Thursday, April 2, 2015

Looks like Obama May have Outmaneuvered Putin, Forcing him to Overreach?


The political spin is rather unconvincing for Obama but that is no matter.  We do get a fresh perspective of the Russian situation and that does begin to ring true.  Russians do tend to think strategically more than we do.  Recent actions have not actually helped matters much.  That is made clear here.

Yesterdays Naval demonstration was a cheap way to back down.

Whatever the cause for Putin's recent eight day rest, what is not changing is that low oil prices are a disaster and the fallout from adventurism in the Ukraine is potentially worse with literally nothing to show for it but recovery of Crimea which popular adds little else.  They need a real boundary commission to resolve the loose ends from the USSR.

Remember a couple weeks ago when McCain, FOX and the GOP were all saying "Obama misread Putin... and now we are paying a heavy price for it"?  Well, looks like they were the ones misreading Putin. Won't be the first time Republicans got that wrong, is it Dubya?
McCain's recent attack on Obama's foreign policy was on March 4th.  Putin hasn't been seen since March 5th.  And now, informed sources are saying a "slow motion coup" is underway in Russia.
Speculation centers around a speech given at Russia's Mercury Club, two months ago.  TheMercury Club is important.  Its founding members are a Who's Who of Russian power brokers and includes top leadership from the:
Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, World Trade Center Moscow, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, The Russian Union of Manufacturers, the "Russian Parliamentarian" Club, the Orthodox Businessmen Club, the Union of Journalists of Russia, the International Press-Club, and a number of other associations
The Mercury Club was formed to provide a venue that enabled business, political and cultural interactions between lawmakers, business people, officials of the Government and the Administration of the President of Russia.  

In short, the Mercury Club is where heavy hitters in Russia meet.
The president of this association is former Russian Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov.  When he speaks, people listen.  
Two months ago, at a Mercury Club forum,  Primakov spoke about his concerns for Russia’s economic future and "tore Putin's policy to bits."
What did he say, exactly?  I'm glad you asked....
On Foreign Policy
- Russia would like to normalize relations with the U.S. and Europe
- Without this [cooperation] we will lose our country’s status as a great power.
On the Economy
- Russia is experiencing a difficult economic situation. There are external reasons: the fall in oil prices and the sanctions against Russia.
- Russia’s economic course cannot be one of self-isolation.
On Ukraine
- Can we still speak of Russia's interest in having the southeast remain a part of Ukraine? My answer is yes; I believe it is necessary. Only on this basis can the Ukrainian crisis be managed.
- If the Minsk Agreements are not followed should Russia in an extreme case send its regular troops to help the militias? My answer: categorically no. If this happened, it would be beneficial for the U.S., which would use the situation to keep Europe under its influence for an entire century.
 - We can't continue to function under the current economic sanctions.
 - We need to get out of this Ukraine fight.
 - We can't send troops into Ukraine.
Now you know why people referred to this a speech that "tore Putin's policies to bits."
So -- what happened since the speech?  To Primakov..... nothing.  And that is being interpreted as a sign of a power shift.  After all, Nemtsov isn't the first Putin critic to wind up dead.  Yet, Primakov is still walking around just fine.
But that's not all.
Primakov's starkest comment in this speech was:
"There are no grounds to believe the readiness of the executive government to propose a justified plan based on concretely specified actions to turn the country toward diversification of its economy and its growth on this basis."
The Mercury Club speech then was an "ultimatum" to Putin, which Putin clearly ignored, and now he has to "pay" for this.

So what did happen recently, while Putin has not been seen in public?

First, there has been a notable change in the wording used by Russian media to describe events in Ukraine:
 - The term "Novorossiya" and "DNR and LNR" disappeared from state television channels and the terms "Lugansk and Donetsk Regions" replace them.
 -  Separatist units have begun to be called "bandit formations" in Russian media
In addition to the war of words, actual changes have been made in military leadership:
 -   The "purging" of the "implacable" field commanders among the Russian-backed separatists has begun. On top of that, there was an assassination attempt on Mozgovoy, "Prizrak" ("Ghost") Artillery Brigade.
In addition to other personnel changes that coincided with Putin's dropping out of site,the Russian stock market went up and the ruble strengthened against the dollar when Putin went missing.  If Putin represents stability things should have gone the other direction.
There's also the creation of a special group "for the development of Kaliningrad Region" with top figures like Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Notably, the charges of "treason" against Svetlana Davydova, the mother of 7 who informed the Ukrainian Embassy of troops movements have been dropped.
Whether this presages an end to Putin's power remains unclear.  But that will become clear in the next day or so.  One of the bellwether details is the fate of Viktor Zolotov.  He is head of Putin's personal security.  Rumors suggest he is dead.
The leader of the coup?  Likely a group of generals with Sergey Ivanov as leader.
If this is correct, then we can expect to see Dimitry Medvedev, Putin's compliant Prime Minister replaced by Sergey Ivanov.  Whether Putin remains will become secondary as he will be nothing more than a figure head -- until a decent interval when he will retire.
While all this suggests Putin may not be all the GOP thinks he is cracked up to be, it doesn't mean the new leadership is going to be any less hardline.  They just might be more pragmatic about which fights they choose to engage in. However, if they decide to put Ukraine on the back burner that will certainly vindicate the policy of ever-tightening sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.  In that case, people like Ted Cruz will be eating some crow.  After all their blather about Obama playing checkers while Grand Master Putin schooled him in chess, it looks like the table's been turned.  That would mean they got it all backwards -- again.  But don't expect to hear that from McCain or the rest of the GOP chorus on FOX.

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