Category Archives: Conflict

Stratfor Flashback: Turkey’s Geographical Ambition

Note: Originally published by Stratfor  May 1, 2013.
(Republished by Stratfor in light of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Aug. 10 election as Turkey’s new president.)

 

By Robert D. Kaplan and Reva Bhalla

At a time when Europe and other parts of the world are governed by forgettable mediocrities, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister for a decade now, seethes with ambition. Perhaps the only other leader of a major world nation who emanates such a dynamic force field around him is Russia’s Vladimir Putin, with whom the West is also supremely uncomfortable.

Erdogan and Putin are ambitious because they are men who unrepentantly grasp geopolitics. Putin knows that any responsible Russian leader ensures that Russia has buffer zones of some sort in places like Eastern Europe and the Caucasus; Erdogan knows that Turkey must become a substantial power in the Near East in order to give him leverage in Europe. Erdogan’s problem is that Turkey’s geography between East and West contains as many vulnerabilities as it does benefits. This makes Erdogan at times overreach. But there is a historical and geographical logic to his excesses.

The story begins after World War I.

Because Ottoman Turkey was on the losing side of that war (along with Wilhelmine Germany and Hapsburg Austria), the victorious allies in the Treaty of Sevres of 1920 carved up Turkey and its environs, giving territory and zones of influence to Greece, Armenia, Italy, Britain and France. Turkey’s reaction to this humiliation was Kemalism, the philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (the surname “Ataturk” means “Father of the Turks”), the only undefeated Ottoman general, who would lead a military revolt against the new occupying powers and thus create a sovereign Turkish state throughout the Anatolian heartland. Kemalism willingly ceded away the non-Anatolian parts of the Ottoman Empire but compensated by demanding a uniethnic Turkish state within Anatolia itself. Gone were the “Kurds,” for example. They would henceforth be known as “Mountain Turks.” Gone, in fact, was the entire multicultural edifice of the Ottoman Empire.

Kemalism not only rejected minorities, it rejected the Arabic script of the Turkish language. Ataturk risked higher illiteracy rates to give the language a Latin script. He abolished the Muslim religious courts and discouraged women from wearing the veil and men from wearing fezzes. Ataturk further recast Turks as Europeans (without giving much thought to whether the Europeans would accept them as such), all in an attempt to reorient Turkey away from the now defunct Ottoman Empire in the Middle East and toward Europe.

Kemalism was a call to arms: the martial Turkish reaction to the Treaty of Sevres, to the same degree that Putin’s neo-czarism was the authoritarian reaction to Boris Yeltsin’s anarchy of 1990s Russia. For decades the reverence for Ataturk in Turkey went beyond a personality cult: He was more like a stern, benevolent and protective demigod, whose portrait looked down upon every public interior.

The problem was that Ataturk’s vision of orienting Turkey so firmly to the West clashed with Turkey’s geographic situation, one that straddled both West and East. An adjustment was in order. Turgut Ozal, a religious Turk with Sufi tendencies who was elected prime minister in 1983, provided it.

Ozal’s political skill enabled him to gradually wrest control of domestic policy and — to an impressive degree — foreign policy away from the staunchly Kemalist Turkish military. Whereas Ataturk and the generations of Turkish officers who followed him thought in terms of a Turkey that was an appendage of Europe, Ozal spoke of a Turkey whose influence stretched from the Aegean to the Great Wall of China. In Ozal’s mind, Turkey did not have to choose between East and West. It was geographically enshrined in both and should thus politically embody both worlds. Ozal made Islam publicly respected again in Turkey, even as he enthusiastically supported U.S. President Ronald Reagan during the last phase of the Cold War. By being so pro-American and so adroit in managing the Kemalist establishment, in the West at least Ozal — more than his predecessors — was able to get away with being so Islamic.

Ozal used the cultural language of Islam to open the door to an acceptance of the Kurds. Turkey’s alienation from Europe following the 1980 military coup d’etat enabled Ozal to develop economic linkages to Turkey’s east. He also gradually empowered the devout Muslims of inner Anatolia. Ozal, two decades before Erdogan, saw Turkey as a champion of moderate Islam throughout the Muslim world, defying Ataturk’s warning that such a Pan-Islamic policy would sap Turkey’s strength and expose the Turks to voracious foreign powers. The term neo-Ottomanism was, in fact, first used in Ozal’s last years in power.

Ozal died suddenly in 1993, ushering in a desultory decade of Turkish politics marked by increasing corruption and ineffectuality on the part of Turkey’s sleepy secular elite. The stage was set for Erdogan’s Islamic followers to win an outright parliamentary majority in 2002. Whereas Ozal came from the center-right Motherland Party, Erdogan came from the more openly Islamist-trending Justice and Development Party, though Erdogan himself and some of his advisers had moderated their views over the years. Of course, there were many permutations in Islamic political thought and politics in Turkey between Ozal and Erdogan, but one thing stands clear: Both Ozal and Erdogan were like two bookends of the period. In any case, unlike any leader today in Europe or the United States, Erdogan actually had a vision similar to Ozal’s, a vision that constituted a further distancing from Kemalism.

Rather than Ataturk’s emphasis on the military, Erdogan, like Ozal, has stressed the soft power of cultural and economic connections to recreate in a benign and subtle fashion a version of the Ottoman Empire from North Africa to the Iranian plateau and Central Asia. Remember that in the interpretation of one of the West’s greatest scholars of Islam, the late Marshall G.S. Hodgson of the University of Chicago, the Islamic faith was originally a merchants’ religion, which united followers from oasis to oasis, allowing for ethical dealing. In Islamic history, authentic religious connections across the Middle East and the Indian Ocean world could — and did — lead to wholesome business connections and political patronage. Thus is medievalism altogether relevant to the post-modern world.

Erdogan now realizes that projecting Turkey’s moderate Muslim power throughout the Middle East is fraught with frustrating complexities. Indeed, it is unclear that Turkey even has the political and military capacity to actualize such a vision. To wit, Turkey may be trying its best to increase trade with its eastern neighbors, but it still does not come close to Turkey’s large trade volumes with Europe, now mired in recession. In the Caucasus and Central Asia, Turkey demands influence based on geographic and linguistic affinity. Yet Putin’s Russia continues to exert significant influence in the Central Asian states and, through its invasion and subsequent political maneuverings in Georgia, has put Azerbaijan in an extremely uncomfortable position. In Mesopotamia, Turkey’s influence is simply unequal to that of far more proximate Iran. In Syria, Erdogan and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, thought — incorrectly, it turns out — that they could effectively mold a moderate Islamist Sunni opposition to replace President Bashar al Assad’s Alawite regime. And while Erdogan has gained points throughout the Islamic world for his rousing opposition to Israel, he has learned that this comes at a price: the warming of relations between Israel and both Greece and the Greek part of Cyprus, which now permits Turkey’s adversaries in the Eastern Mediterranean to cooperate in the hydrocarbon field.

The root of the problem is partly geographic. Turkey constitutes a bastion of mountains and plateau, inhabiting the half-island of the Anatolian land bridge between the Balkans and the Middle East. It is plainly not integral to a place like Iraq, for example, in the way that Iran is; and its Turkic language no longer enjoys the benefit of the Arabic script, which might give it more cultural leverage elsewhere in the Levant. But most important, Turkey is itself bedeviled by its own Kurdish population, complicating its attempts to exert leverage in neighboring Middle Eastern states.

Turkey’s southeast is demographically dominated by ethnic Kurds, who adjoin vast Kurdish regions in Syria, Iraq and Iran. The ongoing breakup of Syria potentially liberates Kurds there to join with radical Kurds in Anatolia in order to undermine Turkey. The de facto breakup of Iraq has forced Turkey to follow a policy of constructive containment with Iraq’s Kurdish north, but that has undermined Turkey’s leverage in the rest of Iraq — thus, in turn, undermining Turkey’s attempts to influence Iran. Turkey wants to influence the Middle East, but the problem is that it remains too much a part of the Middle East to extricate itself from the region’s complexities.

Erdogan knows that he must partially solve the Kurdish problem at home in order to gain further leverage in the region. He has even mentioned aloud the Arabic word, vilayet, associated with the Ottoman Empire. This word denotes a semi-autonomous province — a concept that might hold the key for an accommodation with local Kurds but could well reignite his own nationalist rivals within Turkey. Thus, his is a big symbolic step that seeks to fundamentally neutralize the very foundation of Kemalism (with its emphasis on a solidly Turkic Anatolia). But given how he has already emasculated the Turkish military — something few thought possible a decade ago — one should be careful about underestimating Erdogan. His sheer ambition is something to behold. While Western elites ineffectually sneer at Putin, Erdogan enthusiastically takes notes when the two of them meet.

Republished with the permission of Stratfor Glocal Intelligence
Original article: Turkey’s Geographical Ambition | Stratfor

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A Presidential Farewell in the Knesset (full text)

Farewell speech by Israeli President Shimon Peres

24 Jul 2014

 

I came to thank you for the privilege you granted me to serve our country and its people for the past seven years. There is no greater privilege. Thank you.

Israel, this small country, became a truly great state.

I know of no other country on the face of the earth or throughout history, which amazed and surprised so much.

Gathering in its people. Making its wilderness bloom. Resurrected from the ruins, surviving a terrible Holocaust. Fighting back in seven wars. Bringing a language back to life. Respecting its traditions and adopting modernity.

And at the same building a country which continues to develop. A country which carries values and practices democracy. A country without natural resources, which utilized instead the resourcefulness of its people. Our human resource is far more precious than wells of oil or mines of gold. A country which was established upon a historical core and became an outstanding state in the new scientific world. A country of song. A country of literature. A country which seeks peace day and night.

I leave the presidency without parting from my faith. I will continue to serve my country as a deep believer that Israel is an exemplary state.

We are a people that experienced unimaginable agony. And we are a people that reached the lofty heights of human achievement. We made great efforts. We paid a heavy price.

We will never forget our brothers and sisters who perished in the Holocaust. We will remember those who fell in battle, who brought new life to a redeemed people.

It is a great privilege to be a citizen among citizens who know toil and struggle. Who made a supreme effort and carried determined hope until the first dew of our dawn.

We returned. We built. We fought. We prayed. Until we began to see contours that even surprised us. We are an ancient people who are getting older. We are a people, first and foremost, that rebuilds itself time and again.

Israel was born as a precedent and created precedents. Despite being small in number among the nations, our people carried a faith as great as any. The first to rebel against prejudice was Moses. A nation that rebelled against Pharaoh. That smashed idols. That shattered illusions. A nation that walked through the desert to reach its home, its destiny.

We climbed the mountains and came down with the tablets, with the Ten Commandments which became the foundations upon which our nation was built and which were adopted by Western civilization.

We continue and will continue with this great legacy. There are still idols to be smashed, slaves to free, lives to save and justice to uphold. There is still a world to fix. Even if we remain the minority among the nations. Even if we serve as a target for evil – we will not deviate from our moral heritage.

Challenges are not invited. They occur spontaneously. That is how the current challenge occurred. I did not imagine that in the last days of my presidency I would be called upon, once more, to comfort bereaved families. Tears in their eyes. And faith in their hearts.

I did not imagine that it would happen again, after we were hit with rockets which were intended to harm innocent civilians. And after we uncovered tunnels meant to kill, intended to penetrate into the heart of civilian communities and fire at mothers and children. We must alert the world to the madness of the terrorist threat.

Terrorism aims to spill our blood. And leads to blood being spilled among its people. Never has such a minority torn apart the fabric of whole societies. So cruelly sent children to serve as shields for its crimes.

Hamas has once again put hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Gaza in harm’s way, into a field of fire. The terrorists have transformed Gaza, which is over 3000 years old, into a man-made tragedy.

We left Gaza of our own free will and even helped to rebuild it. Unfortunately, it was taken over by fanatical terrorists, who uprooted the structures for rehabilitation and wasted them on a machinery of terror and murder.

Israel is not the enemy of the people of Gaza. The opposite is true, Israel built the Erez Crossing to open a gateway to Gaza. We did not open fire. We returned fire when fired upon. We fought the terrorists to bring peace to our people. They were also cruel to their own people, taking food away from babies to fund terror. They sowed death and they reaped death.

They forced their children to serve as human shields, and sent them into the fire. I say it again, I say it clearly, the Arabs are not our enemies. The policy of murder is the enemy. It is also the greatest danger to the Arab World.

Hamas fired but it cannot answer two simple questions.

What is the reason for the fire? Gaza is not occupied, and when they don’t fire it is open.

Secondly, what do they want to achieve? You can accomplish things without fire and you lose them when you open fire.

For 68 years terror has been harming its people. It has never been victorious. It brought only darkness to its people and destruction to its land.

Terror has no answers and does not draw the right conclusions. Israel will be victorious over terrorism because we search for peace and we are just in defense of our home.

Israel will win because of the IDF. Because of its excellent commanders and dedicated soldiers. There is no other army like the IDF. Its power is great. Its equipment is advanced. Its values are clear.

The country is proud of its army. The people love the army. The nation trusts it.

When I came to comfort, these past days, those who had lost that which is dearest to them, I feel a sadness that has no comfort, but I also learn again the magnitude of our fallen. The fire cut short their lives and revealed their greatness. It lit up the depths of their personalities alongside the courage of their hearts.

Nobody had to explain a thing to them. They knew the reality. By themselves. They moved towards battle even before the call to the front lines came. They volunteered for dangerous missions and fought like lions. Fast but not reckless. They carried the legacy of our forefathers and the bravery of youth.

Their hearts were filled with love for their families, for their country, for their people. The parents educated and the boys exceeded the expectations of the country.

I visited communities which had been bombed. Communities which created wonderful societies and plowed new fields. I met the founders surrounded by fruit trees. And children who advocate for freedom and brotherhood. They are all aware of the danger. But convinced of our ability to overcome it.

Members of Knesset,

Allow me to say from upon this stage – there are none like them.

I will add, Israel’s strength is drawn from its unity. A unity of a nation which fights and builds. A nation of good citizens, who enlist when they are young and volunteer for reserve duty long after.

Israel is a nation that dwells alone. But we have friends. In America and in Europe, in Asia, in Australia and in Africa. I am grateful to them.

It is difficult to understand how across the world in the streets and the squares protesters come out in support of terrorists and condemn those who defend themselves. They hold signs aloft without providing an answer to terror. They encourage and incite violence.

It is also hard to fathom how a council which bears the words “human rights” in its name, decided to establish a committee to investigate who is right. Is it the murderers or those who refuse to be murdered?

If the right to life is not the first right among human rights, what is the value of other rights? The terrorists try to restrict the freedom of air traffic. We must not submit to them. Governments must paralyze the terror and not suspend the flights. In countries governed by law, the sky should be open and the terrorists stopped.

Members of Knesset,

There is no place to doubt our victory. We know that no military victory will be enough. There is no permanent security without permanent peace. Just as there is no real peace without real security.

There is no chronological order when it comes to our founding principles. In our search for peace, we must not forsake security. In our efforts to ensure our safety, we must not forgo the prospects for peace. A people which can win wars can also bring peace to its children. Even when peace seems to elude us, our reach is determined enough to grasp it. We have witnessed it in the past.

I remember when experts used to say that Egypt will never sign a peace treaty with us. That Jordan will never agree to peace with Israel before Syria does so. That there will never rise a camp against terror among the Palestinians. That never will Arab leaders raise their voices for peace and against terror, in their own language and not just in English, in Arab countries and not just in Europe. Arab leaders that condemn kidnappings and are open to land swaps. Arab leaders that are for two states while one of them is clearly the State of Israel which is a Jewish homeland in its nature and in its constitution.

There was never an expert that could have predicted that one day the Arab League which engraved upon its flag the three “No’s” of Khartoum, would publish an initiative which refutes them all, and would instead suggest a proposal of its own for a path towards peace, not only between Israelis and Palestinians but with all Arab countries. Even if we cannot accept this proposal in its entirety, we cannot ignore its value.

As Ben Gurion said: “There are no experts for the future, only experts for the past.” Indeed, the future requires believers, not necessarily experts. The future is built. Not inherited from prophets. In order to secure the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, Israel adopted the solution based on two states for two peoples. A Jewish state – Israel. And an Arab state for the Palestinians.

This solution is accepted by a majority of the peoples of the world and by a majority of the Arab world.

Members of Knesset,

I have come to bid you farewell as a citizen, as a man whose dream is still alive. As a man who has learned from experience that the greatness of Israel’s reality is greater than the dream which begot it at its dawn.

I am taking leave of my position as President, but not from my duty as a citizen. I was a President who loved his people. As of now, I am a citizen in love with my people. I will not give up my right to serve my people and my country. And I will continue to help build my country, with a deep belief that one day it will know peace.

That Israel will uphold social justice and will raise its eyes to the realized dream of its prophets. That Israel will continue to be Jewish in its legacy and democratic in its practices. That it will safeguard freedom of speech and freedom of research. That it will continue to excel in its scientific level on a global scale. That it will be a moral country. A country which will practice equality for all its citizens – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bedouins, and Circassians. So we promised in our Declaration of Independence. So we proclaimed in our book of laws. So we practiced upon the commands of our authorities.

The social vision of the prophet Amos, as the political vision of the prophet Isaiah, are our guiding lights. They commanded us to take social justice and world peace as guiding principles for our actions. Israel was born on the foundations of its principles. Today it grows on the shoulders of science. There is no contradiction between the two and there shouldn’t be.

During my visits to the many unique and diverse corners of Israel, I entered each place with an explorer’s curiosity and returned with a heart full of pride. I discovered everywhere, and every time, hardworking people, endless talent, wonderful children and surprises which cannot be described.

Therefore, as I leave my official position I will remain a citizen filled with hope. Hope for a better future. Hope for peace. Hope that the dream of today will create an exemplary reality. When I return and meet the beauty and strength of the State of Israel, I find myself shedding a tear. Maybe excited slightly more than my younger friends. Because throughout my years I witnessed the entire incredible journey, and the miracles of Israel.

Alongside David Ben Gurion I saw it fighting for its life. With few resources but endless dangers. And today, I see her standing strong. Secure. Flourishing. Successful in every field. I see my country promising an exciting future for our sons and daughters.

Friends, Reuven Rivlin, the next elected President of Israel,

I wish you success, that you should serve the nation in your positive way, as you already do. With your great heart. With your face full of light. You already have what is expected from a president. I am sure you will succeed in our way and strengthen the future of the State of Israel

Members of Knesset,

The nature of parliamentary democracy is ongoing, passionate debate. This is democracy. This is how it should be. If I may, particularly in these days when we must stand united, in these difficult days in which they eyes of the nation are on its leaders, on you. Please – do not lessen the debate. It is the essence of democracy. And it must remain. But do it with mutual respect, with a sense of shared destiny and with great respect for the Israeli public, like which there is no other. They are worth of nothing less from their representatives.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
 
 
(source: http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2014/Pages/Farewell-speech-by-President-Shimon-Peres-24-Jul-2014.aspx)

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Reflections on an Unforgiving Day

Stratfor: Geopolitical Diary
Courtesy, Stratfor Global Intelligence

THURSDAY, JULY 17, 2014 – 21:17
 
We ate breakfast to the news that an airliner had crashed in Ukraine. We had lunch to the news that Israel had invaded Gaza. An airliner crashing is perhaps more impactful than an invasion. We have all wondered, when we hear of a crash, or even in quiet moments on board an aircraft ourselves, what living our final moments in a plane plunging to earth, knowing that we will die, would be like. An invasion is harder for some of us to empathize with. Most of us have never invaded a country nor been in a country while it was invaded. But it shares this much with a plane crash: Your life is in danger, and your fate is out of your hands.

We don’t even know for certain what happened to the plane or how far the invasion will go. But no reasonable person looking at today could argue that we are the masters of our fates. At one point in the afternoon, it was announced that the White House had been placed on lockdown, which meant that a significant security threat had been found. It turned out someone’s lost backpack caused the whole episode.

Our job is to find order in the apparent disorder, even if meaning is fleeting. There are two things we can point to. First — tragedy aside for the moment — the plane crash had to do with the struggle for Ukraine, between the right of Russia to be secure from the West, the right of the Ukrainians to determine their own fate, either as one country or two, and the right of Western powers to involve themselves in these affairs. Gaza is about the right of Israel to have a nation, the right of the Palestinians to have a nation and the right of Western countries to involve themselves in the matter.

Both issues are matters of competing national rights, not dissimilar from one and other. The Russians have historically experienced multiple invasions from the west, all of them devastating, some of them through Ukraine. Ukraine means “nation on the edge,” or what we could call a borderland. Usually under Russian domination, it is now independent. But for Russia, it is the buffer between the kind of armies that invaded Russia in 1941 when the Nazis came. The names of many of the cities that are spoken of now are the names of the cities in which the Soviet army fought. For the Russians, this is the borderland that can’t be given up. Yes, no one is planning to invade Russia now. But the Russians know how fast intentions and capabilities change, and they wonder why the Americans and others are so concerned with having a pro-Western government in Kiev.

For the Ukrainians, who have rarely experienced sovereignty, this is their opportunity to chart their own course. For them, the Russians’ need for a buffer is another way of saying Russian oppression of Ukraine. Of course, not all living in Ukraine see this as oppressive. They see the Ukrainian government as oppressing them, by tearing them away from their Russian roots. For western Ukrainians, these Russophiles are thugs trying to destroy the country. For the Russophiles, it is hypocrisy that Ukraine demands that its right to self-determination be honored, but it has no honor for the right to self-determination of the Russophiles.

It is a question of national self-determination, which is one of the foundations of modern Euro-American civilization and always becomes complex when competing nations all claim that right. Does Russia have the right to assure that it will never again have to live through an invasion? Does it have the right to do that at the expense of Ukrainian self-determination? To the extent that the West has involved itself, can it be said that Ukraine is truly free to determine its future?

And so an airliner was shot down and some 300 people died. It is hard to draw the connection between the abstract discussion of national rights and the debris and lives strewn around, but there is a connection. The plane would not have crashed if the question of national interest and national self-determination was not so important to so many people.

The same issue caused four children to be killed on a Gaza beach and a man to be blown apart by a mortar round in Israel. The Israeli Jews claimed a homeland in today’s Israel. They were occupiers, but there is not a single country in the world that wasn’t, in some way, founded by occupiers. Almost everywhere, there was someone there who was displaced or absorbed to make way for the current occupants. Every nation that exists was born out of some injustice. Consider the United States and Native Americans and slavery. Both were fundamental to America’s birth, but the right of the United States to remain intact is not questioned. Look at Europe and the way it was reshaped by armies. Perhaps that happened centuries ago, but is there an expiration date on injustice?

At the same time, there was someone there before Israel. They were not annihilated as in the case of some nations that disappeared with the arrival of newcomers. They are still there, in Israel, in the West Bank and certainly in Gaza. This is the borderland between Israel and the Arab world, and it is filled, particularly in Gaza, by people who are claiming their right to a state. Some who want the creation of that state to include the annihilation, expulsion or absorption of Israel.

There are others who want a two-state solution. They are not really as thoughtful and reasonable as they would like to believe. A state divided in half by Israel would be peculiar to say the least. Could Gaza, a small place packed with people, and a distant West Bank ever become economically viable? And could the Israelis ever trust the Palestinians not to open fire on Tel Aviv from the few miles that would separate it from a Palestinian state? The Arab state would be an economic impossibility. The Israeli state would be at risk. Westerners are filled with excellent advice as to what the Palestinians should do and what the Israelis should do. But as with Ukraine, the Westerners are playing with peripheral issues, things that don’t affect them personally and existentially. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is attempting to do good. But if he fails, his children won’t live with the consequences.

And therefore, an endless and pointless debate rages as to who is right and who started the war in an infinite regression that goes back to times before any living Jew or Palestinian. This is the same as in Ukraine. Ukraine’s history had been shaped by its relation to Russia. A debate can be held as to whether this was just. It really doesn’t matter. Russia is there and needs things, Ukraine is there and needs different things, and the West is there providing advice, which if it fails won’t directly affect it.

What ties Ukraine, Russia, Israel and Gaza together is that they are all fighting for their lives, or interests that are so fundamentally important to them that they cannot live without them. They are fighting for their nation and for that nation’s safety in a world where unspeakable things happen and where the only ones who will defend you are your family, friends and countrymen, and where all the well-wishers and advice-givers will quietly take their leave if dangers arise. There is nothing easier and cheaper than advising others to get along. These conflicts are rooted in fear, and fear is always a legitimate emotion.

Others would have approached today by saying that the Russians are evil or the Ukrainians really the oppressors, the Israelis killers or the Gazans monsters. We are sure we will hear from many condemning our moral equivalency, by which they will claim that the only truly moral position is theirs. But this is not a moral equivalency that argues that Ukrainians and Russians, Israelis and Palestinians should therefore sit down and recognize that they really haven’t got anything to fight over. This is a moral equivalency that says these people have a great deal to fight over, but that it is their fight, and that — as when the Romans began wiping out Europe’s Celts — it will be settled by steel and not by kindly advice or understanding. The problem between these people is not that they don’t understand each other. The problem is that they do.

And therefore an airline crashed and reportedly some 23 Americans, my countrymen, died. And yes, these are our countrymen and we grieve for them before others, much as Russians, Ukrainians, Israelis and Palestinians grieve for their own. We are no better. But we live in a stronger and safer country for which we are grateful. It allows us to give advice and means we don’t have to experience our misjudgments, even on a long sad day.
 
 
Reflections on an Unforgiving Day is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
 

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Stratfor: Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security

JUNE 11, 2014 | 1615

Courtesy, Stratfor Global Intelligence

Summary

Battles continue to rage across northern Iraq, pitting jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant against Iraqi security forces and their allies. The growing reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has escalated an already brutal campaign in Iraq. Alarmingly quick advances by the militants across an important region of the Middle East could draw in regional powers as well as the United States.

Analysis

Using hit-and-run tactics, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, has sought to keep Iraqi security forces dispersed and under pressure. ISIL has achieved this by striking at areas where security forces are weak and withdrawing from areas where Baghdad has concentrated its combat power. The jihadists have been working hard to improve their tradecraft by developing skill sets ranging from staging complex ambushes to using Iraqi army equipment effectively in surprise raids. ISIL has also sought to better develop its ties with local Sunni communities.

As far back as the days of al Qaeda in Iraq and its predecessor, Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad, founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, militancy has had a presence in Anbar province — and indeed in Mosul. During the Iraq War, the U.S. military considered Mosul one of the key gateways for foreign al Qaeda in Iraq fighters to enter the country. ISIL operations in Mosul and the wider Nineveh province are unsurprising. What is surprising is the degree of success that ISIL has managed to achieve in its latest offensive in the region.

ISIL Activity

Click to Enlarge

This success undoubtedly has much to do with local forces and tribes who have either facilitated ISIL or elected not to fight the group’s incursion into Mosul. In a city of almost 2 million, had ISIL received no local sympathy, it would have been unable to rout the Iraqi forces in the area with only 1,000 to 2,000 fighters. Social media contains several reports of local Sunnis welcoming ISIL forces, and even of local fighters supporting ISIL in attacks against government positions.

Furthermore, Iraqi security forces reportedly had around 10,000 personnel in and around Mosul. Despite the ferociousness of the ISIL attack, the fact that a significant portion of these forces fled — abandoning their uniforms, equipment and vehicles — indicates serious structural and morale issues within the force, which could be attributed in part to a high number of Sunni soldiers in the ranks who are unwilling to stand up to ISIL for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Having succeeded in its Mosul operations, ISIL will continue to take advantage of its momentum and push its gains at a time when the Iraqi government is scrambling to recover from significant losses. As well as taking large portions of the city, ISIL militants seized many weapons and military vehicles as well as the contents of Mosul’s central bank. They also freed several thousand prisoners from a local prison, potentially adding more fighters to their cause.

Stretching from the north of Mosul through Tikrit to the south and toward Baghdad along the Tigris River Valley, ISIL is striving to maintain a continuous line of pressure running through what is practically the northern spine of populated Iraq. The Tigris River Valley contains a number of key strategic energy areas, including the oil refinery near Baiji. Although the refinery is still under state control at this time, the areas where ISIL is operating largely match areas where al Qaeda in Iraq was active during the height of the Sunni insurrection in Iraq from 2004-2006. As opposed to a first-time assault or new offensive, ISIL’s actions speak more of a resurgence into historical areas of operations.

As well as continuing to push forward, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will largely seek to avoid stand-up fights against well-equipped and determined Iraqi army units, though they have held their ground against such forces in Al Fallujah and Ar Ramadi. The wide-ranging, mobile and rapidly dispersed ISIL forces have a key advantage when it comes to maneuvering in battle over the slower, mechanized units of the Iraqi army. While ISIL maximizes its impact against a disorganized Baghdad, the jihadist group seeks to consolidate its control over territory in heavily Sunni areas, where it has already made significant inroads with the local population. Ambitiously, these areas of control could include large portions of the north as well as Anbar Province. More realistically, it would mean greater ISIL presence in the longer term and, in some cases, direct control in Anbar and possibly other provinces such as Nineveh and Salah ad Din. Working toward this goal, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will continue to focus on its revitalized effort to dismantle the Awakening movement, a coalition of tribal elements that was instrumental in pushing al Qaeda in Iraq out of Anbar the first time, drawing Sunni tribes back into its fold in the process.

The Iraqi army is attempting to contain the ISIL threat that is rapidly spreading into Salah ad Din and Kirkuk provinces. Iraqi forces, supported by allied tribal elements, have reportedly struck back against ISIL outside As Samarra and in Tikrit. A number of Iraqi army units are also supposedly withdrawing from Anbar province, which will further reduce pressure on ISIL-held cities there. These forces are reportedly focusing on the northern approaches to Baghdad, while the Iraqi government is attempting to pull together all reserve units capable of quickly moving to the fight. For all intents and purposes the Iraqi army is overstretched, the geographic dispersion of threats outmatching its resources. This means that Baghdad must prioritize its goals in the fight against ISIL.

Protect the Core

The most important priority for Baghdad right now is to secure its capital and oil infrastructure and begin pushing north to meet ISIL units approaching from Mosul down the Tigris River Valley. This does not mean that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant can be eradicated from these areas: Small ISIL cells will continue to operate across the region, and indeed in Baghdad itself. It does mean, however, that the Iraqi army will try to disrupt large mobile ISIL columns seeking to raid and to establish control over towns and cities. By concentrating its forces, the Iraqi army campaign in Anbar, especially around Ar Ramadi and Al Fallujah, will inevitably be at a disadvantage as it falls to a level of secondary importance. The campaign to rid Iraq of ISIL, which was never realistic so long as the jihadists held a virtual sanctuary in eastern Syria, becomes even more tenuous over the long term.

Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga force secure an area west of the northern city of Kirkuk, on June 11.

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In the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Baghdad holds a potential advantage, but one which the al-Maliki government has been loath to use so far. This advantage is a greater reliance and cooperation with the Peshmerga (Kurdish security forces) in a combined fight against the jihadists. For political reasons ranging from disputes over territory to energy resources distribution, the central government in Baghdad had sought to maximize its direct control over the north, while minimizing the Kurdish security presence beyond Kurdistan Regional Government-administered areas. With ISIL making alarming gains in the north, it is now far more possible that the central government in Iraq would seek to cooperate with the Peshmerga in a combined push on ISIL in Kirkuk and Mosul. To that end, the Iraqi parliamentary speaker reportedly mentioned the possibility of coordinating with Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani. Kurdish Peshmerga forces are reportedly mobilizing in preparation for defensive as well as offensive operations against ISIL.
 

The Bigger Picture

Beyond Iraq, a number of countries are immediately affected by ISIL. The Syrian battle space bleeds heavily into Iraq due to a porous border, accelerated by the almost total collapse of Syrian army border crossing posts. Since January, ISIL has been heavily involved in fighting with more moderate Syrian rebel factions, as well as with Jabhat al Nusra, the official al Qaeda franchise in Syria. As the fighting has worn on, ISIL has gradually released its hold in western Syria and turned its attention to the Raqqah and Deir el-Zour governorates. Deir el-Zour was particularly important for ISIL as it allowed it to maintain a direct supply link with its established presence in western and northern Iraq, especially in Anbar province. Through this supply link, ISIL has been able to transfer experienced foreign fighters and captured Syrian army equipment to Iraq, including vehicles and anti-tank guided munitions. It has also replenished its stock of ammunition and explosives, greatly aiding operations in Iraq.

The Syrian conflict is affected by the ISIL push in Iraq in two ways. The first is that the jihadists may divert large numbers of fighters from Syria to its Iraq push, which would open ISIL to more pressure in Syria. The second impact is the withdrawal of large numbers of Iraqi Shiite militants — men that have been fighting alongside the Syrian army — leaving to concentrate their efforts back home against ISIL. Such a withdrawal would be unpopular in the Syrian regime because it would take away an important source of manpower.

Regional Interest

Ankara is also watching the events in Iraq with considerable attention. Not only are Turkish citizens directly implicated in the conflict, with a number of Turks reportedly seized by ISIL militants, but the Turkish government also maintains an important stake in energy development in northern Iraq. Ankara has long been involved in politics between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government on issues surrounding the delivery of energy. Turkey is also increasingly concerned about the growing reach of ISIL and has already clashed with militants on its border with Syria. Turkey is especially wary of the potential for attacks by ISIL — attacks that would exploit the long border that runs from the Mediterranean to Iran. While Turkey has been hesitant to directly send forces against ISIL in Syria, the fact that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has seized large numbers of Turks — including the consulate staff from Mosul — may push Ankara to become more directly involved in the crisis.

Iran has long sustained the regime in Syria, as well as indirectly supporting al-Maliki’s government in its fight against Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq. The growing reach of ISIL, and its ever-closer presence to Iran, is sure to raise considerable anxiety in Tehran. Iran can therefore be expected to further bolster its support for al-Maliki as well as for Shiite proxies across Iraq. In supporting al Maliki’s fight, Tehran finds itself very much aligned with Washington.

The United States will avoid sending significant forces back into Iraq, but Washington will ramp up its efforts to contain the ISIL threat by delivering vital equipment such as helicopter gunships, Hellfire missiles, communications equipment, large volumes of small arms and ammunition. This assistance, coupled with a common regional interest to contain the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, will likely contain the threat to northern and western Iraq. Though Iraq’s southern energy corridor will probably be spared, the Sunni belt in central Iraq and the territories disputed between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government will face rising sectarian stress, in line with ISIL’s designs for the region.

 

Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security is republished with permission of Stratfor.

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Stratfor: The Geopolitics of Energy

By Robert D. Kaplan
Chief Geopolitical Analyst
Stratfor Global Intelligence

Geopolitics is the battle for space and power played out in a geographical setting. Just as there are military geopolitics, diplomatic geopolitics and economic geopolitics, there is also energy geopolitics. For natural resources and the trade routes that bring those resources to consumers is central to the study of geography. Every international order in early modern and modern history is based on an energy resource. Whereas the Age of Coal and Steam was the backdrop for the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Age of Petroleum has been the backdrop for the American Empire from the end of the 19th to the early 21st centuries. And indeed, just after other countries and America’s own elites were consigning the United States to a period of decline, news began to emerge of vast shale gas discoveries in a host of states, especially Texas. The Age of Natural Gas could make the United States the world’s leading geopolitical power well into the new century.

Mohan Malik, a professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, has for years been studying the geopolitics of energy. He has drawn, in conceptual terms, a new world map dominated by a growing consumer market for energy in Asia and a growing market for production in the United States.

“Asia has become ‘ground zero’ for growth” as far as the consumption of energy is concerned, writes Malik. His research shows that over the next 20 years, 85 percent of the growth in energy consumption will come from the Indo-Pacific region. Already, at least a quarter of the world’s liquid hydrocarbons are consumed by China, India, Japan and South Korea. According to the World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency, China will account for 40 percent of the growing consumption until 2025, after which India will emerge as “the biggest single source of increasing demand,” in Malik’s words. The rate of energy consumption growth for India will increase to 132 percent; in China and Brazil demand will grow by 71 percent, and in Russia by 21 percent. Malik explains that the increase in demand for gas will overtake that for oil and coal combined. Part of the story here is that the Indo-Pacific region will become increasingly reliant on the Middle East for its oil: By 2030, 80 percent of China’s oil will come from the Middle East, and 90 percent in the case of India. (Japan and South Korea remain 100 percent dependent on oil imports.) China’s reliance on the Middle East will be buttressed by its concomitant and growing dependence on former Soviet Central Asia for energy.

While the Indo-Pacific region is becoming more energy dependent on the Middle East, in the other hemisphere the United States is emerging as a global energy producing giant in its own right. Malik reports that U.S. shale oil production will more than triple between 2010 and 2020. And were the United States to open up its Atlantic and Pacific coastlines to drilling, he says oil production in the United States and Canada could eventually equal the consumption in both countries. Already, within a decade, shale gas has risen from 2 percent to 37 percent of U.S. natural gas production. The United States has now overtaken Russia as the world’s biggest natural gas producer. Some estimates put the United States as overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by the end of the current decade, though this is unlikely.

Malik observes that this would mark a return to the pre-1973 Yom Kippur War period of American energy dominance. When combined with Canadian oil sands and Brazil’s oil lying beneath salt beds, these shifts have the potential to make the Americas into the “new Middle East” of the 21st century, though we need to remember that U.S. oil production may be in decline after 2020.

At the same time, Russia is increasingly shifting its focus of energy exports to East Asia. China is on track to perhaps become Russia’s biggest export market for oil before the end of the decade, even as Russian energy firms are now developing a closer relationship with Japan in order to hedge against their growing emphasis on China.

We are thus seeing before our eyes all energy routes leading to the Indo-Pacific region. The Middle East will be exporting more and more hydrocarbons there. Russia is exporting more and more hydrocarbons to the East Asian realm of the area. And North America will soon be looking more and more to the Indo-Pacific region to export its own energy, especially natural gas.

As the Indo-Pacific waters — that is, the Greater Indian Ocean and the South China Sea — become the world’s energy interstate, maritime tensions are rising in the South China Sea and in the adjacent East China Sea. The territorial tensions over which country owns what geographical feature in those waters is not only being driven by potential energy reserves and fish stocks in the vicinity, but also by the very fact that these sea lanes and choke points are of growing geopolitical importance because of the changing world energy market.

Europe, because of its aging population, will probably not grow in relative importance in world energy markets, while the Indo-Pacific region of course will. Though northeast Asia, like Europe, is home to aging populations, that is not the case — or at least is less the case — in the Indian Ocean world.

Economic importance often leads over time to cultural and political importance. Thus, the current tension between an economically and demographically stagnant European Union and a troubled, autocratic Russia — energy rich, but less so in comparative terms going forward — may actually expose the decline of Greater Europe, while North America and the Indian Ocean world become the new pulsating centers of commerce. At the same time, however, we may see, at least in the short term, an alliance of sorts between Russia and China, undergirded by a growing energy relationship, as these two massive Eurasian states come into conflict and competition with the democratic West.

Power in Eurasia would, therefore, move to more southerly latitudes, while the United States would have its own power reinvigorated by an even closer economic relationship with Canada and Mexico (which is also energy rich). The Europe-centric world of the past millennium may finally be passing as North America and the Greater Indian Ocean take center stage.

Read more: The Geopolitics of Energy | Stratfor
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Stratfor: Ukraine Turns From Revolution to Recovery

By George Friedman
Stratfor Global Intelligence

The uprising in Kiev has apparently reached its conclusion. President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition reached an agreement, negotiated by the Polish, German and French foreign ministers. The parliament is now effectively in charge, deciding who will be ministers and when elections will be held, whether to dismiss judges and so on. It isn’t clear whether the parliament can fire the sitting president without impeachment and trial, but all of this is now moot. What is interesting is that the Polish, French and German foreign ministers negotiated an outcome that, for practical purposes, ignored the Constitution of Ukraine. It sets an interesting precedent. But for Ukraine, the constitution didn’t have the patina of tradition that a true constitution requires, and few will miss Yanukovich.

The question now is whether all of this makes any real difference in Ukraine or the world. There is a new temporary leadership, although it is still factionalized and the leaders of the factions have not fully emerged. The effect of hostile gunfire will forge unity in Kiev for a while, but in due course, ideology, ambition and animosity will re-emerge. That will make governing Ukraine as difficult as in the past, particularly because the differences among the neo-Nazis, the liberals and groups in between — all of which manned the barricades — are profound. A government of national unity will be difficult to form.

Another issue is what will happen the next time crowds storm government buildings. The precedent has been set — or rather, it was set during the 2004 Orange Revolution — that governments and regimes can be changed by a legalistic sleight of hand. At some point a large crowd will gather and occupy buildings. If the government opens fire, it is run by monsters. I don’t mean that ironically; I mean it literally. But if the government allows itself to be paralyzed by demonstrators, then how can it carry out its constitutional responsibilities? I don’t mean that ironically either. The Ukrainian Constitution, new or old, is meaningless because Ukrainians will not endure the pain of following it — and because foreign powers will pressure them to deviate from constitutional democracy in order to create a new one.

There should be no mistake. The Yanukovich government was rotten to the core, and he will not be missed. But most governments of Ukraine will be rotten to the core, partly because there is no tradition of respect for the law and because of the way property was privatized. How could there be a tradition of law in a country that was reduced to a province of another state and that numbered among its rulers Josef Stalin? Privatization, following the fall of the Soviet Union, occurred suddenly with vague rules that gave the advantage to the fast and ruthless. These people now own Ukraine, and however much the crowd despises them, it can’t unseat them. The oligarchs, as rich people in the former Soviet Union are called, are free; they can eliminate their critics or bribe them into silence. The only thing that is more powerful than money is a gun. But guns cost money and lives.

The idea that what will follow the Ukrainian revolution will be the birth of a liberal democracy reminds me of the Arab Spring. In the West, there is a tradition of seeing a passionate crowd massed in a square as the voice of the people. Reporters interview demonstrators and hear that they want an end to a corrupt and evil regime and subliminally recall the storming of the Bastille, the founding myth of the revolutionary tradition. A large crowd and a building anger at government evil points to the millennium.

In the Arab Spring the hope was great and the results disappointing. There was genuine hope for change, and observers assumed that the change was for liberal democracy. Perhaps it will yet be. Sometimes it was a change to a very different type of regime. What is portrayed and seen in this situation are the corrupt leaders commanding brutal soldiers. If the regime and the soldiers are wicked, it follows by this storyboard logic of good and evil that then their victims must be virtuous. It is rarely that easy. It is not only that the crowd is usually divided into many factions and bound together only by anger at the regime and the passionate moment. It is also that unexpected consequences lead them far from what they intended.

How Long Will Unity Last?

The deepest symbolism of revolution, and the most problematic, is that the people in the square speak for the people as a whole. The assumption made by the three foreign ministers was that in the negotiation between the three leaders of the demonstrators and the president, the protests’ leaders were more faithful representatives of the people than the elected president. They may have been in this case, but it is not certain.

Parts of Ukraine are bitterly angry about the outcome in Kiev. A Russian flag was raised over the city hall of Sevastopol, located in Crimea in the south, over the weekend. Crimea has historically belonged to Russia. In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev took it away from Russia and gave it to Ukraine. The Russians in Crimea have never really liked being part of Ukraine and the demonstrators didn’t represent them. Nor did they represent all those who live in the eastern part of the country, where Russian is commonly spoken and where being close to Russia is both an economic and cultural desire.

Thus there are two questions. The first is whether there is enough unity in the Ukrainian parliament to do what they must now do: create a government. The excitement of the moment has hidden the factions, which will soon re-emerge along with new ones. Yanukovich was not without support, for good reasons or bad. His supporters are bitter at this outcome and they are biding their time. In addition, the oligarchs are weaving their webs, save that many of the lawmakers are already caught in their web, some happily and some not. The underlying constraints that created the Yanukovich government are still there and can create a new Yanukovich out of the most enlightened Ukrainian leader.

The second question is whether Ukraine can remain united. The distinctions between the region oriented toward the West and that oriented toward Russia have been there from the beginning. In the past, governments have tried to balance between these two camps. Our three foreign ministers and the leaders of the demonstration have signaled that the days of taking Crimea and the east into account are over. At the very least their interests weren’t represented at the talks. Those interests could be rebalanced in the parliament, or they could be dismissed. If the latter were to happen, will Ukraine split in two? And if it does, what will be the economic and social consequences? If parliament takes to accommodating the two sides and their respective oligarchs, then how does it avoid winding up with a more photogenic and sympathetic Yanukovich?

The Motives of Outsiders

What happened to Ukraine mattered deeply to the Germans, French, Poles and Americans, all of whom had a deep involvement and sympathy for the demonstrators and hostility toward Yanukovich. Certainly it matters to the Russians, for whom maintaining at least a neutral Ukraine is essential to the national interest. This entire crisis began when Yanukovich decided to reject closer ties to the European Union. It was that decision that triggered the demonstrations, which, after violent repression, evolved from desiring closer EU ties to desiring regime change and blood.

The Ukrainian government has $13 billion in debt, owed mostly to Western institutions. The Russian government has agreed to provide Ukraine with $15 billion in aid doled out in tranches to cover it, since Ukraine can’t. Russia is now withholding additional aid until it can be confident the emerging government in Kiev is one with which it can work. It has also given Ukraine discounted natural gas. Without this assistance Ukraine would be in an even worse situation.

In turning toward Europe, parliament has to address refinancing its debt and ensure that the Russians will continue to discount natural gas. The Europeans are in no position politically to underwrite the Ukrainian debt. Given the economic situation and austerity in many EU countries, there would be an uproar if Brussels diverted scarce resources to a non-member. And regardless of what might be believed, the idea that Ukraine will become a member of the European Union under current circumstances is dismal. The bloc has enough sick economies on its hands.

The Germans have suggested that the International Monetary Fund handle Ukraine’s economic problem. The IMF’s approach to such problems is best compared to surgery without anesthesia. The patient may survive and be better for it, but the agony will be intense. In return for any bailout, the IMF will demand a restructuring of Ukraine’s finances. Given Ukraine’s finances, that restructuring would be dramatic. And the consequences could well lead to yet another round of protests.

The Russians have agreed to this, likely chuckling. Either parliament will reject the IMF plan and ask Russia to assume the burden immediately, or it will turn to Russia after experiencing the pain. There is a reason the Russians have been so relaxed about events in Ukraine. They understand that between the debt, natural gas and tariffs on Ukrainian exports to Russia, Ukraine has extremely powerful constraints. Under the worst circumstances Ukraine would move into the Western camp an economic cripple. Under the best, Ukraine would recognize its fate and turn to Russia.

What the Europeans and Americans were doing in Ukraine is less clear. They had the triumphant moment and they have eliminated a corrupt leader. But they certainly are not ready to take on the burden of Ukraine’s economic problems. And with those economic problems, the ability to form a government that does not suffer from the ills of Yanukovich is slim. Good intentions notwithstanding, the Ukrainians will not like the IMF deal.

I will guess at two motives for European and American actions. One is to repay the Russians for their more aggressive stance in the world and to remind them of how vulnerable Russia is. The second is as a low-risk human rights intervention to satisfy internal political demand without risking much. The pure geopolitical explanation — that they did this in order to gain a platform from which to threaten Russia and increase its caution — is hard to believe. None of these powers were in a position to protect Ukraine from Russian economic or military retaliation. None of them have any appetite for threatening Russia’s fundamental interests.

As stated above, the question now is two fold. Will the Ukrainian parliament, once the adrenaline of revolution stops flowing, be able to govern, or will it fall into the factional gridlock that a presidential system was supposed to solve? Further, will the east and Crimea decide they don’t want to cast their lot with the new regime and proceed to secede, either becoming independent or joining Russia? In large part the second question will be determined by the first. If the parliament is gridlocked, or it adopts measures hostile to the east and Crimea, secession is possible. Of course, if it decides to accommodate these regions, it is not clear how the government will differ from Yanukovich’s.

Revolutions are much easier to make than to recover from. This was not such a vast uprising that it takes much recovery. But to the extent that Ukraine had a constitutional democracy, that is now broken by people who said their intention was to create one. The issue is whether good intentions align with reality. It is never a bad idea to be pessimistic about Ukraine. Perhaps this time will be different.
 
 
Ukraine Turns From Revolution to Recovery is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
 
 

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