Friday, May 9, 2014

Putin's Chess Moves

Putin's Chess Moves On Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing a multidimensional geopolitical chess game, while the Obama administration and our European allies remain in a defensive, reactive stance. In his latest Ukraine gambit, Putin is playing the diplomatic offensive. He offered what he called “goodwill gestures” following a phone call with Didier Burkhalter, the Swiss president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). He has also spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Evidently, President Obama is no longer on Putin’s speed dial for Ukraine discussions. However, they may cross paths next month in France at the ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the allied invasion of Normandy, which both Obama and Putin have said they plan to attend. 

As part of Putin’s “goodwill gestures” he sent signals that he intended to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine by withdrawing Russian troops from the Russia-Ukraine border and by calling for pro-Russian separatists to postpone their local referendum on sovereignty scheduled for this Sunday. Putin also indicated his willingness to accept the plan for Ukraine’s presidential election to proceed on May 25th so long as the Russian demand for autonomy in eastern Ukraine was met. And Putin took up Chancellor Merkel’s suggestion for a round-table discussion among the Ukrainian factions.

That all sounds like a potential diplomatic break-through. However, more likely what we are witnessing instead is just another set of chess moves in which Putin is willing to sacrifice a minor chess piece for something of more value and is employing a decoy strategy.
“He really promised nothing,” Kirill Rogov, an economic analyst and political commentator in Moscow was quoted in a front page May 8th New York Times article as saying. “He demonstrated that he controls the level of tension in Ukraine. He can return the situation to the high levels of violence at any moment. He did not refuse the referendum, but only proposed delaying it.”
Even if Putin does withdraw some troops, it may consist of nothing more than the token withdrawal from the border that happened once before. Moreover, to prove Russia’s military might and reach, on May 8th Putin oversaw military exercises throughout Russian territory involving Russia’s nuclear forces. Intercontinental ballistic missiles were launched as part of the exercise from land and sea. But Putin is not content for his country to just be seen as a “regional” power, as President Obama so naively described Russia.
Ominously for the United States, Russia has sent intercontinental strategic bombers across the Pacific Ocean that, according to an Associated Press report on May 5th, have been flying along the Californian coast. Such provocative activity has not occurred since the end of the Cold War. The Associated Press stated in its report that Gen. Herbert Carlisle (who is the Commander of Pacific Air Forces; Air Component Commander for U.S. Pacific Command; and Executive Director, Pacific Air Combat Operations Staff, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii) linked the flights “to the situation in the Ukraine. He said Russia was demonstrating its capabilities and gathering intelligence on U.S. military exercises.”
Vladimir Putin retains the upper hand in Ukraine and continues to outmaneuver President Obama and our European allies who are struggling to put together an effective counter-strategy. A weakened residue of western Ukraine left in Kiev’s hands, while the rest of Ukraine and its valuable natural resources and industrial base move firmly within Russia’s orbit, is Putin’s strategic objective, which he is on his way to achieving by hook or crook.

EU countries are preparing to blacklist more Russian officials and two firms depending on what happens in Crimea and Donetsk over the weekend.
The names were discussed by member states ambassadors in Brussels on Thursday (8 May), but the final decision will be made by EU foreign ministers on Monday.
The ambassadors also reached a preliminary agreement on broadening the legal basis of the Russia sanctions.
One EU diplomat told EUobserver that both the status and the number of the new Russian names mooted in the ambassadors’ meeting were “small and disappointing”.

The contact added the two firms are Crimean energy companies confiscated from Ukraine after Russia annexed the territory in March, but they are so minor that “very few people, even among the experts, had heard of them”.

A second EU source said: “We are still at the level of what we call ‘stage two’ sanctions, designations of individuals, not ‘stage three’, designations of whole sectors of the Russian economy.”
The sanctions debate comes despite the fact Russian leader Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he has withdrawn troops from the Ukrainian border and called on separatists in Donetsk to put off a referendum on independence.
But the rebels rejected Putin’s appeal and aim to hold the vote on Sunday as planned.

When asked by press in Washington on Thursday if the US has evidence the Russian troops have moved, state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “We have not … No.”
She added: “It’s more than just comments we need. We need actions. We still continue to believe the Russian government has an ability to influence what the separatists are doing on the ground, so we’ll look to see if that happens over the coming days.”

Britain is drawing up plans with the US and other European countries to “disarm” the threat of President Vladimir Putin using Russian gas and oil supplies as “a weapon” against Ukraine and its Eastern European neighbours.

Next month, David Cameron and other G7 leaders are expected to sign off on an “emergency response plan” to assist Ukraine this winter if Russia restricts gas supplies.
At the same time, G7 energy ministers this week agreed a plan to eliminate Europe’s reliance on Russian oil and gas over the longer term and prevent energy security being used as political bargaining chip by the Kremlin.

Russia currently supplies around 30 per cent of all gas consumed within Europe and more than 50 per cent of the gas used by Ukraine

Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary who represented Britain at the G7 talks in Rome, told The Independentthat unless action was taken now Russia would “undoubtedly continue to use energy as a weapon”.
“It is completely unacceptable for President Putin to use Russia’s gas and oil supplies as a weapon to exert control and power over Ukraine – or any other country,” he said.

“But this is not the first time he has done this, so we have to take a stand this time, or he will undoubtedly continue to use energy as a weapon.”

What is behind the Russia/Ukraine problem? It seems to me that what we are seeing is Russia’s attempt to fix a two-part problem:

Some oil and gas exporters, including Russia, are not receiving enough oil and gas revenue to meet their needs. They are not able to collect enough taxes to provide the services they have promised to their citizens, plus allow the amount of reinvestment that is needed to maintain production. Russia is starting to experience economic contraction because of the low revenue situation. 

Gradually, or perhaps not so gradually, Russia’s exports are being redirected to those who can afford to pay higher prices. European Union purchases of natural gas imports have declined since 2008, presumably because they are having difficulty affording the current price of gas, so they are being relied on less for future sales.

The Russian approach seems to include building a new axis of power, including Russia, China, Iran and perhaps other countries. This new axis of power may threaten the US dollar’s reserve currency status. With the dollar as reserve currency, the US has been able to buy far more goods from other countries than it sells to others. Putting an end to the US dollar as reserve currency would leave more and oil and gas for other countries. If purchases by the US are cut back, it will leave more oil and gas for other countries. The danger is that prices will drop too low because of the drop in US demand, leading to lower production. It this should happen, everyone might lose out

I find it very difficult to believe that the US/European approach will work. The idea that the United States can start exporting huge amounts of natural gas to Europe in the near future borders on the bizarre. There are many hurdles that would need to be overcome for this to happen. Installing LNG export facilities is among the least of these hurdles.

In fact, the West badly needs both the oil and gas that Russia is producing, so it really is in a very precarious position. If Russia cuts off exports, or if Russia is forced to cut off exports because of financial difficulties, both the US and Europe will suffer. It is clear that Europe will suffer because of its dependence on pipeline exports of oil and gas from Russia. But the US will suffer as well, because the US is tied closely to Europe by financial ties, and by import and export arrangements with Europe.

The US powers that be do not understand what Russia (and the world) is up against, so the policies they propose are likely to make the situation worse, rather than better.

Russia is the second largest oil exporter in the world (after Saudi Arabia), exporting approximately 7.2 million barrels a day. We in the rest of the world very badly need Russia’s oil exports to continue, to keep up world oil supply. Without this oil, the world economy would suffer badly.
With respect to natural gas, Russia is the single largest exporter in the world (Figure 3, below), exporting more natural gas than all the Middle Eastern countries combined. The cost of producing Russia’s natural gas is likely very high, because Russia is extracting it from more and more difficult locations. Also, Russia is transporting this natural gas greater and greater distances. New pipelines or LNG facilities are necessary to facilitate this transportation, and these are expensive as well.

The US approach to the Russia /Ukraine situation reflects a serious misunderstanding of the situation. Russia has little choice but to try to raise the price of products it is selling, any way it can. It needs to cut out those who cannot afford its products, including the Ukraine. If Europe increasingly cannot afford its products, Russia needs to find customers who can afford them.
There is little chance that the United States is going to be able to help Europe with its natural gas needs in any reasonable timeframe. Our best chance at keeping the global economy “working” for a little longer is to try to keep globalization working as best we can. This will likely require “making nice” to countries we are unhappy with, and putting up with what looks like aggression.
Policymakers like to think that the US has more power than it really does, and like to encourage stories suggesting great power in the press.  Unfortunately, these stories are not true; we need policymakers who understand our real situation.

Also see:

A California school district is going too far when it has public school students “bowing to the sun god” and participating in “liturgical/ritual religious practices” aimed at having them “become one with god,” according to a brief filed with an appeals court.

“We must not allow the cultural elites to decide by fiat which politically correct religions, such as Hinduism or Islam, are acceptable for the state to promote to our children with our taxpayer resources, and which religions, such as Christianity, are not acceptable,” he said. “Our children are not spiritual ‘guinea pigs’ and should never be subjected to such misguided religious experimentation by the state.”

In January the Satanic Temple announced plans to erect a monument glorifying the Dark Lord on the front lawn of the Oklahoma Statehouse.
An Indiegogo campaign was launched with what seemed like a somewhat lofty goal of $20,000, but by the time donations ended almost $30,000 had been raised.
Now an artist trained in classical sculpture is toiling away in New York, crafting a Baphomet figure sitting beneath an inverted pentagram and flanked by two children gazing upward in loyalty.
When it is finished, it will be cast in bronze and, the Satanists hope, eventually displayed in Oklahoma.
The statue is a direct response to the state’s installation of a Ten Commandments monument outside the Capitol in 2012.

“I was arrested.”
It took a minute for me to wrap my mind around those words, uttered by a one of the most decent men I know. He is an attorney by profession, having worked in the prosecutor’s office within the Five Boroughs of New York City.

He’s dealt with some of the most unsavory people and unspeakable crimes of our nation in that capacity. More importantly, however, he is a proud and protective family man. He’s a loving husband and a proud father of two children, including Marina Baer, a ninth grader in the Gilford, New Hampshire School District.
My mind raced as I fired questions at him with mind numbing rapidity. “Where, What for? What happened?” I prodded. He answered each question calmly and methodically, combining his replies with an extremely important “back-story” that will probably not be reported anywhere by the mainstream media.

Mr. Baer explained that he was arrested at a meeting of the Gilford School Board meeting on Monday, 5, 2014, and charged with a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. As audio and video evidence of the events clearly illustrates, however, there was nothing remotely disorderly about Mr. Baer’s conduct at the meeting. It was the first time he was arrested in his life.

No, there was something far deeper at work here, something that you will not see, hear or read about in the “drive-by” reports done by the mainstream media. It is this lead-up to the school board meeting that puts the events of May 5th in a much clearer, and much more unsettling perspective. It should serve as a warning to all parents that there is an agenda much greater than what we are seeing. In the words of Mr. Baer, “something is very wrong.” Indeed it is, and the report that follows should send a chill down the spine of every parent, of every American, for this is coming to your city, town, or municipality if it does not already exist.

What do 20 female US senators have in common with the mainstream media on the fate of the Boko Haram-abducted girls in Nigeria?  Both are doing the girls and their loved ones an unneeded disservice by describing them only as “school girls”, neglecting to identify them as what they truly are: “Christian, Black” school girls.

So if climate change is supposed to lead to warmer winters, why are winters in the USA getting colder?  Overall, there has been absolutely no significant trend in average wintertime temperatures since 1980.
Throughout most of the nation, current five-year winter temperatures are already back down to their mid-1980s levels.  The cooling isn't trivial, either.  The average wintertime temperature between 1996-2000 was 35.0°F.  From 2010-2014, it was only 32.9°F.
If this post-2000 rate of decline continues, the five-year average wintertime temperature in the contiguous United States will return to its 20th-century average by 2017 or 2018.  Yes, only a few years away from a return to "normal" if trends continue.
Perhaps some climate patience, rather than hysteria, is in order?

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