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Entries in Russia (65)

12:23PM

The four stages of Putinism

 Wikistrat is currently running a simulation on "When Putin Falls."  It's not a prediction, per se, but an exploration of a pathway in which Putin does not finish out his current six-year term.

With that in mind, check out "The four stages of Putinism," by Andrei Piontkovsky at the Hudson Institute.

They are:

 

  1. Creating the legitimizing myth
  2. Period of storms and stresses
  3. Heroic triumph
  4. Ideological exhaustion and death

 

In  my mind, Putinism was an inevitable rightist-surge following the opening-up under Yelstin (too chaotic).  It set the ship of state on a steadier course but it has not knowledge of how to rule - only how to build and consolidate rule (the siloviki).

What is hopefully next is the permanent normalization of politics post-Putin.  He can facilitate that in a graceful way, but one is tempted to say that's unlikely.

Anyway, already any number of interesting scenarios posted on the sim's wiki.

If you are interested in joining Wikistrat's Analytic Community (now about 600 analysts worldwide), contact me at thomaspmbarnett@wikistrat.com.

10:06AM

The adaptability of people is consistently under-estimated by experts

Pair of NYT stories from earlier in the month.  Both speak to the realities and myths of people's adaptability.

First one is about how Latvia (a place I very briefly visited back in the 1980s when it was still back in the USSR) and it talks about how, during the Great Recession, Latvians were able to handle the harsh austerity (sort of crew cut instead of the usual haircut).  

Second one is about how Russians are already mall fanatics. I remember Zbig Brzezinski saying, when the Wall fell, that it would be decades and generations before Russians figured out markets, etc.  It was all so godawfully patronizing (as only a Pole or Ukrainian might be WRT Russians).

My point in citing them together:  people are amazingly adaptable.  Latvians remember worse days (like your Great Depression parents or grandparents) and so they are unfazed, but Russians have no trouble slipping right into being material boys and girls (as did the Latvians for a while there and as they will again soon).

Americans have this tendency to believe we're the only adaptable people in the world, and it's true on some points:  on religion and "sacred soil," we are freakishly flexible.  If they declared that the US was being moved to Canada next week, most of us would pack up and go, because it's the freedom rule-set that we're most addicted to, with darn near everything else being negotiable.

Yes, the world is still full of traditional cultures wedded to sacred soil and religious identities (like . . . fuh-ever!), but given even the slightest chance, man, will they ever break out of their shells - and I mean everybody.  Sure, it's the kids who always lead the way, but guess what?  Traditional societies are youth-skewed (all that baby cranking) and they often feel the huge need to BE traditional precisely because there are all those young minds that need bending.  And yes, when the change comes, it does seem like the "end of X civilization," just like when Elvis and The Beatles and Stones showed up. And yes, many prices will be paid and much of the culture transformed and made that much harsher by all that individualism (to include the freedom to be miserable), but people really are the same all over - when given the chance.  No, that expression doesn't come in some archetypal "American" way.  At the end of the day, Russians are still Russians and Chinese are still Chinese (go figure!), so the applications are always different. 

It's just that the freedom impulse (far more economic in nature than political) is the basically the same:  I get to do what I want, when I want, how I want, buying what I want, etc.

So no, no 50-year transformations required on the economics.  It's the politics (single-party states in particular) that go slow.

That's what the military and intell people NEVER understand.  They think the politics (aka, intentions) can go like "SNAP!" while the economics will never change (or capabilities change slowly).  

Truth is, it's entirely the other way around. And all that economic freedom is what drives the super-fast technology adaptations (meaning HOW people use tech is nearly always more revolutionary than the tech itself).

Just my 2 cents .....

12:31PM

Civilization = bad connectivity principle, but dream = good

Trio of stories (2 FT and 1 NYT) on evolving ideologies of Russia (old leader), Egypt (new leader) and China (new leader).

Putin is floating a unique Russian civilization idea - likely as his legacy signature concept in governance.  The purpose is setting the long-term course of how Moscow handles the federation's many nationalities.  For now, a trial balloon, but already the blowback is sensed and it's building.  These nationalities naturally feel like they're being told to assimilate or find themselves a bit lost in Russia's future - as defined by Putin et al.

Morsi in Egypt is now revealing a similar bias on his effort with the constitution.  He wants to make it so Islamist that Egypt's many minorities are reacting badly, seeing no good space for themselves in Egypt's future on this basis.

My point in raising both issues:  when you argue civilization and, on that basis, identity (typically tied to religion), then you're saying, "This is how we're going to run this place and this is how we're going organize our connectivity with the outside world - by requiring this sort of homogeniety at home."

Problem is, the self-limiting nature.  If you want connectivity, you want to promote diversity.   That attracts the bodies and minds and the money.  This is an old concept, as in back to Amsterdam and the Dutch when they built up their global nets.  England picks up this vibe and does similarly.  The US gets the DNA via New Amsterdam-cum-New-York.

When you don't care about identity/religion on this level, you take on all comers, meaning you're open for business with everyone.  That's how you succeed.

Third cite:  Xi Jinping in China resurrecting "Chinese dream" notion as part of his reform/progressive agenda.

That "dream" apes the US version, which is centered on success and the pursuit of happiness.  

Why good?  It says your identity is more about success than comformity and homogeniety.  You'll work with anybody, because the dream trumps the exclusionary identity.

So, my point:  if you go the civilization/religious identity route, you scare off connectivity and globalization (or certainly retard it), but if you go the "dream" route, you choose pragmatism over such identity.  Your identity is simply your culture of success.

I think both Russia and Egypt will learn the limits of this approach, and it will be a painful process. But these are natural growth patterns.

China, I think, risks the other pathway:  the cult of success makes it harder to promote morality.

So it's the old choice:  preserve the identity and the attached morality, or risk both by opening up and prioritizing success.

Why I always advocate the latter:  It simply works better on raising income, and when you raise income, it's a virtuous cycle, as the people become even more tolerant and open, seeing the value in this path.

Meanwhile, if you choose identity over success, you makes less money and achieve less, and you tend to trigger a vicious cycle, as the outside world becomes more evil in your eyes ("Why won't they do business with us on our terms?")

But this is why China succeeds where Russia (and I fear Egypt) will not.

12:16PM

Impact of the drought is multivariable

First, the good news: the "margin squeeze" due to rising corn prices/futures is killing corn ethanol - still the stupidest idea on the planet (outside of Washington-subsidized Iowa).

Then the worse news: Russia/Black Sea region is undergoing another bad drought, raising the specter of another export ban. US is biggest exporter of wheat but the Black Sea trio (Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine) account for one-quarter of global exports and are traditionally key suppliers to north Africa and the Middle East.

10:57AM

Chart of the day: Economist's listing of top 15 natural gas resources

On the unconvential (shale): the usual list that I work with, with the addition of Russia as #3 in world.  Most experts don't talk all that much about Russia because, with all their conventional gas, there's not a great need to exploit.

But the real kicker for me in the charts is the bottom right one, which is a stunner: by 2030 the projection that gas, coal and oil all converge in the high 20s as basically equal shares in world primary energy usage.  Several stories here:

 

  • Gas displacing coal (not surprising)
  • Long slow increase in nat gas production/use
  • And then the true stunner of such a huge drop in oil (about 45% in 1970 to high 20s in 2030).

 

Fascinating stuff.

9:45AM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA When Military Intervention Makes Sense

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says that “diplomacy is still better than bombs” and that “moral outrage is just the starting point for a decision to intervene.”  He then goes through all the major powers in his piece Tuesday and cites reasons why each one is either holding back or holding things up. It’s one of those great ass-covering op-eds that’s supposed to make you look smart when the intervention does comes and it — gasp! — leads to more death and destruction.

Let me tell you why great powers intervene:  they don’t care about moral outrage and they don’t care about stopping the killing.  Moral outrage is a headline and nothing more, while the killing is either made faster or slower but never really “prevented.”

Great powers intervene when they can.  It’s as simple as that.  Good and bad don’t play into it.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

12:02PM

The geo-pol argument on Russian-Iranian bond

Nifty oped in WSJ Monday on Russia's "stake in Syria and Iran" by Melik Kaylan, a "writer in New York."

Usual case made on the old Sov-era naval base in Syria (snore), but more vigorous one made on Iran being sort of geo-strategic southern plug that keeps Russian influence substantial in the Central Asian republics - as in, lose Iran and the CA Reps "escape" with all their oil and gas ("southern bottleneck"), thus loosening Russia's energy grip on Europe, etc.:

Why is Iran so central to Mr. Putin's global pretensions? Take a look at the Caspian Sea are map and the strategic equations come into relief. Iran acts as a southern bottleneck to the geography of Central Asia. It could offer the West access to the region's resources that would bypass Russia. If Iran reverted to pro-Western alignment, the huge reserves of oil and gas landlocked in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and the like could flow directly out to the world without a veto from Moscow . . .

At stake here is not merely the liberation of a vast landmass from the Kremlin's yoke. The damage to Russian leverage would amount to a seismic shift in the global balance of power equal to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

Hmm.  Had me going right up to that bit, but the argument is certainly compelling enough when you see just how much the emerging reality and future prospect of North America's energy export boom is already redrawing certain global energy market landscapes.

8:55AM

WPR's The New Rules: Assad's Ouster Best Chance to Stave off Israel-Iran Conflict

The debate among U.S. foreign policy analysts over the wisdom of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities -- and whether or not America should allow itself to be drawn into an ensuing conflict with Iran should Israel strike -- has largely taken place parallel to the debate over whether to pursue an R2P, or responsibility to protect, intervention in Syria. It bears noting, however, that forcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure may be the best near-term policy for the U.S. to avoid being sucked into an Israeli-Iranian war.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

4:38PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: What Putin 2.0 will mean

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

 

 

In last year’s parliamentary (Duma) elections, current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party had to stuff ballot boxes just to avoid falling too far below the 50 percent mark.  Now, as Putin presents himself to voters this Sunday as the once-and-future president, there’s clearly a bottom-up backlash brewing among the urban young and middle-class.  Will it prevent a Putin win?  Hardly.  The only uncertainty here is how far Putin’s United Russia party will have to go to ensure a respectable victory margin. Whether anyone - at home or abroad - will actually respect the process is another thing.

So, stipulating that Putin 2.0 is a given, here’s Wikistrat's weekly crowd-sourced examination of what all this may mean for Russia and the world at large.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

10:22AM

WPR's The New Rules: A Positive Narrative for U.S. Foreign Policy

Where is the positive vision for U.S. foreign policy in this election? President Barack Obama and on-again, off-again “presumptive” GOP nominee Mitt Romney now duel over who is more anti-declinist when it comes to America’s power trajectory, with both slyly attaching their candidacies to the notion that “the worst” is now behind us. On that score, Obama implicitly tags predecessor George W. Bush, while Romney promises a swift end to all things Obama. 

Halftime in America? Indeed.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:11AM

WPR's The New Rules: The Coming War With Iran

While the debate over whether Israel will strike Iran ebbs and flows on an almost weekly basis now, a larger collision-course trajectory is undeniably emerging. To put it most succinctly, Iran won't back down, while Israel won't back off, and America will back up its two regional allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia -- when the shooting finally starts. There are no other credible paths in sight: There will be no diplomatic miracles, and Iran will not be permitted to achieve a genuine nuclear deterrence. But let us also be clear about what this coming war will ultimately target: regime change in Tehran, because that is the only plausible solution.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:44AM

Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: What Comes After Chavez?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.


This Sunday, the historically disorganized Venezuelan opposition movement is holding its first-ever presidential primary to decide upon a single candidate to challenge long-time strongman Hugo Chavez. With regional governor Henrique Capriles expected to prevail, the aging Chavez faces a younger version of himself: namely, a dynamic rising star promising to transform the political landscape. This time, however, the figure is moving it away from the heavy-handed populism initiated by Chavez after he swept into office in 1998.

Over the course of his tenure, Chavez’s pursuit of “21st century socialism” in Venezuela has propelled him to self-declared “president for life” status. Among his accomplishments are the systematic and brutal persecution of political opponents and critical journalists, the stacking of parliament with his supporters, various cash-payment programs to the voting poor to ensure his popularity, and - in a related dynamic - the general undermining (aka, looting) of the country’s primary economic engine, the national oil company known as PDVSA. Chavez has also turned Venezuela into one of the most crime-ridden nations in the world with the annual inflation averaging close to 30 percent.

Still, El Comandante has inspired copycat Chavista leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, and has reinvigorated Cuba’s communist dictatorship - all the best friends that money can buy.

But with the de facto dictator mysteriously seeking cancer care in Havana last year, widespread talk has surfaced that this election may well be Chavez’s last. Taking that hypothetical as our starting point, this week’s Wikistrat crowd-sourced analysis looks at what just might lie ahead for a post-Chavez Venezuela.  Here are five pathways to consider.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

11:53AM

Wikistrat's chief analyst quoted in Reuters piece on cyber struggle landscape

Disagreements on cyber risk East-West "Cold War"

Fri Feb 3, 2012 11:32pm IST

LONDON - With worries growing over computer hacking, data theft and the risk of digital attacks destroying essential systems, western states and their allies are co-operating closer than ever on cyber security . . . 

But many Western security specialists say the evidence against both nations -- particularly China -- has become increasingly compelling.

"China is currently engaged in a maximal industrial espionage effort that it justifies internally in terms of a catch up strategy (with the West)," says Thomas Barnett, chief analyst at political risk consultancy Wikistrat and a former strategist for the U.S. Navy. "The key question here is: can China assume the mantle of intellectual property rights respect fast enough to avoid triggering economic warfare of the West... If it can't, then this is likely to get ugly."

Read the entire column at Reuters.

12:12PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: How Will It End in Syria?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

It’s hard to gauge just how strong the Free Syrian Army really is.  It’s clearly growing in size and in its ability to control ever-widening swaths of territory.  But at the same time, Russian and Iranian guns pour into Bashar al-Assad’s government.  And Bashar al-Assad has a steely will to power.

Given the mounting tension, it’s worth thinking through exactly how regime change may unfold and what it’s consequences would mean for the region.

Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy ran an online simulation on what could go down in Syria. Here are the results:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

10:06AM

Wikistrat's chief analyst quoted in Reuters piece on great-power rivalries in the Mideast

 

Here's the intro and my section:

Global "great power politics" returns to Mideast

LONDON | Tue Jan 31, 2012 7:28am EST

(Reuters) - With Russia sending warships to discourage foreign intervention in Syria, and China drawn more deeply into Iran's confrontation with the West, "great power" politics is swiftly returning to the Middle East . . .

Chinese officials might be willing to use sanctions to negotiate better oil prices from Iran, but there seems relatively little prospect that they will stop buying even if Tehran's rival Saudi Arabia makes up the difference in output.

"Each time the West tightens the leash, Beijing quietly avails itself of the slack," says Thomas Barnett, a former strategist for the U.S. Navy and now chief analyst at political risk consultancy Wikistrat. "The more explicitly Washington bases its global strategic military posture on the perceived Chinese threat, the more Beijing will welcome - and even overtly encourage - these diversions" . . . 

Read the entire article at Reuters.

11:24AM

Chart of the day: Flat-liners versus climbers on L.T. energy demand


From an otherwise regurgitating Economist special report on state capitalism, a wonderfully clear chart on primary energy demand, aggregated as billion tons of oil equivalent.

Not amazing: semi-flat growth for Russia, given its demographic slide.

Impressive for US and EU: the efficiency angle keeping growth flat, despite modest economic growth and significant demographic growth for US.

Curious is Brazil's capacity to keep its curve semi-flat.

So that leaves only the two great risers as demand climbers: China's stunning trajectory and India's late-blooming-but-likely-to-skyrocket-from-that-point-on curve (India surpasses China in labor around 2030 and then grows 50% larger, suggesting it will replicate China's trajectory on some level, understanding that its energy profile could be dramatically different in those future decades).

To me, this is a great example of why the military containment strategy (keep the PLA boxed-in in East Asia is dangerous - and counterproductive.  China needs to go so incredibly global due to its energy demand that it's only natural that it build up power projection and become more contentious on the issue of energy security. America can address all that or go super-unimaginative and make it all about an arms race in East Asia, believing that we'll temper China's behavior by doing the same things we did with the Sovs in the Cold War.

But making China feel nervous at home makes it harder for it to address its growing overseas dependencies in the very same regions where the U.S. is becoming less interested in providing stability and more focused on just killing bad guys. Conceivably, our willingness to go anywhere we want, when we want, to kill anybody we want, would make the Chinese feel better about their interests in these regions. But this thin-green-line approach, augmented with the transparent encirclement strategy in East Asia, essentially works to keep China nervous on both scores by insinuating that growing Chinese military capacity is automatically bad - both at home and extra-regionally, unless, of course, the Chinese become "transparent" in the direction of the very same superpower that threatens them in their home region with its world-class military (the same one that's just declared China to be its primary force-sizing threat from here on out).

Bit much, huh?

 

2:01PM

WPR's The New Rules: A Foreign Policy Wish List for 2012 

Last year was a tough one in terms of global economics, humanitarian disasters and political leadership among the world's great powers. But it was also the year of the glorious Arab Spring and hints of similar developments in Myanmar, Russia and Ethiopia. So while the year's "fundamentals," as the economists like to say, weren't so good, it left us with plenty to be grateful for as globalization continues to awaken the desire of individuals for freedom the world over. Keeping all that in mind, here is my foreign policy wish list for 2012.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:51AM

Putin's woes are worth suffering

Putin's United Russia party carried a supermajority in 2007.  Now, in recent Duma elections it looks like it'll come up short of a majority - maybe 48%.

No, it won't stop Putin from winning the presidency - by any means necessary.  But it will mean he won't have a rubber-stamp parliament, which will prove wonderfully frustrating for Caponesque ruling style.

I have few illusions about what that means in real terms.  Putin will simply rule by decree and ignore the parliament, which will be a center of genuine gravity for a growing opposition to his political delusions of grandeur.

I had wanted Putin to abstain from this egomaniacal choice, but size matters and we're talking one towering behemoth.

But, in the end, I think this will be a good thing for Russia - the pol who stupidly and stubbornly outstays his welcome. That choice will trigger the evolution that's much needed there, and the world won't suffer anything of importance out of Russia in the meantime.

Russia can once again be an important country, but Putin's inability to move anything there in the direction of the future means the country will remain on the sidelines for the near-term.

10:32AM

Quoted in Reuters piece on Syria & great powers

Quoted in Reuters piece about Russia bolstering its naval presence in the Eastern Med while making strong noises about no Western intervention into Syria.

The bits:

As Syria's uprising escalates into outright civil war and begins to drag in other states, it risks fuelling not only wider regional confrontation but also growing antagonism between the world's great powers . . .

That in itself could mark the beginning of a long, bloody, open-ended civil war. And speculation about foreign military intervention could even spark a Cold War-style face-off between Russia and the United States.

Analysts and foreign governments have long said they believed Iran was providing military and logistics support to Damascus, and some now suspect the opposition too is now receiving foreign weapons.

That, many analysts fear, risks further fuelling the growing regional confrontation between Tehran and its local enemies, particularly the Gulf states and emerging heavyweight Turkey. . .

My quote comes at the end.

"The problem with conflict in Syria is that it is much harder to contain than what we saw in Libya," said Anthony Skinner, Middle East analyst for UK-based consultancy Maplecroft.

"It has much wider regional implications that have largely been ignored. It feeds into what is already happening in the Gulf, as well as elsewhere" 

. . . 

"The Russians are signaling that on Syria, it is not a situation where they will publicly protest but quietly and privately acquiesce," says Nikolas Gvsodev, professor of national security studies at the US Naval War College.

"The danger is that it is not clear what they are prepared to do to stop open intervention."

. . .

"I think the Russians really were spooked by what happened in Libya and are determined to see that nothing like that happens again," said Nigel Inkster, a former deputy chief of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and now director of transnational threats and political risk at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"In that they are joined by China and most of... the BRICs... (However) since there is clearly no appetite for a military intervention in Syria, the Russian navy's journey looks likely to be wasted."

. . . 

"What you're seeing in the Middle East with the withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq is Iran moving into an increasingly stronger position," said Reva Bhalla, director of analysis at U.S. private intelligence company Stratfor.

"If Assad survives in Syria, he will also be increasingly isolated and dependent on the Iranians, which will reinforce existing regional fears of Iran's growing influence."

Further stoking events, many believe, is a much wider tussle for power as the realization dawns that some two centuries of regional dominance by outside powers - first colonial Britain and France, then the U.S. - may be drawing to a close.

"We shouldn't be surprised that the Russians - in addition to the Turks and Iranians - feel like they've got an opportunity to expand their political-military influence in the eastern Mediterranean," said Thomas Barnett, U.S.-based chief strategist at consultancy Wikistrat.

"Nature abhors vacuums and so do rising great powers."

Personally, I think Russia has decided it must be present on Syria, lest it allow the entire Arab Spring to pass without so much as a howdy-do.  I think Moscow has some ambitions to re-establish itself in the region, but that the main show remains the Saudis and Iran, with the second bill being Turkey and Iran - the rivalry that I think overtakes all under the right crisis conditions.

11:44AM

WPR's The New Rules: How to Stop Worrying and Live with the Iranian Bomb

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear programsurprised no one, even as it created the usual flurry of op-eds championing preventative “next steps.” As I’ve been saying for the past half-decade, there are none. Once the U.S. went into both Iraq and Afghanistan, the question went from being, “How do we prevent Iran from getting the Bomb?” to “How do we handle Iran’s Bomb?” That shift represents neither defeatism nor appeasement. Rather, it reflects a realistic analysis of America’s strategic options. With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why Iran’s successful pursuit of the Bomb is not the system-changing event so many analysts are keen to portray.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.