‘Offshore balancing’ key to US Mideast strategy

arabdemIf there is one thing Americans should have learnt from their recent wars, it is that they do not have the wisdom, resources or staying power to dictate political outcomes, note two leading analysts. Not long ago Washington aspired to build prosperous democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today it would be satisfied if they simply hung together as countries, Francis Fukuyama and Karl Eikenberry write for the Financial Times:

The US needs a more feasible strategy. Mr Obama could learn from England’s policy – and later Britain’s – towards the European continent over the centuries. London had no permanent friends. But whenever a single power looked set to dominate Europe, the country would throw its weight behind an opposing coalition, a strategy known as “offshore balancing”…. The US has no permanent friends or enemies in this sectarian struggle. True, there are groups Washington would like to protect, such as the Kurds and the elected but fragile Baghdad government. The oil-producing Gulf states share common interests with America, and some of them participated in Monday night’s US-led air strikes inside Syria. But few of these countries are real democracies. All have been contributors to the conflagration, and all have supported violent extremists at one time or another.


Stop Putin in Ukraine, or Baltics will be next

andreipiontkovskyIf the West does not stop Vladimir Putin’s campaign to subordinate Ukraine to Moscow, then the Kremlin leader will move against the Baltic countries even though that carries with it the direct threat of a military conflict with NATO, according to Russian analyst Andrey Piontkovsky.

But if Putin and his concept of a “Russian world” is stopped in Ukraine, something that still can be achieved by economic and political means, the Russian analyst continues, then he will be overthrown by elites in Moscow, Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia reports.

Some in the West understand the second danger and want to avoid driving Putin into a corner from which he might behave in unpredictably radical ways, few understand what Putin is doing in Ukraine is part of a much broader and more threatening scenario and that he will have to be stopped at some point, said Piontkovsky, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Many want to view what is happening in Ukraine as a special case, Piontkovsky says, but they are wrong. What is happening there is “part of a global project and Putin is not concealing this.” His notion of a “Russian world” is a threat to the world because it is “a remake of Hitler’s Sudentenland speech.”

This is not to say that Putin is the Hitler of today in all respects. But in his foreign policy actions, “the parallels are so obvious that one of the Kremlin propagandists [Andrannik Migranyan in "Izvestiya"] acknowledged that yes, this is very similar to the actions of Hitler but the Hitler before 1939.”

That statement, Piontkovsky says, “indicates the level of the analogy. For Hitler, revenge for [Germany's] defeat in World War I was the central issue; for Putin, it is revenge for defeat [of the Soviet Union] in the Cold War.”


Another step in Venezuela’s ‘Cubanization’

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced he is expanding a plan to disarm civilians.

Speaking on the International Day of Peace, Mr Maduro said his government would invest $47m (£29m) and create 60 new disarmament centres.

According to United Nations figures, Venezuela has the second highest peacetime murder rate in the world after Honduras. Most of the murders in Venezuela are committed using firearms.

UN figures suggest there were 53.7 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, compared to 90.4 in Honduras. The figure was up from 47.8 the previous year.

Mr Maduro also approved $39m in funding for a plan under which soldiers have been deployed to patrol the streets of the most dangerous neighbourhoods.

RTWT Hat tip: Babalu Blog

Worsening conditions in Venezuela are causing increasing numbers of Cuban medical personnel working there to immigrate to the United States under a special program that expedites their applications, according to Colombian officials who help process many of the refugees, the LA Times recently reported.

Pre-empt a Tiananmen in Hong Kong

CHINA HK CDTThousands of Hong Kong university students abandoned classes on Monday to rally against Chinese government limits on voting rights, a bellwether demonstration of the city’s appetite for turning smoldering discontent into street-level opposition, the New York Times reports:

Last month, the Chinese legislature proposed election rule changes for Hong Kong. Starting in 2017, they would allow residents to vote directly for the leader of the city’s government, the chief executive, but a nominating committee dominated by pro-Beijing loyalists would be used to restrict how many and which candidates could enter the contest.

The demonstrations may have only the slightest chance of forcing Beijing to change its mind and allow an open ballot, but student activists said they were ready to fight for many years…..Frustration with Chinese policy in Hong Kong is especially deep among the young, and contention over voting rights has given many otherwise apolitical students a jolt of civic engagement.

Two of the world’s powerful autocracies, both rooted in the idea and practice of communist dictatorship, are bent on encroaching upon freedom and democracy on two different fronts: Ukraine and Hong Kong, former political prisoners Yang Jianli, Teng Biao and Hu Jia write for the Wall Street Journal:

China has the potential to become an even more relentless, aggressive dictatorship than Russia. From their support for rogue regimes in Iran, North Korea, and Syria to their military buildups and aggressive use of cyber warfare and technology theft, Moscow and Beijing are playing for keeps and their corrosive impact should worry the free world.

Only a strong, unambiguous warning from the U.S. will cause either of those countries to carefully consider the costs of new violent acts of repression, they contend (Mr. Yang is the president of Initiatives for China. Mr. Teng is a human rights lawyer. Mr. Hu is a winner of the Sakharov Prize.) RTWT

Kremlin targets journalists investigating deaths of Russian soldiers


Credit: BBC

Credit: BBC

Journalists investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers that news reports claimed were killed during Russia’s alleged involvement in Ukraine’s conflict have been targeted in a series of attacks since late August, writes Elena Milashina, Moscow Correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists. The attacks, mostly by unknown assailants, began after they tried to investigate the mysterious deaths of Russian soldiers.

According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), the Moscow-based press freedom group, attacks on local and international journalists covering the story have spiked. In at least five cases in August, GDF documented threats, arbitrary detentions, denial of access to public information, use of violence, and physical assaults……

The attacks started after the independent newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, published a series of reports claiming members of 76th Division had been deployed secretly to eastern Ukraine, and had been actively involved in the conflict with pro-Russia separatists. Russia denies the claims. On August 29, the newspaper’s publisher, Lev Shlosberg, who is also a politician with the opposition party Yabloko, was the victim of a vicious attack that he said was in retaliation for his paper’s investigation into the deaths of Russian paratroopers in Ukraine. In a series of reports, the newspaper alleged that up to 100 soldiers from Pskov were killed in eastern Ukraine in August. …..

On Tuesday, Shlosberg filed a formal request asking the office of the Russian general prosecutor to investigate the deaths of 12 soldiers who served in Pskov region, the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported.

After he filed the request, the state-owned news channel Vesti released a lengthy report on Shlosberg’s case. But instead of following up on his inquiry, the broadcaster portrayed him as a traitor and recipient of foreign grants, including from the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy.