Monday, December 30, 2013

Putin Wins in the Ukraine

James J. Coyle: Putin wins in Ukraine

By JAMES J. COYLE / For the Register
Anti-government protesters gather on Independence Square on Dec. 13, in Kiev, Ukraine.
In Kiev, the crowds are fading from the Euromaidan, scene of the largest demonstrations since the Orange Revolution. The onslaught of winter has driven the people to their homes – and the warmth of New Years and Eastern Orthodox Christmas will hold them there for weeks to come.
Ukrainian anger over President Viktor Yanukovych's spurning of the European Union may simmer for some time, but Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have won the country by delivering something no one else could: cheap energy to heat their homes through the winter.
Under Russian pressure, Ukraine abandoned its plans to sign an association agreement with the European Union. Yanukovych promised to fire the officials in his government who negotiated the Free Trade Area Agreement and demanded at least $27 billion dollars from the European Union to resume negotiations – a demand EU enlargement chief Stefan Füle said had “no grounds in reality.” EU talks are now suspended.
Both Russia and Ukraine benefit from canceling the deal. For Russia, Ukraine stays in Moscow's economic and strategic orbit. “Ukraine is our fully-fledged strategic partner beyond any doubt,” said Putin.
Russia did not get everything it wanted, however. Moscow pushed Ukraine to join its own economic pact, the Eurasian Customs Union. So far, Ukraine has resisted. Russia also moved one step closer to taking over the Ukrainian natural gas pipeline network.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov announced it was prepared to resume talks on establishing a consortium to manage the system, a proposal that Kiev had previously rejected. Ukraine's president said the “road is open” to making Gazprom, the Russian government-controlled gas company, a partner.
As for Ukraine, it received a much-needed economic aid package, as well as a reduction in the price it pays Moscow for natural gas. Putin announced the Russian government would purchase $15 billion in Ukrainian government bonds. He said the aid was being granted without any preconditions. The first $3 billion was scheduled to be transferred on Dec. 24.
Gazprom agreed to give the Ukrainian government's natural gas importer Naftogaz more time to pay its $1.3 billion debt and promised not to demand advance payments for future gas shipments. In addition, Gazprom slashed the price Ukrainians will pay for natural gas from over $400 per thousand cubic meters (the highest price in Europe) to $268.5. Reducing the price of gas by one-third gives the deal the boost that is needed to win the support of the Ukrainian populace.
In all likelihood, Gazprom will not lose money, despite the deep discount. Faced with price disputes throughout 2013, Ukraine had reduced the quantities it purchased from Russia by one-third. If gas purchases now return to 2012 levels, Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates Gazprom's core profit will increase 1.5 percent.
The price cut is also the leash by which Putin keeps Ukraine in line. Russia's president added that the drop might be temporary. In other words, any move to resume relations with Brussels could easily result in a return to the previous price.
James J. Coyle is a professor and the director of Global Education at Chapman University and chair of the Eurasian Committee of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Al Qaida in Syria Provides Wake Up Call

James J. Coyle: Al-Qaida in Syria provides wake up call
By JAMES J. COYLE / For the Register
Published: Dec. 12, 2013 Updated: 5:28 p.m.
Dozens of Americans have tried to join Islamist rebel groups in Syria, according to U.S. officials. They sought to join the estimated 6,000 to 8,000 foreign fighters.
Approximately 2,000 of their number are European. It is easy for these foreign fighters to reach Syria: international flights bring them to Turkey, where there are training camps exclusively for European recruits. From there, they easily slip across the border. Such numbers are troubling, because they represent a serious threat to the West when they return from their jihad in the Middle East.
The threat is not only to the West; Russia faces a similar problem. An Uzbek Salafist in Turkey uses the Internet to recruit in Europe, North America, Russia and Central Asia, according to EurasiaNet. Radical Kyrgyz in Moscow were recruited for the struggle by North Caucasians. Members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have left their fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan to go to Syria. While the number of Central Asians is still small, they have become more prominent in jihadist groups like al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. One press report says the “most dangerous and barbaric” of the al-Qaida fighters are 250 Chechens in the suburbs of Aleppo.
The group with the largest number of fighters is the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams, also known as ISIS. This group has achieved notoriety for fighting as much against other rebels as against government forces. They recently seized the northern Syrian town of Termanin from a rival rebel unit, by seizing the bakery, intimidating the police and beheading those who opposed them. “The executions are designed to make maximum impact,” said activist Firas Ahmad. Jihadists have also kidnapped Kurdish rebel fighters and Orthodox nuns. Most recently, the U.S. government announced on Thursday that they were suspending delivery of non-lethal aid to rebels in Northern Syria because of the reports of the Islamists' seizure of territory from the Free Syrian Army.
The ISIS now control many of the supply lines by which Western powers are trying to resupply other rebel groups. In areas along the border with Turkey in Aleppo and Idlib, the ISIS is also seizing territory held by other hard-line Islamist units, reports the Lebanese Daily Star. Their commander, who goes by the nickname al-Jazaeri, said they had learned their lesson in other conflicts. “Our mistake as mujahidin is that we were preoccupied with fighting [Moammar] Gadhafi and did not pay enough attention to how to hold onto territory,” he told Reuters.
The result is a large swath of territory in the heart of the Middle East under the control of al-Qaida affiliated groups. This area has come to resemble Afghanistan: Islamic schools, training camps and burka-clad women. The threat from these groups, many identified as terrorist organizations, is a common thread that unites Russia and America going into the Jan. 22 Geneva conference talks. The superpowers had appeared to be waging a proxy war in Syria, with Russia and Iran supporting President Bashar al-Assad against rebels backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Recent meetings, however, show that these alignments are no longer true.
The U.S. accepted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's suggestion of foregoing military action in favor of Syria's decommissioning of its chemical weapons stockpile. With indications that the Dec. 31 deadline for the removal of 30 tons of chemicals might not be met because the road to the coast might not be safe for transport, there are no renewed American threats. Instead, quiet diplomacy seems the order of the day.
Last week, British and American officials met in Ankara with non al-Qaida Islamist groups. While refusing to name which groups with which he had met, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said it was important to learn the long-term plans of the organizations. Other officials said the purpose of the meeting was to encourage them to join in the Geneva II peace talks. It would appear that the al-Qaida threat is uniting the international community in unanticipated ways.
James J. Coyle is a professor and the director of Global Education at Chapman University and Chair of the Eurasian Committee of the Pacific Council on International Policy. He has been involved with Middle Eastern affairs for over 30 years.

Protesters put Ukraine on edge

Protesters put Ukraine on edge
By JAMES J. COYLE / For the Register
Published: Dec. 3, 2013 Updated: 2:28 p.m.
The largest crowds in Ukraine's history descended Sunday onto Independence Square, scene of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Demonstrators closed off the city center, using Christmas trees, city benches, metal fences and barricades. Protestors occupied City Hall and the trade union headquarters.
Kiev was not the only forum for unrest: demonstrations took place throughout the country, including in President Viktor Yanukovych's home town of Donetsk. Former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko said what was happening was not a protest, but another revolution.
The government is in disarray: at least two parliamentarians from the ruling Party of Regions have resigned, as well as the chief of the presidential administration staff. The Kiev chief of police attempted to resign but was slapped with a suspension. The president is considering declaring a state of emergency, while the parliament is considering curtailing his powers.
It didn't have to be this way. On Thursday and Friday in Vilnius, Lithuania, the European Union welcomed Georgia and Moldova into the EU's Eastern Partnership.
Ukraine was supposed to be accepted as well, but the cabinet canceled the country's preparations to sign an association agreement after coming under heavy pressure from Moscow. The citizenry was outraged. Opposition parliamentarian Arseniy Yatsenyuk charged the ruling party with hindering Ukraine's movement towards the EU.
President Yanukovych had little room to maneuver. Even though he had been negotiating with the European Union for months, the odds have always favored his alignment with Moscow. Russia supplies Ukraine with 60 percent of its natural gas, and the two countries have been squabbling for months over price for the commodity. The EU has pledged to sell Ukraine natural gas through a reverse flow pipeline from Slovakia, but the quantities are insufficient to replace Russian gas. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov offered a carrot: cheaper gas if Kiev halts free trade talks with Europe.
Russia is not afraid to also use a stick: it cut off natural gas flows in the winters of 2006 and 2009, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev threatened tariffs on the importation of Ukrainian goods to Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, if the country aligned with the West. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov subsequently told the parliament this would cost the country 400,000 jobs.
Yanukovych is trying to keep his options open, stating he has not abandoned the idea of joining the European Union someday. Equally telling, he has not agreed immediately to joining the rival, Moscow-backed Eurasian Customs Union.
These half measures have not appeased the crowds, however, who are demanding his resignation. Ukraine and Russia are supposed to set the natural gas price for 2014 in the next two weeks: a strong enough price cut might shore up Yanukovych's support – if the news doesn't arrive too late.
James J. Coyle is the director of Global Education at Chapman University and is the chair of the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council on International Policy. He has also held various positions in the federal government, including director of Middle East studies at the U.S. Army War College.

Steps Toward Peace in the Caucasus

James J. Coyle: Steps toward peace in the Caucasus
By JAMES J. COYLE / For the Register
Published: Nov. 27, 2013 Updated: Dec. 2, 2013 9:27 a.m.
Last week, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Vienna for the first time in almost two years.
The summit was important, because these two countries have been involved in a “frozen conflict” for two decades, ever since signing a ceasefire in 1994.
The discussions were held under the auspices of the Minsk Group, created by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and co-chaired by the United States, Russia and France. At the conclusion, the co-chairs issued a statement that the presidents had:
• Agreed to advance negotiations toward a peaceful settlement;
• Instructed their foreign ministers to cooperate with the co-chairs to build on the work done to date, with the aim of intensifying the peace process; and,
• Agreed to meet again in the months ahead.
In addition, the co-chairs agreed to hold working sessions in Kiev on Dec. 5-6, on the margins of an OSCE Ministerial meeting.
For many Armenians in Southern California with families and friends in the affected area, progress in the talks should be welcome news. Armenia's borders with both Turkey and Azerbaijan remain closed because of this conflict.
Today, Armenia is the poorest country in the South Caucasus and its population has decreased 40 percent since the conflict began in 1988. A settlement to the conflict holds the promise of greater prosperity in that country.
Azerbaijan has also felt the effects. Armenia occupies approximately 20 percent of what is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, in defiance of four UN Security Council resolutions. This has resulted in the displacement of one million Azerbaijanis from their homes.
The United States also has interests in the area – domestically and internationally.
Domestically, Armenians have been immigrating to the United States since the 1890s; today, 1.4 million Americans can trace their heritage to Armenia. They have a great interest in what happens in their ancestral homeland.
Internationally, America's major ally in the Middle East, Israel, gets 60 percent of its oil imports from Azerbaijan. European allies, including Greece and Italy, are patiently awaiting the construction of the Trans Anatolian Pipeline that will bring desperately needed natural gas from Azerbaijan to their countries.
A renewal of the fighting could threaten these important economic lifelines. In addition, approximately 40 percent of all air freight for our troops in Afghanistan transit Azerbaijan.
This route, called the Northern Distribution Network, will be crucial in the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. Azerbaijani troops have fought side by side with Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Surrendering Egypt to Russia

James J. Coyle: Surrendering Egypt to Russia
By JAMES J. COYLE / For the Register
Published: Nov. 22, 2013 Updated: Dec. 2, 2013 9:28 a.m.


Russia is negotiating its biggest arms deal with Egypt since the Cold War after the U.S. cut aid to Egypt.
Source: Bloomberg News
As the United States reduces its footprint in the Middle East, Russia is taking advantage of the power vacuum America's retreat is creating. Egypt, whose defection to the West in 1972 was essential to creating the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, may be transferring its loyalties to the Kremlin.
On July 3, Egyptian military leaders removed Muslim Brotherhood cadres from government positions. This included the removal of President Mohamed Morsi. Confusing liberal democracy with Alexis de Tocqueville's “tyranny of the majority,” the United States decided to punish the generals and canceled a joint military exercise with the Egyptian army. Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to an Egyptian newspaper, immediately offered to discuss Russian joint military exercises.
Egypt warned that they would not take American chastisement lightly, that they had other choices they could make. Not recognizing the warning signs, in October, the U.S. canceled $260 million in cash aid (out of a $1.5 billion annual total) and held up the delivery of military equipment, including F-16 fighter planes. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait promptly pledged at least $12 billion to make up for the shortfall in American aid, and Russia offered a major arms deal to the Egyptians.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Cairo on Nov. 14 – the first Russian defense minister to visit the country since 1971. Shoigu offered to sell MIG-29 fighter jets, attack helicopters, anti-tank missiles and low-range air-defense missiles. The package is worth $2 billion; supposedly, Egypt is looking for loans from Saudi Arabia and Russia to pay for the purchase. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy proclaimed, “We want to give a new impetus to our relations and return them to the same high level that used to exist with the Soviet Union.”
The new Russian defense relationship might never materialize. Egypt may not be able to afford the weapons package, Russian weaponry would not integrate smoothly with Egypt's American supplied forces and U.S. aid might always be resumed.
But the Russians are pulling out all the stops: the defense minister's arrival was preceded by a port call in Alexandria by the Russian warship Varyag. This could presage the offering of port facilities to the Russian navy as a part of any rapprochement. Israel National News is reporting that Putin himself is expected in Egypt later this month to announce a $15 billion arms deal.
While we no longer face the zero-sum game of the Cold War, it is bad policy to encourage an American ally of forty years into the arms of a country that opposes U.S. policies in the world and is a major ally of Syria's Bashar al-Assad. There is an old saying in the Middle East: you cannot make war without Egypt and you cannot make peace without Syria. Current American policy is allowing Russia to gain control over both countries – and the ability to make war or peace.
James J. Coyle is the director of Global Education at Chapman University and chair of the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

U.S. Losing Saudi Arabia as an ally

James J. Coyle: U.S. losing Saudi Arabia as an ally

 By JAMES J. COYLE / For the Register

Published: Nov. 18, 2013 Updated: Dec. 2, 2013 9:28 a.m.


"Saudi Arabia cannot afford to be encircled by Iran, from Iraq and Syria. That is out of the question," said Khalid al-Dakhil, a political sociology professor at King Saud University, who has called for Saudi Arabia to become less dependent on the United States, told the New York Times in October.
In 1988, I asked a member of the Reagan administration what was being done to regain America's position in Iran. “Nothing,” was the reply. “We don't need them as long as we have Saudi Arabia.” How things have changed.
As world powers prepared to move closer to Iran, the head of Saudi intelligence (and former ambassador to the United States), Prince Bandar bin Sultan, told European diplomats that he planned to scale back Saudi cooperation with the United States in Syria. He said this move was in protest over America's policies in the Middle East. The prince promised a “major shift” in relations with the U.S., taking official Washington by surprise. It shouldn't have.
The Saudis were shocked when the United States advised its longtime ally, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, to step down during the Arab uprisings. And when the military pushed aside the Muslim Brotherhood-supported President Mohamed Morsi, the American suspension of military aid was met in Riyadh with profound disbelief. The Kingdom immediately promised to make up any aid to Egypt that the Americans cut.
Saudi Arabia answered the call of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa in 2011 to put down Shia protesters. Military action was in direct defiance of American advice. In Iraq, America's troop withdrawal in December 2011 left a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, and Saudi Arabia's Sunni allies out in the cold. Meetings with Iran in Geneva involving the U.S., Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have sent a shiver of fear through the kingdom – a fear of abandonment as America seeks rapprochement with its Persian nemesis.
The final step was President Barack Obama abandoning his own red-line in Syria. Former head of Saudi intelligence (and former ambassador to the United States and Great Britain) Prince Turki bin Faisal, called the American policy “lamentable.” According to Reuters, the Prince believed the deal between the United States and Russia to be a ruse. “The current charade of international control over Bashar's chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down (from military strikes), but also to help Assad to butcher his own people.”
The king was furious at America's actions. The Saudi foreign minister canceled his address to the United Nations General Assembly, and then refused to take a coveted seat on the UN Security Council. “This was a message for the U.S., not the UN,” said Prince Bandar.
The Obama administration is downplaying the crisis. Secretary of State Kerry emerged from a meeting with his Saudi counterpart to say the foreign minister had not raised Prince Bandar's concerns. A senior American defense official said the U.S. remains “fully committed to security cooperation” with the kingdom. A senior administration official said the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a longstanding partnership. White House spokesman Jay Carney said any disagreements would be worked out in a “candid and forthright way as we maintain the basic foundation of a very important relationship.”
Indications are, however, that the breach is a serious one. Apparently, Saudi Arabia did not warn its American ally before it took the drastic step of rejecting the Security Council seat. Prince Bandar said the Saudis would begin to work in Syria with allies such as Jordan and France, rather than the United States. Military and commercial ties are in danger. According to a Reuters' source close to Saudi policy, “The shift away from the U.S. is a major one. Saudi doesn't want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.” The source promised an impact; echoing a phrase one usually associates with American decision makers, he said “All options are on the table now.”
James J. Coyle is the director of Global Education at Chapman University and the chair of the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council for International Policy.