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Tag: "russia"

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think it Means: GAZPROM Edition

[ 0 ] June 27, 2009 |


Russia’s energy giant Gazprom has signed a $2.5bn (£1.53bn) deal with Nigeria’s state operated NNPC, to invest in a new joint venture.

The new firm, to be called Nigaz, is set to build refineries, pipelines and gas power stations in Nigeria.

H/t Chet, via TPM.

…the gods of blogging would strike me down if I failed to include this:

Via Dan.


Putin’s Still Got It…

[ 0 ] June 16, 2009 |

This is kind of old, but I still have to acknowledge the fabulous theater of it all:

Moving quickly to stamp out growing unrest, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew to the small town of Pikalyovo on Thursday to demand that angry workers receive wage arrears and rebuke their delinquent employers.

Putin told the owners of the town’s three factories that the government had transferred 41.24 million rubles ($1.34 million) to their Sberbank accounts on Wednesday and they had until the end of the day to pay their workers.

“All wage arrears must be settled,” Putin said at a meeting with owners and government officials. “The deadline is today.”

Turning to the owners, including tycoon Oleg Deripaska, owner of one of the plants, Putin offered a stinging rebuke of their business practices.

“You have made thousands of people hostages to your ambitions, your lack of professionalism — or maybe simply your trivial greed,” Putin said in remarks shown on state television. “Why was everyone running around like cockroaches before my arrival? Why was no one capable of making decisions?”

He threw a pen at a contract and told Deripaska to sign it.

North Korea Nuclear News

[ 0 ] June 13, 2009 |

Fox News is reporting this morning that North Korea has declared the existence of its uranium program, and is threatening the weaponize its remaining plutonium. The New York Times confirms the latter, but not the former, and I can’t seem to find the text of the North Korean declaration (although CNN confirms the Fox account). The suspected existence of the uranium program helped derail the Agreed Framework that held between 1994 and 2002 (US intransigence also helped), which eventually led to the restart of the plutonium program at Yongbyon. The North Korean declaration is in response to the tighter sanctions regime established by yesterday’s UN resolution. It also looks as if North Korea may be preparing a third nuclear test; the general consensus is now that the device in the first test failed completely and the device in the second failed partially. North Korea is suspected to have enough plutonium for about half a dozen bombs (with perhaps one or two more if the rest of the plutonium at Yongbyon is weaponized), but I haven’t seen a good estimate of how much uranium it could have enriched.

Galrahn has a brief discussion of what the UN resolution means; China and Russia have committed, in word if not yet in action, to a regime which allows the interception and inspection of North Korean ships carrying prohibited weapons. As the resolution bars North Korea from exporting any arms at all (and from importing most arms), this is fairly wide-ranging authority. Even if China and Russia aren’t fully on board with implementation, the resolution makes any effort to export very risky for the North Koreans.

All of this seems to me to be the right way to go. It’s fair enough to suggest that we should tread lightly where North Korea is concerned, but that doesn’t obviate the international community of the responsibility to establish boundaries of appropriate conduct. North Korean breaches of these lines have made China, Russia, and South Korea willing to engage in more assertive diplomatic action than they had previously been prepared for. If additional tests are simply a negotiating tactic on the part of the North Koreans, then additional UN sanctions are the diplomatic counter-tactic of the US, Russia, China, and South Korea. I’m not too worried about additional North Korean nuclear tests (each test expends plutonium while unifying the international community), but the concern is that the next negotiating tactic the North Koreans will employ will involve military skirmishes along the DMZ, or near offshore islands.

China Stealing Russian Designs Again?

[ 0 ] May 23, 2009 |

I’m sure that the Chinese just arrived independently at the idea of having a folding-wing version of the Su-27:

Russia is eyeing China following media reports that an unlicensed variant of the Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-borne multirole fighter has been developed. Sukhoi officials are “closely monitoring that situation but have not said any official position yet,” said Sukhoi spokesman Aleksey Poveshchenko.

Ever since Beijing announced plans earlier this year to build its first aircraft carrier, speculation has been rampant over how the People’s Liberation Army Navy would acquire carrier-borne fighters. Sukhoi’s Su-33, with its folding wings, is the only choice because of the U.S. and European arms embargo to China.

Russian officials, who say China is already illegally copying their Su-27SK fighter jet, have halted negotiations to sell the Su-33. Beijing has not confirmed that it is working on a clone of the Su-27SK – dubbed Flanker by NATO.

“China will not acknowledge to the Russians that these are copies,” said Andrei Chang, a China military analyst at Kanway Information Center. “They say it is an independent domestic production designed solely by themselves.”

China owns an Su-33 prototype, which it obtained from the Ukrainian Research Test and Flying Training Center at Nitka, Chang said.

There’s a lot going on here. For one, it indicates that China’s IP policy remains ad hoc; the PRC will respect IP rights when it is bribed sufficiently to do so, or when it fears retaliation. On this second point, it seems that the Chinese do not fear Russian retaliation, given that they have also been accused of stealing Russian submarine designs. I’m guessing that the Chinese anticipate that in the future purchasing advanced weapon systems from Russia will no longer be a preferred option, in no small part because the next generation of Chinese designs will be more capable than the next generation of Russian.

There are also some interesting IR theory puzzles here. By a standard crude realist account, the Chinese shouldn’t care a whit for Russian licensing rights. By a somewhat more sophisticated realist account, the Chinese leadership will abide by international intellectual property norms to the extent that such norms benefit China. In this account, the PRC would be willing to forego short term gains from IP defection in defense of the larger structure of international IP law if China benefitted sufficiently from that structure. I think that we’re moving in that direction; I suspect that the PRC will become a beneficiary of strict IP interpretation in the short to medium term, if it isn’t already.

In this case, I think you could argue that the Chinese simply don’t see much of a downside from violating Russian IP rights. First, Russia is not considered to be an ideal IP citizen, and so there’s less downside to violating Russian IP rights than to violating French or American. Chinese behavior towards Russia isn’t necessarily understood to be predictive of Chinese behavior towards anyone else. Second, apart from weapons Chinese trade with Russia doesn’t seem to heavily involve the kinds of goods that are dependent on a strict IP regime, although that could change as the mix of Chinese exports increases. Finally, most realists would argue that legal concerns would have the lowest weight in the security sphere; in a straight up cost-benefit calculation, paying the Russians a license fee for the Su-33 just doesn’t pay off, so to speak.

Two final thoughts; there are a myriad of reasons why the Chinese aren’t copying F/A-18s or Rafale’s, but I’m guessing that the PRC would be much more nervous about violating French or US law than Russian, even if they had the capability to build such aicraft. Second, in 10-15 years I suspect that the Chinese are going to become vigorous, assertive enforcers of defense related intellectual property, even as the unlicensed Su-33s start flying off the first Chinese aircraft carriers.

How Many Pirates Do the French Have to Kill to Earn a Reputation for Toughness?

[ 0 ] May 7, 2009 |

In the fabulous piracy-oriented South Park of two weeks ago, a French yacht surrenders to Fatbeard the Pirate without a shot being fired. When someone brings the issue up at the UN, a bureaucrat explains “Being French, they surrendered immediately.” This brought some thoughts of mine on piracy and reputation into focus. The French have responded to piracy more aggressively than anyone, taking the early initiative on pursuing pirates onto land, and on launching rescue operations. In spite of this, at least in the world of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the French continue to have a reputation for irresolution. Indeed, they amount to the stand-in for an irresolute Western response to Somali piracy.

Along similar lines, Galrahn last week published a long post on potential piracy solutions, arguing at the end that the US might suffer a reputational effect if it didn’t take the lead in anti-piracy operations. This was a relatively small part of a very good post, but again it got me thinking; would the US suffer damage to its reputation from failing to vigorously pursue anti-piracy efforts, and if so what would that damage consist of? Dan Drezner and I discussed this a bit in our bloggingheads of a couple weeks ago, more or less settling around the idea that it would be hard for US competitors to draw any conclusions about US resolve in the absence of any ideas of their own on opposing piracy. Galrahn suggests, however, that the US reputation in maritime matters may be structured a bit differently than the Russian or Chinese; the US has implictly taken on the responsibility for maintaining maritime security in a way that the Russians and Chinese have not, and thus could be more likely to take a hit from the failure to address piracy vigorously.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’m deeply skeptical of the independent effect of resolve and reputation on international relations. Given my graduate training, this is unsurprising; reputations for resolve don’t form in the manner expected by policymakers and traditional scholars of IR, and as such efforts to reinforce a reputation for resolve rarely yield much of a return. Actors tend to interpret behavior in light of the previous expectations, meaning that aberrant behavior is excused as situational. If the French are acting resolutely in response to piracy now, then it’s probably just to cover up their inherent weakness. Similarly, if the Russians (who are understood to be resolute, if nothing else) have a tepid response to piracy, then it must be because they don’t care. That both of these things may be true isn’t the point; reputation doesn’t change either way. I’m not convinced that reputation can’t change, just that it doesn’t update in response to rational assessment of evidence. For many Americans, including Parker and Stone, the French surrender to Germany in 1940 remains the critical symbolic marker for French reputation. Had the French backed the US in 2003 in Iraq this might have changed, although I doubt it.

So that said, back to the original question: How many pirates do the French have to kill in order to earn a reputation for toughness? I think it’s fair to say that certain behaviors in regard to piracy can earn the description “weak,” such as the recent Dutch release of captured pirates. Is there anything, though, that could have a lasting effect on reputation such that even Stone and Parker began to view the French as resolute, dangerous, or even aggressive? What if French destroyers started gunning down every fisherman they could find off the Somali coast? What if the French attacked pirate havens on land, and deployed troops to Somalia long term? You could argue, I suppose, that focusing on South Park isn’t helpful, that Parker and Stone are relatively low information actors, and that policymakers have a more accurate assessment of reputation. I’m utterly unconvinced of this; the South Park episode in question demonstrated a substantial knowledge about the issue of Somali piracy, and I’m guessing that Stone and Parker depicted the French as weak because it played into stereotype, rather than out of ignorance. Moreover, I think it was fairly clear in the run up to the Iraq War that officials within the administration and in Congress had substantially the same, unsophisticated understanding of French reputation.

The question works the other way, too; how many pirates would the Russians have to release in order to earn a reputation for weakness? A couple weeks ago, I spoke with a conservative friend about piracy, and found that he was under the impression that the Russians had been dealing brutally with pirates off Somalia. It’s true enough that the Russians have been participating in anti-piracy operations, but as far as I know they haven’t acted with any brutality, and their general performance has been altogether less assertive than that of the French. Nevertheless, the Russians get credit (and my friend spoke admiringly of the Russian brutality; shades of a Tom Clancy novel) for aggressive action that they don’t take, while in the popular imagination the French either remain cheese-eating surrender monkeys, or they become fodder for political attack (“See!? Even the feckless French can fight pirates!”)

So, again; how many pirates would the French have to kill to become tough? And how many would the Russians have to coddle to become borscht eating surrender bears?

Russia-Georgia Part Deux?

[ 0 ] April 23, 2009 |

Let’s hope this doesn’t happen. It seems highly unlikely, but then I can’t say for sure just how far Russia would go to keep Georgia out of NATO. The idea of serious Russian interference in Georgian domestic politics also seems plausible to me, although how that would be distinguishable from discontent produced by Saakashvili’s blustering ineptitude isn’t 100% clear.

Armageddon and All That…

[ 0 ] April 1, 2009 |

I have some musings on the latest US-Russia spat at the Guardian:CIF. While doing a bit of “research” for the piece, I read the wiki entry on A Taste of Armageddon, the Star Trek episode where two planets have agreed to wage nuclear war without nuclear weapons. Kirk “saves” them from this by essentially breaking the mechanism, and forcing them to talk. I found it interesting that, in the expanded literature, one planet shortly thereafter annihilated the other, losing a third of its population in the process. We have the Prime Directive for a reason, people.

By the way, here’s “Mad” Matt Duss, in yet another of what seems to be an endless string of high profile media appearances:

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Russian Conscripts: Still a Disaster

[ 0 ] March 31, 2009 |

Conscription in Russia continues to suck:

The year 1991 also had a particularly low birth rate, which makes a huge peacetime draft even more of a challenge. The young men are also entering employment and working age — and families in the middle of Russia’s economic crisis, which is sharper than the rest of the world’s, may not be so willing to give up their potential breadwinners. (Soldiers are paid a minimal and “symbolic” amount for service to their country, the equivalent of about $10 a month.) Moskovsky Komsomolets, a daily newspaper in the Russian capital, reports that 45,000 Muscovites, out of the 60,000 eligible to be conscripted, are currently trying to avoid military service.

Paying them more than $10 a month might help a lot; the remaining conscript armies in Western Europe offer relatively generous terms, as they understand that the dedicated can avoid military service without too much trouble. In any case, read the whole thing. Along with this, it serves as yet another refutation of the idea that Russia can offer any kind of serious peer competitor threat to the United States in the near or medium term. Russia can do much and is doing some to re-establish its military capabilities, but beyond the ability to effectively pound small neighbors into submission, we are very, very far from the Soviet heyday. The issue, as much as anything else, is political will. Putin and Medvedev are interested in a military establishment that can project prestige globally, but not one that can project power. Thus, we’ll continue to hear a lot about expensive high-tech projects that Russia is planning to engage in, or about to start up, or could pursue if it wanted to; such claims feed both the defense PR industry in the United States and the international prestige of Russia’s leadership.

The Bomber Question…

[ 0 ] March 15, 2009 |

Nothing much to see here; Chavez postures, the Russians posture, and perhaps a few lucky bomber pilots and ground crewmen get extended vacations to Venezuela.

Here’s the most interesting bit:

Cuban authorities made no comment last summer when a Moscow newspaper reported that Russia could send nuclear bombers to the island. While neither confirming nor denying the report, ailing former President Fidel Castro at the time praised his brother President Raul Castro for maintaining a “dignified silence” on the report and said that Cuba was not obligated to offer the United States an explanation.

Raul is keeping mum; my guess is that he doesn’t want bluster from Moscow and Caracas to derail improvements in relations with the US.

The Curious Letter to Medvedev

[ 0 ] March 4, 2009 |

I have an op-ed up at Comment is Free:

Were Obama serious about exchanging missile defence for Russia’s assistance to Iran, he wouldn’t have been hinting at the elimination of the programme for the last several months. Rather, he’d be trying to convince the Russians that he actually valued missile defence.

Poles Flexible on Missile Defense

[ 0 ] March 4, 2009 |

Part of the Bush administration’s strategy for “locking in” missile defense in case of a Democratic presidential victory was to conclude agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic that would be difficult for the Democratic victor to break. The thinking went that while Obama might be skeptical of missile defense, he probably wouldn’t jeopardize the US relationship with Poland in order to kill it. This, along with the War over South Ossetia, was why negotiations over missile defense seemed so frantic over the last six months of Bush’s term.

Part of Bush’s problem, however, was that Poland and the Czech Republic are, by and large, utterly indifferent to the threat of Iranian missiles. This indifference is part of the altogether sensible European belief that the Iran isn’t crazy enough to launch missiles at Europe. What Poland and the Czech Republic really wanted, especially in the wake of the South Ossetia War, was a concrete indication that the US is committed to their security. The Poles have some concern that NATO, dependent as it is on the West Europeans, will not suffice to protect them from Russian belligerence. A separate bilateral commitment from the US, in the form of missile defense installations, was a goal of Polish foreign policy, and the desire for such a commitment in some sense guided the Polish decision to deploy troops to Iraq.

Now that President Obama is actively considering dumping missile defense (possibly as part of a larger agreement with Russia), the Poles are making their interests clear:

Poland is looking beyond a missile- defense system that President Barack Obama might scrap and is focused on other elements of a security deal with the U.S. while mending ties with Russia, the top Polish diplomat said.

Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorskisaid his country is most interested in U.S. pledges in the agreement he signed last year in the face of Russian opposition, including an American garrison with Patriot interceptor missiles. The two sides also agreed to act jointly on military and non-military threats.

In other words, the Bush administration’s strategy, which was largely based on the idea that our European allies would desert us if we displayed weakness in front of the Russians (an oldie but a goody) has essentially failed; Poland knows what it wants, and will probably get what it wants even if the US forgoes the missile defense system. Whether or not Russia decides to play ball on Iran, I consider this last eventuality extremely likely.

H/t Josh Keating.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

This Isn’t Fair…

[ 0 ] February 13, 2009 |

I’m not sure this is what Sergey Georgyevich Gorshkov had in mind when he green-lit the Kirov class battlecruiser:

A Russian nuclear-powered cruiser has captured 10 Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean armed with grenade launchers, automatic rifles and landmines, a navy spokesman said Friday.

“The nuclear cruiser Pyotr Veliky has detained three small pirate boats,” said Igor Dygalo, adding that 10 armed men of Somali citizenship were seized in the operation Thursday.

The pirates had been spotted by the cruiser’s helicopter southeast of the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, the spokesman told AFP.

“It was visually established how weapons were being dumped from the boats into the sea,” Dygalo said in a separate statement.

Via Galrahn. It appears that the Russians are planning to take the apprehended pirates back to Russia for prosecution. Cold, in every sense of the word.

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