moral Hypocrisy and U.S. Exceptionalism

In his recent op-ed in the New York Times, Vladimir Putin raised hackles among the talking-heads across the U.S. when he questioned the wisdom of President Obama’s evocation of the narcissistic idea of “American exceptionalism.” After all, the exceptionalism of the U.S. has never been a subject for reasoned discussion or debate in the media or elsewhere. Everyone knows that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world and, therefore, has special privileges and responsibilities! Those privileges and responsibilities include not bothering with international law or processes when the government decides that the “world” (meaning itself and a few European nations and a couple of their client states) will take responsibility to enforce global order according to its own interpretations, values and needs.

The fact that many in the U.S. believe that those interpretations, values and needs are neutral, impartial representations of the global community at large is on full display every night on cable news channels, where state propagandists posing as journalists and the coterie of paid ex-military and U.S. intelligence consultants make impassioned arguments in favor of the U.S. waging war on Syria as a “punishment” for its alleged use of chemical weapons.

But for many of us, the story of American exceptionalism is an alien story, a children’s fairy tale spun from the fertile imagination of revisionist historians, a tale wherein indigenous people were sidekicks to lone rangers, the African slave trade was an unfortunate aberration that was corrected by Lincoln, children did not work in factories, women were not slaves to men, socialists and communists were not harassed and jailed, U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were not placed in concentration camps and Dr. King would have approved of Barack Obama’s warmongering.

It is that story which informs the thinking of President Obama when he declares that “for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security” i.e. the provider of an indispensable safety net without which transcontinental chaos would have ensued. In his version of exceptionalism, there was no CIA overthrow of the democratically elected government in Iran in 1953; the brutal war in Vietnam was a war to free the Vietnamese people from communism; there is an explanation for why the U.S. gave its support to the Apartheid government in South Africa; the coup in Chile was an internal event that did not involve the CIA, and the millions of people who died in Iraq were worth the price to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

Aurora Levins Morales quotes feminist psychologist Judith Herman as she describes the way in which perpetrators seek to control the disclosures and discourses of abuse:

“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no-one listens… After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on.”

For African Americans experiencing depression-level economic conditions, our sons being murdered by agents of the state at a rate of one every 28 hours, our children locked away for life without the possibility of parole and more than a million of our sons and daughters entombed in the dungeons of this nation’s prisons, we did not need Vladimir Putin to remind us of the fiction of “America’s” commitment to values and social practices that make it “exceptional” in the community of nations. That reminder was also not necessary for our indigenous brothers and sisters who still struggle for sovereignty, dignity and self-determination in the aftermath of their American holocaust and America’s God-given manifest destiny.

Van Jones, the one-time black progressive who has since sold his integrity to the Democratic Party and CNN, recently joined Newt Gingrich during their new show to castigate Putin for having the audacity to suggest that the U.S. was not exceptional. Attempting his best effort at sincerity, Van offered that no other country in the world could have made the progress toward closing the gap between its stated values and social practices as the United States. Of course Van knows better – he has not forgotten our history of oppression, nor is he unaware of the contemporary crisis facing black working class and poor people. He has simply decided to deny the existence of those realities.

However, for the rest of us who have been invaded, enslaved, murdered, subjected to systematic racist dehumanization and colonized, we have not forgotten or denied those realities despite the best efforts by the perpetrators of our ongoing oppression to compel us to forget and just move on. In fact we have done the hard work of reconstructing our own stories and clearing our eyes in order to see the world unencumbered by distorted myths and narratives that marginalize our experiences.

As a result, we don’t harbor any illusions about America and its real intentions when it professes humanitarian concerns. We know and understand that the ideological foundation of U.S. exceptionalism and the equally odious notion of “humanitarian intervention” is just another manifestation of white supremacy.

From our experiences and analyses, we can see that the assumptions of Euro-American racial and cultural superiority are so normalized, and social practices and structures so deeply inculcated in the collective consciousness of Americans of all races, nationalities, gender and class, that the cultural and institutional processes and expressions of white supremacy have been rendered largely invisible.

That is why so many Americans, despite their reservations related to Syria, still ultimately support the idea that the U.S. government has the right to contravene international law in order to uphold international law, to kill at will, to decide what nation has the right to sovereignty and to determine that the value of lives of human beings in Syria are worth more than the lives of the more than 2,000 murdered by the Egyptian military, or the 1,400 Palestinians murdered by the government of Israel a couple of years ago.

But as obvious as these moral contradictions are to most of the peoples of the world, it took the questioning of U.S. exceptionalism by the President of Russia to cause people in the U.S. to finally give some thought to an idea that they had taken for granted as self-evident.

What many people around the world understand is that exploding the dangerous myth of American exceptionalism is absolutely critical if the global community ever hopes to collectively solve the existential challenges that we face on the planet today. We can only hope that after a decade of war and a capitalist economic crisis, people in the U.S. will come to understand this and recognize that their interests and those of their elite are not the same, and that the U.S. must participate in the community of nations and peoples as equals.

The popular opposition to Obama’s proposal to wage war on Syria is encouraging because the world can no long afford for the people of the U.S. to continue to allow the country’s elites to impose their will over the rest of humanity. If people in the U.S. have moved closer to that realization as a result of this latest Syrian misadventure, that would be truly exceptional.

Ajamu Baraka is a long-time human rights activist, writer and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and Central American solidarity Movements in the United States.  He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C.


Russia Bashing Is a Dead End

What did Vladimir Putin get from the United States for saving President Obama from himself during the Syrian chemical weapons "crisis"? Only criticism and ridicule from a reflexive anti-Russian American news media.

For example, Fox News Channel, often a proponent of high-testosterone American responses to almost any international crisis, kept poking fun at Putin’s personal machismo by cycling film of him flipping opponents at a judo session with a photo of him hunting shirtless with a high-powered rifle. Other more mainstream media scolded Putin for his recent "in-your-face" op-ed in the New York Times, with special indignation in response to the Russian president’s criticism of U.S. "exceptionalism." More universally, pundits either stated or implied that the Russian leader loved to intentionally tweak the Americans out of pique or that he couldn’t be trusted.

This outpouring of American ire was astounding in that it came as Russia effectively pressured Syria, its only remaining Middle Eastern ally, to promise to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and destroy, by 2014, all of its sizable chemical weapons stockpile.

When someone is trying to help you, it is usually considered bad form, in addition to being stupid, to kick sand in the person’s face. Why does the US media pick on Russia? Although Putin has certainly made Russia more authoritarian, the US government regularly supports despots as long as they play ball with American aims – for example, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt as they abuse and repress their own people. Yet hypocritically, the United States criticizes the Russians for supporting the authoritarian Syrian regime. The real rub is that the current Russian leader, unlike his predecessor, the drunk buffoon Boris Yeltsin, refuses to be an American lackey and endure post-Cold War US insults. Perhaps the American media should spend less time haughtily defending American exceptionalism and more time realizing that just because some countries disagree with American policy on certain issues, they are not necessarily out to get the United States.

America is exceptional but not for the reason its own media believes and for that same reason that Putin is appropriately criticizing. The American media, and President Obama, seem to believe that the United States is the "indispensable nation," which really means that only the United States can use its military to police international crises to save the world from anarchy, chaos, and the forces of darkness. Yet the world found some way to get along before the United States was born in the late 18th century. In fact, America is unique because of its superior political system, which establishes limits to government power over the citizen by a diffusion of authority among several federal branches and state governments and provides respect for the rights of the individual. Yet, the US media constantly infers American virtue abroad from American virtue at home. Yet democracies and republics are not always benign abroad – for example, the British and French Empires – and autocracies are not always aggressive abroad – for example, Burma. Furthermore, in terms of number of military interventions, America, not the Soviet Union nor Russia, has been the most aggressive nation in the post-World War II world, despite US criticism of the USSR for its "empire." And Russia has been less interventionist abroad that the Soviet Union.

Moreover, the arrogance of the superpower outlook leads to criticism of any country that might disagree with an important US policy. But special rancor is reserved for Russia, a former Cold War rival that US policymakers dragged through the mud during the 1990s. After all, little criticism was directed toward Germany, Britain, and other European nations, who refused to support a planned US military strike on Syria, while Putin and Russia have been denigrated while saving American bacon after Obama’s foolish "red line" bravado. In fact, in addition to Syrian chemical weapons, Russia has cooperated with the United States on crucial issues. For example, it has reached a nuclear arms control agreement with the United States, has allowed the United States to use Russian territory to provide vital supplies for American fighting forces in Afghanistan, and has supported economic sanctions on Iran. And who would seriously believe that if the United States captured a valuable intelligence source on Russia – such as Edward Snowden is for Russia on the United States – that it would hand him or her back to the Russians?

Finally, exactly where has Putin been dishonest with the United States? In reality, the United States may have the poorer record on honesty. Russia was sold a United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya – which authorized a no fly zone only to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi’s threats – but was then humiliated by a full-blown, American-led Western air campaign to topple the dictator. Even more important, as the Soviet bloc fell and the Cold War ended, in order to get Soviet agreement for a reunited Germany, then-Secretary of State James Baker promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that the NATO alliance would not be expanded. That adversarial alliance now sits on Russia’s borders.

Instead of being outraged by Putin’s very reasonable letter to the American people on Syria, perhaps the American media should instead encourage the US government to finally engage in some introspection based on that letter. The president was very right to say that Syria should not be a proxy contest between Russia and the United States. Instead, the United States should abandon its own macho, militaristic "exceptionalism" and adopt a foreign policy that meddles less in the internal affairs of other countries. The settlement with Russia over Syrian chemical weapons is a good place to start.

Vladimir Putin: Globalist Challenges to be Overcome by National Revival

Vladimir Putin has told an influential political forum that Russia needs to strengthen its national identity based on traditional values, and vowed to continue the opposition to the unipolar international political system.

National idea as vital priority in global competition

Addressing an assembly of officials, politicians and political experts on the closing day of the international forum Valdai Club, the Russian President said that the nation had already left behind the “fundamental conservatism” characterized by the idealization of Russian history after 1917 and that it was impossible to resurrect Soviet ideology.

However, the president noted that those who supported conservative ideology were as far removed from real life as the followers of western-style liberalism. The Russian leader emphasized that the progressive movement was impossible without spiritual, cultural and national self-determination, adding that Russia was facing another convolution in global competition and success in it was vitally important.

According to Putin, history has shown the impossibility of imposing a national idea from above and mechanically copying other countries’ experiences was not effective either. He added that resistance to the primitive borrowing of ideas and attempts to civilize Russia from abroad could be explained by the citizens’ inherent drive for independence and sovereignty in spiritual, ideological and political spheres. Putin also noted that such an approach had often failed in other nations of the world.

The time when readymade lifestyle models could be installed in foreign states like computer programs has already passed,” Putin told the Valdai forum. 

All-sided dialogue, but no ethnic separatism

The president then said that all political forces must join the discussion about national ideology, urging the opposing camps to listen to each other and to abandon the practice of total nihilism and criticism. Putin especially warned the nationalist wing, saying that those who forget that Russia was a multi-ethnic state and attempt to speculate on regional separatism “step on a path of destruction of their own genetic code and, in essence, begin to destroy themselves.”

Sovereignty, self-reliance and integrity of Russia are unconditional, they are the red lines no one is allowed to step over,” Putin emphasized.

Speaking of the possible basis for the new national idea, the president said that the current Russian leadership chose to rely on traditional Christian and moral values, noting that without these millennia-tested ideals people would “inevitably lose their human dignity”. 

Multi-polar world remains priority in foreign policy

In addition, the Russian leader noted that the national revival of Russia was in line with the foreign policy course for a multi-polar world and the prevailing of international law over the rule of brute force. Putin cautioned against attempts to reanimate the model of a unified and unipolar world, adding that such a system would not need sovereign states, but would need vassals instead. 

Russia is with those who hold that the key decisions must be taken on a collective basis rather than in accordance with plans and interests of certain states or groups of states. International law must work instead of the ‘right of the strong’ and the ‘rule of fists’” Putin told the assembly.

The Russian president again stressed that every country and their people were not exceptional, but they were unique and all had equal rights, including the right to choose their path of development.

No democracy is without flaws

Answering questions after the speech, Putin noted that the current Russian authorities have certain drawbacks and probably could be better, but the same went for the authorities in any democratic country.

It is perfectly right that Russia deserves better quality leadership in general. However, it is a big and bold question if such leadership exists in other countries, including the one represented by Mr McCain [US Senator John McCain who is a constant critic of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s policies]." Putin explained that the US presidents had been twice elected in a vote where a larger number of electors represented a minority of voters and called such a situation “an absolutely evident flaw in the election process.”

The president again emphasized that the Russian political system must be chosen by Russian citizens and not by
respected colleagues from abroad”. Putin also said that in the recent presidential poll the absolute majority of Russians voted for him and this should be a starting point in any discussion. However, he also agreed that both he and the Russian state institution needed perfecting further and pledged to continue working on this. 

Russia’s traditionalist heart

Putin highlighted traditionalism as the center for Russia’s national identity.

“Without the values at the core of Christianity and other world religions, without moral norms that have been shaped over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity,” he stated.

The president criticized “Euro-Atlantic countries” where “any traditional identity, … including sexual identity, is rejected… There is a policy equating families with many children with same-sex families, belief in God with belief in Satan,” he said.

“Any minority’s right to be different must be respected, but the right of the majority must not be questioned,” Putin added.

Commenting on the law banning gay propanga at Valdai Club, Putin said that Russia and Europe have demographic problems.

“Europeans are dying out. Don't you understand that? And same-sex marriages don't produce children. Do you want to survive by drawing migrants? But society cannot adapt so many migrants. Your choice in many countries is the way it is: recognition of same-sex marriage, adoption, etc. But let us make our own choice the way we see it for our country,” Putin said.

The president added that some American states still have criminal liability for homosexuality.

“Why does everyone like to focus on Russia? You shouldn't fuel tensions here; there is nothing terrible here,” he said.

President Putin also joked that his old friend Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian Prime Minister would not have faced trial if he was gay.

“Berlusconi faces trial for bedding women. If he was gay, no one would ever lay a finger on him,” he said with a smile. 

On vodka, caviar and Russian-European relations 

Having put in a word for Silvio Berlusconi, Putin jokingly ticked off Romano Prodi, who he earlier asked to comment on Ukraine’s choice between joining the Customs Union and signing an Association Agreement with the European Union.

“Do take note of what Romano has just said. He is not only an intellectual, an academic, a professor, but also a Eurocrat to the bone.”

Putin responded to Prodi’s remark that Europe and Russia “are now like vodka and caviar.”

“But vodka and caviar are both Russian-made goods. You see, those Europeans are fond of a peculiar way of sharing, which is that first we share what you have, and then it’s back to everybody for themselves,” the Russian president said.

As Prodi suggested substituting “vodka and caviar” with “whiskey and soda,” Putin replied by saying, “Actually, whiskey and soda is a lame, bizarre drink. Whiskey is something you should drink neat, otherwise it’s just a waste of a quality product.” 

‘Russia deserves best government’

Putin believes that Russia should have the best leadership possible, but expressed doubts that the American government could set such an example.  

“Russia definitely deserves the best kind of government possible. But is there such a thing as a perfect government in other countries, including the one you represent together with Senator McCain – that is a big and awkward question,” 

Putin said in response to Russian-American political expert Nikolay Zlobin’s query as to how he sees the relationship between power and society in Russia. Putin recalled that it was twice in US history that a president was elected by the Electoral College without securing a plurality of the popular vote. 

“This is an evident flaw in the election procedure, which lies at the heart of American Democracy itself. This goes to say that any system has its downsides. And it might be that your system is no less flawed than ours, if not more.”

Putin welcomes opposition

Russian President Vladimir Putin guardedly welcomed new political opposition leaders as he answered a question about political representation at the 10th annual meeting of the the Valdai Club, a Kremlin-backed international discussion forum in northwestern Russia. He referred to parties that currently do not even have a seat at the table and hinted at amnesty for protesters accused of clashing with police on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square.

“I expect bright leaders to emerge with us. The country needs them," Putin said during the question-answer session lasting over three hours after giving a speech.

"Neo-Slavophiles and neo-Westernizers, statists and the so-called liberals – all of society needs to work together to shape common development goals, to get rid of the habit of only hearing like-minded people and … dismissing any other point of view.”

4th presidential term in the mix?

During the session, Putin also said that he is not excluding running for fourth term as president. During question-and-answer period, Putin asked French Prime Minister Francois Fillon whether the latter has plans to run for president. Fillon agreed to answer only if Putin covers the same question. Putin replied, “I don’t exclude [the possibility]”, to which Fillon followed up with “And I, too, don’t exclude [the possibility].”

Linking Europe and Asia

The president also praised Eurasian integration at the meeting on Thursday, highlighting a planned Moscow-led political and economic bloc for the former Soviet republics to build links and capitalize. 

“Eurasian integration is a chance for the post-Soviet space to become an independent center of global development, rather than the outskirts of Europe and Asia,” Putin said.

He described the planned Eurasian Economic Union as “a project aimed at keeping the identity of peoples populating the historical Eurasian space in the new century and the new world.”

The union is seen as a progression of the Moscow-led Customs Union involving Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, which was operational since January 1, 2012.

BBC: Russia's Putin Shines at Valdai Summit as he Castigates West

The annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club of Russian specialists with President Vladimir Putin is usually held behind closed doors. This year, to mark the 10th anniversary, it was a show specially tailored for television. Centre stage was Mr Putin, flanked by slightly awkward looking dignitaries from Germany, France, Italy and the United States.

Facing them was a crowd of foreign guests, plus several rows of Russians, including an Orthodox priest in flowing robes, two white-turbaned Russian Muslim spiritual leaders, and a rumbustious handful of Russian opposition leaders - most of whom got a chance to put a question to Mr Putin.

The president likes marathon sessions and this was no exception: three hours of questions back and forth with a packed auditorium, all broadcast live on Russia's rolling TV news channel. It was a very public occasion, but nonetheless revealing. On getting rid of Syria's chemical weapons, President Putin was surprisingly cautious. "Will we manage to convince Assad? I don't know," he mused aloud.

"Will we be able to see everything through? I cannot be 100% sure."

And he shied away from any assumption that it was Moscow's clout with Damascus that would count most, arguing that ensuring Syria's compliance was the joint responsibility of the entire UN Security Council.

Response to McCain

Other senior Russian officials had earlier gone out of their way to insist that Moscow's influence with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was limited. "We have 100 times less influence in Damascus than the United States has in Israel," said one senior official. He added that Moscow's close ally had been Mr Assad's father, President Hafez Assad, and that it was not until his son fell out with allies in Europe and the Muslim world that he had sought better relations with and increased support from Moscow.

Underscoring that this is a collaborative enterprise, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed that Russia was ready to send specialists to take part in the joint efforts to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

Mr Shoigu also revealed that Russia had ships on standby and all possible evacuation routes and schedules in place, just in case the remaining 7,000 Russians in Syria needed to leave in a hurry. Mr Putin was also modest when it came to US President Barack Obama, denying he had helped him to save face by giving him a way out of pursuing military strikes on Syria. Simply, Mr Putin said, their two positions had converged after an analysis of the situation.

And he brushed off scathing criticism of his government by Senator John McCain in an article published on a Russian website. Pravda. Instead of retorting in kind, he said mildly that the senator seemed to suffer from a lack of information about Russia. He also described, with some pride, how he came to write the article which appeared under his name in the New York Times, aimed at influencing American public opinion.

It was, he said, his own work and on his own initiative. He had dictated it word-for-word to an aide, made his own corrections, and even added the final paragraph by hand, once he had read (and taken exception to) the reference to American "exceptionalism" in President Obama's address to the nation.

Europeans 'dying out'

But other comments from the Russian president revealed that the gap between himself and Western leaders was as wide as ever. He repeated his assertion that Russia had every reason to believe it was rebels, not the Syrian regime, who were behind the chemical attack that injured and killed so many on 21 August.

Once again he suggested it could have been a crafty "provocation", involving the use of ancient Soviet missiles long decommissioned by the Syrian army, but used deliberately in order to implicate Mr Assad's forces.

And in an opening speech devoted to Russian values, he castigated the West for losing touch with its Christian roots when it came to gender questions. Mr Putin said that "one-gender families" and exaggerated political correctness were leading countries into degradation and a deepening moral crisis.

One Austrian professor challenged him on this and asked for a guarantee that minority values would be respected in Russia and not subject to harassment. Mr Putin denied there were any laws in Russia to punish sexual minorities for their orientation. The Russian law which had caused so much controversy was, he said, simply to stop "propaganda" among minors.

But the Russian leader did not try to hide his disdain for sexual minorities. Europeans, he continued, were suffering from a falling birth rate and could be in danger of dying out if they did not do something about it.

"You can either have more children to increase your population," said Mr Putin in typical blunt fashion, "or have more migrants, but you don't like them either. It's your choice."

He even returned to the subject to make a joke of what he perceived as Western Europe's distorted attitude to gender issues. Recalling his friendship with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, he noted that Mr Berlusconi was now on trial for living with women. "But if he'd been living with men, as a homosexual, no-one would have dared lay a finger on him," Mr Putin said.

The Russians in the auditorium erupted into roars of laughter. On the panel next to a grinning Mr Putin, his European guests looked bemused and uncomfortable. The Russian leader did not look in the least bit put out at this clash of cultural sensitivities. Possibly he even did it deliberately. It serves his purpose, reinforcing his earlier argument that Russia's place in the world is unique, with its own norms and values, and any attempt to force it to conform to other people's view of what is right and proper would be resisted.


The Rise Of The Bear: 18 Signs That Russia Is Rapidly Catching Up To The United States

The Russian Bear is stronger and more powerful than it has ever been before.  Sadly, most Americans don’t understand this. They still think of Russia as an “ex-superpower” that was rendered almost irrelevant when the Cold War ended. 

And yes, when the Cold War ended Russia was in rough shape.  I got the chance to go over there in the early nineties, and at the time Russia was an economic disaster zone.  Russian currency was so worthless that I joked that I could go exchange a 20 dollar bill and buy the Kremlin.  But since that time Russia has roared back to life.  Once Vladimir Putin became president, the Russian economy started to grow very rapidly. 

Today, Russia is an economic powerhouse that is blessed with an abundance of natural resources.  Their debt to GDP ratio is extremely small, they actually run a trade surplus every year, and they have the second most powerful military on the entire planet.  Anyone that underestimates Russia at this point is making a huge mistake.  The Russian Bear is back, and today it is a more formidable adversary than it ever was at any point during the Cold War. Just check out the following statistics.  The following are 18 signs that Russia is rapidly catching up to the United States…

#1 Russia produces more oil than anyone else on the planet.  The United States is in third place.

#2 Russia is the number two oil exporter in the world.  The United States is forced to import more oil than anyone else in the world.

#3 Russia produces more natural gas than anyone else on the planet.  The United States is in second place.

#4 Today, Russia supplies 34 percent of Europe’s natural gas needs.

#5 The United States has a debt to GDP ratio of 101 percent.  Russia has a debt to GDP ratio of about 8 percent.

#6 The United States had a trade deficit of more than half a trillion dollars last year.  Russia consistently runs a large trade surplus.

#7 The United States has an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent.  Russia has an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent.

#8 Since Vladimir Putin first became president of Russia, the Russian economy has grown at a very rapid pace.  The following is fromWikipedia:

Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin Russia’s economy saw the nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) double, climbing from 22nd to 11th largest in the world. The economy made real gains of an average 7% per year (1999: 6.5%, 2000: 10%, 2001: 5.7%, 2002: 4.9%, 2003: 7.3%, 2004: 7.2%, 2005: 6.4%, 2006: 8.2%, 2007: 8.5%, 2008: 5.2%), making it the 6th largest economy in the world in GDP(PPP). In 2007, Russia’s GDP exceeded that of 1990, meaning it has overcome the devastating consequences of the recession in the 1990s. During Putin’s eight years in office, the industry grew by 75%, investments increased by 125%, and agricultural production and construction increased as well. Real incomes more than doubled and the average salary increased eightfold from $80 to $640. The volume of consumer credit between 2000–2006 increased 45 times, and during that same time period, the middle class grew from 8 million to 55 million, an increase of 7 times. The number of people living below the poverty line also decreased from 30% in 2000 to 14% in 2008.
#9 According to Bloomberg, Russia has added 570 metric tons of gold to their reserves over the past decade.  In the United States, nobody seems to be quite sure how much gold the Federal Reserve actually has left.

#10 Moscow is the second most expensive city in the world.  Meanwhile, the United States actually has the unfriendliest city in the world (Newark, New Jersey).

#11 More billionaires live in Moscow than in any other city on the globe.

#12 The Moscow metro system completely outclasses the subway systems in Washington D.C. and New York City.

#13 The United States has the most powerful military on the planet, but Russia is in second place.

#14 Russia has introduced a new “near silent” nuclear submarine which is far more quiet than anything the U.S. has…

The Borey Class submarine, dubbed Vladimir Monomakh, has a next generation nuclear reactor, can dive deeper than 1,200 feet, and carries up to 20 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Each of these “Bulava” ICBM’s can carry ten detachable MIRV warheads, what they call “re-entry vehicles,” capable of delivering 150 kiloton yields per warhead
#15 While Barack Obama is neutering the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal, Vladimir Putin is working hard to modernize Russian nuclear forces.

#16 Russian missile forces will hold more than 200 drills during the second half of 2013.

#17 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made headlines all over the world when he climbed into the cockpit of Russia’s new “fifth generation” fighter jet and announced that it was far superior to the F-22 Raptor.

#18 It is estimated that Russia has more spies inside the United States today than it did at any point during the Cold War.

Unfortunately, whenever I write an article about Russia I find that most people simply do not get it.  They will make statements such as “the Cold War is over” or “Russia is our friend” which show a complete and total lack of understanding of the current geopolitical situation. Russia has been steadily building a stronger relationship with China, and collectively they represent the number one strategic threat to the United States. Someday this will become abundantly clear to the American people.  Hopefully it will not be too late by the time they realize it.

Hope and The Third Rome: The Rise Of Russia As Guarantor Of Human Rights

Recent events surrounding the Syrian crisis have indicated that a geopolitical transition may be taking place that will have a profound impact on human rights across the world.  For a great deal of time the human rights superpower, the world power that prided itself on an impeccable human rights record and respect for the rule of law was the United States of America.  The statesmanlike approach of Russian leader Vladimir Putin over the Syria crisis, in contrast to the frantic warmongering of his American counterpart, has shown that the baton of human decency may now be passing to a new force for human rights – the Russian Federation.  The assertion of the Russian monk Philotheus of Pskov in 1520 was the first one declaring that Russia was the heir of the ages:
“Two Romes have fallen…and the third stands, and a fourth there shall not be” (1)
It seems now that the Third Rome, with its roots in Ancient Greece and Rome, is remerging as a force for good in the world.  As the West begins to sink into the despotism once associated with the East, a power with a geographic position predominantly in the east takes on the mantle of civilizational leader.  Could it be that Russia is now filling the moral vacuum that has been left in the wake of the West’s retreat from the principles of human rights and human liberty?

The moral authority of the United States as a human rights leader was severely damaged by its intervention in Iraq.  However the proposed intervention in Syria is much more sinister from a human rights perspective.  It follows a pattern of behaviour in which Western nations have consistently backed the forces of jihad and the standard bearer of Islamism – the Muslim Brotherhood.  Islamism is something that will never reconcile itself with human rights yet Western powers increasingly embrace it.

Western elites have effectively empowered Islamists in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, and seem intent on doing the same in Syria.  This is mirrored by their championing of Islamist causes at home, with the development of speech codes and draconian sanctions applied against anyone who dares to contradict the Islamist narrative.  Sacrificing the most cherished freedom of all, freedom of expression, is now been followed by the sacrifice of freedom of movement and freedom of association in the effort to bolster the power of Islamism in the West.  Actions of the Western elites have made their countries tyrannies at home, and expansionists abroad! It is quite ridiculous for them be referred to as champions of human rights!

In countries like Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia Western scheming has led to the overthrow of secular governments and their replacement by governments influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood.  The West is now backing Islamist rebels in Syria and is now on the point of intervening militarily on the side of these forces.  We have seen in North Africa that Islamists do not respect the human rights of religious minorities such as Christians when they attain power, and religious persecution follows whenever they attain any influence.  Western leaders are now in effect accessories to ethnic and religious genocide.  If judged by the actions of its leaders, Western respect for human rights has now evaporated.

The recent attack by Syrian rebel forces on Maaloula village near Damascus illustrates the situation.  The attack on the predominantly Christian village was carried out by Jabhat al-Nusra and the supposedly moderate Free Syrian Army.  Why such “moderates” are fighting hand in glove with the forces of Al Queda remains to be explained.  The backing of such forces by Western Governments, backing that is increasing moving in the direction of a military alliance, shows the modern West for what it is with regard to its increasingly appalling human rights record.

A recent article published by the UK’s Daily Telegraph (2) newspaper describes the situation with regard to Syria’s Christians as follows:
“Christians, who make up approximately 10 per cent of Syria’s population, have increasingly become targets in the conflict as sectarian-minded foreign jihadists gain influence in the opposition ranks. Almost a third of the Syriac Christian population has fled the rebel-held northern town of Hassakeh after Christians became targets for kidnappings and assassinations.”
The Telegraph article also quoted some eyewitnesses who spoke in the following terms:
“They entered the main square and smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary,”
“First they took a brick factory owned by a Christian guy, who is now missing”
“Some of the rebels entered a home near the checkpoint belonging to Yousef Haddad, a Christian. They tried to force him to convert to Islam.”
It is quite clear that rebel forces in Syria advocate extreme forms of Islam and that that many of their number are jumping at the opportunity to undertake ethnic cleansing.  Nevertheless Western politicians continue to do the bidding of their Islamist “ally” Saudi Arabia by continuing to side with these rebels.  The lives of religious minorities in places like Syria are completely ignored and Western elites refuse to acknowledge that if Assad was ousted from power he would be replaced by Islamists just as has happened in in other countries afflicted by the “Arab Spring”.

Western countries may claim to respect human rights on the grounds that they are democracies.  However, increasingly that democracy is democracy in name only.  Many traditional characteristics of democracy are disappearing in Western nations. Elections do not make democracy, the rule of law and equality before it makes democracy – this is something that Western leaders no longer recognise.  Western elites have managed to control the democratic process via control of the media, the shutting down of dissenting voices, and a contributed system that gives limited choice at election time.  This is why they want to “democratise” the world – they are experts at manipulating it to meet elite interests so its trappings can safely be used as instruments of tyranny and elite group imperialism.  It is the sort of democracy that used to be “enjoyed” in the German Democratic Republic!

In the USA efforts to whittle away the Constitution that was developed by some of the most enlightened people who have ever lived illustrate this dangerous trend.  The Founding Fathers have even been labelled “extremists” by the Department of Defence (3).  In Europe it is indicated by the increasing power of the European Union.  The anti-democratic nature of the European Union, ruled by a politburo of unelected officials in the European Commission demonstrates an obvious move away from traditional democratic norms.  The Commission might well believe that it is legitimised by the existence of a European Parliament, but when that parliament is nothing more than a rubber stamping talking shop that belief is in error.  Indeed the European Parliament resembles the Roman Senate after the Emperor Augustus had hollowed out its real meaning and power to make it nothing more than a gentleman’s club for the privileged families of Rome.

It remains to be seen whether the moral decline of the West will continue.  If it continues appointing leaders of the current “calibre” the situation looks bleak.  It may be that Western publics will increasingly look beyond their own leaders, to places like Russia, for moral leadership and global vision.  May Russia continue to strive to be the human rights champion of the world; this is in all of our interests as the human rights vacuum urgently needs to be filled.

(1) The Triumph of the West, by J.M Roberts, 1985, p 166.

(2) Syria crisis: al-Qaeda seizes village that still speaks the ancient language of Christ (The Telegraph)

(3) Obama DOD: Mainstream Conservative Views “Extremist” (Judicial Watch)

SOURCE:  The International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA) is a human rights organisation that aims to uphold democracy, freedom and individual liberties.

The Alliance does so through endorsing, coordinating and promoting education and campaigns conducted by its members, in the spirit of classical liberalism. ICLA and its members will educate the general public about the significance of the inalienable rights of individuals, and how these are subtly underlined or openly challenged by political and religious forces.


Is the West Ready for the Rise of the Russian Elite?

According to a recent report from the Valdai Discussion Club, an influential Russian think tank, members of the Russian elite have been growing increasingly suspicious about the global ambitions of the United States over the past few decades.

Already, these effects are starting to impact Russian foreign policy toward the West, especially as anti-Americanism becomes widespread in Russian academia. As might be imagined, the Valdai report (“Russian Elite – 2020”) spurred debate among both Russian and American experts, especially about the ability of these elites to influence Russian domestic and foreign policy.

The new report from the Valdai Discussion Club analyzes the values and mindset of the Russian elites, as well as the factors that will continue to influence their formation and evolution in the near-term future. The report involved a number of high-profile researchers from both Russia and the U.S., including University of Michigan professors William Zimmerman and Ronald Inglehart and Eduard Ponarin, a professor of sociology from the Higher School of Economics in Russia.

The report summarizes the domestic challenges facing the Russian elite. It also analyzes the global impact and evolution of the Russian elite since the 1990s, focusing on the implications of their rise for the geopolitical agenda.

“A lot of people born in the 1980s will join the ranks of the Russian upper class in the following decades,” the report reads. “They will make a significant impact on the choice of a national development strategy.”

At the same time, the authors of the report argue that Russia is “going through a transition to a post-materialist society, which means that over time, fewer people will prioritize material values.” This could bring about a change in mentality, most notably, “an increase in the number of people who support democracy”. Yet, this increase is relatively moderate and will be rather slow over the next 20 years, according to the report.

The report also suggests that the Russian elite will be highly ideologically polarized and divided into two groups: one group comprised of people with post-materialist values and a second group that consists of individuals with materialist values.

At the same time, authoritarianism will remain “more and more popular among members” of the generation born in the 1980s despite the increase in the number of pro-democracy supporters. This trend may be especially relevant in the context of Russia’s future foreign policy.

“People who support the Western idea of democracy in Russia will have to fit into the existing political system, which is characterized by a vast polarization in the preferred political regime. Otherwise these people will likely be excluded from the process of political decision-making.”     

In the context of Russia’s future foreign policy, increasing suspicions toward the United States might become commonplace for the Russian elite by the 2020s, according to Eduard Ponarin, one of the authors of the report.  During the presentation of the report at the Valdai Discussion Club, he noted that the members of the Russian elite have been looking at the U.S. very suspiciously since their disappointment with the policy of perestroika in the 1990s.  

“Attitudes toward the United States are being formed under the influence of resentment and growing patriotic feelings,” the report reads. “This resulted in a distrust of U.S. foreign policy in a part of the Russian elite. … Moreover, representatives of the younger generation consider the United States to be a security threat to Russia.”

Based on these statements, the authors of the report argue that, when the role of the 1980s generation becomes more prominent in foreign policy decision-making, “Russia’s geopolitical stance on the international scene will become tougher.” This means that Moscow will defend its national interests in the world with more vigor and tenacity and, at the same time, will be more open and integrated into the global political and economic system.

One of the authors of the report, Yegor Lazarev, a postgraduate student at Columbia University, says that they define the Russian elite as a group of people that is able to influence political decision-making.

“In this context, the representatives of the opposition to the existing system can be seen as elite. For example, [anti-corruption whistleblower and mayoral candidate] Alexei Navalny has an impact on Russia’s political agenda. His blog posts spur social discussions which involve mass media. As a result, the authorities have to respond,” he told Russia Direct. “In addition, Navalny is well-known in the West – leading media outlets write about him all the time. Finally, during his mayoral campaign, he introduced himself as a talented politician, even though he doesn’t have access to television.”

Eduard Ponarin clarifies that Navalny can be described more accurately as one of the representatives of the “contra-elite” or “potential elite” because he is hardly likely to “manipulate public opinion” or determine the economical and political agenda in the country.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Director of The Kryshtanovskaya Laboratory think tank, sees the off-system opposition to the current system as a “contra-elite that broke away from the Russian main elite.” And this contra-elite might pose a threat for the government, but it shouldn’t be equated with the elite because it doesn’t take any decisions in Russia’s politics, she told Russia Direct.

Likewise, Alexei Mukhin from the Center for Political Information believes that the radicalized and “petty off-system opposition can’t be included in the elite” while the systemic opposition may be viewed as part of the elite, supported by the authorities. “The systemic opposition is a part of the authorities that reflect their interests as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yuri Korgunyuk, the founder of the Moscow-based INDEM think tank argues that Russia’s political system reveals a lot of flaws if it excludes opposition from the elite.

“Many Western countries regard opposition as an essential part of the elite and if it is shifted to the periphery and the backyard of politics, it should raise eyebrows about the whole political system,” he said.

At the presentation of the Valdai Discussion Club’s report, University of Michigan professor William Zimmerman said China’s rise may become a good reason for the Russian and American elite to team up. According to him, by 2035 China may have become strong enough to pose a threat for Russia and the U.S. Meanwhile, Mukhin warns against an anti-Chinese union between Moscow and Washington and assumes that it may result in negative consequences.

“We shouldn’t team up against China,” he said. “Instead, we should work more on public diplomacy.”
Unlike Zimmerman, Kryshtanovskaya puts into question the hypothetical union of the U.S. and Russia against China.

“This is a traditional viewpoint of the American ideology,” she said. “It is far from reality, like [Earth] is far from Mars.”

According to her, such union is very difficult to create because the Russian and American elite can’t agree on many issues. The idea of the hostility of the American elite toward Russia is pretty strong among Russian elites because these postulates took root “in our mentality early in school, in the Soviet times,” she explains.

“That’s why this ideology has been revived again thanks to the state propaganda,” Kryshtanovskaya added. “Though, on the one hand, we would like to imitate the American elite on the everyday ‘domestic’ level, politically we are against this elite.”

Ponarin echoes her view: “The elites of two countries need a common interest in order to team up. So far, I don’t see it. Economic ties between our countries are too weak while geopolitical interests remain contradictory. In some fields, we have some overlapping interests (for example, in Afghanistan), but generally, it’s not enough."

In contrast, Korgunyuk believes that there has always been a unity between the Russian and American elites when they faced common challenges.

“Take the 9/11 attack when Russian president Putin called George Bush to express his condolences and supported the U.S.,” he said. “The anti-Hitler coalition between the U.S., UK and Stalin’s Soviet Union is another example of such collaboration. Actually, I don’t think that we have any damaging geopolitical differences. At the same time, we are not such close allies like the U.S. and UK because of the big gap in political culture and ideology.”

Likewise, Gregory Feifer, an American writer and a former correspondent of National Public Radio, believes that the representatives of the upper class should work together but he also mentioned some hidden obstacles that may prevent such a partnership. 

“There's no reason elites in the U.S., Russia and any other country shouldn't collaborate, but it's not clear what form that would take,” he said. “The real point here is that anti-Americanism – while indeed based on popular support – is fanned and shaped from above. The Russian elite takes its cues from Putin, who has used anti-Americanism as a tool to consolidate power – the central point in Russian foreign policy.”


Obama Is Lost in the Mideast Bazaar

There is a trick in the great labyrinthine bazaars of the Middle East: petty hucksters luring the vacationing franjis into the market maze and then getting paid to lead them out. As dusk looms, the unnerved outsider is always glad to be steered to familiar surroundings. In the matter of Syria, and America's staggeringly inept diplomacy, Vladimir Putin is the clever trickster who has seized upon an unsuspecting prey. The Russian strongman now proposes a way out for an American leader desperately searching for deliverance.

For the full length of this relentless Syrian rebellion, the Russian autocracy aided and abetted the Syrian dictatorship, a Mafia regime made in the Kremlin's own image. Moscow granted Bashar Assad diplomatic cover at the United Nations, and kept him supplied with the military hardware that enabled him to wage a cruel war against a determined rebellion.

The survival of the Syrian regime was a "red line" for the Russian ruler—a true red line. The dictatorship in Damascus had been forged four decades ago, when Soviet power was on the rise. Syrian armies and factories, the intelligence services and the architecture, were all in the Soviet mold. The sun may have set on the old Soviet empire, but on the shores of the Mediterranean, with a derelict naval base in Tartus waiting to be revived, Syria offered Russia the consolation that it could still play the game of the great powers. In the Syrian mirror, Mr. Putin sees a version of his own battle with Chechen insurgents.

Now it is dusk, and the hapless Barack Obama has lost his old swagger. He had feigned intimacy with "the East," he had thought that he was at ease with that big Islamic world. Instead, he was befuddled by what awaited him, and now he finds himself at the mercy of a Russian skilled in the ruses of the bazaar.

Grant the Russians the consistency of their position on Syria. From the outset of the civil war two years ago, Moscow insisted that it would not stand idly by and accept a repetition of what had happened in Libya. The deranged Moammar Gadhafi was a man the Russians knew and favored. By their lights, they had let him down when they let slip through the cracks of the U.N. machinery a proposal that called for the protection of Libyan civilians. The proposal gave NATO the warrant that led to the destruction of the Libyan dictatorship.

No such ambiguity this time around. Russia was determined to see its client regime in Damascus to victory. If Soviet decay and American resolve had all but banished Moscow's influence from Middle Eastern lands, Vladimir Putin was eager for a Russian return—all the more so if the restoration came on the cheap.

The Arab rebellions of 2011 had unnerved the Russians. The autocratic model itself was on the defensive, and those Arab regimes of plunder and tyranny were both physically close to Russia and bore a striking resemblance to the lawless Kremlin model of rule. It took no special genius on the part of Mr. Putin to see the irresolution of his American counterpart.

There, on display, was the spectacle of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, where American primacy had been secured with much blood and treasure. And there was Iran, unchecked and on a determined drive that had granted it enormous sway all the way from its border with Iraq to the Mediterranean.

"The tide of war is receding" was the American leader's mantra. The Russian ruler fully understood that the Middle East was a Hobbesian region sensitive to shifts of power, always appraising the stamina of outsiders who venture into its midst.

Syria itself revealed the abdication of American power. For two long years, when so many good options were still possible, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was, in effect, a player on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's team. Time and again, American diplomacy hid behind the Russian veto at the U.N. Security Council. The Obama administration deferred to the Security Council, knowing that the White House's public wishes would be rebuffed. This was the pretext for ignoring the Syrian massacres, the terrible war in the Fertile Crescent.

At times, Secretary Clinton's brief echoed Russian pronouncements: These were not ordinary Syrians battling for freedom, we were told, they were zealots, affiliated with al Qaeda, and surely we did not want to find ourselves on the same side in Syria with Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Hillary Clinton's remarkable luck holds: The Syrian horrors don't stick to her—apparently "global icons" are not held accountable for political debacles.)

Mr. Putin has an eye for the fecklessness of the democracies. He knew that the Obama administration, seized with panic, would take the bait he offered: custody of Syria's chemical weapons in return for giving the Damascus regime a new lease on life.

We are war-weary, Mr. Obama intones repeatedly. He was elected to end wars, not to start them, the president reminds us. But none of our leaders—certainly not the ones who mattered, who answered the call of history—was elected to start wars.

We anoint our leaders to rid us of our weariness when resolve is called for, to draw for us the connection between our security and menaces at a seeming far remove. The leaders of the past two decades who sent American forces to Bosnia, to Kosovo, to Afghanistan, to Iraq, were not thirsting for foreign wars. These leaders located America, and its interests, in the world. Pity the Syrians, they rose up in the time of Barack Obama.

Mr. Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, is the author, most recently, of "The Syrian Rebellion" (Hoover Press, 2012). 


American Thinker: Dangerous Times: Russia Rising in the Middle East

Now that America is leading from behind, more serious powers are rushing to fill the vacuum. Obama seems ready to let that happen, which is why India just launched its first homemade aircraft carrier and why Japan is rearming to keep China from stealing the whole South China Sea.

When America bugs out, what follows is not love and peace -- contrary to deeply delusional liberals. What happens is a worldwide scramble for king of the hill. Instability breeds war, as we can see in the news headlines. Obama knocked over the Mubarak regime in Egypt, a pillar of peace and stability for thirty years. Now civil war has erupted all over the place -- Egypt, Libya, and Syria. So much for the vaunted "Arab Spring." The Iranians are laughing their heads off, getting ready to sucker the West again.

And to show his profound concern for all the killing, Obama is sending vacation postcards from Martha's Vineyard, laughing and smiling and having fun. The Arabs aren't smiling. In Egypt, both sides blame Obama. In Libya and Syria, we have alienated both sides, too. Behind the scenes, the Saudis are paying for the Egyptian military to knock down the Muslim Brotherhood, while the oil sheikhs of Qatar are trying to shaft the Saudis.

Only Israel is democratic, stable, and prosperous, nervously watching while her enemies kill each other. Egypt is now at war with Hamas in Gaza, where the Muslim Brotherhood is hiding out. Hezbollah is entangled in Syria, defending the regime against Al Qaida rebels. In the absence of American strength and reliability, all the players are turning to Russia, which is emerging:

● as a vocal defender of Christianity against Muslim persecution around the world;
● as a plausible peacemaker in the Middle East, with far better relationships with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria than America has today;
● as the monopoly natural gas supplier for Germany, with the consent of the Franco-German axis;
● as the only country with a credible a nuclear umbrella to protect its friends and deter its enemies;
● as a country that understands the value of relatively free markets -- witness the 14% flat tax Putin just introduced in Russia.

Vladimir Putin now looks like the heir of Peter the Great, the modernizing Tsar. This is another bizarre twist in history, but facts are facts. Putin's Russia is not a Marxist imperialist power. That's important, because we are used to thinking about an expansionist Soviet Empire. Today, Putin has to be practical, to build up Russian strength after decades of imperial overreach and national decay. He is therefore using the Russian Orthodox Church as his ideological base, to build his own popularity. He is following in the footsteps of the Tsars. So far he is not moving aggressively, aiming instead for international prestige, economic gains, and influence in the near abroad. One reason is that he has a global competitor, China.

That doesn't mean Putin is a nice man, or that Russia isn't going to pursue greater power. Putin is a Great Russian ruler. China, Europe, and Islam are his biggest historical threats. But in the nuclear age there are threats all around. Putin is therefore looking to take our place as the decisive power in the Middle East. He also wants to play a big role in the next OPEC, based on shale gas and oil. He also likes to poke us in the eye. The biggest surprise is that in contrast to Obama, our most America-loathing president ever, Vladimir Putin is emerging as a defender of traditional Western values.

Is that weird enough for ya?

To show Russia's seriousness in the Middle East, Putin has paid personal visits and kept contacts with all the players, including the Sisi regime in Egypt, Israel, Syria's Assad, and Saudi Arabia. Everybody is now bidding for his support. It makes good sense. Suppose you are Egypt's General Sisi, trying to run a nation in chaos. Who do you want to guarantee your safety? A self-loathing, treacherous Obama, or a ruthless but very consistent Putin?

The answer is clear enough.

This also applies to Israel, which doesn't want a war with Iran, but can't trust the crazies in Tehran. Only Russia has the will and the military clout to keep the mullahs in their place. America has the power, but not the will or the trust from its allies any more. If Putin turns against the mullahs, they can't win. He is too dangerous, wielding a credible nuclear deterrent -- one he will use if Tehran ever poses a threat. The mullahs know what Putin did to Muslim Chechnya after the terror attacks in Moscow and Byelorussia. The Russian army is brutal and undiscriminating. They don't fear Western liberal hysteria. Obama may yearn to be adored, but Putin wants to be feared and respected. Putin is a man, with masculine values. Obama is not.

Our NATO 'allies" are now happy to buy Putin's real nuclear protection instead of a weak and vacillating America. This week the French and Russian air forces are holding joint exercises. It's not a coincidence. In international politics serious powers prevail. Nobody will bet their survival on a tiny cult of delusional egotists in the White House. Guys like Putin will chew them up, spit them out, and ask for seconds. During the Soviet Empire the rise of Russia would have been very bad news. Today it might give us a breathing space, to fix what is wrong at home.

We might start by introducing Putin's 14% flat tax, an idea that was made in America, but which our political class treats with sneering disdain. If the flat tax works in Russia, watch for another glasnost and perestroika, but this time in America, as our own political ideas come back from abroad.
After Obama, it looks like we'll need it. 

Republican Senator Barrasso: Why the Russians Can't Be Trusted in Syria

When the Obama administration announced its "reset" of relations with Russia in 2009, Americans never expected that it would include making Vladimir Putin the de facto U.S. ambassador to Syria in 2013. Yet the Russian president has in effect taken over U.S. diplomacy with the Bashar Assad regime in Damascus.

The most recent evidence came this weekend with the announcement in Geneva that Secretary of State John Kerry had reached a "framework" deal brokered by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Syria's chemical weapons. Assad is supposed to provide an accounting of all his chemical weapons within a week, international inspections begin in November, and Syria's stockpiles of the weapons must be removed or destroyed by next summer.

Diplomatic dealmakers John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Saturday.

Most experts on chemical weapons say the timetable is unworkable. But ridding Syria of chemical weapons is not the point. The Kerry-Lavrov agreement is simply a Russian delaying tactic on behalf of its Syrian ally—a tactic we've seen before. On May 7, amid reports that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, the Obama administration joined the Russians in announcing plans for an international conference to help end Syria's civil war. Within two weeks, Moscow was supplying Assad with advanced cruise missiles.

Moscow's military support of the Assad regime is one of the main reasons that more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the current conflict. On the political front, the Russians have vetoed every attempt by the United Nations Security Council to do something to bring about an end to the civil war. For example, on Feb. 4, 2012—one day after Syrian forces slaughtered 250 of their own citizens—Russia vetoed a resolution that would have condemned the violence there. This was after Russia had weakened the resolution so that it included no sanctions. Mr. Putin's government even voted against a nonbinding resolution that expressed "grave concern at the continuing escalation of violence."

It is extremely unlikely that Russia is suddenly now going to cooperate with the U.S. on Syria. It is downright naïve to think that Mr. Putin will do anything that President Obama asks him to do without exacting a huge price in return. We have also seen this before. For more than four years, the Obama administration has capitulated to Mr. Putin's demands and accepted his rebukes.

It began with the New START treaty on arms control signed in April 2010. U.S. negotiators limited our missile defense deployments, reduced our delivery systems and hampered our ability to monitor Russian missile production plants. In return, Russia gave up little to nothing of value: The U.S., for example, allowed limits on missile delivery vehicles requiring us to make unilateral reductions, as Russia was already well below the limits.

Later, in March 2012, a microphone accidentally picked up President Obama telling Dmitry Medvedev that following his re-election he would have "more flexibility" to grant the Russians further concessions on missile defense. Mr. Medvedev memorably replied: "I will transmit this information to Vladimir."

Russia's actions in Syria are not the only reasons to distrust Mr. Putin. Moscow has opposed attempts by the U.N. in November 2011 to increase sanctions against Iran for its illicit nuclear program. The Russians voted against a December 2011 resolution that expressed only tepid concerns about repression in North Korea. And Russia continues to refuse to extradite the fugitive Edward Snowden, who stole U.S. national-security secrets.

Meanwhile, the human-rights situation in Russia continues to deteriorate. The country is consistently ranked among the world's most corrupt and least free.

Moscow is not even complying with a commitment to eliminate its own chemical weapons. A State Department assessment in January reported that Russia has provided an "incomplete" list of its chemical agents and weapons to be destroyed. It has also missed deadlines to convert former chemical-weapon production plants. Why would we expect Moscow to help enforce similar restrictions against Syria?

Assad is fighting for survival and has no interest in surrendering his chemical weapons voluntarily. Russia wants Assad to stay in power and will not do anything to risk his position. Nor will Mr. Putin need to do so, since the Kremlin has bent the Obama administration to its will before.

Secretary of State Kerry himself has dismissed the plan he is now pursuing. On Monday last week, he said that the U.S. could ask Assad to turn over his chemical weapons, "but he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done." That assessment is likely to prove correct. But Russia and Syria cynically seized on Mr. Kerry's words and now are feigning an effort to prove that it can be done.

Based on the experience of the past four years, the Russians, like the Iranians, are well aware that pretending to go along can buy time until the Obama administration becomes distracted with another issue. The U.S. should be prepared for the diplomatic effort on Syria to fall flat and have more effective alternatives ready.

The president needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a coherent, realistic Syria policy—one that does not rely on Russia's cooperation.
Dr. Barrasso is a Republican senator from Wyoming.


Vladimir Putin Takes Exception

He twisted the knife and gloated, which was an odd and self-indulgent thing to do when he was winning. Vladimir Putin, in his essay in the New York Times, may even to some degree have overplayed his hand, though that won't matter much immediately. As a public posture, grace and patience would have brought him a lot further, impressing people and allowing them to feel some confidence in the idea that he's seriously trying to offer an actual path out of the Syrian mess.

But maybe he doesn't think he has to win anyone over anymore—and maybe that's the real news. In any case, the steely-eyed geopolitical strategist has reminded us that he's also the media-obsessed operator who plays to his base back home by tranquilizing bears, wrestling alligators and riding horses shirtless, like Yul Brynner in "Taras Bulba."

Clearly he is looking at President Obama and seeing weakness, lostness, lack of popularity. His essay is intended to exploit this and make some larger points, often sanctimoniously, about how the U.S. should conduct itself in the world. And so he chided American leadership, implicitly challenged its position as world leader, posited the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has done so much mischief, as the only appropriate decision-making body for international military action, and worried the U.N. will "suffer the fate" of the League of Nations if "influential countries" continue to take action without authorization.

He does not doubt chemical weapons were used in Syria but doubts it was the government that used them. It was probably the rebels, he asserts, in an attempt to "provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons."

Still, in general, Mr. Putin made a better case in the piece against a U.S. military strike than the American president has for it. And he did so, in a way, by getting to the left of the president, who he implies is insufficiently respectful to international bodies. Mr. Putin was candid about his primary anxiety—a spillover from Syria that could threaten Russian stability.

The Syrian civil war, he both conceded and cleverly noted for a U.S. audience, is in no way "a battle for democracy." He made no moral claims for his ally, Bashar Assad. The war, he said, is a battle between government and opposition, with the latter composed of militants and mercenaries including al Qaeda fighters and "extremists of all stripes." He sees what is happening as a danger to his country. Some of the rebels are from the West, and some from Russia itself. He does not want them returning home with the training they've acquired. "This threatens us all," he said. True enough.

Mr. Putin's challenge to the idea to American exceptionalism was ignorant and tone-deaf. The president had thrown in a reference to it at the end of his speech. Mr. Putin, in his essay, responded: "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation." After all, he said, God made us all equal.

My goodness, that argument won't get you very far in America, and it's a little worrying that Mr. Putin either wouldn't know this or wouldn't care. (Here it must be noted: The Times is reporting Mr. Putin's essay was placed by an American public-relations firm. Really? This is the kind of work you get from a big ticket, big-time communications outfit? Can't America even do PR anymore?)

America is not exceptional because it has long attempted to be a force for good in the world, it attempts to be a force for good because it is exceptional. It is a nation formed not by brute, grunting tribes come together over the fire to consolidate their power and expand their land base, but by people who came from many places. They coalesced around not blood lines but ideals, and they defined, delineated and won their political rights in accordance with ground-breaking Western and Enlightenment thought. That was something new in history, and quite exceptional. We fought a war to win our freedom, won it against the early odds, understood we owed much to God, and moved forward as a people attempting to be worthy of what he'd given us.

We had been obliged, and had obligations. If you don't understand this about America you don't understand anything.

I don't know why the idea of American exceptionalism seems to grate so on Mr. Putin. Perhaps he simply misunderstands what is meant by it and takes it to be a reference to American superiority, which it is not. Perhaps it makes him think of who won the Cold War and how. Maybe the whole concept makes him think of what Russia did, almost 100 years ago now, to upend and thwart its own greatness, with a communist revolution that lasted 75 years and whose atheism, a core part of its ideology, attempted to rid his great nation of its faith, and almost succeeded. Maybe it grates on him that in his time some of the stupider Americans have crowed about American exceptionalism a bit too much—and those crowing loudest understood it least.

But I suspect on some level he's just a little envious of the greatness of America's beginnings. The Russian Revolution almost killed Russia—they're still recovering. The American Revolution has been animating us for more than two centuries.

The irony of course is that Mr. Putin used the exceptionalism argument against Mr. Obama, who himself barely believes in the idea and no doubt threw it into his speech the way he often throws things like that in at the end: He thinks Americans like it, that the nationalist ego of the clingers demands it. But he doesn't mean it. Asked about American exceptionalism once, he said sure he believes in it, just as the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. Thank you for that rousing historical endorsement.

After Mr. Putin's comments, New Jersey's Sen. Bob Menendez was asked for his response. "I almost wanted to vomit," he said. This was the best thing Bob Menendez has ever said, and really did sum up U.S. reaction.


A mystery of the Syrian crisis, and the Putin essay, is this. Mr. Putin obviously feels considerable disdain for the president, in spite of what he threw in at the end of his essay—that he and Mr. Obama have a personal and professional relationship marked by "growing trust." Sure. But I keep thinking of Mr. Obama's meeting with then-President Dmitry Medvedev in May 2012 and Mr. Obama's famous hot-mic comment that after the election he would have "more flexibility" and hoped Mr. Putin understood that. Why didn't Mr. Obama's promised flexibility earn him any gratitude from Mr. Putin? Why didn't it earn him Mr. Putin's discretion, especially at a difficult moment like this?

One thing is certain. Mr. Putin's essay was not Nikita Krushchev slamming his shoe on the desk at the U.N. and saying, "We will bury you!" Those were bad days. We'll see, in retrospect, what these days are. It's not a cold war between the U.S. and Russia, and it's not a hot one, but there's a new chill in the air, isn't there?


"I almost wanted to vomit": U.S. lawmakers unite in fury over Putin's op-ed in NYT

It’s not every day that an opinion piece in The New York Times simultaneously insults the Republican speaker of the House and nearly causes the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to  "vomit."

But that’s exactly what happened when Russian President Vladimir Putin penned an article calling for the U.S. government, which is considering launching a military strike on Syria for alleged war crimes, to use restraint in the Middle East. In his piece, Putin also took issue with part of President Barack Obama's national address on Syria on Tuesday night, which made the case for military action and praised “American exceptionalism.”

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” Putin wrote. “I was at dinner,” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said on CNN after he read the piece. “And I almost wanted to vomit.”

Other lawmakers were equally blunt.

“I was insulted,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Thursday morning. “I’ve probably already said more than I should have said, but you’ve got the truth.”

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain called Putin's piece an “insult to the intelligence of every American.” The op-ed was published amid a passionate debate in Washington over whether the United States should launch a strike against Syria, where President Bashar Assad’s government has been embroiled in civil war for more than two years and stands accused of using chemical weapons.

Earlier this month, Obama called on lawmakers to pass a resolution authorizing a “limited” military strike. This week, however, he requested that a vote on the resolution — which appeared destined to fail anyway — be delayed while the U.S. seeks a diplomatic solution in cooperation with Russia. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill seemed willing to give the White House time, but they remain hesitant to believe that Russia and Syria will work with the United States in good faith. Boehner, who said on Wednesday that he was “skeptical” about Russia’s motivations, suggested on Thursday that Putin’s op-ed might confirm his suspicions.

“It’s probably why I have suggested I have doubts about the motives of the Russians and Assad,” he said.


In other news:

Zapad 2013: Massive Russian Wargames

Every two years, Russia holds massive military exercises in its north-western territories that open a window onto its strategic thinking and combat capabilities. September’s demonstrated both a growing aggression in Russian military posture, as well as an underlying strategy to keep the West off-balance.

The latest of these Zapad (“West”) exercises were amongst the biggest yet, a six-day event running until September 26 involving ground, air and sea forces from Russia and its ally Belarus. The exercises were run in Belarus, near the Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian borders, and in Russia’s Kaliningrad territory, between Poland and Lithuania.

Zapad-2013 was officially described as a joint Russian-Belarusian exercise meant to prepare forces “to ensure security of the Union State” and to rehearse the “interoperability of command staffs.” Furthermore, it was supposedly anchored around a “counter-terrorist operation,” against “illegal armed groups,” its real purpose was to simulate a war triggered by a “deterioration of relations between states due to inter-ethnic, and ethno-religious controversies, and territorial claims.”

As the deployment of tanks, warships and long-range missiles, and marine landings on hostile shores demonstrated, this was really about wargaming a full-scale military conflict against a near-neighbor with whom Russia has long grievances. It is hardly surprising that the Baltic states, who have Russian minorities which Moscow in the past has used as a pretext for leverage, have expressed their dismay.

Furthermore, the size of the exercise has been questioned. Officially, Zapad-2013 involved 13,000 Russian troops (including some 2,500 paratroopers and other special forces on Belarus soil) and 10,400 Belarusians, along with a small contingent of around 300 soldiers from Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization allies Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were also involved.

However, Western intelligence reports suggest that it was rather more extensive. Furthermore, Moscow launched an associated mobilization of at least 10,000 Interior Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, paramilitary units meant to maintain domestic security. They wargamed combating “terrorists” in a series of exercises that actually seemed more aimed at testing how quickly they could deploy on the streets in case of protest or unrest.

All this fits within a wider pattern of increasingly assertive and even confrontational Russian military activity. In March, for example, it wargamed a bombing attack on Sweden, just a month after it similarly ran simulated airstrikes on U.S. ships and a ground base in Japan.

There is, however, no real prospect of any Russian invasion to the west. Russian forces are improving, but lack the capacity to take on NATO on its home turf, and the political and economic implications would be devastating. Instead, this represents both a genuine effort to rebuild Russian forces still recovering from over a decade of decay and a strategy of tension.

As far as Putin is concerned, the more Western nations feel vulnerable and at threat, the more willing to compromise on economic and political issues they are, a belief only strengthened by events in Syria. To this end, Zapad-2013 is just one more psychological play in a long-running political game.

Spiegel: Why Is Moscow Risking a New Cold War?

Strategic bombers off the American coast, battleships in the Mediterranean -- the Russian military is displaying its might once again with Moscow pumping billions into new weapons. But where does the Kremlin see its enemies today, and why is it risking another nuclear arms race with Washington?

At eleven o'clock at night, when the moon is reflected in the slow-moving waters of the Volga River, when the steppes are exhaling the heat of the day, and when the last bars are closing in Yekaterinburg and Pokrovsk -- old provincial cities on the river's left bank that are now called Marx and Engels --, Gennady Stekachov is on his way into world politics. And everyone can hear it.

The shutters shake in the crooked old wooden houses German settlers built 250 years ago, and the windowpanes rattle in the prefabricated high-rise apartment buildings from Soviet days.

The cause of the commotion is Stekachov guiding his 150-ton, long-range bomber down a runway outside the city and, together with his crew of seven other men, taking off into the night sky.

He follows his usual route north, up to the Arctic Sea and the Barents Sea, and then turns sharply to the West to circle the polar ice cap. The first NATO fighters, now on high alert, have appeared by the time Stekachov reaches the Norwegian coast. From there on the jets -- French Mirages, British Tornados or Norwegian F-16s -- escort the Tupolev Tu-95 past the Shetland and Faeroe Islands to a point off the American coast.

The men spend 16 hours in the air, with nothing but ocean below and not even a toilet on board. But despite the lack of comfort, the trip offers plenty of hair-raising excitement, such as when one of the NATO aircraft crosses Stekachov's path just below his aircraft, which can carry up to 16 cruise missiles to the most remote corners of the earth.

Stekachov finally sees a purpose to his profession, now that Russia is sending its strategic air force on patrol flights out into the world once again, following a 15-year hiatus brought on by a lack of funding. "In four months," he says, "my crew has flown seven missions to just off the American coast." Stekachov, a lieutenant colonel from a small, little-known city on the Volga, has had to wait 15 years for the experience.

If any Germans are familiar with Engels, a city of 200,000 inhabitants, 350 kilometers (217 miles) from the former Stalingrad, they know it as the capital of the former German Volga Republic, which Soviet dictator Josef Stalin dissolved in August 1941, banishing its residents to Siberia and Kazakhstan. And space flight aficionados might even know it as the city where Yury Gagarin, the world's first cosmonaut, landed with his parachute on April 12, 1961.

But Engels is more of a known entity for Russians. Moscow built its first school for military pilots there in 1930. Today, the city's airport is home to the 22nd Heavy Bomber Division of the 37th Air Army -- a unit that, in case of a nuclear conflict, would carry Russian nuclear bombs to targets in enemy territory. Thirty-seven large bombers are currently stationed at Engels for just this purpose. They include 18 Tu-95 four-engine propeller aircraft, known as "Bears" in NATO jargon, with a range of 15,000 kilometers (9,317 miles), and 15 Tu-160 jets, which Russians consider the world's most formidable flying fortresses, flying at top speeds of more than 2,000 kilometers per hour (1,242 mph) and with space for 40 tons of bombs on board -- known in the West as "Blackjacks."

Only a decade ago, the Engels air base was practically empty. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin had ordered most of Russia's bombers moved elsewhere. But today a banner at the entrance to the air base encourages local residents to reignite the "glory of Russian weapons."

A hint of the Cold War has been revived between the East and West, since Russia began sending out its pilots on missions once again, since its aircraft, in a throwback to Soviet days, have reappeared on radar screens in the Western hemisphere, and since they have, on occasion, come within touching distance of the British border and flown over the American aircraft carrier "Nimitz" and a Japanese island (albeit unpopulated), to which Tokyo responded by dispatching two dozen fighter jets to drive out the intruders. "Our job is to show that since we are capable of flying this far, we are also capable of carrying weapons to our destination," says Major General Pavel Androssov, the commander of all strategic aircraft.

Back in Business

The Russian military, still one of the largest in the world, with its 1.1 million soldiers, is back -- and not just in the air. The navy is conducting exercises in the Atlantic and Mediterranean once again, and in February the "Yury Dolgoruki" was the first in a new generation of Russian submarines to leave its dock. The new craft is a giant among submarines, capable of firing 16 missiles carrying nuclear warheads and remaining submerged for up to 100 days. A major maneuver of the country's Arctic Sea and Pacific fleet will be conducted in one of the world's oceans this summer. The commander of the exercise is President Dmitry Medvedev.

In 2007, Russia's military budget climbed to 822 billion rubles, or $35.4 billion (€22.8 billion). And because oil is flushing more and more cash into government coffers, the Kremlin and its generals have set off a veritable fireworks of announcements recently. Moscow expects to own 50 strategic bombers by 2015, build as many "Topol-M" intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), as well as eight "Bora" (Gale) class nuclear submarines. It has also developed a new ballistic missile, the "Bulava" (Cudgel), and the T-95 -- the "tank of the 21st century" -- will be placed into service next year.

"The Russian military machine is back in business," writes Britain's Daily Telegraph, describing Russia's "dramatic increase in military potential." According to Lieutenant General Michael D. Maples, the head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), "Russia is trying to reestablish a degree of military power that it believes is commensurate with its renewed economic strength and political confidence." And for US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the modernization of the Russian military "underscores the importance of our sustaining a valid nuclear deterrent," in the future, as he told officers in the US Air Force in early June.

This is exactly the kind of language Moscow's military leaders like to hear. It makes them feel that they are being taken seriously once again. "People don't like the weak. They don't listen to them and they insult them. But if we have parity once again, they will be taking a different tone with us," says former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

But what does it mean when the military chief of staff in Moscow, responding to US plans to install a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, is back to talking about the "preventive use of nuclear weapons?" When he threatens Georgia and Ukraine, both former Soviet republics, with "military and other measures" should they join NATO? Or when Moscow, as happened in December, suspends its participation in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and calls into question other agreements, such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)?

Is this a show of strength for domestic political purposes, designed to bolster patriotic pride among Russians? Is Russia trying to return to the world stage with the tools of the 1970s? Or does the Kremlin truly feel threatened by the West once again?

Moscow's Akademiya Restaurant is on a small side street behind Tver Boulevard, next to a newly built synagogue. It is one of the chic establishments frequented by Russia's new elite. Stanislav Belkovsky, a thick-set man with a three-day growth, glasses and a receding forehead, who likes to have his breakfast here, is the head of the private Moscow Institute for National Strategy.

The notion that Russia is restoring its military might to a level close to that of the Soviet era has "nothing to do with reality," says Belkovsky. "It's part of the propaganda with which the Kremlin seeks to pull the wool over the public's eyes." According to an almost 70-page dossier titled "The Crisis and Decline of the Russian Army" and published by his institute, the military leadership should in fact resign en masse. The report suggests that the military's figures and announcements are sheer fantasy.

'Pulling the Wool over the Public's Eyes'

According to the dossier, the army has taken delivery on only 90 outdated tanks in the last seven years, all from the country's only remaining tank factory, in the Ural Mountains region. Experts ridicule the much-touted T-95, which has been talked about for 15 years, as a "fiction." During former President Vladimir Putin's term in office, the air force received only two new Su-34 fighter-bombers, and the Su-35 fighter jet, unveiled last year as a new model, is in fact a close cousin of an aircraft that was already airborne during former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's first year in office, 1985. According to the Belkovsky report, Russian designers are "no less than 20 years behind their US counterparts in the development of their fifth-generation fighter jets." Only 50 percent of all aircraft and helicopters nationwide are in operation, and the Russian military will experience a shortfall of 4,500 aircraft next year when outdated equipment is removed from service.

The situation is no less dramatic when it comes to nuclear weapons. Under Putin, 405 missiles and 2,498 nuclear warheads were decommissioned, but only 27 new missiles were produced -- three times less than under the Yeltsin regime, which was disparaged for being too soft on America. And the shelf life of 80 percent of Russia's mobile ICBMs expired long ago.

Belkovsky and his institute see the new "Topol-M" missile as a weapon "with a deterrent value of zero" -- because the Americans know where the missiles are stationed and are capable of striking the 100-ton projectile, along with its transporter, "with an accuracy of one centimeter" even as it is being driven out of its bunker. And the "Cudgel," the new "Bulava" ICBM, with which the military leadership plans to upgrade its nuclear fleet? Almost every test run so far has proven to be a failure. The SS-X-29, a top-secret weapon that features multiple warheads and, according to the Russians, is "invisible" because it can supposedly elude all missile defense systems, appears to have performed equally poorly to date. Only 12 vessels in the naval fleet, the core of Russia's nuclear shield, are currently equipped with ballistic missiles.

"In the 1990s, we managed to more or less maintain the strategic potential we inherited from the Soviet Union at the same level," says Belkovsky, smiling maliciously, "but since 2000, its reduction has progressed with the force of a landslide. We will lose our ability to contain our enemies at the nuclear level." Unless something changes under the new president, says Belkovsky, even Russia's conventional armed forces "will decline to the level of a medium-sized European nation in eight to 10 years, and we will not be able to keep up with countries like Turkey or Japan."

Better Big than Effective

Moscow political insiders consider Belkovsky's assumptions all too provocative, while some believe that he is hedging his bets and is in bed with Western intelligence agencies. But many other Russian military experts reach similar conclusions.

It is no coincidence that former President Putin was constantly pointing out that the US's military expenditures are 25 times greater than Russia's, says Alexei Arbatov, director of the Moscow Center for International Security. This, according to Arbatov, is why the Americans have 1.5 million men under arms and "a military of a quality that we must strive to emulate. However, we are only capable of funding a military with no more than 600,000 troops." According to Arbatov, the Russian military bureaucracy stands in the way of transforming the military into a smaller but more effective force. The military leadership's motto, says Arbatov, can be summed up this way: better to be big than effective.

The fact that Putin, throughout his eight years in office, never tired of celebrating the resurgence of the Russian army improved the Kremlin's standing among Russians (and brought the corrupt Russian weapons industry new orders). But Putin's propaganda backfired abroad, because it benefited Russia's rival, the United States.

Citing Moscow's efforts to modernize, President George W. Bush has asked the US Congress to approve $696 billion (€445 billion) in military spending for the next fiscal year. But the problem with his reasoning is that the Russian threat is nothing but a cheap excuse.

For years, the US Navy has been modernizing the Trident II ICBMs stationed on its submarines. The US military also plans to replace all 5,045 of its still-active nuclear warheads by 2012 -- an unbelievably costly program. It would be the first of its kind in 20 years, and critics question the need for such a program. And Washington's use of a missile to bring down a supposedly out-of-control spy satellite in February fueled suspicions, not just in Moscow, that the Americans have never truly abandoned their "Star Wars" program.

When a country sees itself as the sole remaining superpower, it expects to be able to act as it pleases. The United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which limited the installation of missile defense systems. The START-1 Treaty, which reduces the number of long-range nuclear weapons, expires next year, and another Russian-American treaty to reduce strategic offensive potential will expire in 2012. Moscow's proposal to replace START-1 with a new treaty has been met with no response from Washington so far. By the time these treaties have all expired, there will no longer be any means of monitoring the enemy's military activities, including joint inspections, which have helped reduce mutual distrust in the past.

But the Russians are stuck in a vicious circle. To force Washington to agree to new disarmament programs, the Russians must first convince the Americans to take them seriously. The problem is that Washington is no longer impressed by Moscow's deterrent potential. By the end of 2012, both powers will have between 1,700 and 2,200 nuclear warheads left in their arsenals. But the Russians know that by then no more than 1,000 of their warheads will be serviceable anymore.

The Russians Feel Duped

Naturally, a power that sees itself as increasingly vulnerable will interpret its rival's advances as a provocation. America's plans to install missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, both countries near Russia's western border, were met with consternation in Moscow, as were the NATO alliance's advances in Russia's direction. All across Europe, from the Black Sea to the Baltic, Moscow is now strategically cut off and marginalized.

Military experts in Moscow know full well that American missiles in Poland will be incapable of intercepting Russian ICBMs, in terms of both range and trajectory. The system presents "no direct threat whatsoever," says Arbatov, adding that claims to the contrary by Russian military leaders are blatant propaganda. But they are more than that. The Kremlin has been able to use the tiff over the US missile shield as welcome leverage to bolster its position in future arms control negotiations.

But why then is it withdrawing from an agreement like the CSE Treaty, which is designed to create more confidence in Europe, especially since Moscow is already "chronically incapable" of even exhausting the quotas for tanks and artillery "to which it is entitled under this treaty," as the Moscow Institute for National Strategy writes?

Because the Russians feel duped. And because NATO refuses to ratify the "modified" CSE Treaty because Moscow has not yet emptied a storage facility of obsolete weapons in the small Republic of Moldova. Almost 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, weapons in the new NATO member states are still counted toward the upper limits the CSE Treaty imposed on the now outdated "Eastern group of countries." Meanwhile, the Western alliance possesses a real advantage in terms of conventional armed forces.

The Russians call the situation "absurd," and even Western political scientists agree that it is time for NATO to change its position. Instead of seeking a negotiated solution, instead of reassuring the Kremlin that it is not out to contain or discriminate against Russia, critics say NATO has maneuvered itself into a corner. Moscow has not allowed any foreign military inspectors into the country since last December, and it has stopped notifying the rest of Europe about troop movements and military exercises.

'Our Leadership Has Ignored the Chinese Threat'

Spring came very late this year to Chebarkul, a small city on the southern edge of the Ural Mountains. In May, when the ice had barely thawed in the area's many lakes, local farmers, following old custom, set fire to the grass in and along the margins of their fields. Thick clouds of smoke soon settled over the gray birch forests, which had not even leafed out yet, traveling as far as the provincial capital Chelyabinsk, 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.

Andrei Chabola also had the fields burned, if only for the sake of his tank -- to ensure that he would have a clear field of vision for target practice and would not set the grass on fire with his ammunition.

Chabola is 37, a colonel and already the deputy commander of the 34th Russian Motorized Rifle Division. He is a Russian through and through, tall, with a heavy, slightly ambling gait and a strong nose in a red-cheeked face. He is standing in the crow's nest of the control tower facing a tank training ground, the Chebarkul barracks behind him. A number of T-72 tanks are in the process of attempting to cross ditches and bridges at 45 kilometers per hour (28 mph).

"Comrade Colonel, tank obstacle overcome, no incidents, oil temperature normal," reports one of the drivers, stuttering in excitement. "Splendid," the commander graciously replies. The 295th Cossack Guards Regiment is in training.

The men driving these tanks are no longer conscripts. The Russian army has already begun training professional soldiers in Chebarkul, part of a growing career military that already numbers 100,000 nationwide. This number is the result of a compromise between the army leadership and the Kremlin, which has been calling for more effective armed forces since the bitter lessons of the war in Chechnya.

No one at this base makes a secret of his conviction that the decision made at the top is a big mistake. "Contract soldiers are in it for the money, not the fatherland," a colonel mumbles. He prefers not be identified by name. "Their only motivation is their lack of prospects. They come from the worst of families."

With two men from division headquarters in Yekaterinburg visiting the base, hardly anyone is willing to voice such criticism out loud. The military and the political establishment are already at odds. In Moscow, the general chief of staff was dismissed in early June because he considered the red-line policies of the civilian defense minister, a former furniture dealer, to be insane and dangerous. A tank training school has also been closed in Chelyabinsk, and the profession of officer "is worth nothing these days," says the colonel. But the Russian army's age-old problems still haven't been resolved. According to the colonel, the families of 122,000 officers have no fixed place of residence, and a lieutenant would "go to the dogs in Moscow" with the 12,000 rubles, or about €322 ($500), he is paid.

But when the talk turns to the West and greasy Ukrainian vodka begins flowing in the officers' mess, the men at the Chebarkul base express their opinions loudly and with one voice. "The Americans are building up their arsenals; they're surrounding us in Georgia and Ukraine," shouts Chabola, the deputy division commander. "They want to destroy us." And doesn't it sound "like a declaration of war," another officer asks, when Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state, says publicly that the fact that Siberia, with its immense natural resources, belongs exclusively to Russia is one of the world's greatest injustices?

Although Albright repudiated the supposed quote long ago, the deeply humiliated Russian soul is unlikely to acknowledge her denials. But even the Russians know that the world, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, has become a different place. They know that the number of nuclear warheads a country possesses is no longer the deciding factor, that a surprise attack by NATO or a war between countries in Europe has become highly unlikely and that, for these reasons, simply counting tanks and howitzers hardly makes much sense anymore.

But what is the Russian military's mission, and for which potential conflicts must Russia be prepared? Even Colonel Chabola no longer believes that NATO is still the country's potential main adversary. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chabola served for two years in the eastern German town of Neustrelitz.

Moscow Obsessed with Its Arch-Rival

But then he was transferred to Blagoveshchensk, a city in the Amur region in the Russian Far East, directly on the Chinese border. "That's where more and more Chinese are buying their way into our territory," he says. "Siberia is big, and there are very few people who still live there today." To be exact, the population density on the Russian side of the border is two inhabitants per square kilometer, compared with 103 in the neighboring Chinese provinces.

The Chinese also came to Chebarkul last year, to take part in a maneuver called "Peace Mission 2007." In all, 1,400 soldiers and officers in the People's Army, as well as 300 airmen, had traveled 10,000 kilometers (6,211 miles) to this small Russian city in the Ural Mountains to spend nine days, together with Chabola's division, simulating the taking of a city occupied by "terrorists." The exercise was sponsored by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which was founded in 1996 to limit the American influence in Asia.

"The Chinese brought along their own combat technology, set up their own, separate tent city and videotaped everything, from every Russian tank to the soup pots in our canteen," says the colonel. "But whenever one of our men wanted to take a picture of them, their security people would step in right away."

This doesn't exactly sound like the friendship between the Soviet and Chinese people that both sides have insisted on in the past. Since border clashes erupted between China and the Soviet Union on the Ussuri River in 1969, Russian suspicions of Beijing have run deep. Chabola's officers are open about who they think Russia should truly fear: "the Chinese." One of the officers says that he read somewhere that Beijing has agreed not to pursue its territorial claims against Russia until 2015, "but what happens after that?"

These fears, as plainly as they are expressed by soldiers at this base, are merely worded somewhat more politely in the analyses of Moscow's political scientists. They write that the Kremlin and the military leadership still see the world through the prism of relations with the United States, and that Moscow is obsessed with a pathological desire for equality with its arch-rival and has no realistic understanding of future military dangers. According to the experts at the Institute for National Strategy, "the assumption that NATO is our main potential adversary seems rather doubtful today."

Russia should keep its eye on Beijing, says Stanislav Belkovsky, as he sits in the Akademiya Restaurant and broodingly stirs his cappuccino. According to Belkovsky, both China's propaganda and its military developments indicate that the country will expand primarily in the direction of Russia.

"What amazes us," says Belkovsky, the strategist who is so unpopular at home, "is that our leadership has simply ignored the Chinese threat until now."


Huffington Post: Russia Is Back

In the last year Russia has emerged as a major power in the international arena. Its consistent support for the repressive Islamic Republic of Iran that crushed the Green Movement in 2009 and the Assad dictatorship in Syria that has killed over 100,000 people in two years has reaped significant diplomatic rewards for Moscow. In the upcoming negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, its greatest coup came last month in getting Syria to move to the negotiating table and provide a detailed list of its chemical weapons. Even Egypt, which twice booted out Russia in the '90s, is now rumored to be considering importing Russian weapons and Russian aid in anger over the lack of American support for its military coup over the Islamists and cutting American aid, and has become a major player for trying to resolve seemingly intractable Middle East issues. The news is full of the words and sightings of the brilliant Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his somewhat mercurial President Vladimir Putin. Clearly Russia seems back. But, is this for real or only a temporary interlude?

Russian history provides a sense of deja vu. While major powers have risen and fallen over the centuries (Spain, Holland, France, Germany, Japan, England) or simply risen and gently begun to fall (United States), Russia has gone through the cycle several times. Its earlier incarnations as Kievan Rus, Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union were respectively destroyed by the Mongol occupation (1240-1480), the Russian Revolution (1917) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991) that created 15 new nations in place of the Soviet Union.

Russia's current emergence as a major power depends greatly upon the fate of rival powers. The Obama unwillingness to exert military power in the Middle East, the European Union's focus on economic problems and consensual decision making, the decline of Japan, the economic issues plaguing India and the preoccupation of rising China with its serious domestic problems (massive corruption, extreme social stratification, extensive air and water pollution) all have provided an opening for Russia.

Can Russia sustain its new role? Clearly in the next few years this is likely. But in the longer run Russia's own deep problems will preclude it from playing a strong international role.

Russia's $2 trillion economy is barely larger than the Canadian economy. Russia's economy is less than 3 percent of global GDP and only 14 percent the size of the American economy. Its agricultural sector is backward and its trade, dominated by exports of oil and gas, is the profile for a Third World, not First World, country. The World Bank rates Russia 112th in the world after Egypt and Pakistan in the ease of doing business while the Transparency Index puts Russia at 133rd in the world for corruption, barely eking out Nigeria (139th). The Russian military performance in Chechnya and Georgia was well below the standard of major powers. Despite the second largest array of scientists and engineers in the world, Russia has no Silicon Valley.

Demographically, several million well-educated Russians in the last 40 years have emigrated to the United States, Europe and Israel. The birth rate, while increasing, remains low. Average life expectancy of 68.6 years leaves Russia more than ten years behind that of life expectancy in the West. Politically, it is a semi-democracy with extensive corruption and state domination of the political system by the Silovik elite (secret police and military personnel). Internationally, while the United States and the Europeans have numerous foreign allies, the Russians can count on only a few small countries such as Cuba and Syria.

Thus, in 2020 or 2030, when China, India and Brazil likely become major powers, the United States rebounds under new leadership and the Middle East hopefully stabilizes, there will be precious little room for Russia to maneuver. Until then, by supporting the status quo, Russia will enjoy a few years until the wheel turns and it once more, as it has does so often in the past, loses much of its power in the world. But, until the inevitable demise, Lavrov and Putin will be center stage as the world once more transits to a new multi-polar order.


The National Interest: Russia's Military Is Back

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Vladimir Putin’s presidency has been his commitment to revitalizing Russia’s military. Putin, who has noted that Russia’s perceived weakness makes it vulnerable to external pressure and internal disruption, is pushing for increased funding to transform the Russian armed forces from the debilitated remnants inherited from the old Soviet superpower military machine into a smaller, but more modern, mobile, technologically advanced and capable twenty-first century force.

Earlier this year, in an address delivered on the day devoted to the “defenders of the Fatherland,” the Russian president proclaimed: “Ensuring Russia has a reliable military force is the priority of our state policy. Unfortunately, the present world is far from being peaceful and safe. Long obsolete conflicts are being joined by new, but no less difficult, ones. Instability is growing in vast regions of the world.”

This is not empty talk. The rhetoric has been matched by a concurrent allocation of resources; Russia is now engaged in its largest military buildup since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than two decades ago, with major increases in defense spending budgeted each year to 2020. Putin has pushed for this program even over the objections of some within the Kremlin who worried about costs and the possible negative impact on Russian prosperity; opposition to the expansion of military spending was one of the reasons the long-serving Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin left the cabinet two years ago.
The rest of the world is taking notice.

After years of thinking of Russia as “Upper Volta with missiles”—a nation which possessed a sizeable strategic nuclear stockpile but whose conventional forces had not particularly covered themselves with glory in their post-Soviet operations—Russian plans for military reform and rearmament have generated some concern, particularly in the U.S. national-security establishment, which had assumed that Russia would not be in a position to project much power across its borders. The resumption of bomber patrols in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the dispatch of task forces (particularly to the Caribbean), the 2008 campaign against Georgia, and the growing size and sophistication of the yearly joint maneuvers with the Chinese army and navy [3] have all worked to resurrect the image of Russia as a military threat. Justification for U.S. defense expenditures, which previously focused largely on increases in Chinese spending, now take into account Russia’s military buildup as well.

Perusing budget reports and position papers, Russian plans—spearheaded by the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry—certainly look impressive—and ominous. If, only a few years ago, the shipbuilding budget for the Russian navy was less than 10 percent of the U.S. Navy, the Russians have now closed the gap and the Russians are, in terms of budgetary outlays, spending about half of what will be allocated to the U.S. Navy for new ship construction. By 2020, the Russian army will be structured around combat-ready and easily deployable brigades, with a goal of having those forces be at least 70 percent equipped with next-generation weaponry and equipment. If all goes according to plan, the Russian military, by 2020, will return to a million active-duty personnel, backed up by 2300 new tanks, some 1200 new helicopters and planes, with a navy fielding fifty new surface ships and twenty-eight submarines, with one hundred new satellites designed to augment Russia’s communications, command and control capabilities. Putin has committed to spending some $755 billion over the next decade to fulfill these requirements.

And a growing number of Russians support the military buildup. A Levada Center poll found that 46 percent of Russians were in favor of increasing military spending even if it led to an economic slowdown (versus 41 percent opposed if defense increases caused economic hardship). This is in part due to a growing fear that Russia’s vast natural resource endowment, particularly in the Arctic, is vulnerable if the country lacks the means to protect it. Rogozin himself has continuously warned that without a modern military force, Russia is liable to be “looted” in the future.

Yet there is often a noticeable gap between declared Russian intentions and executable results. To what extent are these ambitious goals realizable?

Some observers have been prepared to write off these plans as Potemkin posturing—or new and creative ways to transfer more of Russia’s state funds into private hands through creative, corrupt schemes. Certainly, any expansion of the military budget represents enormous opportunities for graft. But it would be a mistake to dismiss the clear evidence that this buildup is restoring capabilities to the Russian armed forces that had been lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the last eighteen months, Russia conducted military exercises on a scale not seen since the end of the Cold War (such as the recently concluded military trials in the Far East). While still highlighting problems with command and control systems and with equipment, these nonetheless have also demonstrated that the reforms are starting to have an impact, and that Russia is capable of fielding a more mobile, effective force.

This concerns NATO a great deal. The North Atlantic alliance’s ability to conduct “out-of-area” operations, combined with the decision by most European countries to significantly reduce their defense spending, was predicated on an assumption that Russia no longer poses a threat. While no one is anticipating Russian tanks again poised to rush through the Fulda Gap, the American expectation that Europe could become a “security exporter” to other, more troubled parts of the world must now be revisited, since Russia is effectively reversing its “disarmed” condition of the 1990s upon which such calculations were based.

At the same time, however, the buildup will not be smooth sailing for the Russian government.

The first issue is whether Russia’s defense industry can actually produce the tools called for in the new defense strategy. Dmitry Gorenburg of the Center for Naval Analyses has noted that the plans released by the Ministry of Defense rely on overly optimistic assessments of how quickly Russian factories and shipyards can turn out new equipment—assuming that there will be no delays, technical or design problems, or bottlenecks. Design problems have already forced a two-year delay in implementing a state procurement order for thirty-seven Su-35 aircraft, which will not be fulfilled until 2016. Gorenburg and other experts argue that it is highly unlikely that the buildup will come close to meeting the stated targets.

Moreover, the Russian military-industrial complex is far from achieving a “zero-defects” standard when it comes to producing equipment. A string of missile failures (particularly with the Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile), delays in releasing new ships (or in getting the retrofitted aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov/Vikramaditya ready for service in the Indian Navy), and issues with quality control in vehicles have all raised questions about the reliability of Russian-made military products.

There is also real concern about the health of Russia’s research and development sector and whether or not Russia can indigenously produce many of the technologies needed to produce fifth-generation weapons systems. Former defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov strongly resisted pressure to simply order slightly-newer variants of older, Soviet-era equipment, even though Russian industries were lobbying for increased state orders, and sought to import defense items from abroad, including drones from Israel, the Iveco light multirole vehicles from Italy, and the Mistral amphibious assault ships from France, as a way to equip the Russian military with newer technologies that could not be produced by domestic sources. (Finding ways to license or reverse-engineer foreign military technology will be one of the Russian defense industry’s major tasks in the coming decade). Discontent with Serdyukov’s willingness to turn to foreign suppliers, however, was one of the contributing factors in his removal as defense minister last year.

Serdyukov also attempted to reform the manpower structure of the Russian military, again arousing significant opposition by his efforts to reduce the size of the officer corps (especially the number of general and flag officers) and to push the Russian military away from reliance on the draft towards the development of a volunteer, professional force. But announced plans to increase the size of the standing army run up against Russia’s demographic realities. Russia has a labor shortage; the recovery of the Russian economy has diminished the surplus pool of excess labor that in years past would have been absorbed by the draft. Between deferments and the increase in health problems among some segments of the Russian population, some 60 percent of the draft-age population of young males is now ineligible for service. Efforts to make contract service more appealing (following some of the reforms undertaken in the United States in the shift to an all-volunteer force back in the 1970s) have had some successes, but while the Russian military has announced it will create forty new brigades (to augment the some seventy brigades already in existence) by 2020, it must also deal with the reality that many existing units are 25 percent or so understrength. Shoigu must continue reforms of how the Russian military recruits (and treats) its personnel—the compulsory draft and the harsh conditions created by the so-called dedovshchina system (the hazing of new recruits by their non-commissioned officers and other superiors) do not lend themselves to creating a more professional military force capable of attracting and retaining volunteers. The amount that must be spent—on increased salaries, perks and incentives—to attract more Russians to contract service may also be more than what the defense establishment is willing to pay.

Much will depend on several factors. The first is whether the Russian treasury will hang on to the same expected level of funds from the export of oil and natural gas to support the military transformation; any major collapse in the price of energy imperils these plans. The second is whether the Russian defense industry can become more agile and adaptive. Will they use increases in state spending to successfully unveil new products? This will be important not only to fulfill Putin’s requirements but also to retain Russia’s traditionally lucrative overseas markets for sales of military goods. Russia will lose its competitive edge not only to American and European competitors but also to Chinese firms if it cannot keep pace with newer developments in defense technology. A third point is whether the Russian military can obtain the manpower it needs, whether by offering better terms of contract service or being permitted to recruit among Russian-speaking populations elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

But even if the Defense Ministry’s ambitious targets for how many personnel it expects to have under arms and the quantity of advanced equipment it hopes to field are not met in full, the Russian military is growing stronger. Russia may not be in a position to directly challenge the United States—whose spending still far outstrips that of Moscow’s—but given other regional trends, especially in Europe, it is restoring its conventional capabilities to back up claims to great power status. Whether the newfound confidence that results will make Russia more cooperative or obstructionist in the international arena is an open question.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a senior editor at The National Interest [4], is a professor of national-security studies at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are entirely his own.


Iranians Dial Up Presence in Syria

Shiite Militiamen From Across the Arab World Train at a Base Near Tehran to Do Battle in Syria

At a base near Tehran, Iranian forces are training Shiite militiamen from across the Arab world to do battle in Syria—showing the widening role of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria's bloody war.

The busloads of Shiite militiamen from Iraq, Syria and other Arab states have been arriving at the Iranian base in recent weeks, under cover of darkness, for instruction in urban warfare and the teachings of Iran's clerics, according to Iranian military figures and residents in the area. The fighters' mission: Fortify the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad against Sunni rebels, the U.S. and Israel.

Iran's widening role in Syria has helped Mr. Assad climb back from near-defeat in less than a year. The role of Iran's training camp for Shiite fighters hasn't previously been disclosed. The fighters "are told that the war in Syria is akin to [an] epic battle for Shiite Islam, and if they die they will be martyrs of the highest rank," says an Iranian military officer briefed on the training camp, which is 15 miles outside Tehran and called Amir Al-Momenin, or Commander of the Faithful.

The training of thousands of fighters is an outgrowth of Iran's decision last year to immerse itself in the Syrian civil war on behalf of its struggling ally, the Assad regime, in an effort to shift the balance of power in the Middle East. Syria's bloodshed is shaping into more than a civil war: It is now a proxy war among regional powers jockeying for influence in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions.

The coffin of a pro-Assad regime fighter, reportedly killed in rebel clashes, is draped with an Iraqi flag during a funeral south of Baghdad on Sunday. On one side of this proxy war is Mr. Assad, backed by Iran, Russia and Shiite militias. On the other side, the rebels, backed by Saudi Arabia, Arab states and the U.S.

This account of the expanded involvement in Syria of Iran's Revolutionary Guards is based on interviews with individuals with direct knowledge of the Guards' activities, including Syrian and Arab Shiite fighters, members of the Guards, high-ranking military personnel in Iran and an adviser to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant force and political party in Lebanon. The Guards, a military unit tasked with safeguarding Iran against external or internal threats, is also a powerful political and economic organization.

On Friday, Dutch television broadcast a video described as having been made by a Guards filmmaker in Syria that shows Guards members living in a school in the city of Aleppo and meeting with the local Syrian army commander. In the video, the Guards commander in Aleppo says he has been commanding Syrian Army units for a year and a half and that Iran is training fighters from around the Arab world to fight in Syria.

A senior official at Iran's mission to the United Nations says, "The Islamic Republic of Iran has no military involvement in Syria." The official, Alireza Miryousefi, says the main obstacle to peace in Syria is "the foreign financial and military support that Syrian rebels receive from some Arab and Western countries."

Just over a year ago, U.S. officials publicly described Mr. Assad's fall as imminent. That would have been a major blow for Iran: Syria is Iran's most important Arab ally and serves as a land bridge for Iranian arms and cash to Lebanese and Palestinian militias fighting Israel. Last summer, after Syrian rebels captured large sections of the important northern city of Aleppo, the senior command of the Revolutionary Guards sprang into action, according to U.S. officials and Guards members in Iran. Under its overseas commander, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the military unit established "operation rooms" to control cooperation between Tehran, Syrian forces and fighters from Hezbollah, Lebanon's most powerful military force and a creation of the Guards in the 1980s, according to U.S. and Arab officials and Guards members.

Two senior commanders who oversaw Tehran's 2009 crackdown on Iranian pro-democracy protesters—Generals Hossein Hamadani and Yadollah Javani—were deployed to Syria, according to U.S. officials and Guards members. Gen. Soleimani also sent top Guards personnel who had run counterinsurgency campaigns against Iran's own rebel movements, these people say.

Some Revolutionary Guards military advisers and counterinsurgency experts have gone into battle alongside Mr. Assad's forces and militias to secure key victories, say these officials. Iranian websites tied to the Guards have memorialized the names of Guards members described as Iranian "martyrs" killed in the Syrian civil war. The sites publish pictures of the funerals and report that Guards commanders sometimes give speeches.

The Guards and Gen. Soleimani also are mobilizing thousands of fighters from Arab countries, primarily Lebanon and Iraq, to fortify Mr. Assad's security forces, training them at camps like Amir Al-Momenin, say these officials.

The Amir Al-Momenin camp, home to the Guards' ballistic missile arsenal, is an important military installation. Shiite fighters are trained there in guerrilla warfare, field survival and the handling of heavy guns, according to Guards members and others who work in the camp. There are also daily religious classes.

The military wing of Lebanese Hezbollah has alone sent thousands of fighters into Syria in coordination with the Guards. Hezbollah commanders currently control important strategic areas reclaimed by the Damascus regime, including the city of Qusayr, some sections of the city of Homs and enclaves in the southern province of Deraa.

"Qasem Soleimani is now running Syria," says Col. Ahmed Hamada, an officer with the rebel Free Syrian Army, based in its command near the northern city of Aleppo. "Bashar is just his mayor."

U.S. officials say they don't have any specific information on the Amir Al-Momenin camp. But defense officials say it appears consistent with how the Guards trained Iraqi militants to fight U.S. and allied forces in Iraq. The Pentagon captured and interrogated hundreds of Shiite fighters during the Iraq war who described traveling to Iran for training.

Iranian and Syrian officials publicly acknowledge their cooperation in the war. Syria's foreign minister last month said the two countries are working out of the same "trench." But Mr. Assad and other senior Syrian officials say the Guards aren't running Syria's overall campaign. They call the allegations propaganda to justify U.S. military action.

"This is really funny," says Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad, regarding claims that Iran is helping to run the war. He calls them "rumors" intended to "deceive the public."

Iran also supports Syria's regime financially and politically. In July Iran offered Syria a $3.6 billion credit line to buy oil and food and in January another $1 billion credit line to import goods from Iran. Iranian officials have also defended Mr. Assad: After claims that his forces used chemical weapons, Iran blamed rebels for the attack.

The presence of Iran and its proxies inside Syria is emerging as a strategic challenge for President Barack Obama as he maintains the threat of military strikes against the Assad regime in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons last month. The White House says any U.S. military operations against Syria would be limited and focused solely on degrading Damascus's chemical-weapons capabilities.

Iranian and Lebanese individuals with knowledge of the Guards say the organization is debating whether it would retaliate against U.S. and Israeli targets stationed in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, either directly or through proxies, such as Hezbollah and Iraqi militias.

Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah describe the Syria conflict as a potential turning point in what they consider their struggle with the U.S. and its Mideast allies, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia. They also see their fight as a defense of Shiites against Sunni extremists. Iran, and its majority Shiite population, is locked in a regional battle for influence with the Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia. The conflict is also playing out in Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestinian territories.

"Syria is the front line of resistance," Gen. Soleimani recently told an elite Iranian government body, according to state media. "We will support Syria to the end."

Tehran's alliance with Syria began shortly after Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979. Damascus under Mr. Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, was the first Arab country to back Iran's revolutionary government. Tehran's ayatollahs, in turn, recognized the Assad family's Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, as a legitimate branch of their religion.

The Guards' influence in Damascus grew significantly after Bashar al-Assad took power in 2000, according to current and former Syrian military officers. Operations between the Guards and Syria's security forces started to grow more integrated, with Iranian advisers basing themselves in Syria. Iran's government opened weapons factories and religious centers in Syria as well.

"Bashar relied on Iran in a way his father never did," says Col. Hamada, the FSA commander, who defected from the Syrian military last year.

During the first year of Syria's war, Tehran's involvement was relatively limited, according to U.S., Arab and Iranian military officials. Iranian experts in electronic surveillance and crowd control, schooled during Tehran's 2009 crackdown on democracy protesters, were dispatched to Damascus. However, no Revolutionary Guards or Hezbollah fighters were yet engaged in significant fighting.

This began shifting in mid-2012 as Iran tracked rebel fighters moving toward Aleppo, these officials say. Opposition forces also assassinated Mr. Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, a powerful figure in Syria's security forces. Gen. Soleimani, fearing the Damascus regime's collapse, dispatched Guards commanders skilled in urban warfare to help coordinate Mr. Assad's war effort.

Iran's widening military presence inside Syria showed itself in August 2012. That month, Free Syrian Army rebels kidnapped 48 Guards commanders and personnel in Damascus. Iran's government first called the men Shiite pilgrims, then later described them as "retired" Revolutionary Guards officers.

Last summer, the Guards began deploying fighters for the first time, according to Iranian military officials and Syrian rebels. The majority weren't sent to fight, but to repair equipment, guard military installations and fill in for defecting Syrian units.

FSA commanders possess identification cards and dog tags of Iranian soldiers they say they captured or killed in battle. "Assad asked for them to be on the ground," says Gen. Yahya Bittar, who leads the FSA's overall intelligence operations. "The Iranians are now part of Syria's command-and-control structure."

The Revolutionary Guards and its allies deployed on a wider scale this spring as Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar increased their shipments of arms and cash to Syrian rebels, according to Syrian government officials and Hezbollah. The U.S. believes some of the opposition's militias have al Qaeda ties.

Tehran has been particularly focused on fortifying western and central Syria, regions which control access into Lebanon and Hezbollah, according to U.S. and Arab officials and Syrian rebels. This May, Hezbollah sent thousands of its elite fighters into the central Syrian city of Qusayr and almost single-handedly pushed out the rebels that threatened their supply lines.

The battle was viewed in Washington as a potential turning point in Syria's civil war. The Guards and Gen. Soleimani coordinated with Hezbollah in prosecuting this fight, sending military advisers to the city, according to rebel fighters and a journalist who saw them there.

Today, Hezbollah independently runs Qusayr, and its commanders are in charge of maintaining discipline among Mr. Assad's forces. The Lebanese militia has established an operations base in the town's northern section that is off-limits to most Syrian civilians. A Hezbollah commander, who identified himself as Abu Ahmed, patrolled Qusayr one recent afternoon with fighters in a pickup truck. He said only regime loyalists are allowed back into the city, and that they must be vetted by him personally.

Much of the city remains deserted and badly damaged. Dueling Sunni-Shiite graffiti still covers many walls, sometimes referencing epic battles dating from the seventh century. Hezbollah, and Syrian militias under its command, have also been leading the Assad regime's campaign to retake Homs, a strategic province bisecting the country. In recent weeks, they have pushed out rebels from most of the capital, Homs city.

"We did the heavy lifting," said a 19-year-old Syrian militiaman, identified as Abdullah, who fought under a Hezbollah commander in a district called Khalidiya, this August. "If we take back all of Homs, the revolution is going to be completely finished."

The Revolutionary Guards, meanwhile, continue to mobilize thousands of Shiite fighters to battle the largely Sunni rebels being armed, trained and funded by Saudi Arabia and Iran's other rivals, say Iranian officials and Arab intelligence officers. At the Amir Al-Momenin base near Tehran, Shiites from Yemen and Saudi Arabia are being trained for fighting inside Syria, say Guards officials and Iranian villagers who live near the facility.

Dozens of buses with tinted windows carrying the men have been arriving nightly at the base, which is surrounded by farmlands, they say. Many enter Iran under the pretext of being religious pilgrims, then are sent to Syria via Iraq.

In addition, members of two Iraqi militias, Kata'ib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, said in interviews near Damascus that they have been deployed into Syria in greater numbers over the past year to help stabilize Mr. Assad's rule. Both groups were formed by the Guards during the Iraq war and carried out some of the most sophisticated and lethal attacks on U.S. troops, American and Iraqi defense officials say.

"Compared with the aid and support that Arab countries are giving to opposition groups, we haven't done much in Syria," said the Guards' commander-in-chief, Gen. Muhammad Ali Jaffari, last year, according to official Iranian media. "We've only given our advice, shared our experiences and given guidance."


Saudi black op team behind Damascus chem weapons attack – diplomatic sources

The August chemical weapons attack in the Syrian capital’s suburbs was done by a Saudi Arabian black operations team, Russian diplomatic sources have told a Russian news agency.
“Based on data from a number of sources a picture can be pieced together. The criminal provocation in Eastern Ghouta was done by a black op team that the Saudi’s sent through Jordan and which acted with support of the Liwa Al-Islam group,” a source in the diplomatic circles told Interfax.

The attack and its consequences had a huge impact on the Syrian situation, another source said.
“Syrians of various political views, including some opposition fighters, are seeking to inform diplomats and members of international organizations working in Syria what they know about the crime and the forces which inspired it,” he told the agency.

Liwa Al-Islam is an Islamist armed group operating near Damascus headed by the son of a Saudi-based Salafi cleric. The group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a secret governmental meeting in Damascus in July 2012 that killed a number of top Syrian officials, including Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha, his deputy Asef Shawkat, and Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani.

The allegations mirror a number of earlier reports, which pointed to Saudi Arabia as the mastermind behind the sarin gas attack, which almost led to US military action against Syrian government. Proponents of this scenario say intelligence services in Riyadh needed a false flag operation to provoke an American attack in Syria, which would tip the balance in favor of the armed opposition supported by Saudi Arabia.

While the majority of Western countries say they are certain that the Syrian government carries the blame for the attack, Damascus maintains that the rebel forces must be behind it. Russia shares this conviction too, calling the incident a provocation.

Back in March US President Barack Obama said the use of chemical weapons would be a ‘red line’ for the Syrian government, crossing which would prompt America’s intervention into the bloody Syrian conflict. After the August attack, which the US believes has claimed some 1,400 lives, the president was called on his words by many supporters of the Syrian opposition both at home and outside of the US.

Earlier a UN report concluded that nerve gas had indeed been used “on a large scale” in August. However, the consistency of the findings is under question. According to the report, none of the environmental samples the UN collected in Western Ghouta tested positive for Sarin, while biomedical samples, taken from affected people, all tested positive. RT’s Worlds Apart host Oksana Boyko has spoken to Angela Kane, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, who has just returned from Damascus.
“If you read the report, the report comes out and says sarin was used. It is also a matter that maybe in the environmental samples they took there was no sarin found, but that does not mean that sarin was not used,” Kane told Worlds Apart. 

“It was there in the human samples. If they had more time to go around they would have found different samples. It was a limited collection that they did, but the collection was conclusive. I think, it was very comprehensive, therefore, we shared all of those samples with the Syrian government.”

At the same time, there have been concerns voiced that witnesses the UN team spoke to were brought by the opposition from different regions and did not live in Western Ghouta.
“I think it is not possible to say ‘We brought them all from a different area.’ To my mind that is inconceivable. You can come up with the theory, but this does not mean the theory is correct,” Kane said. 

When asked if the UN team had requested examining dead bodies to take more samples, Kane said they had not, because “there was no need to exhume dead bodies” as victims’ accounts “are much more powerful.”
“Dead body can’t tell you anything. The dead body can’t tell how the person dies, how the person was affected, how the person suffered. A living person can tell you that,”  Kane said.

After the UN team left Syria on Monday, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) experts arrived in the country. They are currently making preparations for the disarmament. The OPCW team will start conducting tests on October 7.


Imagining a Remapped Middle East

The map of the modern Middle East, a political and economic pivot in the international order, is in tatters. Syria’s ruinous war is the turning point. But the centrifugal forces of rival beliefs, tribes and ethnicities — empowered by unintended consequences of the Arab Spring — are also pulling apart a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago and defended by Arab autocrats ever since.

A different map would be a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.

Syria’s prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East. But it is a complex country, rich in religious and ethnic variety, and therefore fragile. After independence, Syria reeled from more than a half-dozen coups between 1949 and 1970, when the Assad dynasty seized full control. Now, after 30 months of bloodletting, diversity has turned deadly, killing both people and country. Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.

Syria’s unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom.

The battlefields are merging,” the United Nations envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council in July. “Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority — notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-government protests — may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan. Iraq’s south would effectively become Shiitestan, although separation is not likely to be that neat.

The dominant political parties in the two Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq have longstanding differences, but when the border opened in August, more than 50,000 Syrian Kurds fled to Iraqi Kurdistan, creating new cross-border communities. Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, has also announced plans for the first summit meeting of 600 Kurds from some 40 parties in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran this fall.

“We feel that conditions are now appropriate,” said Kamal Kirkuki, the former speaker of Iraq’s Kurdish Parliament, about trying to mobilize disparate Kurds to discuss their future.

Outsiders have long gamed the Middle East: What if the Ottoman Empire hadn’t been divvied up by outsiders after World War I? Or the map reflected geographic realities or identities? Reconfigured maps infuriated Arabs who suspected foreign plots to divide and weaken them all over again.

I had never been a map gamer. I lived in Lebanon during the 15-year civil war and thought it could survive splits among 18 sects. I also didn’t think Iraq would splinter during its nastiest fighting in 2006-7. But twin triggers changed my thinking.

The Arab Spring was the kindling. Arabs not only wanted to oust dictators, they wanted power decentralized to reflect local identity or rights to resources. Syria then set the match to itself and conventional wisdom about geography.

New borders may be drawn in disparate, and potentially chaotic, ways. Countries could unravel through phases of federation, soft partition or autonomy, ending in geographic divorce.

Libya’s uprising was partly against the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But it also reflected Benghazi’s quest to separate from domineering Tripoli. Tribes differ. Tripolitanians look to the Maghreb, or western Islamic world, while Cyrenaicans look to the Mashriq, or eastern Islamic world. Plus, the capital hogs oil revenues, even though the east supplies 80 percent of it.

So Libya could devolve into two or even three pieces. The Cyrenaica National Council in eastern Libya declared autonomy in June. Southern Fezzan also has separate tribal and geographic identities. More Sahelian than North African in culture, tribes and identity, it could split off too.

Other states lacking a sense of common good or identity, the political glue, are vulnerable, particularly budding democracies straining to accommodate disparate constituencies with new expectations.

After ousting its longtime dictator, Yemen launched a fitful National Dialogue in March to hash out a new order. But in a country long rived by a northern rebellion and southern separatists, enduring success may depend on embracing the idea of federation — and promises to let the south vote on secession.

A new map might get even more intriguing. Arabs are abuzz about part of South Yemen’s eventually merging with Saudi Arabia. Most southerners are Sunni, as is most of Saudi Arabia; many have family in the kingdom. The poorest Arabs, Yemenis could benefit from Saudi riches. In turn, Saudis would gain access to the Arabian Sea for trade, diminishing dependence on the Persian Gulf and fear of Iran’s virtual control over the Strait of Hormuz.

The most fantastical ideas involve the Balkanization of Saudi Arabia, already in the third iteration of a country that merged rival tribes by force under rigid Wahhabi Islam. The kingdom seems physically secured in glass high-rises and eight-lane highways, but it still has disparate cultures, distinct tribal identities and tensions between a Sunni majority and a Shiite minority, notably in the oil-rich east.

Social strains are deepening from rampant corruption and about 30 percent youth unemployment in a self-indulgent country that may have to import oil in two decades. As the monarchy moves to a new generation, the House of Saud will almost have to create a new ruling family from thousands of princes, a contentious process.

Other changes may be de facto. City-states — oases of multiple identities like Baghdad, well-armed enclaves like Misurata, Libya’s third largest city, or homogeneous zones like Jabal al-Druze in southern Syria — might make a comeback, even if technically inside countries.

A century after the British adventurer-cum-diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and the French envoy François Georges-Picot carved up the region, nationalism is rooted in varying degrees in countries initially defined by imperial tastes and trade rather than logic. The question now is whether nationalism is stronger than older sources of identity during conflict or tough transitions.

Syrians like to claim that nationalism will prevail whenever the war ends. The problem is that Syria now has multiple nationalisms. “Cleansing” is a growing problem. And guns exacerbate differences. Sectarian strife generally is now territorializing the split between Sunnis and Shiites in ways not seen in the modern Middle East.  

But other factors could keep the Middle East from fraying — good governance, decent services and security, fair justice, jobs and equitably shared resources, or even a common enemy. Countries are effectively mini-alliances. But those factors seem far off in the Arab world. And the longer Syria’s war rages on, the greater the instability and dangers for the whole region.

Robin Wright is the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World” and a distinguished scholar at the United States Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center.


Imperial ‘Exemptionalism’

Just as it seemed the Empire was going to embark on yet another evil little war, a miracle happened on the road to Damascus. A sensible solution proposed by Moscow caught the Washington warmongers off-guard, and removed their justification for war. Between that and the overwhelming lack of popular support, the Empire backed down – for now.

Rage Against Russia

In an unprecedented move, the New York Times published an op-ed by Russian president Vladimir Putin, on September 12. Wishing to address Americans directly, Putin laid out a case for international law, reason and caution, and not allying with Al-Qaeda.

While the response of the general public was overwhelmingly positive, the establishment frothed in rage. The Imperial establishment has long been disdainful of the “uppity” Russians not knowing their place in the brave new world. Putin’s chiding about American “exceptionalism” – mentioned in Obama’s speech the night before – incensed them even further.

What the Russian president was objecting to wasn’t so much the notion of Americans seeing themselves as “exceptional” – after all, what nation does not? – but taking this to mean they are exempt from rules they expect everyone else to follow. The last time a world power construed exceptionalism in this fashion, over 20 million Russians died before that misunderstanding was buried by the rubble of Berlin.

The point of Putin’s persuasion was clearly lost on the Beltway bombers. Republican Senator John McCain, who never saw a war he didn’t like, went so far as to publish an anti-Putin rant in the Communist daily Pravda a week later.

Unlike Americans, Russians seem to have learned from history. McCain’s words ring hollow after the decade-long betrayal of Russian trust following Gorbachev’s move to end the Cold War, during which Russia was looted by a pro-American cabal of oligarchs, and humiliated by a belligerent and expanding NATO. The 1999 attack on Serbia was the breaking point, prompting the Russian security establishment to oust the Yeltsin regime in what was effectively a palace coup. Yet despite U.S. officials and US-funded “activists” in Russia repeatedly disputing Putin’s legitimacy, the Russian electoral process is far more transparent and accountable than its American counterpart, and Putin enjoys margins of support US presidents can only envy.

For all that, Russia has never been hostile to the US – only to the notion of a world-spanning absolute Empire the US seems to have become. Demonizing Putin and Russia has actually harmed America’s national security, as Stephen Cohen recently argued. Except the Empire doesn’t care about national interests any more: white-knighting around the world is the default foreign policy in Washington.

A Shining Example

Though Bosnia in 1995 was the pilot episode for “bombs for peace,” the 1999 attack on Serbia is usually considered the first true “humanitarian” intervention. Everything that Putin’s op-ed listed as wrong and irresponsible in Empire’s approach to Syria applies to the Kosovo War: wanton violation of international law, support for terrorism and jihad, false-flag operations and propaganda.

Nor did any of that stop in 1999, when the war officially ended. Just the other day, there was an attack on a EU police patrol, in the north of the occupied province (declared an independent state in 2008). The media quickly implied that the culprits were local Serbs, who have resisted attempts to subject them to Albanian authority.

The particular spot where the EU police was ambushed, however, is in an area controlled by ethnic Albanians, and has already been the site of three attempted false-flag attacks. The last one, in April 2003, failed spectacularly when two terrorists (then members of the NATO-sponsored “Kosovo Protection Corps”) died as their demolition charge went off prematurely.

In all likelihood, the latest false-flag attack is another attempt to brute-force the local Serbs into submitting. Under the terms of the “agreement” between Belgrade and the Albanian “government” in Pristina, existing Serbian institutions in the province are to be dismantled and replaced by new local governments, elected on November 3 under “Kosovian” laws. Belgrade has been pushing hard, but the local Serbs have largely refused to go along.

Altered Awareness

Even as such staunch Imperial allies as the UK withdrew support for a war in Syria, the Balkans client states supported it loudly. One could understand Hashim Thaci, the “Prime Minister of Kosovo,” backing a scenario that put him in power; or Zlatko Lagumdzija, the Muslim foreign minister of Bosnia, joining his Turkish colleague in hyperbolic comparisons of Syria with the Bosnian War. NATO member Croatia has already taken part in the weapons airlift to the Syrian rebels with enthusiasm. But what possessed the regime in Montenegro to clamor for war?

For its part, the occupied Serbia has declared it would “await guidance from Brussels” on what to think about the whole affair. Such behavior is part of the government’s program to “alter the awareness” of the general public into something more acceptable to Brussels and Washington.

After his deputy Aleksandar Vucic went on a media blitz back in August, PM Ivica Dacic followed suit with a recent op-ed in Financial Times (aimed at Western elites, not the masses, since it ended up behind a paywall). In it he waxed pathetic about his “historical” mission to change Serbia into a “normal” country – by giving up land, culture and identity in exchange for a Bright European Future. That such a “future” is most likely to resemble the present of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. is a thought Dacic and his regime absolutely refuse to acknowledge, much less entertain.

To them, it is a heresy, crimethink of the worst kind, to even imagine an alternative to unconditional surrender to the EU and the Empire. They’ve managed to achieve the same level of reality denial as their masters in Brussels and Washington.

A Dangerous Narrative

It is precisely this internalization of Imperial discourse – coming to love Big Brother, to borrow Orwell’s phrase – that enables Empire’s delusions about the world to continue, though. After all, how can they be delusions if someone else believes them as well?

Thus fortified, Washington warmongers are trying to shoehorn Syria into the Balkans narrative, even though in reality a Syrian war would be far more destructive and dangerous, not just to the region but to America itself.

Particularly cynical is the claim that they are doing this to “save civilians.” In 1999, NATO was fully aware that intervention would endanger the civilians in Kosovo more, yet they attacked anyway. Even activists sympathetic to the Empire now hope there won’t be a war against Syria, and don’t have fond memories on being on the receiving end of “democratic ordnance.”

One of the reasons for the (un)civil war in Syria in the first place is that the Empire has already intervened there, from the very beginning. Just like in Kosovo, however, its proxies are being soundly thrashed by the government, so an escalation to overt war is a way to save their hides, as well as Empire’s prestige.

Empire’s blundering on Syria has been compared to that of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm on the eve of WW1. Perhaps that explains the ongoing push to rehabilitate Berlin and Vienna – while shifting the blame onto Russia and Serbia – as the centenary of the Great War approaches.

Reality is not something that can be changed with enough wishful thinking. There is no such thing as a humanitarian bomb. Those who consider themselves above the law aren’t police, but rogues. So “exceptional” is the establishment in Washington, these simple truths continue to elude them.


"Yankee Go Home": Venezuela Expels 3 U.S. Embassy Officials

Stepping up hostilities with the United States, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela expelled the top American diplomat and two other embassy officials from the country on Monday, accusing them of supporting plots to sabotage the country’s electrical grid and the economy.

“Get out of Venezuela! Yankee go home!” Mr. Maduro shouted as he announced the expulsions at a military event to commemorate the bicentennial of a battle in Venezuela’s war of independence.

“We have detected a group of officials of the United States Embassy in Caracas, in Venezuela, and we have been tracking them for several months,” Mr. Maduro said during a live television broadcast. 

“These officials spend their time meeting with the Venezuelan extreme right wing, financing them and encouraging them to take actions to sabotage the electrical system, to sabotage the Venezuelan economy.”

The expulsions were the latest diplomatic swipe at Washington by Mr. Maduro since he took over for the country’s longtime president, Hugo Chávez, who died in March. Late last year, as Mr. Chávez grew increasingly ill, the two nations held informal talks aimed at improving the long-strained relations between them, and there was some optimism on the American side that Mr. Maduro, a former foreign minister sometimes described as pragmatic, would be amenable to a thaw.

But it quickly became clear that Mr. Maduro intended to stick closely to Mr. Chávez’s example, painting the United States as an imperialist aggressor out to undermine his government. Early on, he accused the Obama administration of plotting against him, and hours before he announced the death of Mr. Chávez on March 5, he kicked out two American military attachés, saying they had tried to recruit Venezuelan military personnel to conspire against the government.

The diplomats expelled on Monday included Kelly Keiderling, the chargé d’affaires, who runs the embassy in the absence of an ambassador here. The United States has not had an ambassador in Caracas since 2010, when Mr. Chávez refused to accept the new one proposed by Washington because of remarks that Mr. Chávez said were disrespectful.

Mr. Chávez had already expelled the American ambassador, Patrick Duddy, in 2008, saying that his government had discovered an American-supported plot by military officers to topple him. Mr. Duddy was later allowed to return to Caracas.

Another one of the diplomats expelled on Monday was Elizabeth Hoffman, an official in the embassy’s political section, whom Mr. Maduro had publicly accused at least as early as April of meeting with opposition figures to plot sabotage of the electrical system. He said at the time that he had proof but took no action until Monday. The third official being expelled is David Moo, the vice consul.

Foreign Minister Elías Jaua later said on television that the evidence against the American diplomats included meetings held in recent weeks with democracy advocates, union members and elected officials belonging to the political opposition, whom he accused of planning to destabilize the country. 

Mr. Maduro said the officials had 48 hours to leave the country.

“We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government,” the American Embassy said in a statement. It called the meetings held by the officials “normal diplomatic engagements,” adding, “We maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum.”

Ever since he was elected by a narrow margin in April in a special election to replace Mr. Chávez, Mr. Maduro has struggled with intense economic woes and a deeply divided populace. He has often accused plotters and saboteurs of being responsible for a variety of the nation’s ills, including electrical blackouts and the deadly explosion at the national oil company’s enormous Amuay refinery.

“He needs diversions and distractions,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington. “The situation is so dire in Venezuela that he needs to find a scapegoat, and it’s convenient and politically so tempting to kick out U.S. diplomats.”

But Mr. Shifter said that describing the United States as the source of the country’s problems might not have the same effect it did for Mr. Chávez, who was beloved by many of his supporters. Mr. Maduro does not inspire nearly the same devotion, and the country’s economic woes are getting worse, with inflation over 45 percent a year and shortages of many basic foods and goods, including toilet paper.

“I doubt that it has the resonance it used to have,” Mr. Shifter said of the diplomatic expulsions. 

Mockery, Laughter Around the World as US Government Shuts Down

For the reigning super power and the largest economy in the world, it's an egg-on-your-face moment. For the first time in 17 years, the U.S. government shut down as its democratically-elected politicians could not come to an agreement over a spending bill. This stalemate closed non-essential services, sending 800,000 federal workers home without pay as lawmakers bickered about who was to blame. The shutdown could cost the economy about $1 billion a week. The clash between Republicans and Democrats rages over the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the signature health care law of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Foreign media found the situation "bizarre."

Across the Atlantic, France's Le Monde daily reports that the U.S. shutdown means almost a million government employees will be -- temporarily -- laid off. The paper says that the drastic measure came after days of "parliamentary ping-pong" between the Senate, with its Democrat majority, and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

Le Monde's Alain Faujas notes that the last government shutdown, in 1995-1996, cost $1.4 billion ($2 billion by today's standards), and saw the tide of public opinion turn against the Republicans, who voters blamed for the chaos. Months later -- thanks largely to the Republicans' blunder, Bill Clinton was comfortably re-elected. Faujas questions whether history could repeat itself, but observes that in 2011 when a shutdown was threatened a Washington Post survey found that voters blamed the president and the Republicans equally.

For the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian, Dan Roberts describes the hours before the shutdown as being "as bizarre as they are unpredictable." He says the final nine hours "could well have been scripted by Hollywood."

"Amid stacks of pizza boxes and rumours of heavy drinking, both chambers settled in for a night of votes that were no longer designed to avert a shutdown, but to decide which side would get the blame for causing it," he suggests.

The Times newspaper refers to "an extraordinary day of political theatrics and high emotions."

World 'scratching its head'

Germany's Der Spiegel weekly reports that the world's most powerful government has ground to a halt -- in theory, at least, since although the deadline has passed, senators and congressmen are still meeting, still hoping for a deal, an agreement in "injury time," meaning that the shutdown would last only hours, rather than days or weeks, as was the case last time.

The magazine points out a three to four-week shutdown could cost as much as $55 billion, that's on a par with the economic impact of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.
Perhaps surprisingly, Der Spiegel says, the world's markets have not reacted with panic. Thus far global finance markets have shown little impact: In Japan, the Nikkei closed higher, and as trading opened in Europe the Dax and EuroStoxx indexes were only slightly down.

The magazine's Carsten Volkery puts this down to the fact that the government shutdown came as no surprise, and had been priced in to the markets for weeks. In any case, Volkery says, most observers are expecting a speedy resolution to the crisis. In Malaysia, the Awani website carries the headline "U.S. shutdown leaves the world scratching its head." Kevin Sullivan writes that the world watched the looming showdown "with a little anxiety and a lot of dismay, and some people had trouble suppressing smirks."

Ahead of the shutdown, The Australian wrote that "misplaced fiscal brinkmanship" in Washington doesn't "say much for the budgetary processes in the world's largest economy."

"The irresponsible way in which Congress, particularly Republicans, have played the politics of partisan petulance and obstruction in their determination to defund or at least delay President Barack Obama's healthcare law, known as Obamacare, does them little credit," its editorial continues.

Russia Today's website speculates that the shutdown may force President Obama to postpone a planned trip to Balu to sign an important trans-Pacific trade deal. "While he could still go if no deal is done by then, it could be a gift for his Republican opponents if Obama was seen to be jetting off to a tropical paradise at a time when federal employees were sent home without pay."


Niall Ferguson: The Shutdown Is a Sideshow. Debt Is the Threat

In the words of a veteran investor, watching the U.S. bond market today is like sitting in a packed theater and smelling smoke. You look around for signs of other nervous sniffers. But everyone else seems oblivious.

Yes, the federal government shut down this week. Yes, we are just two weeks away from the point when the Treasury secretary says he will run out of cash if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Yes, bond king Bill Gross has been on TV warning that a default by the government would be "catastrophic." Yet the yield on a 10-year Treasury note has fallen slightly over the past month (though short-term T-bill rates ticked up this week).

Part of the reason people aren't rushing for the exits is that the comedy they are watching is so horribly fascinating. In his vain attempt to stop the Senate striking out the defunding of ObamaCare from the last version of the continuing resolution, freshman Sen. Ted Cruz managed to quote Doctor Seuss while re-enacting a scene from the classic movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Meanwhile, President Obama has become the Hamlet of the West Wing: One minute he's for bombing Syria, the next he's not; one minute Larry Summers will succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, the next he won't; one minute the president is jetting off to Asia, the next he's not. To be in charge, or not to be in charge: that is indeed the question.

According to conventional wisdom, the key to what is going on is a Republican Party increasingly at the mercy of the tea party. I agree that it was politically inept to seek to block ObamaCare by these means. This is not the way to win back the White House and Senate. But responsibility also lies with the president, who has consistently failed to understand that a key function of the head of the executive branch is to twist the arms of legislators on both sides. It was not the tea party that shot down Mr. Summers's nomination as Fed chairman; it was Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the new face of the American left.

Yet, entertaining as all this political drama may seem, the theater itself is indeed burning. For the 
fiscal position of the federal government is in fact much worse today than is commonly realized. As anyone can see who reads the most recent long-term budget outlook—published last month by the Congressional Budget Office, and almost entirely ignored by the media—the question is not if the United States will default but when and on which of its rapidly spiraling liabilities.

True, the federal deficit has fallen to about 4% of GDP this year from its 10% peak in 2009. The bad news is that, even as discretionary expenditure has been slashed, spending on entitlements has continued to rise—and will rise inexorably in the coming years, driving the deficit back up above 6% by 2038.

A very striking feature of the latest CBO report is how much worse it is than last year's. A year ago, the CBO's extended baseline series for the federal debt in public hands projected a figure of 52% of GDP by 2038. That figure has very nearly doubled to 100%. A year ago the debt was supposed to glide down to zero by the 2070s. This year's long-run projection for 2076 is above 200%. In this devastating reassessment, a crucial role is played here by the more realistic growth assumptions used this year.

As the CBO noted last month in its 2013 "Long-Term Budget Outlook," echoing the work of Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff: "The increase in debt relative to the size of the economy, combined with an increase in marginal tax rates (the rates that would apply to an additional dollar of income), would reduce output and raise interest rates relative to the benchmark economic projections that CBO used in producing the extended baseline. Those economic differences would lead to lower federal revenues and higher interest payments. . . .

"At some point, investors would begin to doubt the government's willingness or ability to pay U.S. debt obligations, making it more difficult or more expensive for the government to borrow money. Moreover, even before that point was reached, the high and rising amount of debt that CBO projects under the extended baseline would have significant negative consequences for both the economy and the federal budget."

Just how negative becomes clear when one considers the full range of scenarios offered by CBO for the period from now until 2038. Only in three of 13 scenarios—two of which imagine politically highly unlikely spending cuts or tax hikes—does the debt shrink from its current level of 73% of GDP. In all the others it increases to between 77% and 190% of GDP. It should be noted that this last figure can reasonably be considered among the more likely of the scenarios, since it combines the alternative fiscal scenario, in which politicians in Washington behave as they have done in the past, raising spending more than taxation.

Only a fantasist can seriously believe "this is not a crisis." The fiscal arithmetic of excessive federal borrowing is nasty even when relatively optimistic assumptions are made about growth and interest rates. Currently, net interest payments on the federal debt are around 8% of GDP. But under the CBO's extended baseline scenario, that share could rise to 20% by 2026, 30% by 2049, and 40% by 2072. By 2088, the last date for which the CBO now offers projections, interest payments would—absent any changes in current policy—absorb just under half of all tax revenues. That is another way of saying that policy is unsustainable.

The question is what on earth can be done to prevent the debt explosion. The CBO has a clear answer: "[B]ringing debt back down to 39 percent of GDP in 2038—as it was at the end of 2008—would require a combination of increases in revenues and cuts in noninterest spending (relative to current law) totaling 2 percent of GDP for the next 25 years. . . .

"If those changes came entirely from revenues, they would represent an increase of 11 percent relative to the amount of revenues projected for the 2014-2038 period; if the changes came entirely from spending, they would represent a cut of 10½ percent in noninterest spending from the amount projected for that period."

Anyone watching this week's political shenanigans in Washington will grasp at once the tiny probability of tax hikes or spending cuts on this scale.

It should now be clear that what we are watching in Washington is not a comedy but a game of Russian roulette with the federal government's creditworthiness. So long as the Federal Reserve continues with the policies of near-zero interest rates and quantitative easing, the gun will likely continue to fire blanks. After all, Fed purchases of Treasurys, if continued at their current level until the end of the year, will account for three quarters of new government borrowing.

But the mere prospect of a taper, beginning in late May, was already enough to raise long-term interest rates by more than 100 basis points. Fact (according to data in the latest "Economic Report of the President"): More than half the federal debt in public hands is held by foreigners. Fact: Just under a third of the debt has a maturity of less than a year.

Hey, does anyone else smell something burning?

Mr. Ferguson's latest book is "The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die" (Penguin Press, 2013).


Losing faith: Global financiers look to de-Americanize

A US debt default could hit on Thursday, and world leaders are second guessing the dominant role America plays in finance. Regardless of the final decision in Washington, confidence and credibility in the US has already eroded. In an editorial published by the Chinese state-owned press agency Xinhua, a columnist says the US economy has ‘failed’ and put many countries who hold state assets in dollars, at risk.

“To that end, several corner stones should be laid to underpin a de-Americanized world,” the editorial read.

Last week China, the biggest US creditor, started to make preparations for a technical default on loans. The European Central Bank and the People’s Bank of China (PBC) have agreed to start supplying each other with their currencies, avoiding the dollar as an intermediary currency. The currency swap agreement will last for three years and provide a maximum of 350 billion Yuan ($56 billion) to the ECB and 45 billion euro ($60.8 billion) to the PBC.

In a further sign of growing distrust, China introduced a so-called “haircut”, or a discount, on the value of US Treasuries held as collateral against futures trades. Developing and developed nations are equally concerned, and institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have issued several warnings.

Christine LaGarde, managing director of the IMF told the US they must uphold their financial promises to the international community and raise their debt ceiling. Failing to do so would put the world “at risk of tipping yet again into a recession,” LaGarde said in an interview on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’, which aired on October 13.
“You have to honor your signature, … give certainty to the rest of the world,” LaGarde urged the US, a strong supporter of the international lending tool.

The country that has long provided a sturdy backbone to the global economy is now teetering on a mass default. If US lawmakers don’t forge a solution to raising the debt ceiling by October 17, investors with US treasury bonds, one of the lowest-risk assets, could suffer. 
“It’s not just China that’s at the mercy of US lawmakers, its everybody in the world that is at the mercy of US lawmakers right now,” David Kuo, Investment Advisor, Motley Fool told RT .
“China is trying to diversify away from US Treasuries,” said Kuo, adding investors “cannot just assume an asset is 100 percent safe.”

China holds nearly $1.3 trillion in Treasuries, Japan has $1.14 trillion, and other big foreign creditors include Caribbean creditors, Brazil, Taiwan, Russia, and European nations. Other creditors have decided to keep calm. Russia, ranked the 11th on the list of the US top creditors with the estimated $132 billion in US Treasuries, plans to keep their Treasuries.
"I don't see the need for revising our reserve investment strategy in US Treasuries," Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said at a press conference on October 11 following a meeting of the G20 finance and Central Bank chiefs. “What’s happening now, I hope, is a fairly short-term situation,” Siluanov told reporters, noting Russia’s investment plan is long-term.

If the US misses the debt ceiling deadline of October 17 and stops paying their creditors, it would be the first major Western government to do so since Nazi Germany under Hitler in 1933, which wasn’t able to pay their debts following World War I. The US has a bank holiday today in honor of Columbus Day; however, after making little headway on solving the budget gap, both the Senate and the House will hold sessions on Monday.

For Republicans, Obamacare has been a major stumbling block in agreeing to raise the debt ceiling, as they see the legislation as antithetical to their ‘small government’ philosophy.

Beijing Calls for Creation of New “Reserve Currency” to Replace the U.S. Dollar

By Pepe Escobar

This is it. China has had enough. The (diplomatic) gloves are off. It’s time to build a “de-Americanized” world. It’s time for a “new international reserve currency” to replace the US dollar. It’s all here, in a Xinhua editorial, straight from the dragon’s mouth. And the year is only 2013. Fasten your seat belts – and that applies especially to the Washington elites. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Long gone are the Deng Xiaoping days of “keeping a low profile”. The Xinhua editorial summarizes the straw that broke the dragon’s back – the current US shutdown. After the Wall Street-provoked financial crisis, after the war on Iraq, a “befuddled world”, and not only China, wants change. This paragraph couldn’t be more graphic:

Instead of honoring its duties as a responsible leading power, a self-serving Washington has abused its superpower status and introduced even more chaos into the world by shifting financial risks overseas, instigating regional tensions amid territorial disputes, and fighting unwarranted wars under the cover of outright lies. The solution, for Beijing, is to “de-Americanize” the current geopolitical equation – starting with more say in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for emerging economies and the developing world, leading to a “new international reserve currency that is to be created to replace the dominant US dollar”. (1)
Note that Beijing is not advocating completely smashing the Bretton Woods system – at least for now, but it is for having more deciding power. Sounds reasonable, considering that China holds slightly more weight inside the IMF than Italy. IMF “reform” – sort of – has been going on since 2010, but Washington, unsurprisingly, has vetoed anything substantial.

As for the move away from the US dollar, it’s also already on, in varying degrees of speed, especially concerning trade amongst the BRICS group of emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, China and South Africa), which is now overwhelmingly in their respective currencies. The US dollar is slowly but surely being replaced by a basket of currencies.
“De-Americanization” is also already on. Take last week’s Chinese trade charm offensive across Southeast Asia, which is incisively leaning towards even more action with their top commercial partner, China. Chinese President Xi Jinping clinched an array of deals with Indonesia, Malaysia and also Australia, only a few weeks after clinching another array of deals with the Central Asian “stans”. Chinese commitment to improve the Iron Silk Road reached fever pitch, with shares of Chinese rail companies going through the roof amid the prospect of a high-speed rail link with and through Thailand actually materializing. In Vietnam, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sealed an understanding that two country’s territorial quarrels in the South China Sea would not interfere with even more business. Take that, “pivoting” to Asia.

All aboard the petroyuan

Everyone knows Beijing holds Himalayas of US Treasury bonds – courtesy of those massive trade surpluses accumulated over the past three decades plus an official policy of keeping the yuan appreciating very slowly, yet surely.
At the same time, Beijing has been acting. The yuan is also slowly but surely becoming more convertible in international markets. (Just last week, the European Central Bank and the People?s Bank of China agreed to set up a US$45-$57 billion currency swap line that will add to the yuan’s international strength and improve access to trade finance in the euro area.)
The unofficial date for full yuan convertibility could fall anywhere between 2017 and 2020. The target is clear; move away from piling up US debt, which implies, in the long run, Beijing removing itself from this market – and thus making it way more costly for the US to borrow. The collective leadership in Beijing has already made up its mind about it, and is acting accordingly.

The move towards a full convertible yuan is as inexorable as the BRICS move towards a basket of currencies progressively replacing the US dollar as a reserve currency. Until, further on down the road, the real cataclysmic event materializes; the advent of the petroyuan – destined to surpass the petrodollar once the Gulf petro-monarchies see which way the historical winds are blowing. Then we will enter a completely different geopolitical ball game.

We may be a long way away, but what is certain is that Deng Xiaoping’s famous set of instructions is being progressively discarded; “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”

A mix of caution and deception, grounded on China’s historical confidence and taking into consideration serious long-term ambition, this was classic Sun Tzu. So far, Beijing was laying low; letting the adversary commit fatal mistakes (and what a collection of multi-trillion-dollar mistakes… ); and accumulating “capital”.

The time to capitalize has now arrived. By 2009, after the Wall Street-provoked financial crisis, there were already Chinese rumblings about the “malfunctioning of the Western model” and ultimately the “malfunctioning of Western culture”.

Beijing has listened to Dylan (with Mandarin subtitles?) and concluded yes, the times they-are-a-changing. With no foreseeable social, economic and political progress – the shutdown is just another graphic illustration, if any was needed – the US slide is as inexorable as China, bit by bit, spreading its wings to master 21st century post-modernity.

Make no mistake; the Washington elites will fight it like the ultimate plague. Still, Antonio Gramsci’s intuition must now be upgraded; the old order has died, and the new one is one step closer to being born.


An Armenian Jesus Rises over Syria

A colossal, bronze Jesus Christ, cast in Armenia, has appeared in war-ravaged Syria “to save the world.” Soaring higher than Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer, the statue stands 39 meters tall in the mountaintop, Byzantine-era Cherubim Monastery, lording it over the city of Saidnaya, 27 kilometers north of Damascus, Armenian news outlets reported. Some Russian outlets said that the statue is one meter shorter than its Brazilian counterpart.

From its vantage point above the sea, the statue overlooks an historic pilgrimage route from Istanbul to Jerusalem. The statue, created by Armenian sculptor Artush Papoian, was installed on October 14, when Orthodox Christians celebrate a commemoration of the Virgin Mary, whose icon is a chief draw for the monastery.
But the statue was not born of recent events in Syria. While Syria's ethnic Armenian population has been fleeing the country in droves -- including to Armenia itself, which has built a "New Aleppo" to accommodate the arrivals -- the project has been in the works since 2005, Russia's Komsomol'skaya Pravda reports.

Backed by the Russian government (which has a navy base on Syria's Mediterranean Sea coast, and, as we all know by now, takes an active interest in matters Syrian), along with the Russian Orthodox Church, the project, billed "I have come to save the world," was supposedly the brainchild of one Yuri Gavrilov, a 49-year-old Moscow native who runs an organization in London called the St. Paul and St. George Foundation.

“We hope that this sculptural composition brings peace and love to the hearts of people, and that our work will help restore peace and calm in this long-suffering region,” the Foundation’s director, Samir el-Gadban, told Komsomol'skaya Pravda.