Putin’s priorities are clear

But then, he’s too busy turning the Nazis into the only legitimate opposition in Russia to fight the Taliban:

The Weekly Standard
While Obama deals with the assorted tax problems of his nominees, the world continues to turn. The AP reports that “Kyrgyzstan will no longer allow US to use airbase that supports military operations in Afghanistan.” This as the Kyrgyz president arrives in Moscow for a state visit the agenda for which is to include Russia forgiving Kyrgyzstan’s debt and providing nearly $2 billion in loans and new investments.

This presents an opportunity. Historically, politics in Afghanistan was split between Iran, India, and Russia supporting the multiethnic north, and Pakistan supporting the Pashtun south. If Russia is actively preventing support of the Afghan government (which is a very “northern” institution), we may seeing de facto between Russia and Pakistan in supporting the Pashtun south.

Which means an Indian-Iranian-American alliance in support of Afghanistan’s national government is possible.

iran_and_the_central_seam

I hope Barack Obama is paying attention!

22 thoughts on “Putin’s priorities are clear”

  1. I’m without a clue as to the nature of current relations between the US and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But given their historic rivalry against the Taliban they might be a worthy long term ally in terms of logistics. This in addition to Iran (as you mention) who supplied the Northern Alliance and Hazara resistance against that Taliban.

    India might be a bit reticent to get much more involved than they already are given the fragile peace between them and the Talibans chief benefactor, Pakistan. Too much Indian involvement might be construed as an aggressive attempt to project influence into Afghanistan and might aggravate the uneasiness between the two countries and ratchet up the possibility for another war.

  2. ElamBend,

    Pakistan has tried for decades to incorporate Afghanistan in an attempt to secure strategic depth.

    The strategy seems to have succeeded in reverse.

    There are many things that make us natural allies for the Persians (starting with the fact that we’re not a neighbor and have not territorial interests). However, the mullahs are ignorant and stubborn and stuck in 1953/1979.

    I don’t know what you mean here, aside from they’re religious, so they have to be stupid.

    Jay@Soob,

    Well said wrt India — Afghanistan is not critical for India, though it makes sense that New Dehli might moderate her involvement in Afghanistan in relation to Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir.

    And certainly, aligning our interests with India would be a wiser move than pressing India to concede Kashmir to Pakistan’s proxies!

  3. Simply that limiting American influence in Central Asia is more important to Putin that preventing a Taliban resurgence.

    I think it should be obvious to fair-minded observers of Putin’s behavior, but some bloggers talk about Putin as if he’s the leader of a “core” nation in the global economy, as if he is particularly concerned with anti-western terrorists, etc.

  4. “Simply that limiting American influence in Central Asia is more important to Putin that preventing a Taliban resurgence.” (tdaxp)

    Then why did the Russians just make a deal with the U.S. allowing us to transport supplies across Russian territory into Afghanistan? That would seem like a peculiar thing do to if they wanted to “limit American influence in Central Asia?”

    Here’s the report from Stratfor:

    “Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said Feb. 4 that Russia will let the U.S. transport supplies across its territory to Afghanistan, Reuters reported. Karasin added, “[Russia] will be flexible in many other ways which will support our joint success in Afghanistan—that would be the basic school of thinking from which we will proceed.” (Stratfor)

    I suppose this could be a trick? The Russians are famous for their chess playing abilities so they may be setting us up for something? I’m pretty sure the drivers of the supply trucks won’t be Americans, but at some point in the supply chain, Americans will handle the supplies. The Russians may try to sneak some vodka into the shipments? When the supplies get to American soldiers, the soldiers will drink the vodka. This will lead to decreased fighting ability and increase alcoholism rates of soldiers returning from Afghanistan. As these soldier leave the military, American tax money will have to be spent for alcohol rehab programs at the VA. Because these soldiers will have tasted Russian vodka, the demand for Russian vodka will go up, thus causing a larger deficit of trade. This will put American vodka makers out of work, leading to increased unemployment. Increased unemployment could lead to instability, and instability could lead to revolution. Marxists are revolutionaries, and Russia was once Marxist-Leninist.

    🙂

  5. Putin has already been an unreliable negotiating partner for Obama. I think this is Russia’s third position on this issue [1]

    Still, assuming Putin has made up his mind, Russia’s goal is to maximize Russian influence around the former Soviet Union. This means preventing America from using former Soviet military bases (as Putin attempted to prevent immediately after 9/11), trading favors in exchange for America abandoning interests in the former Soviet Union, and so on.

    The best “spin” I can imagine for Putin out of this is that he is obstructing America from negotiating with countries that border Afghanistan, and has threatend to cut off materiel shipments through Russian territory, but if we allow Russia to handle the security of the logistics, he will graciously allow our goods to go from point A to point B.

    Russia is a bargaining partner wrt to Afghanistan, in the same way that Pakistan is. But not a friend, or an ally, or a country that necessarily has our preference between the success of MNF-A and the success of the Taliban.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2009/01/27/russia-not-probama.html

  6. Not religious, just that they are so wrapped up in their own paranoia that they cannot see what their true threats are. Religion, coincidentally causes some of their blindness (that’s the only way I can explain their Israel obsession), but if it were just religion causing their paranoia, then Russia would scare them more. I mention the mullahs because they are the true power structure, though I suspect many are only religious for political expediency.

    In reality they have an untrustworthy Russia to the north, an unstable Pakistan/Afghanistan to the east (130+Million Pakistanis compared to 50 Million Iranians or whom just over half are Persian), an unreliable Turkey to the northwest and unfriendly Sunni Arabs across the gulf. In such a situation, a wealthy powerful sponsor would seem to be just the ticket.

    As for the Kyrghistan, I think they are playing brinksmanship for more money (at Russia’s bequest). At the same time Russia is giving us a squeeze in the nether regions to remind us that we are but tourists in Central Asia.

  7. Seerov

    Well it is a trick in the same way that Russian promises to deliver natural gas to Europe strictly on a business basis and without any political shenanigans was a trick. Even if the Russians are entirely on the up and up right now, if the US becomes dependent on Russia to deliver supplies to Afghanistan, the Russians will halt that flow. Even though the interruptions in natural gas deliveries are causing the Europeans to start finding alternate energy sources, the Russians will continue to be Russians.

    It seems that the Russians will always cut off anything that they exert monopoly control over even if doing so costs them far more in the long run. The rewards of being a reliable business partner apparently pale compared to the simple pleasure of fucking with other people just because you can.

  8. Mark in Texas wrote:
    “The rewards of being a reliable business partner apparently pale compared to the simple pleasure of fucking with other people just because you can.”

    So Russia is a trickster regime? I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. Though I do agree that Russia is seeking a leverage point in the US efforts to supply the war in Afghanistan.

  9. ElamBend,

    Not religious, just that they are so wrapped up in their own paranoia that they cannot see what their true threats are.

    What evidence is there for this?

    Religion, coincidentally causes some of their blindness (that’s the only way I can explain their Israel obsession),

    Attempting to turn Arabs against their own (insufficiently anti-Zionist) regimes, as well as supporting groups which are opposed to Egyptian-Saudi hegemony over the Arab nations (such as Hamas), seem like rather sensible reasons.

    but if it were just religion causing their paranoia, then Russia would scare them more. I mention the mullahs because they are the true power structure, though I suspect many are only religious for political expediency.

    I agree.

    Iran resembles late-70s China, in its intelligent, if stressed, foreign policy.

    In reality they have an untrustworthy Russia to the north, an unstable Pakistan/Afghanistan to the east (130+Million Pakistanis compared to 50 Million Iranians or whom just over half are Persian), an unreliable Turkey to the northwest and unfriendly Sunni Arabs across the gulf. In such a situation, a wealthy powerful sponsor would seem to be just the ticket.

    Agreed, hence our use in becoming that sponsor.

    As for the Kyrghistan, I think they are playing brinksmanship for more money (at Russia’s bequest). At the same time Russia is giving us a squeeze in the nether regions to remind us that we are but tourists in Central Asia.

    It will be interesting. From what I’ve heard, Russia is offering billions as opposed to our millions.

    Mark in Texas & Jay,

    Considering the way that Russia was looking for loan forgiveness in Davos, we should be very careful about giving them any monopoly power [1]:

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, it seems, to convince Western creditors to write off a portion of the debts Russian companies owe them. As of October 2008, the cumulative debt totaled $540 billion. The State of Russia owes $42.7 billion, while the private sector carries the rest of the burden. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the State of Russia paid foreign creditors a total of $80 billion, including $61 billion owed by the private sector.

    We know that the Kremlin recently drew up a list of strategic enterprises belonging to Russian companies that owe money to Western banks. Stakes in these enterprises either cannot be sold to Western investors or are tightly controlled by Moscow for the lucky few allowed in. The Kremlin based its rescue plan for the Russian economy on this list, which consists primarily of monsters like Gazprom, Rusal, Rosneft and others.

    But even if official Russian statistics on the state of the country’s gold and hard currency reserves are accurate–and they came to $386.9 billion as of Feb. 1–if prices for commodities and energy exports remain unchanged and capital flight stays at current levels, by December 2009 this figure could shrink to $150 billion. And don’t forget that over the last six months, Russia’s reserves fell by $210 billion.

    What happens next if the crisis goes on a bit longer requires little explanation. Russia’s government will have increasing difficulty paying the debts of these companies, layoffs will go from episodic to epidemic, and the government will be unable to maintain social programs. The result could easily be a coup that brings the “conservatives” around Putin, and not the “liberals,” to power.

    Hopefully Obama will be smart enough to see a Russian default as in our interest, and in the interests of the world.

    [1] http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/06/putin-davos-debt-opinions-contributors_0206_dmitry_sidorov.html

  10. Jay@Soob

    I don’t think it is the regime. I think it is something in the Russian culture or character.

    As a Russian is walking home one day, Jesus appears before him on the road and says, “Ivan, because you are a good man I will grant you anything you wish but to teach you My message of love, I will give twice as much to your worst enemy.”

    Ivan thinks about this for a minute and then says, “Make me blind in one eye.”

  11. Mark in Texas’ joke is humorous, and Russia’s unique position makes some outcomes more likely than others [1]. but it is very easy to go down into the cultural determinism route.

    Russia had an innovative and imaginative leader on par with Deng Xiaoping — his name was Boris Yeltsin — until Putin shoved him aside. [2]

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/08/14/russia-is-bad.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/12/24/boris-yeltsin-was-the-deng-xiaoping-of-russia.html

  12. ElamBend – As for the Kyrghistan, I think they are playing brinksmanship for more money (at Russia’s bequest). At the same time Russia is giving us a squeeze in the nether regions to remind us that we are but tourists in Central Asia.

    This is a really important point. What we are doing in Central Asia is going to serve our interests only as long as we continue to maintain our current level of support. Anybody who has spent more than 15 minutes reading American history knows that as a nation we are not capable of staying interested in anything that far away for very long.

    That being the case, I believe that we ought to be trying to change conditions on the ground so that even if we are not paying attention as a nation, local people will be acting in ways that are in our interest because it is in their interest to do so.

    That brings me back to my Afghanistan railroad subject. China has already completed a railroad link to their border with Kazakhstan and they are currently extending that railroad to Almaty where it will connect to the Soviet era Kazakh railroad network. By supporting port improvements in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, we will be making it easier for us to move supplies into Afghanistan without being dependent on Russia while at the same time increasing connections between Central Asian countries and places other than Russia. If railroad lines are built in Afghanistan, those non-Russian connections become stronger and more numerous.

    Once the physical connections are in place, the other connections will proceed whether we are there to tend them or not.

  13. Mark,
    This just highlights why Iran would be a good ally for us. We are a sea-faring nation and bases in central Asia are a problem.

    Having thought about it, I think I was a bit wrong in my assessment. I think Bishkek will give us the boot both for the billions that Dan (happy birthday!) mentioned and because, well, Russia said so.

    As for rail, it’s a subject I really like. If you ever have the chance read a little history of the Czechs during the Russian Revolution. At one point, they not only controlled the whole trans-Siberian railroad, but also got their hands on the the Tsar’s gold. I agree that encouragement of competition for the only trans-Asian rail line is a good thing. The plan is problematic because it crosses several polities and has a chief competitor to the north.

    All of this discussion of bases goes back to Afghanistan. We have a real pig-in-the-poke there and I don’t know what we do. Supply was a huge issue (30% to 50% loss, BEFORE, the Taliban started problems). Now the Pakistani state is failing. [1] We have one ally, India, and a potential one, Iran on either side of the mess whose needs align with ours. Plus, China with their basing rights in Pak ports and the shared border also are with us (despite their wariness of India). The only problem with this equation is that we haven’t brought the Iranians fully on board.

    Oh, I think we should be looking for ways to give a ‘squeeze’ back, ASAP. Unfortunately, I don’t think the current leadership has their eye on the ball. Too busy organizing a big wealth transfer.

    [1]
    http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/02/taliban_insurgency_e.php

  14. Dan:
    “What evidence is there for this?

    Religion, coincidentally causes some of their blindness (that’s the only way I can explain their Israel obsession),

    Attempting to turn Arabs against their own (insufficiently anti-Zionist) regimes, as well as supporting groups which are opposed to Egyptian-Saudi hegemony over the Arab nations (such as Hamas), seem like rather sensible reasons.”

    Agreed, but it does not explain their Jew-directed violence in other arenas, for instance Buenos Aires.

  15. ElamBend

    Certainly it would be a good thing for the US to have good relations with Iran. We had good relations with the Shah’s government before Jimmy Carter kicked him to the curb. I guess that would count as a foreign policy mistake.

    How could we improve relations with the current government of Iran? As John Lennon said, we’d all love to see your plan. I will personally bake a key shaped cake if you think that will help. Every US administration since Carter has tried to have better relations with Iran but so far, the Iranians aren’t having any of it. The pattern seems to be that the Iranians ask for some sort of humiliation on the part of US officials in order to demonstrate commitment to the process. After the American obsequies, the Iranians go back to normal and continue waging their proxy war against the Great Satan that they have been conducting since 1979.

    Anyway, here are a couple of links. This one about alternatives to Kyrgyzstan[1] and this[2] about a 50 year old United Nations Trans Asian Railway proposal.

    [1] http://blog.wired.com/defense/2009/02/back-to-uzbekis.html
    [2] http://www.unescap.org/ttdw/index.asp?MenuName=TheTrans-AsianRailway

  16. Putin’s request for a bailout [1] have helped lower Russia’s bond rating, and created widespread attention to the idea of an Russian default [2].

    Of course, this is a good thing.

    Longer term, replacing a large fraction of our gasoline consumption with cellulosic ethanol would be good, too. [3]

    ElamBend,

    Israel has been active in Latin America for generations, killing targets both as a show of force and an effort to extract justice [4]. Hezbollah/Iran’s attempt at symbolic parity is murderous, but hardly irrational.

    Mark in Texas,

    The verbal dance between the US and Iran has already begun, with a focus on “mutual respect.” [5,6] Let’s hope these confidence-building measures can free both of our countries from this destructive face-off, and allows us to concentrate on mutual causes of concern.

    Hard-liners on both sides will always try to derail a coming together. The Catholic Church recently went through this in its re-absorption of SSPX [7].

    Chins is building out rail to other countries[8] — let’s hope the ‘stans get the same treatment, too!

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2009/02/06/putin-requests-a-bailout.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2009/02/09/the-stimulus-is-a-distraction.html#comment-239438
    [3] http://gas2.org/2009/02/11/new-study-cellulosic-ethanol-could-replace-30-of-gasoline-by-2030/
    [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Eichmann#International_dispute_over_capture
    [5] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/09/us/politics/09text-obama.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all
    [6] http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-02-10-voa10.cfm
    [7] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2009/01/24/the-universal-church.html
    [8] http://www.vnagency.com.vn/Home/EN/tabid/119/itemid/271000/Default.aspx

  17. In defense of Obama on this, there is a difference between noting that Iran would like a bomb and has been building the infrastructure around which a bomb might be built, and the construction of a physical nuclear explosive device.

    Hence Obama’s talk of pursuit of weapon’s capability.

    I’m sure some talking heads and deluded fools on the left confused one with the other, but I don’t talk those people seriously anyway (except in the harm they can do to the country).

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