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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
The largest crowds
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
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
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.
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 ChapmanUniversity 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.ArmyWarCollege.
Last week, the
presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Vienna for the first time in almost two
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
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
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
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
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
The United States
also has interests in the area – domestically and internationally.
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.
Russia is negotiating its
biggest arms deal with Egypt
since the Cold War after the U.S.
cut aid to Egypt.
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.
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
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
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 ChapmanUniversity and chair of
the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council on International Policy.
"Saudi Arabia cannot afford to be encircled by Iran, from Iraq
That is out of the question," said Khalid al-Dakhil, a political sociology
professor at KingSaudUniversity,
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
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
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.”
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 ChapmanUniversity and the chair
of the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council for International Policy.