Trump Soars in Warsaw — But Gets Suckered in Hamburg: Ralph Peters, New York Post, July 7, 2017— In Warsaw on Thursday, President Trump gave the most impressive speech by a US president on European soil since Ronald Reagan…
Russia’s Strategy: Built on Illusion: George Friedman, Geopolitical Futures, July 19, 2017 — Strong powers can underplay their hands and afford to make mistakes.
Chechnya’s Jewish Community Doesn’t Exist — But it’s Angry at Israel: Cnaan Liphshiz, JTA, July 21, 2017— While Russia’s mainstream Jewish leaders in Moscow firmly backed Israel’s actions in clashes this week with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the small Jewish community of Chechnya broke ranks with them and boldly condemned the Jewish state’s “provocations” against Muslims in the holy city.
Middle Eastern Islamism Threatens Russia: Daniel Pipes, Eurasia Expert, July 24, 2017— Why is the Middle East so unstable? Is there hope for improvement?
Are Russia and America Headed for a Showdown?: George Beebe, National Interest, July 24, 2017
Why Trump’s Syrian Cease-fire Makes Israel Nervous: David Makovsky, Politico, July 14, 2017
The Prospect for Russia's Jews: Maxim D. Shrayer, Mosaic, March 6 2017
Taliban Fighters Claim Russia is Giving Them Weapons: Mark Moore, New York Post, July 25, 2017
New York Post, July 7, 2017
In Warsaw on Thursday, President Trump gave the most impressive speech by a US president on European soil since Ronald Reagan raised the challenge, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” His speechwriter served him splendidly, deservedly praising Poland’s long struggle for freedom and repeatedly calling out Russia for its invasions, occupations and atrocities.
The historical references, such as to the Katyn Forest Massacre of 15,000 Polish officers held as POWs, resonated with the Poles and galled Moscow. Listening to our president, I felt like standing up and cheering. Then Trump met Vladimir Putin on the rim of the G-20 summit in Germany, and he fell under the same spell that had seduced three US presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, the latter of whom ended up as Putin’s strategic punching bag.
Listening to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s summary of the two-hour-plus meeting was painful. The naivety on display played into Putin’s hands. We got nothing, Putin got a big win. While it seemed a fine thing that our president brought up Russian interference in our election, Tillerson undercut it by stressing that he and the president didn’t want to re-litigate the past but seek to move forward. That was terrific news for Putin, who needs to be punished harshly for his election-meddling (yes, the Russians indisputably meddled). Russia’s new czar got a free pass for a still-to-be-issued promise not to do it again. We held all the aces. And we folded.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had his say, too, not only claiming Trump accepted that Russia had not meddled in the election, but implying, in the Russian version, that Trump personally rejected the notion of Russian interference. Follow-up US denials didn’t help; the damage was done. And that no-details-yet deal to suspend the fighting in southern Syria? The primary beneficiary — if it even works — will be Iran and its surrogates, who will be protected from interference as they tighten their grip on the border with Iraq.
The administration needs to grasp that Russia’s our enemy, and that’s because it chooses to be. The burden’s not on us to make up with Moscow, but on Putin to stop invading his neighbors, assassinating dissidents (including those in the West) and terror-bombing civilians in Syria. That’s how things could move forward. We somehow have convinced ourselves that we need Russia’s help. That’s nonsense. Russia desperately needs our support. And it needs sanctions lifted (watch that space). What do the Russians have? They have Putin. And he’s as canny as he is savage.
The live shots of Trump’s first handshake with Putin were telling. Trump was himself. Putin was the self he chose to be. Normally not a smiley-face guy, Putin advanced with an artificial smile — he’d studied Trump and decided that the best approach was chumminess. And he kept control of the situation. Short in stature, he was careful not to come too close to Trump, avoiding an embrace that would have made him look tiny compared to our president. Putin calculates every single move.
Czar Vladimir was more at ease in the second photo op, when both men were seated and Putin, who has a large torso, looked bigger beside Trump. Having watched Putin for many years, he always reminds me of a predatory cat, ever watching for the right moment to pounce. A judo devotee for five decades, he has a constant awareness of his environment, a sinewy alertness in the moment.
Perhaps our president will draw a lesson from the immediate propaganda use to which the Russians put this meeting. But he would have been better served had he at least included his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster — who has no ties to Putin — in this initial meeting. As it is, we’re stuck with a public disagreement between Lavrov and Tillerson over what actually was said. And sowing doubt is to Russia’s advantage.
The president we need is the one we heard in Warsaw, praising and detailing the valiant, against-all-odds heroes of the Warsaw uprising, when Poles rose against the Nazis, expecting the Red Army — positioned just across the Vistula River — to come to their aid. Instead, Stalin ordered his troops to halt while the Nazis massacred the Poles. The speechwriter knew his or her history — and who the enemy was and still is today.
We need the Trump who, in that speech in Poland’s rebuilt capital, insisted that Western civilization is worth defending and that the fundamental question of our time is whether we’ll defend it. That sent the politically correct in the media into a weak-loined frenzy — all cultures are supposed to be equal — but, for the rest of us, it was heartening to hear someone defend a civilization that, for all its discontents, embodies the highest achievements of humanity: personal freedom, the rule of law, freedom of religion, opportunity and government of the people, by the people and for the people. As the president pointed out in that speech, the enemy doesn’t come only from the south, but from the east, as well. Ask the Poles.
Geopolitical Futures, July 19, 2017
Strong powers can underplay their hands and afford to make mistakes. Weak powers, on the other hand, need to exaggerate their power and be far more precise in its use. Power is like money; the less you have, the more you need to flaunt it and the fewer mistakes you can afford to make. But by trying to convince others that they have more power than they actually do, they run the risk of squandering a scarce resource. It’s nearly impossible to both flaunt power and preserve it at the same time.
This is the core strategic problem of Russia. On the one hand, it is still trying to find its way more than 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event President Vladimir Putin has referred to as “the greatest political catastrophe” of the 20th century. In the lives of nations, a quarter of a century is not very long, and the reverberations of the catastrophe are still being felt. On the other hand, Russia lives in a complex and dangerous region, and appearing weak can be the biggest threat to its well-being. Therefore, like a wealthy person coming into hard times, Russia must simultaneously try to appear more powerful than it is and meticulously manage what power it has.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has faced two fundamental problems. The first is geographic. The second, which we’ll return to later, is economic. Russia’s main geographic problem is that it needs to maintain a buffer zone to its west to stem the risk of attack from the European Peninsula. Russia has been invaded three times, once by France and twice by Germany. In each case, it survived because of strategic depth. The Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine created the buffer zone that gave Russia room to retreat and exhaust the enemy. Although the weather also played a role, distance was the main challenge for attacking armies. Even in World War I, Germany was unable to sustain the gains it won. In the Napoleonic Wars and World War II, the enemy was ground down and defeated.
After World War II, Russia’s buffer zone expanded dramatically. A second tier of nations to the West – Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania – came under Soviet dominion. Soviet power pushed into central Germany. For the first time in its history, it had strategic depth such that an attack from the European Peninsula was unthinkable. But maintaining the force that was needed to hold this deep buffer exceeded Soviet resources. The drop in oil prices, the inherent inefficiency in the economy, and the cost of defending what it had won in World War II had become unsustainable, and the Soviet Union collapsed. It first lost the deep buffer of Eastern Europe, and two years later, it lost the critical elements of its core buffer, the Baltics and Ukraine.
An argument can be made that given the situation on the European Peninsula, the threat to Russia has evaporated. But nothing in Russia’s history permits such complacency. In 1932, Germany was a weak and divided liberal democracy. Six years later, it was the most powerful military force in Europe. Russia understands the speed with which European (and American) intentions and capabilities can change. It must therefore continue to pursue strategic depth.
When the Baltic countries were brought into NATO, the Russians were unable to respond. But Ukraine was a different matter. It had become independent but was not absorbed by the West. It was also a critical part of Russia’s buffer. Ukraine is vast, and the cost of crossing it from the west is high. When Western countries, particularly the U.S., appeared to support the establishment of a pro-Western government in Kiev during the 2004 Orange Revolution, Russia believed they actually intended to undermine Russian security. A Ukraine armed or controlled by the West would make Russia very difficult to defend. The U.S. claimed the Orange Revolution was about human rights, but the Russians saw that as a cover. The Russians fought back with covert operations designed to install a pro-Russian government in Kiev. The Americans responded by supporting the uprising in 2014, and the Russians saw this too as a hostile act.
But Russia was in no position to do anything about it. Its intelligence services failed to understand or prevent what happened in Kiev. The Russians had to do something to demonstrate they were not impotent. So Russia formally annexed Crimea, a region that was historically Russian, and where Russian force was already overwhelming. This convinced the Americans that Russia was an aggressive power. Russia found itself in a strategic confrontation that outstripped its resources but which it could not abandon.
But with Russia unable to challenge Western forces and with the U.S. uninterested in an extended conflict with Moscow, the result was a frozen conflict in Ukraine. There was an implicit agreement: Russia would accept a pro-Western government in Kiev so long as that did not include a military alliance or deployment of Western forces in Ukraine. The U.S. and Europe would accept the status quo so long as the Russians did not become aggressive. The Russians had a buffer against the West, and the West had a buffer against Russia. This achieved a solution the West could live with because Ukraine was not a fundamental interest. But for the Russians, it was only minimally acceptable. Ukraine was vital to Russian interests and this solution was only just short of a defeat.
Russia decided it had to act to increase its strength. But it was dealt another blow in 2014, when oil prices began to decline as a result of increased supplies and constrained demand. And this brings us back to Russia’s second fundamental problem: its economic weakness. Russia is dependent on an economic variable it can’t control. It remains heavily reliant on oil exports but it can’t dictate the price of oil. At a time when it needed to expand its military power, it was facing deep economic constraints. This was precisely the problem the Soviet Union faced in the 1980s. It had to increase its military force while its major export, energy, plunged in price. This problem was instrumental in the Soviet Union’s collapse. To avoid repeating this scenario, the Russians had to decrease their defense budget rather than increase it.
After the dual shocks of 2014, Russia could either acknowledge its weakness or attempt to appear more powerful than it was. But if it acknowledged its problems, Russia was afraid, reasonably so, that the U.S. could impose a more aggressive policy on Moscow. Russia was forced into the maneuver of a formerly wealthy man down on his luck. It had to appear convincingly more powerful than it was, with the attendant danger of using up resources it couldn’t afford to spend. It pursued this strategy through low-cost, low-risk actions.
One such action was in Syria. The intervention there served no Russian strategic interests. There was speculation that Russia was interested in pipelines or ports. But no one believed that Russia’s commitment to Bashar Assad was so deep that it would intervene to save him. In reality, the Russians intervened to show that they could, and to prove that they could deal with the United States and Turkey as equals. From a strategic standpoint, it made little sense. From a psychological standpoint, it made some sense. The forces it sent were limited, and while they may have prevented the fall of Assad, they are now as bogged down as the Americans, unable to win and unable to leave. But being as bogged down as the Americans was not a problem. To the contrary, it made Russia a player on a bigger stage…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
JTA, July 21, 2017
While Russia’s mainstream Jewish leaders in Moscow firmly backed Israel’s actions in clashes this week with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the small Jewish community of Chechnya broke ranks with them and boldly condemned the Jewish state’s “provocations” against Muslims in the holy city. At least that was the story reported in the national and local media, including the Echo of Moscow radio station and Chechnya Today – the most popular news site in the predominantly Muslim Russian republic.
There was just one problem with the news item: Chechnya apparently has no organized Jewish community, and according to some Jewish people who were born there, also next to no Jews. The reports about where Chechen Jews stand on the issue of Jerusalem, where police and Palestinians clashed Thursday night and Friday over Israel’s decision to place metal detectors near the entrance to the Al Aqsa mosque, relied on a video message published Tuesday by a man called Mosei Yunayev.
Claiming to speak for the Jewish community of Chechnya, he joined Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in condemning Israel’s actions at the Temple Mount, where the mosque is situated. Chechen Jews, Yunayev said, “wholeheartedly support” the sharp-worded rebuke of Israel by Kadyrov. “Nonsense, I doubt there are even any Jews left in Chechnya, let alone an organized Jewish community,” Tamara Rafailova Kahlon, an Israeli who was born in the Chechen capital of Grozny, told JTA on Friday. Her father, Rafoi Rafailov, heads an association of Chechen Jews in the city of Pyatigorsk, situated 150 miles west of Grozny in the North Caucasian Federal District. “They all left, I don’t know who this man speaks for,” she said.
On July 15, Kadyrov called Israel’s heightened security on the Temple Mount, where the previous day three Arab-Israeli terrorists killed two police officers before they were shot to death, “deliberate provocation to foment riots.” He described as “violent” Israel’s detention of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who was called in for questioning after he urged worshippers to ignore a temporary closure of the compound immediately following the attack.
In response to the shooting, Israel for the first time placed metal detectors in gateways leading to the Haram al Sharif compound, which contains the Al-Aqsa mosque. Thousands of troops were deployed Friday following riots; two Palestinians were killed in the clashes. Security checks are a “provocation that invites resistance” by Muslims, Kadyrov said. Yunayev’s support for the condemnation by Kadyrov received considerable exposure in the Chechen media and other Russian-language publications. But Russian-speaking Jews, including community leaders, journalists and immigrants from Chechnya, dismissed and ridiculed Yunayev’s claim to represent a Jewish community that they said does not exist.
In an interview with Chechnya Today, Yunayev denied the assertions. “Those who claim that there are no Jews in Chechnya are far from being Jewish,” he said. And he presented his credentials: “I was sent to the Chechen Republic by the Council of Elders of the Jewish People to restore the Jewish community in the region. Only true believers know how right I am in my convictions.” JTA could not confirm the existence of an organization by that name; its only presence online originates in Yunayev’s mention in the Chechnya Today article. At other times, Yunayev presented himself as a member of the equally untraceable Congress of Jews of the North Caucasus Federal District.
Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior figure within the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, told JTA he is aware neither of that group nor of any other organized Jewish community active in Chechnya. “Chechnya is special in that there is no Jewish community, there are no Jews there,” he told the news site Open Russia on Thursday. “Not in Grozny, not anywhere. Perhaps there are a few individuals, but there is no social community of ethnic Jews after the Chechen wars” of the 1990s and 2000s. “Any statements from the Chechen Jewish community are made up,” Gorin said.
Chechnya did have a Jewish population in the past. Grozny had a 19th-century Ashkenazi synagogue that was turned into a music school in 1937 and then destroyed during the first Chechen war of 1994-96. But today, “Chechnya has no Jews,” according to the website Gorskie, the official website of the Mountain Jews Community, who have lived for centuries in the Caucasus…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Daniel Pipes (Interview)
Eurasia Expert, July 24, 2017
Why is the Middle East so unstable? Is there hope for improvement? Middle Eastern instability results from the region's particularly difficult transition to modernity. This can be explained by two main problems: historic Muslim-Christian tensions going back to the origins of Islam and acute differences between modern and Islamic ways at both the public and private levels. In all, Muslim-Christian relations are probably the most fraught of any two large bodies of people in the world…
Will Syria or its neighbors be occupied by terrorists? For me, the word terrorist has lost meaning; it's what everyone calls his enemies. Let me change your question from terrorists to jihadis. Jihadis have a great future in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq and could control those states. The other neighbors – Turkey, Jordan, Israel – can protect themselves from anarchy though not from specific attacks.
In the aftermath of the Putin-Trump meeting at which both presidents expressed a readiness to fight ISIS in Syria, do you expect their forces to cooperate against it? Every serious analyst recognizes that the real issue in Syria is the growing Iranian presence and the Sunni states' resistance to it. ISIS is a sideshow. As Moscow is basically supporting Tehran and Washington supports the Sunni states, their differences will preclude more than occasionally tactical cooperation. I hope the Trump administration supports the Kurds and others who are resisting Iranian domination.
After helping the Iraqi army take Mosul from ISIS, will the U.S. government also help take Syrian cities from it? Due to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Americans feel a special responsibility for Iraq; but no similar sense exists for Syria. Also, the presence of Turkish and YPG forces complicates matters in Syria. I therefore expect a lesser U.S. involvement in Syria than in Iraq.
Can ISIS export instability from Syria-Iraq to Central Asia? ISIS has a history of doing too much too fast, making too many enemies and paying a heavy price for these mistakes. Assuming it has not learned the lesson of making alliances and limiting ambitions, it will likely try to reach Central Asia. I doubt it will succeed as the lure of the caliphate has been broken and other Islamist competitors are better positioned there…
Estimates suggest 5-7,000 people from Russia and the rest of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are fighting for ISIS; Putin has stated that "we certainly cannot allow them to apply experience gained in Syria in our home." Do these CIS fighters in fact pose a threat to Russia? Assuming that the Russian authorities are on the alert for former ISIS fighters, I expect their threat will be contained to occasional acts of jihadi violence but no greater challenge…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Are Russia and America Headed for a Showdown?: George Beebe, National Interest, July 24, 2017—The situation may have to get worse before cooler heads start to prevail.
Why Trump’s Syrian Cease-fire Makes Israel Nervous: David Makovsky, Politico, July 14, 2017—Israel has done all it could over the past six years to stay out of the maelstrom next door in Syria, where Bashar Assad’s regime has struggled for six years to beat back a peaceful uprising that became a bloody civil war.
The Prospect for Russia's Jews: Maxim D. Shrayer, Mosaic, March 6 2017—Why do you stay here?” “I have a son here,” he replied. And then he added: “God gave me as a Jew such a place in life—to live in Russia.” “What about the other Jews, why do they stay here?” “About the others I don’t know, but I imagine they too are needed here by nature and the Creator.”
Taliban Fighters Claim Russia is Giving Them Weapons: Mark Moore, New York Post, July 25, 2017—Two groups of Taliban fighters said they have weapons supplied by the Russians, CNN reported on Tuesday, reinforcing claims by US military officials that the Kremlin is arming its one-time foe.