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Sunday, September 21, 2008




The Art of being an Empire

An intelligence report for the next American president, or at least some parts of it already finished, was previewed a few days ago by the US top analyst Thomas Fingar. Among the highlights of the future report is a continuing erosion in the US standing as the world's leading power.

"The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished," Fingar said, according to a transcript of the Thursday speech. He saw U.S. leadership eroding "at an accelerating pace" in "political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas."

Source: The Washington Post


Grozny, 1995

The rise of regional powers will challenge the US supremacy in different parts of the world, but it does not necessarily mean that the US will be soon facing a global rival. The comparison often made today between the old Soviet Union and modern Russia is missing the point. Russia may be the world's top second oil producer, and it may even stage an impressive economic comeback at some point in the future using its vast natural resources, huge expanses of cultivable land and relatively well educated workforce, but the driving force behind the Soviet expansion was ideological in its essence. And its huge global impact was based on the powerful attraction that ideology had for millions of people around the globe. Russia possesses nothing of this kind today. Neither does China for this matter.

The worn out Marxist cliches that dominate the thinking of large chunks of Western academy and media about economic interests as primary forces shaping history will never account for the fact that for decades Japan had all technological and economic resources to become the world number two and yet it did not happen. China may quietly sabotage all US and UN efforts to impose economic blockade on Sudan and Burma and basically it's just doing whatever it sees as beneficial for itself, yet no sane person would consider China imperialist. In fact, China seems to be so little interested in confrontations and so immersed in developing its economy and managing its mounting environmental problems, that it's very unlikely that the world will see the imperial navy hurrying fleets of aircraft carriers across oceans any time soon.

Having economic interests is simply not a good enough reason for striving to become a global superpower. At least, not in our days. The much written on struggle for control of oil resources, which is actually a misinterpretation of what's in reality a very prudent and reasonable policy of securing energy supplies (that benefits just about everybody and not only the US and big oil), does not require so much of global presence. Certainly, not for Russia. And, in any way, it may be rendered obsolete over the next one-two decades by a major breakthrough in alternative energies.

The senseless mumbling by GWB about freedom and democracy for every human being down to the last cannibal in Papua New Guinea makes it difficult for some people to recognize that among major world powers the US remains just about the only one both with resources of a super power and with something resembling an ideology and determination fitting this status. In fact, the irony of the present situation is that the US is gradually losing its global position in the world as a result of its being triumphant over rival ideologies it was fighting for decades. The gradual decline of its global status comes as a result of the US having achieved what used to be the primary objective of its foreign policy since the WW2. Russia, China and others owe most of their success to adopting the Western model of running society and economy, spreading which had been one of the cornerstones of the US policy for the last half of the past century.

This fact would have been even more obvious if the US continued to have that pragmatic and realistic approach that led it to support the regime of Pinochet and Iranian Shah during the cold war. Lately both the US and much of the West seem to have been badly afflicted by all sorts of politically correct lunacies and fantasies and the old way was forsaken. But in the good old days US administrations would have been thanking god every single day for bestowing on the world Putin and China's communist reformers.

Grozny, 2007

There may exist a certain difference, difficult to pinpoint precisely, between an empire and a global superpower. Russia may not be ready to trade a healthy doze of investment into its hi-tech or nano-tech industries for extravagant oversees adventures and in this sense another global cold war is unlikely. But when it comes to what Russians call their near abroad, Russia remains a regional power, or better an empire, whose determination to assert this role has been only growing in the last years.

These attitudes are bound to set Russia on a collision course with another regional block, the European Union, unless the West firmly decides to keep a safe distance from Russia. How big this distance should be can be negotiated but, at the minimum, it should be as wide as Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Caucasus together. The combined GDP and population of the members of the EU notwithstanding, the block is still badly failing to meet the requirements for making a global, and even a regional, power, never mention facing Russia on its own. And the shameful episodes of European soldiers surrendering at the first sign of Iranian patrol boats, whole nations caving in in the face of terror attacks and military alliances unraveling after the first dozen of plastic bags is sent home from Afghanistan or elsewhere, are only proving that far from becoming a counterweight to the American influence, as was expected by some, the EU may need America more than ever in a very near future.

The prerequisites for running an empire the Russian style, or becoming a global super power the American way, or just playing the role of a regional power, include not only technological and economic prowess. The power will fail to be projected beyond the borders, and even within them, unless there is somebody willing to project it. Whether to put out regional conflagrations in the Balkans, or to confront the increasingly more assertive Russia, Europe seems to be just hardly capable of managing this stuff on its own. Europeans have got more polite towards the US recently. That's a smart boy.

And when it comes to running real empires, it involves some really hardcore stuff. It involves the ability to densely pack the ground below one's feet with dead bodies. And it involves going out to collect bodies of one's soldiers by truckloads as well. In fact, being prepared to do the latter may well be the most important of them all. Over the last two decades Russia reportedly killed dozens of thousands, some claim hundreds of thousands, in the Caucasus, losing thousands of its own soldiers in the process and proving on the way that the new Russia is fully worthy of its old imperial legacy. The Euro-hippies in Brussels should better notice that Russians have been in the business of running empires for centuries and, unlike some, they are still preserving most of their imperial skills largely intact.

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Proclaimed Nobody at 1:22 PM

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Saturday, September 20, 2008




Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction

Last updated:September 30, 2008

September 20, 2008


The following piece from the Economist can make one easily understand why Warren Buffett called the derivatives "financial weapons of mass destruction" when ordering the insurance arm of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc to leave this market for good a few years ago.

AIG is mostly a safe, well-run insurer. But its financial-products division, which accounted for just a fraction of its revenues, wrote enough derivatives contracts to destroy the firm and shake the world. It helps explain one of the mysteries of recent years: who was taking on the risk that banks and investors were shedding? Now we know.

Source




September 30, 2008

Hope Team Needed

The Wall Street version of an extended Chicago Hope team is urgently needed to reanimate the US economy that seems to have got such a pain shock from having the top echelon of its investment banking and other financial institutions eliminated in one go, that it went into coma or some sort of cardiac arrest. The credit system seized up and even big and well run non financial companies are only managing to get access to credit at punitive rates. With what is frequently called the blood of modern capitalist economy stuck in its veins as private institutions seem to have switched to hoarding money and refusing to release it into circulation, the situation of the super engine of the global economy will soon be worse than that of Ariel Sharon who is unconsciously celebrating god knows what birthday of his connected to life sustaining equipment in a hospital.

While for many people (like me) it may be too hard to form an informed opinion about the situation some things seem to be clear enough to be said already. The widely prevailing wisdom that the US economy fell victim to its own version of unregulated capitalism based on unrestrained greed is only partially true. What appears is that the enlightened liberals from the Democratic party have contributed more than their share to first instigate the housing bubble and later to sabotage all efforts including those by the current administration to get the situation under control.

The warning seems to have been on the wall since years ago given that some people have been that smart as to read it aloud five years ago. However, no warning on a wall, and neither the wall itself, can stop a socially conscious bleeding-heart on his mission, let alone when the mission is to allow every common dude of simple means to get his own house. The inflated on these grounds bubble was later reinforced when the wunderkinds from Wall Street, armed with those now proverbial financial weapons of mass destruction, joined the party, dragging into this shit the whole of the US and half the world. The cloud of nuclear toxicity, produced by financial nuclear explosions that went in a chain through the US and global financial systems, has polluted parts of the financial system so thoroughly that it made them virtually unusable. The currently debated bailout plan is basically meant to remove toxic waste from the system in an orderly and organized manner while performing on the way a financial equivalent of blood infusion. Of course the system itself is perfectly capable of self detoxification by its own means but this may take years.

In short, the US economy was hit from both sides just as much by the unrestrained social humanism and economic incompetence of liberals as by the unrestrained profit chasing and the same incompetence of capitalists. The main lesson everybody should draw from the current crisis is about the need to stop these pointless and leading to nowhere debates about free market vs socially oriented capitalism or capitalism with a human face. One can be socially oriented as much as he wants, but economic fundamentals remain what they are, means fundamentals. And it's impossible to practice free market as a sort of religion since in many situations it would be equivalent to banging one's head against the wall. It's about being pragmatic and practical. Just as the economy should grow for the benefit of as much of the society as possible, social orientation can be no justification for undermining the competitiveness or the macroeconomic stability of the economy as for example through subsidies to failing companies just for the sake of keeping some people employed.

The last point raises an important question about how much the US is capable of recovering from this mess. To be sure non financial sectors of the economy are as good as ever, but of course without this credit blood circulating properly inside the economic organism, other parts of the organism will start disintegrating too. In any case, the US got used over decades to deficits, living on borrowed time and enjoying prosperity lent from other nations. Listening to the two candidates one just can't fail to notice that both are a kinda struggling to come forward and say a very simple truth to their people - that this approach and this way of life are unsupportable and should stop. That getting the price of gasoline down has no priority at all and, far from this, an expanded gas tax is needed to cut the demand and allow the US to achieve its primary foreign policy objectives. That to bring that nation back on track may require time and painful sacrifices in terms of living standards and welfare.

Of course after the idiots cast their ballots, the technocrats usually come and fix things anyway, usually totally disregarding on the way promises made during election campaigns. These broken promises are a vital precondition that allows what passes these days for democracy to survive each time after holding another carnival of Santa Clauses otherwise known as elections (the Santas don't even entice the boys and girls so much with their presents as with promises to bring them better presents next time). Nevertheless, even bearing all this in mind, there is still more than enough cheap and reckless populist rhetoric going on in this bastion of free markets and social Darwinism to make one mildly concerned about its ability to soon get back on its feet.

The No-Hope Team

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Proclaimed Nobody at 5:32 PM

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Недолго продолжался бой . . .

Last updated: September 25, 2008

September 20, 2008


The wars of Russian empire in the Caucasus are amply reflected in Russian classics. Many Russia's greatest writers belonged to the landowning class that provided the bulk of officers for the czar's army. That's why some of them had a first hand experience of those wars. Russians always had a sort of love hate relationship with the Caucasus. Without doubt, many of them were fascinated by the fierce militancy and independent spirit of tribal warriors. Unlike British, Russians did not classify people they encountered during their imperial expansion into warrior races, but the British would have put into this category the majority of tribes of the region.

Leo Tolstoy left us some chilling accounts of the last war and its aftermath when hundreds of thousands of Circassians were expelled from the mountains. A small number agreed to resettle in Southern Russia. The majority preferred to board ships destined for Turkey. Numerous Circassian communities scattered across the Middle East are a lingering remainder of the mass exodus of the mountaineers.

The comparative analysis if national mindsets of the Ossetians and other Caucasian groups by a character in "A Hero of Our Time" by another great Russian poet and writer Michail Lermontov is still haunting Ossetians on just about every single Russian speaking forum and thread on the web. Of course it's absolutely not politically correct, but hardcore racists (such as the author of this blog :D ) can't fail to be impressed by the similarity of these observations to the current situation.

The Chechens fought three wars with Russia over the last two decades in one of which they succeeded to defeat and expel Russian army. Later their recklessness led them into the third war with Russia which ended in a complete destruction of Chechen resistance but for a while it looked as if Russians had got enough of this tiny people and had no more nerve to mess with them. Say what you say about Lermontov, call him racist, but think about Ossetian provocations against Georgia followed by them immediately calling on Russian army to come and save them, and you can't say that the following quotes from Lermontov don't ring.

Behind my cart, a team of four oxen was pulling another with the greatest ease, despite the fact that it was piled high, to the very top. This circumstance amazed me. Walking behind the cart was its owner, who was smoking a small Kabardian pipe set in silver. He was wearing an officer's overcoat without epaulets and a shaggy Circassian hat. He seemed to be about fifty; his swarthy complexion showed that he was long familiar with the Caucasian sun, and his prematurely gray whiskers were not in keeping with his firm step and robust countenance. I walked over to him and bowed in greeting; he returned my bow without speaking and released a huge puff of smoke.

"You and I are fellow travelers, it seems."

He again bowed, without speaking.

"You must be on your way to Stavropol."

"Exactly so...with government property."

"Tell me, please, why is it that four oxen are pulling your heavy cart easily, while six beasts can scarcely budge my empty one, even with the help of these Ossetians?"

He smiled slyly and gave me a significant look.

"You doubtless have not been in the Caucasus long."

"About a year," I replied.

He smiled a second time.

"But what is the matter?"

"What's the matter! Horrible brutes, these Asiatics! You think they're helping by shouting? The devil only knows what they're shouting! The oxen understand them; you could harness up a score of them and still, if they shouted in their way, the oxen would never budge. Horrible swindlers! But what can you expect from them?... They enjoy fleecing the travelers who pass through. The rogues have been spoiled! You'll see, they're going to get a tip from you as well. Oh, I know them, they can't fool me."

"Have you served here long?"

"Yes, I served here under Alexei Petrovich," [Ermolov] he replied, assuming a dignified air. "When he arrived at the frontier, I was a second lieutenant," he added, "and under him I received two promotions for actions against the mountaineers."

"And now you are...?"

"Now I'm counted with the Third Frontier Battalion. And you, may I be so bold as to ask?"

I told him.

At this the conversation ended, and we continued to walk in silence, side by side. At the mountain's summit we found snow. The sun set and night followed day without interval, as usually happens in the South; however, thanks to the reflection off the snow, we could easily distinguish the road, which was still going uphill, although no longer as steeply. I ordered my valise placed on the cart and the oxen exchanged for horses, and for the last time I looked back down on the valley--but a thick mist, which surged in waves from the gorges, had covered it completely, and not a single sound reached our hearing from there. The Ossetians had gathered volubly around me and were demanding tips; but the staff captain shouted at them so menacingly that they scattered instantly.

"You see, what a nation," he said. "They can't say 'bread' in Russian, but they've learned 'Officer, give me a tip!' To my mind, the Tatars are better than this; at least they don't drink."

. . .

. . .

"A pathetic lot!" I said to the captain, indicating our filthy hosts, who were looking at us silently, in a kind of stupor.

"A very stupid nation," he replied. "Would you believe it? They don't know how to do anything, they're incapable of any kind of education! At least our Kabardians or Chechens, brigands though they are, and paupers, are daring devils, whereas these haven't even a mind for weaponry. You won't see a proper dagger on a one of them. Ossetians for certain!"

"And were you in Chechnya very long?"

"Yes, I was stationed ten years at a fort there with my company, near Stone Ford. Do you know it?"

"I've heard tell."

"You know, friend, we got good and tired of these cutthroats; nowadays, thank heavens, it's quieted down, but it used to be, you'd go a hundred paces beyond the rampart, and some raggedy devil would be sitting somewhere keeping watch: a moment's heedlessness and watch out--it's either a lasso around your neck or a bullet in the back of the head. Brave lads they are!"

"A Hero of Our Time" was not the only masterpiece produced by Lermontov. In his great poem "The Demon" he has two lines that in my view are the shortest and the most accurate description of the last war. Written hundreds years ago, they seem so relevant to the recent events that I am surprised they were not quoted all over the net.

Вдруг впереди мелькнули двое,
И больше - выстрел! - что такое?..
Привстав на звонких стременах,
Надвинув на брови папах,
Отважный князь не молвил слова;
В руке сверкнул турецкий ствол,
Нагайка щелк! и, как орел,
Он кинулся... и выстрел снова!
И дикий крик и стон глухой
Промчались в глубине долины -
Недолго продолжался бой:
Бежали робкие грузины!

And translated:

Two figures - then a shot - ahead
What was it? Rising in his stirrups
Cramming his high hat on his brow
The gallant lover, at the gallop,
Plunged like a hawk upon his foe!
No word he spoke, his whip cracked once
And once blazed forth his Turkish gun....
Another shot. Wild cries. The Prince
Goes thundering on. The groans behind
Long echoes in the valley find....
Not long the fight. Of timorous mind,
The Georgians turn and run!

And to get even closer close to the original

The fight did not go on for long:
The timid Georgians ran away!

Some military analysts have been wondering recently about how the poorly equipped and disorganized Russian forces, that entered Georgia on tanks dating from 60s while coordinating their actions via cellular phones, could defeat in such a short time the Western trained Georgian army. They should read Russian classics.


September 21, 2008

To Get the Bear

On Nizo's suggestion I am attaching to this post an illustration that takes a view at the situation from a somewhat more philosophical perspective. Readers versed in Buddhist teachings will detect in it the familiar themes of impermanence and selflessness of existence, the general instability of life. When the mind of meditator, sharpened by many years of intensive practice, finally penetrates the essence of all phenomena, the shapes and forms dissolve in front of his eyes and he's seeing only one uninterrupted and ever changing flow of life.

There is really nothing here that the human mind, that restless and greedy for all things new and cool monkey, can really grab on. Youth, beauty, your intellect... They will all be soon subject to decay and degradation. Cells inside your body die and are born again, but tissues and hard structure are all in the process of gradual aging and disintegration.

In the good old days when committed Yogis could engage freely in observing the process of decomposition of dead bodies left lying by the side of a road or a cemetery, the fact of impermanence would have quickly impress itself on and penetrate their mind. There is no abiding self here, all phenomena are inherently empty of real substance. Great emptiness, the foundation of all existence, fills the Yogi's mind and Nirvana, the unborn, is realized.

The modern mind, shaped by the culture of mass consumerism and unbridled materialism, will fail to find anything in this vision that's not abhorrent. But it's not for nothing that ancient sages were cultivating these attitudes so assiduously. In the words of the great DhammaPada:

Just as the great ocean has but one taste,
the taste of salt,
so too this teaching [of Buddha] has but one taste,
the taste of freedom. Ud.56

It's the freedom from things and possessions, both material and immaterial, that paves the way towards final liberation. Modern mind will refuse to accept that through the process of dispossessing itself of everything its owner was so busy accumulating throughout his life, liberation can be achieved. There is nothing here beyond what I can put my hands on, reasons it.

But the eternal wisdom of Buddha teachings says: Embrace the impermanence, embrace the instability and you will see worlds beyond the deceptive appearance of things. Your life, your body, people around you, a flower under your feet, they will all go one day the way of mortal flesh because none of them belongs to you. Nothing in this world belongs to man.

Don't grab on, don't try to fix the life process. You will never succeed. Some days you are rich, some days you are dead poor. Some days you feel wonderful, some days you are sick and so it goes on until you die. There is no permanence here. Today's beggars are tomorrow's kings. Today's kings are tomorrow's beggars. Today you are a live man. Tomorrow you are bones rotting in the ground consumed by worms. Some days it's you who gets the bear and some days, you know... it's just the other way round...







September 24, 2008

Everybody, please help Georgia !!!

Having considered the conflict from various perspectives, starting with Russian classics and ending with Buddha and DhammaPada, it should be the most appropriate to say a few words about its military and other more earthly aspects too. In particular, the surprise regarding the swift defeat of the Georgian army should be mentioned as especially misplaced. The fact that the Georgian army has been trained by the US and Israeli instructors does not make the outcome any more surprising but actually much less. Of course, the problem is that the US fights its wars from a very different position of overwhelming air superiority and firepower. This fact has probably not escaped American instructors in Georgia and the deep involvement of Israel in the training and equipping of the Georgian forces may be partly a result of reasoning that Georgia has by far more to learn from Israel than from the US due to the similarity of their situations. After all, both are tiny countries surrounded from three sides by a huge and vastly more populous enemy states.

Such a reasoning can make sense for some people, but in fact Israel's military experience is hardly more relevant for Georgia than that of the US. To start with, it may be true that Israel was often outnumbered and outgunned by its enemies, but it has never happened on the scale of Georgia vs Russia. Another thing is that the IDF was mostly fighting as a conventional army that relied heavily on its armor to smash through enemy lines. Air superiority and speed have been hallmarks of this strategy based on preventive strikes and lightening attacks, but the point here was again about a small and efficient conventional army fighting big and poorly organized and coordinated Arab conventional forces.

Georgia can only dream about achieving air superiority over Russia and there is nothing Georgia can achieve by emulating Israeli method of lightening blitzkriegs across the border. Some Arab capitals are within a few hours drive from the border with Israel, but Russia is a huge country and for Georgians to get to the nearest significant base of Russian army may require up to a few days of driving through Russian controlled territory with no air cover. The Israelis may teach the Georgians how to be fast and mobile and even advise them to put their artillery on wheels to get some extra mobility, but even with these tactics the Georgians can just as well try to punch the skies with their hands. To unleash surprise attacks deep into the huge vastness of Russia makes no more sense, Russia is simply too big.

It may be possible for the Georgians to outmaneuver invading Russian forces inside Georgia, but given Russian control of the skies even this option is probably not very real and the element of surprise will be largely lost if the Georgians are just to wait for Russians to come. Anyway, Israelis themselves are not fond of fighting on such a rigged terrain and would always prefer a more normal landscape. The wars in Lebanon helped little to change the army's attitudes on this and so there is very little the IDF can actually teach the Georgians in this respect. Never mind the impression created by the last war that the IDF has lost quite a few teeth over years and it's not clear whether it's still capable of reproducing the feats that made it famous in the past. In short, one of the mistakes committed by the Georgians is that they have chosen very wrong teachers to learn from. And, as it seems, they are still persisting in this folly.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who shortly after the war was making laugh of the Georgians and their Israeli instructors, has by far more sense than many people dare to admit. Regardless if the claim that Russian soldiers are seen so often seating on the armor of their APCs because they are scared of getting trapped inside burning vehicles is true, it's plain obvious that a properly trained Georgian force equipped with good anti tank missiles could have wrecked total havoc with the antiquated armor the Russians rolled into Georgia on the first days of the war. The geographical conditions of Georgia are actually quite similar to South Lebanon and probably digging a few tunnels in the mountains could be helpful too. Instead, when Russian air planes attacked the two and a half military bases the Georgians kept in Gori and elsewhere, the troops had to disperse and the logistics and supply side of the Georgian military was utterly disrupted. In short, there are some lessons to be learned here, but given that nobody is going to do it they are not really relevant.

Anyway, if anything, the Georgians should have better taken a good look at Hezbollah's tactics during the last war and in particular the ballistic type of guerrilla warfare the group was perfecting over the last years. During the last war in Lebanon, anti tank rockets manufactured by the same Russians have turned in the hands of Hezbollah into surprisingly effective and versatile weapons. Most Israeli casualties were caused by these rockets and not by bullets and other arms. Fired from a distance of a few hundreds meters to a few kilometers, they are just as effective against infantry as they are against tanks and they allow personnel operating them enough time and distance to have a good chance to get away undetected. The helicopter Israel lost in the last days of the war has been reportedly also hit by one of these missiles.

The fact of the matter is that for Georgia to resist Russia does not make much sense in any situation, and this has been pointed out to Saakashvili by his US advisers. The US military experts were skeptical not only about Georgia's ability to beat Russian forces back, but, and even more, about its ability to hold the ground against a protracted aerial assault. Of course, as any true Caucasians, the Georgians just love this aggressive warlike rhetoric which is very common in the region, but their another, and maybe even bigger, mistake was precisely this - confusing themselves with the Chechens. The Chechens may not mind to have their whole country bombed to pieces when they get serious about fighting a war, but Georgians, these Latinos of the Caucasus, used to enjoy their excellent climate, sea, tasty food and famous wine, are nothing like this.

But the real irony of the current situation is that the Georgians may actually end owing more to Russian imperialism than they can imagine. Georgia has advanced tremendously since the days of Gamsakhurdia when "Georgia for Georgians" used to decorate streets in Tbilisi and be chanted during demonstrations. The same Saakashvili has been working very hard to propel his country forward economically and he was largely successful, but absolutely nothing seemed to be able to move the Georgians even one inch from their stone age nationalism, even though admittedly it's a part of the wider regional mentality and shared by all Georgia's neighbors as well. Surgical intervention was urgently needed to cut Georgia from her illusions and the Russians have inadvertently provided Georgia with just this. With the territorial integrity of Georgia gone up in flames, the Georgians have at last no more excuses and will have to concentrate on modernizing their country instead of dreaming about fighting hopeless wars. Anyway, the Georgians don't even fight them so much as they are dreaming about doing this one day.


September 25, 2008

The enemy of an enemy of my enemy's enemy's enemy

Ruslan Yamadayev, a former Russian Duma deputy from Putin's United Russia, was gunned down in Moscow near the White House. Another man who traveled with Yamadayev and was seriously wounded was identified as former Russian military commander for Chechnya. The attacker approached Yamadayev's Mercedes S500 when that stopped for a red light and shot both men at point-blank range.

Like the current president of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, Yamadaev hailed from a powerful Chechen clan that fought Russians during the first Chechen war. The short lived Chechen de facto independence put the clan at war with other Chechen groups and Arab volunteers who came to Chechnya to join the Jihad in the Caucasus. Both clans were later instrumental in Russian reconquista of Chechnya when they secured for Russian forces the second largest Chechen city Gudermes to be taken over without a fight. Yamadayev's brother, Sulim, has later become commander of Battalion Vostok, a special unit of Russian army packed with former Chechen rebels, that became famous for its savagery and ferocity.

The widely circulated in the media story goes that the growing tensions between the two clans have exploded a few months ago when a Vostok's convoy came face to face with the presidential motorcade near Grozny and refused to clear the road. The standoff between the two forces quickly turned violent and in a shootout that followed several Kadirov's bodyguards were shot dead. Sulim Yamadaev was removed from position of Vostok's commander but he reappeared later in South Ossetia in command of the same Vostok that joined the invading Russian forces.

The story is remarkable because of its being so reminiscent of the wars in Abkhazia years ago when the Chechens were providing the bulk of Caucasian volunteers that helped the local separatists, supplied and encouraged by Russians, to defeat Georgian forces and expel Georgian population from the region (that accounted at the time for about 50% of the population of Abkhazia). In a bizarre twist of fate the most famous and hated in Russia Chechen commander Shamil Basayev started his insurgent career as commander of Caucasian volunteers in Abkhazia. A while later his force of hardened veterans of the war was already laying ambushes to Russians all over Chechnya.

It's highly ironic that the famous clip of a Russian tank column being decimated in Chechnya near Shatoy should start with narrating the story of the Basayev's battalion that came to be known as the Abkhazian battalion. The Shatoy ambush, in which dozens of Russian tanks and military vehicles have been wiped out by Arab volunteers, has become an iconic symbol of the first Chechen war.

In fact, even the background of Shatoy clip contains another testimony to the unstable world of Caucasian alliances as the rebel commander who staged the ambush, Jordanian-born Khattab, has met and made friends with the same Basayev during the war in Nagornii Karabakh where both were fighting on the side of Azeris. In that war the Armenians, who unlike the Georgians have reputation of tough fighters, kicked the asses of both Azeris and their foreign and Caucasian allies. But in Abkhazia the local Armenian community joined forces with Chechens and Abkhazians and their invisible Russian allies against the Georgians.

Youtube has a clip with Basayev speaking about the war in Abkhazia and in particular the battle of Gagra.


The, admittedly, most daring of all rebel leaders, Basayev later led a Chechen expedition into neighboring Dagestan where the Chechens hoped to start a popular uprising against Russian rule. He was also reportedly involved in planning a series of bombings of apartment blocks across Russia in which hundreds of Russians died and which prompted Putin's famous address to Russian nation in which he promised to kill the rebels one by one everywhere including their toilets. Putin made good on his promise and all rebel leaders are now dead with some having been hunted down as far from Chechnya as Qatar. Basayev had massively outlived all his colleagues but eventually the Russians got him too, though not before he had sent his people to storm that school in Beslan.

The parallels between Abkhazia and South Ossetia are obvious and don't require explanations and, if indeed, history is going in circles, then we have a good chance to hear more news from the Yamadayev clan at some point in the future. Of course, right now Russia seems to be only tightening its grip on the Caucasus. But the Caucasus is a wild place and strengthening one's grip on it is rather similar to winding up a tight spring. The day the Russians fail to keep their grip tight enough, they will discover that history is indeed proceeding in circles.

Shatoy, 1996





October 8, 2008

Ingushetia

No account of the mess Russia is currently creating in the Caucasus can be complete without Ingushetia where an opposition leader died in circumstances that are anything but clear. The death of Magomed Yevloyev has triggered a chain of events that culminated in an attack on the motorcade of Minister of Internal Affairs Musa Medov. It all started when Yevloyev, who was running Ingushetia's main opposition site registered in the US, had decided to pay a visit to the homeland. What made him take such a reckless step is not clear, but it's claimed that he came packed with hundreds of thousands of dollars and with a draft of declaration of Ingushetia's independence. In a bizarre twist of fate, he found himself traveling in the same plane with Ingushetia's president, Murat Zyazikov, appointed by Putin a few years ago instead of the locally elected Ruslan Alushev, who was deemed too soft and compromising in his dealing with opposition and Islamic radicals who based themselves in the republic. A former KGB general, Zyazikov has succeeded in a very short time to radicalize the republic so much that attacks on police outposts and military convoys have turned into almost daily routine.

It's not known whether any interaction between the two men, whose relationships are characterized by implacable hostility, happened on the plane, but Yevloyev was certainly aware that he was sharing the plane with his arch rival, given that he reportedly sent an SMS to his family about this. However, upon the arrival Yevloyev had barely made a few steps inside the airport, when he was arrested, pushed into a police car and driven away. When Yevloyev's family members, who came to the airport to meet him, have realized what happened they opened in pursuit.

They got the police convoy somewhere on the road to Nazran, Ingushetia's capital, and having dragged the officers out of their cars, they then proceeded to beat their very lives out of them. However, either this was another police convoy or for some other reason, Yevloyev was not there. It's at this point, according to clan members, that some police officers were begging for their lives saying that their hands are clean from Yamadayev's blood, hours before the man was officially reported dead. Yamadayev's body later found shot in the head, the official version is that Yevloyev was shot by mistake and unintentionally while Yevloyev's clan claimed that he was shot immediately after he had been dragged into the police car.

The events then followed the regular Caucasian script with Yevloyev's father declaring blood feud on both president Zyazikov and interior minister Medov. Zyazikov's home was attacked with grenade launchers, though Yevloyev's widow denied clan's responsibility for the death of Zyazikov's cousin who was shot dead a few days later. However, what was not the regular Caucasian routine of blood feuding is a suicide bomber who tried to ram a car packed with explosives into the motorcade of Medov a few days ago. The car went off prematurely and Medov had survived the attack intact, however suicide attacks are still not a regular part of the simmering insurgency unfolding in this tiny Caucasian republic which is Russia's poorest region and has the highest birth rate in the Russian federation.

This escalation have left some analysts wondering if another Chechnya, though on a smaller scale, is about to erupt in the Caucasus and what effect this may have on other parts of the Caucasus, in particular North Ossetia, with which Ingushetia has what can be defined as a mega blood feud. A Reuters correspondent was pondering this scenario recently.

NAZRAN, Russia, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Russia thought it had tamed the Muslim regions on its southern flank when it quelled a rebellion in Chechnya, but trouble is brewing again.

Barely noticed by the outside world, increasing violence and clashes between federal forces and rebels in Ingushetia, just west of Chechnya, threaten to destabilise the north Caucasus."

Ninety-three people were killed in clashes in the year to the end of August, the local branch of human rights group Memorial says -- a big death toll for a region with a population of only 470,000.

. . .


It is more than a local problem. As with two rounds of conflict in Chechnya, which killed tens of thousands of people from 1994 and spilled over to neighbouring regions, the clashes in Ingushetia could spread to other parts of the North Caucasus.

They could also re-ignite an ethnic conflict with the neighbouring Christian region of North Ossetia in which more than 500 people were killed in 1992.

. . .

Source

Ingushetia, that until very recently has been quietly seating out the wars in Chechnia and elsewhere in the Caucasus in a remarkable demonstration of loyalty to Russia, has been steadily sliding into insurgency ever since Zyazikov's appointment, but the situation took a marked turn for the worse in the wake of the war in Georgia. Russia's support for independence of South Ossetia, Ingushetia's enemy, seems to have finally tipped the balance in a decisive way. The core of the dispute between the Ingush and Ossetians is about territories taken over by the Ossetians during the Ingush absence from the region following their mass deportation by Stalin during the second world war. When finally allowed to come back, the Ingush, who returned in hugely reduced numbers (some claim that two thirds of them died during the deportation and later in exile), found their homes and much of their territory resettled by their Christian neighbors. Attempts at resolving the dispute by peaceful means failed and an armed conflict erupted in 1992 during which the Ingush had to undergo another ethnic cleansing with thousands of them having been expelled from the disputed region.

The relative docility of the Ingush under their previous president may have to do a lot with a certain expectation of a reward for their good behavior in the form of the Russians moving in to redress historical injustices at the expense of the Ossetians. However no reward has ever come and docility does not appear to be a natural part of the Ingush national character. In fact, during the Russian conquest of the Caucasus the Russians have singled out them together with the Chechens as standing out by the virtue of their warlike nature even in this region teeming with martial races. That the Ingush patience was running thin for quite a while is indirectly confirmed by the fact that most members of the group sent by Basayev to storm the school in Beslan (the school itself is in North Ossetia) were Ingush and by the steadily increasing rate of attacks on Russian servicemen and just ethnic Russians inside Ingushetia itself. Russian recognition of South Ossetia's independence may well be the last straw that breaks the camel's back. Unsurprisingly, the Ingush are not exactly alone in their reviling of the Ossetians, as the recent wars of Russia in the Caucasus have been steadily giving shape to a new alliance in the region.


This one should be counted together with a massive rapprochement between the Georgians and Chechens that started shortly after the first Chechen war when Chechen president came to Georgia and apologized for the Chechen part in the Abkhazian war that ended in dozens of thousands of ethnic Georgians having been driven out of Abkhazia. Incensed by the Abkhazians failure to reciprocate by showing up during the first Russian Chechen war, a serious rethink happened in Chechnya about its alliances. Famous for their militancy, the Chechens have never been equally famous for being idiots and the fact that in Abkhazia they have been skillfully exploited by the locals to serve the imperialist agenda of the hated Russian enemy haven't escaped their attention. In 2001 Hamzat Gelayev, one of the best known Chechen warlords who together with Basayev fought on the Abkhazian side in 1992, led a force of hundreds of Chechens and Georgians across the border to storm the Kodori gorge, though they were beaten back by the Russians and Abkhazians.

The incoming uprising in Ingushetia will probably be crashed and quickly because there is simply not enough Ingush to keep this uprising going on for long. The Chechens seem to be (temporarily) exhausted and with no energy left to send enough volunteers to sustain the uprising. The same goes about Georgia that's still in the state of shock and despair after the last war. Nevertheless, in any case this uprising will serve one more valuable lesson to the next generation of separatists. It's basically the same old lesson about the impossibility of winning independence from Russia in one single country and the need for a coordinated action across several republics at once. Apart from learning this lesson, the future generations of Caucasian separatists will have much less difficulty in determining who should fight who, as the Ossetians and the badly depopulated Abkhazia are set to be swallowed by Russia in the near future or at least to become Russia's satellites totally dependent on Moscow to survive economically and defend their territory against the Georgians and Ingush. The front lines of the future conflicts are already well established.

In many ways the Caucasus is the Russian version of Lebanon and the legacy Putin leaves to the next generations of Russians in the region may soon reveal itself as toxic to the extreme. The strong side of Putin's policies is based on the determination with with Russia is rebuilding its military muscle and using it inside its borders. Their weakness is that any achievements created by such policies may quickly unravel the very moment Russia finds itself either lacking in military power or determination to put it to good use. In this sense the Russians should better bear in mind that Russia may not get another Putin to replace the current one when he dies or becomes disabled by the old age and by that time Russia may find itself vastly debilitated by the seemingly unstoppable process of the rapid shrinking and aging of its population. But the Caucasus, with its centuries old traditions of banditry, mafias and kidnappings, now supplemented by regular Islamic radicalism and terrorism, is not a region that allows easy disengagements, once one gets in.

The Russians should do something really smart and fast before the situation in Ingushetia too gets out of control. Removing Zyazikov or letting the Ingush get him may go some way in reducing the tension. The Russians may also try to build something in Ingushetia just as they did in Chechnya where large scale reconstruction projects are credited by some with the relative calm of the last few years (this is a somewhat doubtful claim to say the least). The failure to salvage Ingushetia would mean that Russia is left with Dagestan as the only critical region in the Caucasus still not messed completely, never mind that Dagestan has a low scale insurgency going on in its mountains too. But if the Russians want to try reconstruction in Ingushetia then they will find this task much easier if they start with it right now, before they find themselves left with no other option but to flatten the whole place just as they had to do in Chechnya.

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Proclaimed Nobody at 5:12 PM

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Friday, September 12, 2008




The Shape of Things to Come

Last updated: September 13, 2008

September 11, 2008


Reduced Dominance

An intelligence report for the next American president, or at least some parts of it already finished, was previewed a few days ago by the US top analyst Thomas Fingar. Among the highlights of the future report is a continuing erosion in the US standing as the world's leading power.

"The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished," Fingar said, according to a transcript of the Thursday speech. He saw U.S. leadership eroding "at an accelerating pace" in "political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas."

In the words of a recent book on the same subject, "the shift is not about the "decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else." Rising regional powers such as China, India, Russia and Brazil will gradually translate their growing economic power into a political and military one.

Yet, the report, as it seems, does not envision a new multipolar and multilateral world order but rather a disintegration of order in general.

In the new intelligence forecast, it is not just the United States that loses clout. Fingar predicts plummeting influence for the United Nations, the World Bank and a host of other international organizations that have helped maintain political and economic stability since World War II. It is unclear what new institutions can fill the void, he said.

In the years ahead, Washington will no longer be in a position to dictate what new global structures will look like. Nor will any other country, Fingar said.

Climate change and dramatic demographic shifts are predicted to redraw political maps and redress the balance of power. According to Fingar, the intelligence agencies are largely in agreement with the prevalent scientific view of anthropogenic climate change. And while global warming has come to be seen as a major security threat in the coming decades, the consensus is that it's too late to avert its devastating impact over the next two decades.

The predicted shift toward a less U.S.-centric world will come at a time when the planet is facing a growing environmental crisis, caused largely by climate change, Fingar said. By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

For poorer countries, climate change "could be the straw that breaks the camel's back," Fingar said, while the United States will face "Dust Bowl" conditions in the parched Southwest.

The devastation produced by global warming will set in motion massive migration flows on one hand, and will coincide, on the other, with steadily deteriorating dependency ratios in Europe, Japan and China, where the proportion of population past the working age will continue increasing.

On the bright side for the US, the report foresees a favorable demographic situation in the US, in particular when compared to Europe/Japan, where what the reports terms "chauvinism" (!!! NB) will prevent the use of immigration as a cure to the growing demographic woes of the two.

"We are just about alone in terms of the highly developed countries that will continue to have demographic growth sufficient to ensure continued economic growth," Fingar said.

Source




September 12, 2008

. . . By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

For poorer countries, climate change "could be the straw that breaks the camel's back," Fingar said . . .


The STRAW and the Camels

Global warming will be producing not only losers but winners as well. Some are already readying themselves for becoming Kuwaits and Saudi Arabias of the North. Nothing out of ordinary is happening. Humanity has been through this and not once in the past. The last time it happened, some civilizations were greatly prospering thanks to a warmer climate... Others have got wiped off the face of the earth. The main impact of the unfolding climatic shift is yet to be felt across the globe, but the straw has already starting landing on the back of some camels. It's a weird coincidence that the first to have been hit are indeed sharing their habitat with real camels.

Across the Middle East and North Africa droughts have been laying waste to crops for a few consecutive years running amidst an escalating water crisis. Syria is one of the most affected countries due to its being one of the few significant exporters of agricultural produce left. Two years of an uninterrupted drought have destroyed crops at a time when the country is at the point of turning into a net importer of oil at any moment. The declining oil production has forced the government to put the population through a particularly painful round of cutting energy subsidies and hiking prices just a few months ago, but the current collapse of agricultural production prompted some officials to hint that the food subsidies has become unsupportable and should go too.

In Egypt the reformist government of technocrats, appointed by Mubarak (probably following an advice from his Western educated son), seems to have started dropping its macroeconomic targets because of the ballooning food and fuel subsidies. Foreign debt ratio and budget deficit are all expected to grow as the government is pouring money into subsidy programs in a bid to stem what's threatening to wipe out any social achievements produced by the impressive economic growth of the last years. The rise of global food prices and global slowdown could not have happened at the worst time as even before the analysts were worrying about the possibility of public finances going out of control at the first sign of a cyclical downturn.

The impact global warming is having in the region is exacerbated by the fact that, long before any warming, large chunks of the region have been already at danger of collapsing under the weight of their swollen populations. All around the region absolutely everything from water to cultivable land is becoming scarce. In half a dozen of nations even oil is running out. Much of the region is already overpopulated with no space left for even a modest population growth. In fact, under current conditions, without a major technological breakthrough, some nations can no longer hope to survive unless annual quotes are established for selectively shooting off an expendable part of the population.

In the last two decades demographic indicators of the region have improved tremendously and the total fertility rate for the Middle East and North Africa is currently estimated at about 3 children per woman. Even in such a deeply fundamentalist country as Saudi Arabia the TFR has dropped to below 4 from 6 over the span of barely two decades. Nevertheless, however impressive the demographic achievements of the Middle East have been lately, they too all belong to the category of "Too little, too late". Despite the rapid decline of the Arab fertility in the Middle East, that went in parallel with similar processes in Iran/Turkey, in many parts of the region the population growth is still proceeding at rates that can be hardly considered reasonable (never mention that many parts of the region can take no more population growth whatsoever). While in Iran and a large part of North Africa population growth has slowed down to 1% and less, demographic explosions are still going strong in Syria and elsewhere due to the population momentum accumulated through the past decades of record high fertility rates. Taking into account that people don't start marrying and searching for work until they are about 20 years old, this means that in many parts of the region the worst is yet to come. The pressure on already depleted and exhausted resources will continue increasing at a time when a big part of these resources is set to be destroyed by climate change and overexploitation.

The situation may turn even uglier if amidst the worsening social conditions and simmering discontent the dictators start losing control over their populations setting on the loose sectarian, fundamentalist and other beasts that are loudly begging to be released into the wild. The sectarian beast was recently on the loose in Iraq and Sudan and the extreme violence that followed, and the elevated number of casualties as well, should make some to miss a few heartbeats at the mere thought of this possibility. Yemen will be the first to go and its imminent collapse should send waves of refugees and may even initiate a chain reaction across the region as a last rehearsal before the main event.

In the present situation of the global overpopulation meeting a massive climate change, the world's best hope is, ironically, that very Russia now at loggerheads with the West all over the place. The amount of land that Russia can commit to agriculture is hardly imaginable and it can grow even more as global warming raises temperatures over Russia's northern regions. However, Russia is facing the danger of depopulation itself, and its rural populations seem to have been reduced to the state of China's coastal provinces at the time of the Opium wars due to the unending epidemic of chronic alcoholism. The attempts at reforms based on encouraging private farming have largely failed, at least Russia is so massively underperforming in terms of agriculture compared to its potential, that at the current rate it will fail to rise to the challenge. To become the Saudi Arabia of agriculture Russia needs industrial scale agriculture driven by huge corporations and based on a massive import of workforce from abroad. Given that Russians are slow learners who don't get the point until falling into the same pitfall for at least three times, the rescue team should not be expected to arrive any time soon and even when it does, it won't work for free.

Under such conditions, Israel and its leaders should keep in mind that the place may be soon swamped with hundreds of thousands and millions of refugees. The infamous concept of open borders of Shimon Peres won't do for sure, but even closed borders may fail to stem the tide. The fucking borders should be closed, closed and closed !!!


PS

For those interested here is a report presented by Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's chief foreign policy coordinator and the European commissioner for external relations, to the European Council in 2008.

Those parts of the populations that already suffer from poor health conditions, unemployment or social exclusion are rendered more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which could amplify or trigger migration within and between countries. The UN predicts that there will be millions of "environmental" migrants by 2020 with climate change as one of the major drivers of this phenomenon. Some countries that are extremely vulnerable to climate change are already calling for international recognition of such environmentally-induced migration. Such migration may increase conflicts in transit and destination areas. Europe must expect substantially increased migratory pressure.

Source: Climate change and international security



September 13, 2008

"We are just about alone in terms of the highly developed countries that will continue to have demographic growth sufficient to ensure continued economic growth," Fingar said.


Just about alone

The demographic outlook for the US is generally considered to be brighter than for the rest of the Western world. By 2050 The US population, driven by a reasonably stable birth rate and immigration, may swell to represent 50% of what's today considered the West. The shift will be not only quantitative, but qualitative as well, as the US population will feature a much more balanced age structure compared to other Western countries, some of which are at risk of turning into huge nursing houses in which inter generational social wars will be fought between an ever expanding mass of native pensioners and hordes of disenchanted youths of immigrant descent from banlieus.

However, a few factors should be mentioned that can make the eventual scenario much less dramatic. First of all, there are signs of recovery in Northern Europe. It's hard to tell how much of this feeble recovery owes to the same immigrants and how much of it is genuine, but it's claimed that most of it is native. Of course, as it looks now, most of this recovery should be classified under the label of "Too little, too late", but nevertheless it's happening.

Neither the report takes into account possible advances in medicine. In the coming decades, and this may happen sooner than many think, new drugs may find their way to markets capable of slowing down or even reversing the process of aging. The whole concept of the working age may have to be revised with people capable of remaining agile and alert for far longer than it was originally envisioned by the mother nature. While the cost of such treatments is sure to happen to be prohibitively expensive, highly developed nations may be able to afford it. In such a case the expected massive shrinking of the working age population in Europe and elsewhere and the resultant economic downturn may fail to materialize.

Second, much of the projections regarding the demographic future of the US is based on very high expectations from the Latino immigration with some polls predicting the Latinos and other minorities breeding themselves into majority in the US. In reality there is absolutely no reason to believe that the current rate of Latino immigration will succeed to maintain itself even for the next 5 years. The same goes about Latino demographics within the US. Within the next decade most of Latin America will go sub replacement in demographic terms and many countries may fall behind the US in terms of fertility rates and even crude birth rates. The population growth is already below 1% in some countries and it will be only falling. In fact, the major countries of the continent - Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are already all at replacement and sub replacement levels of fertility, which on one hand ensures a decline in the number of potential immigrants in a very near future and on the other an improved economic outlook for the continent which, again, should lead to more of the first.

In Europe the native Latino factor has failed miserably in demographic terms as it's precisely such countries of Southern Europe as Italy, Span and Portugal that suffer from the most atrociously low fertility even by the European standards. Given the cultural background, this is one more reason to believe that the declining Latino fertility in the US and in Latin America itself will not stabilize soon at levels comparable to the current one, but will continue sliding down for a long time to come. If anything, the conservative right and Christian evangelicals are a much safer bet if one is looking for a demographic horse to put his money on. A similar situation seems to be developing in the third world, the same Latin America and elsewhere, where Evangelicals and other Pentecostal Christian groups have been steadily making inroads recently against the background of the global slide into sub replacement fertility spreading into developing nations.

In economic terms too, there are increasing signs that Latin America has turned the corner and its current economic ascent is neither temporary nor a coincidence. Even in Brazil, run by leaders of what was once considered an incurably populist leftist movement, the government has surprised outside observers by its impressive commitment to stable and sound macroeconomic policies. This means that despite occasional bouts of Chavismo/Moralismo there is a conversion across a wide political spectrum in terms of economic policies. Such a continuity of policies, that can now be expected to pass uninterrupted through elections, should guarantee stable economic growth in much of the continent. The expanding global demand for mineral resources and agricultural products driven by the rapid industrialization of India/China and some other developing nations seems to favor the continent as well. Across Latin America industrial scale agriculture oriented on Asian markets is transforming the countryside and remote provinces.

The rising Middle-class and falling inequality in Brazil


Source: The Economist

While the current economic growth in Latin America is not sky high, it's nevertheless stable and robust enough and, taking into account the gradually decelerating population growth, one can be reasonably sure that even without double digit economic growth rates the continent will continue experiencing a steadily growing prosperity in the coming decades. The combination of these factors makes the, much feared in some quarters and eagerly awaited in some others, Latino takeover of the US very unlikely (never mind that the next generation of the US Latinos will be rather heavily Americanized and assimilated). On the other hand, it also means reduced chances of the US population ballooning to half a billion by the middle of the century. Of course, if nevertheless it does happen, then by the middle of the century the US will be transformed into a huge nation supported by one of the most powerful, and probably still the most powerful, economies of the world. In any case, given the relative ease with which the US absorbs new immigrations and its stable fertility rates, one thing is clear - there is little chance of the US coming even close to the demographic mess now worsening in Japan and across large swaths of Europe.



September 13, 2008

"The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished," Fingar said, according to a transcript of the Thursday speech. He saw U.S. leadership eroding "at an accelerating pace" in "political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas."


The Art of being an Empire

Grozny, 1995

The rise of regional powers will challenge the US supremacy in different parts of the world, but it does not necessarily mean that the US will be soon facing a global rival. The comparison often made today between the old Soviet Union and modern Russia is missing the point. Russia may be the world's top second oil producer, and it may even stage an impressive economic comeback at some point in the future using its vast natural resources, huge expanses of cultivable land and relatively well educated workforce, but the driving force behind the Soviet expansion was ideological in its essence. And its huge global impact was based on the powerful attraction that ideology had for millions of people around the globe. Russia possesses nothing of this kind today. Neither does China for this matter.

The worn out Marxist cliches that dominate the thinking of large chunks of Western academy and media about economic interests as primary forces shaping history will never account for the fact that for decades Japan had all technological and economic resources to become the world number two and yet it did not happen. China may quietly sabotage all US and UN efforts to impose economic blockade on Sudan and Burma and basically it's just doing whatever it sees as beneficial for itself, yet no sane person would consider China imperialist. In fact, China seems to be so little interested in confrontations and so immersed in developing its economy and managing its mounting environmental problems, that it's very unlikely that the world will see the imperial navy hurrying fleets of aircraft carriers across oceans any time soon.

Having economic interests is simply not a good enough reason for striving to become a global superpower. At least, not in our days. The much written on struggle for control of oil resources, which is actually a misinterpretation of what's in reality a very prudent and reasonable policy of securing energy supplies (that benefits just about everybody and not only the US and big oil), does not require so much of global presence. Certainly, not for Russia. And, in any way, it may be rendered obsolete over the next one-two decades by a major breakthrough in alternative energies.

The senseless mumbling by GWB about freedom and democracy for every human being down to the last cannibal in Papua New Guinea makes it difficult for some people to recognize that among major world powers the US remains just about the only one both with resources of a super power and with something resembling an ideology and determination fitting this status. In fact, the irony of the present situation is that the US is gradually losing its global position in the world as a result of its being triumphant over rival ideologies it was fighting for decades. The gradual decline of its global status comes as a result of the US having achieved what used to be the primary objective of its foreign policy since the WW2. Russia, China and others owe most of their success to adopting the Western model of running society and economy, spreading which had been one of the cornerstones of the US policy for the last half of the past century.

This fact would have been even more obvious if the US continued to have that pragmatic and realistic approach that led it to support the regime of Pinochet and Iranian Shah during the cold war. Lately both the US and much of the West seem to have been badly afflicted by all sorts of politically correct lunacies and fantasies and the old way was forsaken. But in the good old days US administrations would have been thanking god every single day for bestowing on the world Putin and China's communist reformers.

Grozny, 2007

There may exist a certain difference, difficult to pinpoint precisely, between an empire and a global superpower. Russia may not be ready to trade a healthy doze of investment into its hi-tech or nano-tech industries for extravagant oversees adventures and in this sense another global cold war is unlikely. But when it comes to what Russians call their near abroad, Russia remains a regional power, or better an empire, whose determination to assert this role has been only growing in the last years.

These attitudes are bound to set Russia on a collision course with another regional block, the European Union, unless the West firmly decides to keep a safe distance from Russia. How big this distance should be can be negotiated but, at the minimum, it should be as wide as Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Caucasus together. The combined GDP and population of the members of the EU notwithstanding, the block is still badly failing to meet the requirements for making a global, and even a regional, power, never mention facing Russia on its own. And the shameful episodes of European soldiers surrendering at the first sign of Iranian patrol boats, whole nations caving in in the face of terror attacks and military alliances unraveling after the first dozen of plastic bags is sent home from Afghanistan or elsewhere, are only proving that far from becoming a counterweight to the American influence, as was expected by some, the EU may need America more than ever in a very near future.

The prerequisites for running an empire the Russian style, or becoming a global super power the American way, or just playing the role of a regional power, include not only technological and economic prowess. The power will fail to be projected beyond the borders, and even within them, unless there is somebody willing to project it. Whether to put out regional conflagrations in the Balkans, or to confront the increasingly more assertive Russia, Europe seems to be just hardly capable of managing this stuff on its own. Europeans have got more polite towards the US recently. That's a smart boy.

And when it comes to running real empires, it involves some really hardcore stuff. It involves the ability to densely pack the ground below one's feet with dead bodies. And it involves going out to collect bodies of one's soldiers by truckloads as well. In fact, being prepared to do the latter may well be the most important of them all. Over the last two decades Russia reportedly killed dozens of thousands, some claim hundreds of thousands, in the Caucasus, losing thousands of its own soldiers in the process and proving on the way that the new Russia is fully worthy of its old imperial legacy. The Euro-hippies in Brussels should better notice that Russians have been in the business of running empires for centuries and, unlike some, they are still preserving most of their imperial skills largely intact.

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Proclaimed Nobody at 11:00 AM

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Sunday, September 7, 2008




Putin + Russia = :-) ?

Question to the experts:

Last night i was talking to my friend who does a lot business with Russia, he really likes Putin, claiming he has done a lot to improve the average Russian's living standards. He says that under Putin average salary, life expectancy and quality of govt services has gone up, as well as investment in infrastructure.

I read a few articles in the economist which seem to suggest the opposite (for example about their IT industry that doesn't seem to take off), my understanding is that while some people did get richer the average Russian still leads a pretty miserable existence. It seems that growth is mostly in the oil and natural resources sector (which might have a trickle down effect, but can it lift a whole country?). Still, my knowledge of Russia is limited.

What's your take on that?

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Proclaimed Black Ubuntu at 11:56 AM

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