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A new IISS report (via the Times of London) finding that, despite symbolic demonstrations of force, the Russian military still suffers from the effects of twenty years of neglect will come as no surprise to WPR readers, as Richard Weitz covered that ground already. Same goes for this Jamestown Foundation report on the impact of the financial crisis on Russia’s defense industry and much-needed military modernization program, which Richard foresaw as well. (Although the news that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is now targeting the defense industry for mismanagement and inefficiencies makes running a Chinese dairy seem like a secure job.) […]

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The European press (Guardian here, Le Figaro here, and EU Observer here) is citing a Russian Defense Ministry source who claims that Russia has suspended its plans to deploy Iskander missiles just across the border from Poland following American signals that Washington would “reconsider” European-based missile defense. The Russian state press agency, meanwhile, is citing a Russian Defense Ministry source who claims that “. . .it is inappropriate and premature to talk about practical steps to implement or suspend these plans.” The WPR blog, for its part, is citing a gut feeling that this — along with the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t agreement […]

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Patrick Frost at the FPA’s Afghanistan and Central Asia blog flags a meeting of high-level participants in the EU’s Nabucco pipeline project. Frost’s rundown on the state of play is about the most thorough and concise analysis I’ve read of the issue, and well worth clicking through to read. Most Nabucco observers remain skeptical for two principal reasons. On the demand side, the commitment level of the European consortium torealizing the project has never met the threshhold to make it worth thepolitical risks (i.e. Russian retaliation) for the supplier and transitcountries involved. On the supply side, it’s unclear whether Turkmenistan […]

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I did another appearance on France 24 this evening, my first in French. (I’ll have a link when it goes online tomorrow.) And while waiting in the green room — which is neither green, nor really a room — I chatted with an American journalist here in Paris. He was very dismissive of Nicolas Sarkozy’s efforts to broker a Gaza ceasefire, saying that in conducting an independent diplomatic mission that simultaneously overshadowed and undermined the EU’s concurrent mission, Sarkozy had effectively signalled the death knell of the EU’s common foreign policy. And I responded by saying that if so, perhaps […]

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Patrick Barry at Demcoracy Arsenal says, “Not so fast,” on those Russian supply routes for Afghanistan. Seems like the Russians are denying that any formal agreement was reached. Frankly, I’d been surprised by the initial reports that the Russians had given the go ahead. President Obama has yet to clarify his stance on European-based missile defense and NATO expansion, and I doubt anything on the U.S.-Russia agenda will budge a whole lot until he does.

ICC TRIAL TO TAKE AIM AT CHILD SOLDIER USE — Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court hope the impending trial of Democratic Republic of Congo militia leader Thomas Lubanga will focus international attention on the plight of child soldiers, and serve as a warning to others around the world that use of children in combat will result in prosecution. Lubanga is charged with three counts of war crimes for recruiting child soldiers into the armed wing of his Union of Congolese Patriots group. Hundreds of children as young as 10, prosecutors charge, were kidnapped or recruited by Lubanga, then beaten, […]

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office today, he will become the person most empowered to protect Americans, and the world, from attacks of mass destruction. Although he assumes the presidency at a time of grave danger, real progress in curtailing the threat from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is possible under his leadership. The threats, both real and potential, are significant. This past weekend, for instance, North Korean leaders claimed to have used the plutonium generated by the country’s nuclear energy program to make several atomic bombs. They insist that they will not relinquish these nuclear weapons even […]

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I’m still puzzling through this one, which I hadn’t seen yet. But apparently a Russian-Turkish consortium was the only bidder back in September in a tender for Turkey’s first civilian nuclear power plants. (They are now revising that bid.) According to this FT piece from September, the other usual suspects (Westinghouse and Areva) backed out of the tender due to Turkey’s insistence that the first plant come online by 2015: “In nuclear terms, 2015 is tomorrow,” one expert on the sector said. “When suppliers ask you for more time, you listen.” The Turkish cabinet will make the final decision on […]

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Interesting item in the Gulf Newsthat illustrates the extent to which not all is as it seems in theRussia-Ukraine gas dispute. Specifically, the ways in which the pricedispute masks the impending collapse of natural gas prices, at a timewhen Gazprom desperately needs cash to invest in infrastructureupgrades. Also this (which ought to, but probably won’t, takea couple point-sizes off the screaming headlines about Gazprom’sinhuman decision to shut the tap on downstream customers last week): Warmer-than-normalweather in October and November allowed Italy, Germany and neighboringcountries to pump record amounts of gas into underground storage. Halfwaythrough the heating season, Europe’s natural-gas stockpiles […]

The current dispute between Russia and Ukraine over 2009 gas prices marks the fourth time since the Orange Revolution that Moscow and Kiev have tried to sign a contract. Each time, the process has been trumped by a hydra of hidden agendas and political intrigues, with far-reaching implications for consumers. Gazprom prices, scaled to its customers, are pegged to a basket of oil prices with a six-month lag. Embedded in the price for Ukraine, however, are transit fees for downstream exports to Europe. When concessions are made for the transit rate, calculated per 100 km of 1,000 cubic meters of […]

For most observers, the brief war between Russia and Georgia last August only underscored the instability of the Caucasus region and the dangerous potential energy stored in its so-called frozen conflicts. Remarkably, though, the war’s immediate impact has actually led to a relatively more stable regional status quo. Dangerous Build-up The wars of the early 1990s, in which newly independent Georgia and Azerbaijan lost control of their Soviet-era ethnic minority regions, became formative experiences for the two young nation-states. In both countries, the popular nationalist narrative continues to promote the “return” of the breakaway territories as a sine qua non […]

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Last week, Judah wondered why a dispute over gas payments between Russia and Ukraine only begins to be called a “gas war” when Gazprom cuts off the gas, but not when Ukraine refuses to pay for it. If there is indeed a tendency among the Western press (and blogs) to paint these sorts of conflicts as exclusively precipitated by Russia, then that might owe as much to an unwillingness to delve into the underlying economic issues as it does an inherent anti-Russian bias. So I’ve been turning to the financial press lately to get some alternative views. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, […]

In her WPR column analyzing potential brokers of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, Frida Ghitis did not consider a possible role for Russia — and with good reason. While Moscow has sought to position itself as a Middle East kingmaker for decades, its diplomatic initiatives have been noteworthy as much for their minimal results as for their persistence. At present, there is no reason to believe that Russia will have anything more than a negligible influence on the current Gaza crisis. In some respects, this is unfortunate, since it would be extremely helpful if Moscow were able to compel […]

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Ten days ago, I referred to this M.K. Bhadrakumar piece in Asia Times Online as “speculation.” In the meantime, things have moved pretty quickly, and the direction they’re headed in lends increasing weight to the scenario Bhadrakumar sketched out. In a nutshell, the Afghanistan Surge is essentially a done deal, with logistical preparations for an additional 30K troops already underway. That, in turn, creates a need for more secure supply lines than is presently the case via land routes through Pakistan. There are essentially three alternatives: the East-West Corridor by boat, rail and road via Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkemenistan; airlift via Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan […]

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Without harboring any naivete regarding Russia/Gazprom’s use of energy supplies as a geopolitical weapon, it seems odd that a pricing dispute suddenly becomes a “gas war” (Danger Room) when Russia shuts off the gas, but not when Ukraine stops paying for it. Whether or not Ukraine owed $1.5 billion or $2.1 billion for November and December deliveries, they hadn’t made the payment (NY Times). And that’s independent of the price for 2009 deliveries. Michael Hancock, writing at Registan.net, says: This comes as just another step towards normal usage of gas and oil aspolitical tools. The idea that some resources or […]