On the Crimean Sanctions

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

There can only be two “justifications” for it:

(1) If the Crimean referendum was rigged and illegitimate, as Kiev and the West have repeatedly argued, on what grounds are ordinary Crimeans getting punished for what is in fact Russian aggression? Sounds rather whimsical and arbitrary, if that is so.

(2) The Crimean referendum accurately reflected the will of the Crimean people. In that case, the US and EU sanctions on Crimea – already getting expressed in the forms of Crimean residents losing access to the services of Western companies and even getting their money confiscated (https://twitter.com/idaltae/status/547637872233578496) – are, in effect, to punish them for voting the wrong way. In other words, it is economic blackmail by any other name.

So which is it going to be? They are mutually exclusive; you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

The “Normalization” of Russia’s Demographics

This is the first of my promised Last Three Posts on DR. It’s been a bit more than a year since my last update on Russia’s demographic turnaround, and believe it or not, the cause of this was more than just laziness and lack of time on my part. A different question started bugging me:

Is there really a point to it?

Nobody concerns himself overmuch with the United Kingdom’s birth rate, and its portents for the economic and geopolitical destiny of that land. Well, some actually do, but said concern is of the Eurabia, not the Children of Men, variety. In contrast, the image of Russia formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union was one of a desolate wasteland where women voted with their wombs against its continued existence. This might have once had some elements of truth to it, but surely this view is increasingly fantastic now that Russia’s crude birth rate, at 13.2/1,000 in 2013 – and slated to rise even higher this year – is the highest bar none in Europe. It is also, as of 2012, higher than that of the US. The only developed countries where birth rates remain higher than Russia’s are Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland.

A major cause of this is that Russia still has a relatively high number of women in their childbearing years, even though this indicator began to drop precipitously from around 2010, when the effects of the post-Soviet fertility collapse started making themselves felt. This is an inescapable structural legacy that will be making itself felt in the form of downwards pressure on crude birth rates until well into the 2030s. This is where a concept known as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) comes in. The TFR measures the expected number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime, and is calculated by summing up age-specific fertility rates in a single year. Its advantage is that it is independent of the population’s age structure. After plunging to a low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999 – a “lowest-low” fertility rate that was once theorized by some demographers to be irreversible – it has since climbed to 1.71 in 2013, and on the trends observed this year until August, will rise further to the mid-to-high 1.7s in 2014.

(And before you ask, no, it’s not all down to Muslims. Or even significantly so.)

fertility-rates-in-europe-2013

This map shows European TFRs as of 2013 (or 2012 in a few cases). In the late Soviet years, Russia was deep green, but plunged into the red and deep orange during the dislocations of the transition years. But it has now regained a greenish hue. A normal country, quite similar in its TFR to Finland or the Netherlands – countries not particularly known for being in a deep demographic abyss. And considerably better than the Christian Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Baltics, the Germanic lands, and East-Central Europe. It is, in fact, remarkable that the two countries considered to be Europe’s most politically “regressive” by the Brussels-Atlanticist elites – that is, Russia and Belarus – have come to possess Eastern Europe’s best TFR indicators, while star reformers such as Poland and the Balts wallow in the demographic doldrums. This must be a bitter pill to swallow for the ideologues who claimed demographic decline is a natural consequence of Putinism. Or it would be, if they ever bothered descending from their pulpits to look at actual statistics, but they don’t.

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Why Asia Won’t Sanction Russia for MH17

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

This map is instructive:

Relations with China and India are excellent. China is fast becoming a semi-ally. Korea relations are fine. Relations with Japan are frosty, but even they are less enthusiastic about serious sanctions than the West. The main reason for this is Japan’s not unfounded fear that Russia will get too close to China – a fear that the US, half a world away, isn’t obligated to share.

Singapore couldn’t care less for democratist claptrap and will be quite happy to steal London’s custom.

If the ban on duel-use technology exports is to be rigorously enforced, the main sources of advanced tech transfer (needed for modernization) will become China, possibly Korea, and various entrepots like Singapore and Hong Kong via front companies.

http://thediplomat.com/2014/07/why-asia-wont-sanction-russia-for-mh17/

Was MH17 Terrorism?

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

Let’s say that the SBU recordings are genuine and the NAF was directly responsible for shooting down MH77 on the mistaken impression that it was a (valid) military target. Should this then be classed as terrorism? Would it invoke NATO’s Article 5, as some of the most heated rhetoric is suggesting?

(See http://www.spitsnieuws.nl/…/nederland-en-vs-bereiden-invasi…)

Well, I suppose you *can*. But then for consistency’s sake you would also have to label the US and Ukraine (ironically enough) as terrorist states themselves.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655 – US tried to avoid responsibility, never apologized to Iran. Eventually paid up some blood money.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siberia_Airlines_Flight_1812 – Ukraine tried to avoid responsibility, until the Russian investigative team came up with definitive proof that they did it. Never apologized, though did eventually pony up blood money.

If you do not support declaring the US and Ukraine to be terrorist states on this basis, with all the consequences thereof – massive sanctions, pariah status, etc. – then you have no ground to do so either for the DNR or Russia. However, if it is found that they were responsible – either the DNR directly, or Russia for supplying the Buk in question – then it would be appropriate to expect them to pay off the relatives. If that is the official finding, then I would strongly support it myself.

Of course, this would not apply if the DNR shot down MH77 on purpose. However, that possibility is disproved by the junta’s purported evidence itself.

The Fall of Slavyansk

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

1) The fall of Slavyansk is mainly a political problem, not a military one. In military terms, it is, if anything, a success, with Strelkov managing to successfully exfiltrate the great bulk of his forces from encirclement.

2) Donetsk has almost ten times the population of (pre-war) Slavyansk. Having aquired the great bulk of its population during the 1930-1990 period, it is like most Soviet cities of this profile a veritable warren of massive concrete blocks. A further defensive “bonus” is that its population has dropped by almost 20% from its 1992 peak, so I assume this means it will be relatively easy to locate abandoned apartments to serve as bases, lookout stations, etc. The experience of Grozny shows the damage that even a pretty small band of motivated fighters with Kalashnikovs and RPGs can inflict on a poorly trained conscript force wading into a concrete metropolis, even if they have plentiful access to artillery and heavy armor. Look at the problems even the world’s most advanced COIN force, the US Army, had in Baghdad and Fallujah. Donetsk will not be an easy nut to crack; any attempt to do so will produce more casualties amongst the Ukrainian Army than the NAF (whereas the current ratio is about 2:3), and massive casualties amongst Donetsk civilians caught in the bombardments.

3) Cynical as it is, I strongly suspect that this is precisely the plan: To see thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of civilians die, before mounting a humanitarian intervention that a) the West will find much more difficult to credibly condemn than would be the case if it were to be carried out now; b) will estrange even more future Novorossiyans from Kiev; and c) eat up a large chunk of Ukrainian armor and whatever still remains of its air force in the interim.

Alternatively, Poroshenko might realize this is a losing proposition, and return to the negotiating table… If the Maidan lets him (which it probably won’t).

4) Unlike certain more hot-blooded pro-Russian analysts, and Maidanists who are rushing to celebrate way too soon, I still see no credible argument that Putin has ditched the Donbass resistance. To the contrary, the lack of *direct* intervention is more likely just the product of a series of cold calculations that show it more likely to be effective in a few months than today, when: a) The Ukrainian Army has become weaker and more demoralized; b) Photos of bisected, bloodied, and burnt corpses have been filling the Russian and international airwaves for a few months; c) The resolve of the West and its unity are weaker; d) The Russian economy is more prepared for any sanctions that are forthcoming; and e) Austerity is biting Ukraine hard, and (gas-less) winter is coming. Too bad that it is the residents of Donetsk who will be playing the blood price for this.

On Ukraine/Syria

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

It struck me a while ago that what Russia is doing so far as the Ukrainian borders in the east are concerned is essentially the same as what Turkey and Jordan are doing in relation to Syria’s borders.

Both Turkey and Jordan keep the borders open, allowing jihadists from across the world and arms (which in today’s globalized world must at some level have the blessing of the US) to keep flowing into Syria to maintain the insurgency against Assad.

Russia likewise allows imports of arms as well as pro-Russian volunteers across the ex-USSR into Eastern Ukraine.

Yet the US and indeed the entire West turns a blind eye to (and indeed quietly supports) the former, while lambasting Russia for the latter, threatening it with sanctions, and some even going so far as to support labeling it as a state sponsor of terrorism. No matter that the Donbass resistance has not – unlike the West’s/Saudi’s pet Islamists, which have wiped several Alawite and Christian villages off the map – committed any widescale atrocities against the civilian populations.

Russian Liberals and China

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

Russian liberals (Vladimir Milov this time) continue claiming the China gas deal is disastrous for Russia.

His argument this time? That Japan pays $200/mcm more for gas than what China gave Russia.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/milov/1330024-echo/

He is either ignorant of or ignoring the fact that Japan imports gas as LNG, because it’s an island LOL. And the costs of liquefaction are not insubstantial, in fact they are around… well, $200/mcm LOL.

A Very Brief History of China-Russia Relations

The response of much western commentary to the Russia China agreements has been scepticism that they can ever burgeon into an outright partnership because of the supposedly long history of mutual suspicion and hostility between the two countries. The Economist for example refers to the two countries as “frenemies”. To see whether these claims are actually justified I thought it might be useful to give a short if rather summary account of the history of the relationship between the two countries.

Official contacts between China and Russia began with border clashes in the 1680s which however were settled in 1689 by the Treaty of Nerchinsk, which delineated what was then the common border. At this time Beijing had no political or diplomatic links with any other European state save the Vatican, which was informally represented in Beijing by the Jesuit mission.

The Treaty of Nerchinsk was the first formal treaty between China and any European power. The Treaty of Nerchinsk was basically a pragmatic border arrangement. It was eventually succeeded by the Treaty of Kyakhta of 1727, negotiated on the initiative of the Kangxi Emperor and of Peter the Great, who launched the expedition that negotiated it shortly before before his death.

The Treaty of Kyakhta provided for a further delineation of the common border. It also authorised a small but thriving border trade. Most importantly, it also allowed for the establishment of what was in effect a Russian diplomatic presence in Beijing in the form of an ecclesiastical settlement there. Russia thereby became only the second European state after the Vatican to achieve a presence in Beijing. It did so moreover more than a century before any of the other European powers. Russia was of course the only European power at this time to share a common border with China (a situation to which it has now reverted since the return to China of Hong Kong). It is also notable that the Treaty of Kyakhta happened on the initiative of Peter the Great. Peter the Great’s decision to launch the expedition that ultimately led to the Treaty of Kyakhta shows that even this supposedly most “westernising” of tsars had to take into account Russia’s reality as a Eurasian state.

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Impressions of the Saint-Petersburg International Economic Forum

I am currently in St. Petersburg where I have attended the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Before saying anything further I wish to thank Peter Lavelle of RT TV for very kindly and very generously arranging my invitation to the Forum.

At the Forum I attended three roundtables:

(1) On the InfoWars brilliantly hosted and moderated by Peter Lavelle. I was a participant in this roundtable an edited version of which RT will broadcast and which will be shown in full on RT’s YouTube channel. Since I participated in this roundtable I feel it would be inappropriate for me to say more about it now save (1) that I am very grateful to Peter Lavelle for inviting me (2) that the discussion was outstanding and I would strongly urge everyone to see it either on RT or on YouTube and (3) that I was lucky enough to be befriended by other members of the panel including Pepe Escobar, John Laughland and Ben Aris who I have long known from their writings but whom I never expected to meet. I intend to save any further comments about this roundtable until others have had a chance to see it on RT and YouTube.

(2) On investment strategies in Russia on the part of sovereign wealth funds. The roundtable was hosted and moderated by Alexei Kudrin. Ding Xuedong, Chairman and Chief Executive of China Investment Corporation participated.

(3) On incentives to stimulate domestic Russian capital flows into the Russian economy. Elvira Nabiullina the Governor of the Central Bank was a participant.

I also attended the Forum’s plenary with Putin himself where he gave a lengthy speech, which was followed by an interview that was broadcast on television.

Here are my initial observations of the Forum (save for the roundtable with Peter Lavelle):

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Deconstructing the Result of the Four Party Talks

The media refers to the document that emerged out of today’s four party talks as an “agreement”. This is not strictly correct. The text of the document is here:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/17/ukraine-diplomats-meet-in-geneva-in-bid-to-ease-crisis-live-coverage?view=desktop#block-5350089ce4b056a9012cda6f

As its text makes clear what this document is in reality is not an an agreement to settle the Ukrainian crisis or even an outline of such an agreement but rather a statement of basic principles around which an agreement should be negotiated. The real agreement (if it comes about) will emerge from negotiations based on the principles set out in this document.

A number of points:

1. Kiev’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the statement that “all sides must refrain from all violence, intimidation and provocative actions” clearly rules out the “anti terrorist operation” in the eastern Ukraine that Kiev launched on Sunday;

2. As Lavrov has correctly pointed out the provisions in the third paragraph that require the disarmament and dissolution of armed groups is clearly intended to refer as much to Right Sector and the Maidan Self Defence Force as it does to the protesters in the east. Note specifically that the statement calls for a general amnesty except for those who have committed capital crimes (ie. murder). So far no protesters in the east have murdered anyone. Even Kiev admits that none of its soldiers have so far been killed. The same obviously cannot be said of Right Sector and of the Maidan Self Defence Force even if one disregards their likely responsibility for the sniper killings in Kiev on 20th February 2014;

3. The document clearly refers to Maidan itself, which it says must be cleared. Specifically alongside illegally occupied buildings the document refers to “all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities”. The reference to “squares” clearly is intended to refer to Maidan, which the militants in Kiev have said they will continue to occupy at least until the elections on 25th May 2014 and even beyond;

4. Importantly there is NO time line in the document.  There is no demand therefore that buildings be evacuated by any particular date or time.  That has to be agreed and coordinated with the OSCE monitors on the ground.  The people in the eastern Ukraine are therefore entirely within their rights to stay in the buildings at the moment until a timeline is agreed with the OSCE monitors, one requirement of which will surely be parallel evacuations of occupied squares and buildings in Kiev and the west including Maidan.

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