Saturday, March 22, 2014


Putin, and his great tribe of nostalgic Russians, which by the news footage seems to be comprised middle-aged men in bluejeans and flags, and old women fondly cradling pictures of Stalin.  The common denomintor? Grievance at the embarrassment and hardship that followed the collapse of USSR. Putin, with all his shirtless photos with tigers and guns and Siberia taps into this sense of inadequacy and shows Russians that yes, they can still be macho and powerful. It's simplistic primal bullshit, an evolutionary holdover that served proto-humans well when we had simpler brains and scarce resources, but it still works.

Putin didn't have to annex Crimea the same way Bush/Blair didn't have to invade Iraq and Afghanistan and any number of past and present "leaders" great and small who, if not for circumstance and ego, would be pissed-up football hooligans smashing each other senseless. There's no good reason why Russia or the USA, or the north bit of Korea couldn't have sensible governments with decent relations with their neighbours and the rest of the world. We have too many weapons, and the world is now too small for these kinds of spoilers.

We as a species need to lose this ancient holdover that splits us into my team and your team, and have us following madmen (and sometimes women) with guns on whatever fateful path they start down.

If we don't, the archaeologists of whatever species evolves to replaces us will be digging up our fossils and pondering what happened.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rocco, eh?

I like the way this man thinks.

"When I started this I was very, very clear and convinced that I was right and that this was as clear as a bell to me," Galati told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview from India.
In an unprecedented reference, the top court agreed by a 6-1 margin that Nadon was not eligible to sit amongst them and that the government could not unilaterally rewrite the Supreme Court Act rules on the composition of the bench.
"I just regret the fact the government can make a subversive mess of our Constitution and it's got to be private citizens like me — at my own expense, this has cost me a lot of money, my own time, energy and money; I'm not getting any of that back — to clean up what?" said Galati.
"To clean up the mess of the subversive government that doesn't want to respect the Constitution. Why should a private citizen have to do that, quite frankly?
"If I hadn't brought the challenge, Justice Nadon would be deciding cases as we speak."
Tough week for the Cons, what with the courts via the public beating them like that with a rolled up Constitution. More please.

Not historic.

CBC, the prime minister's stop in Ukraine is not likely to be "historic" unless something interesting happens to him or because of him while he's there that is likely to be recorded in the history books. God help us if he does that because, well, the Harper Conservative nostalgia for big wars that mostly happened before they were born might get the better of him.

It's an opportunistic photo-op by the king of opportunistic photo-oppers that might get him some votes in the prairies.  

So, CBC, can please you maybe stop saying big words like "historic" before history happens?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

More thoughts on response to Ukraine

Whatever the coming days and weeks and months bring in Ukraine, the Russian annexing of Crimea demonstrates that Putin is an unstable 'leader'. All those pictues of a shirtless Putin wading up rivers and riding horses weren't just the Russian version of shots of Harper with kittens.

He's probably gambled that the European dependence on Russian oil and gas, and the global incentive not to mess with prices will make any response to Crimea token at best. For godsakes don't upset the oil markets. A judo expert like Putin might believe that is actually excellent leverage. Which I suppose it is in the short-term.

That said, in the short-term the rouble has declined in value and there's serious talk about punitive measures against wealthy and influential Russians and the like. Russia might even be thrown out of the G8. I don't know if Putin factored this in, but this could have consequences.

So how to respond?

The long-term is a different story because Russian military adventurism acts as a counter-incentive to engaging with Russia. I don't imagine any country wants to be dependent on Russian energy supplies if they can help it and now that Putin has confirmed himself to be certifiable, they might really be looking for ways out of that trap.

Perhaps it is possible to undermine Putin by converting to renewable energy across Europe and destroying demand for Russian energy, and therefore a significant source of revenue for Putin.

As long as Putin is in power, there is a real risk of a another arms race and Cold War, which means a greater risk of nuclear war. Unlike the Cold War, Russians are not united in support of their leaders and there's very clear opposition to Putin inside Russia.  Russia isn't isolated like it was in those days either and globalisation has meant it is also depenedent on the rest of the world for its wellbeing.

Again, these are vulnerabilities that Putin maybe has not appreciated to the degree that he ought to.

The worst thing anyone might do is promote an international military response as the way to solve this. Putin likes fighting and lord knows how he react to a NATO response.

The only military response that might help is the utterly unthinkable prospect of dragging Russia into a protracted Ukraine guerrilla war until Russians themselves tire of it and the man who started it, like Afghanistan.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Ukraine and NATO, what not to do

This piece by former deputy assistant US defsec Ian Brzezinski is making the rounds. In it he argues that NATO ought to look at several options regarding Ukraine, all of which put in potentially direct conflict with Russia.
Security assistance to Ukraine: A package of military help, including anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, ammunition and other supplies should be foremost on the table. Ukraine’s military stands among the country’s more pro-Western establishments, with nearly two decades of interaction with the NATO through the alliance's Partnership for Peace program. Ukraine has regularly hosted NATO exercises and last fall contributed a company to the alliance's Article V exercise, STEADFAST JAZZ, in Poland.

Deployment of NATO surveillance capabilities in Ukraine:  The deployment of NATO sensors, including air-to-ground surveillance assets, to Ukraine would be a clear demonstration of allied commitment to Ukraine. As passive systems they would not threaten Russia, but they would enhance Ukrainian defenses by providing greater awareness of the movement and presence of Russian forces.

Activation of the NATO Response Force: The NRF is the alliance's rapid response force. President Obama recently committed a permanent US contribution to the force that can deploy on immediate notice a brigade land component backed by combat air and air support elements, and special operations forces, among other capabilities. The NRF ought to be activated, if necessary under the pretext of an exercise at NATO's joint training base in Poland, just as Russia initiated a major exercise as it launched its incursion into Crimea.

Deployment of NATO Naval Forces to the Black Sea: The NRF includes a maritime component that, with other NATO naval assets, should be deployed to reinforce the interests of allies and partners in the Black Sea.
 Why? Because,

If NATO continues to limit its role to consultations in this crisis, its relevance as a security institution will be significantly diminished.
Ah, so it isn't so much about containing or avoiding war in Ukraine, it's about NATO relevance and if NATO isn't going to fight the Russians someday, what good is it? So in order to preserve the Alliance, NATO country leaders should risk a hot war with the Old Enemy because preserving the Old Alliance is the most impotent important thing ever. This is really how these people think?

How about this? If shooting war starts in the Ukraine, leave NATO out of it. Put resources into the the UN in terms of sorting out the refugees and producing a cease-fire as quickly as humanly possible. If the West is that keen on its liberalism and preventing war, it should work through the liberal institutions it created to avoid or mitigate war.

Foregrounding NATO is feeding into Putin's perversion, which seems bent recreating of the risky world order of his youth. Nostalgia for nukes or something.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Thoughts on Ukraine...

So Ukraine had internal political disagreement connected to whether it wanted to join the EU or Eastasian Union. It's former leader sided with the latter, the public in the western Ukraine largely said no, there were riots and killing, then Russian invaded because it saw opportunity.

The key in all of this are Russia's intentions. Do they want to seize Crimea as they have, or is this an attempt to annex the Russian speaking part of Ukraine as a whole?

If Russia is demonstrating it's capability and tomorrow they will suddenly withdraw, we will avoid war but create a new Cold War conflict line between Russia and not-Russia.

If Russia is annexing Crimea, war may be avoidable and negotiated settlement possible, which could include referenda and the like. Tricky, but it would avoid bloodshed.

If Russia wants to annex Russian Ukraine, and is aiming to do so, then war is likely in Ukraine.

Under Putin, Russia will to do as it pleases because it cannot be challenged without inviting the set of risks that came with the Cold War.

This is not a viable option for most, including me. The long game could be catastrophic.

So what then for the rest of the world? Let Russia do as it pleases for the next years or decades until its internal politics finally change? Or, muck about at confronting it rhetorically and maybe militarily?

Scenario: Russian annexing of Ukraine makes Obama look weak to US voters. The TeaGOP then wins the next US election with a name-your-swaggering-blowhard at the helm...

Aside: This is the kind of thing intelligence agencies should be all over, not snooping on ordinary people who don't like pipelines and oil tankers.