Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Donald Trump Moment Is Developing In Vladimir Putin's Russia

Last weekend, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin expressed mutual admiration for each other. But their similarities go deeper. Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican nomination reflects the widespread disenchantment of America’s blue collar families with “politics as usual.” Trump’s followers believe that the professional political class has given us crony capitalism, a captive media, unsustainable debt, foreign Main Street; we should remove them and get America moving again. Russia could be on its way to a Donald Trump moment.

go to Forbes.com

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Russia Worries About Shock Economic Scenarios

The September 2016 elections will take place in a time of scarce budget resources and dwindling reserve funds. Putin’s opposition will be his core supporters — blue-collar workers and pensioners — who have been hardest hit by economic stagnation. Putin’s media can scarcely accuse them of being CIA agents or traitors.

go to National Review online

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Truckers Halt Moscow Traffic As Putin Shifts The Blame

Ukraine’s almost three-month Maidan revolution went through ebbs and flows. There were times when the protest action nearly fizzled out only to be revived by some new event. Its ultimate success was assured only when the state lost its nerve and used excessive force. Russia’s truckers’ protest will not go away. It may go through the same ebbs and flows as Maidan. It may fizzle. Whatever the case, the truckers’ protest is the most serious challenge to Putin’s kleptocracy since the mass protests of November 2011 to March 2012.

go to Forbes.com

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Why Putin Makes a Bad Ally Against ISIS

At first blush, the idea that Russia is a natural ally against Islamist terrorists seems to make sense. The country has suffered horrific terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists, including the bombing in November of a plane above the Sinai Peninsula, which killed 224 passengers and crew, nearly all of them Russian. Around 20 million Muslims, most of them Sunni, live within the Russian Federation, and the country’s security officials report that some 7,000 fighters from the former Soviet republics and Russia have joined the Islamic State.
On deeper examination, however, it becomes clear that an anti-terror alliance with Russia is wishful thinking. Putin has not gone into Syria to defeat the Islamic State. He has intervened to save the regime of Russia’s client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Putin may sometimes give the appearance that he is ready to abandon Assad, but ultimately he will defend him. Leaving Assad to his fate would be a sign of weakness – and thus anathema to Putin.

Read more at https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/why-putin-makes-a-bad-ally-by-paul-r--gregory-2015-12#EWTz8A2H8ML8iEKd.99

go to Project Syndicate

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Has Putin Met His Match In Russia's Truck Drivers?

Russia’s long-haul truck drivers have disrupted the country’s federal highways for more than two weeks to protest a new road tax (platon in Russian) collected (with a 20% commission) by the Putin-associated Rotenberg oligarchs. The protesters threatened a full blockade of Moscow today unless their demands for a radical restructuring of the government are met. Russia’s riot and traffic police have not been able to halt the convoys, and the Russian government has refused good-faith talks. Putin’s propaganda machine cannot brand three million ordinary citizens as traitors and CIA agents. It can only saturate the news with the “outrage” of Turkey shooting down its fighter jet. The Kremlin is threatened with its own version of a nationwide Maidan.

go to forbes.com

Monday, November 30, 2015

Kremlin Accuses Me of Lying About Syria

Sputnik International is a news agency that is owned by the Russian government and can be relied on to follow the Kremlin’s propaganda line. In its Forbes (that’s me) caught lying about average Russians' support for Syrian campaign, Sputnik brands as lies my characterization (Putin's Syria Narrative Must Win Russian Public Opinion--But It'll Be A Hard Sell) of a Levada Center poll on Russian attitudes towards Syria.

Being singled out by an official agency of Kremlin propaganda is flattering in a perverse way. It shows that they worrry about the effect I might have on public opinion. But it is not flattering to be called a liar; so let's look into what I actually said.

Sputnik complains about my “selective use” of two of three Levada Center questions on Syria. It seems my “lie” was to not emphasize Levada’s finding on its first question of strong Russian support for an air campaign in Syria. To quote their complaint:

“Gregory appears to have selectively used only Levada's figures from the second question, which asked whether Russians "support the Federation Council's decision to allow the use of Russian troops abroad." The wording of the question, and particularly the word 'troops', helps explain respondents' hesitation in supporting intervention. It also helps explain fears about involvement turning "into a 'new' Afghanistan situation for Russia," (with 45% suggesting it is a 'possibility or a 'certainty', and 38% that it is 'unlikely' or 'impossible'), again, presumably only if Russian ground troops were introduced.”

Sputnik must pardon my confusion. I do not see any “lie.” They just don’t like my citation of public opinion that suggests the Russian people question involvement in a conflict in the Middle East that reminds them of the Afghanistan quagmire. The poll expresses the natural concern that Russian soldiers will eventually get involved.

Reading further into the Sputnik complaint, my “lie” also consists of not anticipating that Levada would conduct another poll after I finished my piece: “With the Russian air campaign now entering its second month, and Russian ground troops nowhere in sight, Levada found, in polling conducted last week, that the numbers of Russians who believe the Syrian campaign could turn into 'a new Afghanistan' is steadily dropping, with only 35% now believing that it is possible or likely, and a full 50% confident that it will not happen.

Excuse me Sputnik. I would not emphasize that 35 percent of the Russian people are in disagreement with a Kremlin policy. Under Putin, more than a third opposition is a huge number. Who knows what the real number would if the poll were carried out under less repressive circumstances.

So here we go again. Throughout the Ukraine war, Putin claimed there were absolutely no regular Russian troops in the Donbas. There were also no Russian special forces in Crimea until Putin declared there were. The Kremlin will now insist that there are no ground troops in Syria, although they are being interviewed by foreign media and posting selfies on social media. With no ground troops in Syria, there can be no combat deaths, the Kremlin will insist. In fact, the first combat death in Syria has been labeled a suicide to the dismay of his parents. 

Sputnik should be circumspect in its accusations of lying. I presume it has forgotten the defense ministry’s official briefing that proved conclusively that MH17 was downed by a Ukrainian fighter – a result covered by both Sputnik and its sister organization RT.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Sputnik. Their strong reaction to my piece tells us that the Kremlin has deep concerns about the Russian people’s support for the Syria operation – support that can turn on a dime if body bags start flooding in from Syria.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Turkey's Downing of the Russian Fighter: Expect Nuclear Saber Rattling and Threats to NATO's Existence

The world is in for a tense time of possible nuclear brinksmanship. If the United States and the other NATO countries blink, NATO is no more, and Putin has achieved his major goal. We must worry whether the Western world is led by leaders up to the task. There should be some sleepless nights in Berlin, London, Paris and Washington D.C. Putin is rightly described as a bully—and the standard procedure against bullies is to fight back. Turkey’s Erdogan has done just that. Will Turkey’s military allies back him up or cave once more? This test, if it comes, will have profound consequences.

go to Forbes.com

Monday, November 23, 2015

Russia’s Economic Stagnation

Since the beginning of hostilities in Ukraine in February 2014, Vladimir Putin has assured the Russian people that any resulting economic hardship would be short and mild. Even after energy prices slumped, sanctions were imposed, and the economy weakened, Putin optimistically pointed to “signs of recovery,” to “declining dependence on oil,” and insisted that sanctions were not a burden but an opportunity. Russia’s premier, Dmitry Medvedev, assured the people that the government would “fulfill its social obligations [pensions and health care] in full.” Putin praised the Kremlin’s economic Houdinis for showing the West that its “economic sanctions are having no effect.”

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/427481/russian-economy-stagnation-decline-vladimir-putin

go to National Review Online

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Russia cooks its defense books Moscow says it spends less than it does so that NATO will cut back too.

Reports that Russia is limiting military spending to a 1 percent (nominal) increase in 2016 may be timed to deflate NATO’s initiative to raise defense spending to the target 2 percent for each member country. Russia is playing a dual role. On the one hand, it exults in its military power on prominent display in Syria. On the other, it plays the role of impoverished cousin — too poor to keep up military spending. Russia cannot have it both ways.

go to Politico.eu

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Putin's Syria Narrative Must Win Russian Public Opinion--But It'll Be A Hard Sell

According to Putin’s Syria narrative, Russia will triumphantly rejoin the Western world as its savior after its good deed in the Middle East is complete. Hard feelings over Crimea will be long forgotten; sanctions will disappear. The U.S. will become a second-rate power, unmasked as all talk and no action. Other countries will understand where the power lies and whom to have as a friend. The question is whether Putin will be able to convince the Russian people to bear the burden of yet another foreign adventure. His propaganda succeeded for Ukraine, but is less likely to work for far away Syria.

go to Forbes.com

Monday, October 19, 2015

Putin’s foreign legion Russia is shifting its little green men to Syria.

For Putin, the foreign legion, particularly bolstered by Cuban professionals, means that he can use proxy fighters to fight ground wars in place of young Russians, who have no desire to die in a faraway land that has no real meaning for them. An added advantage is that he transfers a highly armed team of thugs away from the porous Russian border. There’s no telling what kind of mischief they could cause on Russian soil. Let’s see how this works out for him.

go to Politico

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

MH17: A Tragic Mistake Or Deliberate State Murder?

We are left with the choice between a tragic error made by rebel/Russian forces in the heat of battle versus believing in one of the most sinister acts of deliberate state murder of all time.

go to forbes.com

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

As Russia Launches Air Strikes In Syria, Obama Must Make Sure We Don't Forget Ukraine

Vladimir Putin evoked the anti-Hitler coalition in his UN Speech. He, like any Russian, understands Hitler’s fatal blunder in opening an eastern front in June of 1941. Putin has, in effect, opened a second front in his war on the West with today’s bombing of anti-Assad forces. He is gambling that he can keep his Ukrainian front quiet as he carries out his Middle East venture. U.S. President Barack Obama now has an opportunity to  thwart Putin’s new world order of a Russian-dominated coalition of forces in the Middle East, a neutralized Ukraine, and a compliant Europe that welcomes Russia back into the fold, while Obama fumes on the sidelines. If the United States and Europe do not react, Putin will perhaps prevail. President Obama has the weapons to foil Putin, if he chooses to use them.

go to Forbes.com

My Interview on RT

I just completed my first interview (by skype) on Russia Today TV. They were very polite and professional. They wanted to know my views on the UN speeches of Putin and Obama, and whether a coalition could be formed to fight ISIS. I replied that Russia’s desire to keep Assad in power would be a stumbling block. I was then asked about the movement to eliminate the veto of certain security council member (directed against Russia for its veto of a criminal tribunal for MH17). The moderator then turned to sanctions to ask whether they were an effective mechanism. I replied that the Russian sanctions have been mild and were imposed because of the annexation of Crimea, MH17, and the introduction of regular Russian troops into southeast Ukraine starting in August. The moderator interrupted to say that there was no evidence of regular Russian forces in southeast Ukraine and declared that we had run out of time.

Maybe we had run out of time or my response on regular Russian forces went over their line. We’ll see if this comment is in the edited version. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Putin’s new world order The Russian president, far from ostracized, is the center of global attention.

The president of Russia uses a Putin-speak in his speeches that we must parse word for word, in our own best interests. Only after translating them into normal speech do we learn what he has said and why. His speech Monday to the United Nations General Assembly made seven overlapping and interdependent points that are worth translating.

go to Politico

Sunday, September 27, 2015

On Syria, Putin goes for his holy grail

On Monday September 28, Russia’s president will propose to the UN General Assembly his plan for a broad coalition to defeat ISIS.  His words will be backed byclear evidence of a substantial Russian military buildup in Syria, including Russian fighters entering Syrian airspace with transponders off. Whereas Russian troops and equipment were delivered to Ukraine in strict secrecy, the Kremlin seems to be purposely telegraphing its military moves in Syria to tee up Putin’s speech.

go to Politico.eu

Friday, September 18, 2015

Putin’s Civil War With His Ukrainian Allies: Clearing the Decks For Syria?

Note Moskovsky Komsomolets’s remarkable jabs, reversals, and admissions: The DNR is labeled a “self proclaimed” republic, suggesting it has no legal status outside Ukraine. The “those who watch television” remark belittles Russians and east Ukrainians, who falsely believe that ethnic Russians in east Ukraine harbor a deep hatred and fear of Ukrainians.  Why should they not? Russian television has broadcast horror stories of rape, crucifixion, and murder by the Ukrainian neo-Nazis nonstop for more than a year.  Now “those who watch television” are supposed to believe something else!

go to Forbes.com

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

If Russian Soldiers Aren't Dying In Ukraine, Why Did Putin Make Casualty Stats A State Secret?

I challenge Putin and the Kremlin to remove the criminal penalties for revealing information on military casualties during “peacetime.” Such a law can only be interpreted as hiding a deep and dark secret. Russia has secrecy laws that have no other purpose than to conceal its involvement in Ukraine. The right way for the matter to be resolved is for Russia to repeal the law and allow independent verification.
If Russia truly wants the facts to come out, let there be open discussion, not whispers exchanged in shadows against the overwhelming chatter of the state media. Better still, Russia should disclose the actual number of Russian casualties for whom the government is providing compensation. But I forget. The official number is zero.

go to Forbes.com

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Russia Inadvertently Posts Its Casualties In Ukraine: 2,000 Deaths, 3,200 Disabled

Despite this mass of evidence, only one-quarter of Russians believe the Russia has troops in Ukraine. Will the presence of 3,200 war invalids and more than 2,000 grieving families erode the belief that Russia is not conducting a war with its own troops against Ukraine? It seems that time and events will raise the number of Russians who believe the truth.

go to forbes.com

Friday, August 21, 2015

Is A Slow Putsch Against Putin Under Way?

A quarter century after the fall of the USSR, Kremlinologists sense a putsch in the air, despite Vladimir Putin’s overwhelming approval ratings. The tea leaves say that the Kremlin elite, dubbed by some as Politburo 2.0, is currently deciding whether Putin should go before he makes a bad situation worse. The founder of the respected dailyKommersant predicts that a dramatic change is about to take place and advises Russians who have the means to leave the country for a month or so and take their children with them.

go to forbes.com

Monday, August 17, 2015

Putin in the Dock

Putin has overplayed his hand. In addition to its exposure to liability for damage caused during the conflict in Ukraine, Russia faces legal penalties totaling roughly 4% of its GDP – roughly what it spends on education. Putin may have been able to bring his country’s legal system under his control, but he remains vulnerable to international rulings. With Russia too enmeshed in the international legal and financial system to cut ties and become a rogue state, its president is increasingly likely to face the consequences of his actions.

go to project syndicate.com

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Dirty Bomb: A Thwarted Putin False Flag Operation?

Skeptics will argue that Vladimir Putin cannot use a dirty bomb as a false flag operation because it would sicken and kill civilians in occupied Ukrainian territory and maybe even Russians across the nearby border. But the loss of civilian life in pursuit of political objectives has never deterred Putin.

go to Forbes.com

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Russia's Veto Of The MH17 UN Criminal Tribunal Is An Admission Of Guilt

Putin cannot afford to let the Russian people know that it was Russian equipment and likely trained Russian experts which killed some 300 innocent victims. He must keep the MH17 investigation out of a legitimate court of law and continue to fight this as a propaganda war that he can win–at least at home where it counts.

go to Forbes.com