Author Archives: Bible Truth & Prophecy

Milestones Snippets 17-19th March 2014

MISC:140319:(19-MAR-14):RugbyChristadelphian Channel 1

NATURE:140317:(19-MAR-14):Has Cosmic Inflation Been Discovered?. 1

RUK-TU:140318:(19-MAR-14):Turkey also a loser in Crimea. Who lost in Crimea? If there is a country to be added to Ukraine, it’s Turkey. 1

US-MSA:140317:(19-MAR-14):The Need for a New Realism in the US-Saudi Alliance. 1

CV-CL:140311:(19-MAR-14):Luther’s Protest Is Over? Catholics and Charismatics Look To New Ecumenical Unity  1

RU:140317:(19-MAR-14):Russia: Crimea Asks To Be Annexed. 2

UK:140316:(19-MAR-14):Oil-Bearing Shale Discovered Under Southern England. 3

RUK-RU:140317:(19-MAR-14):Russia: President Signs Order Recognizing Crimea As Independent State. 3

RUK-RU:140317:(19-MAR-14):Why does Putin want Crimea anyway?. 3

RUK-RU-US:140317:(19-MAR-14):The U.S. Levies Sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian Officials. 4

RUK-RU:140318:(19-MAR-14):Russia Examines Its Options for Responding to Ukraine. 5

IS-UK:140317:(19-MAR-14):Cameron, The UK And Israel 7

MIN-RU:140314:(19-MAR-14):Russia, Iran discuss further reactors. 8

MAR-MSY:140315:(19-MAR-14):On third anniversary of Syrian rebellion, Assad is steadily winning the war 8

RUK-RU:140318:(19-MAR-14):Crimea Comes One Step Closer to Joining Russia. 9

RU:140317:(19-MAR-14):Putin 3.0. 9

RUK-RU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Against Russia, Ukraine Has Few Military Options. 10

CO-EU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Orthodoxy and Europe. 11

RUO-RU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Anxiety grows in Europe as Transnistria asks for Russian annexation. 12

IS:140319:(19-MAR-14):OECD report shows high levels of poverty in Israel 13

RUK-RU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Russia: Forces Take 2nd Ukrainian Naval Base In Crimea. 13

RUK-RU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Ukraine: Russia Issues Passports To Crimean Citizens. 13

RUK-RU-EGE:140319:(19-MAR-14):Germany: Military Contract With Russia Suspended. 13

Sorry – this has turned out almost a double issue.

MISC:140319:(19-MAR-14):RugbyChristadelphian Channel

This has expanded rapidly, making it difficult to find individual talks. Over the past few weeks the site has been extensively revamped to group items into Playlists. To learn about these Bro Stuart has made a short video.

NATURE:140317:(19-MAR-14):Has Cosmic Inflation Been Discovered?

Creation Evolution Headlines 17-Mar-14

Read the hype? Learn the facts! 3 page article.

RUK-TU:140318:(19-MAR-14):Turkey also a loser in Crimea. Who lost in Crimea? If there is a country to be added to Ukraine, it’s Turkey.

Almonitor 18-Mar-14

3 page article.[English]&utm_campaign=017640a0ed-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-017640a0ed-93097145

US-MSA:140317:(19-MAR-14):The Need for a New Realism in the US-Saudi Alliance

Center for Strategic and International Studies 17-Mar-14

8 page analysis        

CV-CL:140311:(19-MAR-14):Luther’s Protest Is Over? Catholics and Charismatics Look To New Ecumenical Unity 11-Mar-14

The Pope has stirred things up in recent weeks by sending a video message to Pentecostal Word of Faith leader Kenneth Copeland, urging reconciliation between Catholics and Charismatics. Anglican Episcopal Bishop and friend of the Pontiff, Tony Palmer, stated in an introduction to the video before Copeland’s live audience, “The Catholic and Charismatic Renewal is the hope of the Church,” as ministry followers cheered him on.

He continued by telling the group that his words had come straight from the Vatican. “When my wife saw that she could be Catholic, and Charismatic, and Evangelical, and Pentecostal, and it was absolutely accepted in the Catholic Church, she said that she would like to reconnect her roots with the Catholic culture. So she did.”

“Brothers and sisters, Luther’s protest is over. Is yours?” came the bold proclamation from Palmer, followed by an enthusiastic reaction from Kenneth Copeland himself, who said, “Heaven is thrilled over this…You know what is so thrilling to me? When we went into the ministry 47 years ago, this was impossible.”

Luther’s protest originated out of the Roman Catholic belief that salvation comes through works, and not by faith alone, although Catholicism attempts to deny this premise.  It clearly contradicts itself by teaching that certain actions are required in order to become justified and to maintain justification.

Even as late as in 2010, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification.”

In Bishop Palmer’s own video presentation entitled, “The Miracle of Unity Has Begun” on his website (an internet-based, inter-denominational Christian Convergent Community he co-founded), he prefaces Pope Francis’ plea for communion of believers by citing an agreement signed in 1999 between Protestants and Catholics, found on the Vatican website, which he claims essentially ends “Luther’s protest.”

According to Bishop Palmer, the agreement states, “Justification means that Christ Himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we Catholics, and Protestants, Lutherans believe and confess, that by grace alone in faith in Christ’s saving works and not because of any merit on our part we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

At the very start of the papacy of Pope Francis, his controversial comments have raised eyebrows. At a celebratory gathering in Rome of fraternal delegates of churches, ecclesial communities and international ecumenical bodies—representatives of the Jewish people and of non-Christian religions—the Bishop of Rome welcomed the group with these words, “I then greet and cordially thank you all, dear friends belonging to other religious traditions; first of all the Muslims, who worship the one God, living and merciful, and call upon Him in prayer, and all of you. I really appreciate your presence: in it I see a tangible sign of the will to grow in mutual esteem and cooperation for the common good of humanity.”

Even more startling are recent sentiments expressed by the Pope in a new apostolic exhortation about “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Quran” being “opposed to every form of violence.”

In his Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis states, “Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society…We must never forget that they ‘profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day.’”

Francis continues, the “sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services…Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God,” he says.

What the Pontiff is really saying here is that Christians and Muslims worship the same God! The Christian faith professes that Jesus Christ is God, (Colossians 2:9: For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form) while  Islam denies that God has a Son, refers to Jesus as a prophet and teaches that the doctrine of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is blasphemous.

Columnist Pam Geller, in her recent story on this topic, said, “At a time when Christianity worldwide is under siege by Islamic jihadists, the leader of the Catholic Church claims that the Quran teaches nonviolence,” further illustrating, “…as Christians across the Muslim world live in abject terror and fear of kidnapping, rape and slaughter to the bloodcurdling cries of ‘Allahu Akbar,’ the pope gives papal sanction to the savage.”

Adding to his ecumenical embrace of what has been referred to as “unholy alliances”, the Pope also softens his language on homosexuality, when he said that he could not judge Catholic priests who identify themselves as gay.

Last July, upon his return from a trip to Brazil for World Youth Day, Francis commented to reporters, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?”.  “Pope Francis added that gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten. There are now hints by Pope Francis that the Catholic Church may also consider accepting the idea of valid, same-sex civil unions – something unthinkable only a few years ago.

The Pontiff’s attempt at inclusivity for the sake of unity, has accomplished nothing short of adulterating Biblical doctrine. As the Bishop of Rome continues to homogenize differing walks of faith and lifestyle choice for the sake of greater brotherly love, Christians worldwide are recognizing the very building blocks of an emerging One World Religion, as spoken of in the New Testament book of Revelation, Chapter 17, verses 4 and 5:

“The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes, and of the abominations of the earth.”

Evidence would suggest that no other religious system is pushing so hard “to bring all faiths together under one roof to worship what they perceive as the same god…and many are falling for the sweet taste of honey” as even segments of the Evangelical church are nodding ‘yes’ to the temptation.

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RU:140317:(19-MAR-14):Russia: Crimea Asks To Be Annexed

Stratfor 17-Mar-14

Crimea’s parliament has asked Russia to admit Crimea as a Russian region, Interfax reported March 17. In an official resolution declaring Crimea an independent state, Crimean lawmakers asked Russia to annex Crimea and give it the status of a republic.

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UK:140316:(19-MAR-14):Oil-Bearing Shale Discovered Under Southern England

Int. Business Times 16-Mar-14

Oil-bearing shale reserves almost as large as those remaining under the North Sea have been found under swathes of southern England.

Scientists from the British Geological Survey (BGS) are poised to announce the discovery of shale rocks in an area that stretches from Weymouth in the southwest of England to the Weald in the southeast, including parts of Oxfordshire, reports the Times.

The report is expected to focus on the Weald area of Sussex, Hampshire, Kent and Surrey, and will say the earth holds rocks containing one-third as much oil as was discovered under the North Sea.

Scientists emphasise that this will have to be confirmed through test drilling, and extracted by the controversial “fracking” technique, which critics claim could seriously damage landscapes and wildlife.

The report was commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, as a counterpart to the survey that uncovered shale formations under northwest England large enough to meet  Britain’s gas needs for 40 years.


RSPB and National Trust Join Anti-Fracking Fight to Warn of Environmental Dangers

Anti-Fracking Protesters Take Over Manchester City Centre

Fracking Protesters Face Eviction from Barton Moss IGas Site

Some oil companies are already planning preparatory drilling, and the government is expected to be flooded with fracking applications from companies next year when it offers the next round of contracts.

However, anti-fracking campaigners have already prepared legal objections to plans to sink exploratory wells near Dorking, Surrey, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Campaigners are also fighting drilling plans by oil firm Cuadrilla in Balcombe, West Sussex.

With an election year approaching, the Tories may be concerned about alienating voters in their heartland.

Earlier this month, Alastair Fraser, professor of petroleum geoscience at Imperial College London, told the Shale UK conference that rocks lying under southern Britain were likely to contain “significant quantities of oil”.

“If we extract this oil it will help to fill the gap left by declining production in the North Sea. It will create jobs, energy security and a better balance of payments. The chancellor will be delighted, too.”

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RUK-RU:140317:(19-MAR-14):Russia: President Signs Order Recognizing Crimea As Independent State

Stratfor 17-Mar-14

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order to recognize Crimea as a sovereign and independent state, RT reported March 17. In a March 16 referendum, almost 97 percent of Crimean voters supported joining Russia.

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RUK-RU:140317:(19-MAR-14):Why does Putin want Crimea anyway?

EUObserver 17-Mar-14.

Why is a world leader prepared to risk international opprobrium and, possibly, crippling economic sanctions for an obscure piece of land?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already burnt the $54 billion he spent on Russia’s image in the Sochi Winter Olympics.

His aggression has caused the Russian stock market and the ruble to nosedive, forcing his central bank to spend another $12 billion to prop up the currency.

The total cost for his Crimean adventure could end up being more than $70 billion – way more if the West imposes tough sanctions.

If Putin is to be believed, his campaign in Crimea, and potentially other parts of Ukraine, is to protect ethnic Russians from far-right elements in the new government in Kiev.

It sounds laudable, until you look at how he treats Russian people at home.

Russia has serious social problems – drug and alcohol abuse, HIV rates – but the state does almost nothing to help. Ethnic minorities are treated with disdain. Gay Russians are being forced underground. People close to Putin enjoy vast wealth, but 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Clearly, ordinary Russians are not his top priority.

Meanwhile, Russia’s far-right party, the LDPR, has more seats in the Russian parliament than there are far-right politicians in Ukraine’s assembly.

So what is Putin’s real interest in Crimea – a sort of island, part desert, part mountains, half the size of Belgium, known to some Europeans for its WWII history and sweet wines?

What is his potential interest in agricultural south Ukraine? Or east Ukraine, home to former Soviet mining, coal, and steel industries, which need massive investment?

Putin has also spoken of Crimea’s historic links to Russia and Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

But propaganda aside, perhaps the answer is more simple: oil and gas.

By annexing Ukrainian land on the Black Sea coast, Putin also annexes the rights to any hydrocarbons found in its maritime zones.

There are signs the Black Sea contains a lot of wealth.

Energy firms such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, Repsol, and Petrochina have begun to show real interest in working with Kiev to explore the area. Energy companies have already found interesting deposits in Russia’s Black Sea zone, near Novorossiysk, and in Romanian zones. Trans Euro Energy has even found commercially viable gas reserves under the Crimean mainland.

At the same time, reserves of cheaply-accessible gas in Siberia are running low.

But even if Putin never extracts a drop of gas from his new territories, the land grab will ensure that Gazprom, his energy champion, will be in charge of how, when, and by whom this might be done.

It will mean that no matter who rules Ukraine, it can never challenge Putin’s monopoly on energy exports from the region.

Oil and gas also shed light on Putin’s interest in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

It is a good spot from which the Black Sea Fleet can set sail for the Mediterranean. But it is also a deep water port capable of servicing the kind of massive undersea drilling operation that is needed to explore Ukraine’s offshore fields.

On top of this, Crimea hosts three huge solar power plants.

The shopping list in east and south Ukraine is even longer. These regions are said to contain 45 trillion cubic metres of gas out of Ukraine’s estimated reserves of 49 trillion.

They also contain: export terminals in port of Odessa; military ship building yards in Nikolayev; an oil refinery; chemical plants; grain export silos; hydro-electric plants; two of the largest nuclear power stations in Europe; lots of magnesium, coal, and iron ore.

We can add that Putin would save $20 billion by building his South Stream gas pipeline overland through Crimea instead of under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

According to some Kremlin insiders, the Crimea operation has been six years in the planning.

It is hard to put a dollar amount on the existing and potential assets in these regions, let alone on their strategic and ideological value.

But perhaps a $70 billion or a $100 billion price tag is quite cheap, especially since America and Europe have such short memories.

When the dust settles, even if people on both sides get killed and some of Putin’s friends end up on EU and US blacklists, he will have achieved his aims.

Then he can spend a few billion dollars more on a new charm offensive to reset relations with the West.

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RUK-RU-US:140317:(19-MAR-14):The U.S. Levies Sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian Officials

Stratfor 17-Mar-14

The day after the Ukrainian autonomous region of Crimea voted to separate from Ukraine and join Russia, the U.S. government announced expanded sanctions against 11 Ukrainian, Crimean and Russian officials. The United States is targeting a precise list of Russian officials who are important tacticians within the Kremlin — a move that will likely elicit a response from the Russian government. The European Union has also drawn up its own list of sanction targets, though they seem to be less influential figures, perhaps due to the bloc’s struggles to remain united against Russia over the issue of Ukraine.


The order signed by President Barack Obama authorizes the U.S. Treasury to impose sanctions on the officials, freezing their assets and blocking their entry into the United States. Obama specifically said that these are all individuals responsible for compromising the sovereignty of Ukraine. The list of Ukrainians and Crimeans includes the expected names of Crimea-based separatist leaders Sergey Aksyonov and Vladimir Konstantinov, former Ukrainian presidential chief of staff Viktor Medvedchuk and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

The list of Russian officials the U.S. government is targeting is more important. The majority of the Russians targeted are members of the Russian parliament, such as Federation Council chief Valentina Matviyenko, Duma Commonwealth of Independent States Committee chief Leonid Slutsky, Legal Affairs Committee chief Andrei Klishas and controversial Duma member Yelena Mizulina (who has been one of the forces behind the anti-gay and adoption laws in Russia). In essence, these officials are the Russian politicians relevant to the crisis in Ukraine. These members have led the legislative moves to authorize policies concerning Ukraine, such as passing Russia’s ability to militarily intervene in Ukraine and the proposed law for Moscow’s support of Russian citizens abroad, including those in Crimea.

More important, the list includes three top Kremlin officials that are key tacticians. The first sanctioned Kremlin official, Sergey Glazyev, is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aide and holds the portfolio on Ukraine. An expected inclusion on the sanctions list, Glazyev has been particularly aggressive on the issue of Ukraine, issuing public threats about Russia tanking the energy and financial markets should trade sanctions be imposed on Russia.

A more surprising name on the list is Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin, who has long been one of the Kremlin’s main anti-American mouthpieces. Rogozin holds the portfolio for Russia’s defense industry and has been one of the top officials over the years lobbying against NATO and EU expansion to Ukraine and Georgia. Rogozin is most likely on the list because of his diplomatic efforts in blocking Ukraine’s westward ties.

The highest-ranking Russian to be sanctioned is Vladislav Surkov, one of Putin’s top aides. Surkov is the orchestrator of large social movements, such as the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement, and reportedly has spurred other pro-Russian and anti-government movements in other countries from Latvia to Hungary. According to anonymous leaks to Kommersant, Surkov has been one of the top Kremlin officials in Putin’s private meetings on Ukraine.

It is unclear why the White House put Surkov on the list officially, since publicly he has not been part of any moves on Ukraine. However, it is likely the United States is targeting him for his unofficial role as orchestrator of social movements in Russia’s borderlands, which could aggravate tensions in the region.

A Careful Sanctions List

The inclusion of the Kremlin officials is ambitious; the list targets three of the key strategists the government uses to orchestrate efforts on the ground in the borderlands as well as diplomatic efforts. With the exception of Surkov, who has fallen in and out of Putin’s good graces, the sanctions list did not rise to the level of officials within Putin’s personal politburo — the officials who make the final decisions on issues such as Ukraine. Nor did the list sanction the senior officials who are leading the diplomatic negotiations with the European Union or United States. If the West were to aggressively go after the Russians who are truly making the decisions on Ukraine, then the list would include Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and deputy prime minister and security adviser Sergei Ivanov.

The European Union has drawn up its own sanctions list of 21 officials, including 13 Russians and eight Crimeans. Of the Russians, 10 are Duma members (most likely those on the U.S. list) and three are Russian military officials, including the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Crimea. The Europeans’ list does not include any top- or second-tier Kremlin elites, unlike the U.S. sanctions list.

The differences between the EU and U.S. targets for sanctions show that the two are not on the same page concerning countermoves against Russia. The Europeans have much more to lose in antagonizing Russia. Moreover, all 28 EU member states must agree on any action. Several EU members — Finland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain — have already cautioned against moving too forcefully against Russia for fear of economic repercussions, though they have thus far agreed to these initial weak sanctions. But any further sanctions, such as trade sanctions, would have difficulty passing among the Europeans.

Russia’s Reaction to Sanctions

For now, the U.S. and EU sanctions lists are fairly symbolic; they are restricted to targeting specific officials and their assets. Rogozin has already publicly denounced the sanctions, mocking them by saying he does not have any assets in the United States to sanction. In 2013, the Kremlin barred Russian officials from owning assets — especially bank accounts — abroad. Naturally, Russian officials still do have assets abroad, but they are less public than they were in the past. The symbolic sanctions are only a gesture by the West because any real trade sanctions would either be ineffective or would seriously harm other players, such as European countries.

Though relatively ineffective, Russia could respond with its own bans on Western officials — especially in the United States, since the U.S. sanctions list is more aggressive against the Kremlin elite. In previous cases of visa and asset sanctions, such as the United States’ Magnitsky bans, Russia responded with its own bans that were not directly related. Instead, Moscow banned adoptions to the United States under the Dima Yakovlev Act. So Russia may respond this time not directly against Westerners dealing with Ukraine but in other areas.

Russia will also react more aggressively if the European Union or United States expand the sanctions beyond these symbolic gestures. This could affect many spheres, including Russian energy, business and investments in Europe; Russia’s support for Iran and Venezuela; and much more — something that the West is cautiously weighing as it increases the pressure on Moscow.

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RUK-RU:140318:(19-MAR-14):Russia Examines Its Options for Responding to Ukraine

Stratfor 18-Mar-14

The fall of the Ukrainian government and its replacement with one that appears to be oriented toward the West represents a major defeat for the Russian Federation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia accepted the reality that the former Eastern European satellite states would be absorbed into the Western economic and political systems. Moscow claims to have been assured that former Soviet republics would be left as a neutral buffer zone and not absorbed. Washington and others have disputed that this was promised. In any case, it was rendered meaningless when the Baltic states were admitted to NATO and the European Union. The result was that NATO, which had been almost 1,000 miles from St. Petersburg, was now less than approximately 100 miles away.

This left Belarus and Ukraine as buffers. Ukraine is about 300 miles from Moscow at its closest point. Were Belarus and Ukraine both admitted to NATO, the city of Smolensk, which had been deep inside the Soviet Union, would have become a border town. Russia has historically protected itself with its depth. It moved its borders as far west as possible, and that depth deterred adventurers — or, as it did with Hitler and Napoleon, destroyed them. The loss of Ukraine as a buffer to the West leaves Russia without that depth and hostage to the intentions and capabilities of Europe and the United States.

There are those in the West who dismiss Russia’s fears as archaic. No one wishes to invade Russia, and no one can invade Russia. Such views appear sophisticated but are in fact simplistic. Intent means relatively little in terms of assessing threats. They can change very fast. So too can capabilities. The American performance in World War I and the German performance in the 1930s show how quickly threats and capabilities shift. In 1932, Germany was a shambles economically and militarily. By 1938, it was the dominant economic and military power on the European Peninsula. In 1941, it was at the gates of Moscow. In 1916, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ran a sincere anti-war campaign in a country with hardly any army. In 1917, he deployed more than a million American soldiers to Europe.

Russia’s viewpoint is appropriately pessimistic. If Russia loses Belarus or Ukraine, it loses its strategic depth, which accounts for much of its ability to defend the Russian heartland. If the intention of the West is not hostile, then why is it so eager to see the regime in Ukraine transformed? It may be a profound love of liberal democracy, but from Moscow’s perspective, Russia must assume more sinister motives.

Quite apart from the question of invasion, which is obviously a distant one, Russia is concerned about the consequences of Ukraine’s joining the West and the potential for contagion in parts of Russia itself. During the 1990s, there were several secessionist movements in Russia. The Chechens became violent, and the rest of their secession story is well known. But there also was talk of secession in Karelia, in Russia’s northwest, and in the Pacific Maritime region.

What was conceivable under Boris Yeltsin was made inconceivable under Vladimir Putin. The strategy Putin adopted was to increase Russia’s strength moderately but systematically, to make that modest increase appear disproportionately large. Russia could not afford to remain on the defensive; the forces around it were too powerful. Putin had to magnify Russia’s strength, and he did. Using energy exports, the weakness of Europe and the United States’ distraction in the Middle East, he created a sense of growing Russian power. Putin ended talk of secession in the Russian Federation. He worked to create regimes in Belarus and Ukraine that retained a great deal of domestic autonomy but operated within a foreign policy framework acceptable to Russia. Moscow went further, projecting its power into the Middle East and, in the Syrian civil war, appearing to force the United States to back out of its strategy.

It is not clear what happened in Kiev. There were of course many organizations funded by American and European money that were committed to a reform government. It is irrelevant whether, as the Russians charge, these organizations planned and fomented the uprising against former President Viktor Yanukovich’s regime or whether that uprising was part of a more powerful indigenous movement that drew these groups along. The fact was that Yanukovich refused to sign an agreement moving Ukraine closer to the European Union, the demonstrations took place, there was violence, and an openly pro-Western Ukrainian government was put in place.

The Russians cannot simply allow this to stand. Not only does it create a new geopolitical reality, but in the longer term it also gives the appearance inside Russia that Putin is weaker than he seems and opens the door to instability and even fragmentation. Therefore, the Russians must respond. The issue is how.

Russia’s Potential Responses

The first step was simply making official what has been a reality. Crimea is within the Russian sphere of influence, and the military force Moscow has based in Crimea under treaties could assert control whenever it wished. That Sevastopol is a critical Russian naval base for operations in the Black and Mediterranean seas was not the key. A treaty protected that. But intervention in Crimea was a low-risk, low-cost action that would halt the appearance that Russia was hemorrhaging power. It made Russia appear as a bully in the West and a victor at home. That was precisely the image it wanted to project to compensate for its defeat.

Several options are now available to Russia.

First, it can do nothing. The government in Kiev is highly fractious, and given the pro-Russian factions’ hostility toward moving closer to the West, the probability of paralysis is high. In due course, Russian influence, money and covert activities can recreate the prior neutrality in Ukraine in the form of a stalemate. This was the game Russia played after the 2004 Orange Revolution. The problem with this strategy is that it requires patience at a time when the Russian government must demonstrate its power to its citizens and the world. Moreover, if Crimea does leave Ukraine, it will weaken the pro-Russian bloc in Kiev and remove a large number of ethnic Tartars from Ukraine’s political morass. It could be enough of a loss to allow the pro-Russian bloc to lose what electoral power it previously had (Yanukovich beat Yulia Timoshenko by fewer than a million votes in 2010). Thus, by supporting Crimea’s independence — and raising the specter of an aggressive Russia that could bind the other anti-Russian factions together — Putin could be helping to ensure that a pro-Western Ukraine persists.

Second, it can invade mainland Ukraine. There are three problems with this. First, Ukraine is a large area to seize and pacify. Russia does not need an insurgency on its border, and it cannot guarantee that it wouldn’t get one, especially since a significant portion of the population in western Ukraine is pro-West. Second, in order for an invasion of Ukraine to be geopolitically significant, all of Ukraine west of the Dnieper River must be taken. Otherwise, the frontier with Russia remains open, and there would be no anchor to the Russian position. However, this would bring Russian forces to the bank opposite Kiev and create a direct border with NATO and EU members. Finally, if the Russians wish to pursue the first option, pulling eastern Ukrainian voters out of the Ukrainian electoral process would increase the likelihood of an effective anti-Russian government.

Third, it can act along its periphery. In 2008, Russia announced its power with authority by invading Georgia. This changed calculations in Kiev and other capitals in the region by reminding them of two realities. First, Russian power is near. Second, the Europeans have no power, and the Americans are far away. There are three major points where the Russians could apply pressure: the Caucasus countries, Moldova and the Baltics. By using large Russian minority populations within NATO countries, the Russians might be able to create unrest there, driving home the limits of NATO’s power.

Fourth, it can offer incentives in Eastern and Central Europe. Eastern and Central European countries, from Poland to Bulgaria, are increasingly aware that they may have to hedge their bets on Europe and the West. The European economic crisis now affects politico-military relations. The sheer fragmentation of European nations makes a coherent response beyond proclamations impossible. Massive cuts in military spending remove most military options. The Central Europeans feel economically and strategically uneasy, particularly as the European crisis is making the European Union’s largest political powers focus on the problems of the eurozone, of which most of these countries are not members. The Russians have been conducting what we call commercial imperialism, particularly south of Poland, entering into business dealings that have increased their influence and solved some economic problems. The Russians have sufficient financial reserves to neutralize Central European countries.

Last, it can bring pressure to bear on the United States by creating problems in critical areas. An obvious place is Iran. In recent weeks, the Russians have offered to build two new, non-military reactors for the Iranians. Quietly providing technological support for military nuclear programs could cause the Iranians to end negotiations with the United States and would certainly be detected by U.S. intelligence. The United States has invested a great deal of effort and political capital in its relations with the Iranians. The Russians are in a position to damage them, especially as the Iranians are looking for leverage in their talks with Washington. In more extreme and unlikely examples, the Russians might offer help to Venezuela’s weakening regime. There are places that Russia can hurt the United States, and it is now in a position where it will take risks — as with Iran’s nuclear program — that it would not have taken before.

The European and American strategy to control the Russians has been to threaten sanctions. The problem is that Russia is the world’s eighth-largest economy, and its finances are entangled with the West’s, as is its economy. For any sanctions the West would impose, the Russians have a counter. There are many Western firms that have made large investments in Russia and have large Russian bank accounts and massive amounts of equipment in the country. The Russians can also cut off natural gas and oil shipments. This would of course hurt Russia financially, but the impact on Europe — and global oil markets — would be more sudden and difficult to manage. Some have argued that U.S. energy or European shale could solve the problem. The Russian advantage is that any such solution is years away, and Europe would not have years to wait for the cavalry to arrive. Some symbolic sanctions coupled with symbolic counter-sanctions are possible, but bringing the Russian economy to its knees without massive collateral damage would be hard.

The most likely strategy Russia will follow is a combination of all of the above: pressure on mainland Ukraine with some limited incursions; working to create unrest in the Baltics, where large Russian-speaking minorities live, and in the Caucasus and Moldova; and pursuing a strategy to prevent Eastern Europe from coalescing into a single entity. Simultaneously, Russia is likely to intervene in areas that are sensitive to the United States while allowing the Ukrainian government to be undermined by its natural divisions.

Considering the West’s Countermoves

In all of these things there are two questions. The first is what German foreign policy is going to be. Berlin supported the uprising in Ukraine and has on occasion opposed the Russian response, but it is not in a position to do anything more concrete. So far, it has tried to straddle the divides, particularly between Russia and the European Union, wanting to be at one with all. The West has now posed a problem to the Russians that Moscow must respond to visibly. If Germany effectively ignores Russia, Berlin will face two problems. The first will be that the Eastern Europeans, particularly the Poles, will lose massive confidence in Germany as a NATO ally, particularly if there are problems in the Baltics. Second, it will have to face the extraordinary foreign policy divide in Europe. Those countries close to the buffers are extremely uneasy. Those farther away — Spain, for instance — are far calmer. Europe is not united, and Germany needs a united Europe. The shape of Europe will be determined in part by Germany’s response.

The second question is that of the United States. I have spoken of the strategy of balance of power. A balance of power strategy calls for calibration of involvement, not disengagement. Having chosen to support the creation of an anti-Russian regime in Ukraine, the United States now faces consequences and decisions. The issue is not deployments of major forces, but providing the Central Europeans from Poland to Romania with the technology and materiel to discourage Russia from dangerous adventures — and to convince their publics that they are not alone.

The paradox is this: As the sphere of Western influence has moved to the east along Russia’s southern frontier, the actual line of demarcation has moved westward. Whatever happens within the buffer states, this line is critical for U.S. strategy because it maintains the European balance of power. We might call this soft containment.

It is far-fetched to think that the Russians would move beyond commercial activity in this region. It is equally far-fetched that EU or NATO expansion into Ukraine would threaten Russian national security. Yet history is filled with far-fetched occurrences that in retrospect are obvious. The Russians have less room to maneuver but everything at stake. They might therefore take risks that others, not feeling the pressure the Russians feel, would avoid. Again, it is a question of planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

For the United States, creating a regional balance of power is critical. Ideally, the Germans would join the project, but Germany is closer to Russia, and the plan involves risks Berlin will likely want to avoid. There is a grouping in the region called the Visegrad battle group. It is within the framework of NATO and consists of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. It is now more a concept than a military. However, with U.S. commitment and the inclusion of Romania, it could become a low-cost (to the United States) balance to a Russia suddenly feeling insecure and therefore unpredictable. This, and countering Russian commercial imperialism with a U.S. alternative at a time when Europe is hardly in a position to sustain the economies in these countries, would be logical.

This has been the U.S. strategy since 1939: maximum military and economic aid with minimal military involvement. The Cold War ended far better than the wars the Americans became directly involved in. The Cold War in Europe never turned hot. Logic has it that at some point the United States will adopt this strategy. But of course, in the meantime, we wait for Russia’s next move, or should none come, a very different Russia.

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IS-UK:140317:(19-MAR-14):Cameron, The UK And Israel

Albany Tribune 17-Mar-14 [Extract]

The success of that policy is clearly apparent in the just-released trade statistics for 2013. Total UK-Israeli bilateral trade rose over those twelve months by 5.7 per cent, or $300 million, to stand at very nearly $5.5 billion in all.

Trading activity is weighted heavily in favour of Israel. Israel imported some $2 billion-worth of goods from the UK, but exported some $3.5 billion-worth. The UK is, except for the US, Israel’s largest export market.

UK demand for Israeli medicines helped take bilateral trade to its record high, as British patients benefited from Israeli pharmaceutical advances, including drugs for Parkinson’s disease, such as Azilect, developed by Technion scientists, and generic versions of drugs produced by Teva. Other Israeli goods popular with Britons included fruit and vegetables, coffee, tea and spices.

“Given Israel’s status as the ‘start-up nation’, consistently developing new technologies across sectors,” said Hugo Bieber, chief executive of UK Israel Business, a leading organization promoting trade relations between the two countries, “we expect to see trade between the UK and Israel continue to increase.”

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MIN-RU:140314:(19-MAR-14):Russia, Iran discuss further reactors

WorldNuclearNews NN.14 March 2014

Russia and Iran have reportedly reached a preliminary agreement for the construction of two more units at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The first unit at Bushehr, completed by Russia, is already in full operation.

Representatives from the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) and Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom met in Tehran on 12 March to discuss their continued cooperation under an accord signed in 1992.

An AEOI spokesman said that the meeting resulted in the two parties initialling a draft agreement for the construction of two more reactors of at least 1000 MWe each at the existing Bushehr plant. Two desalination plants would also be part of the overall project.

The actual agreement for the two units remains to be signed. Technical and commercial issues relating to the new reactors will also need to be agreed.

Iran’s ambassador in Moscow earlier said that the plant, along with other goods, would be bartered for Iran’s oil, which is subject to United Nations trade sanctions. The electricity from the Bushehr reactor frees up about 1.6 million tonnes (11 million barrels) of oil or 1800 million cubic metres of gas per year, which can be exported for hard currency. Last year Iran’s Energy Minister said that the plant saved some $2 billion per year in oil and gas.

The Bushehr plant

German constructor Siemens KWU began work on two pressurized water reactors at the Bushehr site on the Persian Gulf in 1975, but work was abandoned in 1979. In 1994, Russia agreed with the AEOI to complete the Bushehr unit 1 as a VVER-1000 unit, using mostly the infrastructure already in place. This plan also necessitated major changes, including fabrication of all the main reactor components in Russia under a construction contract with AtomStroyExport.

After years of delay, the Bushehr plant was finally connected to the grid on 4 September 2011, supplying around 60 MWe. Output from the 1000 MWe reactor has since been gradually increased, reaching full capacity in September 2013. Russia is supplying fuel to Bushehr which, once used, will be returned to Russia for reprocessing and storage.

Unlike the controversial parts of Iran’s nuclear program, such as uranium enrichment and a heavy-water reactor, the Bushehr plant has been entirely built and will operate under full International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

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MAR-MSY:140315:(19-MAR-14):On third anniversary of Syrian rebellion, Assad is steadily winning the war

Washington Post 15-Mar-14

Three years into the revolt against his rule, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in a stronger position than ever before to quell the rebellion against his rule by Syrians who rose up to challenge his hold on power, first with peaceful protests and later with arms.

Aided by the steadfast support of his allies and the deepening disarray of his foes, Assad is pressing ahead with plans to be reelected to a third seven-year term this summer while sustaining intense military pressure intended to crush his opponents.

The strategy is not new, but in recent months it has started to yield tangible progress in the form of slow but steady gains on several key fronts on the battlefield that call into question long-held perceptions of a stalemate.

Most notably, the government has pushed the rebels back or squeezed them into isolated pockets in large swathes of the territory surrounding Damascus, diminishing prospects that the opposition will soon be in a position to seriously threaten the capital or topple the regime.

For those who joined the effort to unseat Assad three years ago, flush with the fervor of the Arab Spring protests sweeping the region, the realization that the rebellion is faltering is “deeply depressing,” said Abu Emad, a student activist who has watched as the government has steadily crushed the armed rebellion in his hometown of Homs, once regarded as the epicenter of the revolt.

Saturday marks the third anniversary of the initially tentative anti-government demonstrations that spiraled into civil war, and many Syrians are wondering whether the 140,000 deaths and the displacement of millions of people were worth the price, he said.

“More than ever there is no hope. Not on the ground and not politically,” Abu Emad said, using a pseudonym to protect his identity. “For the rebels to win, it will take a miracle.”

The extent of the progress has been such that Assad felt confident enough this week to travel 20 miles outside Damascus, through territory held by the rebels for much of the past two years. In the northeastern suburb of Adra, he visited displaced people, promised them aid and pledged to uphold the fight.

Meanwhile, the poorly armed and highly disorganized rebels have not launched a significant offensive or captured an important military facility since the fall of Menagh air base in northern Aleppo province in the summer.

A much-anticipated rebel offensive in southern Syria, widely reported to be imminent after the collapse of peace talks in Geneva last month, has not materialized. Nor have new supplies of weapons from foreign backers that the Syrian opposition coalition said were promised last month.

Despite some scattered sightings of Chinese-made anti­tank weapons that were recorded and then posted on the Internet as YouTube videos, there is no indication of any influx of new weapons sufficient to make a difference to the balance of power on the ground, said Jeffry White, defense analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The chances that the government will be able to restore its authority over all the far-flung parts of the country that have slipped beyond its control seem remote. But the likelihood is growing that Assad will be able to pacify enough of the country to sustain his hold on power and claim victory, White said.

“The possibility of the regime winning in a real sense is there,” he said. “It depends on a lot of factors — that the regime continues to get support from [the Lebanese militia] Hezbollah and Iran, that there’s no outside intervention, and that the rebels don’t get better organized or new weaponry. But unless the rebels can change the situation on the ground in some way, the regime is going to keep grinding them down.”

Rebel divisions

Deepening rifts among the rebels have further enhanced the government’s prospects. A revolt in January by an assortment of diverse rebel groups against the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) led to widespread bloodshed across northern Syria, most of which has been under rebel control for the past two years.

The rebel landscape has since continued to fragment. Al-Qaeda’s central command repudiated ISIS, triggering a rift between that group and al-Qaeda’s main Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, that has erupted in fighting in the east of the country. The mainstream Supreme Military Council, backed by the United States, has split into two feuding camps after the ouster of its commander, Gen. Salim Idriss.

The divisions have diverted resources and attention from the effort to dislodge Assad. Since January, 3,000 rebel fighters on both sides have been killed, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Liwa al-Tawheed, the biggest rebel force in Aleppo, lost 500 men in those weeks, compared with 1,300 in two years of fighting government forces, according to a logistician with the brigade, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. His brigade is deeply divided over the confrontation with ISIS, with some battalions in favor of fighting the extremists and others opposed, and the subject is sensitive even within his own unit.

“It has taken a heavy toll, and the regime is taking full advantage,” he said of the rebel rifts. “Now we are in danger of losing Aleppo.”

Meanwhile, preparations are gathering pace in Damascus for presidential elections due by July under the terms of Syria’s current constitution. A new election law passed by Syria’s parliament this week permits challengers to Assad for the first time — but under restrictions that will preclude serious opposition contenders. Candidates must secure support from the parliament, which is dominated by Assad’s Baath Party, and have remained in residence in Syria for the past 10 years.

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi warned members of the Security Council in a briefing Thursday that such an election would jeopardize prospects for a resumption of the failed Geneva peace talks, which underpin the Obama administration’s Syria policy.

“If there is an election, then my suspicion is that the opposition, all the oppositions, will probably not be interested in talking to the government,” he told reporters after the briefing.

The government, however, has displayed no desire to talk to its opponents, and the failure of the Geneva talks also revealed that Syria’s ally Russia is disinclined to pressure Assad to do so. The attention of the United States and other Western powers has been diverted by the crisis in Ukraine, and the opposition’s main Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are consumed with disputes of their own.

In an interview this week with the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon boasted that Russia had succeeded in blocking U.N. action against Syria at the Security Council, and he predicted an Assad victory.

“The Syrian army is making major progress on the ground,” he said. “The tide of the war cannot be reversed anymore.”

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RUK-RU:140318:(19-MAR-14):Crimea Comes One Step Closer to Joining Russia

Stratfor 18-Mar-14

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an accession treaty March 18 between Crimea and the Russian Federation, taking a vital next step toward the annexation of Crimea and further raising the stakes in the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

There are still several steps for Russia’s annexation of Crimea to become official. The Russian Constitutional Court must verify the treaty, and then both houses of the Russian parliament, the Duma and the Federation Council, must vote on it. Deliberations are currently scheduled for March 21. After the vote, a transitional period would be set for Crimea’s integration into Russia’s legal, economic and financial systems, including the incorporation of the ruble as Crimea’s currency. But it appears probable that formal annexation will take place by the end of the week.

Video: The Strategic Importance of Crimea

Russia had hinted that it could delay moving on Crimea’s annexation if the West showed willingness to compromise on its position regarding the new Ukrainian government. However, the European Union and United States held firm on the legitimacy of the government. They have pushed for Ukraine to be further integrated into EU and Western structures, with Ukraine expected to sign the political sections of the EU association agreement on March 21. The United States and European Union also passed sanctions against certain Russian and Ukrainian political and security officials March 17, and both said stronger sanctions could come later in the week.

The West cannot stop Crimea’s annexation through sanctions, as Putin’s latest move has shown. Russia had floated proposals on a “contact group” to negotiate over the future structure of the Ukrainian government, but the West and Ukraine rejected this proposal, which Kiev said was akin to an ultimatum. As a result, Russia has made clear that it will move forward with the annexation of Crimea, although Putin did say in his March 18 speech that there are no plans to try to divide Ukraine further.

The West will now push for stronger sanctions against Russia and the further integration of Ukraine into the West, though the potential effectiveness of both objectives remains limited. In the meantime, Russia will focus on discrediting the Ukrainian government, which it still deems illegitimate. Moscow could look for leverage in other places as well, including strengthening ties with Iran or incorporating other breakaway territories such as Moldova’s Transdniestria and Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There is the potential for a significant escalation between Russia and the West to go far beyond Ukraine.

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RU:140317:(19-MAR-14):Putin 3.0

Mark Galeotti blog 17-Mar-14

I don’t, alas, have time to give it a proper consideration, but my initial response from watching Putin’s Crimea speech is that this is another of those watershed moments. To me, we are seeing in foreign as well as domestic politics, a new Putin, let’s call him Putin 3.0, an idea I first developed in the most recent Power Vertical podcast. Putin 1.0, in his first terms in office, was characterised by assertive, sometimes ruthless, but essentially pragmatic policy. Putin was no fan of the West and its ideals, but nor did he regard himself as being at odds with it in any fundamental way, only when it tried to impede his own ambitions. Putin 2.0, after the “castling”, his return to office and the unexpected rise of the “non-system opposition”, was increasingly interested in foreign policy precisely as a way of assuaging or diverting domestic pressure. He genuinely seemed — and seems — to lack any real sense of how to build legitimacy in a time of increasing economic trouble, except through well-trumpeted triumphs, from Syria to Sochi. Even so, despite often-bruising rhetoric and such acts as the wilful persecution of US ambassador Mike McFaul (a man whose transparent well-meaning commitment to building bridges and spreading amity was akin to a “kick me” sign on his back in these days of bare-knuckled Moscow), anti-Westernism was a tool, a means to an end, deployed when useful, ignored when not.

Now, though, I can’t help but feel we have Putin 3.0, a man casting aside cerebral notions for a more gut sense of where next to go. A man whose self-image of himself as Russia’s saviour, as well as a growing belief in what we could call Russian exceptionalism, a belief that Russian civilisation has a distinctive and unique place in the world and must be protected from homogenising Western influence, have come to the forefront. From being a means to an end, anti-Westernism becomes an end in itself as is is just the flip side–to him–of preserving and exalting Russian civilisation. The way the usual litany of grievances now seems to have even sharper edge, the sense that Russia must act the way it acts not because it is right but because others did it wrong, a commitment to “re”taking Crimea in absolute contradiction to common sense and, to be blunt, Russia’s real best interests (as Ben Aris has pointed out, even before any sanctions, this crisis has already cost Russian over $400 B, or 8 Sochis…), all of these show a real change.

No, it’s not madness. It’s not even a global danger (remember, Russian civilisation, like the Russian Orthodox Church that buttresses it, is not an aggressively and pan-ethnically evangelistic religion). But as he signs the decree annexing Crimea, it does begin to recast Russia’s relations with the outside world, in a way that will be hard to manage, tough for Russia’s neighbours and also, I suspect, ultimately disastrous for this regime.

Dr Mark Galeotti has been researching Russian history and security issues since the late 1980s. Educated at Cambridge University and the LSE, he is now Clinical Professor of Global Affairs at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and an associate member of NYU’s History and Russian & Slavic Studies departments.

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RUK-RU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Against Russia, Ukraine Has Few Military Options

Stratfor 19-Mar-14

On Tuesday, the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Moscow’s intent to annex Crimea, unmarked soldiers entered a military base in Simferopol, sparking a limited exchange of gunfire in spite of the standing cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia. The firefight reportedly left one Ukrainian soldier and one of the unmarked soldiers dead. Kiev responded quickly; the Defense Ministry authorized its troops to use deadly force in response to any more incursions on its bases. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the conflict had entered a “military phase.”

But there is very little Ukraine can do militarily. First, its geography works against it. Crimea is an isolated peninsula that connects to mainland Ukraine through a small and easily controllable land bridge. In earlier stages of the Ukraine crisis, Russian troops strategically moved to seize not only this land bridge but also all potential points of resistance within Crimea. Their maneuvering included moves to either occupy or surround Ukrainian military installations, with a focus on sites that could be used for combat, such as air defense sites, a marine battalion, special operations units of the interior guards, an air base and its combat aircraft, and naval ships. Through a combination of Russian actions — sinking ships to act as a blockade, disarming military units, destroying equipment and isolating Ukrainian military personnel — Ukrainian forces have been relegated to scattered bases that are cut off from the mainland.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman explains.

Moreover, Kiev cannot easily assist its troops stationed in Crimea. The military’s state of readiness is poor, and its reliability is in question. Concentrating forces is also difficult, since potential threats lie in all directions. To the east, there is a 1,200-mile border with as many as 60,000 Russian troops actively conducting military exercises. To the north, there is Belarus, a staunch Russian ally that cannot be dismissed. To the west, there is a contingent of 1,500 Russian soldiers — a small but not insignificant force — that provide security assistance to Transdniestria. To the south, there is an expanded Russian military presence in Crimea itself. This forces Ukrainian military planners to look in every direction and puts troops in defensive postures. Any move by Ukraine leaves openings that can be exploited by Russia.

Of course, this does not mean that Ukraine will refrain from military action. However, it does mean that the threats are so potentially costly that the threshold for action is enormously high. It will likely take a more severe incident than the one seen on Tuesday to elicit a physical response from Kiev. (Otherwise, it will take a bolder military move by Russia.) Because Kiev has no hard military support from the West, the government’s best option is to cry foul for international support and quietly withdraw its forces from Crimea, or leave its troops there in hopes that Russia will not expel them so forcibly that it necessitates a Western response. Either way, its options are limited, and Crimea is well on the way to being permanently in the Russian fold.

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CO-EU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Orthodoxy and Europe

Stratfor 19-Mar-14

Horia-Roman Patapievici is a Romanian philosopher who, way back in the late 1990s, told me that Romania’s task was to acquire a public style based on impersonal and transparent rules like in the West, otherwise business and politics would be full of intrigue. And he questioned whether Romania’s Eastern Orthodox tradition is helpful in this regard. He went on to explain that Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Russia, Greece and Cyprus — the Orthodox nations of Europe — were all characterized by weak institutions, compared with those of northwestern Europe. He and many others have intimated that this is partly because Orthodoxy is flexible and contemplative, thus tolerant of the world as it is, having created its own alternative order.

Because of Orthodoxy, according to the late British historian Hugh Seton-Watson, early 20th-century Russians who lost their religious faith did not become “rationalist skeptics” in the Western tradition; they merely transferred their spiritual fervor to social revolution. Nicolas Berdyaev, a Russian intellectual of the era, observed that Bolshevism was an Orthodox form of Marxism, because it underscored “totality.” (Indeed, Stalin, who studied for six years at an Orthodox monastery in Georgia, gave speeches that evoked the singsong litanies of the church.)

There is much to debate here. But clearly, given the millennia-old traditions of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, with its forests of beeswax candles, silver-plated icons and other exemplars of intoxicating magic, there is a clear otherness to Orthodoxy that defines it as a great world religion. To say that the Orthodox countries that dominate the Balkans and Russia are capable eventually of the same level of institutional development as those in northwestern Europe is altogether reasonable; but to say that such things as culture and religion simply do not contribute at all to different development patterns in Greater Europe is not reasonable.

Culture, geography and historical experience are all of primary significance. They make us what we are. To erase the past and to say that we are suddenly all identical creatures in a global meeting hall is the height of folly. Yet that, after a fashion, is what Europe’s elites have believed for decades. If you even mention national characteristics to them, such as those devolved from Orthodoxy, you are an “essentialist,” an academic word that means you are guilty of ethnic stereotyping. But can it be wholly an accident that the countries facing the direst financial and political straits in Europe today are mainly in the southeastern and southern parts of the continent? Clearly, geography, history and religion play some sort of a role, however much they can be overcome, and however difficult it is to quantify them.

The key word in Orthodoxy is “Eastern.” This is a Christianity that has battled Western Roman Catholicism just as much as it has battled Islam. Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy have the common experience of having lived for centuries under the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Muslim Turks were often more tolerant of their Orthodox Christian subjects than the Catholic Habsburgs had been. And before the Turks there was the Byzantine Empire in southeastern Europe. All of this gave the Balkans a weaker institutional and economic basis than the countries of Central and Western Europe, which lived under Prussian, Habsburg and Bourbon rule. These things matter, even if they are not determinative. Indeed, prior to the onslaught of Nazism and Communism, countries such as France, Germany, Austria and Poland were characterized by authentic middle classes more than by peasantries — unlike Orthodox countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.

Today, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Serbia and Macedonia, are engulfed by political intrigue and bad governance to a much greater degree than countries to the north and the west. Greece is in the midst of an economic catastrophe comparable to the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s, and Cyprus has undergone the worst banking crisis in Europe, in part related to deposits from many shady Russians. And that, in turn, is a demonstration of the weak institutions that bedevil Russia, another Orthodox country. The situation is, of course, complex. Cyprus, for instance, even though it is the closest of these countries to the Middle East, actually has had the most efficient institutions of any of them, owing to its strong British colonial heritage. And Romania, despite the awful legacy of Nicolae Ceausescu’s national Stalinism, has impressively avoided catastrophe for a quarter century now and is inching forward in terms of its economy and institutions. Nevertheless, as someone who lived in Greece and traveled through the Balkans continually for many years, I can say that this region is clearly not entirely Europe, but an intermediary zone between Europe and the Near East.

The incorporation of much of this area into the European Union was not necessarily imprudent. To be sure, years from now the Balkans could well be a zone of stability and prosperity as much as anyplace in Western Europe. Again, the record of history and religion does not determine a country’s fate. Vastly better and worse outcomes are possible, based on the choices made by policymakers.

But the more informed by history and geography decision makers are, the better the likelihood for wise choices. Unfortunately, that was not entirely the case in Europe. In fact, an ahistorical generation of Eurocrats in Brussels and elsewhere decided to form a geographically wide-ranging currency union, composed of countries with a vast variety of historical and developmental experiences, without also forming a political union to better manage the single currency.

By contrast, the United States could form a single currency union over an entire continent, with significant political autonomy for the individual states. This is because, while there were stark developmental and cultural differences between, say, Minnesota in the north and Mississippi in the south, everyone nevertheless spoke one language. What’s more, the common historical experience of democracy and westward expansion was something that the far-flung member states of the EU never enjoyed.

The United States, moreover, has had a federal government presiding over all the 50 states, and while different religions are practiced, they are not geographically specific to the extent that they are in Europe — Catholicism and Protestantism in the west and Orthodoxy in the southeast. Religion plus geographical specificity equals identity and historical experience. Thus, the United States, with all its current political pathologies, is workable; a united Europe isn’t yet.

The Eurocrats in Brussels spent decades extoling the social welfare state as a panacea to Europe’s historical ills. This was possible only because the United States took care of Europe’s physical security. As the U.S. troop footprint in Europe lessens from its Cold War heights, and as the social welfare state in the Mediterranean south becomes undone, Europe may well — in a very subtle way, to be sure — revert to regions loosely based on historical experience, like those of Orthodoxy and the Turkish and Habsburg empires. You could have a strong eurozone in the north and weaker eurozones in the Balkans and southern Europe.

Europe is not strictly a financial story. It is a political story, and therefore a geopolitical one. Orthodox Russia, despite the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, still lies uncomfortably next door to Central and Eastern Europe, as we have seen especially in recent weeks. The Balkans are still what they always have been: on the fault line between Europe and Asia. And Iberia bears a history of modern dictatorship that still affects its politics and economics. Therefore, the cultural observations of those like Romanian philosopher Patapievici, historian Seton-Watson and Russian intellectual Berdyaev are still relevant. Patapievici, in particular, is a liberal humanist and a cosmopolitan who believes fervently in human agency and the sanctity of the individual, but who also knows that centuries-old traditions and belief systems do count for something. They simply cannot be dismissed out of hand.

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RUO-RU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Anxiety grows in Europe as Transnistria asks for Russian annexation

EurActiv 19-Mar-14

Following the annexation of Crimea, the Russian-controlled province of Transnistria in Moldova has asked to join Russia, triggering concerns over the region’s future stability, as experts lay down worst-case scenarios.

As Transnistrian authorities requested from the Russian Federation on 17 March to integrate their breakaway province, following the Crimean example, the Romanian president, Traian Băsescu warned in an interview with Associated Press that Moldova was in “great danger”.

Transnistria, inhabited by a majority of Russian-speaking citizens, separated from Moldova when the USSR collapsed in 1991, citing fears that once independent, Moldova would eventually “join Romania”, of which it was a part before World War II.

The Romanian president, who is known for his own irredentist comments about Moldova, told the press that Kyiv and Chișinău were a “priority for Vladimir Putin who wants to rebuild the Soviet Union.”

“If you look at the map, you will see this chain of frozen conflicts” around the Black Sea “that can be set off at any time,” Băsescu was quoted as saying.

The concern is shared by EU officials, although nobody dares to go as far as the Romanian head of state in the wording: “there is anticipation in the EU that Russia will do something, and that it will increasingly be bullying the countries in the region,” an EU source told EurActiv.

“His concerns are in line with other member states who are voicing concerns about the issue, we know that Putin will do something in Georgia and Moldova.”

Destabilisation ‘with all means’

Moscow began the campaign to unsettle Moldova when a pro-European government took over from the pro-Russian Communists in 2009, and started working on an Association Agreement with the EU.

Economic measures such as a ban on Moldova’s wine exports, and threats of restrictions towards Moldovan migrant workers – which contribute millions of euros yearly to Chișinău’s economy – have been repeatedly announced by Moscow.

“We know that there are lots of issues through which they can intimidate Moldova. The wines and agricultural products, as well as the migrant workers, of course, but we’ve also seen they upped the tension in Gagauzia, where the referendum has Russian fingerprints all over. They will try to destabilise with all means.”

Gagauzia, another autonomous region on Moldovan territory under Russian influence, held a referendum in early February calling for closer ties with Russia and an integration into Putin’s Eurasian Union, rejecting an association deal with the EU. This was supported by 98.4% of voters, while another 98.9% voted in favour of Gaugazia’s independence should Moldova join the EU one day.

But European diplomats fear a further deterioration.

“An open aggression is not excluded. The Russians have shown that they have no problem using raw force if they think they have an interest. We can expect anything from them and it’s up to the EU to prevent them,” EU sources say. They declined to predict the outcome of the European Council’s debate on Thursday and Friday in which EU leaders could decide on further sanctions toward Russia.

Worst case scenario by September?

Kamil Calus, an expert on Moldova in the Polish Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), said it was “highly unlikely that Russia would decide to launch an armed attack on Moldova from Transnistria”, but would not rule out a similar scenario to Crimea taking place in Gagauzia or even in the “pro-Russian Taraclia district” in the South.

“Moving self-defence units from Transnistria would not be very complicated. Arms could be moved from Transistria on civilian buses or cars,” Calus explained.

“The Russian intervention in Crimea showed that Moscow is willing to use its armed forces as well to achieve this goal. This means that Russia can set off one or all of the frozen conflicts as well. Therefore we have to take under consideration the possibility that Russia would use its military presence in Transnistria against Moldova. Undoubtedly, if this scenario takes place than it will be realised until September at the latest, as then Chisinau plans on signing the Association Agreement with the EU,” he told EurActiv in an email.

According to Calus, Russia would not go for such a scenario without “a pretext”: The “destabilisation of the political situation or the collapse of the government in Chișinău may serve as a convenient excuse.”

Moldova is set for parliamentary elections in November at which pro-European and pro-Russian forces will compete.

EU membership

Talking to EurActiv on 17 March, the Moldovan deputy prime minister, Natalia Gherman, expressed confidence that pro-European forces would come out victorious at the next elections and said the situation in Transnistria is “under control” but that provocations could happen.

However she said that “offering an EU membership perspective to Eastern partnership countries is a matter of urgent necessity”, as it will have “mobilising effects and provide a sense of direction”.

Taboos over a possible accession in the future of Eastern partnership countries are slowly starting to fall since the Ukrainian crisis began.

Although countries such as France are opposed to it, EU officials are citing the Lisbon Treaty’s article 49 which describes the conditions for membership application.

In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt this week, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said that “if we are serious about transforming post-Soviet societies, we should be serious about using the most powerful tools we have at our disposal – the enlargement policy.”

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IS:140319:(19-MAR-14):OECD report shows high levels of poverty in Israel

Israel Chris Emb Jeru.  19-Mar-14

Despite a bustling economy including a world-renowned hi-tech industry and universities, Israel has the highest rate of poverty in the developed world, according to a report released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The report, entitled “Society at a Glance 2014” includes statistics showing that the poverty rate in Israel is 20.9%, nearly twice the OECD average of 11.3%. Israel also compared poorly with other developed countries in categories such as income inequality and confidence in public institutions and banks. However, Israel’s birthrate was the highest in the OECD in 2011, at 3.0 children per woman, compared to the OECD average of 1.70.

RUK-RU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Russia: Forces Take 2nd Ukrainian Naval Base In Crimea

Stratfor 19-Mar-14

Russian forces took control of a second Ukrainian naval base in western Crimea on March 19, AFP reported. Some 50 Ukrainian military personnel left the installation as pro-Russian Crimeans raised the Russian flag. The move came just hours after Russia seized the main navy headquarters in Sevastopol.

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RUK-RU:140319:(19-MAR-14):Ukraine: Russia Issues Passports To Crimean Citizens

Stratfor 19-Mar-14

Russia started to issue passports to Crimeans on March 19 as new Russian citizens, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Crimea voted March 16 to leave Ukraine and join Russia. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry will introduce a visa regime for Russian citizens entering the country, and Ukrainian officials said Ukraine will withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States.

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RUK-RU-EGE:140319:(19-MAR-14):Germany: Military Contract With Russia Suspended

Stratfor 19-Mar-14

Germany will suspend a deal signed in 2011 to construct a combat simulation center for Russian troops in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported March 19. The deal between Russia and German defense contractor Rheinmetall is worth about 100 million euros (about $138 million). The German Economy Ministry said that the combat simulator, which would help train up to 30,000 Russian soldiers per year according to reports, was not justifiable in the current situation.

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Milestones Snippets 12-16th March 2014


IS-UK:140312:(16-03-14):Full Transcript: UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s Speech at Israel’s Knesset, 2014

The Algemeiner 12-Mar-14

Well worth reading.

RUK-RU-EU:140312:(16-03-14):Russia and the EU Exchange Threats Over Ukraine

Stratfor 12-Mar-14


Over the past few days, threats have flown back and forth across Eurasia as a result of the ongoing Ukraine crisis. Russia is committed to its long-term goal of ensuring a neutral Ukraine, which it considers part of its sphere of influence, as a buffer with the European Union. While Moscow is willing to accept Ukrainian neutrality, EU and NATO integration is a red line for the Kremlin. Russia has threatened to use powerful economic, political and military levers to pressure the fledgling government in Kiev and its European supporters. In the meantime, the Europeans have repeatedly warned of impending sanctions should Russia keep its troops in Crimea and refuse to negotiate with the interim government in Kiev.

The Kremlin has warned of plans to award Russian citizenship to native Russian speakers across the former Soviet periphery, to cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, to annex Crimea and to discontinue U.S. inspections of strategic nuclear missile facilities. Russia is using these threats to highlight its ability and willingness to disrupt Europe’s basic economic and defense structures.

In response, the European Union has also been publicly building up its leverage vis-a-vis Russia. On Monday, Brussels put its decision regarding the OPAL pipeline and its negotiations with regards to South Stream on hold, reminding Russia of its financial reliance on European customers and distribution networks. Today, the European Commission announced plans, subject to members’ approval, to cut tariffs on Ukrainian goods temporarily in an attempt to show its ability to provide Ukraine strong economic incentives for Western integration. European leaders have repeatedly said that sanctions and asset freezes for Russian officials are forthcoming if Russia doesn’t engage in negotiations more meaningfully.

Both sides have refrained from acting on the most significant of their threats, each waiting to see what step the other will take over the coming days. The threats are meant to display each side’s respective leverage. Actually following through with them is another matter.

For Russia, the costs of acting on its threats are enormous. Though Russia already has a strongly protectionist economy, new trade restrictions on Ukraine would still harm Russian industry, especially in regions bordering Ukraine, where Russia’s already-struggling regional economies are closely linked to Ukraine’s industrial east. Cutting natural gas exports to Ukraine would reduce Gazprom’s revenues, while pulling out of the New START treaty or the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty could potentially draw Russia into an expensive arms race that would drain the country’s limited resources. Moreover, annexing Crimea sets a dangerous precedent for Russia itself. If Ukraine can be divided, than separatist regions within the Russian Federation, such as Chechnya and Tatarstan, which are primarily populated with non-ethnic Russians, may conclude that Russia itself is divisible. This is also a concern for countries such as Kazakhstan that are currently in Russia’s camp but are wary of a potential repeat of Crimean secessionism in their own territories. Ultimately, annexation could also lessen Russia’s influence over Ukraine’s political future, since the largely pro-Russian Crimeans would no longer be able to vote in Ukrainian national elections, at least in theory.

While Russia does not want its economy, national security and international influence to suffer as a result of its Ukrainian intervention, it would be willing to carry out its threats if these remain the only means for guaranteeing Ukraine’s neutrality. Russia previously has shown its willingness to weather the fallout from similar threats involving energy cuts and military action in a neighboring country.

For its part, the European Union would also face difficult repercussions if it chose to follow through on its threats of more significant sanctions and stalled energy negotiations. Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, coupled with close financial links between the business hubs of Western Europe and Moscow, translate into steep costs for any disturbance to Russia’s commercial ties with Europe. For now, EU willingness to follow through on its promises and threats regarding Ukraine depends on Russian maneuvers. European leaders, who are divided because of the diverse set of constraints facing each member country, are watching the Kremlin’s moves closely.

Russia and the European Union have demonstrated that they each have sufficient leverage to cause the other side significant grief, but both sides have left themselves space to back down. As Crimea prepares for its March 16 referendum and the interim government in Kiev hopes to sign the political aspects of its association agreement with the European Union the following week, Moscow and Brussels are stalling on definitive actions. Neither side wants to bear the costs of all the threats it has made, but both are keeping their fingers on the trigger.


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RUK-RU:140312:(16-03-14):Russia: Rights Of Crimean Tatars To Be Reinstated In Event Of Annexation

Stratfor 12-Mar-14


The Russian State Duma said March 12 that it would guarantee the restoration of rights for Crimean Tatars if Crimea votes for reunification with Russia, Interfax reported. The Turkish government on March 11 expressed concern for the fate of the Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group, living in Crimea.


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RUK-RU:140312:(16-03-14):Ukraine: Crimea To Take Over State Firms On Peninsula

Stratfor 12-Mar-14


Crimean First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev said March 12 that Crimea would begin taking over Ukrainian state companies on the peninsula, Reuters reported. The Chornomornaftogaz energy company and the state railway company will be taken over along with multiple resorts owned by ministries in Kiev, Temirgaliev said. Owners of private companies should register their property under Russian law, he added.


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MEPT-IS-MPA:140312:(16-03-14):At the Heart of the Jewish State Issue

Daily Alert summary from – Jonathan S. Tobin (Commentary) 12-Mar-14 (Full story


    Let’s first dismiss the claim that the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is an innovation on Netanyahu’s part whose purpose is to derail the peace process. There’s nothing new about it. The original 1947 UN partition resolution stated that the land was to be divided between an Arab state and one it designated as a “Jewish state.” If the Palestinians are now reversing their adamant rejection of partition by saying they will be satisfied by an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, there should be no problem accepting this term.

But the Palestinians can’t say the words “Jewish state” because to do so would force them to give up their historical narrative. The key principle of Palestinian nationalism is rejection of Zionism and the existence of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. If Palestinians agree that a Jewish state has a right to exist, that means they are forever giving up their dreams of extinguishing it.

Palestinians claim that agreeing to Israel being a Jewish state would compromise the rights of Israel’s Arab minority. Yet they know very well that Israel’s basic laws hold that it is both a Jewish state and one in which ethnic and religious minorities have full rights. Israeli Arabs are equal before the law in Israel, and serve in its Knesset, government, and judiciary.

While some are mindlessly blaming Netanyahu for fighting a two-state solution he has already accepted, the Palestinians persist in laying down terms for peace that are unrealistic. Two little words would be enough to convince the world that the Palestinians are sincere about peace. The more the Palestinians explain why they cannot say them, the more obvious it becomes that peace is not their objective.


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MIN-MEO:140313:(16-03-14):Iran: Natural Gas Export Deal Signed With Oman

Stratfor 13-Mar-14


Iran signed a deal with Oman whereby it will supply 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas through an as-yet-unconstructed pipeline, Press TV reported March 13. The project should be online within three years, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said. The infrastructure will be funded by Oman at an estimated cost of $1 billion, Namdar-Zanganeh said, adding that some of the natural gas could be sold to nearby countries through a joint marketing company. Oman has a special relationship with Iran and has served as a conduit between the Americans and the Iranians.


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MIN-RU:140313:(16-03-14):Russia: Iranian Oil Minister In Moscow To Discuss Economic Cooperation

Stratfor 13-Mar-14


Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh arrived in Moscow late March 13 to meet with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, IRNA reported. Namdar-Zanganeh will discuss ways to deepen economic cooperation between the countries. This is the third meeting between Iran and Russia in recent weeks.


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RUK-RU-CR:140307:(16-03-14):The Black Madonna and the Russian Problem

Asharq Al-Awsat 07-Mar-14 [An Arabic newspaper based in London]


(Mr. Taheri is an Iranian columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic newspaper based in London, which bills itself as “the leading Arabic international paper” and “the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper.” The web site says: “Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.” Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for many publications, has published 11 books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.)

Last month, when Vladimir Putin ordered that the Black Madonna of Kazan, the holiest icon of the Russian Orthodox Church, be flown over the Black Sea, many believed he wished to secure blessings for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

It was the first time the icon, or rather a copy of it, since the original was stolen and possibly destroyed in 1904, was deployed to bless a peaceful enterprise. Over the centuries, the “Black Virgin” has been taken to battlefields to bless Russian armies fighting Swedish, Polish, Turkish, Persian, French and German invaders. Stalin sent it to Stalingrad in 1943 to ensure victory over the German invaders under Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus.

With Putin’s troops in control of Crimea and threatening to move further into Ukraine, we now know that the icon was brought in to bless a military operation this time as well.

Putin appears strong because US President Barack Obama, accidentally cast as the leader of Western democracies, is weak. Putin is over-using the power Russia really doesn’t have because Obama under-uses the power the US does have. As long as Obama prevents the US from playing the leadership role it has had since the end of World War II, Putin will see no reason why he should not pursue his dream of reviving the Soviet Empire wherever possible. In doing so he is acting within a tradition established since the 18th century, when Russia emerged as a power with a pathological fear of encirclement. That fear has always made Russia aggressive.

Throughout the 19th century, Russia used “the protection of Christian minorities” as an excuse for invading its Muslim neighbors, especially the Ottoman Empire and Iran, annexing vast chunks of territory. The whole of Northern Caucasus, plus Georgia and Armenia, were annexed with that excuse, as was Crimea. In the 18th century, Empress Catherine II used the pretext of protecting Christians to wrest away Dagestan and Georgia from Iran.

Russia also used the excuse to seize territories that belonged to European neighbors, including Germany, Poland and Finland. For almost 100 years, Russia expanded at the average rate of 62 square miles (100 square kilometers) a day, creating history’s largest empire in terms of territory.

Casting itself as the “Third Rome” and the final defender of Christianity, Russian empire-builders claimed that their enterprise enjoyed divine blessing.

Russia has used the trick of granting Russian nationality to people in neighboring countries as a pretext for invasion since the 18th century. In 1829, Russia used the excuse of freeing Georgian women, supposedly granted Russian citizenship, from the harem of the Qajar Shah of Persia as a pretext for an invasion of Iran. A Tehran mob retaliated by murdering the Russian chargé d’affaires, Alexander Griboyedov.

In 1911, a number of Qajar princes led by Shu’a Al-Saltaneh (The Light Beam of Monarchy) and opposed to Iran’s Constitutional Revolution declared themselves subjects of the Tsar and raised Russian flags on top of their palaces. The Tsar used the pretext of “protecting” his subjects for invading Iran, occupying five Iranian provinces and sending an army to destroy the newly created Iranian parliament.

In 1912, Russia used the excuse of protecting its citizens for invading parts of China and annexing large chunks of land, especially in what is now Mongolia. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the empire, re-named the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, replaced Christianity with Communism as its ideological matrix. It was in the name of defending “Socialism” that, in the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union sent is tanks to Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, too, was sold as a bid to “defend Socialism.”

After the disintegration of the Soviet Empire in 1991, Russia revived the old excuse of protecting its “kith and kin” in neighboring countries. In some instances, those minorities are genuine communities shaped over a century or so. In others, however, “kith-and-kin” communities are artificial creations to be used as a means of pressure on weaker neighbors.

Under Putin, Moscow has been distributing large numbers of Russian passports, some suggest millions, in neighboring countries, notably Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Kazakhstan. There are also significant numbers of Russian passport-holders in Transnistria, part of Moldova, which does not have a border with Russia.

The first test of the “kith-and-kin” excuse came in 2000 when, as prime minister, Putin forced Tajikistan to host 15,000 Russian troops stationed at six bases. The next time “kith-and-kin” was cited was in August 2008, coinciding with the Beijing Olympics, when Putin, this time as president, ordered an invasion of Georgia and annexed the autonomous republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Today, Russia has some 40,000 troops stationed in the two enclaves.

Ukraine is the third nation to experience Putin’s “kith-and-kin” game, and if Putin manages to pull this one off, it will not be the last. Putin’s shenanigans in Crimea are symptoms of a deeper malaise caused by Russia’s inability to gauge its place in the post-Cold War international order and the inability of European powers and the United States to accommodate Russia in a way commensurate with its weight, if not its ambitions.

In the past quarter of a century, with the loss of its glacis in eastern and central Europe, Russia has seen NATO arrive right at its borders. The entire European continent has been reorganized within the framework fixed by NATO and the European Union. Today, Russia is just one of four European powers still shut out of both NATO and the EU. It took Russia almost two decades to gain admission into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and, more tentatively, be offered a side chair at the G8. The only leadership slot Russia has had is its veto-holding seat in the UN’s Security Council, a relic of the Cold War. But even then, until Obama paralyzed US foreign policy the Western powers, led by Washington, simply ignored Russia whenever it suited them, as was the case in the 2003 military intervention in Iraq.

Putin has built his narrative on the theme of encirclement by hostile powers and their “agents” inside Russia. To the West, Russia is shut out of Europe, which paradoxically remains its principal trading partner. To the south, Russia is hemmed in by a string of Muslim-majority nations with deep-rooted resentment of Tsarist and Communist oppression. To the east, Russia faces two hostile powers—China and Japan, part of whose territories remain under Russian occupation.

At home, Russia faces a seemingly endless war against jihadist forces in five Caucasian republics, while relations with Georgia and Armenia remain strained. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev claims that Russia today is in the vanguard of fighting “Islamic terror” and its aim of world conquest. However, jihadists are not alone in posing a threat to Putin’s idealized vision of a greater Russia seeking global leadership. Well-financed Christian missionary groups, mostly from the US, are expanding their networks throughout Russia at the expense of the Orthodox Church, which has become Putin’s principal ideological ally.

To make matters worse for Putin, his autocratic style of rule is also challenged by a growing number of Russians seduced by the Western ideas of multi-party democracy, pluralism and desacralization of political power.

Meanwhile, the domination of the Russian economy by the oligarchs, whose support Putin needs, has slowed down, and in some cases even prevented, genuine development. Russia has become an exporter of raw materials, especially oil and gas, dependent on European markets. Worse still, a good part of the capital formed in Russia finds its way into European banks, especially in Britain and Switzerland.

Today, the real issue is not whether Russian troops remain inside their bases in Crimea or show their teeth in the streets of Sebastopol. The real issue is how to find Russia a place in a world order in the creation of which it played no part. Putin’s current policy could transform Russia into a fully fledged rogue state. And that would be dangerous both for Russia and the world, even if the Black Madonna of Kazan were brought in to perform a miracle.


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MIN-RU:140314:(16-03-14):Iran, Russia to finalize trade deal soon: Iran oil minister

PressTv 14-Mar-14 [Iran]


Iran and Russia are set to finalize an agreement they have reached for broader economic and trade cooperation, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh says.

“The memorandum of understanding for the development of Tehran-Moscow cooperation will be finalized early next [Iranian calendar] year [starting on March 21],” Zanganeh, currently on a state visit to the Russian capital, Moscow, said on Friday.

He added that the Islamic Republic is determined to raise the volume of its “economic transactions” with Russia under long-term deals, underscoring the “unacceptably low level” of Iran-Russia trade.

Iran-Russia trade currently totals USD 5 billion a year, but economists say they can at least quadruple the volume of their trade exchanges.

“The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is seriously determined to broaden its cooperation with Russia in the technical and technological sectors for the bilateral procurement of commodities and services,” said Zanganeh.

In February, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow is in talks with Iran for increasing energy cooperation with a view to raising trade exchanges.

Novak said Iran and Russia are looking for a “financial scheme” to facilitate the supply of “metallurgy, machine-building and energy equipment” by Russian companies to Iran.

Russia’s second largest oil producer Lukoil has voiced its willingness to return to Iran to develop a block of oil fields as international sanctions against Iran are shrinking.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation has expressed hope for the finalization of a deal for the construction of a second unit at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant.


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IS-ME:140313:(16-03-14):Mideast Realignment Solidifies Global Oil Flow  13-Mar-14 [I know nothing about this blogger!]


Morris Beschloss

The major geopolitical event facilitating the free flow of Mideast crude oil, in light of increasing global demand, is the once incredible cooperation developing between Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.

While sanctioned Iran’s oil, with one of the world’s most extensive reserves, has directed most of its external oil shipments to China, India and other nations not abiding by the U.N. sanctions, and most of Mideastern oil production undergoing substantial internal turbulence, precluding normal production, Saudi Arabia is under excruciating pressure to produce to full limit.

However, its hostile relationship with Iran has increasingly endangered its future stability, which has caused it to unofficially “recognize” Israel and its military power. Egypt, led by the new Mideast strongman, Field Marshall el-Sisi, which has crushed the nefarious Moslem Brotherhood, has also joined with Israel to pacify the lawless Sinai peninsula. Also, Egypt is quietly enhancing its economic relations with the Jewish state, especially in the areas of oil production in the Sinai, as well as onshore and offshore natural gas, while Israel is sharing its advanced desalination technology with Cairo, and likely the Saudis in the future.

While martial circumstances are uniting these strange bedfellows, this tri-partite relationship will likely generate positive economic consequences— while replacing America’s failed policies in this region. With Egypt, and its 80 million strong population serving as a “demand” cornerstone, Israel adding technological development, and the Saudis contributing record oil production capability, this comprises a solid offset against Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah and Gaza’s Hamas satellites.

It is supremely ironic that such a dramatic new alliance would be the positive upshot of an Arab regional animosity, which seemed to view the ultimate destruction of “Zionism” as its ultimate goal.


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CR-CV:140314:(16-03-14):Patriarch Kirill Praises Ties With Vatican in Letter to Pope

RIA Novosti 14-Mar-14


The head of the Russian Orthodox Church praised ties between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Holy See on Thursday in his letter congratulating Pope Francis on his first anniversary as pontiff.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill said bilateral ties between the Russian Orthodox and the Catholic churches have improved in the past year.

“I am pleased to note the high degree of mutual understanding and efforts by both sides to strengthen cooperation between the Russian Orthdoxy and Catholicism for the purpose of strengthening Christian moral values in the modern world,” Patriarch Kirill said.

Relations between the two churches have been strained over a few issues that have prevented the churches’ leaders from meeting. The Moscow Patriarchate has in particular accused the Vatican of trying to lead believers away from the Russian Church – an accusation the Roman Catholics have denied.


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CV-US:140314:(16-03-14):Pope Francis invited to address US Congress

Catholic World News 14-Mar-14


Rep. John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has invited Pope Francis to address the United States Congress.

“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manners and servant leadership,” Boehner said in his invitation letter, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times.

After referring to the Pope’s “tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us,” Boehner said that “these principles are among the fundamentals of the American idea. And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good.”


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MGA-IS-MEG:140319:(16-03-14):Israeli, Egyptian intel tie Al Qaida revolt in Sinai to Hamas in Gaza

GeoStrategy direct w/e 19-Mar-14


“The Egyptian military has specific information indicating that members of prominent terror outfits, some affiliated with Al Qaida, are hiding in Gaza.”

The Islamist revolt in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has been linked to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, a report said.

The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies asserted that the Gaza Strip was serving as the operational base for the Al Qaida-aligned revolt in Sinai. In a report, the center cited assessments by both the Egyptian and Israeli intelligence communities, said to be cooperating in monitoring the revolt.

“According to Israeli and Egyptian intelligence, most of the terror groups operating today in the Sinai Peninsula have an organizational base in Gaza,” the report, titled “Egypt and the Threat of Islamic Terror,” said. “Some of the groups have weapons caches there, while others operate training camps.”

Author Shaul Shay, former deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council, cited the presence of such Al Qaida militias in Sinai as Ansar Beit Al Maqdis and the Furqan Brigades.

Ansar claimed responsibility for the recent suicide car bombing near a security installation in the Egyptian city of Mansoura, in which at least 16 people were killed.

The report said Egypt faced three insurgency trends since the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. They consisted of:

The revolt in Sinai;

The recent spillover in the African mainland and

The recruitment of Al Qaida and Hamas against the military-backed regime in Cairo.

The military has sent 20,000 troops to Sinai, the largest deployment in decades.

“The Islamist insurgency is composed of Islamist militants who escaped prison, were released during the revolution, or returned from exile after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak,” the report said.

The report has cited Hamas as playing a leading role in the Sinai revolt.

The state-controlled Egyptian media said Hamas was facilitating the flow of Palestinian fighters to Sinai as well as cooperating with the ousted Brotherhood. In response, the military has warned of attacking the Gaza Strip, particularly the southern city of Rafah.

An Egyptian armored personnel carrier is seen next to the Rafah border.  AFP

“In addition, the Egyptian military has specific information indicating that members of prominent terror outfits, some affiliated with Al Qaida, are hiding in Gaza,” the report said. “One of the organizations, the Army of Islam enjoys close relations with the Hamas leadership.”

Shay warned that Ansar and other militias were developing skills and attack strategies. He cited the new trend of suicide strikes and mass-casualty bombings.

“The Egyptian authorities have to take in consideration that radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood can in the future open an armed internal front that can be a serious challenge to internal security and stability,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Arab diplomatic sources said Al Qaida’s Ansar has planned to kill Gen. Ahmed Wasfi, commander of Egypt’s 2nd Army. The sources said Ansar determined that Wasfi was the architect of Egypt’s counter-insurgency campaign in the Sinai Peninsula.

“It is fair to say that whatever successes have been achieved [by the army] in Sinai is because of Wasfi, and Al Qaida knows this very well,” a diplomat said.

The sources said Ansar and its Islamist allies have been targeting Egyptian Army convoys in search for Wasfi, believed based in the Northern Sinai provincial capital of El Arish. They said Ansar has already been killing and abducting senior officers and government officials, some of whom were released for ransom.

“Ansar has excellent intelligence, and through its Bedouin collaborators was monitoring virtually every army and police base in northeastern Sinai,” the diplomat said.

The sources said Ansar has become the leading insurgency militia in Egypt, claiming responsibility for the killing of hundreds of soldiers and police. They said Ansar was also believed to be working with elements in the ousted Muslim Brotherhood, which established operational cells in both Sinai as well as on the African mainland.

For his part, the army has enhanced protection of Wasfi, who oversees both ground and air operations throughout central and eastern Sinai. The sources said Wasfi helped draft a CI strategy that over the last four months led to the killing of at least 300 insurgents and the flight of several hundred additional fighters from Sinai.

“It’s clear that Wasfi’s strategy of daily air operations is hurting Ansar and its allies,” another diplomat said. “It’s also clear that he commands the respect and authority of [Egyptian Defense Minister Abdul Fatah] Al Sisi to continue this campaign despite heavy losses.”


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US-IS-ME:140319:(16-03-14):U.S.-Israel Iron Dome accord may lead to regional BMD umbrella

GeoStrategy direct w/e 19-Mar-14


Israel and the United States have signed an agreement to produce a missile and rocket defense system.

On March 5, Israel and the United States concluded an accord to support production of the Iron Dome. Officials said Washington would provide assistance and expertise to enhance Iron Dome, meant to intercept missiles and rockets with a range of more than 100 kilometers.

“The agreement represents strategic value for both nations,” the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said. “Israel will obtain valuable resources to contribute to its defense and U.S. industry will receive meaningful co-production opportunities for Iron Dome components.”

On March 8, the agency said the agreement would ensure continued American funding for procurement of Iron Dome. The accord stipulated that the administration of President Barack Obama would relay $429 million. Israel has deployed at least six Iron Dome batteries and sought to build a fleet of 12 such systems.

“Yesterday’s agreement ensures continued U.S. funding for procurement of Iron Dome systems and interceptors, and provides for significant co-production opportunities for U.S. industry,” the agency said. “Under the terms of the agreement, $429 million will be transferred immediately to Israel to support Iron Dome procurement.”

On March 10, a U.S. defense representative raised the prospect that Israel would be asked to develop a regional BMD umbrella that could protect neighboring states. U.S. defense attache to Israel, Brig. Gen. John Shapland, said this represented “an idea to consider.”

“If we were able to build a regional defense capability in, say, Jordan, that capability could easily defend Israel, Jordan and even Egypt, if you so desired, adding one more layer to your multi-layered defense,” Shapland told an air defense conference by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.


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RUK-RU:140315:(16-03-14):Ukraine: Russian Troops Reportedly Land Near Strilkove

Stratfor 15-Mar-14


Forty Russian troops landed from helicopters outside the Crimean coastal town of Strilkove on March 15, local witnesses and law enforcement sources said, UNIAN reported. The reasons for the reported landing are unknown, though natural gas extraction rigs belonging to Chornomornaftogaz are located nearby. Local residents said Russian military helicopters have flown over the town several times in recent days. Ultimately, it is Putin, not the Crimeans, who will decide if the standoff between his country and the West intensifies.


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UK-EU:140316:(16-03-14):Cameron demand over EU commitment

BelfastTelegraph 16-Mar-14


David Cameron wants to silence fears that Britain could be “sucked into” a United States of Europe

David Cameron is to demand that Britain is no longer bound by the commitment to an “ever closer union” in Europe as part of his renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU.

The Prime Minister said he is determined to scotch fears that Britain could be “sucked into” a United States of Europe against its will, claiming the concerns have seen democratic consent for its membership “worn wafer thin”.

Mr Cameron is committed to renegotiating the terms of Britain’s membership then putting the results to the country in a straight in/out referendum by the end of 2017.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he has for the first time set out his key priorities for change in a seven-point plan. They are:

:: Powers flowing away from Brussels, not always to it

:: National parliaments able to work together to block unwanted European legislation

:: Businesses liberated from red tape and benefiting from the strength of the EU’s own market to open up greater free trade with North America and Asia

:: UK police forces and justice systems able to protect British citizens, unencumbered by unnecessary interference from the European institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights

:: Free movement to take up work, not free benefits

:: Support for the continued enlargement of the EU to new members but with new mechanisms in place to prevent vast migrations across the continent

:: Ensuring Britain is no longer subject to the concept of “ever closer union”, enshrined in the treaty, to which every EU country currently has to sign up

Mr Cameron set out his proposals as a ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror suggested the UK Independence Party is set to top the vote in May’s elections to the European Parliament with the Tories trailing third behind Labour.

In his article, the Prime Minister said he “completely understands and shares people’s concerns” about the European Union, which is why he is seeking to reset the relationship.

“Our businesses value the single market. But they find the degree of European interference in our everyday life excessive. People are worried that Britain is being sucked into a United States of Europe; that may be what some others want, but it is not for us,” he said.

“They see decisions being taken far away, rather than by their elected representatives in Parliament. And they worry that European rules have allowed people to claim benefits without ever working here. As a result, democratic consent for Britain’s membership has worn wafer thin.”

Mr Cameron said he was putting forward “an ambitious agenda for a new European Union” which would transform Britain’s relationship with the 28-nation bloc.

“Delivering it will take time and patience, as well as strong relationships with our key allies and goodwill – not shouting from the sidelines,” he said.

“It will require a negotiation with our European partners. Some changes will best be achieved by alterations to the European treaties – others can be achieved by different means.”

However he insisted that it was ultimately achievable and dismissed the “many defeatists” who said it could not be done.

“They include Ukip, who offer no serious plan and simply can’t deliver on anything they promise; and Labour and the Liberal Democrats who won’t stand up for Britain and refuse to give people a choice in a referendum. Neither course is in our national interest,” he said.


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IS-UK:140316:(16-03-14):UK and Israel sign ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ on digital governance

The Drum 16-Mar-14


The UK and Israel have committed to a digital governance pact which will see the two countries cooperate and share data around open source and standards to help develop digital public services.

The ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) will see the countries share information and experiences around open markets, open standards and open source.

They will also collaborate to ensure each country has the capability and ability to develop digital public services.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said Israel matches the UK in its approach to digital innovation.

“When I visited last year, I saw how Israel has a forward-thinking approach to digital innovation, just like the UK.

“This government’s long-term plan is all about creating modern, digital public services that are so good people prefer to use them. So, we will look to find new ways of working with Israel’s impressive array of digital businesses and draw on its culture of entrepreneurship. There’s a great deal we can learn from one another,” he said.

The UK government’s chief technology officer Liam Maxwell, who signed the agreement, said the use of open markets and open standards is a “key approach” the UK is taking to build a digital government “based on user needs”.

Meanwhile, Harel Locker, director-general of the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, said: “The British experience in the field of digital services is important and extensive, and this agreement will allow Israel to benefit from that experience. On our part, we offer the British and the D8 countries Israeli innovation and creativity, including in cyber security.”

The MoU will also include the countries exploring other ways to work together internationally.


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RUK-RU:140316:(16-03-14):Ukraine: Russia Continues To Build Up Troops In Crimea

Stratfor 16-Mar-14


Russia is continuing to build up its forces in Crimea, which now number 22,000, acting Ukrainian Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh told Interfax news agency March 16, Reuters reported. This number exceeds the limit of 12,500 servicemen set by Russia’s agreement with Ukraine regarding the basing of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Crimea in 2014.


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RUK-RU:140316:(16-03-14):Ukraine: Kiev, Moscow Agree To Truce In Crimea Until March 21

Stratfor 16-Mar-14


The Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries have agreed to a truce in Crimea until March 21, acting Ukrainian Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh said March 16, Reuters reported. Under the truce, no action will be taken against Ukrainian military facilities in the region as Kiev moves to replenish the facilities’ forces.


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IS-US:140316:(16-03-14):US Lawmakers Elevate Israel to ‘Strategic Partner,’ Approve Billions

DefenseNews 16-Mar-14


Israel’s supporters in Congress are pushing legislation to bolster aid, advanced arms, export licensing exemptions and augmented in-country stockpiles of US weapons.

The US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 mandates myriad measures for enhancing Washington’s legal commitment to ensure Israel’s so-called Qualitative Military Edge.

Passed March 5 by the US House of Representatives in an emphatic 410-1 vote, H.R. 938 elevates Israel from “major non-NATO ally” to a new designation as “major strategic partner.”

Majority support is projected for a similar bill in the US Senate.

Beyond the $3.1 billion in annual military aid, billions in multiyear funding for joint missile defense and other defense-related perquisites, the proposed law extends cooperation into energy, cyber and water sectors.

The House version authorizes annual funding for a US-based Joint Energy Research Center while the Senate version requires a presidential feasibility study on the establishment of a joint cyber security center.

Both bills fortify previous laws reflecting longstanding bipartisan and bicameral support for Israel, including the 2012 US-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, urging greater access to US satellite intelligence, aerial tankers, active phased array radar and specialized weaponry.

Both bills extend by another year existing acts governing more than $1 billion in prepositioned US stockpiles available for Israel’s emergency use. Under the new bills, Pentagon authority for replenishing prepositioned materiel extends through 2016.

They also urge the White House to “expeditiously conclude” a new 10-year agreement to assure US security assistance to Israel through 2027.

The legislation urges preferential Israeli access to insurance and financing by the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and Strategic Trade Authority for licensing exemptions on certain dual-use exports.

It also tightens congressional oversight of executive branch-administered Qualitative Military Edge measures, requiring biennial rather than quadrennial progress reports from the president or his designated representatives.

“Israel’s importance as a major strategic partner has been demonstrated time and again,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., co-chair of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus. “Israel remains the closest friend America has in the world. …Unfortunately, this administration has consistently failed to recognize that fact, often alienating allies like Israel while catering to our enemies.”

Codified by Congress in 1988, Israel’s status as “major non-NATO ally” confers preferential consideration of technology transfer requests, priority access to cut-rate excess defense articles, and inclusion in a spectrum of bilateral and NATO-led training exercises.

The new designation of “major strategic partner,” while highly symbolic, “has not been further defined in US law or by the executive branch,” noted Jim Zanotti, a Middle East specialist with the Congressional Research Service, in a November 2013 report.

But Lenny Ben-David, a former Israeli deputy ambassador to Washington with years of experience on Capitol Hill, said the new law would serve to define Israel’s upgraded status.

“The status of major strategic partner is defined by what’s in the bill, and there are a lot of content in both House and Senate versions,” said Ben-David, a former senior associate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.

In a March 13 interview, Ben-David said pro-Israel activists had long sought recognition of Israel as a strategic ally of the US.

“This law will elevate the status of this partnership in all its aspects — military, energy, countercyber — in concrete ways that go beyond anything the US has concluded through treaties,” he said.

Even without the pending upgrade in US-Israel ties, US and Israeli officials point to an unprecedented surge in strategic cooperation.

Last week, a sizable contingent of US Marines equipped with MV-22 tilt-rotors and other gear were here for a joint Noble Shirley exercise with Israeli counterparts. This month, the Israel Navy will participate in Noble Dina, an extensive trilateral sea-based exercise with US and Greek navies.

The two countries also are exploring a deferred payment plan that will allow Israel’s near-term acquisition of its second squadron of F-35 fighters and V-22 tilt rotors.

Both countries are planning to extend cooperative missile defense programs beyond 2015.

In a March 10 address to the Institute for National Security Studies, Yair Ramati, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, cited extraordinary support from Washington in procurement of additional Iron Dome intercepting batteries, near-term deployment of the joint David’s Sling system and preparation for low-rate initial production of the newest upper-tier Arrow-3 system.


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ME:140316:(16-03-14):Shifting Mideast Sands Reveal New Alliances

Middle East Forum 16-Mar-14


A number of events in recent weeks cast light on the current intersecting lines of conflict in the Middle East. They reflect a region in flux, in which new bonds are being formed, and old ones torn asunder.

But amid the confusion, a new topography is emerging.

This was the month in which a long-existent split in the Sunni Arab world turned into a gaping fissure. On March 5th, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they were withdrawing their ambassadors from the Emirate of Qatar.

This decision was clearly a response to Qatar’s continued support and sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. This movement is regarded as a subversive threat by the three Gulf states. They are worried by the Brotherhood’s capacity for internal subversion.

Qatar, by contrast, affords generous subsidies to its tiny citizen body, and has little to fear from potential internal unrest. It continues to support the Brotherhood and to domicile key leaders of the Egyptian branch of the movement. The latter is now engaged in an insurgency against the Egyptian authorities.

Saudi patience was at an end. The removal of the ambassadors reflects this.

On March 7th, Saudi Arabia made the additional move of declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. A Saudi researcher and former general, Dr. Anwar Eshki, was quoted on the Now Lebanon website as asserting that the decision was made with particular focus on the Egyptian Brotherhood, which is involved in “terrorist” activity.

In the same week, an Egyptian court banned all activities by the Hamas organization in Egypt, and referred to the movement as a “terrorist organization.”

The proximity of these announcements reflects the very close emergent alliance between Saudi Arabia and the de facto Sisi regime in Egypt, which is likely to become de jure following presidential elections later this year.

This alliance is the core component of an emergent dispensation in the Sunni Arab world which also includes UAE, Bahrain and Jordan, as well as the fragile West Bank Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.

This alliance is set to emerge as the strongest element among the Sunni Arabs.

It is opposed both to the Iran-led, mainly Shia “resistance” bloc, and to what is left of the Qatar/Muslim Brotherhood alliance that just a short year ago was proclaiming itself the wave of the future in the Middle East.

The Hamas authority in Gaza has no buy into the new Saudi-Sisi bloc. Formerly aligned with Iran, it put its bets on the Qatar/Muslim Brotherhood axis.

But this putative bloc was fatally damaged by the Sisi coup in Egypt of July 3rd, 2013, and by the departure of the Muslim Brotherhood-related Nahda party in Tunisia.

Hamas appears to be trying to find its way back to the Iranians. Gaza’s “foreign minister” Mahmoud al Zahar and Iran’s parliament spokesman Ali Larijani both made statements this week suggesting that relations had returned to normal between Teheran and Hamas.

It is not clear what this actually means. But Iranian funding to Hamas in Gaza was slashed following the latter’s failure to offer support to the Iranian client regime in Damascus. It is unlikely that Iran has either forgotten or forgiven. Al-Zahar, in any case, is among those Hamas officials most closely supportive of Iran and his statements should not be taken as representing the movement as a whole.

This means that Hamas is probably stuck between Qatar and the Iranians, with the support of the former no longer worth what it once was, and the support of the latter available only in a truncated and reduced form.

The week’s events in Gaza, meanwhile, showcased the continued vigor of the Iran-led camp.

The most staunch supporter of Iran among the Palestinians, and now apparently the main beneficiary of Teheran’s largesse, is the Islamic Jihad movement. This is a purely paramilitary and terrorist group, with no pretensions to mass political leadership. As such, it is a less complicated prospect from Teheran’s point of view than Hamas.

The recent apprehending of the Klos-C arms ship by Israel, as it brought a consignment of weapons evidently intended for Islamic Jihad in Gaza, was the latest indication of Teheran’s willingness to offer practical backing to those it favors.

Islamic Jihad’s furious response to the Israeli apprehending of the craft, and to the killing in recent days of a number of its operatives by Israel, was certainly done with Iran’s blessing and probably at its instruction (along with tacit permission from the Hamas authorities in Gaza).

The interrupted route of the weapons intended for Gaza (from Syria to Iran, to Iraq, to Sudan and then to the Strip) and the subsequent rocket fire should remind us that the Iran-led Shia bloc remains a potent gathering, capable of coordinated, region-wide action.

So three power blocs currently dominate the Middle East — the Iran-led Shia group, a rival emergent Cairo-Riyadh axis leading a group of smaller Sunni states, and a smaller, much weaker Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood alliance. Their competition is set to dominate regional affairs in the period opening up.

Israel, of course, will be a charter member of none of these groups. But Jerusalem is a de facto ally of the Saudi-Egypt camp.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, were in recent decades the main allies of the U.S. in the area. The former two countries are now in search of new friends, and have found each other. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have tried to lobby on Sisi’s behalf in Washington in recent weeks, though as yet with limited success.

The shifting sands of the Mid-Eastern strategic map are all the result of the perceived withdrawal of the U.S. from its role as a regional patron. This process is still underway and it’s too soon to draw any final conclusions regarding its results. But the current drawing together of Saudi Arabia and Sisi’s Egypt is surely among the most significant responses to it. It is likely to form the basis for the Sunni Arabs’ attempts to contain Iranian ambitions in the period ahead.


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