A Russian Romance?

At first glance it seems strange that US President Donald Trump would be cozying up to Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin.  After all, not only has Russia (under the Soviets) been a traditional adversary of the US, but Putin himself has basically destroyed democracy (such as it was) in Russia, and has turned it into an authoritarian dictatorship.  In doing so he has murdered about 30 journalists as well as numerous politicians.  His chief opponent, Boris Nemtsov, was assassinated in broad daylight in the center of Moscow in 2015.  A clear warning to anyone thinking of opposing Putin.  He has also expanded Russian power and influence by annexing the Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine and essentially taking over Syria.  All this you would think, in a conventional sense, would make Putin an enemy of the US and of Trump.

But, consider what could be behind this strange coupling.  My explanation is one word – China.  In the current ranking of Gross Domestic Product (GDP; i.e total size of the economy), the US is of course ranked #1, and second comes China, and China’s economy has been growing at a phenomenal rate (of 5-10% pa).  In the IMF listing of countries Russia comes 12th in this category. So from the point of view of competition or rivalry for world-wide domination based on economic factors, China must be seen as the major competitor for the US, not Russia.  This is why we have seen Pres. Trump emphasizing tariffs that are intended to make a fair playing field with China, because Chinese leaders have been manipulating their currency and their tariffs to gain advantage over the US, that previous Presidents had essentially ignored.

On the other hand, in the list of most powerful countries in the world, published annually by US News and World Report, after the US, Russia comes second, and China is third.  If you had to choose which country to be friendly with in order to avoid an international conflict and yet improve your relative situation, I submit that it would be better to choose Russia and not China.  China has embraced capitalism (although with an authoritarian system of government) and although it has expansive plans regarding the area of the South China Sea, there is no doubt that Russia under Putin is more expansionist.

I believe Trump’s apparent cozying up to Putin accomplishes two things: first, it sends a message to China that it is possible that the two most powerful states on earth, the US and Russia, can combine against it; second, it attempts to disarm Russia to some extent by undermining the traditional anti-Western views of the rulers of Russia.  This is hard-ball power politics on the international stage.  You certainly don’t want China and Russia to be allies against the US.  Trump is flexing US muscle and playing the game according to new rules.

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The Migrant Crisis

All over the Western world from California to Greece there is a migrant crisis.  And this is not merely a function of the economic progress of the West, which in some cases has not been so great (including the southern tier of Europe from Greece to Spain), but rather the fault of the political and economic failure of the Islamic, African and Spanish-American worlds.

All along the southern borders of the EU there are hundreds of thousands of migrants clamoring to get into the EU and particularly the northern EU states (Germany, Scandinavia, Britain).  All along the southern US border there are hundreds of thousands of Central Americans (Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Mexican) clamoring to get into the USA.  But, the fact is that none of the developed Western countries are required to take the vast majority of these economic migrants.  That is not true of so-called refugees who have legitimate political reasons and who can apply for asylum, but they are a small minority of the migrants.  The problem is how to distinguish the latter from the former.

The immigration crisis of 2016-7 resulting from the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars, that resulted in a flood of migrants streaming across Turkey into Greece and thence into the Balkans and trying to make their way mainly to Germany is largely over.  This is because the Assad regime has largely won the Syrian civil war, the Iraqi civil war is largely over and Germany took over a million immigrants.  But, now in Europe the flow is more from Libya, which is a failed state with no effective government, and hundreds of thousands of Black Africans and North Africans  are streaming thru Libya across the Mediterranean mainly to Italy.

Several Governments have closed their borders, against EU policy, including Serbia, Hungary, and now Italy.  The current more right-wing government in Italy has said it can take no more migrants.  The ship Aquarius filled with a thousand migrants was refused entry to Italy and France and ended up in Spain.  Two other ships are following this.  The Italian Government is right in that the pro-migrant organizations are in effect operating a taxi service, taking migrants from boats off Libya to Italy,  Certainly it is laudable to save lives, but there is simply no more space for all these people.  They should be off-loaded in Libya, not Europe.  This is the only way to stem the tide.

In the US, the mistaken policy of separating children from their parents, that was introduced during the Obama Administration, has now been rescinded by Pres. Trump.  But, drastic measures are indeed needed to re-establish the southern US border, and if it takes building a wall, so be it.  Yes, the US was built by immigrants, but times have changed.  Crime and drugs are clearly a major component of the neglect of the southern border by previous US Administrations.  As a legal immigrant to the US, I resent these thousands of illegal immigrants expecting to be able to enter the US without due process.  Let there be immigrants, but let them only be legal according to US law.

 

 

 

US leaves UNHRC

Among the articles in The J. Post on the US decision to leave the UN Human Rights Council was one by Seth Frantzman entitled “Is the UNHRC an old boy’s club of dictators?”  This contains a very illuminating table that lists members of the UNHRC that shows unequivocally how biased it is.  Out of its 46 member states there have been (from 2008-2018) 26 that are are considered to be “not free” based on analysis by the Freedom House, an international agency that monitors human rights around the world. And these countries have been re-elected time and time again, and by this means prevent criticism of their own human rights records.

Such countries as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Ethiopia, Cuba, China, Vietnam, Russia, Qatar, Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, and so on, all with scores on the Freedom index of less than 36% , pass judgement on western democracies and Israel.  Not only has Israel been censored more times than all other countries in the world combined, but the UNHRC has a permanent item (#7) on its agenda requiring that it rejudge Israel every six months.

This is a ludicrous situation whereby countries with no human rights protections are able to sit almost permanently in judgement on all others.  The problem is that if only countries with good human rights records were allowed to be members, then it would be a mainly American-European Club and open to criticism by human rights violators (most of the rest of the world) that it was biased.

It was right for the US to leave the UNHRC, because the situation is farcical.  It’s like the foxes guarding the chicken coop.  The UNHRC needs to be disbanded in its present state as useless.  But, how the UN could reform itself seems beyond the realm of possibility.

 

The US-N. Korea Summit

Most analysts agree that the summit between Pres. Trump and Kim Jong-Un in Singapore was more style than substance. Yet it was undoubtedly a historic occasion.  Previous Presidents of the US have shied away from meeting with the dictators of N. Korea for fear of giving them credibility and legitimacy.  But, Pres. Trump is characteristically both more impetuous and more canny.  He and his advisers realized that the kind of brinkmanship practised by the rulers of N. Korea was designed to gain them media coverage and status on the world stage.  To deal with them means accepting that this is their goal.  Letting them “strut their hour upon the stage.” was a necessary part of getting a deal, as Trump would see it.  They want to be taken seriously as major players and having a one-on-one meeting with the President of the US was their price for any further agreement.

Whether or not Kim Jong-un can be trusted or whether or not Trump can insist on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as realistic verification of missile and nuclear programs remains to be seen, but this summit was the first essential step.  In doing so Trump exceeded the expectations of all previous Presidents who refused to actually deal with the dictators of N. Korea.

Apart from the future prospects for peace and stability in Korea, with the active support of China, the  world has learnt a lesson.  That is that Trump is both unpredictable and can threaten to use the superpower force of the US with evident success, but is always prepared to deal.  The rest of the world is now waiting to see what happens with Iran.  The Iranians are similar to N. Korea in that they are an absolute dictatorship with expansive goals, yet their primary interest is to ensure the continuity of their regime.  If Trump were to likewise threaten them with the power of the US military unless they change their ways,  they will likely cave like N. Korea, and come into the fold and do a deal, this time a real deal that is in US interests.  How backing down and dealing with the US will affect their credibility and the long-term stability of their regime is another issue.

Many people have been concerned by the apparent rift between the G6 and the US as revealed at the G7 summit in Canada.  Some have likened this to the preference by Pres,. Obama to engage with America’s enemies (Iran, Russia, China) rather than cultivate America’s allies.  However, there is fundamental difference between Obama and Trump in this regard.  Obama was trying to act like a European nation, using persuasion and diplomacy, while Trump emphasizes American exceptionalism, using power and threats.  In that respect Trump is more American and eschews the European approach to trying to deal with enemies, rather than treating them as enemies.  Which approach will produce more results for the US remains to be seen, but the Summit with N. Korea seems to point the way to future progress.

Brinksmanship

The North Korean dictators, the Kim dynasty, are past-masters at brinksmanship.  That is developing threatening weapons (at the expense of their own people’s welfare) and then using them to leverage more power on the international scene.  In doing this they are aggressive risk takers.  But, the key to their actions is that they will only go so far, to the brink, but not further, they will absolutely take no action that could harm the control of their hereditary regime.

It seems that they, specifically Kim Jong-un, has met his match in Pres. Donald Trump.  When Kim Jong-un was testing nuclear bombs and long-range missiles, the surrounding countries, South Korea and Japan were understandably nervous.  He also threatened to target the US.  He wants to be recognized as a powerful actor on the international stage and wants his country to be a player at the highest levels, equivalent to a superpower.  Previous American Presidents have failed to deal effectively with them and they refused to meet with them because they were afraid it would give them too much credibility.  Meanwhile they continued their aggressive military developments.

When he “tested” missiles  recently over Japan and towards Guam (a US protectorate and military base) Pres. Trump threatened him back and flew US AF planes along the North Korean border.  He also threatened him verbally and since Trump is considered to be capable of anything, this brought about a 180 degree turnaround in Kim’s position.  Instead of threatening, he agreed to stop the tests, stop his nuclear program and enter negotiations.  In effect his brinksmanship worked, he got what he wanted, a meeting with the great chief, the President of the USA.  Clearly China played an important role in his decision; after many years of doing nothing about their ally, Trump put economic pressure on China and Pres. Xi  had two unprecedented meetings with Kim, in which he no doubt told him to stop this behavior and cooperate.

A Summit between Trump and Kim was agreed to take place in Singapore in June, and then again, in another example of brinksmanship, Kim and his North Korean puppets started to reverse their tone again, and were unavailable for meetings to organize the summit.  So Trump did what no previous President has done, he peremptorily cancelled the Summit and once again threatened Kim’s regime.  This quick reaction must have affected Kim, because once again he reversed himself and became cooperative.  He met again with the South Korean President after cancelling the scheduled meeting.  And he does desperately want to meet with the Pres. of the USA, but he doesn’t want to pay the price, denuclearization and stopping missile testing.  By contrast, Trump is not going to a meeting unless he knows in advance that Kim is going to give major concessions.  So now the meeting hangs in the balance.

I predict the meeting will take place because both sides need it.  Kim to show his credibility on the world stage, and Trump to show he can make a deal with the devil and win.   However, the twists and turns of this plot have not yet been exhausted, expect more brinksmanship from the North Korean leader.

 

Asian Meetings

An amazing historic meeting just took place in Korea between the North Korean dictator Kim Jon-Un and the South Korean President Moon Jae-in.  Such a meeting is unprecedented when the N. Korean leader crossed the demarcation line at Panmunjon and embraced the S. Korean leader.  Kim has made statements that are diametrically opposite to the recent belligerent statements he had been making.  He has promised to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, close the major missile test site in the North and invite S. Korean and US representatives to witness its closing.  Also, this Korean meeting is a prelude to the much-anticipated meeting between Kim and US President Trump.

Why now?  Why has Kim agreed to these meetings and stopped his belligerence towards the US and S. Korea, and even suggested finally signing a peace treaty.  There are two answers to this question, first the answer is Trump!  Trump is the first President to threaten using military force against the North in response to Kim’s deliberate provocations, and furthermore, Kim and many others think that Trump is crazy enough to do it.  In order to win in this kind of face-off, your threat has to be credible and the weaker power has to believe that you mean it.   The second reason is that what Kim and most dictators (including the Iranians) fear most is losing their regime and its control over their country.  So they will take the more certain path to retain control, namely to back down in the face of superior power.

Another factor is that Kim has once again gone to the extreme in brinkmanship, and one reason why he was doing this is to be recognized as a major power on the world stage and also to be taken seriously by the US and to have a face-to-face meeting with the President of the USA.  Now, we know that he may be lying, he has done it before (he promised Pres. Clinton he would denuclearize and yet he continued a secret program), and he may be exaggerating, but the only way to find out is to check and verify.  That is what the Trump Administration will no doubt insist on.  There have been accidents in the N. Korean program and it is believed the major missile test site has partially collapsed, so Kim may have to close it anyway.  But, that’s why he must be put to the test.  The outcome is too important to simply be dismissive.

While this meeting was happening in Korea, the leaders of the two great Asian superpowers, India and China, had a very significant meeting in Wuhan in China.  The meeting was supposedly informal and there was a friendly atmosphere.  Pres. Modi of India and Pres. Xi of China agreed to  resolve difference between them diplomatically.  This is good news since they still have a border dispute that led to a war in the 1960’s and has never been resolved.  The significance of this largely unheralded meeting may turn out to be even greater than the significance of the meeting in Korea.

 

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Putin’s Russia

In a very real sense Russia now belongs to Vladimir Putin, since he has just been elected President of Russia for the fourth time. He is the consummate KGB agent, controlling everything, a man who wants to make Russia great again (hence the Chechnya war, the occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and the intervention in Syria).  A new Stalin, he stops at nothing to murder and assassinate any possible opponents.  In true Mafia fashion he allows the oligarchs in Russia to flourish only so long as they pay him his cut, and show obedience.  If any one steps out of line and opposes him politically he is ruthless, they die or spend long terms in prison.

The list of dead opponents is very long:  Pavel Litvinenko (murdered in the UK in 2006 with radioactive polonium); Boris Nemtsov (opposition politician gunned down in 2015 in Moscow); Anna Politovskaya (investigative journalist shot in 2006 in Moscow); Sergei Magnitsky (advisor to American businessman Steve Browder, beaten to death in custody in 2009); Natalya Nemirova (human rights activist murdered in Grozny in 2006);  Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova (human rights activists shot dead together in broad daylight in 2009); Paul Klebnikov (a Russian-American journalist, editor of Forbes-Russia, shot dead in Moscow in 2004); Sergei Yushenkov (co-chair of the Liberal Russia movement, shot in Moscow in 2004); Boris Berezovsky (oligarch and former supporter of Putin, found hanged in his home in London in 2013); Sergei Skripov and his daughter Yulia (found poisoned by nerve agent in London, 2018); that is a partial list.

Those sentenced to prison include: Mikhail Khodorkovsky (former oligarch who opposed Putin, stripped of his wealth and spent 10 years in Siberia); Alexei Navalny (lawyer and leader of political opposition to Putin, he and his brother Oleg were sentenced to 3.5 years in prison); Sergei Udaltsov (leader of Left Front sentenced to 4.5 years in prison); Leonid Razvozzhaev (colleague of Udaltsov, fled Russia, abducted and returned, sentenced to 4.5 years in prison); Mikhail Kosenko (political activist sent to psychiatric prison); Greenpeace leaders (30 persons including several Brits were arrested and sentenced to up to 7 years in prison, but were released after 2 months due to international pressure); Pussy Riot (all female punk group were sent to prison for 2 years for demonstrating against Putin); Vladimir Yevtushenkov (an oligarch, arrested and held until he capitulated to Putin’s demands); once again a partial list.

The only law in Russia is Putin’s law and he has just been elected for a (previously illegal) fourth six-year term as President.  He will do anything necessary to stay in power. There is no doubt that he is determined to expand his influence around the world and to restore Russia’s former greatness.  He is definitely anti-American and has undoubtedly interfered in both UK and US elections.  However, the idea that he has supported Pres. Trump is futile, since Trump’s policies of making America Great Again and expanding the US military are directly contrary to Putin’s interests. However, since he is firmly in control of Russia, both Trump in the US and Netanyahu in Israel, due to Russia’s support of Pres. Assad of Syria, must come to terms with Putin.