Friday, 29 August 2008

Russian warning on Nato warships

Source: The Scotsman
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Published Date: 29 August 2008 8:17 AM
By Gerri Peev

RUSSIA has issued a stark warning over what it says is a build-up of Nato ships in the Black Sea, as tensions rise to their highest level since the outbreak of hostilities in Georgia.

The missile destroyer USS McFaul is already off the coast, with the US Coastguard ship Dallas docked in Georgia's port of Batumi, both to show support for the Caucasus nation. Washington has now ordered the flagship of its 6th Fleet, the sophisticated command ship Mount Whitney, into the area, saying it will deliver humanitarian supplies. But the flotilla has angered the Kremlin.

Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian ambassador to Nato, warned against western interference in Georgia's two breakaway regions, saying: "If Nato takes military actions against Abkhazia and South Ossetia, acting solely in support of Tbilisi, this will mean a declaration of war on Russia."

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, dragged the United States presidential candidates into the row. He suggested Georgia might have been pushed by someone in the US into using force to protect the two separatist states, saying the anti-Moscow rhetoric would help give a competitive advantage to one of the candidates.

Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia's deputy chief of the general staff, claimed up to 18 Nato vessels were in, or expected to be in, the Black Sea, and he attacked the use of warships to deliver aid to Georgia as "devilish".

Three frigates – from Spain, Germany and Poland – sailed into the Black Sea eight days ago. They were joined later by a US frigate, the Taylor, for port visits and exercises off the coasts of Romania and Bulgaria. Four warships of Nato member Turkey are also in the Black Sea.

Mr Putin's spokesman said: "The appearance of Nato battleships here in the Black Sea basin … and the decision to deliver humanitarian aid (to Georgia] using Nato battleships is something that can hardly be explained.

"Let us hope that we do not see any direct confrontation."

Russia claims the build-up is contrary to the 1936 Montreux Convention, which regulates the passage of warships there. But that charge has been denied by Carmen Romero, a Nato spokeswoman, who said the alliance had applied for transit into the Black Sea in June and stressed that the vessels would stay less than 21 days, as required by the convention.

"There is no Nato naval build-up in the Black Sea," she said. "Nato is conducting a routine and long planned exercise limited to the western part of the Black Sea. The exercise is not related to the crisis in Georgia."

Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN, Mr Putin, the former president, suggested the conflict was orchestrated to give one side in the battle for the White House an advantage. Although he did not single out John McCain, the Republican candidate has been more strident in his criticism of Russia than his Democratic rival, Barack Obama.

Mr McCain has said that Nato's failure to sign up Georgia into the military alliance had left the country vulnerable. And while Mr Obama has called for restraint on both sides, he has condemned Russian aggression.

Mr Putin said he suspected someone in the US had provoked the Georgia conflict to make the situation more tense and create "a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US president".

He went on: "The fact is that US citizens were, indeed, in the area in conflict during the hostilities. It should be admitted they would do so only following direct orders from their leaders."

Mr Putin added that the US had armed and trained Georgia.

But a White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said: "To suggest that the United States orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate – it sounds not rational."

Pressure on Russia will mount on Monday at an emergency summit of European Union leaders, to be attended by Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister.

Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, suggested the EU would consider sanctions against Russia.

As current president of the EU, France said it would aim to get consensus among all 27 countries of the bloc if sanctions were envisaged.

While the EU is not contemplating the most stringent of sanctions, such as the travel bans and arms embargoes imposed on Iran, it could postpone talks on a new partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia scheduled for September. The EU could also scrutinise the activities of the Russian energy giant Gazprom, which obtains 70 per cent of its profits from sales to Europe.

Washington said it was considering scrapping a US-Russia civilian nuclear co-operation pact in response to the conflict.

In a related development, Moscow, which has been incensed by the proposed US anti-ballistic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, announced it had successfully tested a long-range Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile.

According to the Russians, the missile has been modified to avoid detection by the anti-missile defence systems.

Meanwhile, after previous tough criticism of Russia, David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday said "there is no question of launching an all-out war with Russia".

He said: "No-one ever doubted that a Russian army of up to 800,000 people was going to defeat a Georgian army of up to 18,000 people. Indeed, that has happened over the last two weeks. The question, though, for Russia is whether it wants to suffer the isolation, the loss of respect and the loss of trust that comes from that."

A statement signed by Mr Miliband, along with the foreign ministers of the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, said they "deplored" Moscow's "excessive use of military force" in Georgia.

Moscow was offered one supportive comment, however. Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, Russia's closest ex-Soviet ally, said the Kremlin "had no other moral choice" but to recognise the Georgian regions.

The crisis flared early this month when Georgian forces tried to retake South Ossetia and Russia launched an overwhelming counter-attack.

Russian forces swept the Georgian army out of the rebel region and are still occupying some areas of Georgia proper.


THE USS Mount Whitney, a Blue Ridge class command ship, is the flagship of the United States navy's 6th Fleet.

It is also the command and control ship for Nato's southern European strike force.

It is currently based out of Gaeta, Italy.

Considered by some to be the most sophisticated command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I) ship ever commissioned, Mount Whitney incorporates various elements of the most advanced C4I electronic equipment and gives the embarked joint task-force commander the capability to control all other US naval sea units.

Mount Whitney can receive and transmit large amounts of secure data from anywhere through HF, UHF, VHF, SHF and EHF communications paths.

The vessel carries little in the way of armaments, other than guns for close-range defence.

Mount Whitney typically carries enough food to feed the crew of over 300 for 90 days and can transport supplies to support an emergency evacuation of 3,000 people.

Its distilling units make over 100,000 gallons of fresh water a day.

Traditional allies of Moscow denounce force

CHINA and several central Asian nations rebuffed Russia's hopes of international support for its actions in Georgia, issuing a statement yesterday denouncing the use of force and calling for respect for every country's territorial integrity.

A joint declaration from the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, or SCO, also offered some support for Russia's "active role in promoting peace" following a ceasefire, but overall it appeared to increase Moscow's international isolation.

The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, had appealed to the SCO alliance – whose members include Russia, China and four central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – for unanimous support of Moscow's response to Georgia's "aggression".

But none of the other alliance members joined Russia in recognising the independence claims of Georgia's separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr Medvedev's search for support in Asia had raised fears that the alliance would turn the furore over Georgia into a broader confrontation between East and West, pitting the United States and Europe against their two main Cold War foes. But China has traditionally been wary of endorsing separatists abroad, mindful of its own problems with Tibet and Muslims in the western territory of Xinjiang.

The joint statement, which was unanimously endorsed, made a point of stressing the sanctity of borders – two days after Russia sought to redraw Georgia's territory.

"The participants… underscore the need for respect of the historical and cultural traditions of each country and each people, and for efforts aimed at preserving the unity of the state and its territorial integrity," the declaration said.

Internet maps 'are wiping out' British landmarks

THE internet is wiping thousands of British landmarks off the map, a leading geographical society warned yesterday.

Churches, ancient woodlands and stately homes are in danger of being forgotten as internet maps fail to include the traditional landmarks, said Mary Spence, the president of the British Cartographic Society.

In recent years, web applications such as Google Earth have become a popular way for people to search for maps and satellite images.

Speaking yesterday at a Royal Geographic Society conference, Ms Spence said: "Corporate cartographers are demolishing thousands of years of history – not to mention Britain's remarkable geography – at a stroke by not including them on maps which millions of us now use every day.

"We're in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique; giving us a feel for a place even if we've never been there."

But Ed Parsons, the geospatial technologist at Google, said the way in which people used maps was changing. He said: "Internet maps can now be personalised, allowing people to include landmarks and information that are of interest to them.

"Anyone can create their own maps, or use experiences to collaborate with others in charting their local knowledge.

"These traditional landmarks are still on the map, but people need to search for them," Mr Parsons said.

"Interactive maps will display precisely the information people want, when they want it.

"You couldn't possibly have everything already pinpointed."

1936 treaty comes under the spotlight

THE Montreux Convention cited by Nato with regard to Black Sea access may be regarded by some as an obscure treaty, but amid the current high level of tension in international politics with Russia, its terms are coming under close scrutiny.

The agreement, signed on 20 July, 1936, gives Turkey full control over the Bosphorus Straits and the Dardanelles and regulates military activity in the region.

It permits Turkey to remilitarise the straits and imposes new restrictions on the passage of combatant vessels.

The treaty also guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime.

It severely restricts the passage of non-Turkish military vessels and prohibits some types of warships, such as aircraft carriers, from passing through the straits.

The terms of the convention have been a source of controversy over the years, most notably concerning Russia's military access to the Mediterranean.

Under the agreement, Turkey must be notified 15 days before military ships sail into the Black Sea, and warships cannot remain longer than 21 days. The convention applies limits on individual and aggregate tonnage and numbers.

These limitations effectively preclude the transit of major "capital" warships and submarines of non-Black Sea powers through the straits, unless exempted under Article 17.

That clause permits a naval force of any tonnage or composition to pay a courtesy visit of limited duration to a port in the straits, at the invitation of the Turkish government.


Monday, 25 August 2008

Russian navy says pulling out of NATO exercise

Aug 19, 2008 MOSCOW (Agencies) English International -

Showdown over Georgia crisis escalates
Russian navy says pulling out of NATO exercise

Russia on Tuesday hit back at western powers’ attempts to punish it for invading its tiny neighbor Georgia, calling NATO statement over the conflict “biased”, as its navy said it was pulling out of a NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea and was unable to host a scheduled visit by a U.S. naval frigate.

"The (NATO) declaration above all appears unobjective and biased because there's not a word about how all this started, why it happened, who started the aggressive action and who armed Georgia," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference called in response to the NATO statement.

He referred to a statement by NATO foreign ministers in Brussels that condemned Russian military action as "disproportionate and inconsistent" with Moscow's peacekeeping role and said the alliance could not carry on "business as usual" with Moscow.

"It appears to me that NATO is trying to portray the aggressor as the victim, to whitewash a criminal regime and to save a failing regime" in Georgia, Lavrov said.

He also condemned the alliance's encouragement of Georgia's NATO membership bid.

"The policy of drawing Georgian into NATO is not about Georgia corresponding with NATO standards but is dictated exclusively by aims that are nothing other than anti-Russian, aimed at nothing other than supporting an aggressive regime," Lavrov said.

Meanwhile, a Russian naval spokesman told AFP "Minesweepers of the Baltic fleet will not participate in the Open Spirit 2008 international naval exercise in Baltic Sea waters”.

He added that it was currently "not considered possible" to host the U.S. naval frigate Ford.

Open Spirit is an international naval exercise held annually under the NATO "Partnership for Peace" program aimed at ridding Baltic waters of masses of unexploded ordnance left over from World War I, World War II and the Cold War.

The USS Ford was due to visit Russia's eastern port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, home to Russia's Pacific fleet, on September 5-9, RIA Novosti reported.

The Open Spirit exercise was due to start later this month.

Last week the United States announced it was canceling two military exercises with Russia.

"The (NATO) declaration above all appears unobjective and biased," Lavrov said.


Pushing Russia’s Buttons

Newsweek Web Exclusive
Pushing Russia’s Buttons
by Michael Hirsh
Updated: 10:21 AM ET Aug 12, 2008

Putin's invasion of Georgia is unforgiveable. But let's face it: the West helped to provoke Moscow's aggression.

There is no excusing Vladimir Putin's bloody invasion of Georgia (yes, it was Putin; Dmitri Medvedev has been the president since May, but it was now-Prime Minister Putin who flew to a border staging area to confer with Russian generals). Still, we ought to try to understand what is motivating Putin and his fellow Russian revanchists. And, as the West confronts its own weakness in response—Putin well knows that NATO is bogged down in Afghanistan, America is stretched thin in Iraq and Europe depends on his energy lifeline—we should acknowledge that at least some of the blame lies, as it does so often, with our own hubris. Since the cold war ended, the United States has been pushing the buttons of Russian frustration and paranoia by moving ever further into Moscow's former sphere of influence. And we have rarely stopped to consider whether we were overreaching, even as evidence mounted that the patience of a wealthier and more assertive Russia was wearing very thin.

The proximate cause of what one U.S. official said Monday "appears to be a full invasion of Georgia"—though Medvedev announced a ceasefire today—is the long-festering dispute between that country's ambitious pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and Moscow over two separatist regions. But the seeds of Russia's aggression lie in the sense of humiliation that Moscow's proud power elites have felt at the hands of the West going back to the Clinton administration's unceasing efforts to bring what used to be the Soviet bloc—and post-Soviet Russia itself—into the West's sphere of influence. The policy started with the high-handed (and mostly failed) economic advice we gave to Moscow on free-market economics in the early '90s—the era of "privatization" (the Russians called it "grabitization"), which led directly to the reign of the hated oligarchs.

It continued with our efforts to encourage the former Soviet satellites and republics to come and join the West's party, both as members of NATO and, prospectively, the European Union. That policy began with the former satellite states of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, which joined NATO in 1999, continued with the Baltic states, and then forged ahead with Washington's active support of the Orange and Rose Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia and its feckless encouragement of their Westernized, pro-NATO presidents. Last April NATO invited in two more Eastern European members: Croatia and Albania.

With each push into the old Soviet bloc, we aggravated anew the raw nerve of Russian paranoia about Western intentions. Putin went from obligingly suggesting he would be pleased to be a "partner" with NATO to seeing it as a threat. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote in The Washington Post today that the United States made a "serious blunder" by pressing into the Caucasus, which Russia has dominated for centuries. It is difficult to exaggerate the sense of dismemberment and existential dread that Russian elites felt especially at the loss of the Ukraine, the breadbasket nation that has always been central to their concept of a "Greater Russia." Georgia, another breadbasket and location of a critical pipeline, is the birthplace of Stalin, who's enjoying a new revisionist popularity in Russia. Putin warned repeatedly that he would never permit NATO in the Caucasus, but we kept shrugging this off as more bluff and bluster. Once you've driven a bear into a cave, it may be wise to stop poking him with a stick. We seemed to delight in it.

The Bush administration has only stepped up this policy—it is one of the few areas where there has been real continuity between Clinton and Bush—with its unwavering effort to set up missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. We persisted even as Russia grew richer and far more self-confident, Putin planted all his old KGB pals in positions of political power and gave them giant state companies to run, and post-Soviet Russia evolved into a very different kind of political system—one that a senior U.S. official described to me two years ago as nearly "fascist" in structure. We kept pretending that while Russia was getting balky and difficult, it was fundamentally as amenable to "Westernization" as it seemed to be under Boris Yeltsin in the '90s.

Employing that simplistic, absurdly overused American template that dismisses everything short of firmness and confrontation as Munich-style appeasement, we did nothing to placate—not to appease, but to calm—the Russian jingoists who have taken over in Moscow. As Stephen Sestanovich, a former top Russia adviser in Democratic and Republican administrations, said to me a year ago: "There's no longer a sense that Russia is just on the other side of the divide but still within the family. The Russians are no longer the errant cousins. This is a totally different gang." It has turned into a gang that requires some practical realpolitk and, frankly, a degree of accomodation. The inevitable response to this argument that I will get from U.S. hard-liners—that Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet satellites and republics were all simply choosing democracy and NATO on their own—doesn't really wash. When you're dealing with great powers, you have to make adjustments. After all, the Taiwanese have wanted self-determination for years, but U.S. policy has consistently been to restrain Taipei so as not to provoke Beijing. It's not a pretty solution—there's no "moral clarity" about it—but it has helped to keep the peace, and Taiwan has been left alone to develop into the flourishing democracy it has become.

So none of what's happening this week should be much of a surprise: ever since Putin rose to the presidency in 2000, promising to crush Chechnya's separatist Muslims—a pledge he carried out with ruthless dispatch—he has sought first to halt further disintegration of the former Soviet superpower's sphere of influence, and then to reverse the process. His efforts to unseat Viktor Yushchenko in the Ukraine back in 2004, using political subterfuge (and possibly poison) rather than armed force, failed. He seems to be trying to do the same against Saakashvili—exploiting the Georgian leader's foolhardy move into South Ossetia—with more aggressive methods, gambling (perhaps rightly) that America is too weak and distracted to do anything about it and that Europe too fractious and dependent on his energy supplies. Putin also knows that this revanchist approach is perhaps the main source of his enormous popularity in Russia. As former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin summed it up to me succinctly at the time of the Ukraine crisis: "Mikhail Gorbachev destroyed the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin destroyed communism. Putin is reinventing Russia."

Some Moscow experts have also suggested that Putin thought he had a tacit deal with his pal George W. Bush: we'll cooperate in the terror war and Iran; you leave our backyard alone. But if such an understanding existed (did Bush give Putin the kind of wink that FDR gave to Stalin at Yalta?), America didn't honor it. At the summit in Sochi in April, when Bush and Putin issued a strategic framework declaration, including steps to promote security, prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, combat terrorism and advance economic cooperation, Bush still went ahead and championed the path to NATO for Georgia and Ukraine. And he ignored Russian fears about his missile-defense plans.

So, without forgiving Putin's aggression in Georgia this week, the question we should ask ourselves is: was the bid to bring Georgia into NATO a bridge too far for the West? By aggressively pushing into the former Soviet sphere almost without pause since the early '90s, did we provoke the Russians beyond the point of endurance? It's a question that must be asked, because despite the flurry of diplomatic moves in recent days it seems pretty clear that Bush and Co. can do little to force the Russians out of Georgia. The reverse humiliation the West may now suffer, and the dispiriting signals this is going to send throughout Eastern Europe, will have a profound impact if Russian troops continue their occupation.


Appeasing Russia

Newsweek Web Exclusive
The historical reasons why the West should intervene in Georgia.
By John Barry
Updated: 6:45 PM ET Aug 11, 2008

Is that "appeasement" we see sidling shyly out of the closet of history? Are we doomed to recall the infamous remark by a Western leader that it was "fantastic" to think Europe should involve itself in "a quarrel in a faraway country between people of which we know nothing"? As the United States and the Europeans feverishly debate how to respond to Russia's onslaught on Georgia, are the ghosts of Europe's bloody history rising from their shallow graves?

As those of a certain age will recall, "appeasement" encapsulated the determination of British governments of the 1930s to avoid war in Europe, even if it mean capitulating to the ever-increasing demands of Adolf Hitler. The nadir came in 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain acceded to Hitler's demand to take over the western slice of Czechoslovakia—a dispute Chamberlain so derisively dismissed.

It is impossible to view the Russian onslaught against Georgia without these bloodstained memories rising to mind. In history, as the great French President Charles de Gaulle remarked—no doubt plagiarising someone else—the only constant is geography. And through centuries of European history the only constant has been that small countries, doomed by geography to lie between great powers, are destined to be the cockpit for their imperial ambitions. That's held true since the Low Countries' agony under Spanish power in the 1500s. And the lichen has not yet spread over the gravestones of Europe and America that mark the toll of the two European wars of the 20th century—both having their roots in struggles between rival empires to assert power over the luckless nations of central Europe.

This time, the cockpit lies further east. In the wake of the cold war, the West providentially summoned the nerve to push NATO eastward to incorporate the former Warsaw Pact vassals of the Soviet Union—presciently doing this while post-Soviet Russia was too weak to resist. But once Moscow got its breath back, anyone with historical wit could foresee a revived Russian push for influence in central Europe. Many argued against this NATO expansion, calling it "premature" and "sure to inflame Russia." The usual arguments. Those naysayers might now look at the Russian offensive in Georgia, and ponder how much greater this crisis would be had it involved, say, Poland or Hungary or the Czech Republic. At least central Europe is now under the umbrella of NATO Article 5 guarantees.

Instead, what we see are conflicts at the new margins of the West's sway: Ukraine, the Balkans, now Georgia. These conflicts have one common factor: a resurgent Russia determined to exploit local grievances to beat back Western influence—in shorthand, democracy—on its shrunken frontiers. Using, in all cases, precisely the argument (a Russian right to protect its citizens, in Serbia its co-religionists) that Hitler used in the 1930s. The Sudeten Czechs were Germans, after all. Just as the South Ossetians now are, well, sort of Russian—having at any rate been issued Russian passports.

The European urge to appease Russia will be strong. In the '30s, ghastly memories of World War I dominated the political debate. Besides, Western governments' most pressing need was to recover from the Depression. Who wanted war or the threat of war? Now, Europe relaxes after near-50 years of cold war, and struggles to avoid recession after the subprime banking crash. The more things change …

Just as their forebears in the 1930s sought refuge in the League of Nations, the United States and Europe duly take the Georgian crisis to the United Nations. But the U.N. is, by definition, as impotent now as the League of Nations was then. Russia can, and clearly will, veto any resolution of significance. And what power, other than words, could the United Nations deploy anyway? Sanctions? Against Russia, which supplies Europe with most of its energy, just as winter approaches?

Whether Russia intends to fully invade Georgia is unclear. It's plausible that Moscow has not made up its mind, and is waiting to gauge the West's response. Two things are clear. Russia's bombing campaign against Georgia is now targeting more than military targets. At the least, Russia seems determined to set back Georgia's economy for years. It also seems clear—from what Vitaly Churkin, Russia's able ambassador at the U.N., said Sunday—that Russia is demanding, presumably as part of the price of a ceasefire, the ousting of Georgia's pro-Western leader, Mikheil Saakashvili. He would be wise to remember what happened to a pro-Western leader in nearby Ukraine; Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned and nearly died.

So what can the West do? The Europeans are unlikely to do anything beyond hand-wringing. The first responses in the comment columns of Britain's leftish newspaper The Guardian show its readers closing ranks around the comforting but irrelevant thought that this is all somehow George W. Bush's fault. Besides, with post-cold-war defense budgets now barely visible to the naked eye, the Europeans lack the capacity to intervene. They don't have even the transport aircraft.

The United States, on the other hand, does have the capability to actually do something. Not to expel Russian forces from South Ossetia—that ethnic tangle is best left to negotiation—but to guarantee Georgia's sovereignty and independence. Georgia's right to self-defense is unquestionable: it needs no U.N. resolution to say that. Washington has every right to send "peace-keeping" troops into Georgia if Saakashvili requests it. The 82nd Airborne, its brigades newly returned from Iraq, could be mustered as a guarantor force. Numbers are not critical. What matters is the message: the Soviet-style attack on Georgia will not to be dismissed Chamberlain-style. President Bush racheted up the rhetoric Monday afternoon, when he blasted Russia for invading "a sovereign neighboring state … Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century … The Russian government must respect Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty."

And if the West does not react forcefully to protect Georgia? Russia, and all the nations on its periphery, will draw the obvious lessons. Will Putin follow history and demand next a Russian right to move troops into Estonia, a NATO member, to "protect" its Russian population?

There are few lessons safely drawn from history—except that of George Santayana: "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."

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