Putin, Master of Europe?

Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press
Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press

Is Russia winning its war against Europe? It surely looks like it. Since 2008, Putin’s Russia has been over active in dividing and conquering the members of the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic community (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, has been successful by implementing a strategy on two fronts: regional/international and domestic. Despite his track record of not bidding himself to any agreement, Putin has transformed Russia into the ‘indispensable nation’ in Europe.

Geopolitics – Maintaining Regional/International Chaos

Putin understands one thing: safeguarding Russia’s neighborhood and empowering its sphere of influence at any cost. In order to fulfill both goals, Putin has been using military force in order to limit the horizontal expansion of NATO and the EU. On the European continent, Russia is the only state willing to use military force to advance its interest. It has done so in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine since 2013 (this does not include the lengthy war in Chechnya). In 2008, Putin saw the need to attack Georgia as the Bush administration was foreseeing the incorporation of Georgia within NATO. By attacking Georgia, Putin forced Euro-Atlantic leaders to rethink about the consequence and strategic soundness of including a small state like Georgia within the Alliance. The Article 5 was a powerful deterrent during the Cold War, but could be in the current multipolar order a threat to the security of the Euro-Atlantic community.

In 2013, Ukraine was on its way to sign a trade agreement with the EU. Putin saw it as a threat and pushed its influence over the corrupted and pro-Russian leadership, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainian President abruptly ended the talks causing pro-Western manifestations in Kiev. In a matter of months, Yanukovych had fled Ukraine, Russia had annexed Crimea and continues supporting pro-Russian militiamen in Eastern Ukraine. Though the annexation of Crimea was not enough to unite the 28 EU Member States against Russia, the evidences gathered by NATO demonstrating the clear military involvement of Russia in

Picture: Reuters
Picture: Reuters

Eastern Ukraine permitted the 28 EU leaders to implement sanctions against Russian individuals and corporations.

Putin was again the heart of the February negotiations with Angela Merkel of Germany and François Hollande of France in order to agree on the baseline for a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. The Minsk provisions have not lived to the promises hoped by Europeans.

Aside from the use of military power, Putin has been working on the creation of a Eurasian Union. This Union initiated by Vladimir Putin is a way to balance out the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Eurasian Union has allowed Putin to attract regional countries from the EU to his Union. As per Nico Popescu of the EU-ISS, it exists two Eurasian Union: one real, an economic union; and, one imagined with geopolitical aspirations. The first one, the Eurasian Economic Union, is led by the Eurasian Economic Commission, which has a staff of 1,000 employees, which was established by the Eurasian Union treaty in May 2014. While the second union, with geopolitical role, is the center point of Putin’s third term seeking to become an organization, like the EU, NAFTA among other, and reintegrating former states of the Soviet Union under one entity.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is currently under construction. The Treaty came into force on January 1st, 2015 with three core members, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and Armenia (entering on January 2nd) and Kyrgyzstan joining in May 2015. As presented by Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group the EEU in perspective is quite considerable: “The size of the EEU is not the primary cause for concern; rather, it’s what it reveals about Vladimir Putin and his commitment to maintaining regional dominance. It’s why he will go to such extremes to keep Ukraine from joining Western institutions like the EU or NATO. He’s not willing to cede this sphere of influence, and Ukraine is the crown jewel; there is no viable, robust Eurasian Union without Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin has masterfully locked in the control of geopolitics in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Additionally, Putin has increased his influence in the conflicts in the Middle East. Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, owes his power to Putin as he reached at the last minute to his American counterpart, President Obama, in order to agree on an international deal to destroy Syrian chemical weapons.

Playing with European Domestic Malaise

Within the European Union, Russia has been highly successful in creating disunity among the 28 Member States. Putin has used two aspects to Russia’s advantages: Europe’s energy dependence and the sluggish European economic context.

On the question of energy, the EU-28 are highly dependent on Russian hydrocarbons (gas and oil). Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Eastern EU Member States need a constant influx of Russian energy in order to maintain their economic and industrial engines going. Europeans have dealt, poorly, with the security of supply of energy as illustrated below.

Chart: European Dependence on Russian hydrocarbons (2002-2012)

3. Chart 1- EU dependence on Russian energy-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Energy Dependency Rate, EU-28, 2002-2012 (percent of net imports in gross inland consumptions and bunkers, based on tons of oil equivalent) YB14

The graph above demonstrates the high degree of dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. The trend has certainly be declining, but the overall average remains too high in order to guarantee a security of supply. In recent years, the Europeans have been working on lowering their dependency on Russia through renewable energy and, for a long time, on nuclear energy.

Figure: Production of Primary Energy in Europe

5. Fig 2-Production of Primary Energy in Europe-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Production of Primary Energy, EU-28, 2012 (percent of total, based on tonnes of oil equivalent) YB14.”

Renewable energy – composed of biomass, hydropower, wind, solar and geothermal energies – are increasing and offering an alternative to Europeans. However, renewables cannot be the only source of energy as they need to be backed up by either hydrocarbons or nuclear power. If Europeans are working on moving towards greener economies, they still require hydrocarbons. Germany has been the prime example with the Nord Stream pipeline bringing Russian hydrocarbons directly at home without depending on transit countries. With the crash of oil prices, hydrocarbons remain an important share of European consumptions.

The second door for Russian intrusion and/or attraction is money. Despite a dire domestic economic and financial situation, Vladimir Putin has been able to attract the most desperate EU Member States such as Italy and Greece as well as building strong ties with some national political parties. Since its financial collapse, Greece has proven to be the weakest EU and Eurozone member. Greece’s default was avoided by a series of multilateral bailouts by the troika – ECB, European Commission and IMF -, keeping the country within the Eurozone. However, these bailouts have come at great costs requiring  large spending cuts in social and welfare programs. Unemployment levels are through the roof, young Greeks are fleeing to Germany to get a higher education, and dying in Greece

Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

is once again a reality (read here a previous analysis).

In addition of this dire domestic context and the succession of powerless former government, Syriza, the extreme-left party led by Alexis Tsipras, was elected in January 2015 (read here a previous analysis on Syriza). Tsipras’ platform was based on renegotiations of the terms of the bailouts and rebuilding Greek national psych. From electoral promises to governing realities, Tspiras was unable to do so and is now seeking for outside funding in order to “come up with money to pay off maturing debts, revive its devastated economy and renegotiate its loan agreements with other countries in the eurozone.” Prime Minister Tsipras was in Moscow last week. Both countries are claiming that Tsipras did not ask for money. Considering Putin’s behavior and Tsipras’ desperation, it is difficult to believe that Tsipras and Putin only talked of the new gas pipeline through Greece and discounts on gas prices. Additionally, Tsipras has been advocating for a removal of the European sanctions against Russia. Such comment is a departure from European unity in order to maintain economic sanctions on Russia.

From state to party-sponsoring, Putin has found a way to change the perceptions within Europe about Russia. In France, recent allegations and press coverage have demonstrated that a Russian bank has been financing the extreme right wing political party, the Front National. Reports show that the Russian bank, First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), had lent EURO9 million to the party. The party claims that no French banks were willing to lend them money, forcing them to find foreign funding. However, the Front National has been very vocal in defending Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies and portrayed him as a great leader. The French government is reflecting on launching an investigation to look into the campaign financing of the FN.

The relationship between Putin and the European far-rights has grown thanks to the dire socio-economic context and the rise of euroskepticism all around Europe. “The far right is attracted by Putin’s Russia,” argued Pierre Lellouche, a member of a mainstream conservative party, the Union for a Popular Movement, “because it embodies the traditional social values they feel Europe has abandoned.”


Divide and Conquer

Putin is the key to regional stability and instability. Since his arrival to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has worked on rebuilding the grandeur of Russia and perceives the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Vladimir Putin is using all aspects of Russian power to increase Russia’s regional and international influence. He has been very successful at it. Bashar al-Assad of Syria is still in power of a destroyed country, Crimea is now part of Russia, Eastern Ukraine seems englobed in a long and nasty war and could end up as the next piece of Russia, and Russia is regularly interfering with national sovereignty of EU and NATO members.

In response, the members of the Euro-Atlantic community have only condemned Russia’s actions, agreed on mild sanctions and are hoping to stop conflicts and tensions through diplomatic agreements. Are Putin’ strategies sustainable? and, what are the endgame? Putin certainly emerges as being very successful in creating discord, affecting the unity of EU Member States, and underscoring the power-aversion of the EU and to some degree the US. Putin has made Russia the indispensable European state.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Reason, torture, the CIA, and American influence

Getty Images
Getty Images

“‘There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose.’ An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” This sentence is from Viktor E. Frankl’ seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, looking at human reactions and actions in times of great violence and stress. Such statement strongly resonates with the current discussion stirred by the release of the Feinstein report on December 9th, 2014. The Feinstein report looks at the role of the CIA and its use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs), known as torture, following the 9/11 attacks.

The Feinstein report is one of the most important pieces of reflection in contemporary American history for two reasons. First, it encapsulates the complexity and vitality of American democracy. Very few governments in the world would have looked so closely into one of its darkest hours and denounced its abuses. Second, it as well demonstrates how quickly democratic fondations and basic human, moral and ethical principles can be shattered because of fear and in the name of security. The Feinstein report embodies the best of American democracy – self-reflection and correction – as well as the worst of government policies.

Soul Searching and…

RAMZI HAIDAR via Getty Image
RAMZI HAIDAR via Getty Image

In her foreword, interviews, and articles, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein explains clearly and rationally her motivations for this lengthy work and the publication of the executive summary. The process started in 2009 once the Select Committee realized that the CIA had initiated in 2007 a process of destroying videotapes of detainee interrogations. For over five years, staff members of the Committee Study reviewed more than “six million pages of CIA materials, to include operational cables, intelligence reports, internal memoranda and emails, briefing materials, interview transcripts, contracts, and other records.” The report (access to the executive summary here) published on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s website includes Senator Feinstein’s foreword and a 500 page executive summary. The final17692408 report, that won’t be released to the public for security reasons, includes over 6,700 pages.

Dianne Feinstein, an old time advocate of the Intelligence Community (IC), explained the moral dilemma in publishing the report. On the one hand, the US had to react after the 9/11 attacks. She underscores in her foreword, that “I can understand the CIA’s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and CIA was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack.” On the other hand, she is trying to expose the ‘alleged’ abuses perpetuated by the CIA from 2001 to 2009. The pages describing the EITs are a difficult read and lead the reader/citizen to wonder about the ethical and moral justifications behind such program.

207CIA Torture Report

Several findings and conclusions were underscored in the Feinstein report:

  1. The CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees (p.2)
  2. The CIA's justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness (p.2)
  3. The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others (p.3)
  4. The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others (p.4)
  5. The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program (p.4)
  6. The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program (p.5)
  7. The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making (p.6)
  8. The CIA's operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies (p.7)
  9. The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA's Office of Inspector General (p.8)
  10. The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques (p.8)
  11. The CIA was unprepared as it began operating its Detention and Interrogation Program more than six months after being granted detention authorities (p.9)
  12. The CIA's management and operation of its Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout the program's duration, particularly so in 2002 and early 2003 (p.10)
  13. Two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program (p.11)
  14. CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters (p.12)
  15. The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA's claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced Interrogation techniques were inaccurate (p.12)
  16. The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques (p.13)
  17. The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures (p.14)
  18. The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program (p.14)
  19. The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns (p.15)
  20. The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States' standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs (p.16)

… national security

The report created a clear divide and a furor among high level officials of the Bush administration and the CIA. The response by the CIA is not surprising. Its former Directors have disputed the results of the report. And even a group of CIA agents have launched a site (ciasavedlives.com) demonstrating the benefits of their work. If one reads closely the foreword and executive summary, the Feinstein report is not a repudiation of the CIA nor of the Intelligence Community (IC). The report criticizes, more accurately sheds light, on the way the CIA conducted its operations, especially the use of EITs and black sites, from the beginning of the program in 2002 to its end in April 2008 (watch here an interesting short documentary by the New York Times).

The national security’s argument has been raised principally by the Republicans (at the exception of Senator McCain splitting with the Republican establishment), former members of the Bush administration, and high ranking CIA officials. It is undeniable that the release of the allegations of torture may be used by terrorists around the world as a recruiting tool. But which dimension of American foreign policy has not been used as a recruiting tool? Former members of the Bush administration have gone after the credibility of the report by claiming that the conclusions and data are not true, that the Senate was informed, and that the torture permitted the gathering of valuable information. Dick Cheney, former Vice President, still stands behind the use of EITs – as he said that the end “absolutely” justified the means. A group of top intelligence officials responded in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that EITs “saved lives” and framed the report as a “partisan” attack against the Republican establishment. They are accusing the report of a “one-sided study marred by errors of fact and interpretation—essentially a poorly done and partisan attack.”

American Transparency?

The debate occurring in the US about the use of torture in order to gather information from terrorists is an healthy and important one. The release of the Feinstein report should not be perceived as a witch hunt against the CIA and the men involved in torture. It is in fact the exemplification of the check-and-balance system of the different branches of American government.

The executive branch, meaning the White House and President Obama, have yet to take a stand on the issue. President Obama is struggling, calling EITs torture and condemning the persons involved (some even call for the White House to grant a pardon). Even though President Obama never supported the enhanced interrogation program and banned it once in power, he has yet to take a stand on the Feinstein report and remains supportive of CIA director John Brennan. As argued by Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at the Fordham University School of Law, “The intelligence agency has become the lead agency in national security, and therefore he’s beholden to it, and there’s no getting around that. It’s much bigger than before 9/11. It’s not just about Brennan.” The President cannot afford losing the support and the intel provided by the CIA. The report comes at a good time, even though Dianne Feinstein wondered about it by asking “But is there ever a good time to admit our country tortured people?” The war against radical Islamic groups is ongoing and with no end in sight. A debate about the way America gathers information while protecting itself from foreign attacks is healthy and vital. The report may offer the needed admission and closure on this dark era.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).