writing off postcommunist reforms as a failure would be a mistake

The eastern question

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Jonathan Power (Power’s World) / 26 February 2015

East Europeans are nostalgic as Ukraine slumps into anarchy


Economically Ukraine continues to go down the chute. No other East European has messed up its economic potential, as has Ukraine. During Soviet times Ukraine with its industrial prowess and wonderful fertile soil, making it the Soviet Union’s breadbasket, was a success (by communist standards). Now 25 years of political upheaval, economic mismanagement and greed by the oligarchs have taken a dreadful tool on living standards. The stoicism of ordinary people is to be wondered at. One reason why many easterners want to return to Russia is because they think they will have higher living standards.

In “Normal Countries,” in the December, 2014, issue of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Shleifer, a professor of economics at Harvard and Daniel Treisman, a professor of political science at the University of California, presented an analysis of what went right in the other East European countries, and, a for a time, in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. They write: “The East European countries have transformed their militarised, over industrialised and state-dominated systems into service-orientated market economies based on private ownership and integrated into global commercial networks.

No longer distorted to fit Marxist blueprints, their economic institutions, trade, and regulatory environments today look much like those of other countries at similar income levels. These changes notwithstanding, observers often blame post-communist reforms for poor economic performance, Two common charges are that the reforms were fundamentally misconceived and that they were implemented in too radical a fashion. Such criticism raises two questions: first whether the states’ economic performance has indeed been poor, and second, whether more radical strategies resulted in worse outcomes than more gradual approaches. The short answer to both questions is no.”

There was well-publicised economic slump after communist rule was ended but half of it reflected cuts in fictitious output or worthless investments. And it didn’t take more than a handful of years for economic growth to buzz. For example, between 1990 and 2011, the median income in Uzbekistan expanded slightly more than the median income elsewhere in the world. Bosnia had the third-highest growth rate in the world — its national income increased by 450 per cent. Poland, Albania, as well as Bosnia, outpaced the traditional growth engines of Hong Kong and Singapore.

The rise in consumption took off. From 1990 to 2011 household consumption per capita in the region grew on average by 88 per cent, compared with the average increase elsewhere in the world of 56 per cent. In Poland, it was 146 per cent, the same as South Korea’s. In Russia the increase was 100 per cent.

Between 1993 and 2011 car ownership in Eastern Europe climbed from one for every ten people to one for every four.

Mobile phone subscriptions per head are today greater than those in Western countries. Living space — mainly larger apartments — has increased per person, expanding by 100 per cent in the Czech Republic, 85 per cent in Armenia and 40 per cent in Russia. University enrolments have increased significantly.

Poverty and income equality did increase in the immediate post-communist years but today the rates are now lower than in those countries with similar income levels.

Infant mortality has fallen faster than any other region in the world. While it is true that the alcohol consumption rates are too high in Russia and the Baltic states they are not as high as in France, Austria, Germany and Ireland.

When it comes to demilitarisation, the Soviet Union in Cold War years spent 25 per cent of its GDP on armaments. The successor states are spending no more than five per cent — and that includes Russia.

A note of caution about the statistics above. Some are averages and don’t show, for example, that while Poland has doubled its income Tajikistan remains war-scarred and is a very poor dictatorship.

It is true that the aggressive reforms that put an end to Soviet-style economic management did result in falling incomes and rising unemployment. But by the mid 1990s countries that had fully embraced serious reforms were doing much better than those who were more cautious (and perhaps, we shouldn’t forget, more caring of the poor- the communists were good at providing universal health services).

Most of this grand achievement is not well known in Western Europe and North America but there it is — the honest truth.


Jonathan Power is a veteran foreign affairs analyst


Putin Meets Obama’s Hybrid Warfare “Fire” With Fire of His Own In Ukraine

[Now that Putin has adapted Western guerilla warfare tactics to his side’s PsyWar strategy, he has acquired a very effective resistance strategy, to which the Western psy-warriors have not yet devised a solution.  Putin is teaching Obama in Ukraine, that there is no strategy which cannot be countered.  Empty threats of intensifying PsyWar pressure with “overwhelming” force, or assorted economic pressures (even though they cannot be sustained) have, in the past, tipped the scales against Russia.  Russian nuclear modernization has become a trump card, preventing credible American bullying as in the past, beyond that made possible by supportive allies, who are willing to risk nuclear war over Ukraine.  If Putin and his powerful foreign allies remain resolute in their resistance to American hegemony in all its manifestations, then the Ukraine stand-off will end in stand-off, even if Obama does take it all the way “to the mat” with this one.]

Hybrid war: The real reason fighting stopped in Ukraine – for now


By Fiona Hill

A man pushes a wheelbarrow past a house damaged by fighting in the town of Debaltseve

President Vladimir Putin understands how insurgencies work better than any other Russian leader. We are watching this play out right now in Ukraine.

Before Putin took power, Moscow had long struggled to suppress rebel movements. In the 1980s, for example, the Soviet Union grappled with the Muslim mujahedeen in Afghanistan. Moscow propped up the beleaguered Kabul government with an invasion and occupation — to little avail. After 10 years of grueling conflict, Moscow withdrew, just as the Soviet Union fell apart. A few years later, rebels inflicted another serious blow against the Russian military, in the Russian province of Chechnya. Chechen militants launched attacks deep into Russia. The Kremlin again withdrew its forces and essentially sued for peace.

Until Putin took the helm.

Putin succeeded where others had failed because he was skilled at fighting dirty. As a former KGB operative, he fused together intelligence and military measures. In Chechnya he relentlessly pursued the rebels, often using undercover operations that adopted terrorist tactics, until one Chechen leader switched sides and helped him defeat the rebels.

A Russian flag flutters on top of a separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic army armoured personnel carrier as it drives through the town of Vuhlehirsk

Now in Ukraine, Putin has turned the tables. He is with the insurgents, not the government. Putin is to Kiev what the mujahedeen and the Chechens were to Kabul and Moscow, respectively. Given Russia’s own simmering national minority troubles and territorial disputes, the Russian president is taking a huge risk in backing an armed rebellion in a neighboring country.

But the risk is well calculated because the stakes are high. Putin has a great deal riding on this.

He firmly believes, as he has laid out in many statements, that the battle for the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine is a proxy war with the West. The United States and Europe seek to weaken Russia, Putin’s argument goes, by pulling a key Russian ally, Ukraine, into their sphere of influence. Putin’s goal is to deny Kiev the chance of associating with the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In Putin’s view, the West stoked regime change in Kiev in February 2014 for the same reasons that the United States supported the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s — to undermine Moscow’s authority throughout the region. Putin also asserts that the West aided and abetted the Chechens throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s to destabilize the Russian Federation. So according to Putin’s logic, Afghanistan was the West’s proxy war with the Soviet Union. Ukraine is the West’s proxy war with Russia.

This being a proxy war, Putin is intent on helping the side that best serves Russia’s interests. In this case, that side is the “armed formations,” as the February Minsk agreement describes them,  of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow

Putin, of course, denies that Russians are fighting with the Donbass rebels. Kremlin officials insist this is a civil war between Ukraine and people who reject the new Kiev government. Putin does admit, though, that many Russian volunteers have joined the rebels, including “vacationing” soldiers. Yet Putin has also claimed that Kiev is being supported by “NATO’s foreign legion” and U.S. arms.

The Minsk agreement refers to the presence of “foreign armed formations, military technology, and likewise mercenaries” in Ukraine, without specifying their origin. The denials and the voluntary nature of the external involvement are all hallmarks of a civil war centered on an insurgency.

Having fought off an insurgency himself, Putin knows a thing or two about insurgents’ methods. Putin and the Russian military have incorporated these tactics into a larger strategy of 21st-century hybrid war. Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, rolled this out in a January 2013 speech. He announced the Russian military would engage in a “new kind of war” fought with “nonmilitary methods to achieve political and strategic goals.”

These methods, Gerasimov explained, would involve fomenting popular protests, using covert military measures and deploying special operations forces, often under the guise of peacekeeping or crisis management. Such tactics, Gerasimov insisted, had been used by the United States for decades. Now Russia would fight back in the same way.

Because of what Putin perceives as an asymmetry of military capabilities and economic strength between Russia and the United States and its Western allies, he feels Russia has to be more aggressive and smarter than its opponents in fighting this new kind of war. This asymmetric, hybrid war, Gerasimov noted, requires “the close coordination of military, intelligence and information operations.”

Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU, and the Federal Security Service have been at the forefront of operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, as many observers have noted. Russian diplomats and media have helped to maintain a coordinated information-support campaign to persuade domestic and foreign audiences of “the futility of [exerting] any forms of pressure on the Russian Federation and its allies.” Gerasimov, in another speech in February 2014, explained that this was also a goal of hybrid warfare.

A man waits for a convoy of mobile artillery cannons of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic army to start pulling back from Donetsk

Putin and the Russian military hierarchy have been remarkably open in describing how the Kremlin is using the war in Ukraine as a giant training exercise for conducting a hybrid war. While the rebels have directly engaged the Ukrainian army in the Donbass, the Russian military has been engaged in training exercises just inside Russian territory. These exercises include the use of space, missile and nuclear forces, special forces and conventional military units, and psychological operations teams and political operatives.

They have pulled in all branches of Russia military and security services, as well as the civilian leadership. The exercises have been covered widely in the Russian media and on Moscow’s official websites. In a May 2014 announcement, for example, the Kremlin stated, somewhat cryptically, that Putin was overseeing these giant war games “in operational mode.”

So where are we now in this giant war game? On Feb. 24, we appeared to enter what Moscow might term a “political-diplomatic phase.” This was the first full day without casualties since the Feb. 12 Minsk agreement. As Gerasimov asserted in his speeches, the goal of an asymmetric hybrid war is to achieve objectives without launching a full-blown conventional military war. Hybrid war has many weapons and many ways of fighting.

Diplomacy can be one of them. In late January, the United States government debated whether to send arms to the Ukrainian military. The intent was clearly to push Putin from covert to overt support of the rebels — and into a conventional war. Instead, however, Putin was able to push the U.S. debate into the background by plunging into diplomatic negotiations with the Ukrainian president, the German chancellor and the French president — which ultimately resulted in the second Minsk agreement.

The agreement, in spite of its references to foreign fighters, maintains Russia’s position that the war in Ukraine is between Kiev and the Donbass “armed formations.” The arrangement also provided enough diplomatic cover for the rebels to rout the Ukrainian army from the town of Debaltseve, a railway hub that connects Donetsk and Luhansk.

The timing and wording of the agreement’s provisions that Putin directly hammered out provided sufficient strategic ambiguity for the rebels to press their advantage. As Gerasimov noted a year ago, “political-diplomatic and foreign economic measures … are … closely interconnected with military, information, and other measures.”

Now that the rebels have consolidated their area of control, one operational phase of the game seems to have concluded. Putin bought time for the rebels to take Debaltseve. With the rebels having secured a position of strength on the ground, the ceasefire can now be enforced.

In the next phase, Putin and the rebels will likely regroup. They will pocket whatever concessions they can take from Kiev. They will then likely reassess what they need to do militarily, politically and economically in the next phases of the proxy hybrid war to maintain pressure on Ukraine and the West.

This sort of tactical maneuvering is something Putin learned in the KGB. As circumstances change, you step back and see how everyone else reacts. You have to be willing to adapt and have a range of  backup plans to keep one step ahead of your adversaries.

If the military part of an operation runs into a problem, for example, try another approach. If diplomatic efforts don’t bear the fruit you want, look elsewhere. You just have to be willing to use all methods available — and be ruthless to achieve your goals.

China’s Ambassador To Belgium Blames Ukraine Crisis On Big Powers Playing Games

qu xingInterview: Chinese diplomat calls powers’ game root cause of Ukraine crisis

Xinhua net

BRUSSELS, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) — A senior Chinese diplomat has said that the nature and root cause of Ukraine crisis was the game between Russia and western powers, including the United States and the European Union.

“There were internal and external reasons for the Ukraine crisis. Originally, the issue stemmed from Ukraine’s internal problems, but it now was not a simple internal matter. Without external intervention from different powers, the Ukrainian problem would not develop into the serious crisis as it be,” Chinese Ambassador to Belgium Qu Xing told Xinhua in a recent interview.


Qu said that from the perspective of Ukraine’s internal affairs, the eastern and western regions in Ukraine differed in culture, ethnic groups, understanding of history, and social and economic development, so the relationship between the two parts had long been affected by external forces.

Moreover, in recent years, as Ukraine underwent repeated changes of regime, politicians focused more on partisan struggle rather than improving people’s livelihood. Thereby weak economy and severe corruption further intensified internal contradictions.

Qu noted that Russia would felt anxious that the West may squeeze its geographical space by extending influence in eastern European countries including Ukraine.

In addition, Qu said that the involvement of the United States in Ukraine crisis would become a distraction in its foreign policy, including its “re-balancing strategy”.

“The United States is unwilling to see its presence in any part of the world being weakened, but the fact is its resources are limited, and it will be to some extent a hard work to sustain its influence in external affairs, ” Qu said.


“The major powers need to seek a win-win situation rather than zero-sum security,” Qu said, pointing out that countries needed to rethink the concepts in international affairs and learn a lesson from the Ukraine crisis.

He said for the West’s own part, although its military strength had been comparatively powerful, it still felt no absolute security with taking continuous steps to cement security, including moves to enhance the global distribution of ballistic missile defense systems.

An example of west powers’ high sensitivity about their own security could be that the United States had a national security review system for foreign investors’ mergers and acquisition activities in the United States. But its definition of “national security” was not clear enough and the process of the review should be more transparent to the public, Qu said.

If a country is highly sensitive to its own security, while ignoring other countries’ basic security needs and concerns, it will cause lots of problems, and the phenomenon would be a serious issue in nowadays international society. If this problem cannot be solved, the Ukraine issue and some other similar global problems would not be solved, he said.

If the western powers do not have the same acknowledgment of Russia’s security concerns and security needs, Russia will feel that it has not been equally treated by the West, and its security interests and development interests have not been respected by the West, he said.

“The West should abandon the zero-sum mentality, and take the real security concerns of Russia into consideration,” said Qu.

Against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, the international community must re-think over the concepts of international relations. Major powers must get along with each other following the principle of equality, cooperation, and mutual benefits and trust, so as to realize win-win situation in the global scenario, he said.


As to the U.S. and Europe’s stance on the issue of Ukraine, Qu said the United States and Europe essentially had the same strategy, but their tactics were different, as their geopolitical interests were different, said Qu.

As Ukraine and Europe share geopolitical proximity, Ukraine’s chaos will definitely cause instability in Europe. Also, the EU had energy dependence on Russia. Therefore, the EU held more pragmatic attitudes than the United States over the Ukraine issue, he said.

The fact that the United States did not participate in the latest round of negotiations in Minsk precisely reflected the Western parties’ concerns and tactics. On the one hand, the absence of the United States raised the negotiation leverage for European partners to force other parties to make more concession. On the other hand, this left the West further action maneuver.

“Even though a latest ceasefire agreement had been achieved, it is still possible for the Western parties to change the original decisions in the future for the excuse that the United States was not involved in the negotiations,” he said.

Qu said China hopes the Ukraine crisis could be solved in the political way. On the one hand, China and Ukraine are traditional friendly countries. China has always pursued the principles of non-interference, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And on the other hand, China acknowledges that the issue involved complicated historical elements.

Editor: Tian Shaohui

Kyiv Cuts-Off Gas To Donbass…Gazprom Prepared To Restore Gas Supply

PM Medvedev orders commencement of gas deliveries to embattled Donbass

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (RIA Novosti / Ekaterina Shtukina)

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (RIA Novosti / Ekaterina Shtukina)

Russia’s prime minister has ordered the Energy Ministry and state-owned corporation Gazprom to prepare for natural gas deliveries to the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk Republics after the Kiev regime stopped selling fuel to the regions.

There is a problem related to natural gas deliveries, caused by the decision of Ukrainian authorities that has not yet been canceled. The situation is that natural gas is not delivered to a number of settlements,” Dmitry Medvedev told ministers at a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

I would like the Energy Ministry and Gazprom to prepare their suggestions on rendering aid to these regions in the form of natural gas supplies. Of course this will be needed only if Kiev does not take urgent measures to resume gas supplies under the usual scheme.”

In any case, people must not freeze there. Prepare the necessary suggestions and report on what is done,” Medvedev said.

Medvedev’s press secretary Natalya Timakova told Interfax that Gazprom would send natural gas to Donetsk and Lugansk “on a commercial basis,” but noted that the sources of financing were yet to be determined. The agency also quoted an unnamed source “acquainted with the situation” as saying that the possible scheme could include a bank credit.

Earlier, representatives from Donetsk and Lugansk told reporters that the natural gas supplies to the regions had been stopped without warning and that existing reserves would only last for less than a day in subzero temperatures.

Ukrainian PM Arseny Yatsenyuk announced an energy blockade to the southeastern regions in a press statement on Wednesday. He ordered the cessation of deliveries of natural gas and electricity in a unilateral step.

The prime minister of the unrecognized Lugansk People’s Republic, Gennady Tsipkalov, told Interfax that since the Ukrainian side was not commenting on the gas cutoff there was little hope that supplies would be resumed anytime soon.

They deliberately aggravate the situation, step up the political and economic pressure. They did it now, when outdoor temperatures dropped and gas consumption in our regions increased,” he added.

Tsipkalov also noted that Lugansk authorities could potentially cut off the natural gas flow to the districts of the republics that are currently controlled by the pro-Kiev military, but chose not to do so in order not to adversely affect civilians.

We will not do the same out of malice and hatred. We have had enough of all this.”

Also on Thursday, head of Russian Emergencies Ministry Vladimir Puchkov told reporters that another convoy of trucks with humanitarian aid was starting for the southeast of Ukraine in the nearest hours. The deliveries include medical supplies and food.

Renegade French Senators Meet Secretly With Assad and Hezbollah, Raising Stink-Storm Back In Paris

Four French parliamentarians met Bashar al-Assad

la nouvelle republique
Jacques Myard (UMP), Gérard Bapt (PS), Jean-Pierre Vial (UMP) et François Zocchetto (UDI) ont été reçus mercredi par le président syrien, Bachar al-Assad. - Jacques Myard (UMP), Gérard Bapt (PS), Jean-Pierre Vial (UMP) et François Zocchetto (UDI) ont été reçus mercredi par le président syrien, Bachar al-Assad. - (AFP)

Jacques Myard (UMP), Gerard Bapt (PS), Jean-Pierre Vial (UMP) and François Zocchetto (IDUs) were received Wednesday by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. – (AFP)

France has severed diplomatic relations with Damascus. However, two deputies and two senators exchanged with Syrian President Wednesday.

Ignoring the diplomatic relations since 2012 between Paris and Syria, four French parliamentarians since Tuesday in Damascus, “personal mission”, “to see what happens, hear, listen,” according to one of them, the UMP deputy Jacques Myard.

The latter, his colleague PS Gerard Bapt, and two senators, the UMP Jean-Pierre Vial and the centrist François Zocchetto were received Wednesday morning by President Bashar al-Assad in person. The day before, they had been received by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and had dinner with the Mufti of the Republic.

France demands the departure of Syrian President

“We met with Bashar al-Assad for a good hour. It went very well, “said Jacques Myard, while refusing to specify the content of the exchanges that focused, according to Syrian television, on the state of Franco-Syrian relations and the issue of terrorism.
Paris, which closed in March 2012 its embassy in Damascus, played down the case. This meeting is a “personal initiative” and in any case a mission “official and diplomatic of France”, has developed the spokesman of the government Stéphane Le Foll. “The idea that we could find peace in Syria trusting in Bashar al-Assad and thinking he is the future of his country is an idea that I believe wrong, “reiterated Sunday, February 15 Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Since the beginning of the war in Syria that killed more than 210,000 dead in four years, France is sticking to a hard line. Paris supports militarily and politically “moderate opposition” in Syria, extremely weak and fragmented, and believes that a solution to the conflict through negotiations between representatives of the opposition and the Syrian regime elements. But four years of bloody war, the failure of diplomatic efforts, especially the emergence of the jihadist Islamic State Group (EI), have undermined this strategy. And the voices calling for a resumption of contact with Damascus are becoming more insistent, in many Western countries, alarmed by the number of their nationals leaving the ranks of the IU likely to come back and carry out attacks on their own soil.

Judge Rafecas Tosses-Out Nisman Charges of Cover-Up Against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner In Jewish Center Bombing

Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas has dismissed the accusation made by a state prosecutor that claimed President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and top government officials conspired to cover up Iran’s alleged role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.

Federal Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita is expected to appeal the decision to discontinue the investigation.

“The judge believes the minimum conditions to launch a criminal investigation have not been met, based on what the prosecutor presented,” the Judicial Information Centre (CIJ) said in a statement.

Four days before he was found dead in his apartment in the Buenos Aires City neighbourhood of Puerto Madero, AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused President Fernández de Kirchner, Foreign Minster Héctor Timerman, lawmaker Andrés “Cuervo” Larroque and social leaders Luis D’Elía and Fernando Esteche of conducting secret negotiations to cover-up Iran’s alleged involvenment in the attack that claimed the lives of 85 people and left hundreds injured.

Pollicita later went forward with the criminal complaint, claiming Argentina would receive unspecified trade benefits from the deal.

“None of the two hypotheses of a crime put forward by prosecutor Pollicita in his writ stand up to the minimum level of scrutiny,” Rafecas wrote in his ruling today.

Iran has long denied any involvement in the AMIA attack.

Turkish Stream Project Already Underway

Turkish Stream in execution stage, says Gazprom

The project to construct a new gas pipeline with a capacity of 63 billion cubic meters from Russia to Turkey has entered the execution stage, said a written statement from Russian energy giant Gazprom.

“The gas transmission route will be laid via the Black Sea and will annually supply up to 47 billion cubic meters of gas to the Turkey-Greece border. The gas pipeline will represent an alternative export route, which, in combination with the highly-reliable Nord Stream, Blue Stream and Yamal-Europe gas pipelines, will secure the entirety of Russian gas exports beyond the CIS and make it possible to abandon the transit corridor via Ukraine,” the company said.

With a view to provide stable and well-balanced supplies of Russian gas to Europe, as well as to mitigate the risks related to transiting gas via third-party countries, the company is making “great efforts to expand the existing gas transmission routes and build up new ones,” Gazprom said.

The company noted it would also focus on supplying significant volumes of Russian pipeline gas to the Asia-Pacific region.

“Work is underway to have the resource and transmission base in place for the start of gas supplies from Russia to China via the eastern route. The agreement on Russian gas purchase and sales via the western route is being formulated,” the company said.

Gazprom also said it would build up its presence in new markets primarily by increasing its own production activity.

“We plan to construct LNG plants with a capacity of 10 million tons a year in the Leningrad Region and the Primorye Territory. We are also considering the possibility of constructing a new process train within the Sakhalin II project,” Gazprom said.

Feb 26, 2015 | DHA | İstanbul