What Happens If Russia Loses in Syria?

It's worth considering a subject that's seldom discussed here, though it should be. What if Russia's intervention in Syria — its version of the American way of war (air power and more air power) — proves to be somewhere between quagmirish and disastrous? Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic gives the subject some thought. Here's the end of the resulting piece. TomDispatch

President Putin

“In other words, Putin’s war may very well fail. But if it does, will he make concessions and abandon his ally? If the Russian president acts rationally, he should cut his losses. Putin, however, may not act rationally. When I researched my book on military disaster, The Right Way to Lose a War, I was struck by how poorly governments tend to handle battlefield reversals. From the United States in Vietnam to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, leaders often respond to defeat with disastrous decisions that only worsen their plight. Rather than coolly looking for a way out of the predicament, they rage against the dying of the light.”Part of the problem is what psychologists call “loss aversion.” Losing hurts twice as bad as winning feels good—whether in a tennis match or a war. The idea of accepting even a small loss can seem intolerable, and people are tempted to risk greater losses for a shot at the win. The gambler who drops 20 bucks in a casino doesn’t walk away; he doubles his bets. In a similar vein, the president who loses 1,000 soldiers in Vietnam doesn’t end the war; he sends half a million Americans into the mire.

Putin has repeatedly responded to the potential loss of client regimes with military force.

“It’s hard to imagine Putin accepting defeat. He has cultivated an image as the father of the Russian people, who is restoring the country as a world power. If Assad’s regime falls, Russia could lose its only military installation outside the former U.S.S.R.—the naval base in Tartus, Syria. Therefore, if the war effort collapses, Putin may want to salvage something from the wreckage, potentially moving the conflict into a dangerous new phase. He could intensify Russian air strikes or deploy “little green men”—as the Russian soldiers serving unofficially in eastern Ukraine were called. Once Russian troops start dying in Syria, all bets are off.”Putin, moreover, has repeatedly responded to the potential loss of client regimes with military force. In 2008, the Russian military intervened in Georgia to punish pro-Western Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and protect the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Six years later, in 2014, Putin aided Ukrainian rebels and annexed Crimea following the toppling of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In late 2015, with Assad’s forces reeling, Putin once again intervened to stabilize a client regime.”And Putin has already raised the prospect of further military escalation, saying that Russia is using “far from everything we are capable of” in Syria and that “We also have other things as well and will use them if necessary.”

“What’s the solution? If Russia’s defeat could trigger hazardous escalation, this doesn’t mean a Russian victory is preferable. After all, if Assad somehow assumed a winning position, why would he negotiate a compromise peace that recognized the interests of all Syrian groups? Instead, the optimal opportunity for a peace deal may be a situation in which Putin believes a decisive triumph is not possible, but he can still save face by spinning the outcome as a success. In other words, he needs a story to tell the Russian people about the positive results of the mission. This narrative doesn’t need to be true, but it does need to havetruthiness, or a seeming plausibility. And so, to get Putin out of Syria, the United States might need to play along by avoiding boastful claims of a major Russian debacle. In 1989, after the Berlin Wall fell, U.S. President George H.W. Bush deliberately refused to declare the development a win—to avoid complicating the life of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Putin needs a victory speech. And Washington may have to help him write it.” More

 

Why Assad turned to Moscow for help

Iran has long been sending troops and material to help Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad wage war against his own people. But now Tehran is busy establishing a state within a state — which is why Assad now wants help from Russia.

Fear of his enemies was the primary reason for Bashar Assad’s call for help to Moscow. “But right after that came the fear of his friends,” says a Russian official who long worked in his country’s embassy in Damascus. The friend he refers to is Iran, the Syrian regime’s most important protector.

“Assad and those around him are afraid of the Iranians,” the Russian says. Anger over the arrogance of the Iranians, who treat Syria like a colony, is also part of it, the Russian continues. Most of all, though, the Syrians “mistrust Tehran’s goals, for which Assad’s position of power may no longer be decisive. That is why the Syrians absolutely want us in the country.”

What the Russian diplomat, who wants to remain anonymous, has to say is a bit jarring at first. Without the Shiite auxiliaries from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon — whose recruitment and transfer is organized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard — Assad’s rule would long since have come to an end. Yet his comments are complemented by a number of additional details that add up to an image of a behind-the-scenes power struggle — one which casts a new, scary light on the condition of the Syrian regime and on the country’s prospects as a whole.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has long planned and carried out the most important missions and operations of the Syrian regime. They were responsible, right down to the details, for the sporadically successful offensives in Aleppo in the north and Daraa in the south, which began in 2013. In Iran, the Revolutionary Guard is one of those groups intent on continuing the “Islamic Revolution” — the victory of Shiites over the Sunnis. They are a state within a state, one which owns several companies and is answerable only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. President Hassan Rohani has no power over the Revolutionary Guard whatsoever.

Their goals go far beyond merely reestablishing the status quo in Syria. In early 2013, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Taeb, one of the planners behind Iran’s engagement in Syria, said: “Syria is the 35th province of Iran and it is a strategic province for us.” For several decades, the alliance between the Assads and Iran was a profitable one, particularly in opposition to the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, which long had the upper hand in the region. But today, Assad depends on Iran to remain in power, and Tehran is taking advantage of the situation.

Using a variety of pathways, both civilian and military, Tehran is currently in the process of establishing itself in Syria. Military means are being employed to strengthen the holdings of the Shiite militia Hezbollah in areas near the border with Lebanon. To serve this goal, the Syrian National Defense Forces were established, troops that exist alongside the regular Syrian army and which includes tens of thousands of fighters who were trained in Iran. Still, the National Defense Forces have begun to disintegrate into local mafia militias and have actually accelerated the loss of state control over those regions.

Changes Afoot

It is, however, primarily in the civilian sector where significant changes are afoot. Just as in Damascus, Latakia and Jabla, increasing numbers of hosseiniehs — Shiite religious teaching centers — are opening. The centers are aimed at converting Sunnis, and even the Alawites, the denomination to which the Assads belong, to “correct” Shiite Islam by way of sermons and stipends. In addition, the government decreed one year ago that state-run religion schools were to teach Shiite material.

All of this is taking place to the consternation of the Alawites, who have begun to voice their displeasure. “They are throwing us back a thousand years. We don’t even wear headscarves and we aren’t Shiites,” Alawites complained on the Jableh News Facebook page. There were also grumblings when a Shiite mosque opened in Latakia and an imam there announced: “We don’t need you. We need your children and grandchildren.”

In addition, Iranian emissaries, either directly or via middlemen, have been buying land and buildings in Damascus, including almost the entire former Jewish quarter, and trying to settle Shiites from other countries there.

Talib Ibrahim, an Alawite communist from Masyaf who fled to the Netherlands many years ago, summarizes the mood as follows: “Assad wants the Iranians as fighters, but increasingly they are interfering ideologically with domestic affairs. The Russians don’t do that.”

That’s why Assad has now decided to place his fate in the hands of the religiously unproblematic Russia, which last week transferred aircraft and troops to its military base in the northern Syrian town of Latakia and began flying airstrikes. The fight against the Islamic State terror militia served as a pretext for the operation, but the initial air strikes have not targeted the Islamists at all. Rather, they have been flown against areas controlled by Syrian rebels. More

 

NATO: Guardian of peace or bellicose bully?

Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on whether the West’s military alliance has reignited the Cold War.

“We are pretty close to a new Cold War because of Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine,” says former Secretary-General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen who led the alliance from 2009 to 2014.

In this episode of Head to Head, Mehdi Hasan challenges Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish prime minister and former NATO chief, on the West’s military alliance’s role in Eastern Europe and the so-called War on Terror.

We examine his record since assuming office in 2001, his role in the European support for the Iraq War and ask whether his NATO policies since 2009 have backfired.

Is it the West, or Putin who calls the shots in Ukraine? Has NATO reignited the Cold War? Did it create a bigger problem in Libya? And did it botch its mission in Afghanistan?

Joining this discussion are:

• Richard Sakwa, Russia and European politics professor and author of Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, from the University of Kent

• Alexander Nekrassov, a political commentator and former adviser to the Kremlin

• Ian Bond, a former British diplomat and director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform

NATO: Guardian of peace or bellicose bully? with Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be broadcast on Al Jazeera English on April 17 at 2000GMT and will be repeated on April 18 at 1200GMT; April 19 at 0100GMT; and April 20 at 0600GMT.

Follow us on: https://www.facebook.com/AJHeadToHead and @AJheadtohead

 

 

 

Russia, China Sign Second Mega-Gas Deal: Beijing Becomes Largest Buyer Of Russian Gas

As we previewed on Friday, when we reported that “Russia Nears Completion Of Second “Holy Grail” Gas Deal With China“, moments ago during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum taking place this weekend in Beijing, Russia and China signed 17 documents Sunday, greenlighting a second “mega” Russian natural gas to China via the so-called “western” or “Altay” route, which as previously reported, would supply 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year to China.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping

Among the documents signed between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping were the memorandum on the delivery of Russian natural gas to China via the western route, the framework agreement on gas supplies between Russia’s Gazprom and China’s CNPC and the memorandum of understanding between the Russian energy giant and the Chinese state-owned oil and gas corporation.

“We have reached an understanding in principle concerning the opening of the western route,” Putin said. “We have already agreed on many technical and commercial aspects of this project, laying a good basis for reaching final arrangements.”

RIA adds, citing Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, that the documents signed by Russia and China on Sunday define the western route as a priority project for the gas cooperation between the two countries.

“First of all these documents stipulate that the “western route” is becoming a priority project for our gas cooperation,” Miller said, adding that the documents provide for the export of 30 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to China annually for a 30-year period.

Miller noted that with the increase of deliveries via the western route, the total volume of Russian gas deliveries to China may exceed the current levels of export to Europe in the medium-term perspective. In other words, China has now eclipsed Europe as Russia’s biggest, and most strategic natural gas client. More:

Miller, who heads Russia’s state-run energy giant, told reporters that “taking into account the increase in deliveries via ‘western route,’ the volume of supplied [natural gas] to China could exceed European exports in the mid-term perspective.”

This came after Russian and Chinese energy executives signed on Sunday a package of 17 documents, including a framework deal between Gazprom and China’s energy giant CNPC to deliver gas to China via the western route pipeline.

Miller said Gazprom and CNPC were in talks on a memorandum of understanding that would see Russia bring gas to China through the western route pipeline, as well as a framework agreement between the two state-owned companies to carry out the deliveries.

The western route will connect fields in western Siberia with northwest China through the Altai Republic. Second and third sections may be added to the pipeline at a later date, bringing its capacity up to 100 billion cubic meters a year.

The facts and figures of the Altay deal are broken down in the following map courtesy of RT

Also of note, among the business issues discussed by Putin and Xi at their fifth meeting this year was the possibility of payment in Chinese yuan, including for defense deals military, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying by RIA Novosti. More from RIA:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping have discussed the possibility of using the yuan in mutual transactions in different fields of cooperation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday.

“Much attention has been paid to the topic of mutual payments in diverse fields … in yuans which will help to strengthen the yuan as the region’s reserve currency,” Peskov said commenting on the meeting held between Putin and Xi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing.

On October 13, Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev announced that Russia was considering Chinese market to partially substitute access to the financial resources of the European Union and the United States.

The European Union and the United States have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia over its alleged involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, a claim Moscow has repeatedly denied. The restrictions prohibit major Russian companies from seeking financing on western capital markets.

Meanwhile, as China and Russia keep forging ahead in a world in which the two becomes tied ever closer in a symtiotic, dollar-free relationship, this is how the US is faring at the same meeting: “China, U.S. Parry Over Preferred Trade Pacts at APEC: Little Progress Made on Separate Trade Deals at Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.”

The U.S. blocked China’s initiatives because it worried that launching FTAAP talks would impede progress on a separate trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The ministers’ statement said that any FTAAP deal would build on “ongoing regional undertakings”—a reference to TPP and other regional trade deals.

The Chinese got all they could expect—a reaffirmation that we all share in the vision of having a regional integrated model” for trade, said U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Myron Brilliant.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that negotiating the TPP “is a battle that we absolutely must win.” Ministers from the 12 TPP nations met Saturday afternoon to try to narrow differences, including disputes between the U.S. and Japan over agriculture and auto trade. On Monday, the leaders of the TPP nations are again scheduled to discuss the trade deal, although no breakthrough is expected.

The U.S. is trying to tie an ITA deal to progress on other trade deals with China, as a way to increase its leverage with Beijing. “How the ITA negotiations proceed is an important and useful data point” on China’s ability to negotiate an investment treaty with the U.S., Mr. Froman said.

Trade analysts say the U.S. also hopes to use China’s desire to have the Beijing conference produce concrete results as leverage. This is the first major international summit held in China since Xi Jinping took over as Communist Party chief in 2012, and the government wants to use the session to affirm China’s greater role in the world.

Good luck trying to “increase US leverage with Beijing” using a trade conference being held in Beijing as the venue.

In other words instead of actual trade agreements, the US merely jawboned and “shared visions.”

Then again, as noted here since 2010, in a world in which one can merely “print one’s way to prosperity”, what is the need for actual trade? Surely, which China and Russia are expanding their commercial ties at the expense of Europe, the US can continue to pretend it is the world’s only superpower and has no need for either Russia or China. After all, Mr. Chairmanwoman can always go back to work and print some more of that “world reserve currency.” More


 

 

 

Reducing European Dependence on Russian Gas

Executive Summary

The main finding of this paper is that there is limited scope for significantly reducing overall European dependence on Russian gas before the mid-2020s.

However, countries in the Baltic region and south-eastern Europe which are highly dependent on Russian gas, and hence extremely vulnerable to interruptions, could substantially reduce and even eliminate imports of Russian gas by the early 2020s, by a combination of LNG supplies and pipeline gas from Azerbaijan. Similar measures could reduce (but not eliminate) the dependence of central Europe and Turkey on Russian gas. In the majority of countries, there is limited scope to reduce gas with oil products, and to the extent that it is replaced by coal in power generation carbon emissions will increase significantly.

Up to the mid-2020s, European companies are contractually obliged to import at least 115 bcm/year of Russian gas (approximately 75 per cent of the 2013 import level), a figure which reduces to around 65 bcm by 2030. Even if long-term contracts disappear, our modelling shows a requirement of at least 100 bcm/year of Russian gas up to 2030, and in some scenarios up to twice that volume. The main additional source of non-Russian gas for Europe up to 2030 will be LNG; pipeline gas imports from domestic and other imported sources are not envisaged to increase substantially and may decline. Russian gas deliveries to Europe will be highly competitive with all other pipeline gas and LNG (including US LNG) supplies throughout the period to 2030, and Gazprom's market power to impact European hub prices may be considerable.

Countries with strong geopolitical fears related to Russian gas dependence will need to either terminate, or not renew on expiry, their long-term contracts with Gazprom. This will result in substantial additional infrastructure costs for LNG import terminals and pipeline connections, or investments in alternative energy sources, energy conservation, and efficiency measures.

Whatever the political relationship between Russia, the European Union, and individual European countries, a continued natural gas relationship will be necessary and needs to be carefully managed. The most immediate problems are: a resolution of the Ukrainian transit situation, and a successful conclusion of the EU's regulatory treatment of the South Stream pipeline. Once the immediate crisis has passed, both sides need to discuss the future role of gas in EU energy balances, together with its potential contribution to the EU's ambitious carbon reduction targets. Download PDF

 

 

No nuclear waste: Fuel of future produced at Russia’s high-tech underground plant

Russia’s ‘Breakthrough’ energy project enables closed a nuclear fuel cycle and a future without radioactive waste. The first batch of MOX nuclear fuel has been manufactured for the world’s only NPP industrially power generating breeder reactors.

The first ten kilograms of the mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) – a mixture of plutonium and uranium dioxides (UO2 and PuO2), have been industrially produced by Russia’s nuclear monopoly, Rosatom, at the Mining & Chemical Combine (GKhK) in the Krasnoyarsk region.

Mixed-oxide fuel (MOX

A world first, tablets of the fuel of the future have been put on serial production and are destined for Russia’s next generation BN-800 breeder reactor (880 megawatts), currently undergoing tests at the Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant.

The production line, now undergoing start-up and adjustment, was assembled in a mine 200 meters underground and will become fully operational by the end of 2014.

Fast fission reactors solve the problem of depleted uranium nuclear fuel on the planet. They can ‘burn’ not only ‘classic’ uranium-235, (scarce and already coming to an end), but also uranium-238, which is abundant, and expands the world’s nuclear fuel capacity by an estimated 50 times.

Fuel for breeder reactors could even be made from nuclear waste, which from an ecological point of view is a priceless advantage.

The GKhK facility will be equipped with a unique dissolvent reactor that will break down nuclear waste containing plutonium and extract plutonium dioxide to be used in MOX-fuel production.

Also, while producing electric energy, breeder reactors actually generate more fissile material, and that one also can be used as nuclear fuel.

The GKhK plant is Russia’s leading full nuclear fuel cycle complex, processing nuclear waste from power generating nuclear reactors to establish future nuclear fuel ring closure.

MOX-fuel for previous versions of fast breeder reactors in the USSR and Russia had limited production at Russia’s oldest Mayak nuclear processing facility.

Starting from 2016, industrial-level MOX-fuel production in Russia will run at full capacity.

“Produced MOX-fuel tablets fully conform to the technical specifications,” Rosatom’s statement said, adding that the fuel will now be thoroughly tested.

Energy from here to eternity

Humankind has already produced so much nuclear waste that it would take decades, if not hundreds of years to process and recycle it. As of now, the only light at the end of the tunnel is fast-neutron reactor technology.

The fast-neutron nuclear – or breeder – reactors use technology that enables the use of a wider range of radioactive elements as fuel, thus considerably enlarging the potential stock of nuclear fuel for electric power generation.
Russia is the only country that operates fast neutron reactors industrially.

After decades of research, practically all breeder reactor projects around the world, including in the US, France, Japan and several other countries possessing nuclear energy technologies, were closed down. The only country that currently has operating breeder reactor power generation is Russia.

Over the last 50 years the USSR, then Russia, introduced a number of industrial and research fast neutron reactors. One of them, the BN-600 (600 megawatt), running at the Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant since 1980, is the only fast neutron reactor in the world that generates electricity on an industrial scale. The BN-600 is also the most powerful operable fast neutron reactor in the world.

The Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant is in Zarechny, some 45 kilometers from the regional center of Yekaterinburg, in the Urals region.

This year a new BN-800 breeder reactor will become operable at the Beloyarskaya plant.

The service life of the BN-800 breeder reactor is expected to be 45 years. Every month it will produce 475 million kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to ensure constant supply to 3.15 million families (the average monthly consumption of a family of three is 150 kilowatt hours).

The BN-800 uses liquid metal sodium (Na) as a coolant heat transfer agent. Commercial operation of the new reactor is planned to start in early 2015.

Russian physicists have already elaborated the next step for the revolutionary technology: a BN-1200 breeder reactor that is set to be assembled at the same Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant by 2020.

Overall, eight BN-1200 breeder reactors are expected to be constructed by 2030, which means that Russia is the only nation that is entering a new era of nuclear energy power generation – the closed nuclear fuel cycle, in other words truly clean and practically unlimited nuclear power generation. More

 

 

The West’s Repeated Mistakes Over Eastern Europe

Something very similar is happening now in the countries east of the European Union and west of Russia. As the people of Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest movement showed in January 2014 on Kiev’s Independence Square, they were not going to accept a post–Cold War status quo in which Russia sets the agenda. They wanted to choose their own political path.

It seems that history is repeating itself. This time round, NATO is not prepared to help the countries in Europe’s East, while the EU is divided and weak over how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea in March.

During a press conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on September 4 at the NATO summit in Wales, the alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tried to put the best spin on NATO help to Ukraine. Since NATO is not prepared even to consider the idea of Ukraine one day becoming a member of the organization, Rasmussen—and indeed Poroshenko—didn’t mention the “m-word.”

“It is for the Ukrainian people to decide . . . [their] future relationship with NATO,” the secretary general said—as if Putin will allow that to happen.

Rasmussen did say that NATO allies had pledged to provide support to help Ukraine improve its own security. “Our support is concrete and tangible. . . . Ukraine has stood by NATO. Now in these difficult times, NATO stands by Ukraine.”

Rasmussen explained how the allies had established “a comprehensive and tailored package of measures” to help Ukraine. The focus of NATO support would be on four areas: rehabilitation for injured troops, cyberdefense, logistics, and command and control and communications. “And allies will assist Ukraine with around €15 million [$19 million] through NATO,” Rasmussen added. NATO would not be supplying weapons. But that won’t stop individual countries from doing so.

Above all, the NATO chief insisted that an independent, sovereign, and stable Ukraine firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law was key to Euro-Atlantic security. “We stand united in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

Actually, the West is only rhetorically united over Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Western nations have no real intentions of matching that statement with deeds to allow Ukraine to regain territory in eastern Ukraine that has been taken over by rebels backed by Russian troops and tanks—let alone Crimea.

As for the EU, it is prepared to impose more sanctions on Russia—but with many misgivings and criticisms from several member states, especially Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. That is despite the fact that until twenty-five years ago, these countries were under the Soviet yoke.

The measures undertaken by NATO and the EU are insufficient because they perpetuate the new rules of the game that Putin is writing across Eastern Europe. And because the West’s responses give him no reason to desist, at least for the moment, Western countries are repeating the mistakes they made when Eastern European civil society reared its head during the Communist era. The West is not prepared to stand up to Putin’s Russia.

Instead, willy-nilly, the West is allowing a new cordon sanitaire of countries to take hold between Russia and the EU. But if Putin and European leaders believe that this buffer zone is going to represent a new, stable “post-post–Cold War” status quo, they are seriously mistaken.

The reason is that civil society across these countries, from Belarus to Armenia, will not accept these new demarcation lines on a permanent basis. Just as Poles challenged their country’s Communist regime in 1980, the same will happen across the states in Europe’s East.

That has already happened in Ukraine. And despite the war in eastern Ukraine and the continuing influence of the country’s oligarchs, the supporters of the Euromaidan are not prepared to let this revolution fail. They are not naive enough to believe that the EU and NATO will come to their rescue. Instead, against all the odds, they will continue to struggle for their freedom to choose their own political path. More