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Why Vladimir Putin Favors Secretary Clinton in the American Presidential Campaign

putin.hillary

While the Trump campaign has vociferously applauded the Kremlin and its alleged support, the reality is that the joke is on Donald Trump.  The other reality is that Moscow would much prefer to deal Secretary Clinton as president.  Secretary Clinton is predictable, based not only on her tenure as Secretary of State from 2009 through 2013, but also during her eight years as First Lady from January 20, 1993 to January 20, 2001.

Mr. Putin has used dark public relations or “Black PR”, a process of destroying the target’s reputation. It started on December 15, 2015 when Mr. Putin issued a statement that stopped short of endorsing Mr. Trump for president, stating, “[Donald Trump is] a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt.  It’s not our job to judge his qualities, that’s a job for American voters, but he’s the absolute leader in the presidential race.  He says he wants to move on to a new, more substantial relationship, a deeper relationship with Russia, how can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome that.”

While a recent WikiLeaks dump of 20,000 emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee has caused political sensation, it has never been proven that the documents were obtained from Russian intelligence.  This was followed by July 2016 media reports that the Kremlin had obtained all 31,830 emails sent from a private server by Secretary Clinton’s during her tenure as Secretary of State.  Even though Russian intelligence is considered to be the most capable nation-state cyberespionage and cyberwarfare power, it has not produced a single email. And, one must consider the fact that as Secretary of State, her private and government accounts both during and after her official tenure were actively monitored by U.S. intelligence officials to prevent hacking from ever occurring in the first instance.

“Those who follow Kremlin propaganda understand that it is not necessary for Putin to have Clinton’s e-mails to cause serious damage to a Clinton presidency… The Kremlin knows that repeated lies are eventually taken as truth, so that an unsourced narrative, repeated, will eventually become the “truth.”,” stated Paul Roderick Gregory, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, at Stanford and Cullen Professor of Economics at the University of Houston specializing in Russian politics (Emphasis in Original).

As for Trump, many Russian scholars have depicted him as an undesirable wildcard, vastly unpredictable and not someone Mr. Putin has any intention of working with on sensitive matters affecting global stability and security.   Among the many comments made:

  • A lawmaker in Russia’s upper house of parliament speaking anonymously said a potential Trump presidency, “…sounds very attractive but it could end as a catastrophe for everyone. The problem? He is unpredictable.”
  • “Clearly the conservatives are pro-Trump, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the top people really want Trump. It could be incredibly disruptive. Can you imagine if all the things he has said come true?” I think that there are very few sane politicians of any kind, including Russians, who would actually want a Trump presidency. But they are enjoying the spectacle…,” said Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow with the Kennan Institute.
  • Igor Ivanov, president of the Russian International Affairs Council, stated that a ““newcomer” would be harder to deal with: inconsistent, unpredictable, given to subjective and emotional decisions that can be very hard to rectify later on.”
  • Having a “…flighty and irascible populist who changes his mind three times a day” at the head of a nuclear superpower “may pose danger to the whole world and for Russia in particular,” opined Pavel Demidov, a professor at the Russian state MGIMO University.
  • Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international affairs committee in the Federation Council, stated that under a Trump presidency, “a certain window of possibilities may naturally appear. But not all those possibilities may be desirable… Trump is not predictable enough.”

Secretary Clinton is predictable.  While it is likely that she will continue many of Obama administration’s policies, she is also equally likely to be influenced by her husband, former President William Clinton.

During the Clinton Administration, the U.S.’s relationship with Russia vastly improved.  President Clinton enjoyed a cordial relationship Boris Yeltsin, with whom he met with on 18 occasions.

As Secretary of State Mrs. Clinton was responsible a “reset” in U.S. relations with then Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who served under then President Dmitry Medvedev, at a meeting held in Geneva.

In this March 6, 2009 file photo, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presents Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a device with a red button symbolizing the intention to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations during their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo, File)

Called the “Moscow Spring”, it revitalized the relationship with Russia resulting in a nuclear arms-control treaty and Russia acquiescing to NATO-led military intervention in Libya.  The Geneva meeting also resulted in a tentative agreement to resolve the Syrian War; an agreement the Obama Administration failed to back.

After Mr. Putin was elected a second time in 2012, protesters accused Mr. Putin of having rigged recent elections, Mr. Putin blamed Secretary Clinton, who had called the election results “dishonest and unfair” of giving “a signal” to demonstrators working “with the support of the U.S. State Department” to undermine his presidency. The decisive blow came when the U.S. sanctioned Russia on July 17 2014 based on unlawful aggressions in Ukraine and the shooting down of flight MH17.  In October 2014, Foreign Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that a reset of relations with the U.S. was “impossible”, and that relations had been damaged by “destructive” and “stupid” Western sanctions.

Going forward, what Secretary Clinton has thus far stated that the United States must work with Russia on issues of common interest whenever possible, like arms control, but also partner with allies to limit Russia’s transgressions when needed, as in Ukraine.  The United States should respond by strengthening the NATO alliance and improving the energy security of European states.  At no time, has Secretary Clinton called for further economic sanctions and has made no reference to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

In sum, more than a Trump presidency, the Kremlin may simply be enjoying watching the myriad of problems unfold, many of which seem illusory at best, in the American presidential race.  It is also likely that the propaganda war was not conceptualized to impact the American elections but, to serve as a subterfuge for the Kremlin’s aggressions in the European Union, most notably in Germany.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague writing for Tuck Magazine and E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive.  Her blogs are read in over 37 countries.  As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.

Sources

“Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, and U.S.-Russian Relations,” Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State, as found on the www at https://history.state.gov/milestones/1993-2000/clinton-yeltsin.“Berlin’s mayor warns of growing AfD support”, August 21, 2016, DW, as found on the www athttp://www.dw.com/en/berlins-mayor-warns-of-growing-afd-support/a-19491229.

Clinton on the Issues, The Council for Foreign Relations, as found on the www at http://www.cfr.org/campaign2016/hillary-clinton/on-russia.

Gregory, Paul Roderick, “What If Vladimir Putin Has Hillary Clinton’s Emails?”, Forbes, February 12, 2016, as found on the www at http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2016/02/12/vladimir-putin-hillary-clinton-emails/#352c4cf57fe6.

Roth, Andrew, “The Kremlin may savor Trump – but still might prefer Clinton,” August 3, 2016, The Washington Post, as found on the www at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/the-kremlin-may-savor-trump—-but-still-might-prefer-clinton/2016/08/03/8395275c-58eb-11e6-8b48-0cb344221131_story.html?tid=a_inl.

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In Deep Waters with China and Russia

The Threat to Global Stability and Security

Geopolitical tensions have risen to a level where another major war or even world war is no longer outside the realm of possibilities.  There has been a military build-up by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea (SCS), and by Russia in the Baltic and Western European regions.

China’s SCS Dispute with Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines over oil rich territory rich is most troubling.  Both China and Russia have increased their military presence in the northern Pacific Ocean where they have been engaging in joint military exercises.  An eruption of armed conflict involving China, may result in both responding.

There are also the ongoing concerns regarding erratic North Korea, which has restarted plutonium fuel production.

Russia’s relationship with NATO, its member nations, allies and partners deteriorated following Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its unlawful aggressions in Ukraine.  This precipitated a sharp shift in Western foreign policy toward Russia.  The West has moved away from the Doctrine of Mutual Assured Stability and beyond a policy of containment to a position of deterrence.  Knowing that NATO will respond, it is unlikely that Moscow will engage in armed conflict on European soil.

Less likely would be a scenario where armed conflict develops in the Atlantic and Pacific theatres as it is questionable whether the U.S., the European Union, NATO and their allies could adequately respond.

 The South China Sea – A Deepening Rift

While China and Russia are embroiled in territorial disputes in the Pacific Ocean, it is China’s SCS Dispute that is particularly troublesome.  The expansionist goal of the two countries is that they gain control the maritime activities in the region, impeding routine missions patrolling the area and impeding the territorial rights of other nations, and allowing them to exploit the region’s rich oil reserves.  In the SCS there are 11 million estimated barrels of oil, 190 trillion cubic square feet of natural gas, and $5.3 trillion in annual trade passing through the region.

Competing South China Sea Claims

China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the SCS have antagonized Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, each of which has competing territorial and jurisdictional claims in the SCS.  China has grown increasingly more assertive in advancing its position in these disputes, known as the South China Sea Dispute, by substantially modernizing its maritime paramilitary forces and increasing its naval capabilities.  In recent months, tensions in the South China Sea have steadily grown, amid global concerns over China’s constructions of artificial islands in the Spratly Islands and its continuing militarization in the Paracel Islands.

There is one pending case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague between China and the Philippines concerning lawful sovereignty over an area rich in natural gas deposits. The matter was brought by the Philippines as to the legality of China’s “nine-dash line”.  China has never clarified the parameters of the “nine-dash line”, which encompasses approximately 80% of the SCS. The Philippines claims that China violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); an agreement about territorial seas and exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

China’s motivation is not the preservation of ancestral waters or historical fishing sites, protected by the UNCLOS; rather China seeks to complete a “strategic triangle” in the SCS to monitor and control regional maritime activities, to bolster its naval position, and to gain access to much-needed natural resources. To further its interests, China has built man-made islands and artificial harbors on reefs creating more than 3,200 acres, and increasing its EEZs by 200 nautical miles or 370 km, and its territorial seas by 12 nautical miles or 22 km, on which it has installed airfields and surveillance systems, and a radar tower.  China now plans on installing an Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, covering the SCS. An ADIZ demarcates a zone outside a country’s national airspace where planes must identify themselves for security reasons and follow the country’s military instructions.

Newly constructed radar dome on Chinese-controlled Subi Reef

The Pentagon has accused China of using “coercive tactics short of armed conflict.”

The Philippines is expected to prevail in proceedings boycotted by China.  China called the PCA arbitration illegal and stated that it would ignore the PCA’s decision, even though China is one of five permanent United Nations Security Council members.  As the PCA has no enforcement authority, enforcement will fall upon other nations both in and outside of the SCS region.

“Only when everyone plays by the same rules can we avoid the mistakes of the past, like when countries challenged one another in contests of strength and will, with disastrous consequences for the region,” stated U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on June 3, 2016.

The U.S. could also be drawn into this conflict based on 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines. The Treaty states, “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”  If the U.S. failed to respond, it could damper its relationship with other nations in Asia.

Also relevant is the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea, in which ASEAN and China agreed upon multilateral risk-reduction and confidence-building measures.  DOC requires that territorial and jurisdictional disputes be resolved without resorting to the threat or use of force.

Chinese and Russian Joint Military Buildup

In advance of the G7 Summit, China warned Japan not to involve the G7 in the SCS Dispute.  Russian Prime Minister Sergei Lavrov, on April 14, also issued a statement that, while international law ought to be respected, Russia disapproved of internationalization of the dispute, stating, “Our position is determined by the wish, natural for any normal country, to see disputes resolved directly between the countries involved in a peaceful political and diplomatic manner, without any interference from third parties or any attempts to internationalize these disputes.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted “by heralding the two countries’ converging position on the South China Sea.”

Ignoring the Chinese and Russian warnings, but without mentioning China, the G7, from which Russia has been excluded since annexing Crimea, expressed concern over Chinese aggression in the SCS.

A Fact Sheet released by the White House sumarized the April 7, 2016 G7 Summit:

“G-7 leaders reiterated their commitment to a rules-based order at sea, peaceful dispute settlement, and respect for freedom of navigation and overflight.  G-7 leaders also reaffirmed the importance of states’ making and clarifying their claims based on international law [including the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea]; refraining from unilateral actions; not using force or coercion; and seeking to settle disputes by peaceful means including through juridical procedures.’”

On April 29, 2016 Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a joint press conference in Beijing declaring shared opposition to “interference from third parties” and “attempts to internationalize” the dispute.  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that China and Russia should join together to oppose “internationalising” the disputes.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated on May 23, 2015 that, “Russia would deploy top-of-the-line Bal and Bastion coastal defense systems — with ranges of up to 450 kilometers — as well as Russia’s new Aeleron-3 drones. The apparent goal is to create an area-denial zone around the Kuril Island chain similar to those recently fielded in Crimea and Syria.”

The purpose of the Bastion-P is to engage various surface ships, as well as carrier battle groups, convoys or landing craft. In some cases missiles fired from this system can strike surface targets.  The Bastion-P launcher carries two P-800 Oniks/Yakhont and SS-N-26 Strobile anti-ship cruise missiles, having a range of 300 km, with hi-low flight trajectory and 120 km with low-low flight trajectory. The warhead, weighing 200-250 kg., can carry nuclear or conventional warheads.

At first, Mr. Shoigu alleged Russia’s Red Pacific Fleet was sending six of its warships carrying 200 troops, launched in April, to conduct a three-month “expedition” to the Kuril Islands.  The real mission is to establish a Russian military base on Matua Island, one of the Kuril Islands involved in its dispute with Japan.  The Matua Island base will hold 87 contract troops, 700 units of military equipment and weaponry, 60 new aircraft and helicopters, three vessels and over 20 drones. Based on a photograph released by Russian controlled state media, the warships were accompanied by nuclear-powered submarines.

Large landing ships “Admiral Nevelskoi,” foreground, “Nikolai Vilkov” and Varshavyanka-class diesel-electric submarine © Vitaliy Anko / Sputnik

Days prior to the May 30-31, 2016 “Russia and China: Taking on New Quality of Bilateral Relations international Conference”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated, “[W]e closely cooperate on the international arena, where our cooperation serves as a very important stabilizing factor. We will continue to jointly with the Chinese friends advance the necessary steps in order to ensure that our cooperation reaches new levels.”

 Lavrov added that proposals for all directions of cooperation were being drawn up “with the goal to further deepen cooperation in politics, economy and humanitarian area.”

“Russia and China are priority diplomatic partners for each other within the framework of their strategic coordination. Our countries implement close interaction in the international arena. Russian-Chinese relations are an important factor in the world peace and stability. During Vladimir Putin’s visit to China, the two leaders will exchange views on the development of bilateral relations and on international issues,” stated Hua Chunying, Deputy Director of Foreign Ministry Information Department of the People’s Republic of China.

At the conference, Western economic sanctions against Russia were deemed moot by Russia as it is looking to the East for economic growth and stability with China and Russia agreeing to increase trade from $90 billion in 2016 to $200 billion within four years.

Calling the SCS Dispute a man-made problem “forged by the United States… both Chinese and Russian leadership understand that we are better together and we are not so worried about America and its attitude to this issue,” stated Boris Titov, co-chairman of the Russian-Chinese Friendship committee and Russia’s ombudsman.

Moreover, Russia and China have been engaging in joint naval exercises in SCS.  According to the Russian press service, Russia and China commenced their first joint computer anti-missile defense exercises Aerospace-Security-2016.  Russia and China will use the results to formulate proposals on Russian-Chinese military cooperation in the field of anti-missile defense.

China’s “waves -2″ submarine-launched ballistic missile launched from underwater

“My sense is that each country will try and oppose the U.S. where it feels that its national interests require it, and that in a number of instances their national interests converge,” stated former Dutch Diplomat Joost Dirzwager.

The U.S. and France have bolstered their presence in the SCS.  The Pentagon sent a guided-missile destroyer to maintain maritime rights. This was the third time in under a year that the U.S. has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the SCS.

U.S. Freedom of Navigation (FON) Program, created in 1983 “…provides that the United States will exercise and assert its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis in a manner that is consistent with the balance of interests reflected in the Law of the Sea (LOS) Convention. The United States will not, however, acquiesce in unilateral acts of other states designed to restrict the rights and freedoms of the international community in navigation and overflight and other related high seas uses.”

According to DoD spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza, on May 17, 2016, when the U.S. sent an unarmed U.S. military aircraft on routine patrol over the SCS, China responded with two fighter jets carrying out an interception at less than 50 feet forcing the U.S. plane to rapidly descent, which the Pentagon deemed unsafe.

China insists that reconnaissance activities undertaken without prior notification and without permission of the coastal state violate Chinese domestic law and international law. The U.S. responded by stating that the UNCLOS does not negates the right of military forces of all nations to conduct military activities in EEZs without coastal state notice or consent.

Days after Russia requested Vietnam permit it naval access, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Vietnam at which time a 50 year arms embargo was lifted, enabling Vietnam to obtain U.S. sourced radars and sensors, surveillance planes and drones to monitor and deter Chinese forces.  The U.S. Navy has requested access to Cam Ranh Bay, the most coveted deep water harbor in the western SCS.  If permitted, it would complement U.S. naval facilities in the Philippines on the SCS’ eastern edge.

Japan and Russia’s Kuril Islands Dispute

Japan has been embroiled in a long-standing dispute with Russia over a portion of the Kuril Islands, an archipelago stretching 1,300 km or 810 mi, from northern Japan to Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean.  As part of its territory, Japan claims the four ancestral islands; two southernmost and large Kuril Islands, Iturup and Kunashir, as well as the Shikotan and the Habomai Islets.

On February 7, 1855, Japan and Russia signed the Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation, which established boundaries in the Northern Territories.  Japan lost control of several of its islands at the end of World War II, when they were claimed by Russia.  Japan has rejected Russian sovereignty over the islands in a dispute that has come to be known as the Northern Territories Dispute.  Japan does not dispute Russian sovereignty over the other Kuril Islands.

As recent as this past April, Japan has engaged Russia in frequent but, unsuccessful dialogue in an effort to diplomatically resolve the conflict, going so far as to state that it would not displace Russians occupying the islands as Joseph Stalin did to the Japanese people.

The U.S. supports Japan’s claim in the Northern Territories Dispute.

“A conflict involving China over the East and South Seas was more likely than a Russo-Japanese conflict over the Kuril Islands/Northern territories,” stated Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow Brookings Institute Fellow, and former U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officer.

The Kuril Islands are salient based on Russia’s military build-up there.  While Russia and Japan are not predicted to engage in armed conflict over the Northern Territories Dispute, the military build-up is nonetheless significant as it relates to the SCS Dispute.

Insecurity in the European Union

Russia’s Methodology

“Russia’s interest in breaking up Europe is clear and it uses a variety of means, anything it can possibly do, to achieve its breakup,” stated Russian scholar and analyst Anne Applebaum.

Russia’s toolbox of hybrid warfare i.e. that without physical aggression, includes weaponising information; intelligence gathering; and cyber, political, psychological, and energy warfare.

Russia has been accused of cyber warfare in Estonia, the German parliament and in Bulgaria.  Russia has backed the far right front in France, the Hungarian Jobbik, and the German AFD, and has secured the support of Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Ukraine and Crimea

Recent geopolitical tensions between the West and Russian can be traced to Russia’s annexation of Crimean Peninsula, which the West deems illegal, and its military aggression in Ukraine, which the West stands firm in stating that in so doing Russia failed to implement the pre-existing Minsk Agreement.  Statements have recently issued from both sides.

“The path NATO has chosen is one of strong deterrence combined with meaningful dialogue. There cannot be any return to business as usual until Russia comes back into compliance with international law,” stated NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow.

Mr. Vershbow noted that ‘the first step toward that end should be the full implementation of the Minsk agreements – ending the Russian-backed insurgency in Eastern Ukraine, implementing a real ceasefire, withdrawing Russian forces and heavy weapons, and creating conditions for free and fair elections under Ukrainian and OSCE supervision aimed at re-integrating the occupied portions of Donbas into Ukraine.’

At the May 2016 G7 Summit, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the European Union condemned Russia’s “illegal annexation” of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. In a formal declaration the G7 threatened “further restrictive measures” but indicated sanctions could be scaled back if Russia implemented the Minsk Agreement to respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Mr. Putin responded by stating that, “As far as Crimea is concerned, we consider this question is closed forever. Russia will not conduct any discussions with anyone on this subject.”

The Baltic States, Poland and Romania

On April 1, 2014 following the annexation of Crimea, NATO member nations unanimously voted to suspend all cooperation with Russia save essential diplomatic dialogue.  Since then, Russia has conducted military exercises involving 30,000-80,000 troops in close proximity to the Baltic region.

“To the east and north we face a resurgent and aggressive Russia, and as we have continued to witness these last two years, Russia continues to seek to extend its influence on its periphery and beyond. We are prepared to fight and win if we have to … our focus will expand from assurance to deterrence, including measures that vastly improve our overall readiness,” stated NATO Supreme Commander General Phillip Breedlove on March 31, 2016, just days after the conclusion of the Munich Security Conference.

NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said NATO is strengthening its deterrence and defence posture by implementing the Readiness Action Plan (RAP), which includes a 5000-strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, in response to a more assertive and aggressive Russia.

Russia’s interest in the Baltic States is multi-faceted. First and foremost, Russian President has stated over and over again that it is his responsibility to protect Russians, regardless of where they now live in the European Union.  Russia, having allowed its Baltic Sea port of Kaliningrad to deteriorate has, until recently, relied upon Baltic States’ modern and ice-free ports to transport its oil throughout Europe.

The deployment of Iskander-M missile complexes in Kaliningrad will “fundamentally change the balance of security in Europe,” stated NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

NATO responded by bolstering its position in many countries flanking the Russian border. NATO is deploying 4,000 additional troops to the Baltic countries and to Poland.  Another 4,200 troops are set to be deployed in early 2017.  NATO has also just committed to sending four rotating groups of combat battalions to Poland.

Despite NATO having voted to suspend cooperation with Russia, NATO members are complying with the May 27, 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation (Founding Act), even though some NATO members believe it to have been violated by Russia.  Under the Founding Act, significant numbers of troops cannot be permanently stationed in Eastern Europe.  The Founding Act does not define “significant”.  By rotating troops in the Baltic States or the East, Russia is deprived of the pretext of a Founding Act violation to engage in armed conflict.

The “Visegrad Four” – the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – have proposed to NATO that they create a common “rotational” force to bolster defence in the Baltics starting in 2017.  Also in 2017, the U.S. military plans on an increased rotational presence in the East of up to 5,000 troops, including in both Romania and Bulgaria. A number of other countries have committed to or are considering sending troops to the Baltic Region and Poland; with the issue to be discussed at the July NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland.

A 2015 Rand study suggested the need for seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigade, to have a chance of stopping a major Russian offensive. This exceeds NATO’s present capacity. Moreover, such a force would appear overly provocative to Moscow, posing a potent ground offensive less than 400 kilometers from St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city.

Also bypassing the Founding Act, the air forces of 16 different NATO member states have been actively securing the Baltic air space.  There have been many incidents of these peacekeeping flyovers being improperly threatened by Russian fighter jets.

“There should be no gaps. Deterrence must be the new normal,” stated Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas.

If the rotational troops and increased air surveillance caused Russian ire, the U.S.’s recent activation of a land-based SM-3 missile defence interceptor or shield at its base in southern Romania, with a second defence system to be operational by 2018 in Warsaw, has only amplified the situation.  The radar, similar to that on U.S. Navy warships, detects and identifies incoming missiles, then launches interceptor missiles destroying the incoming missile in space.

“To put it simply, our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses of American forces and America’s Allies. It is more comprehensive than the previous program; it deploys capabilities that are proven and cost-effective; and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats; and it ensures and enhances the protection of all our NATO Allies,” stated U.S. President Barack Obama.

Mr. Putin stated that Russia will respond to the U.S. installation of missile defence shields in Romania and Poland as they directly threaten Russian security.

“We are convinced unconditionally that the deployment of an antimissile defense system does indeed pose a threat to the security of the Russian Federation,” stated Russian Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.

Analysis

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger advised that, “To play a responsible role in the evolution of twenty-first century world order [each country] must be prepared to answer a number of questions for itself:

  • What do we seek to prevent, no matter how it happens, and if necessary alone? The answer defines the minimum condition of the survival of society.
  • What do we seek to achieve, even if not supported by any multilateral effort? These goals define the minimum objectives of the national strategy.
  • What do we seek to achieve, or prevent, only if supported by an alliance? This defines the outer limits of the country’s strategic aspirations as part of a global system.
  • What should we not engage in, even if urged by a multilateral group or an alliance? This defines the limiting condition [of a country’s] participation in world order.
  • Above all, what is the nature of the values that we seek to advance? What applications depend in part on circumstances?”

The West seeks to prevent the denigration or disregard of Rule or Law.  It has done so through NATO, it member nations and their alliances and partners.  This is and has been the driving principle for all actions it has undertaken in the Baltic Region, Western Europe, Ukraine, Crimea and the SCS.  With the exception of Crimea, the West has unequivocally indicated it will go to war if provoked by Russia.

As to what Russia seeks to achieve, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has stated, that Russia wants to be treated as an equal partner in foreign affairs, especially in Europe, but that the European Union has failed attribute to Russia the credence that it feels due and justified.  The reality is that Russia will never gain the acceptance of the European Union or the U.S. until it demonstrates adherence to Rule of Law.  This tests the outer limits of Russia’s foreign policy initiatives.

Nonetheless, given the powerful statements from the Kremlin, the European Union may yet be able to positively engage Moscow. After all, a Cold War is nothing more than failed diplomacy.  The European Union must consider the truth; if conditions deteriorate in either the East or the West, the West, in its current state, is not equipped to engage in deterrence let alone defence. In addition to the ongoing fight against terrorism and the distressing presidential elections in the United States, there is a lack of cohesion among European Union members impeding cooperative efforts with NATO and its other partners and alliances.  These are the limiting conditions that the West cannot ignore.

An alternate and more plausible explanation is that Russia, expert at psychological warfare and the use of propaganda, has used the ruse of an attack on the Baltic States, Poland or Romania to deflect public attention away from the South China Sea Dispute.

As for China, “There are a number of political and economic factors which militate against a military conflict, though the probability is not zero,” stated Mr. Pifer.

China seeks to achieve a leadership role in global financial stability.  It has strengthened its global financial position through the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank, known as The BRICS, to which many foreign powers, save the United States, have acceded to one or both.  China’s limiting condition is jeopardizing the many trade relationships it has built, not only with Western countries, such as Great Britain and the U.S., but with countries around the world.  The reality for China it that if SCS aggressions continue, especially in tandem with Russia, it may destroy positive relationships.

A second reality, based on Mr. Kissinger’s decision-making tree, is that China continues its military build-up in the SCS, with or without Russia, and that those countries adhering to Rule of Law are forced by treaty to respond.

As to joint Chinese and Russian military cooperation, while China and Russia have been bound to some degree by a shared ideology, it has thus far never extended to joint military cooperation or to an expansionist philosophy based on the use of force.  In this scenario, diplomatic relations with China might produce a positive result, not just in the SCS, but China may influence Russian interactions elsewhere in the world.

“The United States will make it clear that we are looking for a peaceful resolution to …  the disputes of the South China Sea. Let’s not resolve this by unilateral action; let’s resolve this through rule of law, through diplomacy, through negotiation. And we urge all nations to find a diplomatic solution, rooted in international standards and rule of law,” stated U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during Sangri-La talks held on June 7, 2016 in Beijing.

US Secretary of State John Kerry attends the US – China High Level Consultation on People to People Exchange at the National Museum in Beijing, June 7, 2016. (Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urging other European Union members to undertake “regular and visible” SCS patrols, stated, “If we want to contain the risk of conflict, we must defend this right, and defend it ourselves.”

Previously, the G7 members signed on G7 statements on maritime security and freedom of navigation.

India’s Prime Minister Narenda, following a visit to the White House, stated that it had no comment on the SCS Dispute.  India struggles to meet the energy demands of its citizens.

The necessary diplomacy might transpire at the G20 Summit – comprised of 19 individual countries—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States—along with the European Union (EU) – to be hosted by September 4 to 6.  While less than 100 days away, it provides ample time for all parties to re-evaluate the current diplomatic posture.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is a journalist focusing on geopolitics.  Ms. Lardner is a contributing editor for Tuck Magazine and E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and her blogs are read in over 37 countries.  As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Xinhua.

Sources available upon request.

Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin

Putin.CoverBy:  Cynthia M. Lardner

Introduction

The Russian Federation, when examined as the antagonist, views itself as having been left disconnected from post-World War Two Europe. Russia believes itself to be irrevocably tied to Europe dating back to the Byzantine Era.  When the Cold War ended Russia expected to be accepted by the West. This never fully materialized, leaving Russian President Vladimir Putin feeling dismembered. With heightening geopolitical tensions, especially in the European Union, it is critical to understand Mr. Putin’s long term strategy. When events over the last three years are examined together, not only does there exists a threat of conflict on European soil and cyberwar but, there also exists a very real threat to the Western world of another new genre of warfare:  economic warfare.

The Lavrov Statement

Understanding what Mr. Putin was and is thinking can now be best understood in the context of a March 3, 2016 statement by Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs:

“While the rapidly developing Moscow state naturally played an increasing role in European affairs, the European countries had apprehensions about the nascent giant in the East and tried to isolate it whenever possible and prevent it from taking part in Europe’s most important affairs.

During at least the past two centuries any attempts to unite Europe without Russia and against it have inevitably led to grim tragedies, the consequences of which were always overcome with the decisive participation of our country (Emphasis Added).”

Emphasizing Russia’s growing relationship with China and its other partners, including the BRICS, Lavrov stated that globalisation has led to the United States and the European Union’s demise as the leading global economic powers and political influencers, and to the emergence of “new and large centres of power”.

This was followed by the assertion that, “A reliable solution to the problems of the modern world can only be achieved through serious and honest cooperation between the leading states and their associations in order to address common challenges.”

Lavrov concluded that, “[W]e are not seeking confrontation with the United States, or the European Union, or NATO. On the contrary, Russia is open to the widest possible cooperation with its Western partners. We continue to believe that the best way to ensure the interests of the peoples living in Europe is to form a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so that the newly formed Eurasian Economic Union could be an integrating link between Europe and Asia Pacific.”

Sino-Russian Partnership

Perhaps then it is ultimately not just what Mr. Putin is thinking but, also what the aspirations are of Chinese President Xi Jinping, with respect, not as to the Middle East, but as to Europe.  When events are read together, the two countries share expansionist and extremist policies, each with their own set of alliances, under which both countries aspire to wield greater global leadership.

A contemporary starting place for analyzing the Sino-Russian relationship is July 17, 2014, when a number of seemingly unrelated events occurred.  The day prior, the European Union imposed economic sanctions against the Russia Federation for its annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and the 1994 Budapest Agreement, followed by President Barack Obama announcing that the United States was also imposing sanctions; ultimately toppling the ruble.  Hours later, a Malaysian plane was shot down over the Ukraine by Russian mercenaries. This was quickly followed by a statement released by China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa, representing 40% of the world’s population, that they were implementing the New Development Bank or The BRICS, to provide funding to those countries previously unable to secure financing for essential sustainable infrastructures from the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Six months later, on February 2, 2015, obscured by an international community divided over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, China struck a potentially deadly blow to global financial stability when it announced that it was not only moving ahead in launching its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) but that it was expanding to welcome founding members from the West, of which all 28 NATO members, save the United States, joined within months.  There are now 56 AIIB member nations and another 30 countries awaiting approval.

“The founding and opening of the AIIB also means a great deal to the reform of the global economic governance system,” stated Mr. Jinping at the January 16, 2016 AIIB inauguration.

The AIIB and its ‘junior partner’, The BRICS, were set up to compete with the WB and IMF, intending to ultimately issue its own currency to devalue the Euro and the dollar.

“The BRICS is expected to usher in a pair of institutions, a development bank and a currency reserve fund, that they hope will diminish Western control of the global financial system,” stated Stewart M. Patrick, director of CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance Program.

“The AIIB is a challenge to the existing global economic order,” stated Robert Kahn, Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics.

Such would be the case if China and its partners called in their portion of the United States National Debt; $17.6 trillion dollars or 15.9%.

In addition, China and Russia, two of the five permanent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members, along with India, issued a statement supporting India’s bid for one of the five permanent UNSC seats.

The statement declared that the three nations, with China at the helm, would “build a more just, fair and stable international political and economic order” and a ““multi-polar” world”.   Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proclaimed, “We advocate the principle of partnership rather than alliance.”

In late 2015 Mr. Jinping made a state visit to Great Britain. India Prime Minister Naranda Modi made state visits to 28 countries.  In Great Britain and beyond, China and India secured many private and public sector contracts.  India’s state visits were partially motivated by its previous lack of cordial diplomatic relations with North African and the Middle East; regions India needs to to support its claim that it is a global leader meriting a permanent UNSC seat.

Inception of The BRICS and AIIB has raised global concerns.  The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights is investigating whether projected project financing by The BRICS and the AIIB would include safeguards to preclude human rights violations, such as slave or child labor, underpayment of wages, forced evictions, and detentions.  Further concern exists over a lack of articulated environmental and anticorruption standards.  These concerns were manifest in previous projects funded by the Chinese government.

Syria

As time went on, the events of 2014 and 2015 fell off the front pages, replaced by news story about the Syrian War and the related terrorist attacks in California, Paris and Brussels.

Russia’s September 2015 entry into the Syrian War was reported to insure that Mr. Putin’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, remained in power.  It is questionable whether Mr. Putin’s move was a smokescreen allowing him to achieve another objective:  destabilizing the European Union.

Russian bombing in Syria was targeted in and around Aleppo, near the Turkish border.  NATO and other leaders asserted that Russia had weaponized Syrians; escalating the number of refugee seekers. The refugee crisis has created widespread dissension within Europe, which has been struggling to cope with the staggering numbers of refugees.  There are 4,883,643 Syrian refugees registered by the United Nations; making it the largest humanitarian crisis the world has faced since World War II.

Munich Security Conference

At the February 12-14, 2016 Munich Security Conference (MSC), Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s echoed Lavrov’s statements; calling the state of diplomacy between Russia and the West a new Cold War.  NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove disagreed.

A Syrian ceasefire was negotiated at the MSC to allow participants time to reconvene in March to further discuss a nonmilitary resolution, and so that humanitarian aid could be delivered to Syria.

At the MSC conference, the issue of Russia’s failure to honor the Minsk Protocol, intended to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was raised.

On March 14, 2016, as the parties reconvened in Geneva, Russia only announced that it was pulling out of Syria at the same time Russian-backed separatists staged one their biggest Ukrainian offenses, fueling speculation as to Mr. Putin’s long range motives.

Europe and the United States

Mr. Putin’s goal is to undermine the European Union by causing destabilization as the European Union represents democracy, is based on Rule of Law, and is ideologically different from Russia, stated Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize Russian Scholar, Director of the Transitions Forum at the Legatum Institute, and an adjunct fellow of the Center for European Policy Analysis.

European and United States’ domestic and foreign policy has caused dissension within and between nations.  Natalie Nougayrède, a foreign affairs commentator for The Guardian, explained:

This year is one that arguably offers Russia an unprecedented window of opportunity to push that demand. The refugee crisis threatens key EU institutions, a referendum looms on the UK’s relationship to Europe, the Franco-German couple is in dire straits, Angela Merkel is politically weakened, Ukraine is unstable, populist movements are spreading throughout the continent, the Balkans are experiencing new tensions, and the US is busy with an election campaign imbued with isolationism.

“Europe when united is a problem for them [the Russians]. It doesn’t work when the whole of Europe joins together,” stated Applebaum.

“Closer cooperation between the EU and its eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine – is a key element in EU foreign relations,” states the European Union’s website.

Meanwhile, Russia has strengthened its relationships with Western Europe and Germany.  In 2014 Mr. Putin stated, “I expect that the citizens of Germany will also support the aspiration of the Russians, of historical Russia, to restore unity.”  Presently, an estimated 10-15% of all Germans support Mr. Putin.

Mr. Putin’s authoritarian leadership is also admired by Czech Republic President Miloš Zeman, Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and Serbian Prime Minister Alexander Vucic.

Then there is Poland; with Russia and Ukraine on its east and Germany and the Baltics on its west, it is a natural target for Russia.  The United States is building a missile defense shield in Poland due to be operational in 2018; stating it was to protect against Iranian aggressions.  Russia objected, stating that the shield is being built to protect the West from an attack by Russia.

Russia, having the world’s largest nuclear arsenal supported by a sprawling military and civilian nuclear industry, boycotted the March 31-April 1 Nuclear Security Summit, sparking concern as to whether Russia has or might sell nuclear weapons or weapon making materials to a terrorist organization.

Igor Ivanov, former Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated that, “The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than in the 1980s.”

Ukraine and the European Union

The conflict between Rule of Law and the Russian plutocracy is playing out in Ukraine and the Baltic region.

In 2012 Ukraine requested member state status in the European Union.  While there is no indication that Ukraine will be accepted as a European Union member, as part of the association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, the European Union is removing trade barriers with Ukraine.

“Ukraine has tied into mainstream European culture and life,” stated Applebaum.

“We can express our identity in the framework of the European Union,” reflected Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine.

Mr. Putin disagreed, stating, “Our concerns are understandable because we are not simply close neighbours but, as I have said many times already, we are one people… Millions of Russians and Russian-speaking people live in Ukraine and will continue to do so. Russia will always defend their interests using political, diplomatic and legal means.”

Rebutting Mr. Putin’s assertion, Rabbi Bleich stated that 60% of Ukraine’s fighters are native Russian speakers.

Mr. Putin additionally stated that, “Russia has its legitimate concerns in the framework of trilateral negotiations initiated by Russia, EU and Ukraine on gas issues and trade and economic implications of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement implementation” as Ukraine is the trade route by which oil is exported by Russia to Western Europe.

“We should recognize that the Ukraine is within the Russian sphere of influence,” stated Vaidotas Verba, the Lithuanian Ambassador to the Netherlands.

Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and NATO

Since 1994 Ukraine has been a NATO alliance partner.  In 2010 Ukraine unsuccessfully sought to accede to NATO.  The request was denied due to the Ukrainian government’s failure to adhere to Rule of Law.

Olena Sotnyk, a newly elected Ukrainian Parliament member and Head of the Subcommittee on the Approximation of Ukrainian legislation to EU Law, stated “… that new parliament is striving to adhere to Rule of Law via implementation of a good number of legislative initiatives in the fields of human rights protection and anti-corruption, initiatives that only two years ago seemed unrealistic in the Ukrainian realities.”

In 2014, following a change in governance, Ukraine renewed its request to accede to NATO.  While Ukraine has not been invited to participate in accession talks, it is a partner nation of NATO.  In addition, of the 21 other countries belonging to NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, several have also expressed interest in acceding to NATO member nation status.  Presently, only Montenegro has been invited by NATO to participate in accession talks.

Every country has the right “to belong or not to belong to international organizations, to be or not to be a party to bilateral or multilateral treaties including the right to be or not to be a party to treaties of alliance,” according to Article I of the Helsinki Final Act, which established the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  All the OSCE member states, including Russia, have sworn to uphold this principle.

Since 2015 NATO has increased its presence in Ukraine and throughout the Baltic States; Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

“The reason why NATO is adapting its military posture, especially in the eastern part of the Alliance, is Russia’s military buildup over several years… In the Barents Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and now also in the Mediterranean. That’s one of the reasons why we are adapting both by increasing the readiness of our forces but also by increasing our presence in the Eastern part of our Alliance,” stated Stoltenberg.

Russia interpreted NATO’s eastern expansion as a sign of open hostility and warned that it will retaliate.

“We believe that NATO’s policy towards Russia remains unfriendly and generally obdurate,” stated Medvedev at the MSC.

Medvedev’s statement conflicts with Stoltenberg’s contemporaneous statement that, “This illustrates there are some challenges in the relationship between NATO and Russia. It is exactly these challenges that make it important to keep channels of political dialogue with Russia. They are open, we meet in different formats, on different levels, we meet at the ambassadors’ level in Brussels, and the NATO Russia Council meeting we are exploring to convene is at the ambassadors’ level. I met several times with Minister Lavrov. So we meet and we discuss. But so far we have not been able to agree on how to convene a NRC [the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission] meeting.”

“I’m afraid that Putin will create a really big crisis, like pick a fight with NATO,” stated Applebaum.

Such a crisis could include offensive action in the Baltic States, where there is a heavy concentration of ethnic Russians.  Ethnic Russians represent 14.3% of the Lithuanian population; 27.6% of Latvia’s population; and 24% of Estonia’s population.  Mr. Putin has previously stated that Russia has the right to intervene to protect the rights of ethnic Russians in neighbouring countries.

The United States is preparing for a Russian invasion in Ukraine or elsewhere in the Baltic region, as evidenced by a Pentagon statement that the United States was deploying an armored brigade to the Baltic region, with two more brigades to follow in 2017.

Considering such potentialities, NATO and Russia have agreed to meet.

“[T]here will be no return to business as usual until Russia again respects international law,” stated Stoltenberg.

The Game of Thrones

Irrespective of ideological differences, after the Cold War Era, Russia and the West shifted from the Doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction to that of Mutual Assured Security (MAS); where neither party has the intention or capability to exercise a unilateral advantage over the other.  It is now uncertain whether Russia intends to abide by MAS.

Conditions never favored full adaptation of MAS.  Celeste A. Wallander, an associate professor in the American University School of International Service, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia, explained:

The problem with the U.S. position is that Russia is not confident that conditions for strategic stability are met, and therefore they are not. Since strategic stability is a condition in which both parties are confident that each retains a secure retaliatory capability, if either is not confident, the equation is at risk. To put it another way, it does not help in a crisis.  If the United States is confident that no military strike could put Russia’s ability to retaliate at risk if Russia believes that it would have to preempt for survival.  Because Russian analysts take this seriously, U.S. policy needs to take this seriously.

“What we are dealing with is a conflict between a western philosophy in which international relations should be based on the Rule of Law, and the Russian one which tends to think in terms of power and zones of influence.  The view that the world order should be based on the rule of law, is very much the view of a militarily impotent Europe and more in particular that of small countries dependent on international trade such as the Netherlands.  The realistic school of American foreign policy on the other hand entertains no such illusions and views diplomacy as the application of power by nonmilitary means,” stated Joost Dirkzwager, a retired Kingdom of the Netherlands career diplomat.

That same analysis as to “zones of influence” can be applied to China, and to a lesser degree, India.  Although Russian and Chinese foreign and military policies differ radically, they operate under a similar ideology. While China is a superpower, Russia, due to its economic decline, is not.  Yet, the two countries are working together, with Beijing wielding the greater influence.

When read as a whole, not only does there exist the threat of conflict on European or even on United States soil and cyberwar with China and Russia but, there also exists a very real threat to the West of a new genre of warfare:  economic warfare.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is a journalist, holding degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries.  As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Living in Den Hague or The Hague, she is currently looking for a challenging position in foreign policy, journalism, or social justice.

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Benitez, Jorge, “Alliance at Risk | Strengthening European Defense in an Age of Turbulence and Competition”, February 26, 2016, Brent Snowcroft Center, Atlantic Council, as found on the www at http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/#.VtVjGSaHeg8.

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Masters, Jonathan, “The Russian Military”, September 28, 2016, Council on Foreign Relations, as found on the www at http://www.cfr.org/russian-federation/russian-military/p33758 (Russia was also suspended from the Group of Eight or G8, comprised of world’s seven of the world’s wealthiest nations and the European Union.).

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The Case for a Syrian Coalition Government

Syria1

Introduction

Syria belongs to the Syrian people.  That is the most basic of truths.  Syria must be returned to its people.

Historically, Syria goes back to the ‘era of the Levant’ and, in fact, Syria translates to Levant[i].  Levant is significant to the ideology and public relations campaign undertake by the IS, also referred to as ISIS and ISIL. So significant is Syria to IS, especially its oil rich fields, that IS established a second capital in the once modern Syrian city of Raqqa.

Syria’s capital of Damascus, an area yet to be devastated by IS, is one of mankind’s longest continuously inhabited cities. Damascus was also the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and of an Egyptian sultanate.  The concept of the Caliphate is central to IS’ current recruitment strategies.

Modern day Syria emerged after World War I.  Under its October 24, 1945 Constitution, it was formed as a democratized parliamentary republic, with a full range of constitutional protections, and it was accepted as a United Nations member nation.

Following several military coups, under a December 1, 1961 constitutional referendum, Syria formally became the Arab Republic of Syria.

In 1963, the Ba’ath Party staged a coup d’etat, placing it into power, a position it has held ever since.  From 1963 through 2011, Syria suspended the constitutional protections granted its citizens.  Since 1963, it has not been considered a democratized nation.

From 1973 to 2000, as a Ba’ath party member, Hafez al-Assad was President.  He was succeeded by his son, Bashar al-Assad, also a Ba’ath party member, who remains Syria’s current President al-Assad was re-elected in a June 2014 referendum election under circumspect polling conditions[ii].

The Onset of Civil War

Protests in Syria started on January 26, 2011. Protesters called for political reforms and the re-instatement of their civil rights, as well as an end to the state of emergency, suspending their constitutional rights, which had been in place since 1963.  Civil war broke out on March 25, 2011[iii].

After the inception of Syria’s civil war, the United States, the European Union, Canada and the majority of the Arab League[iv] all called for President al-Assad to resign his presidency[v].  Widespread economic sanctions and travel restrictions were rapidly imposed by the West.

As of late 2013, the best known of the over 100 factions operating in Syria were:

Amid mounting humanitarian crises [the best known being the refugee crises in the European Union [vi]], on-going terrorist attacks in Syria are minimally attributable to at least five groups:

  • ISIS;
  • Non-Sunni Muslim extremists;
  • The al-Nursa Front led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, involved in the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack and Osama bin Laden’ successor. It has been reported that al-Zawahiri and Bakr are at odds with one another;
  • Sunni Muslims, constituting the majority of the its population, who oppose existing the government; and
  • The Syrian government.

 All are involved at some level with the ISIS, which is and has been playing a leading role in Syria (Emphasis added) [vii].

The damage and methods by which it was so brutally inflicted was recently summarized as follows:

TOTAL CASUALTIES (MINIMUM ESTIMATES)

Estimates range from 100,000 to 150,000 killed (as of March 2014)

9 Million displaced

Human rights abuses that have been confirmed include but are not limited to:

Chemical Weapons attacks on civilian areas

Barrel bombing civilian areas

Widespread use of rape as a weapon of war

Summary executions of prisoners, including children

Mutilation and display of corpses, including crucifixion

Torture, including of children [viii]

As one commentator wrote this week:

By releasing dozens of al-Qaeda prisoners in mid-2011, Assad helped give birth to a thriving Islamist insurgency, including an al-Qaeda affiliate. By then adopting a deliberate policy of not targeting IS, Assad directly facilitated that group’s recovery and explosion into the transnational “Caliphate” movement it claims to be today.

Meanwhile, the Assad regime has conducted a consistent policy of intentional mass killing of civilians – first with air strikes and ballistic missiles, then with barrel bombs and widely alleged use of chemical weapons.

Bashar al-Assad has professionalised and industrialised the use of detention and torture to “cleanse” his own population, while imposing dozens of medieval-style sieges on vulnerable populations. He has consistently flouted UN Security Council resolutions and according to some sources, has been responsible for 95% of all 111,000 civilian deaths since 2011 [ix].

President al-Assad has been cited by the United Nations as having committed war crimes but the International Criminal Court has yet to take jurisdiction[x].  “Asked if he believed Mr Assad should face prosecution at the International Criminal Court, Mr Cameron said: “People who break international law should be subject to international law[xi].””

The Scattered Pieces of the Syrian Front

Over the last few months, President al-Assad’s position in Syria has become increasingly detrimentally impacted.  First, it was released that President al-Assad had lost control over the government’s last oil field[xii].

Second, amidst a mounting refugee crisis in the European Union and beyond, it was released that the Syrian government was facilitating the issuance of passports for citizens both in and outside of Syria[xiii].   Historically, passports were all but impossible to obtain.  It’s as if Syria government has no interest in seeing its people return home[xiv].  This is form of Scientific Racism known as ethnic cleansing.  Like genocide, ethnic cleansing is a war crime.  Like the Palestinian people, the Syrian people want the right to return to their homelands as it existed prior to conflict erupting.

Third, and most significantly, is Russia’s military build-up in Syria[xv].  Russia, whose economy was decimated in 2014 as a result of economic sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States[xvi], was left with two primary assets[xvii]. Military support, including the sale of weapons and the training of troops, and energy, both its natural resources and its willingness to build nuclear power plants.  In the sale of armaments, Russia is second only to the United States.  Russia has long been known as the primary purveyor of weapons to ISIS, also referred to as IS and ISIL.

What was concerning was a BBC News commentator who, in early September announced that given Russia’s relationship with President al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin could be a reliable bridge to the Syrian peace process whereas every other news report reflected growing international concern about Russia’s increasing military presence in Syria[xviii].

As early as September 5, 2015, “US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern to his Russian counterpart over reports of “an imminent enhanced Russian military build-up” in Syria[xix].” The day prior The New York Times reported “that US officials believed Russia had sent a military advance team to Syria[xx].”  Another report stated that Russian troops were actively engaging in combat alongside President Assad’s troops[xxi].

What we know for sure is that:

In the space of three weeks, Moscow has deployed at least 28 fighter jets, 14 helicopters, dozens of tanks, anti-aircraft missile systems and 2,000 troops into north-western Syria.

Russia’s claim that its forces are there only to target Islamic State should be taken with a large grain of salt [xxii].

“President Vladimir Putin has been coy on the subject, saying Russia is weighing various options, a statement that has fueled suspicions about the Kremlin’s intentions[xxiii].

That same news report opined as to President Putin’s intentions:

By playing with the possibility of joining the anti-IS coalition, Putin may hope to win a few key concessions. His main goal: the lifting of Western sanctions and the normalization of relations with the United States and the European Union, which have sunk to their lowest point since the Cold War amid the Ukrainian crisis. In addition, the Russian leader may be angling to make the West more receptive to Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, while retaining influence in Syria [xxiv].

The Pentagon has been a bit more outspoken:

The U.S. intelligence community now thinks Russia may have embarked on its military buildup in Syria because Moscow believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may not be able to hang onto power and it wants to position itself to back a proxy if the regime were to collapse. It is a view shared by the Pentagon, Defense officials told CNN [xxv].

The Future of Syria

            There are no commentators or governments of the belief that President al-Assad can hold on to his presidency without concerted international support.  While the West has called for President al-Assad’s removal since 2011, the question has recently arisen as to whether President al-Assad should play some role in a transitional government, with that question only having arisen as way to pacify President Putin.

The United States intelligence community has raised key questions about Syria’s future:

U.S. intelligence still sees al-Assad’s collapse as likely to be several months away, though he has been considerably weakened over this year after losing of significant territory and directing an army that is increasingly demoralized.

The United States is trying to assess whether figures in Syria still exist who might be able to step in should al-Assad fall, a senior U.S. official told CNN, but for now doesn’t see a clear leader or dissident who could garner enough support inside Syria to take power.

The United States is concerned about the preservation of basic social structures and services that still exist in Damascus should al-Assad fall, since the regime’s implosion could open the door to a humanitarian disaster if ISIS or al Qaeda-affiliated militias were to move in [xxvi].

The Case for a Coalition Government       

This paper started out with the premise that Syria belongs to the Syrian people to whom it must be returned.  However, with its constitution supplanted since the early 1960s and over 100 Syrian factions all competing for at least local, if not regional control[xxvii], it lacks the infrastructure necessary to conduct fair elections, let along implement national governance.

“”There has always been the idea that there will be a political transition and there are differing views between members of the international community… what the steps are in the process. That is where there is more discussion ongoing,” a senior British official said.”

            The Syrian crisis presents an opportunity for the international community to come together and devise an interim coalition government.  The composition of a coalition government has not yet been explored, or at least not publicly so.  Should such a concept be entertained, there must regional representation from within Syria, a mechanism by which the voice of its refugees can be heard, and a lack of involvement by the United Nations Security Council.

This author has excluded the United Nations Security Council as two of its permanent members – Russia and China – have failed to join collective or coalition peacekeeping efforts in Syria.  Rather, any vote representing the position of the United Nations member nations must come from its General Assembly.  This raises the ancillary question of whether the United Nations Charter must be amended[xxviii].

As the United Nations has been criticized for failing to give a greater regional voice to those most affected by its decisions, the Arab League may be the effective at offering its collective vote, regional expertise and other assistance to a coalition government.

In addition, NATO, and other coalition forces[xxix] should remain ‘stakeholders’ in Syria until such time as the Syrian people have the infrastructure necessary for self-governance and until it is rendered safe for those displaced Syrian people wanting to return to their homeland.  We can all learn from Afghanistan from which peacekeeping troops withdrew before the country was properly stabilized and prepared for independent self-governance, including safeguarding its citizens’ human rights.

This begets the question as to what role Russia would play in resolving the Syrian crisis[xxx] and, more particularly, what role, if any, it would play in a transitional, coalition government[xxxi].  The one factor the international community has weighed most heavily against Russian involvement is that Russia is still backing President al-Assad[xxxii].

__________________

References

[i] Lardner, Cynthia, “ISIS Gone Corporate”, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards,  June 19, 2015, as found on the www athttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/isis-gone-corporate-cynthia-lardner-deverouxcleary-1?trk=mp-reader-card

[ii] The 2000 and 2007 referenda elections were devoid of any opposing candidate “Bashar al-Assad wins re-election in Syria as uprising against him rages on”, June 4, 2014, The Guardian, as found on the www athttp://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/04/bashar-al-assad-winds-reelection-in-landslide-victory (“Assad captures another seven-year term after winning almost 90% of the vote, with polling only held in government-held areas…Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7%.”).

Conditions within Syria at the time of the election were not conducive to a fair election in which the majority of Syrian’s did not or could not vote.  “Syria: The story of the conflict,” December 8, 2014, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868 (“Almost 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the escalating conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule. Syria’s bloody internal conflict has destroyed entire neighbourhoods and forced more than nine million people from their homes.

A further 6.5 million people, 50% of them children, are believed to be internally displaced within Syria, bringing the total number forced to flee their homes to more than 9.5 million – half the country’s population. An estimated 10.8 million are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, with 4.6 million living in areas under siege or hard to access.”).

[iii] “Q&A: Syrian activist Suhair Atassi”, February 9, 2011, Al Jazeera, as found on the www athttp://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/2011/02/201129135657367367.html.

[iv] The Arab League consists of 22 members: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, State of Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.  Syria’s membership was suspended.  “Arab League suspends Syria”, November 12, 2011, CNN, as found on the www athttp://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/12/world/meast/syria-unrest/.

There are also four observer states:  Brasil, Venezuela, Eritrea, and India.

[v] Bassem Mroue, “Bashar Assad Resignation Called For By Syria Sit-In Activists”, April 18, 2011, The Huffington Post, Associated Press, as found on the www at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/18/bashar-assad-resignation-syria-protest_n_850657.html. See also “Syria: Mapping the conflict”, July 10 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22798391 (“Russia and the US disagree sharply on Syria. While Russia has backed the Syrian government, and provided it with arms, the US wants to see the removal of President Assad.”).

[vi] The European Union has received most of the Syrian refugees.

See eg Chappell, Bill, “Germany, France Announce Plans To Welcome Thousands Of Migrants”, September 7, 2015, NPR News, as found on the www athttp://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/07/438285460/germany-france-announce-plans-to-welcome-thousands-of-migrants?sc=17&f=1001&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ap(“After a weekend in which tens of thousands of Syrian war refugees and other migrants reached Austria and Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany is putting 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) toward coping with the influx, France has committed to receiving 24,000 migrants….”)

To date, the United States has only taken in approximately 1,000 Syrian refugees.  However, it recently indicated a statement that over the next twelve months, it would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.  Edwards, Julia, “U.S. to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees: White House,” September 11, 2015, Reuters, as found on the www at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/11/us-europe-migrants-whitehouse-idUSKCN0RA26220150911.

Conversely, the United States has born the greatest share of the cost in the fight against IS, with Great Britain’s expenditures falling second. “John Kerry to visit UK for Syria crisis talks,” September 15, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www athttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34264512 (“The US has allowed 1,500 Syrians to resettle since the start of the conflict, and the Obama administration has said a further 10,000 will be admitted over the next year.

According to the White House, the US is the single largest donor to the Syrian crisis response, having given over $4bn (£2.6bn) since it began.”).

[vii] Lardner, Cynthia, “ISIS Gone Corporate”, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards,  June 19, 2015, as found on the www athttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/isis-gone-corporate-cynthia-lardner-deverouxcleary-1?trk=mp-reader-card (Citations Omitted).

[viii] “IS, al-Qaeda, and how jihad uses chemical weapons,” September 16, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34262447.

[ix] Lister, Charles, “Viewpoint: West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria”, September 28, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34371501.

[x] Id.

[xi] “David Cameron to call for new Syria peace drive at UN”, September 27, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-34372286.

[xii] ISIL captures last government oilfield in Syria, September 7, 2015, Al Jazeera, as found on the www at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/isil-capture-parts-government-oilfield-syria-150907123935546.html; “ISIS captured Assad’s last oil field in Syria, activists say”, September 7, 2015, ABC News, as found on the www at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-captures-last-oil-field-under-syrian-control/.

[xiii] Dawar, Anil, “Alarm as Syria sells 10,000 passports with few questions asked,” September 11, 2015, Express, as found on the www athttp://www.express.co.uk/news/world/604394/Alarm-Syria-sells-10000-passports-few-questions-asked.

[xiv] “How The Assad Regime Pushes Syrians Out, Fueling Refugee Surge”, September 14, 2015, NPR News, as found on the www athttp://www.npr.org/2015/09/14/440327641/how-the-assad-regime-pushes-syrians-out-fueling-refugee-surge?sc=17&f=1004&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=app.

[xv] Arshad, Mohammed, and Irish, John, “Russia seizes initiative in Syria crisis; France bombs Islamic State”, September 28, 2015, Reuters, as found on the www at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/28/us-mideast-crisis-putin-usa-idUSKCN0RR0H820150928.

[xvi] Lardner, Cynthia, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards, April 9, 2015, as found on the www at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/game-thrones-meets-house-cards-geopoliticalmeltdown-cynthia?trk=mp-reader-card and at  https://cynthiamlardner.wordpress.com/game-of-thrones-geopolitical-meltdown/,

But see “Ukraine conflict: France hopes to end Russia sanctions”, September 7, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34174382 (“French President Francois Hollande has said that following recent ceasefire progress in Ukraine he hopes to see the end of sanctions against Russia.” This is a bilateral or mutually beneficial move as, “EU sanctions and a subsequent Russian embargo have hurt many French and European companies.”).

[xvii][xvii] A third possible asset of the Russian government is its relationship with its wealthy neighbor China.  Oddly, this relationship is not explored in a single news article discussing Russia’s involvement is Syria.  It is well known that China lacks the energy necessary for its own people.  Syria is rich in natural resources.

Whether coincidental or not, China has visibly increased is naval presence.  Russia has a naval base on Syrian soil where, thus far, only large shipments have been received.  See Tikhonova, Polina, “Has Russia Just Entered Syrian Civil War?”  September 5, 2015, Value Walk, as found on the www athttp://www.valuewalk.com/2015/09/has-russia-just-entered-syrian-civil-war/.  See also Petras, James, “The Two Faces of Capitalism and Left Options”, September 7, 2015, Global Research, as found on the www athttp://www.globalresearch.ca/the-two-faces-of-capitalism-and-left-options/5474315 (“The US has mobilized its EU followers to impose crippling economic sanctions on the Russian state and private enterprises in order to weaken its oligarchical ruling class under President Vladimir Putin, force ‘regime change’ and return Russia to the status of the pillaged vassal state under Boris Yeltsin (1990-2000).

Russia’s capitalist state, dependent on the oil and gas industries and western investments and markets, has responded by building up its military defenses. Faced with a US-imposed economic blockade and the growing militarization of US clients on Russia’s periphery, Moscow is finally developing local industries to substitute for EU and US imports and establishing alternative trading partnerships with capitalist China, India, Islamist Iran and the center-left regimes in Latin America.”)

The most obvious evidence of Russia’s presence in the Syrian Civil War emerged in November 2013, when Russian newspaper Fontanka published an article, exposing the Slavonic Corps, consisting of mercenaries sent to Syria to protect Assad’s infrastructure, particularly his oil wells.

[xviii] “Syria: Mapping the conflict”, July 10 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22798391 (In July, it was reported that “Russia has sent advisers and hardware to Syria [and] had despatched an advance military team to Syria, as well as housing units and an air traffic control centre to an airfield.)

[xix] “Fighting around key Syria town ‘leaves 47 dead’ – activists”, September 5, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34165761.

[xx] Id.

[xxi] Brennan, Christopher, “US warns Putin’s foreign minister against dangers of increased aid to Syria’s Assad as reports claim that Russia is setting up ‘forward operating base’ in war-torn country”, September 6, 2015, The Daily Mail, as found on the www at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3223951/US-warns-Putin-s-foreign-minister-against-dangers-increased-aid-Syria-s-Assad-reports-claim-Russia-setting-forward-operating-base-war-torn-country.html#ixzz3l9P1p8LA “Se(cretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister on Saturday and warned that increased presence could lead to greater loss of life

Call comes amid unconfirmed reports that soldiers speaking Russian have been seen fighting anti-government rebels in Russian-made vehicles

The United States has warned Moscow about dangers of increased aid to the Syrian government amid multiple reports that Russian soldiers had begun participating in the country’s civil war.”).

[xxii] Lister, Charles, “Viewpoint: West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria”, September 28, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34371501.

[xxiii] “Toying with Russian troop deployment to Syria, Putin appears ready to reset relations with US”. September 7, 2015, as found on the www athttp://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/09/07/toying-with-russian-troop-deployment-to-syria-putin-appears-ready-to-reset/.

[xxiv] Id. See also “Syria conflict: US presses Russia on military build-up,” Supra Endnote xxvii (“Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence correspondent opined:

Russia’s backing for Mr Assad should be seen not as a vote of confidence in Syria’s embattled president but as an investment in a country where Rmkussia believes it can play out its foreign-policy role.

Indeed Mr Putin’s military deployments signal that he will not let the Assad regime fall. This does not mean Mr Assad will be there forever.

[xxv] Starr, Barbara, “U.S.: Russia may be seeking proxy in case Syria’s Assad falls”, September 26, 2015, CNN Politics, as found on the www at http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/26/politics/syria-putin-russia-american-strategy/

[xxvi] Id.

[xxvii] “David Cameron to call for new Syria peace drive at UN”, September 27, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-34372286.

[xxviii] “A stronger UN: The Elders hold high-level talks in Liechtenstein”, September 7, 2015, The Elders, as found on the www athttp://www.theelders.org/article/stronger-un-elders-hold-high-level-talks-liechtenstein (Gro Harlem Brundtland, Deputy Chair of The Elders, said, “The UN is a vital part of our global security and governance infrastructure but it has to change – its present arrangements are neither normal nor reasonable.”).

[xxix] “Syria conflict: US presses Russia on military build-up,” September 16, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34263955 (“”Secretary Kerry also reaffirmed the US commitment to fight ISIL (Islamic State) with a coalition of more than 60 countries, of which Assad could never be a credible member, and emphasised the US would welcome a constructive Russian role in counter-ISIL efforts.”).

[xxx] “Syria conflict: Russia ‘to continue Assad military aid’”, September 15, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34256389 (“Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged continued military support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad despite growing concerns over Moscow’s role in the war… The US would prefer to see more “constructive engagement” from Russia with the coalition against so-called Islamic State (IS), spokesman Josh Earnest said.”).

See also Wagner, Laura, “Putin Defends Russian Military Support For Syrian Regime”, September 15, 2015, NPR News, as found on the www athttp://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/15/440578356/putin-defends-russian-military-support-for-syrian-regime?sc=17&f=1001&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=app (“Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended his decision to provide military assistance to the Syrian government, saying that cooperating with Bashar Assad’s regime is necessary in order to defeat ISIS…”)

[xxxi] Arshad, Mohammed, and Irish, John, “Russia seizes initiative in Syria crisis; France bombs Islamic State”, September 28, 2015, Reuters, as found on the www at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/28/us-mideast-crisis-putin-usa-idUSKCN0RR0H820150928 (“Russia appeared to seize the initiative in international efforts to end the conflict in Syria…U.S. officials said Kerry was working on a new political initiative in New York that would include Russia and key regional powers.

It was announced in Baghdad that Russian military officials were working with counterparts from Iran, Syria and Iraq on intelligence and security cooperation to counter Islamic State, which has captured large areas of both Syria and Iraq.

The move was seen in the region as potentially giving Moscow more sway in the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin derided U.S. efforts to end the Syria war, which has driven a tide of refugees into neighboring states and Europe.

“We would welcome a common platform for collective action against the terrorists,” Putin said in an interview on Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

The United States, Britain and some other allies in recent days have softened demands that Assad immediately leave power, raising the possibility that he could stay during a transition.”).

[xxxii] Bays, James, “Russia steps up Syria support ‘to stop fall of Assad’”, September 26, 2015, Al Jazeera, as found on the www at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/russia-troops-syria-stop-imminent-fall-assad-150926180925801.html (“Russia intends to step up its military involvement in Syria to prevent the “imminent” collapse of the Syrian government, the EU’s foreign policy chief [Federica Mogherini] has told Al Jazeera.”).