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Entries in Russia (71)


Bringing Russian helos into the Af-Pak mix: a great move

pic here

WAPO story on US buying Russian helos to form the core of Afghan's military force structure in rotary aircraft.

In a turnabout from the Cold War, when the CIA gave Stinger missiles to Afghan rebels to shoot down Soviet helicopters, the Pentagon has spent $648 million to buy or refurbish 31 Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan National Army Air Corps. The Defense Department is seeking to buy 10 more of the Mi-17s next year, and had planned to buy dozens more over the next decade.

Congress pissed because it wants only US firms to provide, but I like us getting the Russians involved. The only way we win in Afghanistan is to get the entire neighborhood involved and incentivized economically.


The Russian dream

Pic here.

Bloomberg Businessweek piece.

It is one of the great memories of living in the USSR in 1985:  everybody was in apartments and nobody really to have a house, unless you were rich or connected and had the dacha.

Well, here's Medvedev bitching about the same almost two decades later, noting that 77% of the country's 142 million live in apartment blocks.  

So here's the modern equivalent of Lincoln's land give-away (the Homestead Act), as Russia has amassed almost 2.5m acres to "seed the land with single-family homes."

Says the guy who runs the government's fund to promote housing:  "The person who has something to defend is a different kind of person."



The Russian moles: buried too deep

Two International Herald Trib stories (really NYT) and one WSJ.

The whole “mole” strategy does strike me as grossly outdated.  It made sense in a world hermetically sealed between East and West (with a struggle over the “Third World”), but in today’s connected reality, it just seems a poor return on investment.

But like a lot of things in the old Sov-cum-Russian system (and in the US national security establishment), it continued on sheer momentum, like some aging Japanese soldier holding down his cave fort on some God-forsaken Pacific island for decades after the empire fell.

The clincher: the “suburban spy suspect didn’t feel appreciated by mother country handlers.”

Ah, score one for suburban angst!


More Russian outreach on modernization

FT article.

Russia co-producing strategic airlift with the US, buying naval surface combatants from France, trading cheap fuel for basing rights in Ukraine, and now building ships with South Korea out in Vladivostok.

Quite the rising challenger, huh?

Russia’s state-owned shipbuilder teaming up with South Korea’s King-Kong shipbuilder Daewoo—a modernizing alliance all right.


The drumbeat for US-Russia cooperation continues

WSJ story.

Okay, so not exactly unprecedented, but just like with the proposed joint production of an airlift platform, we're talking two powers that cannot easily muster the requisite resources for cutting-edge work on their own.

Here we've got the Russian Deputy PM talking with our NASA boss about pushing for joint exploration past the expiration date of the International Space Station (round 2020 or so)--i.e., out into the solar system for real.

As it is, we're already dependent on the Russians for transport to low-earth orbit once we retire the Shuttles.

Ivanov's big sale?  It costs a lot to explore space.

I think this is good.  Let the Chinese conquer the moon and we go beyond with our old space pals.


Get ready for US-Russian joint military production

Center of Economic Planning site story via Charles Ganske of Russia Blog.

Unbelievably to many, inevitable to me.

The United States is considering a Russian proposal on the joint production of An-124 Condor heavy-lift transport aircraft, a Russian deputy prime minister said.

The An-124 was designed by the Antonov Design Bureau in 1982, and was produced in Ukraine's Kiev and Russia's Ulyanovsk plants until 1995. Although there are no An-124s being built at present, Russia and Ukraine have reportedly agreed to resume production in the future.

"We have discussed a full-scale project, which includes the joint production of the plane, setting up a joint venture, shared rights, sales to Russian and American customers - both civilian and military - and the creation of a scheme for post-production servicing," Sergei Ivanov told reporters in Washington.

The An-124 is similar to the American Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, but has a 25% larger payload.

The aircraft has a maximum payload of 150 metric tons with a flight range of around 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles).

An-124s have been used extensively by several U.S. companies. Russian cargo company Volga-Dnepr has contracts with Boeing to ship outsize aircraft components to its Everett plant.

Why inevitable?

Simply the rising costs associated with big platforms.  There ain't enough Leviathan work to go around that justifies great powers each producing their own major platforms--the old Norm Augustine bit.  Russia itself is only producing 20 through 2020 for its own military, and the platform has a long and good history with US customers, including our own Pentagon on a leased basis (currently through 2016).  

This proposal simply ups the cooperation to joint production.


Being realistic about Russia's need to reassert itself

Dominic Lieven op-ed in FT.

Nice logic: natural to expect Russian reassertion of influence after the long hangover of lost empire. Tease the bear, like Georgia did, and you get a nasty reply.

How much to worry over Ukraine-Russian relations, now that Moscow has secured long-term naval access (always revocable by successor Kiev govs) to the Black Sea?  Do we want to be in the geopolitical business of denying Russia such access?

Key point:

Shedding a land empire is always harder than letting go of overseas colonies.  Britain had an empire but Russia was one:  abandoning one's property is easier than facing challenges to one's identity.  It is easier for London to take a relaxed attitude to events in Asia or the Middle East than for Moscow to remain aloof from chaos in the Caucasus.

Comparison:  when land empires were involve (Ireland for London, Algeria for Paris), retreats were very painful.

Fortunately, Russia holds onto Siberia and seeks to reassert itself primarily through energy vice military power or territorial annexations.  Please remember what a huge improvement that is for the global security environment.

Piece ends with the usual comparison:  is China playing Germany to today's Britain--America?  In that working-out process, keeping on good terms with Russia is more than useful.

My point:  Russia needs globalization to work as part of its reassertion, just like China needs it badly for its growth trajectory.  There is no need to choose but definitely no need to freeze anybody out over current behavior.  Gotta keep the big picture in mind. 


Turkey, on the march!

You can almost hear Ed Herlihy narrating a 1940s newsreel WRT Turkey's busy diplomacy, deal-making, etc. This is a rising great power on the make.

Several energy agreements inked in latest Erdogan-Medvedev meet, where the Russian president lauds the "full-scale strategic partnership."

Hmm.  Be nice to have one of those with Turkey.

Results include visa-free travel, Turkey's first nuclear power plant (take note) and an oil pipeline construction-boosting accord. Trade is pledged to increase 3-fold to $100B.

Seems possible enough, given recent growth.

The pipeline deal is a tricky one:  Turkey wants fewer-to-no oil tankers in the Bosphorus (which I got to cruise last year with the head of the Turkish navy), and it's easy to see why--just too narrow and too winding.

Yes, the two are competitive over who gets to become the bigger natural gas hub (Russia has a competing pipeline--South Stream to Turkey's Nabucco), but they also share a lot of frustration with the EU.

So it seems that Russia relented some on oil pipelines in order to get the nuclear power plant deal signed.


In the category of pretty damn cool: American troops march in Red Square

NYT piece by way of Jeff Jennings.


Never before in history have active-duty American troops been invited to march in the Victory Day parade, according to the United States military. The occasion is the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, a date that carries an almost sacred meaning in Russia. Russian leaders have taken pains to explain that the Americans — along with contingents from Britain, France and Poland — were invited as representatives of the “anti-Hitler coalition.”

Not for nothing are they explaining. While more than half of Russians greeted the invitation with approval or enthusiasm, according to an April poll by the independent Levada Center, the sentiment was not universal. In a country that still regards NATO as its primary security threat, 20 percent of respondents said they disapproved and 8 percent were dead set against it. Communist and nationalist leaders have latched onto it as a rallying cry, organizing rallies on the theme, “No NATO boots on Red Square!”

There is ambivalence, even for those in the first category. Most Russians say they believe that the Red Army would have defeated Hitler without any assistance from Western allies, Levada’s research shows. Many say the Allies held back until it was clear which side would win.

You know the old bit:  British minds, U.S. money and Russian blood are what won WWII, so some truth in that suspicion.

Still, nice sign.


The Russia-Ukraine Sevastopol deal, without hyperbole

Nice piece by Richard Weitz at WPR.  Totally lacking in the usual hyperbole.

Some highlights:

Despite the controversy the agreement has provoked in Ukraine, where commentators have debated its constitutionality and economic costs, Western governments have not paid much public attention to the deal. This silence partly reflects a desire not to antagonize the new Ukrainian government or contest Ukrainians' right to determine their foreign policies without outside interference. But it also is due to the perception that the lease extension will not appreciably change the balance of power in the Black Sea region.

During the August 2008 Georgia War, vessels from Russia's Black Sea fleet, based at Sevastopol, deployed along the coast of Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia in a belated effort to support Russian military operations. They did not materially affect the course of the war. When NATO ships entered the Black Sea following the conflict to provide humanitarian assistance to the Georgian government, Russian officials accused NATO of covertly re-arming Georgia. Adm. Eduard Baltin, former commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, boasted that the Russian Navy could destroy the NATO naval contingent within 20 minutes. But despite the bellicose rhetoric, no such attack occurred, and the Western ships soon departed.

Russia's dominance of the Black Sea is due less to its maritime might than to the Montreux Convention, which severely constrains the presence of extra-regional navies in the Black Sea. Turkey has been very careful to apply these limitations to NATO warships so as not to antagonize Moscow or risk losing the unique privileges that the convention grants Turkey as owner of the Bosporus Straits . . . 

Most importantly, Moscow demonstrated in 2008 that, even with minimal naval and air support, Russian ground forces can overwhelm Georgia's defenses . . .  

At an April 22 news conference in Estonia, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Ukraine's decision to extend the lease would not harm its prospect of eventually joining the alliance . . .

On the one hand, Yanukovich had already made clear well before the base deal that he has no intention of joining NATO . . . 

On the other, while the gas subsidies will take effect now, a future Ukrainian government could annul the lease extension before 2017, when the current lease expires. Even after that date, a new government might try to revoke the extension by deeming it unconstitutional or citing other reasons . . 

Furthermore, the Sevastopol energy-for-base arrangement is unlikely to serve as a precedent for similar deals elsewhere. Notwithstanding invitations from Venezuela and other friendly governments to establish bases on their territory, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described the Ukrainian package as a unique offer designed to restore good relations between two neighboring countries. "We have no need to build military bases around the world," Putin said. "I would ask our [energy] partners not to approach us with similar requests. The Crimea is a special case."

Well put, Richard.


What! No naval war over Arctic resources?

Image found here

Moscow Times story:

Russia and Norway have reached an agreement on a long-running border dispute, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday, in a deal that will provide a framework for how the two countries divvy up the vast energy reserves on the Arctic shelf.

"The decision [we have reached] provides that the disputed territory in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean are divided into two equivalent parts," he said Tuesday at a joint news conference with President Dmitry Medvedev. "The way in which the border line will be drawn satisfies both states."

The agreement will regulate both fishing and drilling on 173,000 square kilometers of the Arctic shelf, which will be divided into two approximately equal parts. Details of the agreement were not disclosed as documents are still being prepared for the final deal.

The scuffles over the countries' Arctic border area have been a sore point in relations for some time. The Norwegian coast guard has detained a number of Russian fishing vessels over the years for various violations. In 2006, Russia temporarily banned the imports of fish from four Norwegian enterprises in what was largely seen as a political move.

Rights to develop the Arctic's vast energy resources have been another sticking point, but in a sign that the two sides may be warming to a more cooperative approach, Medvedev on Monday invited Norway's Statoil to explore the giant Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Barents Sea.

Don't you just hate it when things work out like that?

[thanks to WPR's media roundup]

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