Showing posts with label Putin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Putin. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Crimea & Punishment: US Influence in Decline

"If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merits of our cause, we'd better reexamine our reasoning."
Robert S. McNamara

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, recently visited Kiev, the besieged Ukraine capital. From there he accused Russia “of making up reasons for intervention in Ukraine, saying that ‘not a single piece of credible evidence supports any one of these claims*."  Kerry went on to further refute Russia’s justification for amassing troops in Crimea based on their assertion that “Russian-speaking citizens (were) under siege…*" (*Source: CNNArticle).

At face value I would be inclined to agree with Mr. Kerry. The people of Kiev marched in protest of their elected government led by Russian strongman Victor Yanukovich to overthrow him. It is true he was democratically elected (even though there were numerous anomalies and allegations of voter fraud and vote rigging). For our purposes let’s assume he was democratically elected. So while we can argue that his government’s demise was un-democratic in that it did not transpire at the ballot box, what cannot be argued is the fact that Mr. Yanukovich completely lost the confidence of his own ministers, cabinet and party. In the end he had no credibility, and therefore no legitimacy, left to govern the people of Ukraine. It was just a matter of time before he would have had to submit his resignation and hold new elections, which is why he fled.

What surprises me most about the current crisis in Crimea is not the recent turn of events but that nobody in NATO, the European Union, MI-5, State Department, CIA, NSA or the White House saw this coming. In my estimation, Putin was always going to take all necessary means to protect his substantial trade and geopolitical investments in Ukraine. We were all aware that Mr. Yanukovich was the Kremlin’s man in Kiev. Russia has historical ties to the region starting in the 18th century. Nikita Khrushchev gifted Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, but they still share the same language and many Ukrainians work in Russia today. Most importantly Russia has billions of dollars invested there. “Take Crimea, for instance. More than half of its 2 million people are Russian, and Russia still maintains a naval base there.” (Source: NPR Article). Did the Western powers seriously expect Putin to walk away or agree to settle this matter with meetings, phone calls and group hugs? Mr. Putin is ex KGB and a man who has long portrayed a tough guy image. We have all seen the pictures of him wrestling a bear and riding a horse shirtless. He is not going to go silently into the night when there is a direct challenge to his authority and influence within his geopolitical sphere and right on Russia’s doorstep.

Putin claims that he was asked by Mr. Yanukovich to send troops to protect the Russian speaking populations in the East and in Crimea; it is a pretty thin argument. Even without a law degree one can see that there is no legal justification for Russia’s action. Let’s for a moment forget Putin’s claims for amassing troops in Crimea and go back to 2005 to another invasion of a sovereign country. Now consider John Kerry’s statement accusing Russia and substitute Ukraine for Iraq - of making up reasons for intervention in (Iraq), and that ‘not a single piece of credible evidence supports any one of these claims;" funny how his statement still applies to the Iraq invasion. To this day there is not proof of Iraqi links to Al-Qaeda, nor any evidence they supported, funded or harbored any terrorist organizations. We all know that there was never any credible evidence presented (only anecdotal from exiles and dissidents; which were written off by German intelligence who provided them to US and UK) of a stockpile of deadly chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. There was never any imminent threat to the United States of America or the world at large, as we were repeatedly told by Cheney, Bush and Blair. No matter how you feel about the Iraq invasion there can be no dispute that there was no legal justification for it within International Law. Perhaps this is why the US was able to convince only one of the more than one hundred and ninety countries in the world of its need to invade a sovereign nation.

There is no question that Mr. Putin has no moral right or legal justification to invade the Ukraine. The problem is that after the invasion of Iraq, the United States lost its moral authority to stop Russia or any other country from doing the same. It is a simple matter of International law; if the US can break it at will, then why not another country? Bush and Cheney set a very dangerous precedent, that too at a time when US economic dominance is in decline. Mr. Putin is well aware of this fact and has taken a calculated but smart risk. He knows the US can no longer take the high ground or afford another war. While the European Union can take the high ground, they are averse to war. However, since Russia supplies almost a quarter of their oil and natural gas, Putin knows that the EU is highly unlikely to do anything too damaging in terms of sanctions or economic reprimands. Perhaps, now Bush and Cheney can add this to the already high cost of their Iraq war.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections on Two Thousand and Eleven

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” 
Albert Einstein

Two thousand and eleven feels like it will be remembered largely as the year in which humanity’s integrity and honour fell by the wayside and everything in the world seemed to be off kilter as a result of the great precipice created in our world. It was a year filled with company destroying financial revelations, country-crumbling debt crises, leadership failures and big economic disappointments. It was a year when honesty and transparency seemed in short supply, everywhere. Many of the revelations were sadly, not so much shocking as simply removing the thin veil that barely hid what we already knew to be true for some years now.

It was also the year when some of the most oppressed people in the world stopped fearing their governments and started to rectify this equation to finally make government fear the people. The Arab street locked arms, raised voices, gave lives, but in the end succeeded in striking down the tyrants that used fear, torture and censorship to shackle them for decades. It was the year of the Arab Spring or Awakening, as the longstanding and brutal dictatorships of Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia all fell and the ones still left standing are on the brink of revolution. All this ignited by a single act of frustrated defiance by Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller, on the streets of Tunisia. He set himself on fire to protest police corruption and continuous harassment by government employees, and his martyrdom set in motion a chain of events that the most brilliant analytical minds at the CIA, Mossad and Pentagon had not foreseen in any of the scenarios they have spent their lives exploring and building. There were even simmers of discontent in China with the short-lived Jasmine protest and now we are seeing it engulf mother Russia. Last weekend saw the largest demonstrations held in the streets of Moscow and other cities since the fall of the old Soviet Union. People came out in the hundreds of thousands to protest voter fraud and demand the resignation of Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, the great democracies of India and the US also saw their share of people power, albeit without much turmoil or disruption so far. In India, Anna Hazare’s movement to create Lokpal or citizen ombudsman bill to fight corruption was passed by the Lower House this week and is currently being debated in the Upper House. The bill was first introduced in 1968 but never managed to see light of day. In the United States we saw the beginnings of a something that had all the power and popular support to grow into a force with clout and sway. But sadly, Occupy deteriorated into a homeless-filled, feckless orgy of sex, drugs and alcohol. The day Occupy announced that it would be a leaderless movement is that day I believe America stopped caring about them and went back to burying their frustration in their office cubicles. However, the discontent with Capitol Hill and Wall Street is not going away anytime soon. It will continue to fester across the nation until some real and meaningful change takes place, and some real prison sentences handed down for the fraud perpetrated by many executives.

Even as the world seemed starved and desperate for leadership nobody was able to step up to the plate and deliver. Instead it seemed the opposite was true with the Former Israeli President, Moshe Katsav, being sentenced to seven years in prison for raping a former employee while he was president. The former French President, Chirac, was found guilty of corruption and given to a two-year suspended prison sentence for diverting public funds and abusing public trust. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, had to resign after he had sex with a New York hotel maid. His wife stoically stood by him even as he admitted to having had consensual sex with the maid. Meanwhile Europe was in turmoil with the constant fear of the impending disintegration of the European Union and Euro zone hanging over the markets like a dark cloud for the better part of the year. Every day we heard about another country on the brink of default on their loans, from having lived beyond their means for more than a decade. It was not just the smaller and developing economies of Iceland, Ireland or Greece that faltered, but also the fully developed and large ones of Italy and Spain that are teetering on the edge of that debt cliff. Had one of these big countries gone it would have taken the whole Euro zone down with it. They say that in the times of great crisis, great leaders emerge; I guess they got it wrong. Instead of leadership and fortitude, we had Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy pussyfooting around the problems, relying on German coffers to shoulder Europe’s’ self-created woes, and finally asking private banks to write-off loans and thus share the public burden. The one good thing that did come out of this was that Silvio Berlusconi had to finally resign, giving the Italians a fighting chance to keep their country alive with the “developed world” label still intact. It is also true that while the US’s troubles are much deeper and more worrying, the dollar was saved not by anything the US Federal Reserve or the government did to shore up investor confidence, but by the fact that the only other option – the Euro did a phenomenal job of making itself look worse and even less secure than the weak dollar.

Back on the sub-continent, Indians witnessed the uncovering of one scam after another. Dirty politicians, unscrupulous businessmen, even corrupt officials in The Indian Space Research Organization. Sadly even the once revered Indian army was not left unsullied. Each new scam unearthed was bigger, more daring and conducted with greater fearlessness and abandon than the last one; in the end leaving no Indian institution unscathed. It seems that the ruling Congress Party had made a decision to make hay while their electoral sun shone, and pretty much everyone from Sonia Gandhi to the bottom layers of the party had their hand in the taxpayer’s cookie jar. It was only after a prolonged public outcry, major media coverage and really bad International press that a single arrest was made. One has to wait and see how many years these cases drag on and if there will ever be a single politician prosecuted for any wrongdoing. I still see all the disgraced politicians smiling and looking shameless and plucky, as if they know of enough skeletons in other closets to ever be prosecuted by their peers. We shall see.

In America, too, it was the year of uncovering scams pulled off by all the major retail and investment banks, as well as unethical if not illegal business practices by many large and iconic companies. Curiously, though, not a single corporate executive was prosecuted or even indicted for this wrong doing. Instead settlements were made with all the companies, forcing them to pay seemingly large fines but also allowing them to admit “no wrongdoing.” Perhaps I am a little slow but I don’t understand this logic – you commit a crime and instead of prosecution you agree to pay a large sum of money; which happens to be no more than 25% of the total amount you illegally and unethically made, and you get to say you are not guilty of doing anything wrong – how exactly does this serve as punishment and more importantly as a deterrent?

I guess we could look back at two thousand and eleven and conclude that the Mayan prophecy about twenty-first December two thousand and twelve being the end of the world, could quite possibly be true. Talk to anybody and they will tell you they think the world feels like it is going to hell faster than we can say the word. I am sure every generation felt this sense of hopelessness and despair at some point in their journey; what we also know is that each of these generations managed to find a way through the Plague, Hitler, Hiroshima, Jallianwala Bagh and Apartheid. So while our world has for some time now felt tilted towards the majority of people seemingly driven entirely by selfishness, greed and unethical behaviour, I want to offer an alternative point of view on the Mayan prophecy. This prophecy maybe correct about the end, but not in terms of the four horsemen or fire, brimstone and volcanic ash, but as an end to a chapter. Perhaps this year will mark a new beginning, closing this long and dark chapter of unethical behavior, lack of regard for our fellow human beings and the selfish rot that seems to have overtaken the majority of people and begin to shift the balance back. Maybe we have sunk to our depths and it is time to rise once again; finding within us the very same things that have made us more united and more connected than ever before in the history of the world. The same kindness and compassion of neighbours that saw America through the Great Depression, the solidarity and selfless resolve that drove the mighty British out of India and a strength and never say die resolve that ended Apartheid. Perhaps this is what the Mayan Prophecy foretells and for what two thousand and twelve will be remembered.