The Real Reason Putin Supports Assad

Russian Soldier

Few issues better illustrate the limits of the Obama administration’s “reset” with Russia than the crisis in Syria. For more than a year, the United States has tried, and failed, to work with Russia to find a solution to end the violence. Moscow has firmly opposed international intervention to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, arguing that the conflict must be resolved through negotiations and that Assad must be included in any transitional arrangement leading to a new government. Although the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, reached out recently to the leaders of the Syrian opposition, these talks produced no indication that the Kremlin is seriously recalibrating its positions on Syria. And that’s hardly surprising: the main obstacle to any shift in Russia’s calculations is President Vladimir Putin himself, whose aversion to forcible regime change is intense and unwavering.

 

Why has Putin offered such steadfast support to Assad? On the surface, Moscow seems to profit from exporting arms to Syria, and it depends on the regime’s good will to maintain Russian access to a naval facility at the Mediterranean port of Tartus. But these are marginal and symbolic interests. Putin is really motivated to support the Assad regime by his fear of state collapse — a fear he confronted most directly during the secession of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, which he brutally suppressed in a bloody civil war and counterinsurgency operation fought between 1999 and 2009. (In Russia, the republics are semi-autonomous federal units comprising the historic territories of the country’s non-ethnic Russian groups.) In a series of interviews he gave in 2000 for an authorized biography, Putin declared that “the essence of the … situation in the North Caucasus and in Chechnya … is the continuation of the collapse of the USSR…. If we did not quickly do something to stop it, Russia as a state in its current form would cease to exist…. I was convinced that if we did not immediately stop the extremists [in Chechnya], then in no time at all we would be facing a second Yugoslavia across the entire territory of the Russian Federation — the Yugoslavization of Russia.” And we know how Putin feels about the demise of the Soviet Union; in 2005 he called it “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [twentieth] century,” a comment that was meant to bemoan the collapse of the Soviet state rather than the demise of communism.

 

For Putin, Syria is all too reminiscent of Chechnya. Both conflicts pitted the state against disparate and leaderless opposition forces, which over time came to include extremist Sunni Islamist groups. In Putin’s view — one that he stresses repeatedly in meetings with his U.S. and European counterparts — Syria is the latest battleground in a global, multi-decade struggle between secular states and Sunni Islamism, which first began in Afghanistan with the Taliban, then moved to Chechnya, and has torn a number of Arab countries apart. Ever since he took office (first as prime minister in 1999 and then as president in 2000) and was confronted by the Chechen war, Putin has expressed his fear of Sunni Islamist extremism and of the risks that “jihadist” groups pose to Russia, with its large, indigenous, Sunni Muslim population, concentrated in the North Caucasus, the Volga region, and in major cities such as Moscow. A desire to contain extremism is a major reason why Putin offered help to the United States in battling the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. It is also why Russia maintains close relations with Shia Iran, which acts as a counterweight to Sunni powers.

In the case of Chechnya, Putin made it clear that retaking the republic from its “extremist opposition forces” was worth every sacrifice. In a speech in September 1999, he promised to pursue Chechen rebels and terrorists even into “the outhouse.” He did just that, and some opposition leaders were killed by missile attacks at their most vulnerable moments. The Chechen capital city of Grozny was reduced to rubble. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, along with jihadist fighters who came into Chechnya with the encouragement of extremist groups from the Arab world, including from Syria. Moscow and other Russian cities endured devastating terrorist attacks. Putin’s treatment of Chechnya became a cautionary tale of what would happen to rebels and terrorists — and indeed to entire groups of people — if they threatened the Russian state. They would either be eliminated or brought to their knees — exactly the fate Putin wishes for today’s Syrian rebels.

 

After two decades of secessionist strife, Putin has contained Chechnya’s uprising. Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel who switched his allegiance to Moscow, now leads the republic. Putin granted Kadyrov and his supporters amnesty and gave them a mandate to go after other militants and political opponents. Kadyrov has rebuilt Grozny (with ample funds from Moscow) and created his own version of an Islamist and Chechen republic that is condemned by human rights organizations for its brutal suppression of dissent.

 

For the past two years, Putin has hoped that Assad would be able to do what he did in Chechnya and beat back the opposition. Based on the brutal record of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, in suppressing uprisings, Putin anticipated that the regime would have no problem keeping the state together. But now Assad seems to have failed, and Putin is not one to back a losing horse. He and the rest of the Russian leadership are well aware that their staunch support for Assad has damaged Russia’s standing in the Arab world, but they have no alternative plan to get out of the stalemate. Putin is still not ready to sanction an intervention that could lead to the dismantling of the Syrian state and to risk creating a situation akin to that in Afghanistan in the 1990s, when warring groups of extremists fought each other and created a breeding ground for global jihadism. In Putin’s view, lawless post-Qaddafi Libya, which has become an exporter of guns, fighters, and refugees to its neighbors, only further underscores the dangers of international intervention.

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A Deadly Mix in Benghazi

A boyish-looking American diplomat was meeting for the first time with the Islamist leaders of eastern Libya’s most formidable militias.  It was Sept. 9, 2012. Gathered on folding chairs in a banquet hall by the Mediterranean, the Libyans warned of rising threats against Americans from extremists in Benghazi. One militia leader, with a long beard and mismatched military fatigues, mentioned time in exile in Afghanistan. An American guard discreetly touched his gun.  “Since Benghazi isn’t safe, it is better for you to leave now,” Mohamed al-Gharabi, the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati Brigade, later recalled telling the Americans. “I specifically told the Americans myself that we hoped that they would leave Benghazi as soon as possible.”  Yet as the militiamen snacked on Twinkie-style cakes with their American guests, they also gushed about their gratitude for President Obama’s support in their uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. They emphasized that they wanted to build a partnership with the United States, especially in the form of more investment. They specifically asked for Benghazi outlets of McDonald’s and KFC.

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China eases one-child policy and abolishes ‘re-education labour camps’

State media says China’s top legislature has sanctioned the ruling Communist Party’s decision to allow couples to have a second child if one parent is an only child.  It is the first major easing in three decades of the restrictive national birth planning policy.  Implemented around 1980, China’s birth policy has limited most couples to only one child, but has allowed a second child if neither parent has siblings or if the first born to a rural couple is a girl.  The official Xinhua News Agency said the standing committee of the National People’s Congress approved a resolution Saturday to formalise the party decision.  It says the national lawmaking body has delegated the power to provincial people’s congresses and their standing committees to implement the new policy.

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DOD Looks 25 Years Ahead in Unmanned Vehicle Roadmap

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2013 – Strategy and budget realities are two aspects of the Defense Department’s new Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, released today.  The report to Congress is an attempt to chart how unmanned systems fit into the defense of the nation.  “The 2013 Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap articulates a vision and strategy for the continued development, production, test, training, operation and sustainment of unmanned systems technology across DOD,” said Dyke Weatherington, the director of the unmanned warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance office at the Pentagon.  “This road map establishes a technological vision for the next 25 years and outlines the actions and technologies for DOD and industry to pursue to intelligently and affordably align with this vision,” he continued.  Unmanned aerial vehicles have received the most press, but unmanned underwater vehicles and ground vehicles are also providing warfighters with incredible capabilities.

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‘We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education’

Universities in South Dakota, Nebraska, and other states have cut the number of credits students need to graduate. A proposal in Florida would let online courses forgo the usual higher-education accreditation process. A California legislator introduced a measure that would have substituted online courses for some of the brick-and-mortar kind at public universities.  Some campuses of the University of North Carolina system are mulling getting rid of history, political science, and various others of more than 20 “low productive” programs. The University of Southern Maine may drop physics. And governors in Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin have questioned whether taxpayers should continue subsidizing public universities for teaching the humanities.  Under pressure to turn out more students, more quickly and for less money, and to tie graduates’ skills to workforce needs, higher-education institutions and policy makers have been busy reducing the number of required credits, giving credit for life experience, and cutting some courses, while putting others online.

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Drone Lands Dispatch -Letter from Pakistan

droneland

In the most heavily targeted parts of Pakistan’s tribal regions — the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in the northwest — U.S. drone strikes are but a single form of state-sponsored killing, alongside conventional airstrikes and ground operations by Pakistan’s military, insurgent bombings, tribal hostilities, and everyday criminality. But drones occupy a special category of their own. The strikes began in 2004; they have since killed a total of 2,500 to 3,500 people. Estimates suggest that several hundred of those killed were innocent civilians. Last May, U.S. President Barack Obama said that those deaths would haunt him and his advisers for “as long as we live.”

In Pakistan, the strikes have been a source of bitter political contention from the very beginning. Broadly speaking, one side focuses on the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty while the other — a sizeable group — maintains that drone strikes are the least bad option for maintaining some semblance of security in a restive region. For their part, the country’s politicians hold up victims of drone strikes to serve their own ends — to illustrate the tyranny of the United States or the unfortunate sacrifices that must be made in the name of security.

To find out how Pakistanis think about drones after living under their shadow for nearly a decade, I recently spent a month travelling to Pakistan’s large cities and small villages — places where most people’s concerns revolve around their day-to-day struggle to make ends meet. Talk to them, and you will find that the monolithic view in the West that all Pakistanis are enraged by drone strikes is inaccurate. In fact, further north — closer to the areas that bear the brunt of the strikes — it is not uncommon to encounter strong support for them.

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Ground the Drones?

Recent efforts to ban armed drones have conflated technical questions with policy ones. One prominent coalition of activist groups has emphasized that targeted killings are a violation of international law. They conclude that the United States should ban drones, which, in their argument, are vehicles for the bad policy. But arguments that exonerate drones go too far in the opposite direction. Other scholars maintain that the real problem is the policy of targeted killings and that drones, in and of themselves, are nonissues. Both of these camps sidestep how the technology informs policy.  The policy and the technology should not be confused, nor can they be separated, because drones circumvent the domestic, operational, and diplomatic constraints that are imposed on their manned counterparts and, therefore, make otherwise unviable policies viable.

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Solar Radiation Management, Geoengineering and Chemtrails

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that, despite global side effects and long-term consequences, geoengineering techniques involving solar radiation management (SRM) should be maintained: “If SRM were terminated for any reason, there is high confidence that global surface temperatures would rise very rapidly to values consistent with the greenhouse gas forcing.” [emphasis in original]  “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis,” (referred to as “AR5”) supercedes the former report published in 2007. [1]  The IPCC’s first Assessment Report was published in 1990.  The discussion in the Summary for Policymakers and in the body of AR5 commends solar radiation management over carbon dioxide removal methods, which are limited in their efficacy on a global scale, yet admits that neither are ideal, and that both geoengineering techniques will have long-term consequences.  “While the entire community of academia still pretends not to know about the ongoing reality of global geoengineering,” comments Dane Wigington at Geoengineering Watch, “the simple fact that they are now discussing geoengineering in the latest IPCC report indicates that the veil is beginning to lift.” [2]

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Europe repeating all the errors of Japan as deflation draws closer

Europe is one shock away from a deflation trap.  A surprise anywhere in the world is all that it needs: an upset in China as the credit bubble pops, or a global bond shock as the US Federal Reserve winds down monetary stimulus.  Producer price inflation (PPI) fell to -1.4pc in the eurozone in October.  This is how deflation becomes lodged in the price chain.  “Prices are sticky for a while as you approach zero inflation, but once you break through the ice into deflation things can move fast, as we’ve seen in Greece,” said Julian Callow, global strategist at Barclays.”  The European Central Bank needs to act before the horse has already bolted.”  Mr Callow said excess industrial plant in China is exporting deflation across the world.  China’s fixed capital investment over the past year has been $4 trillion, compared with $3 trillion for the entire EU and $3 trillion for the US.  This has grown eightfold in a decade.  It is a vast new source of supply for a saturated global economy.  China itself is now in PPI deflation.

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Seoul: Kim Jong Un Fires Uncle, Executes His Associates

South Korea’s spy agency believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have fired his uncle from a top military post and publicly executed some of his associates.  Lawmakers briefed by Seoul’s National Intelligence Agency said Tuesday that Jang Song Thaek was apparently removed as vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.  The lawmakers say the agency believes two of Jang’s closest aides – Lee Yong-ha and Jang Soo-keel – were executed in mid-November and that he has not been seen since.   Aidan Foster-Carter, an honorary senior fellow at the University of Leeds in England and a long-time Korea watcher, says the demotion of Jang, while not confirmed, is very plausible.

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‘Day of rage’: Police, protesters clash in Israel at plans to evict 40,000 Bedouins

day of rage

Hundreds gathered in Israel on Saturday to rally against the government’s plans to resettle some 40,000 Bedouins. The proposal has triggered accusations of “discrimination” and “ethnic cleansing” from activist groups, also sparking a protest in the UK.  The demonstrations were organized as part of an international “Day of Rage” against the proposed law which would arrange for Bedouin settlements to be created in southern Israel’s Negev Desert, also known as the Prawer-Begin plan.  The Prawer Plan would see up to 40,000 (according to local media) and up to 70,000 (according to the Guardian) Bedouin removed from their homes in Negev, southern Israel. The plan also provided for the demolition of about 40 villages and confiscation of 70,000 hectares of land.  The Israeli government has said the Bedouins will be re-homed and granted compensation for the move. However, the UK-based charity, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said that the plan heralds “the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation.”

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US to airlines: Obey China’s defense zone

The U.S. government is asking American airlines to follow China’s rules regarding its newly-declared air defense zone.  On Nov. 23, China declared airspace off the coast of China as the country’s “Air Defense Identification Zone.” The country asked that it be notified when flights are to pass through the airspace.  During a Wednesday press briefing, a State Department spokesperson said U.S. airlines are expected to comply with rules issued by foreign governments.  The U.S. “remain[s] deeply concerned by China’s November 23 declaration” of the airspace, the spokesperson said, but “generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) issued by foreign countries.”  The fact that the U.S. government expects airlines to comply with the rules “does not indicate U.S. government acceptance of China’s requirements for operating in the newly declared ADIZ,” the spokesperson said.  Shortly after’s China’s declaration of the airspace as an “air defense identification zone,” the U.S. government flew two warplanes over the area without first notifying the Chinese government.  The New York Times compared the U.S. response to that of Japan, which asked its country’s airlines to stop following China’s notification requirements “out of fear that complying with the rules would add legitimacy to Chinese claims to islands that sit below the now contested airspace.”

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Ukraine riot police break up pro-Europe protests

(Reuters) – Ukrainian riot police used batons and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of pro-Europe protesters early on Saturday after President Viktor Yanukovich opted not to sign a pact with the European Union.  Helmeted police bearing white shields, stormed an encampment of protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square, as they sang songs and warmed themselves by campfires, the opposition said.  Tension had been building since Friday, when Yanukovich declined to sign the pact with EU leaders at a summit in Lithuania, going back on a pledge to work toward integrating his ex-Soviet republic into the European mainstream.

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Islamic charities, the domestic victims of the war on terror

It has now been five years since the sentencing of the Holy Land Five: Muslim-American humanitarians who were falsely convicted of providing “material support for terrorism” because of their charitable work in Palestine. To mark the occasion, the daughters of the Holy Land Five have produced a powerful video message featuring the families of those imprisoned, as well as people around the world, expressing solidarity with the innocent men.  Alas the overtly politicised case against the Holy Land Five is only one among many. Since 11 September 2001, there have been numerous legal efforts to criminalise compassion in the US, ultimately denying Muslim-Americans of the right to freely practice their religion.  Founded in 1989, the Holy Land Foundation was once the largest Islamic charity in the US.

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Astronomers fooled by shiny, but tiny, black hole

A bright black hole in the Pinwheel galaxy has been shining us on, astronomers say – this intergalactic trickster puts out light like a big black hole but it’s really quite tiny. M 101 ULX-1, described in the journal Nature, may force scientists to keep hunting for more “intermediate” black holes – and rethink their understanding of them.  Black holes are thought to be remains of dead stars whose entire mass has collapsed to a tiny point. They warp space-time so badly that not even light can escape. The small ones created by single stars can be up to roughly 30 times the mass of our sun. The supermassive ones at the centers of galaxies can be billions of solar masses.

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