Syndicated News from Russia
Thu, 12 Dec 2013 19:06:34 GMT
Thu, 12 Dec 2013 17:01:01 GMT
Russia Strengthens Ties With VietnamForbesAlthough Russia's focus in Asia traditionally has been on China, Japan and South Korea, it also has ties to Southeast Asia, which remains a strategically significant ? though not absolutely essential ? area for Moscow's efforts to extend its ...and more »
Fri, 13 Dec 2013 00:31:24 GMT
Thu, 12 Dec 2013 21:09:56 GMT
The Atlantic Cities
'Like the Florida of Russia, but Cheaper'The Atlantic CitiesRob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen want to explain the Caucasus to us. They've been traveling there off and on since 2009 to tell the story of the war torn, post-Soviet region. That includes Sochi, the Russian summer resort town suddenly famous for ...
Thu, 12 Dec 2013 19:51:04 GMT
Thu, 12 Dec 2013 06:57:01 GMT
Russia-Ukraine relationship 'pragmatic' - MargelovBBC NewsThe Russian Federation Council's Mikhail Margelov has told BBC HARDtalk Russia's economic relationship with Ukraine is "pragmatic." Asked about reports of Russian officials placing heavy pressure on Ukraine not to sign a trade deal with the European ...
Thu, 12 Dec 2013 11:04:29 GMT
Thu, 12 Dec 2013 21:37:45 GMT
Durham Herald Sun
Objects of beauty from 'Mother Russia'Durham Herald Sun?The Tsar's Cabinet: Two Hundred Years of Russian Decorative Arts under the Romanovs and Windows into Heaven: Russian Icons from the Lilly and Francis Robicsek Collection of Religious Art,? N.C. Museum of History, 5 E. Edenton St., Raleigh, through ...
Thu, 12 Dec 2013 05:19:21 GMT
Thu, 12 Dec 2013 14:35:59 GMT
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Results 1 - 10 of Headlines for Russia
Monday, July 21st, 2003
: RCN Administrator
SITUATION REPORTS - July 21, 2003 --
1150 GMT – FRANCE: France has launched an investigation into the July 20
bomb attack on a tax office in Nice that injured 16 people. No one has
claimed responsibility for the attack, in which two bombs exploded. However,
Corsican separatists, who called off a cease-fire during the week of July
14, are suspects in a similar attack on the same office six months ago.
1145 GMT – SOLOMON ISLANDS: The first contingent of Australian soldiers
slated to go to the Solomon Islands left aboard the naval frigate HMAS
Manoora on July 21. Defense Minister Sen. Robert Hill said that no timetable
has been set for the soldiers' return from the island. The rest of the
2,000-member force is expected on the island on July 24. Australian Prime
Minister John Howard decided to send the troops in hopes of containing the
island and keeping it from degenerating into a "lawless haven for
terrorists, drug runners and money launderers."
1129 GMT – IRAN: Iran armed its elite Revolutionary Guard with the Shahab-3
missile during a military inauguration ceremony July 20 as Iran's supreme
leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei looked on, state-run Iranian television
reported. The Shahad-3 has a range of 810 miles and can strike targets in
Iraq, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, U.S.
intelligence agencies have said that although the missile is suspected of
having this ability, Iran has not yet developed a completely reliable
1127 GMT – VENEZUELA: Venezuelan army commander Gen. Jorge Luis Garcia
Carneiro told Caracas television station Globovision on July 20 that it's
not likely a presidential recall referendum can be held in 2003 because "the
new National Electoral Council (CNE) still has to be named, the required
signatures have to be collected, the Permanent Electoral Registry (of
voters) has to be purged, election material has to be printed and the
personnel that will participate in the electoral process has to be trained."
1122 GMT – RUSSIA: Six Russian servicemen and three rebels were killed and
eight were wounded overnight on July 20 in a firefight near the village of
Dyshne-Vedeno, Interfax reported, citing sources inside the headquarters of
the Combined Federal Force in the Northern Caucasus. The incident occurred
when Russian forces intercepted the rebels, who reportedly were planning to
take over the village.
1118 GMT – CHINA: British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in China on July
21 to meet with Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao and former
President Jiang Zemin. Blair, accompanied by British businessmen, opened a
new British Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, as well as discussed North
Korea's nuclear ambitions, postwar Iraq and trade relations between Britain
and China. This is the third leg in Blair's Asia tour, with the first two
being in Japan and South Korea.
1115 GMT – IRAQ: One U.S soldier from the 1st Armored Division and an Iraqi
interpreter were killed July 21 after being ambushed with grenades and
small-arms fire just north of Baghdad, Cpl. Todd Pruden said. Pruden did not
elaborate on the incident. To date, 152 U.S. soldiers have died in combat
since the war in Iraq started March 20.
1110 GMT – LIBERIA: A 41-member contingent of U.S. Marines from the Fleet
Anti-Terrorism Team in Rota, Spain, is expected to arrive July 21 in
Monrovia, Liberia, European Command spokesman Maj. Bill Bigelow said. The
team is expected to reinforce security around the U.S Embassy. Currently,
there are 20 U.S. troops in the country -- sent to assess the situation and
the possible need for a U.S.-led peacekeeping force. The United States and
African leaders still are pressing Liberian President Charles Taylor to step
down and go into exile in hopes of ending the civil war.
1103 GMT – MEXICO: Mexican counterterrorism investigators found information
on how to manufacture chemical weapons and other militant-oriented
information in a safe house used by Spaniards and Mexicans suspected of
having ties with the Basque militant group ETA, Reuters reports. Six Spanish
citizens and three Mexicans were arrested across Mexico on July 18, and a
seventh Spaniard was arrested in northern Spain. Police forces
simultaneously raided suspected safe houses in the Pacific coast resort of
Puerto Escondido, Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula, Monterrey in northern
Mexico, Puebla and Mexico City. All of the cities have easy and frequent
international air connections to multiple destinations in Europe and the
Geopolitical Diary: Monday, July 21, 2003
Four U.S. soldiers were killed in action over the weekend -- including two
members of the 101st Airborne Division who were killed in an ambush west of
Mosul that left another soldier injured. Sunday's ambush occurred near Tall
Afar. The interesting thing about these attacks is that both took place
outside the "Sunni Triangle" north and west of Baghdad, where attacks have
been focused. The guerrillas appear to be expanding their operations
deliberately, trying to unnerve U.S. troops and force their commanders to
expand the combat arena -- and thereby stretch their resources even more.
What is unclear is whether these were special operations at long distances
by the Iraqis, or whether they indicated a sustained move into these
regions -- and the answers to these questions will be critical.
U.S. officials have decided to raise an Iraqi army, designated as an Iraqi
"civil defense corps." Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, said the
force "will be made up of Iraqis who will be under American military command
to help us basically with the armed part of the work we're doing." If they
do nothing but help interpret both language and culture to the American
troops, they will be beneficial. If they are not expected to engage in
combat operations on their own, they can be spun up fairly rapidly."
The corps poses two challenges. The first is finding anyone willing to serve
in it. There will be two classes of people volunteering: One class consists
of criminals and down-and-outers who see a chance to come out on top in the
new Iraqi order, with not much to lose if it fails; then there will be the
people that Bremer wants: people rooted in the community with families --
people who in addition to serving in the force can also influence their
communities. This is not an impossible idea by any means, but it does depend
on one thing: being able to protect their families. The men will be safer on
patrol with U.S. forces, but their families will not. If the United States
can't protect them, the whole project fails. And protecting the families of
troops always has been one of the nightmares of guerrilla warfare.
The second problem will be security. This force will be a treasure trove of
intelligence for the Baathists. If we were Baath commanders, our men would
be standing in line to join up. Getting close up and personal with U.S.
troops would provide tactical and operational intelligence. In Vietnam, the
Viet Cong made it a point to place people in the Army of Vietnam (ARVN)
slots where liaison with the Americans was heavy. It is unclear how you do a
background check in Iraq, and we'd love to see the polygraphs. Keeping the
force clean is going to be a nightmare -- that is, if Bremer plans to put up
recruitment posters all over the country to create a force that "looks like
Iraq," in former U.S. President Bill Clinton's old phrase. If, on the other
hand, the bulk of the forces are to be raised from the Shiite regions --
where deals are being made -- and from the Kurdish regions, the security
concerns might be less. Of course, the Kurds will engage in smuggling and
the Shiites will report to Tehran, but they will be motivated to stop the
Baath guerrillas, which is the item on the agenda.
If this is the case, then what is happening is that the United States will
recruit non-Sunni forces to share the burden of occupying the Sunni regions.
As we have argued in the past, this is the only way to do it. It does not
create a pro-American faction inside the Sunni regions, but it does increase
the force available to engage and defeat the Baathists. Both the Kurds and
Shiites have the interest to carry out the mission, but both will have to be
induced to do so with political arrangements. In the case of the Shiites,
those arrangements will be costly.
Since the idea of a general recruitment from the population strikes us as
self-defeating, we suspect that this proposal is the cover for the creation
of a combined U.S.-Shiite force for occupying Sunni areas. Whether we are
right in this will be visible when the recruitment starts. Pay no attention
to the first media reports on this, which will be staged carefully to show
the diversity and motivation of the force. After the cameras leave, we will
take a careful look at the force and see how many of their families live in
the "Sunni Triangle."Results Page:
Saturday, April 12th, 2003
: RCN Administrator
Tough Nuts to Crack -- The following article was written three hours before the assassination of the Iraqi Shiite cleric, Abd Al-Majid Khoei, whose father, the Grand Ayatollah Khoei, was persecuted by Saddam Hussein as the spiritual leader of "Iraq's 12 million Shiites."
Abd Al-Majid returned to Iraq from exile under coalition protection to take up a key role in the future federal government in Baghdad. He died on Thursday, April 10, when a melee that broke out in the Imam Ali Mosque of the holy town of Najaf was exploited by Baath agents in the crowd to commit the murder. A second Shiite cleric died with him.
Chirac Challenges Bush through Iraq's Shiites
Directly after the assassination, the Shiite community of Iraq was pulled in another unexpected direction “this time the outcome of a challenge France had decided to mount against the United States through a Shiite group."
Thursday night, April 10, a small Paris-based Shiite opposition faction published a call to Iraqi Shiites to rise up against the American occupation of Iraq with all their strength, including force of arms. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Paris sources have found that this group, which is headed by Dr. Abd Rikabi, is sponsored directly by the French intelligence DGSE service. It has a sparse following in most of Iraq's Shiite centers. This group would never have taken so extreme an initiative without DGSE sanction, which would have required approval from the President, Jacques Chirac. The inference here is that Chirac, using the Shiites as proxies, has embarked on a course of military confrontation against the American presence in Iraq. This course was predicted by the Russian president Vladimir Putin in a warning to President George W. Bush - as revealed on March 14 by DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue No. 101.
Here Come the Warlords
Reporting on the battle for Basra, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military experts judge it to have been much more than a fight for control of the southern city. It was all about securing the coalition's fragile eastern front, where Iran's influence is prevalent in a predominantly Shiite area likely to be fertile ground for the coming guerrilla war against the Americans in Iraq. Already, Iranian agents are pouring into the Faw Peninsula, Umm Qassar, Basra and al-Amara, bringing in weapons, money and fighters.
Local tribal leaders watched from the sidelines as US armor rumbled towards Baghdad, leaving them free to take the opportunity of setting themselves up as warlords after American military might had gone by. Already, they are staking claims to patches of territory and establishing militias with Iranian largesse and encouragement. Lawlessness reminiscent of the Pakistani-Afghan border is swiftly taking over and could soon threaten Iraq's southern oil fields.
The old British colonial power that once ruled Iraq is back but failed to take hold of the Faw Peninsula where Iraqi deserters are congregating and rearming for the next round of hostilities.
Neither have the British 7th armored division (Desert Rats) and 16th assault brigade, deployed along a line east of the Shatt al-Arab, been able to prevent Iran from asserting control over the strategic waterway and threatening to turn it into the lawless militias' main logistical supply and communication channel. Like coalition forces elsewhere in Iraq, the British were only partially successful because they simply did not have enough forces on the ground to do any more.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that, along with the looting, militias are sprouting in all Iraq's main cities. The first turf wars are erupting over the control of urban districts.
The militias are set up on religious and tribal lines, a contributing factor to the American nightmare of wholesale slaughter in the cities. Isolated "pockets of resistance" could turn in an instant to a volatile brew of Shiite and Sunni Muslim militias at each other's throats, a constant thorn in the side of US forces as they battle Saddam's "jihad" guerrilla bands.
Over the past week, the United States has gone to great lengths to win over the largely secular Shiite population of the big cities. Six out of 10 Iraqis are Shiite, according to US estimates. Iran puts the figure at 75 percent of Iraq's population of 22 million.
The Americans are racing Iran and Saddam for Shiite hearts and minds. The United States made intense efforts this week to persuade Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the senior Shiite authority in Iraq, to publish a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Shiite believers to cooperate with coalition forces. US sources insisted that Sistani agreed in a secret meeting in Najaf with Colonel Chris Hughes of the US 101st Airborne Division and Shiite agents of the CIA to call on his people not to resist American troops.
Two days later, Sistani's office in London disavowed this call.
Adding to US dismay, the next day Iraqi television broadcast what it said was the voice of a senior Shiite clergyman reading a fatwa issued by five religious leaders calling on the Shiites to fight US and British forces to the death.
But the United States has another card up its sleeve “Abd Al-Majid Khoei, its main Shiite ally and leader of some 3,000 Shiite fighters funded by Washington and based in Kuwait. Khoei was in Basra at the beginning of the war some three weeks ago and informed US General Tommy Franks, the supreme coalition commander, the city had fallen. That was premature and the Americans hustled him out of Basra. He is now in Najaf where he has been trying unsuccessfully to be received by Sistani or the ayatollah's associates and request a favorable fatwa.
Undeterred by Sistani's snub, Khoei made the rounds of Shiite adherents living in Najaf and Karbala, lobbying them for greater cooperation with the US military. He has met with only partial success, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in the area, but in Najaf managed to reopen Shiite shrines shut down by Saddam Hussein, including the Imam Ali central mosque. The Republican Guards had taken possession of the shrine and was preparing to use it as a firing position, when the local populace forced them to drop their plan.
American officers in Najaf and Karbala have found the local populace deeply concerned with the situation of their fellow believers in Baghdad. They offered assurances that the Shiites in the capital should have no fear of being harmed any more than their coreligionists in Najaf and Karbala.
Besides Khoei, the Americans are attempting to influence the population through two other prominent Shiite clerics Sayyad Bahar el-Olum and Ayatollah Hussein Sadr. They are also courting the Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammed Bshaq Bayat.
A secular Shiite, Ahmed Chalabi, the London-based leader of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, was also asked by Washington to help out. The United States flew him along with some 300 to 400 fighters and 250 people whom he believes will be part of a new Iraqi government from the northern city of Dohuk to Talil, the main US base of air operations in Iraq. From there, he moved to Nasiriyah in the south to spread word of the prominent role the United States is promising the Shiites in post-war central government, if they show their support for the American action in Iraq.
A Destabilizing Wind from Lebanon
The Lebanese Hizballah's terrorist-ideologue, Sheikh Hassan Fadlallah, member of the Lebanese group's Politburo and the Ayatollah Sistani's foremost rival as religious authority in the Shiite world, has already thrown himself into the creation of Saddam's "jihad" guerrilla underground. Sistani by refraining from throwing his support behind the United States implicitly adds his weight to Saddam's schemes.
Tehran is continuing to push its candidate, Mohamad Baqr Al Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, for a senior government position in post-war Baghdad against the candidacy of Majid Khoei. The Iranians threaten to stir up Iraqi Shiites against the Americans if they do not get their way. Before launching the war, the Americans welcomed Al Hakim but have discovered since that his influence in the Shiite community of Iraq is marginal, and are brushing off Iran's threats.
Saturday, April 12th, 2003
: RCN Administrator
Russian Intelligence Vets to Saddam's Rescue For the new-old Russian counterintelligence faction, Moscow's and Saddam Hussein's interests coincide at important points. If he is alive, these Cold War experts may be planning to organize on his behalf an Iraqi "jihad" underground that will spread round the Middle East. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Moscow and Washington, it looks like taking form of a hostile, antithetical companion to the Bush team's project for re-designing and democratizing the entire region and stamping out fanatical Islamic terror. Saddam could run the Jihad underground and its overseas branches from a distance. If he turns out not have survived after all, the anti-American project will be handed to his sons. The Russian counterintelligence veterans believe that American technological military might, which was demonstrated so stunningly in the first three weeks of the Iraq War, can be impaired if not defeated nonetheless by the asymetrical tactics of guerrilla and paramilitary warfare, suicidal terror and an active underground, for which the Russians will design special weapons. Assassination would be the weapon used against figures willing to help the Americans build the New Iraq.
Joint advance planning
Much of the plan was drafted in meetings Russian intelligence agents held in Baghdad before the war with Saddam and his sons Uday and Qusay, which would explain some of the war's subsequent enigmas. One decision was for Saddam to leave Baghdad and head for Syria as soon as the first invading American troops set foot in Iraq. From there, he would manage the war out of a newly-established military and intelligence command post. Television footage of his own and his various doubles' appearances was taped in advance for broadcasts to muddy the trail.
The second part of the Russian-Iraq team's plan was designed to undermine American control in post-war "Iraq, a version of the American-supported local guerrilla resistance in Afghanistan that kept the Soviet occupation army bleeding for years."
Surviving Republican Guards elite troops were given orders to back away from direct confrontations with the coalition troops, shed their uniforms and go home to await further instructions. And indeed the streets of Iraqi cities were littered with abandoned Iraqi military uniforms in the third week of the war. Upon receiving their "jihad" orders, the elite soldiers would form into small guerrilla bands and spread out across Iraq to fight the Americans. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources, Saddam signed off on the Russian strategy. He decided not to defend Baghdad or blow up any major bridges over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, counting on drawing the US military as deep as possible into a Vietnam- or Stalingrad-like quagmire.
Last December, the Iraqi-Russian-Syrian intelligence trio was already raising an army of volunteers in the Arab world to fight for Saddam in Iraq. They crossed into Iraq through Syria in a controlled flow of would be fighters prepared to martyr themselves for the sake of turning Iraq into a living hell for the infidels. Some traveled through Jordan, where the authorities turned a blind eye to the traffic and open palms to bribes.
Under Diplomatic Escort
Yevgeny Primakov, former Russian prime minister, intelligence veteran and old friend of Saddam Hussein, would be a leading candidate as senior coordinator of the Russian side of this project.
Russian ambassador Vladimir Titorenko would be the faction's point man inÂ Baghdad.
This is the background of the attack on the ambassador's convoy on it way out of Baghdad to Damascus on April 6.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources confirm that the convoy, billed as evacuating the senior Russian diplomatic staff from the embattled Iraqi capital, was in fact attacked by the CIA - not by an F-15 warplane but a Hellfire missile shot by a Predator drone.
It was no mere chance that brought the fleeing Russian ambassador back to Baghdad 48 hours later. In fact, he was flown from Damascus by a special SVR plane directly to Moscow together with his three closest intelligence aids and the precious cargo they were escorting “speculation ranges from one of Saddam's sons, the Iraqi ruler in person, or his private intelligence archives and returned to Damascus by the same flight. Titorenko and company then drove in convoy from Syria to Baghdad via Kamishli and Mosul, passing Tikrit en route. By Tuesday, the four were back at the embassy. Saddam's sponsors in Russian intelligence realize they are playing a dangerous game and do not rule out the possibility of the Americans "mistakenly" bombing their embassy in Baghdad, just as they hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war.
In Moscow, the US president's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice coldly informed President Vladimir Putin the United States was onto the fact that Russians in authority had promised to provide Saddam Hussein with the wherewithal for keeping the American military on the run after his army was defeated.
She went further. She accused Moscow of being in direct communication with the Saddam at his hideout in Syria through the former prime minister and ex-KGB chief, Yevgeny Primakov. He is the only foreigner whom Saddam trusts completely. Rice demanded bluntly that Primakov be sent to Saddam with a message from Washington. He was given one last chance to go into exile, declare his weapons of mass destruction and call off his planned "jihad" against America. His alternative option is to be hunted to the death. The Americans are determined there will never be a second Osama bin Laden-type disappearance. Whatever it takes, they will never let up. They will come and kill him even in the middle of the Kremlin.
Rice Delivers Last Warning
On top of that warning to Saddam, Bush's adviser had a stern caution for the Russian leader: "You are playing with fire. Stop or we will lie in wait for you at every turn “and not only inÂ Chechnya but against Russian interests wherever they may be."
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that Putin was unabashed. Neither confirming or denying Rice's allegations, Putin recalled that during their last telephone conversation on March 6 (reported in detail in DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue 101 on March 14, 2003) he implored Bush not to go to war in Iraq, warning him certain elements within Russian, French, German and Iraqi intelligence were preparing a trap to lead the US military into a dead-end situation that would last for years. Putin asked Rice to make sure the US president understood that he could not stand up to Russian intelligence without risking his own neck.
As Rice headed to Northern Ireland to brief Bush before his April 7-8 summit with British prime minister Tony Blair, a high-level gathering at the Kremlin decided not to kowtow to the Americans over Iraq “according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources. As Bush and Blair were winding up their two-day meeting before the media, Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov informed the United States he was canceling his scheduled April 13 visit to Washington."
That way, the Russian minister sidestepped additional American allegations that Russian companies broke the 1990 UN arms embargo by supplying Iraq with prohibited weapons. Those weapons were listed in the production document Rice handed Putin and included 270 tank engines shipped to Syria before the war, night vision equipment from the Russian military industry PPS, gear that found its way to Iraqi tanks and Special Republican Guard and Fedayeen Saddam units, now fighting in tunnels linking underground command centers in Baghdad.
US troops are combing through the secret Iraqi biological warfare facility at Salman Pak, some 35 kilometers (21 miles) southeast of Baghdad, for traces of Russian equipment and material that were ostensibly used to produce animal feed but which US intelligence experts believe were used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
Intelligence officials describe as monstrous the quantities of non-conventional weapons still in the hands of large contingents of Iraqi forces deployed in wide areas untouched by the US military. The arsenal has been kept in reserve for the planned "jihad" guerrilla war. This week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports the US war command began preparing for chemical attack against American troops.
The remainder of Iraq's non-conventional stockpile, biological and radiological weapons, is concealed in Syria.
3. Is Time Running out for Assad?
Syrian president Bashar Assad came in for another, especially sharp, caution this week from Washington, the burden of which was: "You'll be hearing from us soon."
The Syrian president should not be too surprised, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources, if the American-Kurdish assault developing in northern Iraq “the oil-rich town of Kirkuk was captured Thursday, April 10 and Mosul is next - just happens to slip overthe border to strike at targets in Syria."
America's reckoning with Assad gets longer every day. He has been generous with strategic backing including arms sales for the Saddam regime, provided the Iraqi leader, his family and hierarchy with an escape hatch and alternative command post, opened up a corridor for pumping Arab volunteers into Iraq, supplied hidden locations for Saddam's unconventional weapons, and willingly sponsors and provides bases for terrorists.
The Americans therefore can pick and choose their targets in Syria DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources believe they may opt for strikes against the Damascus-based headquarters of the Palestinian Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist groups, as well as the Syrian army and intelligence units integrated in the Iraqi-Syrian-Russian "jihad" infrastructure. US forces may also deal a side-swipe to the Shiite Hizballah terrorists in Lebanon.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources, the US war command may be hurrying along the deployment of the US 4th Infantry Division in northern Iraq in order to strike out at Syria in the days to come. The Fourth and its tanks, which are now offloading in Kuwait, are needed to boost the units posted in the Baghdad area. Yet the tanks are on their way north to join their crews, who landed earlier at new airstrips laid by American military engineers at Harir and Bakrajo airfields in northern Kurdistan.
And additional airlift is ferrying US military units from bases in Germany into northern Iraq via Turkey since the diplomatic standoff between Washington and Ankara ended after delaying the opening of the northern front. Turkey has secretly opened its borders to transiting US forces, albeit without their heavy equipment, and made its air bases available for US warplanes, including B-52's formerly based in the UK, to fly missions over Iraq.
Hizballah “Chief Jihad" Recruiter
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources add that the Hizballah is to be co-opted to Saddam's "jihad" guerrilla war against US forces. On April 5, the fiery Hizballah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah told a meeting of the group's leadership: "We must step up warfare in Iraq and the resistance to the American and British occupation. And we must keep up the pressure on Arab regimes by inflicting heavy, heavy, heavy US and British casualties."
Nasrallah's deputy, sheikh Naim Qassem, briefed the session on the discussions Hizballah's security officers have been holding on the Iraqi jihad plan with Iraqi and Syrian representatives.
The Shiite group has already been useful as a recruiting agent for fighters around the Muslim world. TheÂ United States has received information that Syrian and Hizballah intelligence agents, organized by the Palestinian Jihad Islam's Damascus-based leader, Ramadan Salah, are going round the Persian Gulf and the Middle East recruiting local political leaders and militia chiefs.
Salah has the right background. Last May and early June, he spent time in Iraqi vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan's Baghdad offices when they handed out tasks for Iraqi intelligence officers to train jihad recruits in the use of chemical weapons. According to intelligence assessments, some 1,200 of these Islamic Jihad fighters are already in Iraq.
Saddam and his sons, Uday and Qusay, plan to keep the "jihad" operation fully under their control. They have set up command headquarters in Syria, but the two young Husseins and Saddam's senior commanders certainly slip in and out of Iraq as needed for secret meetings. It is not yet clear if they have been able to muster sufficient organized strength to get their "jihad" campaign running. Saddam and his boys were almost certainly out of Baghdad when a B-1 warplane dropped four 2,000-pound bombs on Monday on a restaurant where the United States believed they were meeting top aides.
Like the Viet Cong
Saddam prepared himself thoroughly to lead a guerrilla war. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that according to information reaching Washington, he was tutored by experts over the past year in the lessons of the ill-fated German invasion of Russia in World War Two and Viet Cong tactics against US troops in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. He is sure he can conduct as successful a guerrilla war of attrition as the Viet Cong once the Americans consolidate their hold on his country.
The Syrian president is as eager as Saddam to see the rough jolts the Iraqi "jihad" inflicts on the Arab governments, a punishment for being too impotent to induce theÂ United States to call off its invasion of Iraq. They trust that regime changes in the Arab world will eventuate quite quickly in response to the upsets in Iraq. The "Arab street" they believe will join up with Saddam's guerrilla campaign in Iraq in droves to become the carriers of a popular revolution spilling over throughout the region.
In all this uproar, one terrorist voice is thunderously silent, that of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group.
Deep inroads have been made in the organization. Last month's capture in Pakistan of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged to have organized the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, undoubtedly disrupted al Qaeda's plans for a wave of terrorist strikes. But the al Qaeda has also been focusing its efforts and aspirations on a particular target: the staging of a fundamentalist coup in Saudi Arabia. Sensing Saddam's "jihad's" potential as a formidable rival network, al Qaeda is strengthening its foothold in the oil kingdom. Even if it fails to overthrow the al-Sauds, al Qaeda's leaders believes limited control of some Saudi regions would restore the territorial base lost in Afghanistan, making it possible to continue its international terror campaign and compete on improved terms with Saddam's legion for pride of place in the Arab world.
Saturday, February 22nd, 2003
: RCN Administrator
By Sharon LaFraniere
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 22, 2003; Page A16
MOSCOW, Feb. 21 -- Katya Esipova says she never liked to take chances on her health. So when she continued to bleed after she had an abortion at age 19 she visited two doctors to ask why. They assured her that even after a month, bleeding was perfectly normal.
Only four years later, when she and her husband decided it was time for a baby, did she learn how wrong they were. The abortion had led to an infection that left both fallopian tubes partially blocked. She managed to get pregnant once more, at age 27, but the fetus lodged in one of the fallopian tubes and surgeons aborted it.
Now 30, she has all but given up her hopes of having a baby. "It is so terrible to wait every month and be disappointed," she said over a Greek salad in a downtown restaurant. "I was too young. I did not realize how big a problem an abortion could be."
Russian health specialists call women like Esipova one of the more lasting legacies of a Soviet health system that for decades viewed abortion as the main form of birth control. According to Vladimir Serov, chief gynecologist at the Health Ministry, abortions are one of the primary causes of infertility in a country that is desperate to raise a plummeting birth rate.
About 5 million -- or 13 percent -- of Russian married couples are infertile, and doctors report that diagnoses of infertility are on the rise. In nearly three out of four cases, infertility is attributed to the woman, typically because of complications from one or more abortions, according to Serov and other health experts.
The abortion rate has been declining rapidly for 15 years because of the availability of contraceptives. Still, it remains five times higher than that of the United States. The Health Ministry reports that for every live birth there are 1.7 abortions, compared with more than three births for every abortion in the United States.
A study of mid-1990s data by a group of health researchers showed Russia's abortion rate was the fourth-highest of 57 countries, after only Vietnam, Cuba and Romania.
"It's a habit, a tradition," said Serov. "It is a result of our low level of medical culture."
Russian health and demographics experts say the abortion legacy has created a problem greater than the private trauma of childless couples, because the resulting infertility contributes to a low birth rate. That trend and a soaring death rate are helping reduce Russia's population at a rapid rate.
U.N. population experts predict that in 50 years Russia will be the world's 17th-most populous country; it is now the sixth. Projections show Russia will lose more than a quarter of its population, dropping from 143 million people to 104 million by 2050.
Like other countries in Europe, Russia has been experiencing a falling fertility rate for most of the last half-century. It is now the sixth-lowest in the world, according to U.N. studies. On average, Russian women now bear just more than one child.
Such statistics help buttress Serov's arguments that the government must take better care of women's reproductive health by promoting contraceptives instead of abortions and fighting the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, which he considers the second-leading cause of infertility after abortions. He said the government hopes to set the course with a new program next year.
Whether it will be funded is another question. Abortion-related infertility is one piece of a much bigger health care crisis that has yet to command much of the Kremlin's attention. Russia's health care system is in a state of collapse, and with it, the public's health, by almost any measure, whether heart disease or HIV. Russia spends just 5.3 percent of its gross domestic product on health, less than 37 other European countries, according to the World Health Organization.
"The country just does not have the money," Serov said. "This is very sad. If we are not able to stop the epidemic of abortions and control the transmission of genital infections, the reproductive force will be damaged."
Russia's strides in introducing modern birth control are due mainly to the advent of capitalism. The free market finished off the production of unappealing Soviet-era condoms of thick, dark latex and diaphragms manufactured in only one size. They were replaced by European imports. Although birth control pills made their Russian debut in too high a dosage and scared off some women, they are now becoming more popular. The number of women who use contraceptives has doubled since 1988, according to a two-year-old study by the Rand Corporation.
For four years, the government also funded family planning clinics that distributed free contraceptives and provided medical care. But in 1997, the Communist-controlled Russian parliament cut off financing, leaving some 400 clinics to subsist on local subsidies. Lawmakers said a nation with a falling birth rate did not need to promote birth control. The Russian Orthodox Church, an increasingly influential force, also threw its weight against the program.
The shift was true to form for Russian health care, which emphasizes medical cures over prevention or education, the mantras of Western health care. The government offers no funds for contraceptives and leaves sex education up to individual schools, most of which offer little or none of it. Citing public opposition, federal officials in 1997 scrapped a U.N-funded project to introduce sex education in Russian schools.
But state-funded clinics provide free first-trimester abortions upon request and second-trimester abortions up to the 22nd week of pregnancy for medical or social reasons that include lack of a husband, housing or adequate financial support.
It is typical of Russian attitudes about sex that young people are left to discover the options and risks on their own, said Inga Grebesheva, director of the Family Planning Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works out of the Health Ministry building. Even 12 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, she said, Russians have not shed their reticence to discuss sex openly.
"We had abortions but not sex," she said with a smile. "It's just that we were not supposed to talk about it. Everyone would watch sex on TV with pleasure, but to talk about it would be bad manners."
Despite Moscow's ambivalence over family planning, the rate of abortions in Russia dived by 45 percent from 1992 to 2001.
The number of women who died from them also dropped by one-half in the 1990s, according to the Rand study. Serov predicts abortions will continue to decline as contraceptives become more accepted, even without a federal program. "It will just take more time," he said, to reverse a decades-old predilection.
In most countries, people were introduced to contraceptives before abortions. In Russia, it was the opposite. The Soviet Union first legalized abortion during a widespread famine in 1920, more than a half-century before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in the United States. They were banned under Josef Stalin in 1936 in hopes of encouraging births, then legalized again in 1955 after his death.
With no access to decent contraceptives, Russian women came to view abortion as a routine procedure, doctors say, comparable almost to a tooth extraction. A study in 1994 found that the average Russian woman had three abortions by the end of her child-bearing years.
Esipova, a tall, friendly specialist in commercial real estate, said she was not overly worried about having an abortion when she found out at age 19 she was pregnant. "All my friends had done it already," she said.
She went to a state clinic because she felt she would get reliable care there. When she discovered the complications four years later, she said, her confidence in Russian medical care was shot. In 1998, she tried artificial insemination at a fertility clinic in the United States, she said, but without success. Four years later, she and her second husband were divorced.
Other problems besides her infertility led to the break-up of her marriages, she said.
But she added: "Of course, if I had gotten pregnant, it would have been a different story."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Friday, February 14th, 2003
: RCN Administrator
On February 10, 2003, the government of Germany began building a new, anti-American Berlin-Moscow-Paris Axis. As one of the former Soviet bloc experts on German matters (and chief of a bloc intelligence station in West Germany), I had been waiting for something like that to happen ever since October 1998, when Joschka Fischer became Germany's foreign minister.
Fischer is an indirect product of the old anti-American intelligence community to which I once belonged. In 1975 Libya's dictator, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, informed Romania's tyrant, Nicolae Ceausescu "through me” that he was preparing a terrorist attack against the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and asked my boss to provide him with blueprints of OPEC's temporary headquarters in Vienna. Ceausescu agreed, and the Romanian espionage service (the DIE) complied. The December 1975 takeover of OPEC's headquarters in Vienna resulted in the seizure of 60 OPEC officials and staff members as hostages. The kidnapping was organized by Qaddafi and the infamous Ilich RamÃrez inchez "Carlos" or "the Jackal."
Twenty-two years later, Carlos was arrested in Khartoum, Sudan, by the French counterintelligence service (DST), with whose director, Yves Bonnet, I had earlier cooperated after leaving Romania. Carlos was immediately taken to Paris, where he was charged with killing two French police officers in 1979; he was sentenced to life in prison. During interrogation, Carlos asserted that his deputy for the OPEC operation had been German terrorist Hans Joachim Klein, codenamed "Angie," who had killed an OPEC security man and an Austrian policeman during that attack. Carlos also testified that the weapons used for the OPEC operation had been kept in an apartment in Frankfurt/Main, where Klein was then living with two other "red revolutionaries" of those days, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Joschka Fischer.
In 2000, Klein, who was a fugitive, was also arrested by the French DST. He was deported to Germany, where he was charged with abetting Carlos's OPEC terrorist operation, and he cooperated with the prosecution. According to Klein, on December 17, 1975 " four days before the attack” the terrorists led by Carlos had met with officials of the Libyan embassy in Vienna, who provided the blueprints of the building and the security details, which had been passed to them by my DIE. (The DIE had an agent in Vienna who had access to this information.) "The fact that the necessary information about the [OPEC] conference building came from Libya convinced me that the action could be carried out," Klein testified during his trial. Klein was sentenced to only nine years in prison, since he had aided investigators.
Joschka Fischer, who testified as a character witness at Klein's trial in 2001, refuted as "grotesque" the allegation that the arms used in the OPEC attack had been kept in the apartment he shared with Hans Joachim Klein and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (currently a member of the European Parliament). I have reason to question Fischer's statement. In a January 1976 thank-you message to Ceausescu ”also sent through me” Qaddafi had emphasized that Carlos's OPEC operation would not have been possible without the help of the DIE (which had provided the blueprints of OPEC headquarters) and a "West German revolutionary group in Frankfurt/Main" (which had provided Carlos with both manpower and arms). (In giving me the message, Qaddafi, who knew I had at one time been stationed in Frankfurt/Main as chief of the DIE's West German station, specifically called my attention to the mention of "your" Frankfurt.)
After Carlos was arrested by the DST, German journalist Bettina Roehl (daughter of the late Ulrike Meinhof, co-leader of the terrorist Baader-Meinhof organization) revealed that Fischer did indeed belong to a Frankfurt/Main terrorist group during the 1970s. She also provided pictures showing a helmeted Fischer beating a German police officer during an April 7, 1973, violent demonstration in Frankfurt/Main. The pictures show Fischer fighting side by side with Klein, Carlos's deputy in the 1975 attack on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. In 2002, after these photographs had been authenticated by the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Fischer publicly apologized to the beaten police officer. Bettina Roehl also disclosed that Fischer had been the main advocate of using petrol bombs in a 1976 demonstration in which a policeman almost died of terrible burns. This information was also vehemently denied by the German foreign minister.
Veteran German terrorist Margrit Schiller asserted in her book Es war ein harter Kampf um meine Erinnerung that in the 1970s, Fischer had been in contact with illegal members of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Frankfurt/Main (a terrorist organization my DIE station was at the time supporting with information and money), and that he had thrown stones at representatives of West Germany's pro-American government. Once again, Fisher has denied both accusations. But Schiller, who in the 1970s belonged to the RAF, remembers staying in 1973 at the Frankfurt apartment of "Herr Fischer and Daniel Cohn-Bendit," having breakfast with Fischer, and going on a pub crawl with him. In October 2002, Fischer was asked by a German prosecutor about this statement â€” but he dodged the question, replying simply that his flat had not been a hostel for terrorists.
A 1997 semi-official biography of Joschka Fischer, by Sibylle Krause-Burger, indirectly confirms that Fischer was also involved in hurling stones at West German authorities. These were not spontaneous demonstrations ” they were all financed by the Soviet bloc foreign-intelligence community, including my own DIE when I was at its helm. Krause-Burger's book describes how, in a public debate held in 1974 with the Young Socialist functionary Kartsen Voight, Fischer defended throwing stones at the "representatives of the system" as being a legitimate defense against the tyranny of the (West German) government. It is significant that Voight is now responsible for relations with the U.S. in Fischer's ministry of foreign affairs.
It may never be possible to prove "beyond the shadow of a doubt" Joschka Fischer's connection with the Soviet KGB, but I do know that the KGB ”and my DIE” was financing West Germany's anti-American terrorist movements in the 1970s, while I was still in Romania. Fischer's evidently ingrained anti-Americanism is now spreading throughout the German government, and beyond. This is a monumental display of ingratitude to the 405,399 American soldiers who gave their lives to defeat Berlin's old Axis, as well as to the millions of American taxpayers who spent trillions of dollars to rebuild Germany's war-torn economy and to protect West Germany from falling into Communist clutches.
” General Ion Mihai Pacepa is the highest-ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. He is currently finishing a new book, Red Roots: The Origins of Today's Anti-Americanism.
Sunday, February 2nd, 2003
: RCN Administrator
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will visit Russia from Feb. 4 through 6, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss economic and security cooperation. The visit is the first by a Pakistani head of state in three decades. It comes amid attempts by Moscow to establish relations with Pakistan independent of its ties to India -- much as Washington already has shifted away from the zero-sum approach to the South Asian rivals.
For both Musharraf and Putin, the visit is an opportunity to open a new set of political and economic options -- giving Islamabad greater leeway in international ties and strengthening Moscow’s hand in South and Central Asia. But these initial discussions are unlikely to produce any major breakthroughs: Talk of Kashmir, Iraq, the war against terrorism and even economic cooperation are all general discussions with little chance of instantaneous payback. But two areas where Moscow and Islamabad are likely to make concrete progress -- and lay the foundation for future cooperation -- will concern the energy and arms industries.
During Musharraf’s visit, the two countries are expected to sign four memoranda of understanding covering immigration, visas, debt rescheduling and cultural exchanges. Delegates also will talk about the privatization of Pakistani oil and gas companies, as well as Russian investment opportunities in energy and other economic sectors in Pakistan. Moscow will raise the issue of Chechen militants taking refuge in Pakistan, and it might offer to launch Pakistani satellites from Russian rockets.
Additionally, Putin and Musharraf will discuss broader issues of regional stability, Pakistani-Indian relations and cooperation on the anti-terrorism front. These more general topics play into the two presidents’ longer-term strategic interests. From Moscow’s point of view, working with Pakistan is a chance to reclaim Russia’s international prominence, since Moscow hopes to play the role of mediator and peacemaker in Kashmir. It also helps secure Russia’s southern flank, moving beyond Central Asia to the coast.
For Islamabad, building new ties with Moscow provides an opportunity to gain some assistance in dealing with India. Russia is India’s top arms supplier and thus has a fair amount of leverage with the South Asian giant; Pakistan hopes that Moscow reduces its arms sales to India or at least considers Pakistan’s interests in any future weapons deals. In addition, Islamabad is looking to Moscow to expand its strategic ties internationally. Pakistan has seen first the United States and then long-time ally China open new levels of dialogue with India, and leaders in Islamabad feel they must take similar steps to ensure that the international community continues to take its interests into account.
Although the broader strategic discussions will take years -- if not decades -- to develop, there are areas of concrete cooperation upon which the two nations plan to build their new relationship.
Both Islamabad and Moscow have similar, though not exact, interests in new oil and gas pipelines across Pakistan. Moscow sees these as a way to preserve Russian influence and involvement in any new export routes from Central Asia. Islamabad sees Russian involvement as a way of strengthening the chances the projects will succeed, and of reducing Indian resistance to having Pakistan as part of the energy supply corridor from Iran and Central Asia. Sources say Musharraf also will raise the issue of building an oil pipeline from Kazakhstan through Central Asia to Pakistan, in addition to existing proposals for the Trans-Afghan Pipeline and the Iran-India pipeline.
Both presidents see real potential for defense cooperation as well. Moscow would like to enter the Pakistani arms market, but has been reticent due to potential objections from India and the competition from Ukraine. The first deals on the table are likely to be for air-defense equipment, including surface-to-air missiles and radars. Sources within the Russian Foreign Ministry say Moscow is indeed interested in selling air-defense missiles to Pakistan, though likely not the S-300U missiles Islamabad intends to request. From Moscow’s point of view, Russia’s recent aviation deals with India will more than make up for the new sales to Pakistan.
Pakistan is interested in buying Russian aircraft to help bolster its air force. Islamabad also seeks Russian supersonic anti-ship missiles, though Moscow is unlikely to sell either of these anytime in the near future. However, by steering clear of ground or naval supplies, Moscow can avoid straining ties with India or trying to compete with the Ukrainian arms industry’s established relationships.
During the course of his three-day visit, Musharraf will work to redefine Pakistan’s relations with Russia and its position within South Asia and the world. Though this is an extremely ambitious goal -- and one unlikely to be accomplished quickly -- there is a very real confluence of interest in key projects, particularly in Pakistan’s potential role as a transshipment route for Central Asian and Iranian oil and gas supplies. On this, and later on arms deals, lie the prospects for a new level of Pakistani-Russian cooperation.
Tuesday, January 14th, 2003
: RCN Administrator
Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visited Moscow on Jan. 14 and 15 to discuss the crises over North Korea and Iraq, among other topics. ElBaradei told reporters that Moscow had a "vitally important" role to play in resolving both situations. However, Stratfor sources say he was more direct behind closed doors, asking the Russian government to take the North Korean nuclear threat to the U.N. Security Council for discussion and debate.
The IAEA earlier had hesitated to pass responsibility for the issue to the Security Council, since such a move could be interpreted as a sign that the agency no longer has any authority. But with Washington continuing to stand aloof and Pyongyang remaining belligerent, the IAEA is concerned that it will have outlived its effectiveness -- in essence becoming a U.S. tool -- unless the United Nations intervenes.
For its part, Moscow also would like to see more nations involved in a final settlement, but it wants to refrain from leading any U.N. condemnation of Pyongyang.
ElBaradei requested Moscow’s assistance because it wants anyone but the United States to bring up the issue in the Security Council. The IAEA wants to reassert its importance as an international body, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan encouraged ElBaradei’s approach to Moscow, sources told Stratfor. Annan hopes that if the North Korean issue can be solved through the Security Council, the U.N.’s profile will be strengthened and it will have a voice equal to or exceeding that of the United States.
For Russia, getting a voice at the discussions surrounding North Korea is vital. Moscow has remained on the sidelines of the current crises, while Beijing has played a prominent role, albeit behind the scenes. If Moscow cannot take control of the North Korean nuclear talks, or at least insert itself firmly in the negotiation process, then its importance and leverage with Washington will be further reduced. In addition, Russia’s relevance in Northeast Asia would be increasingly compromised.
Yet Moscow currently is unwilling to bring up the North Korean issue in the Security Council. Russia’s influence in North Korea is waning, and leading a formal U.N. condemnation of Pyongyang would sever any remaining ties between the two countries. This would leave Russia with no say in events on the Korean peninsula, as well as reduce its negotiating position with South Korea and Japan. In addition, were Pyongyang to turn on Moscow, Russia could find its eastern reaches even less secure as North Korea moved more firmly toward China.
Moscow is thus left in a bind. If it cannot get a place at the Korean bargaining table, it loses relevance and influence in Northeast Asia. But to take the issue to the Security Council, where Russia automatically would have a strong voice, it would risk severing all ties with Pyongyang -- again losing its leverage in Northeast Asia. For Russia, then, the best solution is to intervene as much as it can in Iraq. That way it would prove its importance to the United States and the international community, and quietly encourage others like South Korea or Japan to try to bring the North Korean issue to the Security Council. Once it is there, Moscow can reassert itself with minimal risk.
Sunday, November 24th, 2002
: RCN Administrator
Russia might be too internally fragile to survive a U.S.-led war against Iraq without sliding into a deep crisis. At best, Moscow will be weakened economically, politically and internationally; at worst, the nation could suffer economic collapse and internal instability that severs its status as a U.S. ally.
This piece, the first in Stratfor’s "Iraq War Stakes" series, examines what is at stake for Russia in a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Such a war probably would affect Russia more than any other world power, with implications that could have a profound impact on the post-bellum world order.
Prospects for Economic Collapse
Russia has much to lose and little to gain in the event of a U.S.-led war against Iraq. For Moscow, virtually everything is at stake: the nation’s economic health, internal stability and international standing and influence.
Oil is the blood of world economy, and this blood likely would turn bad for Russia in the event of war. During the course of military action, global oil prices would jump sharply and then enter a deep and prolonged spiral, should the United States win the war and establish control over the Iraqi oil industry -- which likely would mean soaring production levels. On the surface, it would appear that Russia, a major oil exporter, would benefit during the war and suffer afterward, but in reality the
nation likely would suffer both during and after the conflict.
Russian oil production is already at maximum levels, meaning that domestic energy companies would not be able to boost production significantly enough to take advantage of higher prices. In order to benefit from a temporary wartime price hike, they would have
to increase exports by diminishing sales to Russian customers. Moreover, the prices of Russian gasoline and other refined products would skyrocket with the increased global price.
Therefore, the country could face both an internal supply shortage and cosmic energy prices that would shut many Russian citizens and businesses out of the market. We should not forget that the Russian economy is correctly dubbed a "wild market" in which everything is for sale for a profit. Moscow’s attempts to intervene in the market probably would fail: The country does not
have strategic petroleum reserves, an idea which is only in the early stages of discussion.
Needless to say, an energy supply shortage or prohibitive prices, or both, would severely hurt industry and citizens alike. Vast, distant regions such as Siberia and the Russian Far East, which already have experienced energy shortages for several consecutive
years, would be hardest-hit, possibly leading to the collapse of regional economies and businesses. However, the national economy as a whole would continue to limp along. Should a war in Iraq
continue for several months, however, the concomitant supply shortages and high domestic gasoline prices could knock the crutches out from under even the national economy.
Even the more probable scenario of a fairly rapid U.S. victory will not allow Moscow to breathe easily. U.S. control over the Iraqi oil industry would be a likely, if unintended, consequence of military victory and would lead to much higher production levels from Iraq. This is integral to Washington’s strategic interest: decreasing global oil prices to levels that would allow a sustained U.S. economic recovery.
During his Nov. 22 visit to Russia, U.S. President George W. Bush said Washington would protect Russia’s economic interests in Iraq, although Foreign Ministry sources say he did not elaborate or give any guarantees. To protect Russian oil interests,
Washington would have to agree that Iraq’s richest fields would remain under Moscow’s control following the overthrow of Hussein, and it would have to block the expansion of U.S. energy majors into the country.
It is important to note, however, that there is more at stake in Iraq than Russia’s oil concessions -- its oil-dependent economy also would suffer, and Washington cannot protect Moscow from the consequences of a price decline.
According to the Hong Kong-based Asia Times, some U.S. State Department officials say Washington is seeking a crude price of $13 per barrel. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of Russian energy giant Yukos, predicts that oil prices following an Iraq war would
be $14-$16 in the best-case scenario for Russia, $12-$14 in the worst.
Washington’s oil price strategy is distinctly at odds with that of Moscow, whose federal budget for 2003 is predicated on prices of roughly $24 to $25 per barrel.
Speaking in Houston recently, Russian Energy Minister Igor Yusupov said the nation’s economy still would be healthy if oil prices dropped to $20 to $25 per barrel, and the budget even could be maintained at current levels if prices fell to $20 to $21, since Russia could make up the difference with higher oil revenues stemming from the current "war premium." However, the Kremlin would have to slash spending plans if prices fell below $20 next spring or summer, Yusupov said.
Some Russian Finance Ministry officials privately admitted to Stratfor that nothing -- even writing off some Soviet-era debt, which has been discussed with U.S. officials -- would save Moscow’s 2003 budget if prices fall below $20. Although national economies can survive even if state budgets are ruined, provided
they have some fiscal reserves, this is hardly the case for Russia, where the economy is already in crisis. Russian weekly Argumenty i Facty, citing government experts, writes that the lowest crude price Russia can sustain is $18 per barrel.
Assuming that Hussein does not torch Iraq’s existing oil wells, the country could double current production levels to 2 million barrels per day in a matter of weeks or months -- depending upon certain political scenarios -- and likely could reach 5 million bpd within three to four years, Stratfor believes. If U.S. actions in post-war Iraq take global oil prices down to $13, then the Russian economy could slide into a much deeper and prolonged
crisis. Not only would there be no clear prospects for recovery, but complete economic collapse could not be excluded either.
Impact on Energy Companies
An Iraq war would have several negative ramifications for the Russian energy sector, particularly for oil companies.
First, the war would significantly reduce the value of their assets, in some cases causing companies to operate at a loss. Their share prices would drop accordingly. Second, the prospects for selling Russian oil directly to the United States would be diminished: Not only does the country currently supply very little of U.S. energy needs, but its oil is also more expensive to extract and to ship than that from the Middle East, and again, the post-war market eventually could be flush with Iraqi production. Third, any chances that Russian energy majors could maintain influence in the Iraqi oil sector would be destroyed.
All Russian oil majors recognize a very real threat of losing their market value should the United States and its energy majors capitalize on victory in Iraq. Their response is to try to sell large portions of stock before the war starts, seeking to accumulate a nest egg to tide them through the rough aftermath of war. Russian major TNK is trying desperately to sell a large
portion of its stock to BP, Shell and probably ExxonMobil and TotalFinaElf, RusEnergy reports. BP executives recently held talks with Yukos about acquiring a large amount of that company’s stock as well, according to the Wall Street Journal. Sibneft also is considering such a move, Fortune has reported.
However, Western companies are in no hurry to acquire stock in Russian energy firms, knowing full well that time is on their side: After the Iraq war, it should be possible to buy shares of Russian oil majors at a fraction of their current prices.
Moreover, Russian Energy Ministry sources say they fear that once Russian energy companies lose value, U.S. energy giants will acquire them outright -- snapping up key companies and leaving others to go bankrupt. Acquisition by U.S. energy firms might be a good thing for globalization and for Russian oil workers who
are picked up by the mergers -- but Russians are afraid that if this happens, their country will lose not only energy security but also sovereignty to the United States.
The future of Russian oil companies’ concerns in Iraq also are at stake in the potential war. Russian majors have lucrative contracts in Iraq, all stemming from the special relationship Moscow has maintained with the regime of Saddam Hussein. The biggest of these is a $20 billion LUKoil contract to develop a giant West Qurna oil field, where the Russian company has a 52.5
percent stake in a joint venture. Though LUKoil and other Russian majors currently have profited little or moderately from deals with Iraq, due to international sanctions, they have hoped to seize huge revenues once the sanctions are lifted.
Russian oil majors -- including LUKoil, Tatneft, Zarubezhneft and others involved in Iraq -- fear that if the Hussein regime is toppled, U.S. companies will replace Russian firms as dominant players in the Iraqi oil market. Though the Bush administration denies seeking to dominate the post-war oil market in Iraq, Russians and others have several reasons to doubt these claims.
First, it would be politically natural for U.S. companies to take precedence in the oil market of a country led by a pro-U.S. or even U.S.-appointed government. If the Japanese army were to take over Baghdad, then Japanese oil companies would do the same.
Second, the statements of the pro-U.S. Iraqi opposition further prove to Russians and others that the future of Iraqi oil belongs to the United States. For instance, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Iraq’s main opposition group favored by Washington, recently stated -- not for the first time -- that a post-Hussein government would review existing oilfield development deals with
French and Russian companies and could favor U.S. firms instead, Reuters reported in October.
Third, there is some evidence that the Bush administration already is working with the Iraqi opposition to shape the future of the nation’s oil industry following the ouster of Hussein. The
U.S. State Department has scheduled an early December meeting with Iraqi opposition members, who likely would oversee the industry following the war, to discuss plans for the oil and gas sector. State Department officials want to create an Iraqi oil
and natural gas working group of between 12 and 20 members, including both Iraqi opposition and U.S. officials, according to the Financial Times.
U.S. energy majors reportedly have been working with the Iraqi opposition; some U.S. oil companies have had contact with INC leader Ahmad Chalabi, according to the Financial Times.
In addition, Russian oil companies probably could not compete successfully for whatever bids a post-Hussein government in Baghdad makes available, due to their own financial and technological limitations. Moscow and other governments also fear that a pro-U.S. government in Iraq would favor U.S. companies
over those of other countries.
Geopolitical Positions Worldwide Threatened
Russia’s international influence likely would be strongly
diminished as well following a war in Iraq. Most important, the security situation could deteriorate along southern Russia’s vast borders with Muslim-majority regions. In the likely event of a U.S. victory, Russia would be bombarded with accusations from the Islamic world that it enabled such a victory -- first, by betraying Moscow’s traditional partnership with Iraq and not
standing firmly enough to block the attack, and second, by depriving Iraq of modern weapons capable of repulsing the U.S. offensive.
It is one thing for Russia to support the U.S. war against al Qaeda -- something many Islamic governments also do -- but quite another to support, however halfheartedly, a U.S. military effort against Iraq. The Islamic world’s perception of Moscow’s stance
would alienate not only radicals, but mainstream Muslims as well. Moreover, it would be easier for Muslims to blame and retaliate against a weakened Russia than the much stronger United States.
Iraq’s Hussein already appears to have issued a veiled threat to Moscow, telling the Kremlin it faces consequences unless it "takes the Chechens’ cause into account."
Russia long has been battling Islamist militants, both Russian- and foreign-born, with Chechnya serving as the main battlefield. Moscow’s quiet acquiescence to U.S. war plans potentially could draw mainstream Muslims and some of their governments into the
radicals’ long-term offensive against the country. That means that financial, logistical and recruiting support for Islamist militant groups could grow significantly. It also is possible that new northern Caucasus fronts in the battle against Russia -- in places other than Chechnya -- might be opened, and attacks on strategic and civilian targets in Russia proper could increase. The Kremlin’s so-called "betrayal" of Iraq would not be the only
factor at play in such a trend, but it certainly would feed into that trend.
On a larger scale, Russia stands to lose whatever international prominence it still has following a U.S.-led war against Iraq.
The nation never managed to regain the international standing the Soviet Union shared with the United States during the Cold War; nevertheless, Russia still enjoys significant influence in the Middle East. Washington has used Moscow as a diplomatic proxy in
moderating the policies of several nation-states that oppose the United States -- such as Syria, Iran, Libya, Lebanon and Yemen -- until recently. And Arab regimes have used it in a similar capacity concerning U.S. policies in the Middle East. In addition, military-technical assistance given to many Middle Eastern countries has brought cold, hard cash to the Kremlin. And both the United States and Arab states have been content for
Russia to play the role of intermediary in the Israeli-Arab conflict -- something that Washington’s close alliance with Israel renders it unable to do.
A U.S. victory in Iraq might change all of these things
overnight, possibly to the point that Russia is expelled from the Middle East political scene altogether. Not only would the Muslim world see Russia as a tool of the United States and traitor to the current Iraqi regime -- thus destroying Moscow’s political clout -- but Washington’s burgeoning influence in the region also
would leave Russia without a role to play in U.S.-Arab relations.
The looming war against Iraq would not be the first conflict in that country to hurt Russia. The 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sided with the United States, signaled the end of the Soviet Union as a superpower. This time, major powers again have looked to Moscow to lead resistance to the U.S. war effort, since Russian interests will be the most
hurt among the global powers -- but the Kremlin has offered only passive resistance to Washington. Avoiding a confrontation with the United States might be a wise choice for Moscow, but other world powers see this behavior as a sign that Russia is ceasing to matter in its own right. Following a war in Iraq, the world’s important players are unlikely to take Russia’s position into
account on any major international issue.
The European Union already has been frustrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, since he unexpectedly dropped his opposition to Washington’s scrapping of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- a measure Europeans viewed as essential for checking Washington’s global ambitions. The EU had hoped, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, that Russia would take its cues from Brussels rather than from Washington, but that has not
happened so far. The likely U.S. victory in Iraq and Russia’s inability to stop the war or extract any meaningful concessions from Washington will further diminish Russia’s weight in European eyes. Brussels likely would cease to consider Russia an equal or
reliable partner that could support Europe’s international agenda.
China also could take a similar attitude. Beijing has set an example of how to stand firm in defense of one’s national interests vis-a-vis the United States without sliding into a direct confrontation with the world’s only superpower. Russia seems to have leapt from one extreme -- confrontation with the United States during the Soviet era -- to the opposite, an inability to make any use of its junior ally status. Like Europe and others, China might view Russia following the Iraq war as a
country that lacks an independent foreign policy, and treat it accordingly.
Internal Stability at Risk
All of these factors -- economic deterioration, security threats and loss of international standing -- could have a severe impact on Russia’s internal stability. In the event of a post-bellum oil price-slump, Russian citizens might see their last means of survival slipping away -- and begin demanding the resignation of their government and the president they see as unable to improve the situation he was responsible for creating.
To ensure their own dominance, parts of the Russian political and business elite then could seek alternatives to Putin and, possibly, to his openly pro-U.S. course. It is difficult to say which political forces might capitalize on the negative consequences of an Iraq war, but such attempts could be expected from every spectrum of the political opposition -- from liberals who are more pro-Western than Putin, to communists, or even to parts of the Putin administration who want to abandon his ship
before it sinks.
At that point, the military’s role in politics would become
vital. Putin’s popularity is already much lower with the army than with the general public because some generals and likely a majority of officers and soldiers perceive him as surrendering the nation’s dignity and unable to defeat Chechen militants. Retired or active-duty officers might answer the calls from the populace and some political forces to take up arms and help
change the regime.
New Islamist attacks throughout Russia -- encouraged by Russia’s role in the U.S. war effort against Iraq and subsequent "bad" reputation in the Muslim world -- also could complicate matters for Moscow in the aftermath of war. If Putin’s government is unable to resolve the economic and social crises and possible political crisis following the Iraq war, then a change in his government and possible change of regime could not be excluded
from the worst-case scenario.
Stratfor does not at this point predict unmitigated disaster for Russia in the event of a U.S.-Iraqi war, but we do believe that, internally, Russia is probably the weakest of the current U.S. allies, and that it might be the first to collapse in the worst-case post-war scenario. Russia risks falling into systemic crisis, while Washington risks seeing a valuable ally become a
potential enemy. Putin is desperate to remain in power and is begging for Washington’s understanding, but it remains to be seen what, if anything, Washington would be willing or able to do to shore up his regime.
For Putin, the ideal reward for his pro-Western course and alliance on the Iraq issue would be for his country to become a junior but respected U.S. ally, much like France or Germany -- or, even better, a special ally such as Israel. Such treatment for Russia probably would help to avert the negative consequences of a war in Iraq. But Washington appears unwilling -- and cannot
afford -- to supply Russia with the same kind of aid it gives to Israel, amounting to $3 billion in military aid alone. Nor would an economically and socially weakened Russia command the respect that Washington shows to western European powers, despite their many quarrels.
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Monday, November 18th, 2002
: RCN Administrator
Executives from LUKoil, Russia’s largest oil producer, said Nov. 15 that the company will sell its stake in a key Azerbaijani project to a Japanese buyer for $1.25 billion. While it is likely that a series of backroom deals ultimately made the sale a good one for LUKoil, they might have been done in a way that calls Russia’s investment environment into serious question.
LUKoil executives announced Nov. 15 that the company would sell its 10 percent stake in the key Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil project (ACG) in Azerbaijan’s sector of the Caspian Sea to an unnamed Japanese firm for $1.25 billion, Interfax reported.
On the surface, the sale seems unwise. The ACG project already is producing oil, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline -- the ACG consortium’s intended export route -- is already under construction. Since LUKoil has ranked almost last among Russian oil majors in terms of growth in production, it seems the firm would do better to stick with a project that has substantial and rising production along with a guaranteed outlet to global markets. ACG holds 5 billion barrels of oil equivalent.
But more is involved here than just LUKoil’s development plans. For a mix of business and political reasons, Moscow and Tokyo have reason to get LUKoil out of Azerbaijan and Japan in -- and LUKoil stands to benefit overall as well.
The key driver is Russian-Japanese relations. The two states never signed a formal peace agreement after World War II. Japanese officials insist that Russia should relinquish control over the Kuril Islands, territory that the Soviet army seized in the final days of the war, but Moscow refuses for fear of domestic backlash. This dispute not only has complicated bilateral relations but also has prevented Japanese companies from engaging in large-scale investment in Russia, despite the lure of large petroleum deposits dotting the Russian Far East.
Viewed in this light, a deal between Russia and Japan makes sense. Both states have economic reasons for wanting to improve ties, and the Kuril issue has frustrated direct headway. Compensating Japan with some valuable property in Azerbaijan would be a convenient way to show goodwill. After all, Japan is happy to obtain any new energy supply; three-quarters of Japan’s oil currently comes from OPEC states, and that almost exclusively from the Persian Gulf region.
Among the three major Japanese players in the region, two companies, Itochu and Inpex, are most likely to pick up the ACG stake. Itochu already holds a 3.9 percent stake in the ACG project, while both Itochu and Inpex are members of the BTC consortium. The third, state-owned Japanese National Oil Corp., is being phased out of existence.
So what does LUKoil -- the company sacrificing its holding -- think of this deal? First, this is not the first time the Kremlin has dictated LUKoil’s business development -- that’s the price of being 14-percent government-owned. Ironically, it was Moscow that only a few years ago forced LUKoil into Azerbaijan so that Russia could ensure its geopolitical clout in the former Soviet state. Russia apparently feels its other levers over Azerbaijan are sufficient to maintain influence and that a pending Japanese payoff justifies the sacrifice of this one.
Second, LUKoil actually could profit from this deal. If the company’s Nov. 15 statement proves correct, then LUKoil will net $1.25 billion from the Japanese buyer. That’s $500 million more than the firm invested in ACG, and based on LUKoil’s share of the ACG reserves, about triple the per-barrel valuation of LUKoil’s other assets.
Third, LUKoil is anticipating a cash crunch. Stratfor sources at LUKoil say the company expects oil prices to enter a prolonged slump following a war in Iraq. A "forced" sale actually helps the firm streamline its efforts and focus on core assets. That logic also has driven LUKoil Vice President Ravil Maganov to suggest that the company might withdraw from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz natural gas project as well, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports.
Fourth, it grants LUKoil a hefty load of cash at a time when new Russian assets are up for sale. On Nov. 18, the Russian Property Fund began accepting bids for Slavneft, the country’s eighth-largest oil firm, with bids starting at $1.7 billion. If LUKoil could acquire Slavneft, this would mesh nicely with its long-term development plans and would solidify its position as Russia’s largest oil firm.
Fifth, it is entirely possible that the Kremlin has engaged in a bit of quid pro quo with LUKoil. The company’s long-term development depends greatly upon expanding its holdings and production in Russia’s north, particularly in the Timan-Pechora basin, and building a deepwater export facility at Murmansk. Such a development would give LUKoil -- and Russia -- its first deepwater port and easy access to both the European and U.S. markets via supertanker.
Many of these plans, however, have run afoul of Vladimir Butov, a regional governor who previously worked as a snowmobile mechanic and who repeatedly has vetoed LUKoil’s plans in the Nenets autonomous district where Timan-Pechora lies. Yet after a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Aug. 21, Butov’s obstinance has given way to pliability. In the past three months, LUKoil has been able to plow forward with its own investments throughout the region, as well as with joint ventures with TotalFinaElf and ConocoPhillips, with Butov doing his part to facilitate.
There is perhaps a darker side to this story, however. On Sept. 12, Sergei Kukura, LUKoil’s chief financial officer, was abducted and held for 13 days. Kukura was released just before rumors emerged that LUKoil might be selling its Azerbaijani assets, rumors that LUKoil executives did not confirm until Nov. 15. It is possible, although not yet provable, that the government felt the need to question Kukura -- and LUKoil’s financial statements -- in closer detail and to intimately press its case for selling the ACG stake.
While Western investors might welcome Putin’s apparent pressure for Butov to step aside and let the oil flow LUKoil’s way, they probably are less sanguine about the apparent lack of choice afforded the Russian major in exiting ACG -- much less the possibility that the Kremlin might have been involved in Kukura’s abduction. The Kremlin’s ability to bully LUKoil not only makes the company a less reliable partner but also could make investors fret that the Kremlin might one day come knocking on their doors as well.
Tuesday, November 12th, 2002
: RCN Administrator
Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed Vladimir Chkhikvishvili as the new Russian ambassador to Georgia, Russian news agency Interfax reported Nov. 13.
Chkhikvishvili, who was the Russian Foreign Ministry’s director for North American relations, is well-known and accepted within the U.S. diplomatic community. His appointment suggests Moscow likely will follow the U.S. line on Georgia. This means the Kremlin probably will not oppose expansion of U.S. political and military involvement in Georgia and will continue to withdraw troops from Georgia until they are completely out.
Putin appears to want the new ambassador to focus on coordinating Moscow’s policy toward Georgia with that of Washington. This will mean a more moderate approach in line with the Bush administration’s goals, despite ongoing friction between Russia and Georgia. The previous ambassador, Vladimir Gudev, was known for making tough accusations of tacit Georgian support of Chechen separatists fighting for independence from Russia.
Although Washington recently acknowledged publicly that Georgian territory has been used by al Qaeda-linked Islamists, including Chechen rebels, it also urged Moscow not to conduct any cross-border attacks on Chechen fighters inside Georgia. Putin had threatened to launch pre-emptive strikes into Georgia -- on grounds of combating terrorism -- but since has taken a less hawkish stance.
The appointment of a Russian citizen who is a native Georgian has two additional implications.
First, it likely means that Putin is trying to find some common ground with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in order to encourage more cooperation and less confrontation. For that, the new ambassador will make use of close relations with those in the Georgian political scene who are also close with Shevardnadze.
Second, Putin likely wants to assess Shevardnaze’s footing within Georgia’s governing elite in order to determine whether it might be possible to help replace him in the future if Shevardnadze continues down a path that Russia finds problematic.
But on the whole, this appointment is a conciliatory gesture toward Shevardnadze. As long as Putin perceives that Washington solidly supports Shevardnadze, he will be reluctant to engage in more than tough rhetoric.
In the current context, Russia is not likely to strike Chechen targets in Georgia in the near future, despite an urgent desire to clamp down on cross-border attacks on Russia.