Category Archives: Russia

Domodedovo Airport

Video from Robert Mackey in NYT

BBC News:

Moscow’s Domodedovo airport has been rocked by a bomb explosion that an airport spokesman says has killed 35 people.

More than 100 people were injured – 20 of them critically – by the blast, which reports suggest was the work of a suicide bomber.

Russia’s chief investigator said terrorists were behind the attack.

The airport – the busiest serving Russia’s capital – is 40km (25 miles) south-east of the city centre.

President Dmitry Medvedev vowed those behind the attack would be tracked down.

He ordered increased security across Russia’s capital, its airports and other transport hubs, and called an emergency meeting with top officials. He also postponed his planned departure for this week’s World Economic Forum at Davos.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said immediate suspicion about Monday’s attack would fall on militants from the Caucasus region.

Militant groups fighting in the Caucasus know how important the perception that the president and prime minister provide a secure society is, and to undermine that is a key aspect of their aims, adds our correspondent.

Last March the Russian capital’s underground system was rocked by two female suicide bombers from Russia’s volatile Dagestan region, who detonated their explosives on the busy metro system during rush hour, killing 40 people and injuring more than 80.

Ed Morrissey:

Update: Reuters also reports 10 dead, 20 injured, and that it was a suicide bomber:

At least 10 people were killed and 20 injured in a suicide bomb blast at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport Monday, Interfax news agency reported.

Update II: The AP was a little more cautious, saying that “no immediate word” on a cause had been given and not offering anything more specific than “at least 20 casualties.”

Update III: At the same link, the AP now says 23 are dead and are now including the likelihood of it being a suicide-bomber attack.

Update IV: The AP now puts the death toll to 31, with 130 injured.  They also note that Domodedovo had a reputation for lax security:

Domodedovo is generally regarded as Moscow’s most up-to-date airport, but its security procedures have been called into question.

In 2004, two suicide bombers were able to board planes at Domodedovo by buying tickets illegally from airport personnel. The bombers blew themselves up in mid-air, killing all 90 people aboard the two flights.

At least according to today’s reports, it’s also the busiest airport in Moscow, which makes it an even bigger target.

Doug Mataconis:

The most obvious suspects here would seem to be the Chechens, who have shown an ability to carry out spectacular, and deadly, terrorist attacks throughout Russia and even in Moscow itself many times over the past decade.

Michelle Malkin:

The NYTimes report doesn’t even bother to mention how Russia has been plagued by Islamic jihadist attacks.

But that’s par for the course.

The Jawa Report:

Now taking bets. The culprit is:

a. Tea Party Member

b. Someone incited by Sarah Palin’s violent rhetoric

c. A Christian

d. all of the above

e. None of the above (it wouldn’t be PC to define it)

[Update] Death toll now at 31 35. Russian President has already called the attack an act of terrorism. (In the U.S., authorities would insist it had no terrorist link until right-wing bloggers discovered direct and indisputable evidence that it was.)

Still no word – or even a hint – on motivation.

John Hinderaker at Powerline

The Gateway Pundit

Aaron Worthing at Patterico:

There are some reports around that this is a suicide bombing, which suggests a terrorist organization like al Qaeda is behind it.  But to be blunt the last time we had a breaking news story like that, the Safeway Massacre, very little of what was believed at first turned out to be true.  I mean Ms. Giffords can now use that familiar Twain joke “the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  The fact that those rumors were published in major media outlets is correctly seen as an embarrassment.

So, take everything you are hearing as a “penciled in” report.  All of it could be wrong.  But hopefully as time goes on we will sort it out and I will try to update this post as details get clearer.

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Let Me Not Stand Next To Your Fire

Julia Ioffe at The New Yorker:

The smoke is gone for now, but the peat bogs are still boiling, and the forests are burning. As of Thursday morning, 484,000 acres of forest were burning, 17,000 more than the day before. Fifty people have reportedly died in the fires—this on top of the unknown number of deaths from temperatures higher than anything ever recorded in Western Russia. More than two thousand homes have been destroyed. All around the capital, twelve thousand peat bogs are slowly simmering, sending toxic clouds of carbon-rich smoke into the city. Alexander Chuchalin, the chief pulmonologist of Russia (who knew they had such a thing?), said that the air in the capital has gotten so bad that it was like all Muscovites had become chain smokers overnight. Current levels of carbon monoxide, he said, “damage an average of 20 percent of red blood cells in a human body, which equals to the effect of two packs of cigarettes smoked within three or four hours,” he told a news conference.

Dr. Chuchalin made this statement last Wednesday, a day that smelled vaguely of barbecue. This week, just after midnight Tuesday, the mesquite smell returned. By 4 A.M., Moscow was enveloped in a heavy fog, one that didn’t lift. By Wednesday afternoon, visibility had dropped to a hundred yards. The smoke had penetrated the city’s deepest Metro stations, which had been used as bomb shelters during the Second World War. A fine grit coated parked cars. Chests rasped, eyes watered. But Muscovites who ventured out into the thick pewter cloud soldiered on without masks. “No, we are Russians,” a nurse told my friend Miriam Elder, reporting for GlobalPost. “We believe in luck.”

Elder travelled to one of the worst-hit areas, eighty-some miles southeast of Moscow, near Ryazan. “With three colleagues, I left Moscow at 7 a.m. and got to the hospital in Moscow at 7 p.m. Twelve hours and not one moving fire truck, army truck, official emergencies ministry vehicle.” (Elder could have used help herself; she sank into a boiling sandpit, getting second-degree burns on the soles of her feet.)

This scene is playing out all over the Russian countryside, which, as always, is suffering far more than Moscow. Villagers received no fire warnings. When the fires started approaching, some had trouble reaching the local authorities. Others begged for buses to help evacuate their villages, were told to fend for themselves. Fire trucks didn’t come, either, and then their homes, made of wood, were gone in minutes. The forestry minister, meanwhile, is on his August vacation, and has no plans to cut it short.

The government’s response has been a disaster, and the people are blaming their local officials—but not the very top. When a mob of irate women descended on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, they weren’t mad at him; they were demanding that he, as one woman put it, “string [local officials] up by the balls.”

More Ioffe at Foreign Policy

Ann-Dorit Boy at Spiegel Online:

The wind had been merciful during the night. By Thursday morning the thick, acrid smoke over the center of the Russian capital had cleared — just a little. “Look, you can even see the sky!” said newspaper vendor Natasha Ivanova. The previous day at this time she couldn’t see further than 100 meters beyond her little kiosk in front of the Paveletskaya metro station.

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The city’s high rises remained cloaked in a wall of smog, and hot gusts of wind blew down the streets. Knowing that at any moment another cloud of burning smoke could descend upon Moscow, Natasha carried one of the protective face masks that can be purchased at local supermarkets in her bag. The fires around the city and across large parts of Russia are still not under control.On Wednesday, smoke from the massive Russian forest fire catastrophe that has engulfed the country reached the capital. The worst smog the city has seen in decades engulfed the city of 10 million like a white smoke screen. The smog even seeped into the metro stations deep underground. The mass-circulation newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda described apocalyptic scenes reminiscent of horror movies.

Wet Cloths and Camomile Tea

People pushed masks and wet cloths against their mouths and noses, even though this did little to protect them from the poisonous air. Doctors have warned that the air pollution is 10 times worse than normal. And the concentration of toxic carbon monoxide has reached levels that can be dangerous even to healthy people.

The health authorities have urged Muscovites to stay at home and wash out burning eyes with camomile tea. Russia’s chief medical officer, Gennadi Onishenko, advised employers to let their employees stay away from work wherever possible.

But such advice isn’t very helpful to newspaper vendor Natasha. The woman, in her mid-30s, has to set up her stall even in the midst of thick smog. If she doesn’t work, she won’t be able to pay her rent. She has read warnings that within a few hours one can inhale as many toxins as those contained in 40 cigarettes. “That is terrible,” the redheaded woman sighed. “But there is no getting away from it.”

For almost 10 days fires have been burning in forests across much of Russia and, particularly in the region surrounding Mosow, in dried-out peat bogs. The fires have been increasingly impossible to contain.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up. Fisher with his own blog post:

Because much of Western Russia has been stricken with record temperatures and weeks of drought, it is exceedingly difficult for officials to predict where the next wildfire will begin or how quickly it will spread. At least 40 people have died so far trying to escape the fires. The casualties almost included these four young Russian men, who videotaped their flight out of a smoldering wildfire in the Nizhny Novgorod oblast:


The men, who at one point remark that the road itself is on fire, quickly turn from awe-struck to panicked once they realize that they are stuck. They briefly debate fleeing on foot but agree that leaving the car would block the road and doom the people in the cars behind them. They return the car to the road and finally emerge from the worst of the blaze. One of the men comments, “it was like being in hell.”

The most revealing moment of the video comes near the end when, after driving through for several minutes in near-black darkness, the car emerges from the smoke to show a blue, daytime sky. Many of the fires are burning peat bogs, producing a dark, heavy smoke that is extremely difficult to navigate. As the fires spread to Russia’s many bogs, evacuations will continue to be as chaotic, frightening, and dangerous as the one in the video above.

Paul Goble at Eurasian Review:

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In an essay posted online today, Sergey Robaten, Vadim Tatur, and Maksim Kalashnikov argue that the fires and the inability of the powers that be to contain and extinguish them is the result not of the drought and hot weather but “the inaction of bureaucrats” and the earlier destruction of the all-Russia fire service (forum-msk.org/material/economic/3803305.html).

After Putin eliminated the national fire service and transferred responsibility for fighting fires to those renting state property and the subjects of the federation, the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics of the Russian Academy of Sciences warned that “the first dry year after the liquidation of the system of forest protection would become a catastrophe” for Russia.

The assumption of those responsible for what has happened, the three Moscow commentators say, was that owners or renters would spend the money necessary to prevent forest fires, an assumption that might be true in other countries like Sweden but that did not reflect Russian realities where companies were seeking to make quick profits.

Moreover, the three report, the Keldysh Institute scholars three years ago concluded that “if Russia raised the effectiveness of its system of combating forest fires to the level of the Canadian, then the area of fires and the losses of them could be reduced more than ten times.” But they ask, then what would the Emergency Situations Ministry have to do?

The Russian system of protecting forests from fires, which existed until January 1, 2007, was inherited from Soviet times. And its operations, the three commentators say, were based on the longstanding principle that “the earlier a fire is discovered, the smaller the resources needed to put it out.”
It had a national monitoring system of people on the ground, one that was extremely effective but cost “tens” or even “hundreds” of times less

than the satellite and aerial monitoring the new system required. Not surprisingly, officials interested in gaining access to budget funds preferred the latter, despite the dangers the new system entailed.

Among those, the three point out, is that the new system often fails to detect small fires early on, and then these fires spread, the situation is often out of control. But Moscow’s misplaced confidence in those exploiting the forces and in the power of new technology also had the effect of leading the regime to ignore new fire-fighting technologies.

As a result, they say, at present, “subdivisions of the Emergency Situations Ministry are not prepared for an effective and rapid extinguishing of forest fires because they do not have either adequate means of monitoring or knowledge or the necessary techniques and technology” even these are widely known among Russian as well as foreign specialists.

Top Lap at Live Journal

Alexandra Odynova at The Moscow Times:

Taking a new tact in fighting wildfires, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday granted a fire bell to a blogger who published a profanity-laden post accusing the government of incompetence.

In a rare deviation from his tough public image, Putin said he agreed with the blogger’s harsh criticism, which included a dig at President Dmitry Medvedev by asking, “Why the [expletive] do we need an innovation center in Skolkovo if we don’t have common firefighting vehicles?”

Medvedev hopes to create a Russian version of Silicon Valley at Skolkovo, outside Moscow.

Unlike Medvedev, Putin is not known for being technologically savvy, and his first known reply to a blogger smacks of populism ahead of the 2012 presidential election, an analyst said.

The LiveJournal blogger, known only by the nickname top_lap, complained in a post Sunday about lax fire safety measures in an unidentified village 153 kilometers away from Moscow in the Kalyazin district of the Tver region, where he said his dacha is located.

“With the [expletive] communists, who are scolded by everyone, there were three fire ponds in the village, a bell that tolled when a fire began, and — guess what — a firetruck,” the blogger wrote in the 600-word post titled “Do You Know Why We’re on Fire?”

He said everything changed when “the democrats” came to power, with authorities replacing the bell with a village telephone and filling the ponds with sand.

“Give me back my [expletive] fire bell, you [expletive], and take away your goddamn telephone,” the blogger wrote.

The blogger also suggested that his tax money be directed toward a firetruck.

A copy of the post, which has ignited a flurry of attention in the Russian blogosphere, was forwarded to Putin by Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy radio.

The post, Venediktov wrote to Putin, is a typical and “not overly sharp” example of the public criticism that the government is facing as it struggles to extinguish the wildfires.

“I knew I was taking a risk,” Venediktov told The Moscow Times. “I purposely sent the text of the post to Putin, not Medvedev, because I know for sure that Medvedev really reads blogs on the Internet himself, while Putin would never see that post himself.”

Vyacheslav Solovyov at Voice Of Russia:

According to data from American surveillance satellites, the smoke from Russia’s wildfires has climbed to 12 kilometres in places and formed a wide band stretching from the Urals to the border with Belarus.

More than 160 thousand Russian firefighters, volunteers and soldiers continue to battle raging wildfires, which have already destroyed thousands of houses and claimed over 50 lives. There are nearly 600 blazes in 17 regions, seven of which have been declared federal disaster areas.

Moscow stays smothered with wildfire smog, which is not expected to go away before Tuesday. The atmospheric carbon monoxide is at 6 and a half times the maximum physiologically acceptable level.

As Russia is battling wildfires, Pakistan and China are dealing with the aftermath of catastrophic floods, and countries in Latin America, shuddering in the wake of sharp wintry snaps with snow and frost.

A climatic imbalance in evidence pushes the issue of global climatic security to the fore, to be addressed equally seriously with the food and the energy security.

The root causes of the imbalance are a matter of scientific dispute. While some continue to blame unusually strong outbursts of energy on the Sun, others, in an overwhelming majority camp, speak about global warming caused by a man-made build-up of greenhouse gases.

Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge:

For all those curious to see just what an entire country on fire looks like, the University of Maryland Fire Information for Resource Management Services provides an interactive map of all currently raging fires in Russia. With Moscow temperatures projected to hit 40 Celsius today (and stay there for at least the next few days), and visibility in the Russian capital down to double digits, now that the surrounding smoke has been blown in via increasing winds, grain exports and surging food prices may soon be the least of the country’s worries… at least for those unlucky enough to have been a part of the CIS privatization mafia better known nowadays as Russia’s resource tycoon billionaires. All those with Google Earth can download the interactive KML map at the following link. (Google Earth can be downloaded here)

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Mitt Writes An Op-Ed

Mitt Romney in WaPo:

Given President Obama’s glaring domestic policy missteps, it is understandable that the public has largely been blinded to his foreign policy failings. In fact, these may have been even more damaging to America’s future. He fought to reinstate Honduras’s pro-Chávez president while stalling Colombia’s favored-trade status. He castigated Israel at the United Nations but was silent about Hamas having launched 7,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip. His policy of “engagement” with rogue nations has been met with North Korean nuclear tests, missile launches and the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, while Iran has accelerated its nuclear program, funded terrorists and armed Hezbollah with long-range missiles. He acceded to Russia’s No. 1 foreign policy objective, the abandonment of our Europe-based missile defense program, and obtained nothing whatsoever in return.

Despite all of this, the president’s New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New-START) with Russia could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet. The treaty as submitted to the Senate should not be ratified.

New-START impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferating rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. Its preamble links strategic defense with strategic arsenal. It explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites. And Russia has expressly reserved the right to walk away from the treaty if it believes that the United States has significantly increased its missile defense capability.

Hence, to preserve the treaty’s restrictions on Russia, America must effectively get Russia’s permission for any missile defense expansion. Moscow’s vehemence over our modest plans in Eastern Europe demonstrate that such permission would be extremely unlikely.

The treaty empowers a Bilateral Consultative Commission with broad latitude to amend the treaty with specific reference to missile defense. New START does something the American public would never countenance and the Senate should never permit: It jeopardizes our missile defense system.

The treaty also gives far more to the Russians than to the United States. As drafted, it lets Russia escape the limit on its number of strategic nuclear warheads. Loopholes and lapses — presumably carefully crafted by Moscow — provide a path to entirely avoid the advertised warhead-reduction targets. For example, rail-based ICBMs and launchers are not mentioned. Similarly, multiple nuclear warheads that are mounted on bombers are effectively not counted. Unlike past treaty restrictions, ICBMs are not prohibited from bombers. This means that Russia is free to mount a nearly unlimited number of ICBMs on bombers — including MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) or multiple warheads — without tripping the treaty’s limits. These omissions would be consistent with Russia’s plans for a new heavy bomber and reports of growing interest in rail-mobile ICBMs.

Under New START, the United States must drastically reduce our number of launchers but Russia will not — it already has fewer launchers than the treaty limits. Put another way: We give, Russia gets. And more troubling, the treaty fails to apply the MIRV limits that were part of the prior START treaty. Again, it may not be coincidental that Russia is developing a new heavy-load — meaning MIRV-capable — ICBM.

New-START gives Russia a massive nuclear weapon advantage over the United States. The treaty ignores tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia outnumbers us by as much as 10 to 1. Obama heralds a reduction in strategic weapons from approximately 2,200 to 1,550 but fails to mention that Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella. And who can know how those tactical nuclear warheads might be reconfigured? Astonishingly, while excusing tactical nukes from the treaty, the Obama administration bows to Russia’s insistence that conventional weapons mounted on ICBMs are counted under the treaty’s warhead and launcher limits.

By all indications, the Obama administration has been badly out-negotiated. Perhaps the president’s eagerness for global disarmament led his team to accede to Russia’s demands, or perhaps it led to a document that was less than carefully drafted.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

You can find The Heritage Foundation’s work on the treaty here, including The New START Working Group’s Independent Assessment of New START.

Dan Riehl:

Mitt Romney goes after Obama on foreign policy in the Washington Post. He’s correct on START as negotiated being a non-starter. That was clear a month or two ago when the negotiations wrapped up.

What I find more interesting is the politics Romney is pursuing. He’s been playing the usual game for a potential 2012 nominee. Raising money, campaigning for candidates in this or that race. Mostly pure establishment stuff that builds a network, but does less to stay engaged with the base.

So, today it’s time for Romney to show some foreign policy chops and engage the masses. And as politicians have done for decades, he takes to the Post. Of course, he could have simply posted to a Facebook page. But that wouldn’t be good establishment politics. And Romney’s establishment rep could be one of his biggest obstacles assuming he’s serious about 2012. In a new media and political world, Romney looks decidedly old, though I did support him in 2008.

Marc Ambinder:

Unlike other potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney does not approach every potential political target as if he were carrying a machine gun on hair trigger alert.

That has allowed him to stay quiet when fellow Republicans try to outshout each other.  Romney has stuck a few core issues, like the economy and foreign policy. He mostly avoided the health care debate, if only to try and minimize the comparisons Republicans made to his 2006 health care law. On social issues, he’s kept mum. If he decides to run for president, it will be in the mold of a conservative pragmatist grounded in American exceptionalism, a topic that has fascinated Romney for years.  Mr. Romney subscribes to the point of view that a strong America is not an America that humbles itself; that Obama’s penchant for finding non zero sum opportunities in the post 9-11 world is naive.  Romney is not a native speaker of this language, but he has surrounded himself with advisers who speak nothing else.

When Romney does choose to intervene in the political debate, it is often with great care. His op-ed in this morning’s New York Post uses some of his starkest language to date, calling Obama’s START treaty with Russia his “worst foreign policy mistake yet.”  Does he believe opposition to Senate ratification is a political winner?  As the privately acknowledged “invisible primary” frontrunner, is he attempting to use what leverage he has to make sure that his party does not capitulate on this issue, depriving him of the chance to draw a clear contrast with Obama?  Or does he see this as an opportunity to burnish his foreign policy chops ahead of 2012? (I’ll have a post later that goes into the substance of his op-ed.)

Daniel Larison here and here. Larison:

How many dishonest and misleading things can Mitt Romney pack into one op-ed? There are a few. Romney’s first lie was remarkably brazen even for him:

He [Obama] castigated Israel at the United Nations but was silent about Hamas having launched 7,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip.

Neither of these things happened. One will look in vain for any speech Obama has ever given in which he actually castigated Israel, but it is even more certain that he never did this at the U.N. Castigate means censure, and if there is one thing Obama has never done it is censure Israel. The only thing Obama has been silent about with regard to Gaza was the excessive military operations Israel launched there immediately before he took office. A couple sentences later, Romney lies about missile defense in Europe:

He acceded to Russia’s No. 1 foreign policy objective, the abandonment of our Europe-based missile defense program, and obtained nothing whatsoever in return.

The missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic were scrapped, and they have since been replaced by proposed new installations in southeastern Europe. Unlike the previous plan, which guarded against non-existent Iranian ICBMs, this one could theoretically defend against medium-range missiles that Iran actually has. So missile defense in Europe has not been abandoned, and despite what Moscow may say the Prague treaty apparently does not rule out missile defense, either, so Romney is complaining about something that hasn’t happened.

Romney repeats a common misrepresentation of the Prague treaty, which is that it “impedes missile defense.” Dr. Jeffrey Lewis had a very useful review of the relevant parts of the new treaty that he wrote earlier this year, and his conclusion is worth citing here:

I think it is very hard to conclude that the treaty “limits” missile defenses. The treaty may have some implications for missile defense programs, but on the whole it is written in such a way as to create space for current and planned missile defense programs, including language that exempts interceptors from the definition of an ICBM [bold mine-DL] and the provision to “grandfather” the converted silos at Vandenberg.

Still, I suspect we will continue hear from some quarters that the treaty “limits” missile defense. This is a form of special pleading. The common-sense test is that no one would claim that the treaty “limits” conventional bombers, despite some provisions to separate conventional bombers from their nuclear-equipped brethren. By any consistent standard, the treaty limits neither.

As for Romney’s objection that the treaty “explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites,” Dr. Lewis makes what seems like a very sensible observation:

The advantages of this are obvious: otherwise, you would have Russian inspectors crawling all over US missile defense interceptors to ensure they weren’t stocked with contraband treaty-limited equipment.

In other words, this is something that seems like a concession but which could actually aid the development of missile defense.

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb recently wrote an op-ed in support of the treaty that addressed the missile defense question:

While some have alleged that the New START treaty will inhibit missile defense, this claim has been strongly refuted by Republican elder statesmen in their Senate testimony on the treaty. Former Secretary of State James Baker stated plainly, “There is, in fact, no restriction on the United States of America’s ability to move forward on missile defense in whatever way it wants.” Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft was equally direct, testifying, “The treaty is amply clear, it does not restrict us … I don’t think there’s substance to this argument.”

In fact, Baker and Scowcroft are joined in supporting the treaty by almost every senior Republican national security leader from the past three decades, including Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Schlesinger, George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and the Senate’s foremost current expert on nuclear policy, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. They are joined by leading Democratic national security leaders, such as former Defense Secretary William Perry and former senator Nunn.

Romney’s other objections are more technical, but they don’t appear to be much better. One of the standard objections to the new treaty has been that warhead reduction could do Russia a favor, because Russia does not want the expense of maintaining such a large arsenal, but Romney claims instead that loopholes in the treaty will permit a Russian build-up of warheads. For Romney’s objections to mean very much, one would have to believe that Russia is intent on a massive arms build-up and is looking for some means to achieve this without formally violating arms control agreements. In fact, the more substantive criticism that advocates of disarmament could make against the treaty is that there are not going to be many reductions at all on either side, and the loopholes in the treaty will permit both governments to maintain their arsenals near their current levels:

Due to the loophole, the United States could avoid counting roughly 450 of its 2,100 presently deployed warheads, while around 860 weapons in Russia’s 2,600-warhead arsenal would not be counted, Kristensen said. As a result, the United States would only need to place 100 deployed warheads in storage and Russia would only need to remove 190 weapons.

It is therefore quite difficult to credit Romney’s claim that “New-START gives Russia a massive nuclear weapon advantage over the United States.” Were that to happen, the same withdrawal provision in Article XIV of the treaty that Russia could exercise could also be exercised by the United States. If we view the Prague treaty as a beginning rather than a dramatic accomplishment on its own, we could then build on it to negotiate reductions in tactical nuclear weapons. Rejecting the treaty because it has not solved every arms reduction problem in one move is just the sort of short-sighted opportunism we have come to expect from Romney and other leading Republicans when it comes to important matters of U.S. foreign policy.

Fred Kaplan at Slate:

Let’s take his rant—critique is too serious a word—line by line.

“New-START impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferation rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. Its preamble links strategic defense with strategic arsenal.”

Aside from the bad grammar and the suggestion that Romney’s ghostwriter was taking dictation over a poor phone line (he should have written “links strategic defense with strategic offense,” not “strategic arsenal,” which makes no sense), the first sentence is false, and the second is irrelevant.

There is nothing in the treaty that places any limits on the U.S. missile-defense program. (And several generals, many with a vested interest in the program, have so testified before the Senate foreign relations and armed services committees.)

Yes, the treaty’s preamble notes that there is a relationship between strategic defense and strategic offense. This is Arms Control 101. If both sides drastically reduce their offensive nuclear weapons, while one side greatly builds up its defensive weapons, then that side could (theoretically) launch a disarming first strike and, moments later, shoot down what’s left of the other side’s missiles as they’re launched in retaliation. The essence of nuclear deterrence—and strategic stability—is to maintain the ability to retaliate in kind to a first strike. Very small offensive forces, combined with very large defensive forces, erode deterrence and create a “destabilizing” situation.

However, we are far from this state of affairs. New START leaves each side with 1,550 nuclear warheads; the Pentagon’s missile-defense program envisions a few dozen anti-missile interceptors.

More to the point, as is the case with all treaties, preambles are not legally binding. In response to the Russians’ unilateral statement, President Obama’s negotiators added one of their own, noting that U.S. missile defenses “are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia,” but rather to defend against “limited missile launches” by “regional threats” and, to that end, the United States will continue “improving and deploying” its missile-defense systems.

“[New START] explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites.”

That’s right. But Romney doesn’t note that the managers of the missile-defense program say, privately and publicly, that they have no plan—and see no advantage—in doing this sort of conversion.

“And Russia has expressly reserved the right to walk away from the treaty if it believes that the United States has significantly increased its missile defense capability.”

This is true, but, as is the case with all treaties, Russia and the United States expressly reserve the right to withdraw for any reason if they believe it endangers their “supreme interests.” President George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Treaty under such a clause. Any president, Russian or American, can pull out of this treaty, too, with three months’ notice. (See Article XIV, Section 3.)

However, the Russians would have to consider the following: If they did withdraw from the treaty, that would probably aggravate tensions to the point where the United States would probably accelerate missile-defense deployments and perhaps resume an offensive arms buildup, too—a resumption that we can afford a lot more than they can.

“The treaty empowers a Bilateral Consultative Commission with broad latitude to amend the treaty with specific reference to missile defense.

This is silly. Previous arms treaties—negotiated by Democrats and Republicans—have created similar commissions. This one, like the others, has no “broad latitude to amend the treaty.” In fact, Article XV of New START states explicitly that the commission can make no changes that affect “substantive rights and obligations.” Its purpose, as noted in several other sections (Articles V and XIII of the treaty, Part VI of its protocol), is to “resolve any ambiguities that may arise” over the 10 years that it remains in effect. These articles contain no “specific reference to missile defense,” by the way.

“The treaty also gives far more to the Russians than to the United States. As drafted, it lets Russia escape the limit on its number of strategic nuclear warheads.”

Again, there might have been some static on the phone line. The treaty does let Russia get by without cutting any of its strategic “delivery vehicles” (missiles and bombers). Each side is limited to 700, but Russia right now has only 600; the United States has 850, so it will have to cut back a little. However, both sides will have to reduce their warheads—the actual nuclear weapons—to 1,550. And, for what it’s worth, Russia, which now has 2,787 warheads, will have to cut back more than the United States, which now has 2,252.

“For example, rail-based ICBMs and launchers are not mentioned.”

First, neither Russia nor the United States has any rail-based ICBMs or launchers. Second, the treaty does deal with mobile ICBMs, in two ways. Article IV, Section 1 states that ICBMs can be deployed “only at ICBM bases.” If, in some perverse wordplay, the Russians claim that a railroad line is a “base,” Article III, Section 5b notes that an ICBM is counted under the treaty’s limits the moment it leaves the production facility (which other sections of the treaty place under constant monitoring); it doesn’t matter where the missile goes afterward, it’s still counted as an ICBM. So while mobile missiles might not be “mentioned” by the treaty, they are, in effect, restricted.

“Similarly, multiple nuclear warheads that are mounted on bombers are effectively not counted. Unlike past treaty restrictions, ICBMs are not prohibited from bombers. This means that Russia is free to mount a nearly unlimited number of ICBMs on bombers—including MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) or multiple warheads—without tripping the treaty’s limits.”

This is where I began to wonder if Romney had fallen prey to someone, perhaps a spy from Sarah Palin’s camp, who wanted to make him look like an idiot.

ICBMs are not “mounted on,” or loaded inside, bombers. The only nuclear weapons carried by bombers are bombs; that’s why they’re called bombers. (Many years ago, some B-52s and B-1s were equipped with air-launched cruise missiles, which flew through the atmosphere, as opposed to intercontinental ballistic missiles, which arc outside the atmosphere. These ALCMs are almost completely phased out, in any case.) Certainly bombers are incapable of carrying MIRVs (which, by the way, are “multiple warheads” loaded onto the tips of missiles).

I think Romney’s ghostwriter might have mixed up one of his talking points. New START counts each bomber as if it is carrying just one nuclear bomb, even though it almost certainly carries several. This counting rule was established for practical reasons. A bomber might carry three bombs one day, a dozen the next, with no need to alter its design. There’s no way to verify how many it’s carrying. So they agreed just to count one bomber as one bomb.

The thing is, this counting rule is to the United States’ advantage, not Russia’s. We have 113 heavy bombers; they have 77. So, if this is what Romney’s ghostwriter meant to take note of, it’s not a problem with the treaty, not from the U.S. point of view.

“Under New START, the United States must drastically reduce our number of launchers but Russia will not—it already has fewer launchers than the treaty limits. Put another way: We give, Russia gets.”

As noted above, this is irrelevant. Both sides do have to reduce the number of warheads, which is to say weapons, and Russia has to cut more than the United States does.

“The treaty ignores tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia outnumbers us by as much as 10 to 1.… Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella. And who can know how those tactical nuclear warheads might be reconfigured?”

True, the treaty does not limit tactical nuclear weapons. But this isn’t a gotcha point; both sides explicitly recognize this fact. Obama hopes to tackle the issue in a follow-on treaty, though doing so will be very hard, since Russia regards its tactical nukes as a counterweight to U.S. conventional military superiority.

Still, three points need to be made here. First, a Senate rejection of the treaty won’t limit tactical nuclear weapons, either. If the choice is to ratify the treaty or reject it, the point is irrelevant. Second, the “nuclear umbrella”—the U.S. commitment to threaten enemies with nuclear retaliation if they attack our allies—is unaffected by the presence of Russian tactical nukes; the rough parity in strategic (or long-range) nuclear weapons is far more decisive. Third, I know of no source claiming that Russia has 10,000 tactical nukes. The number is classified (and probably not precisely known by anyone, perhaps including the Russians), but the real number is believed to be about 2,000, compared with the United States’ 500 (and no serious strategist or military officer believes we need anywhere close to that many for any purpose).

Steve Benen:

Some very strong responses to Romney’s piece have already been published by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and the Center for American Progress’ Max Bergmann, but perhaps the most detailed, point-by-point refutation comes by way of Slate‘s Fred Kaplan, who exposed Romney’s piece as vapid nonsense.

In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and—let’s not mince words—thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney’s attack on the New START treaty in the July 6 Washington Post.

Senate Republicans are looking for some grounds — any grounds — to defeat this treaty, which was signed in April by President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, and which will soon come to the Senate floor for a vote.

Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, clearly feels the need to pump up some foreign-policy swagger in advance of the 2012 presidential primaries. But one would think he could have found a ghostwriter who had even the vaguest acquaintance with the subject matter.

Kaplan literally goes line by line, in as thorough a take-down as I’ve seen in quite a while. Romney is left looking like a fool.

In the larger context, my biggest concern is that opposition to the treaty will become a standard Republican move to prove one’s right-wing bona fides. That would be a disaster — this treaty needs to pass, and like all treaties, it’ll need 67 votes in the Senate. That means at least eight GOP senators have to vote for it if it comes to the floor this year, or probably more if it’s voted on next year.

Several officials with stature among Republicans — Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), Henry Kissinger, Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz, Reagan Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein, Colin Powell, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker, former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) — have already endorsed New START, and have urged Congress to ratify it. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mullen has said the treaty “has the full support of your uniformed military.”

Whether Senate Republicans listens to this group or Mitt Romney remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Barron YoungSmith at TNR

Daniel Drezner

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Those Burgers Obama And Medvedev Were Chomping Down On? Made Of Moose And Squirrel

David Knowles at Politics Daily:

After an FBI investigation spanning several years, ten people were taken into custody on Sunday across the northeastern United States and have been charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. Attorney, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release.

According to the D.O.J., eight of the accused were involved in what it termed as “long-term, deep-cover assignments” for the Russian government. Two of the defendants were arrested for participating in the covert Russian operation. Nine of those picked up were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The defendants, some of whom may go by and assumed alias, include: “Richard Murphy” and “Cynthia Murphy” of Montclair, N.J., Vicky Plaez and “Juan Lazaro” of Yonkers, N.Y. Anna Chapman of New York City, “Michael Zottoli,” “Patricia Mills,” and Mikhail Smenko of Arlington, Va., and “Tracey Lee Ann Foley” and “Donald Howard Heathfield” of Boston, Ma.

“Christopher R. Mestos” remains at large, the D.O.J. said.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

This on the heels of President Obama’s happy-go-lucky meeting with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in D.C.

[…]

Five years for conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government? What’s going on here — Mr. McCarthy?

The Jawa Report:

The details are still a little fuzzy. It’s not clear if these are Americans who were recruited by the Russians, or if these were Russians living in America, or a mixture of both.

The story seems to indicate that at least some of them were Russian. This may explain why all those hot Russian chicks willing to marry dumpy, balding, middle-aged American men. They’re all Russian spies!

As some of you know, I spent a year studying in Russia under the theory that the Cold War would be back, and when it does — job security, baby! Is it time for Rusty to break out the old resume?

Marc Ambinder:

When it comes to human intelligence, the Russian Federation has a leg up on the U.S. in terms of the vestiges of the Cold War great game. The arrest today of 10 Russians for spying is a case in point: none of them were diplomats or had official cover. All of them were what the old Soviet Union used to call “illegals” — regular folks living and doing regular jobs, but serving as cutouts and go-betweens for other case officers and agents.

The CIA still spies on Russia, but/and I’m not exactly revealing secrets here, most of them have some sort of official cover — usually, the more bland sounding title in the embassy, the better.

Russian counterintelligence services have known this for decades. And for decades, the CIA has made efforts to field its version of illegals — NOCs — spies operating under “non official cover,” but fewer than one in ten of its case officers are NOCs, according to current and former officials. This makes the job of a case officer difficult. It’s even more difficult to establish a NOC — a cover story must be provided — a “legend” — that is trackable and verifiable. These days, it’s easy to Google someone and discover whether they are who they say they are, so if a Mr. Leonard Panerta were to become a teacher in Moscow, the Russian FSB, which does counteintelligence, can check pretty quickly.
What type of information is valuable to Russia these days? It’s no longer nuclear weapons information, really, or war plans: it’s proprietary information, trade secrets, technical specifications of satellite and ballistic missile technology…also political intelligence and economic intelligence. The FBI still has squads of counterintelligence (CI) agents that follow Russian embassy officials in Washington, but it does much less CI work than it did before the age of terrorism. The US has much better signals intelligence capabilities than the Russians, but Russia also quietly outsources some of its spying to other countries, including countries that are ostensibly friendly to the U.S.

Noah Shachtman at Dangerroom at Wired:

Moscow communicated with a ring of alleged spies in America by encoding instructions in otherwise innocent-looking images on public websites. It’s a process called steganography. And it’s one of a slew of high-tech and time-tested methods that the deep-cover agents and their Russian handlers used to pass information — from private Wi-Fi networks to buried paper bags.

Steganography is simultaneously one of the oldest methods for secret communications, and one of the more advanced. The process dates back to the fifth century B.C., when the Greek tyrant Histiaeus shaved the head of one of his servants, tattooed a message on his head, and waited for his hair to grow back before sending the messenger out. When the courier arrived, his head was shaved and the missive was read, giving information about upcoming Persian attacks. Later on, secret inks were used on couriers’ backs. Morse code messages were woven into a sweater that was worn by a courier.

As information went digital, steganography changed. Messages could be hidden in the 1s and 0s of electronic files — pictures, audio, video, executables, whatever. The hidden communications could even be slowly dribbled into the torrent of IP traffic. Compression schemes — like JPEG for images or MP3 for audio — introduce errors into the files, making a message even easier to hide. New colors or tones can be subtly added or removed, to cover up for the changes. According to the FBI, the image above contains a hidden map of the Burlington, Vermont, airport.

Both before and after Sept. 11, there were rumors in the media that al-Qaida had begun hiding messages in digital porn. That speculation was never confirmed, as far as I can tell.

The accused Russian spy network started using steganography as early as 2005, according to the Justice Department’s criminal complaint against the conspirators, unsealed yesterday in Manhattan. In 2005, law enforcement agents raided the home of one of the alleged spies. There, they found a set of password-protected disks and a piece of paper, marked with “alt,” “control,” “e,” and a string of 27 characters. When they used that as a password, the G-Men found a program that allowed the spies “to encrypt data, and then clandestinely to embed the data in images on publicly available websites.”

The G-Men also found a hard drive. On it was an address book with website URLs, as well as the user’s web traffic history. “These addresses, in turn, had links to other websites,” the complaint notes. “Law-enforcement agents visited some of the referenced websites, and many others as well, and have downloaded images from them. These images appear wholly unremarkable to the naked eye. But these images (and others) have been analyzed using the Steganography Program. As a result of this analysis, some of the images have been revealed as containing readable text files.”

These messages were used to arrange meetings, cash drops, deliveries of laptops and further information exchanges. One of the steganographically hidden messages also directed the conspirators to use radiograms — a decades-old method to pass information, long discredited in spooky circles.

Jen Doll at Village Voice:

The FBI obtained the following decrypted message from Russia’s intelligence headquarters in Moscow:

Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels to the Moscow center.

CBS News reports that agents would have been highly trained in “foreign languages; agent-to-agent communications, including the use of brush-passes (covert hand-offs of secret information); short-wave radio operation and invisible writing; the use of codes and ciphers, including the use of encrypted Morse code messages; the creation and use of a cover profession; counter-surveillance measures” and more.

This is creepy, but we’re suddenly less afraid of spies because we knew they did all of that stuff already! Really, short-wave radio? Invisible writing? Morse Code? Guys, that went out with magic decoder rings and camera cigarette lighters. Come on, even China is onto the hacking game.

Still, maybe in some small way, it’s nice to hear that Russia still considers us worthy of being spied on. And it’s good to know the FBI is on this shit. Let’s not go getting all Cold War or anything.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

News accounts don’t make clear when Russia first placed these agents. But from today’s perspective we can say: what a waste! The Russians thought they needed spies with “ties in policymaking circles” to gain intelligence about American policy, or, best case, possibly even influence it in a direction adverse to American interests. Those were the good old days. In today’s America, our “policymaking circles” are as antipathetic to American interests as the Russians could possibly have hoped to make them through spycraft.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

Hooray, the Cold War is back and awesome.

Daniel Drezner:

There are many things that confuse me in life — Manhattan parking rituals, the proliferation of rotaries in Massachusetts, the appeal of most reality television, and so forth.  I think I’m going to have to add the Russian spy ring to this list.

Less than a week after Russian President Dmitri Medevedev’s burger date with U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Justice Department has busted eight Russkies in an espionage ring so heinous, they’ve been charged with….  “conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government.”

Um…. so, in other words, the Russians are accused of some combination of illegal immigration and impersonating Jack Abramoff?

Seriously, this story is the most bizarre foreign policy/international relations episode I’ve seen since the Sandy-Berger-let’s-stuff–classified-documents-down-my-pants episode.

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner and Megan McArdle at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: Marc Ambinder

Benjamin Weiser, Colin Moynihan and Ellen Barry at NYT

UPDATE #3: Bruce Bartlett

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The Written Records Of The Dead Horse

Claire Berlinski at City Journal:

When Gorbachev and his aides were ousted from the Kremlin, they took unauthorized copies of these documents with them. The documents were scanned and stored in the archives of the Gorbachev Foundation, one of the first independent think tanks in modern Russia, where a handful of friendly and vetted researchers were given limited access to them. Then, in 1999, the foundation opened a small part of the archive to independent researchers, including Stroilov. The key parts of the collection remained restricted; documents could be copied only with the written permission of the author, and Gorbachev refused to authorize any copies whatsoever. But there was a flaw in the foundation’s security, Stroilov explained to me. When things went wrong with the computers, as often they did, he was able to watch the network administrator typing the password that gave access to the foundation’s network. Slowly and secretly, Stroilov copied the archive and sent it to secure locations around the world.

When I first heard about Stroilov’s documents, I wondered if they were forgeries. But in 2006, having assessed the documents with the cooperation of prominent Soviet dissidents and Cold War spies, British judges concluded that Stroilov was credible and granted his asylum request. The Gorbachev Foundation itself has since acknowledged the documents’ authenticity.

Bukovsky’s story is similar. In 1992, President Boris Yeltsin’s government invited him to testify at the Constitutional Court of Russia in a case concerning the constitutionality of the Communist Party. The Russian State Archives granted Bukovsky access to its documents to prepare his testimony. Using a handheld scanner, he copied thousands of documents and smuggled them to the West.

The Russian state cannot sue Stroilov or Bukovsky for breach of copyright, since the material was created by the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, neither of which now exists. Had he remained in Russia, however, Stroilov believes that he could have been prosecuted for disclosure of state secrets or treason. The military historian Igor Sutyagin is now serving 15 years in a hard-labor camp for the crime of collecting newspaper clippings and other open-source materials and sending them to a British consulting firm. The danger that Stroilov and Bukovsky faced was real and grave; they both assumed, one imagines, that the world would take notice of what they had risked so much to acquire.

Stroilov claims that his documents “tell a completely new story about the end of the Cold War. The ‘commonly accepted’ version of history of that period consists of myths almost entirely. These documents are capable of ruining each of those myths.” Is this so? I couldn’t say. I don’t read Russian. Of Stroilov’s documents, I have seen only the few that have been translated into English. Certainly, they shouldn’t be taken at face value; they were, after all, written by Communists. But the possibility that Stroilov is right should surely compel keen curiosity.

For instance, the documents cast Gorbachev in a far darker light than the one in which he is generally regarded. In one document, he laughs with the Politburo about the USSR’s downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983—a crime that was not only monstrous but brought the world very near to nuclear Armageddon. These minutes from a Politburo meeting on October 4, 1989, are similarly disturbing:

Lukyanov reports that the real number of casualties on Tiananmen Square was 3,000.

Gorbachev: We must be realists. They, like us, have to defend themselves. Three thousands . . . So what?

And a transcript of Gorbachev’s conversation with Hans-Jochen Vogel, the leader of West Germany’s Social Democratic Party, shows Gorbachev defending Soviet troops’ April 9, 1989, massacre of peaceful protesters in Tbilisi.

Stroilov’s documents also contain transcripts of Gorbachev’s discussions with many Middle Eastern leaders. These suggest interesting connections between Soviet policy and contemporary trends in Russian foreign policy. Here is a fragment from a conversation reported to have taken place with Syrian president Hafez al-Assad on April 28, 1990:

H. ASSAD. To put pressure on Israel, Baghdad would need to get closer to Damascus, because Iraq has no common borders with Israel. . . .

M. S. GORBACHEV. I think so, too. . . .

H. ASSAD. Israel’s approach is different, because the Judaic religion itself states: the land of Israel spreads from Nile to Euphrates and its return is a divine predestination.

M. S. GORBACHEV. But this is racism, combined with Messianism!

H. ASSAD. This is the most dangerous form of racism.

One doesn’t need to be a fantasist to wonder whether these discussions might be relevant to our understanding of contemporary Russian policy in a region of some enduring strategic significance.

[…]

troilov says that he and Bukovsky approached Jonathan Brent of Yale University Press, which is leading a publishing project on the history of the Cold War. He claims that initially Brent was enthusiastic and asked him to write a book, based on the documents, about the first Gulf War. Stroilov says that he wrote the first six chapters, sent them off, and never heard from Brent again, despite sending him e-mail after e-mail. “I can only speculate what so much frightened him in that book,” Stroilov wrote to me.

I’ve also asked Brent and received no reply. This doesn’t mean anything; people are busy. I am less inclined to believe in complex attempts to suppress the truth than I am in indifference and preoccupation with other things. Stroilov sees in these events “a kind of a taboo, the vague common understanding in the Establishment that it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, not to throw stones in a house of glass, and not to mention a rope in the house of a hanged man.” I suspect it is something even more disturbing: no one much cares.

“I know the time will come,” Stroilov says, “when the world has to look at those documents very carefully. We just cannot escape this. We have no way forward until we face the truth about what happened to us in the twentieth century. Even now, no matter how hard we try to ignore history, all these questions come back to us time and again.”

The questions come back time and again, it is true, but few remember that they have been asked before, and few remember what the answer looked like. No one talks much about the victims of Communism. No one erects memorials to the throngs of people murdered by the Soviet state. (In his widely ignored book, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, Alexander Yakovlev, the architect of perestroika under Gorbachev, puts the number at 30 to 35 million.)

Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia’s most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta.

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism. These documents should be translated. They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars. Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about. If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say—and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do—this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.

John Derbyshire at The Corner:

Some years ago I exposed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Dead Horses to National Review readers. The SPCDH exists to prevent the flogging of what are, according to them, dead horses — for example, the evils of Communism. “Good heavens, are you conservatives still banging on about that? Everybody knows all about it. It was all publicized to death years ago. Sorry, old chap — you’re just flogging a dead horse.”

If you don’t think that the SPCDH is a mighty force in the Western world, read this. Please. Sample:

Remarkably, the world has shown little interest in the unread Soviet archives. That paragraph about Biden is a good example. Stroilov and Bukovsky coauthored a piece about it for the online magazine FrontPage on October 10, 2008; it passed without remark. Americans considered the episode so uninteresting that even Biden’s political opponents didn’t try to turn it into political capital. Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to have spent the prime of your life in a Soviet psychiatric hospital, to know that Joe Biden is now vice president of the United States, and to know that no one gives a damn.

Academic Elephant at Redstate:

Berlinski suggests that the root of the problem is a basic academic affinity with the tenets of communism and I’m inclined to think she’s right. In perhaps the same impulse that leads many denizens of the ivory tower to sympathize with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, there is a tendency to view Soviet communism as a flawed but still valid experiment. For those who believe in the basic soundness of Marxism, the catastrophic failure of the Soviet Union is an inconvenient truth made more palatable by the assertion that it was brought about by external factors. The line seems to be that the Soviets were no better and worse than we–different, sure, but perhaps we could learn from them and we certainly are in no position to judge.

This never-never land of moral relativism is shattered by the kind of cold, hard documents Berlinski describes. A picture emerges of a creeping evil that threatened to engulf the west even as we were attempting a rapprochement with it. And yet the response is a collective yawn–perhaps a delicately raised eyebrow, a hint of impatience with this unseemly attempt to rake up bygones. Look away. There’s nothing to see here.

Unfortunately there is all too much to be seen–from the psychiatric “hospitals” to the hard-labor camps to the execution chambers–all of which added up to an utter disregard for human life and dignity that is at least on par with the depravities of Nazism. Berlinski writes:

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism. These documents should be translated. They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars. Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about. If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say—and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do—this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.

As uncomfortable as it may be for those who think it’s progressive to keep Mao’s Little Red Book on their bedside table or favor the radical chic of a Che t-shirt, we need to expose and acknowledge the reality of Soviet-style communism that has claimed so many tens of millions lives. A good place to start would be recognizing it for what it was, and understanding its history. To their credit, Yale University Press has published some related volumes of late, although they have not picked up the material in Berlinski’s article. Hopefully they will reconsider and publish the Stroilov and Bukovsky archives as well.

Frank Warner:

There also is a transcript of an April 28, 1990, discussion between Gorbachev and Syrian dictator Hafez Assad in which Assad suggests that Iraq needs to expand its borders to be better positioned to “pressure” Israel. And Gorbachev agrees with Assad.

The world needs to see these documents, all of them translated in every language, if the human race is to learn anything from Communism in practice.

On a sympathy scale of 1 to 1 million, Communism gets 1 point for pretending to be for equality and against bigotry. (Historians go out of their way to give Communism that point.) But Communism loses that point for pretending, for enslaving and for being the most deadly ideology in the history of the world.

Yet who knows that? Do our children know that Communism killed 140 million people in the 20th century, and primarily in “peacetime”? Do even most adults know that? The history has yet to find its way to our history books.

Jules Crittenden:

Hey, I thought Gorbie was supposed to be a good guy. Turns out the splotch is more than skin deep. Of course, Vlad was supposed to be a good guy, too. George Bush looked into his soul, and … never mind. Quick show of hands. Who’s surprised?

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Russia And The U.S., Together Against Those Whippersnappers

David Sanger and Mark Landler at NYT:

The Obama administration announced an agreement on Tuesday with other major powers, including Russia and China, to impose a fourth set of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, setting the stage for an intense tug of war with Tehran as it tries to avoid passage of the penalties by the full United Nations Security Council.

The announcement came just a day after Iranian leaders announced their own tentative deal, with Turkey and Brazil, to turn over about half of Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel for a year, part of a frantic effort to blunt the American-led campaign for harsher sanctions.

“This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, describing the agreement as a “strong draft.”

Laura Rozen at Politico:

The UN Iran sanctions draft has been unusually closely held, first as it was negotiated between the U.S., UK, and France, and in recent weeks with Russia and China.

A key section of the draft to be circulated to the full Council Tuesday will resemble a resolution passed against North Korea last summer after it conducted a nuclear test, the New York Times reports.

Consultations on the draft resolution were underway Monday, including in a meeting between visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns, who has served as the U.S. point man to international negotations on Iran’s nuclear program.

Clinton dropped by the Burns-Ivanov meeting yesterday, and spoke with her Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this morning, she told the Senate panel today.

While Beijing welcomed the fuel swap agreement negotiated by the Turks and Brazilians, it did not tip its hand on a UN Security Council resolution. “China has always believed that dialogue and negotiations are the best channel for resolving the Iran nuclear issue,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told a press conference in Beijing.

“The overall assessment that we already have is that we have much less difficulties with the Russians than with the Chinese” on a new UN Security Council resolution on Iran, a European diplomat said.

Turkey and Brazil are currently two of the ten non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. Several other Security Council non-permament members are expected to vote for the resoution, including Austria, Bosnia, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, and Uganda. One European diplomat said Turkey and Brazil would vote for the resolution if China supported it.

A resolution needs 9 votes to pass, but three past UN Security Council resolutions on Iran have passed by overwhelming margins, with no members voting against.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

In the past year, Russian leadership, particularly President Dmitri Medvedev, has made a concerted effort to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties to Europe and the U.S., slowly reversing the country’s nearly century-long antagonism with the West. Russia has pursued rapprochement with Poland, economic ties with France, a key military partnership with the Ukraine, and the historic nuclear non-proliferation treaty with the U.S. Last week, the Russian edition of Newsweek reprinted a secret government document stating a new policy of abandoning Putin-era isolationism for greater engagement and cooperation with the West. Russia had opposed anti-Iran sanctions because the Russian government did not wish to establish precedents of a strong UN and of punishing states that pursued globally unpopular security policies. But, in its new role of international cooperation, Russia has less to fear from those precedents and more reasons to support them.

Russia also stands to make both economic and security gains from Iran sanctions. Because President Obama has rolled back President Bush’s pledge for Eastern European missile shields, Russia is less protected from the potential threat of Iranian weaponry. Ironically, the missile shields were designed to protect Europe from Russia as well as from Iran, but they indirectly benefited Russia by providing a layer of defense against possible Middle East-based missiles. With Russia more vulnerable to such attacks, it has a security interest in not just curbing Iranian nuclear weapons, but in preventing the Middle Eastern arms race that would likely result from a nuclear Iran. Economically, Russia and Iran are increasingly tense competitors in the natural gas market, which is central to both their economies. They are the world’s two greatest producers of natural gas. Iran’s 2001 deal to sell Turkey 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas was likely just the beginning. Iran has laid its pipeline into Central Asia. By extending its Turkey pipeline into Europe, Iran could compete with Russia in one of the world’s largest and most profitable energy markets. But economic sanctions against Iran would likely block it from selling in Europe and make Iran more reliant on its own energy, leaving it with less to export.

Economic concerns may also be key for China’s decision to join in sanctions. Obama has looked the other way on currency manipulation, delaying a report which was expected to denounce Chinese currency policy and could have been a blow to the country’s vital trade income. Though China and the U.S. may experience periods of diplomatic tension, the fact is that the two states’ economic ties are essential for both economies. If China felt it had to choose between the benefits of U.S. trade and the unwanted international precedent of Security Council-led sanctions, the former likely won out. While China was happy to join with Russia in opposing sanctions, Medvedev’s months of cooperation with the West and his supportive signals on sanctions plausibly made it clear that China would have to stand alone or follow Russia’s support.

Critics of Obama’s sanctions plan have persistently argued that sanctions don’t change state behavior, will not effectively deter Iran, or that Iran’s nuclear program is at this point inevitable. Whether or not they are right, China and Russia joining on sanctions could become a watershed moment for Obama’s mission to make rogue nuclear states synonymous with pariah states — and for the United Nations’ ability to take collective, multinational action. Even if this moment of international cooperation does not work, the precedent will make future cooperation easier and more likely.

Daniel Drezner:

Why was Russia unpersuaded?  To date, Russia and China have taken advantage of any Iranian feint towards conciliation as an excuse to delay sanctions.   What’s different now?

I’d suggest three possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive:

1)  Russia is genuinely unpersuaded that Monday’s deal is anything more than marginally useful;

2)  Russia is just as annoyed as the United States at the young whipperrsnapper countries rising powers of the world going rogue in their diplomacy.  Russia is, in many ways, more sensitive to questions about prestige than the United States;

3)  Cynically, there’s little cost to going along with the United States on sanctions that will have very little impact on the Russian-Iranian economic relationship.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Swell, now what’s in it? And will the Obama administration stop its effort to delay and water down additional congressional sanctions?

Maybe they really are crippling and Obama convinced the Chinese and Russians to go after petroleum sanctions, perhaps the only meaningful tool available that would impact Iran. And maybe it will sail through the Security Council, have a swift impact, and halt the mullahs in their tracks. Or then again, maybe the sanctions aren’t even biting, will only provide cover and more time for the mullahs to work away on their nuclear program, will silence criticism from Jewish groups (OK, they were already silent), will help Obama stave off unilateral sanctions by Congress, and will provide him with further leverage to squash an Israeli military strike. I hope I’m wrong about which alternative will play out.

Doug Mataconis:

There are two problems with this new sanctions regime right off the bat.

First, vigorous enforcement would clearly require stopping a lot of ships coming in and out of the Persian Gulf and, specifically the Strait of Hormuz. Leaving aside the logistics of such an operation, the disruption to shipping alone would seem to be something that few of the “major powers” would really be willing to withstand for a sustained period of time.

Second, it’s not at all clear that Iran really needs all that much more help from the outside to complete it’s nuclear program, and if it does, there are plenty of routes into the Islamic Republic that would bypass any effort to restrict shipping.

If these sanctions are intended to prevent Iran from acquiring crucial technology, it’s likely to be too late for that. If they’re meant to persuade the Iranians to come to the table, they don’t seem to be anywhere near strong enough. All of which brings up the question of whether it’s even possible at this point to stop the Iranians from developing a nuclear weapon if that’s what they’re intent on doing.

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Black Widows In Moscow

Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal;

Two female suicide bombers detonated their vests during morning rush hour at metro stations in Moscow, killing 37 people and wounding 65 more. The attack was carried out by the Caucasus Emirate’s ‘Black Widows,’ and was foreshadowed by the leader of the terror group in a statement in February.

The first suicide bomber detonated at the Lubyanka metro station at 7:52 a.m. local time, killing 24 people, according to RIA Novosti. The Lubyanka station is near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor of the notorious KGB.

The second blast took place about 40 minutes later, at the Park Kultury station, which is near the Kremlin, killing 13 people.

The FSB said that an estimated four kilograms of explosives was used in the first suicide attack and 1.5 kilograms was used in the second.

“At present the overall number of the dead as a result of the explosions at the Park Kultury and Lubyanka metro stations is 37, and another 65 were wounded,” Irina Adrianova, the spokeswomen for the Ministry for Emergency Situations told ITAR-TASS.

The FSB believes the attacks were carried out by the ‘Black Widows,’ members of the Caucasus Emirate’s female suicide bomber cadre. The chief of the FSB said the heads of two women have been recovered at the blast sites. The Black Widows are typically wives or daughters of family members killed during the wars against the Russians in Chechnya.

The Black Widows have targeted Russian civilians and security personnel in multiple attacks, including: the attack on the Nord-Ost Moscow theater in 2003 (129 killed); an assassination attempt against Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov (14 killed); a suicide attack on a train in Southern Russia (46 killed); a dual suicide attack at a rock concert at Tushino Airfield in Moscow (16 killed); the destruction of two Russian airliners in 2004 (more than 90 killed); and the attack on a school in Beslan in North Ossetia (334 killed).

The Black Widows are a unit within the members of the Riyad-us-Saliheen, or Garden of Paradise, martyr brigade.

Five quick thoughts on the Moscow subway bombing:

1)  Who gets the blame? As Clifford Levy points out in the NYT, “Mr. Putin built his reputation in part on his success at suppressing terrorism, so the attacks could be considered a challenge to his stature.”  On the other hand, one could see Putin trying to shift the blame onto Russian president Dmitri Medvedev or Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov as a way to thwart future rivals.  On the other hand, a lot of Russians are already unhappy with the government, and diversionary tactics might not work this time.

2)  Is there an international dimension? Russia’s neighbors in the Caucasus and Central Asia, along with the United States and China, are praying right now that the suicide bombers were entirely domestic in origin and execution.  If there was an international link, one could easily envision nightmare scenarios about Russia’s international response.

3)  How screwed is the North Caucasus?  They were already pretty screwed because of the Putin administration’s attempts to crack down on secessionist groups in the region.  I seriously doubt that this attack is going to cause Russian leaders to rethink their strategy.  If anything, a doubling-down approach is the likely outcome.

4)  Hey, Europe might be relevant again!! The New York Times’ Steve Erlanger reported on the latest Brussels Forum meeting, at which European security and foreign policy officials kept saying, “we’re relevant!!” Given that the highest-ranking U.S. attendee was an Assistant Secretary of State, I’m pretty sure that U.S. officials didn’t think that dog would hunt ex ante.  A Russia ready to lash out, however, is guaranteed to force more transatlantic consultations.

5)  Obama’s counter-terrorism policies don’t look so bad in comparison.  This is unfair — the process matters just as much as the outcome, and it might be that the Obama administration is just luckier than the Medvedev/Putin administration.  Still, the comparison will be made (though Michelle Malkin attempts to link the attacks to Obama’s weaknesses on counterterrorism).

Developing….

Michelle Malkin:

Here’s a reminder of how the MSM whitewashes jihad from news coverage of Muslim jihadi terrorism in Russia. And another one. And more. Note the difference in how religion is played up in the headline coverage of the FBI raids of obscure Christian militia groups in Michigan versus the headline coverage of the generic “female suicide bombers” who subscribed to the Religion of Pieces. And be prepared to be called an “Islamophobe” for pointing out the striking differences.

Ed Morrissey

Charlie Szrom at The Corner:

Some have concluded that the use of female suicide bombers in the terrorist attack shows how the Chechen conflict is “different than al-Qaeda” and “not about a religious ideology”. There is, however, no tactical difference between this attack and al-Qaeda attacks, and the links between the likely bombers — North Caucasus militants — and the al-Qaeda network is quite clear.

Al-Qaeda has used female suicide bombers. In Iraq, female bombers have taken numerous lives over a period of several years: As recently as February 1, one blew herself up near Baghdad, killing at least 54 pilgrims who were traveling to Karbala to mark the Shi’a holiday of Arba’in. In late January, unnamed U.S. security officials warned that another al-Qaeda franchise (there are three — in Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, may be sending female suicide bombers to attack the United States.

No official statement has yet emerged claiming responsibility for today’s attacks in Moscow. However, it is relatively safe to assume that the attackers hailed from the North Caucasus, as the initial assessment by Russian officials has already concluded. After all, there have been no recent incidents of non–North Caucasus–linked terror in Moscow. We should not rush to judgment without a claimant, but it would be reasonable to assume that responsibility for today’s attacks lies with North Caucasus terrorists.

If this is true, today’s terror attack does have significant links to the al-Qaeda network through the North Caucasus insurgency. In April 2008, Ayman al Zawahiri declared the Caucasus to be one of the three primary fronts in al-Qaeda’s struggle. This followed the November 2007 declaration of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus (IEC) by North Caucasus insurgent leader Doku Umarov. Previous leaders of the movement, such as Aslan Maskhadov, had avoided such a move, which clearly aligned the North Caucasus insurgency with the global al-Qaeda movement. The IEC declaration represented the rhetorical culmination by which the most radical — and militant Islamist — portions of the North Caucasus militant groups have increasingly led the insurgency, moving from the support role that radical foreign fighters — including Zawahiri himself — played in the North Caucasus insurgency in the 1990s.

James Joyner:

As I noted in a January 2006 piece for TCS Daily (“Suicide Girls“) neither suicide bombing nor the use of women to carry them out are unique to Islamists.  Both the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Tamil Tigers used female suicide bombers well before the outbreak of the first Chechen War.   But, while the Chechens didn’t pioneer the practice, they did perfect it.

If in fact today’s attack was the leading edge of a new wave of Islamist terrorism against civilian population centers in Russia, it poses interesting questions for Putin and his political future.  His reputation for toughness is his prime asset, so one would expect an immediate crackdown and a gross overreaction would hardly be surprising.

It also provides yet another opportunity to reset his relationship with the United States.   After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration decided that the Chechen rebels were Islamist radicals that needed to be put down rather than freedom fighters under siege from an authoritarian government.  It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration feels about the matter.

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