The Republic of Turkey: Her Role in the World’s Geopolitical Balance


Turkey emerged as a secular republic, in 1923, from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire which was partitioned into several countries by the allied victors of the First World War. Turkey has since become a important strategic partner with the USA and the European Union. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter, sees Turkey as a vital part of a newly-defined “West” in creating and maintaining a healthy balance of power between the world’s eastern and western spheres of influence. I use Mr. Brzezinski’s book Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power as one major source for this discussion.

Flag of The Republic of Turkey

In addition, Turkey has embarked on a mission to help resolve the many dangerous and economically debilitating conflicts in the region of the Caucasus—areas adjacent to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Turkey also is encouraging political amity and economic cooperation among the now-independent republics of the former Soviet Union in Central Asia. To support this discussion I use the comments of Ambassador Fatih Ceylan who presented his paper “Protracted Conflicts in the South Caucasus and Central Asia” at a June 15 lecture at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm, which I attended.

There are currently many forces in play which may alter these plans and hopes, however, and I will present a few major developments based on recent news articles and opinions.


From Islamic Empire to Secular State

The geographic boundaries of the Republic of Turkey encompass the heart of the former Ottoman Empire which ruled a significant part of Europe and most of the Near East or Middle East (definitions vary) for hundreds of years until the end of World War I in 1918. The Empire’s Asian lands were taken by nations on the winning side—primarily Great Britain and France—governed for a while, then partitioned and allocated, over a number of years, to new political entities: Lebanon, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Palestine, Syria, Transjordan, and lands that became the Republic of Turkey. Other lands were ceded to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Soon after partition, Turkish nationalists waged a War of Independence against the Allied Powers, during which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues formed a Turkish Grand National Assembly. In July 1923, after the end of the Turkish-Armenian, Franco-Turkish, and Greco-Turkish wars, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed and the Republic of Turkey was established in October of the same year.

(Please click on all images  for greater clarity)

Ottoman Empire, 1672 (

The first president of the Republic was Atatürk who embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms. The new government adapted the institutions of Western states such as France, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland to the needs and characteristics of the Turkish nation. Atatürk capitalized on his reputation as an efficient military leader, and spent the years until his death in 1938 transforming Turkish society from perceiving itself as a Muslim part of a vast Empire into a modern, democratic, and secular nation-state. (Source).

The Role of the Military

In the new Turkish republic, serving military officers who were elected to parliament were obliged by law to resign from the army. The aim of Kemel Atatürk was twofold: to prevent the military from exercising direct political influence, and to protect the military from the everyday struggles of the political arena. However, he also saw the role of army as the guardian of the secular republic. As a result, the army has felt, until very recently, a responsibility for the protection of the Kemalist principles of the republic. This principle was written into the Turkish Armed Services Internal Service Code, which states that “the duty of the armed forces is to protect and safeguard Turkish territory and the Turkish Republic as stipulated by the Constitution.” Three interventions by the military against the government have been justified on this legal basis, in the years 1960, 1971, and 1980. (Source).

However, the last such intervention in 1997 resulted, later in April 2012, in the arrest and pending trial of nine military officers.  A major importance of this action against the actors in the coup is that it helps Turkey in its ongoing attempts to meet certain requirements in its application to become a member of the European Union (EU).

The Republic of Turkey and Adjacent Countries in The Caucasus and Black Sea Areas (

Turkey’s Pending Membership in the European Union

The prospect of Turkey becoming a member of EU is a critical factor, according to Brzezinsski, in the strategic balance of power between eastern and western spheres of influence.

… (B)road geopolitical trans-European stability… will require US engagement in shaping a more vital and larger West while helping to balance the emerging rivalry in the rising and restless East. This undertaking needs a sustained effort over the next several decades to connect, through institutions like the EU and NATO, both Russia and Turkey with a West that already embraces the EU and the United States.” (P. 131, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

Turkey… has been modeled from its start on Europe. In 1921, Atatürk (Mustafa Kemal), the leader of “the young Turks” movement, began to transform the dismembered Ottoman Empire into a modern European-type secular nation-state… In more recent times it… evolved into democratization, a process to a significant degree driven by Turkey’s interest in becoming… a part of the unifying Europe. This aspiration was encouraged by Europeans, and it resulted in Turkey’s official application for membership (in the European Union) in 1987. The EU started formal negotiations in 2005. (P. 128, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

EU Member Countries, Candidate Countries, and Potential Candidate Countries (

Membership has been slow in coming, and it is still not certain. In 2011, Chase Cavanaugh wrote an article for the Washington Review of Turkish and Eurasian Affairs discussing the difficulties in EU’s acceptance of Turkey’s application for membership:

… (T)here are several reasons that Turkey is finding it difficult to enter the European Union (including) a series of obligations that new member nations must satisfy, known as the “Copenhagen Criteria”. The first criterion states that candidate countries must have achieved “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.”  Turkey already has difficulties with several parts of this criterion, beginning with stability.

In Turkish politics, the army has a privileged place in the state power structure, seen as heritors and defenders of the secular “Kemalist” state… Historically, they have launched several coups against the government when they felt that it has been threatened by parties that were either too Islamist, or did not adequately conform to Ataturk’s ideology…

Kemal Atatürk (

Though there has been no major coup since 1980, the army has forced an Islamist coalition in 1997 led by Necmettin Erbakan to resign, as they felt he was leading the country toward “increasingly religious rule”… The constant threat of coups by the military is not conducive to a stable democratic regime and hurts Turkey’s image as a stable democracy… (Source)

However, since Mr. Cavanaugh’s article was published, Article 35 of the Turkish Armed Services (TSK) Internal Service Code is slated to be emended by parliament to limit the duty of the TSK “to protect the Turkish motherland from external threats.”

Current Status of Turkey’s Application for Membership in the EU

Despite Turkey’s application for membership in the EU was in 1987, twenty-five years ago as of this writing, there seems no probable date by which this application will succeed. The Journal Insight Turkey reported this, earlier in 2012:

… (N)either the negotiation process, nor the so-called political dialogue between the EU and Turkey on a variety of issues from Syria or Eastern Balkans to NATO-EU cooperation, is proceeding. The primary reason for this state of affairs is the lack of a clear European perspective for Turkey.

Nonetheless,  Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis expresses optimism:

Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs and Chief Negotiator

ISTANBUL, 27 June 2012 (Reuters) – Turkey expects France to unblock talks that are essential if it is ever to join the European Union, now that Socialist President Francois Hollande has replaced Nicolas Sarkozy… “We are entering a new period in relations with France after Hollande’s election”…

Hollande has backed away from Sarkozy’s stark opposition to Turkey entering the EU but any shift in position from Paris will have more symbolic resonance than practical effect. Turkey… has only completed one of the 35 policy “chapters” that every candidate must conclude to join the EU…

While Hollande has stopped short of endorsing Turkey’s EU candidacy, he has said it should be judged on political and economic criteria – a contrast to Sarkozy’s position that Turkey did not form part of Europe…

Despite the slow progress, Turkey still expects to join the EU before 2023…

The stated goal of achieving membership by 2023 indicates Turkey’s continued desire, and patience, for this outcome. To keep up-to-date on the progress and current status of Turkey’s application for membership in the EU, go to these two websites:


The Republic of Turkey is not putting its ambitions on hold while awaiting the final outcome of its application for EU membership. I now turn to the remarks of Ambassador Fatih Ceylan who presented his paper “Protracted Conflicts in the South Caucasus and Central Asia” at a June 15 lecture at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm.

Main Points Addressed in Ambassador Ceylan’s Presentation

  1. The protracted conflicts in the areas of interest to the Organization for Security and Co-Operation (OSCE):
    a. Nagorno-Karabakh (NK)
    b. Abkhazia
    c. South Ossetia
    d. Transnistria
  2. The “normalization” process between Armenia and Turkey
  3. “Normalization” in the South Caucasus
  4. “Innovative approaches designed for the future of the South Caucasus”
  5. The Central Asian Republics (formerly “Socialist Republics” within the USSR), and Turkey’s relations with them

(Please click on the image for clarity)

LEFT: Transnistria CENTER: Abkhazia and South Ossetia RIGHT: Nagorno-Kharabakh

In foreign relations Turkey is guided by the principle established by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: “Peace at home and peace in the world”.

The primary objective of Turkish foreign policy is to create a peaceful, prosperous, stable, and cooperative environment in our close vicinity which is essential for sustainable social, ecenomic, cultural, and political development of our region…

Turkey’s foreign policy places special emphasis on the region of the South Caucasus and the Black Sea basin.

The region is located at the intersection of major energy and transport projects of global importance such as the ‘contract of the century’ and the first great engineering project of the 21st Century, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum Gas Pipeline, and the key component of the “Iron Silk Road”, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway.

Note that the pipelines bend around a gray area on the map which is the unidentified country of Armenia

Ambassador Ceylan noted that the situation in the South Caucasus is “volatile and fragile”. The so-called “frozen conflicts” of the South Caucasus are not, in fact, frozen and can translate into open conflicts on Europe’s outskirts in a short time.  Ceylan pointed to the five-day war between Georgia and Russia, in 2008, as an example.

There are multi-governmental commissions and other official groups attempting to reach resolution of these conflicts:

While these groups and other less visible diplomatic efforts continue to struggle with the protracted and sometimes volatile conflicts mentioned above, Turkey is attempting to create a positive incentive for cooperation in a sphere that is rooted neither in territorial history, politics, religion, or ethnicity—namely, economic opportunities thorugh collaboration. Ambassador Ceylan elucidated:

We have suggested the establishment of a Regional Development Agency serving as an umbrella institution to implement regional projects, including the reconstruction and development of the energy and transport infrastructure and telecommunication networks. We believe that transportation may be a major component of long-term sustainable cooperation in the South Caucasus. The Regional development Agency could give priority (first) to integrated regional transport corridor projects, including railways and highways, covering Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation, (then) countries beyond the region…

From a political perspective, the project we are proposing would present opportunities to ll stakeholders to leave behind their counterproductive rhetoric and urge them to adopt a more result-oriented approach in the negotiation process.

In 1989 Nagorno-Karabakh was an ethnic Armenian autonomy within the Azerbaijan SSR of the Soviet Union. The territory is now internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

The major sticking point in “normalizing” relations in the region, especially between Turkey and Armenia, is the issue of Nagorno-Kharabak. As Ambassador Ceylan stated. “A significant part of the Azerbaijani territory is still occupied by Armenia as a result of a gross violation of international law and in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions”. He went on to emphasize that Turkey is committed to the normalization process with Armenia and that disputes be resolved through dialog and conciliatory approaches by the parties.

We are determined to promote our relations on the basis of mutual confidence and respect and to create a “belt of prosperity” in the South Caucasus…

The Turkic Connection in Central Asia

Ambassador Ceylan marked the 20th anniversary of the independence, from the USSR, of the republics of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

After presenting a detailed analysis of the security and other risks confronting these new republics which lie between the two great powers of Russia and China, and are adjacent to the troubled nation of Afghanistan, he stated that “the region definitely does not want to be strangulated in yet another struggle for hegemony.”

The Republics of The Southern Caucasus and Central Asia which were formerly part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

While recounting some of the difficulties these newly independent republics have had and continue to have in creating stable and more democratic polities, he also pointed out what progress has been made. He counseled patience to interested parties in the West and in the region, and recited Turkey’s resolve to support their progress toward “integration with the Euro-Atlantic structures.”

Turkey played a leading role in contributing to the adoption of free market rules by the Central Asian countries. A network of Turkish businessmen is actively engaged with the Central Asian Republics. There are more then two thousand registered Turkish companies and several thousand joint ventures with local partners in the region. Turkey is also a prominent trade partner of these countries…

There are two Turkish universities in Central Asia and many private and state schools run by the Turks throughout the region…

During the last twenty years we have also have accomplished to deepen solidarity and mutual support with the Turkic speaking countries on international and regional issues. With this understanding, in 2010 we established with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States.

By virtue of the commonality of language, ethnicity, and culture in the states of the region, Turkey is a key player, along with Russia and China, in maintaining stability in the region.


Other Issues

This ends my summary and comment of the two presentations mentioned at the head of this article. Now to mention briefly and illustrate other issues not developed by either speaker, which are relevant to the security of the region surrounding Turkey:

  • Ferment in Islamic states in the region
  • The issue of “Kurdistan”

Ferment in Islamic states in the region

Here is a map of countries in the region where a significant proportion of the population are of the Islamic Faith, with the percent of the Shia denomination shown (please click on the image):

Percent Shia Muslims in Countries of North Africa and Western Asia

Although people of the Shia and Sunni denominations live together harmoniously in most areas, there are regions where their differences arise to armed conflict. There are other sources of conflict, as well, such as has arisen in Syria, at the southern border of Turkey. And, there is uncertainty regarding Iran’s growing belligerence in the region, another country bordering Turkey.

The issue of “Kurdistan”

There has never been a formal nation of Kurdistan, but there are many references to such an entity by virtue of so many Kurdish people having resided for centuries in contiguous regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Kurdish holds official status in Iraq as a national language alongside Arabic, and is recognized in Iran as a regional language.

Contemporary use of Kurdistan refers to parts of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and northern Syria inhabited mainly by Kurds. Iraqi Kurdistan first gained autonomous status in 1970 agreement with the Iraqi government and its status was re-confirmed as an autonomous entity within the federal Iraqi republic in 2005. There is also a province by the name Kurdistan in Iran, although it does not enjoy self-rule. Kurds fighting in the Syrian Civil War were able to take control of large sections of Northeast Syria as forces loyal to al-Assad withdrew to fight elsewhere. Having established their own government some Kurds called for autonomy in a democratic Syria, others hoped to establish an independent Kurdistan. Some Kurdish nationalist organizations seek to create an independent nation state of Kurdistan, consisting of some or all of the areas with Kurdish majority, while others campaign for greater Kurdish autonomy within the existing national boundaries. (Source).

An Imagined “Kurdistan”

Turkey says (it) won’t allow PKK to benefit from authority vacuum in Syria: Turkey’s top security council has threatened the presence of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Syria, vowing that Turkey will not allow the terrorist organization to benefit from the authority vacuum in the war-torn country (News Article Source, 29 August 2012).


The Republic of Turkey is in a position, by virtue of her history, economic strength, political stability and geographic location, to play a key geopolitical role in its region and beyond. The hopes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the dreams of The Republic of Turkey, as expressed by Ambassador Fatih Ceylan, may well play out as they envision, but there are known and unknown impediments to these, some revealing themselves and playing out at this moment.

Extremes of Wealth and Poverty

I often return to the trove of statistical data on the world’s 242 sovereign states and dependent territories, as detailed online in The World Factbook of the CIA.

Here are some conclusions and speculations derived from the data in the chart displayed below, on the ten largest nations, by population, and the 27 aggregated countries of the European Union (EU).

(Please click on all images for clarity in the details)

Demographics of ten most populous countries 2012

These thirty-seven states comprise 65% of the world’s population, leaving 35% populating the remaining 205 states and territories. These 205 entities, except for an additional ten rich states which are included in the 205 (see below), are very poor. Their aggregate GDP per person (even including the few rich countries) is at 82% of the world’s average of US$11,800.

The world’s people see the USA, to a great degree, and the EU, to a lesser degree, as the places to which to migrate. Russia’s net migration rate of 0.29 per thousand can easily be attributed to the return of ethnic Russians from the former republics of the USSR and Eastern Europe.

Asian countries (China, India, and Bangladesh) are expanding their economies far in excess of the world average of 3.6%. Nigeria, in Africa, is in this same neighborhood. These four are the less developed nations in this study, as measured by the GDP per person—their numbers are far below the average for the world.  That the most developed nations (and groups of nations—that is, the EU) have high GDP per person, but below average growth rate, may be due in part to the high numerical base of productivity from which the rate of growth is calculated. The figures for Brazil and Pakistan run counter to this speculation, however.

China and India together hold 36% of the world’s population. China, at the number one spot in population, is ten times as populous as Japan, which is in the number ten position (1.8% of the world).

Russia seems to have particular problems in the male population and in a proper balance between the number of men and women. Male life expectancy at birth for the world is 65.6 years. A newborn Russian baby boy can expect to live only 60.1 years (on the average). The world’s average difference in life expectancy between females and males is 4.1 years, females living longer on average. In Russia, the difference is 13.1 years, with life expectancy at birth for females being 73.2 years. Also, Russia’s fertility rate is below the world average and below the rate at which the population can renew and maintain itself (see the next paragraph for further details). Russia’s population is, therefore, declining.

(Please click on all images for clarity in the details)

World net birth rate, 2007
Source: World Factbook of the CIA

The accepted figure for a country’s fertility rate which will, without regard to net migration, keep a country at a constant population is 2.1 births per woman. The world average is 2.5 births per woman. On the assumption that it is good for a country to have a fertility rate between 2.1 and 2.5 (irrespective of net migration figures), these countries are the outliers: Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India have a fertility rate greater than 2.5; China, Japan, Russia and the EU have a fertility rate lower than 2.1.

The USA has a fertility rate of 2.1, and a high net migration rate, auguring well for a moderately growing population.

As indicators of the quality of life, especially medical care and health, are the figures for infant mortality (within 30 days of birth) and female life expectancy (at each woman’s birth), the latter including the likelihood of dying as a result of giving birth. The world’s average infant death rate is 3.96%. Four countries exceed this rate, most by a relatively large amount: Bangladesh at 5.91%; India at 4.61%, Nigeria at 7.44%, Pakistan at 6.13%.  Except for Bangladesh, these countries show lower than the world average in female life expectancy.

In looking again at the very high GDP growth rate in India (7.8%) and Nigeria (6.9%), and linking this observation with the poor condition of women and newborn children in these two countries, I get a mental picture of government economic policies not giving proper consideration to the people who should be among the beneficiaries of this economic growth.

The infant mortality rate in the EU is lowest at 0.45%, with the USA second at 0.60%. As a citizen, first, of the USA and now also of Sweden (a member nation of the European Union), I am glad these two countries have developed such that women and infants (and men as well, to be sure) have a better chance of surviving to a much older age than will citizens in most other areas of the world.

And finally, 195 of the 205 other entities are getting poorer, both relatively and absolutely. In order to get a more realistic look at the really poor countries, I made another chart to identify and remove from “the 205”, ten rich countries (not among the most populated or in the EU as in the first chart) where GDP per person is very large.

(Please click on all images for clarity in the details)


So, two-thirds of the world’s population has an average GDP/person of US$18,513  and one-third of the world’s population has an average GDP/person of US$ 1,775.

Just ponder this for a while. One-third of the people in the world live where their country produces goods and services at less than 10%  of the per capita rate (on average) that is produced in the rest of the world. And, the aggregate rate of real growth in GDP of their countries is a negative 1.5% (on average), so their circumstances are getting worse.

The way one interprets figures such as I show here is a function of one’s biases. Perhaps I have focused too much on the negative, or have overlooked some success story. I welcome any other interpretations and criticism.

One final note and a preview: China is the biggest player in the statistics shown here, despite its poor showing in GDP per person. My next article will focus onChina, its growth in economic power and its growing role in world politics.

“Ukraine and its glory has not died yet, nor her freedom…”


This is from the first line of the national anthem of the country of Ukraine. (Transliterated from the Ukrainian; written Ukrainian uses a variant of the Cyrillic script).

These words speak to me of a country and a people who have suffered at the hands of powerful neighbors and despotic rulers.

But why am I pursuing this line of inquiry?

Through a DNA-matching service I connected with a distant relative who has intimate knowledge of the country—she has lived there all her long life. I offer here, with permission, her narrative about her country.

To begin with, the word Ukraine means Borderland. It’s been a borderland between the Forest and the Steppe for millennia, and then a borderland between the Catholic and Orthodox Europe for centuries. This probably explains a somewhat schizophrenic nature of the nation’s history and mentality. Ukrainians have seldom been sure about who they actually are—sort of European or a sort of Russian, or something else. (Click on the map for a detailed view).

The country is quite large, around 600 thousand square kilometers [note: slightly smaller than Texas]—and populous, around 46 million (plus a few million trying to make a living for their families by working abroad). Ukraine is primarily known for its fertile land (arable land is roughly half of the country’s territory, around 30 mn hectares—ca. 75 million acres), and I was taught that Ukraine accounts for a third of Earth’s most fertile soil, chernozem. Ukraine is also a major steel exporter. It is less lucky in terms of energy, as its once big oil, gas and coal resources are somewhat depleted, and the country is strongly dependent on Russia for oil and gas supplies. During the Soviet era, Ukraine was a major machine engineering centre, but a substantial part of this industry (especially defence-oriented) has been destroyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Still, Ukraine currently exports a lot of various heavy machines.

The territory of what is now Ukraine was the centre of two major kingdoms, first the Gothic state of Ermanaric in 4th century and, much later in 9th-13th centuries, the medieval polity of Kievan Rus’. Both had capitals on the Dnieper river, near the border of forest and steppe. It’s not clear where Ermanaric’s capital was, but Kiev (my native city), the capital of Rus, exists until today. Rus collapsed following Tatar invasion in 1240, and the semblance of order was restored only when the principality of Lithuania drove the Tatars from more or less densely populated parts of Ukraine in the middle of 14th century. Lithuanian rule was a period of stability as less numerous Lithuanians lived in relative harmony with much more populous Rusyns—descendands of Slavic tribes that comprised Rus and ancestors of modern Ukrainians and Belorussians. Later on, Orthodox Christian Lithuania started to become more and more integrated with Catholic Poland through a dynastic union.

Mongol invasion of Ukrainian lands

In 1596, the southern part of Lithuania’s Slavic lands was administratively subordinated to Poland, and the northern part remained under Lithuania. This was the beginning of Ukraine in the southern Dnieper river basin, and Belarus on its northern border. Dealing with Catholic Poland turned out to be difficult, and the next few centuries included numerous episodes of civil (or, rather, religious) war between Poles and Ukrainians. Eventually, Ukrainians had to seek protection of the Moscow principality which later became Russian empire. However, Western parts of Ukraine continued to be ruled by Poland, the Austrian Empire and then again Poland until World War II.

The country as it exists today was in fact created by Joseph Stalin. When the lands that comprised the former Russian empire were transformed into Soviet Union, he put together less loyal Ukrainian-speaking agrarian regions located along the Dnieper river and more loyal Russian-speaking regions to the East to make sure the new republic will not steer away from Russia. Then, during the Second World War, he added the Western Ukrainian regions most of which were parts of Austria-Hungary and then Poland for a long time. The guy has been dead for almost 60 years, but his dark wisdom continues to work. After more than 20 years of independence, Ukraine still remains strongly dependent on Russia, and not so much economically as mentally.

Costume of Halychyna

Roughly 40% of modern Ukrainian population are “pure” Ukrainian speakers, another 40% or so are bilingual, and the remaining 20% are pure Russian speakers and minorities. The borders of old days may not be visible on the modern map, but if you look at maps showing how Ukrainians vote in elections, they immediately become so clear as if medieval kingdoms were still here. One part (often hated elsewhere in Ukraine) is the Halychyna, a Western land lying along the banks of Dniester River. Another one is Ukraine proper—a core of the country lying in the Dnieper river basin. Finally, the country’s Eastern and Southern parts, which became more or less densely inhabited only after the Crimean Tatar state was destroyed by the Russian Empire in late 18th century, are a kind of “Ukraine’s New World”, populated by the natives of all corners of the former Russian empire.

(Second communication from my relative)

Actually, the self-identification based on ethnicity is not an ancient thing—it’s a child of 18th and 19th century. Before that time, people usually self-identified based on their religion or allegiance to a certain dynasty. And Ukraine is not the only state where borders do not fully coincide with ethnic distinctions—just look at Central Asia or Africa or Iraq or even Belgium. As for the borders, I think in the future they will cease to be defined ethnically as during the last 2-3 centuries. People come and go, but natural features persist. If you look at a good map of river basins (some maps can be found here), you will notice that many ancient and/or modern borders are based on watersheds of major rivers. This could be a good basis to define borders in the present and future as trying to define them on ethnic basis will always leave one of the sides unhappy. As for Ukraine, I would say that its Eastern part lying in the basin of Don river is mostly Russian and can go to Russia without pain. Things will be more difficult in the south as almost totally Russian-speaking Crimean region is too dependent on Ukraine (and also has a Muslim Crimean Tatar minority). But in any case I don’t think Ukraine or Belarus can survive without Russia in the long run (and Russia will struggle to remain secure without a union with Ukraine and Belarus as well), so the question of borders in this case is more rhetorical.

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, Kiev

In any case, the topic of future borders is very interesting. I strongly doubt that the inviolability of borders principle that became established in the international public law as recently as 40 years ago will be followed in the next 40 years as well. It will be more and more becoming a mere fig leaf to hide geographical and/or ethnic realities. Joseph Stalin made life difficult for modern Ukraine, but the results of his border-making policy in Central Asia will detonate in the next 10-20 years in a much more massive way (when the post-Soviet generation of local leaders goes, the region can become a real hell). So I think the topic of future borders and factors that will determine them is definitely worth studying.

Politicians in Ukraine belong to two types—smart thieves and outrageous thieves. Timoshenko [Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister] is from the second category, and I have no pity for her. I don’t like her opponents either, but these half-criminal representatives of Eastern Ukrainian elite are probably the country’s last chance to remain independent for longer. But the problem is not in Ukraine or West vs. Russia in Ukraine. The bigger problem is that the whole international financial and political system is flawed and it is waiting to collapse.

This is Ron Pavellas writing again. All the above, except the introduction, was from my relative. I sent her an article on the current political situation in Ukraine, excerpted below asking her opinion of it. I show not only my relative’s response to it, but also those of the readers of the article who responded to it.

Ukraine at a crossroads
By Damon M. Wilson, Published: April 19 (Washington Post)

… As part of a Freedom House mission of American and Ukrainian analysts to examine the state of democracy in Ukraine, I visited former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko in Kachanivska and Lukyanivska prisons, respectively, this month. Our group was Tymoshenko’s first visit from independent observers since December; we were the second independent group to see Lutsenko since his incarceration…

Last month, as these leaders sat in prison and Ukrainian authorities announced plans to bring new charges against them, negotiators initialed the E.U.-Ukraine Association Agreement. The pact includes a deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement. Yet the European Union is unlikely to sign and ratify the agreement as long as Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s most prominent opposition leader, remains in prison or before parliamentary elections this fall, a critical test of this government’s willingness to conduct a free, fair vote.

The Ukrainian government is pursuing contradictory policies: It seeks to integrate Ukraine into Europe while emasculating its domestic opposition. In their first two years in office, Ukrainian authorities have made progress on both fronts. Ultimately, though, they must choose.

Ukraine’s choice is not between Russia and the West. That is a false choice. Indeed, (Ukraine President Viktor) Yanukovych has courageously challenged President-elect Vladimir Putin’s plan to assert control over the states of the former Soviet Union through a Eurasian Union. The question is whether Ukraine sees its future in the European mainstream or relegated to the borderlands.

Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych

It is not too late to take the democratic path. The government has made some progress in the past year, including enacting legislation that allows nongovernmental organizations to be active on civil-political issues without being considered political actors and to accept foreign funds in a transparent manner; advancing a more modern criminal procedure code; and increasing public access to government information. But it must do more. The government’s first step should be facilitating independent medical care for Tymoshenko and Lutsenko. Ukraine can avoid international ostracism, and perhaps even U.S. and E.U. sanctions, by respecting the independence of the judiciary and allowing all opposition figures, including those in prison, to contest parliamentary elections in October.

Ukraine teeters between Eurasian malaise and an ambivalent Europe. As long as the government in Kiev criminalizes political differences, it will find itself in control at home but increasingly isolated internationally.

U.S. and European policy should make clear that a democratic Ukraine that makes the right choices is welcome as a member of the transatlantic community.

[End of excerpted article]

Former Ukraine Prime Minister
Yulia Tymoshenko (Wikimedia)

(My relative’s comments): As for the article—I must admit that the author seems to be trying to be balanced. This happens less often than one would expect of the “free world” media covering Ukraine. Unfortunately, his sources seem to be some local Western-leaning media people, so the facts are not always correct and sometimes are irrelevant. Nobody in Freedom House would care if former premier Timoshenko won the presidency and put Yanukovich to prison, because she is believed to be pro-Western. This is pure hypocricy. If we speak about the real big villains, then why the voices about the political system of China are not heard as often as they should have been? Because trade interests dominate the desire to bring the light of democracy to all nations of the world? Maybe the guy honestly believes it’s all about democracy, but I find it difficult to come up with explanation other than that in the case of Ukraine it’s all about geopolitical interests of the US and broader Western world vs. the geopolitical interests of Russia.

Published Comments:

sanfran6003, 4/19/2012 12:38 PM GMT+0200

Damon M. Wilson, an independent observer, writes of the brutal treatment of opposition political figures. His clear condemnation of the thuggish leaders of Ukraine should be heeded.

OldUncleTom, 4/19/2012 7:38 PM GMT+0200

Heeded, perhaps, but Wilson leaves out more than he discusses.

1) Just because the jailed politicians are opposition does not mean they don’t belong in jail.
2) The issues preventing EU accession for Ukraine are a lot bigger than political corruption.

Templejr, 1:53 AM GMT+0200

Better to be in jail than poisoned. The problem here is a wonderful country that has lived under a corrupt political system and uncontrolled capitalism. A people oppressed so long can only struggle to survive. At some point they become too passive-aggressive to accomplish anything except the basics of life. Survival of the fittest. I stand by my assertion that the future of Ukraine is in the hands of the people, not in the corrupt and decadent leadership. Certainly not in the pimps that prop up the circus tent.

Templejr, 2:28 AM GMT+0200

The UEFA cup, coming up in June, has the country investing Billions of UAH into infrastructure and they have done a credible job despite the cronyism and kickbacks. Most of the events are being handled by local volunteer groups who work for free.. This is their time to shine and show pride in their country and show the rest of the world that despite the clown in charge (little more than a puppet) the country is a proud and free nation with much to offer. If only the criminal element could be disposed of.

Igrmng7771, 5:35 AM GMT+0200

Ukrainian elite is corrupt. Everyone could get in jail. Timoshenko was sued by Ukrainian laws, her behavior in the court was outrageous. In states she would have gotten much bigger jail time only for such a behavior. She, in reality, crossed many lines and put Ukraine in a very difficult situation. She is a populist with a very little knowledge of economy and law. I believe, that it is the western diplomats who select for whom they should struggle. It means that they aggravate ordinary Ukrainians who feel that Yushchenko – Timoshenko administrations robbed them. I think, that before saying something westerns should get familiar with the case and video of Timoshenko from the court room. Many oppose Yanukovich style but even less want Timoshenko back.

[End of all comments and excerpts from others]

So, I see that my inference, expressed at the beginning of this article, was correct: Ukraine is country and a people who have suffered at the hands of powerful neighbors and ruling despots.

I will end here with the full, transliterated text of the national anthem, as it was from its beginning in 1863 until it was changed in 2003:

Severyn Nalyvaiko, Leader
of Cossack Rebellion

Ukraine has not yet perished,
The glory and the freedom!
Still upon us brave brothers,
Fate shall smile!
Our enemies will vanish
Like dew in the sun;
We too shall rule
In our country.

Soul and body we will lay down
For our freedom
And show that we brothers
Are of the Cossack nation,
Hey, hey dearest brothers
Onward take to battle
Hey, hey, time to rise,
Time to gain freedom!

Nalyvaiko, Zalizniak
And Taras Triasylo
Call us from beyond the grave
To the holy battle.
Recall the famous death of
Chivalarious Cossacks
Not to lose vainly
Our youth.

Soul and body …

Oh Bohdan, Bohdan
Our great hetman
What for did you give Ukraine
To wretched muscovites?!
To return her honor,
We lay our heads
We shall call ourselves Ukraine’s
Faithful sons!

Soul and body …

Our Slavic brothers
Already took up arms
No one shall see
That we should stay behind.
Unite together all,
Brothers Slavs:
So that enemies perish,
And freedom comes!

Soul and body …

Other sources for Ukraine:

The Land of Oium
The World Factbook of the CIA
Ukraine History
Bohdan Khmelnytsky
Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine 



The Outlook is Grim for the People of Afghanistan


On what authority do I state this? I have one specific source and one general source.

The specific source is a day-long seminar held December 1 at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) on the campus of The Royal Institute of Technology entitled Afghanistan After 2014, which I attended.

The general source is the recent and current news of the world which has focused, again, more sharply on Afghanistan because of The announcement by President Obama that the US and NATO military forces will exit Afghanistan by the end of 2014; and, the convening of the Second Bonn Conference on Afghanistan held on 5 December 2011, ten years after the First Bonn Conference. In addition, there have been violent episodes within and without Afghanistan (in Pakistan near its border with Afghanistan), even as I compose this article, that bode ill for a strong and peaceful Afghanistan while the foreign troops leave over the next two years.

I have a small authority having worked for thirty days in 2005 as a volunteer consultant in Afghanistan, in the provinces of Kunduz and Wardak. You can see images and some narrative from this visit here.

I will offer links to current news and other sources of information after I present this summary of the seminar.

Seminar Summary, Four Sessions
(Note: remarks attributed to the participants are transcriptions from my hand-written notes; any errors of fact and interpretation are mine).

Twelve experts and scholars provided a comprehensive look at the history, current issues and possible outcomes for Afghanistan and the region around it. I will identify the participants during the course of this article. The sponsoring agencies for the seminar were:

FOI (Swedish Defence Research Agency)
SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)
UI (Swedish Institute of International Affairs)

First Session: Reconciliation and Peace—a Possibility?

Masood Aziz, former Afghan Diplomat in Washington, D.C. began the formal presentations.

Ten years have passed since the first Bonn Conference in 2001. The news is generally bad in evaluating these years in Afghanistan. There has been some progress, but the outlook is bleak. Mr. Aziz is pessimistic because the Afghan government is weak, corruption is rampant, and the international community is losing interest.

There is a state of crisis, currently. The Afghan government may collapse after NATO/ISAF troops leave by the end of 2014. The Current USA conversation with the Taliban is going nowhere. NATO lacks a credible plan for transition for after 2014.

With a weak central government, and its possible collapse, the strongest remaining institution will be the Afghan army. (Here Mr. Aziz was not explicit, but it was clear that the prospect of a military dictatorship, or of the military playing a dominant role such as in Pakistan, was on his mind).

Counter-insurgency has been the main purpose of NATO and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force of NATO), not nation-building.

What to do?


  • Redouble efforts to support and establish the legitimacy of the national government in the eyes of the Afghan people. If this confidence cannot be engendered, then collapse of the government is inevitable, with attendant violence between ethnicities and factions.
  • Need to buttress the rule of law, versus the rule of men.
  • Afghan security forces need to be at the service of the state.

From Wall Street Journal (


Development of Afghanistan’s mineral resources may be the game changer, e.g., the Chinese-run copper mine and the Indian-run iron ore mine. However, the danger of the “resource curse” may be a down-side. A major portion of the state income from the development of natural resources should be directed as cash transfers to the people, as is done in other resource-rich countries such as Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Bolivia and Mongolia.

Mr. Aziz ended his prepared remarks thus:

The last ten years of NATO operations in Afghanistan have focused on strategic issues, mostly security. Since 2001 there has been a massive inflow of unconditional money from governments and NGOs causing the state to be dependent on these gifts. This is state-building from the outside, not from the inside and from the ground up via the people. Much of this money and other resources have flowed to former warlords.

Cash grants to the people from the income of natural resource development will force the government to rely on the people through the taxation of their income. This will also give new life and purpose to the National Solidarity Program and strengthen the governments and capabilities of the 34 provinces. Local communities will be empowered to take care of their own security and infrastructure projects. Not all security and infrastructure development need be performed by the national government.

Eva Johansson is head of the Afghanistan Section at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Here are some of her points.

Children are the most often forgotten in the issues addressed. Additionally, SIDA is interested in helping women to participate in the formation of the country. Sweden, through SIDA, has increased its support of these issues to become the second largest donor. The emphasis on security and counter-insurgency has put the issues of women and children in lower priority, despite efforts of SIDA and UNICEF. SIDA continues to be concerned about the condition of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

In the Bazaar, Kunduz, June 2005

Peter Brune, Secretary General of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA/SAK). The Swedish Committee has 6300 people in 12 of the 34 provinces. SCA/SAK have been on the ground in Afghanistan since 1982, providing education and other developmental services to people in the villages (not in the capital, Kabul).

In responding to Mr. Aziz’s comments Mr. Brune said it was a “tough call” to say we’ve failed. Mr. Brune introduced the discussion point that ten years is not enough time. This point was taken up and further developed by other speakers who followed.

Mr. Brune made these other points:

  • There needs to be a link between development and education.
  • It’s important not to be “diplomatic” in assessing and addressing the problems. We need to examine and learn from failures.
  • The state hasn’t failed yet. Girls are going to school; the army is being built, etc.
  • Others should do more of what the Swedish Committee is doing. [Link to a Power Point Presentation showing some of what the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan is doing]
  • SCA/SAK has zero tolerance for weapons in schools. It’s important to separate the military from education and other efforts at the grass roots.
  • We (NATO/ISAF, the Afghan government) are scrambling to build an army. Meanwhile the Afghan and Pakistan armies are facing each other on their common border.
  • There will be consequences in building a strong army in a weak state (thus buttressing Mr. Aziz’s argument).
  • What are the other institutions we can look to? The constitution, the executive and the parliament, none of which existed before the current government was established. [Note: he didn’t mention the judiciary, which is generally seen as corrupt and ineffective at the state level, although not necessarily at the local level).
  • Important people and entities are not talking with each other. For example, the Supreme Commander of NATO forces and SIDA have never met.
  • Real security is to strengthen the state.

Second Session: Reconciliation and Peace—a Possibility?

Robert Lamb is Director and Senior Fellow at Program on Crisis, Conflict and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington D.C.

There have been talks about peace talks, but no peace talks. After the Taliban fell many soldiers and commanders went home without veterans’ benefits. Foes of the Taliban included the Northern Alliance, led primarily by warlords, some of whom are still in place.

In the 2001 Bonn Conference the Taliban were excluded and, since they had no part in the deliberations they have no stake in peace. Therefore, they went to Pakistan and became “insurgents”. The talks about peace talks continue, to date. Pakistan now demands to be part of the conversation.

Bad things began happening in 2010. An imposter apparently representing the Taliban conned the government of Afghanistan out of a lot of money, and created extreme embarrassment for all connected parties. In September of this year the chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was been killed by a suicide attacker. He was meeting members of the Taliban at the time in an effort to negotiate toward peace talks.

It’s not clear what we can do to prevent civil war in Afghanistan. Former warlords, some of whom are now regional governors, are hoarding money and weapons.

We need to prevent the collapse of the Afghan state. (Non-military) development is important, “big time”, but will do no good if the government collapses. We need to keep the potential combatants (in a civil war) co-opted in the Afghan Government. This means tolerating “some very bad guys”.


Helene Lackenbauer is an FOI analyst and former political aide to the Swedish Force Commander in Afghanistan.

There are very few possibilities leading toward peace. Who are the actors and what do we provide them? What are our prices for peace? Are we prepared to sell out women’s rights? What do we intend for the Taliban?

Mr. Brune responded: Afghanistan is at war. There are police, weapons, explosives and insurgents. The Taliban is not defined in any way. There can’t be a universal strategy; we have to address each group’s needs and grievances. Peace can be based on justice; all their rights have to be recognized and supported (implying the need for a strong and professional, not corrupt, national judiciary).

Robert Lamb “lifts the gloom”

  • Eleven years ago Afghanistan was a medieval theocracy. How long does it take to for such a state to become a representative democracy?
  • There is a civil service, although it is constantly raided for employees to the better paid NGOs and other private organizations.
  • Free speech exists, even if it may be dangerous.
  • There are radios and telephones.
  • Most areas are less violent than Northern Mexico.
  • Ten years is nothing in the history of nation building. Transitioning from Warlord rule to the rule of law doesn’t happen quickly or easily. Afghanistan is still in the warlord phase and will be for a long time.
  • Seventy-five percent of Afghans think the government is doing a good job, although the jirgas have more effect at the local level. If the state isn’t there, they figure things out (at the local level).

[Here I am not sure whether Robert Lamb continues, or whether Peter Brune and perhaps others are responding]

    • The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan has one-half million girls in school.
    • Students have TV and radios.
    • Rural areas are more negative on the future and are concerned about the return of the warlords.
    • Afghanistan is ethnically divided and is waiting for the next war. If the Taliban returns, they will bring Taliban rules. (Taliban are fundamentalist Sunni Muslims mostly from the Pashtun tribe).

(Note: Languages are Dari (official) 50%, Pashto (official) 35%, Turkic languages 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%;  Ethnic groups are Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%. Religions are Sunni Muslim 80%, Shia Muslim 19%, other 1%.

  • (Upon the likely collapse of the national government) a new Northern Alliance will emerge to oppose the Taliban.
  • The concerns of the people are: civil war, political collapse, financial crisis, jobs disappearing. The current president Hamid Karzai will not be running to succeed himself in the next election—who will rule? If the election collapses, who will emerge, and how?
  • Governors are more powerful than the national government in the eyes of the people. When the Soviets left there was chaos. Will there be the same again? After the Soviets left it was worse than with the Soviets.
  • People in Kabul are more positive. Children are always more positive (Note: the median age is 18 years: source).

Ann Wilkens, former Swedish ambassador to Pakistan and former Chairman of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, emphasized the point that there is not a unified Taliban group in Afghanistan. There are splinter groups, some interested in insurgency, some in drug traffic and some with other aims, for instance relating to religious practice.

Masood Aziz augmented this observation by noting there is a spectrum of different groups and there is a problem in assessing the association of any of them with Al Qaeda, which is of non-afghan origin led by non-Afghans. In addition, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the past and present leader of the Afghan Taliban, has been hiding out in Pakistan, even when he was head of state during the time when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

Middle East expert at UI Magnus Norell raised the question of the current objective of the Taliban. He suggested they want influence in the current processes addressing the future of Afghanistan. Ann Wilkens asserted that the institution of Sharia law is their objective. Norell said that these were not mutually exclusive.

Masood Aziz said this is not a valid question because there is no unified Taliban. He further noted that strict Sharia law alienated Afghans during their Taliban rule. Afghans felt an alien force took over their state. Mullah Omar, who has no stated or known religious education or lineage, alienated Afghan tribal leaders during his rule.

Kabul, June 2005

Third Session: Counter-insurgency


  • “All the bad stuff” is located in Pakistan: the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani Network, for instance.
  • The tribal and other leaders in Afghanistan have a common enemy in the various Taliban entities, but have no common strategy.
  • The stated US objective is to disrupt and destroy Al Qaeda. Is it working, or should the US change its objective? President Obama has shifted the focus to counter-insurgency.

Stefan Olsson of the FOI stated the problem with counter-insurgency is that it will take ten years to wipe out the insurgents. There is too little time for this (by the end of 2014) and it won’t work.

Harsh Pantof King’s College, London, said the current tension between the US and Pakistan over insurgents in Pakistan will come to a head as a result of a vicious cycle.

Masood Aziz said that the US military has ever-changing nomenclature for what it is they are doing. “Stability” is now in vogue. Previously it was “Clear/Hold/Build/Transfer”. Before that it was “Fight/Talk/Build”.

Military officers are talking to village elders about democracy; they aren’t experts in this. The US military is trying to embed itself in the culture and change it from the inside. It won’t work.

Stefan Olsson said “counter-insurgency is not nation-building”.

We have to realize our limitations in using only the military to bring “stability”.

Question posed to the panel: Will Afghan security forces be able to fill the vacuum left by the NATO/ISAF departure?

One response: The Afghan people would like the troops to leave, but “not too quickly”.

Stefan Olsson: The Swedish government doesn’t know what the end state should be, or when.  The USA seems to want to fight the insurgents to the negotiating table.

In the Afghan security forces the Army officers are from the former Northern Alliance; that is, they are not of the Pashtun tribe as is the majority of the government officers. The Army may not feel itself subservient to a weak national government.

Other responses:

In that the USA/NATO have announced a time certain by which their troops will leave, the Taliban is in a position to wait to intensify their incursions.

The USA needs to stay after 2014, in some fashion, to deal with other countries such as Iran and Pakistan.

Neither the USA nor NATO has a strategy for filling the vacuum created by their departure.

Question from the audience: Can and will India be a force for good in Afghanistan?

Masood Aziz: Pakistan seems to want the opposite of what everybody else wants in Afghanistan. India, which is right next door, is the world’s largest democracy. In contrast, the military dominates Pakistan, but is not all-powerful because of the influence of organized groups such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which wants to oust the US-backed Pakistani government.

In response to another question regarding the possible role of the EU, Mr. Masood said that the EU has the talent and moral foundation to help build infrastructure for Afghanistan. As an example of “moral force” he recited a story of how a US Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s left an indelible impression on a now elderly man in a remote village.

Chief Engineer, local construction engineer, and driver — employees of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, 2005

Fourth and Final Session: Geopolitics and the Regional Dynamics

Context: There has been a change in the global balance of power from West to East, in operational terms. The center of world politics has been Europe, but now is moving toward Asia/China.

Harsh Pantof King’s College, London opened the session.

American priorities are changing: Afghanistan is not as important as before, as China emerges as a priority.

Global priorities are going to be influenced/centered in Asia/Pacific.

Pakistan now realizes that it is not the most important ally the USA has in its region. The USA sees India as its most important ally vis-à-vis China, and Islamabad (Pakistan’s capital) is worried. Pakistan has to hedge its bets; it needs a friendly Kabul (Capital of Afghanistan) so as not to be flanked by enemies—India to the east and Afghanistan to the west.

Pakistan’s self-identity seems to have been that it is not India. The Pakistan military has never won a war, but the Pakistan army points the people of Pakistan to India for its raison d’être as an army. Pakistan has tried to marginalize India in insisting they not be included in Afghan talks. Washington finally realized that Pakistan was playing a double game.

India realized this marginalization and now has decided to invest in Afghanistan (refer to the previously mentioned iron ore mine in Hajigak). Additionally, India has been reaching toward Russia and Iran, both of which flank Afghanistan. India likes a western presence in Afghanistan, but Russia and Iran don’t—but India balances this somehow.

China is feeling encircled by the USA. They are reluctant to talk with the USA about Afghanistan and Pakistan. They don’t want to compromise their relationship with Pakistan.

Current events reveal a conflict between the USA and Pakistan, a symptom of the underlying problem of Pakistan’s feeling of isolation and loss of importance to the USA.

Neil J. Melvin, Director of the Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Programme at SIPRI, responded:

The USA is drawing closer to its Asia/pacific allies and courting new ones such as Burma. Therefore, Afghanistan will remain important to the USA in this context, but where does Afghanistan fit? We don’t know yet.

Russia is courting Afghanistan by encouraging it toward the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. (The six-nation SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan attend its meetings as observers. Source).

Harsh Pant added that Pakistan’s uncertainty about the USA’s intentions makes it difficult for them to know how to act.

Former Swedish Ambassador to Pakistan Ann Wilkens stated that the sequencing of events is unfortunate for Pakistan. There are conflicting messages to and from all players in the region. What does the USA want? She noted that the Pakistan army was built by the USA.

Magnus Norell:  A report of the US Marines recommended forgetting nation building and to leave just a small counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan. It should be treated by the USA as a “marginal country”. We’re reading too much importance into it. You can’t solve Afghanistan unless you deal successfully with Pakistan. Let’s not look at Afghanistan as a regional issue. Keep it local.

From the moderator: From the perspective of Iran and Pakistan (which have long borders with Afghanistan) why is everyone waiting to see what the USA is going to do?  The USA doesn’t have the leverage for a regional solution.

Neil J. Melvin: it is a dilemma. Russia, Iran and others want the USA out, but no-one else has the strength to do anything constructive on a regional basis. Iran has around three million Afghan refugees and doesn’t like the Taliban. There needs to be trust building between nations in the region. China is interested in stability and doesn’t want attacks from terrorists, so it keeps a low profile. One of China’s important interests in stability is due to the question of whether to build an additional gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China through Afghanistan.

From the moderator: the world economy affects Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan and things are looking austere for these countries. How does this factor into the regional issues?

Answer from panel: if the world and local economy were better, it still wouldn’t solve Afghanistan’s problem which is one of governance.

Last question form the moderator: What should we do? What should we focus on?

Reponses from the panel:

  • The West should continue to support Afghanistan economically.
  • Donor nations need more humility in their approach to Afghanistan.
  • Get out and stay out, militarily.
  • Spend aid on education, etc.
  • Don’t pull out (the military) gradually.

The moderators were:

Nathalie Besèr is Advisor to the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI)

John Rydqvist is Head of the Asia Security Studies Program at FOI.


Links to information sources:

NATO in Afghanistan
Terrorism and Insurgency
Al‐Qaeda and Afghanistan in Strategic Context: Counterinsurgency versus Counterterrorism
The Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) and the Haqqani network pose the greatest threat to stability in Afghanistan
Quetta Shura Taliban
Haqqani Network
Mullah Mohammed Omar
Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP)
The pragmatic fanaticism of al Qaeda: an anatomy of extremism in Middle Eastern politics.
NATO/ISAF history and facts about its troops

Links to recent and current news affecting Afghanistan and the region

Afghan National Army prepares for life after NATO
‘West must see Afghan job through’, military chief says
Pakistani Taliban splintering into factions
Afghan Peace Effort Hits Wall
Attacks Point to New Afghan Conflict: Bombings of Shiite Worshippers in Two Cities Kill More Than 60 and Introduce Sectarian Strife Absent for a Decade
Kabul Promises Change, Gets Vow of Lasting Aid
A Counterinsurgency Success in Kandahar
Afghan opium production to expand after troops exit
Hornets’ nest: Why Pakistan may be America’s most dangerous ally
Pakistan Was Consulted Before Fatal Hit, U.S. Says; Deadly Border Strike Came After Forces Were Told Area Was Clear of Pakistani Troops, Officials Say
There Are No Moderate Taliban; the people of Afghanistan understand that accommodating the Taliban will result in fear and chaos.
India Wins Bid for ‘Jewel’ of Afghan Ore Deposits


Putin’s return “a national catastrophe for Russia”

Those are the words Yevgeniya Albats wrote in her political journal, the Russian New Times Magazine, of which she is chief editor.

Yevgeniya Albats

My article today will recount the facts, opinions and assertions that Albats offered during a seminar at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs on 15 November 2011. After her presentation a three-person panel, described below, responded to her talk and to questions from the audience.

Vladimir Putin was in office as president of the Russian Federation 7 May 2000 – 7 May 2008. On 8 May 2000, the second day of his first four-year term, he issued a secret decree (ukase) which gave him control over the nation’s alcohol production, then the second largest industry in Russia. Thus began a series of moves which ultimately put into the hands of the president, the governmental apparatus reporting to him, and indirectly and privately through close associates and family, around 15% of the current gross domestic product (GDP) of the nation. The CIA’s 2010 estimate of Russia’s GDP is US$1.465 trillion, so if Albats’s assertion is close to correct, the annual revenues controlled, directly and indirectly, by Putin are around US$220 billion.

Albats presented a chart showing, among others, these additional industries under direct or indirect control: financial services, oil/petroleum, railroads and other transport, construction, metal production, energy, chemicals, media, telecoms, and sport. Most important is that all the industries serving the military are under state control. These are not all owned by the state. Others are  controlled through the state regulatory agencies and through ownership by Putin’s circle of associates, including family. (The three groups through which Putin exercises influence and control are discussed further below)

Vladimir Putin, Past president of Russia, Current Prime Minister, and… future President?

The Russian Duma, equivalent to the lower house in a bicameral legislature, has been made powerless to control the cash flow of state run enterprises. One result of this concentration of control and resultant power is that Putin and his inner circle have become extremely wealthy.

Putin’s presidency ended, per the Russian Constitution, after he completed his second term. His hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, appointed Putin as Prime Minster (formally, Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation) which position he still occupies.

In September of this year, President Medvedev announced he had decided not to run for a second term, and put forth Mr. Putin as his choice for the next president in the election to be held on 4 March 2012. Mr. Putin announced his intention to stand for President on 24 September.

This announcement, which serves notice that Putin will, in fact, become the president via the next national election has dismayed many people inside and outside Russia, not the least of whom is the speaker at this conference, Yevgeniya Albats. She refuses to use the term “election” in her news magazine saying “the word ‘election’ implies ‘choice’, but there is effectively no choice in Russia today”.

In the British news magazine The Economist, writer E.L. states “… Mr Putin, a former KGB officer, remade Russian politics in his own image after coming to power. He harassed and jailed opponents and confiscated their energy and media assets; he created a political system in which important elections always go the authorities’ way. The upcoming ones will be no exception…” (Source: The return of the man who never left, Sep 24th 2011).

Neil Buckley of The (UK) Fianancial Times reported from Moscow “… Mr Putin is coming back for a third presidential term, Russia’s intellectual and business elites, at least, are no longer sure this is a good thing. Debates at last week’s annual Valdai Discussion Club, a Putin initiative dating from 2004 that brings together top foreign and domestic specialists on Russia, revealed deep unease… (Excerpted from Rising unease over Putin’s return, 16 November 2011).

How does Putin gain and maintain control of the state apparatus and assets? Through three groups of people:

Siloviki (described below); members of a housing cooperative of which he is a founding member (Ozero); and, his extended family.

The Siloviki

Silovik is a Russian word for politicians from the security or military services, often the officers of the former KGB, the FSB, the Federal Narcotics Control Service and military or other security services who came into power. It can also refer to security-service personnel from any country or nationality. (Source).

“… The most commonly encountered description of the siloviki, a group of current and former Intelligence officers from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg who wield immense power within the Kremlin and control key sectors of the Russian economy, is both incomplete and misleading. The siloviki clan’s core members—Igor Sechin, deputy head of the presidential administration; Viktor Ivanov, an adviser to the president; and Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB)—more or less fit this profile. Surrounding these powerbrokers, however, is a network of individuals who do not. Associates of Sechin, Ivanov, and Patrushev hold top positions not only in the Kremlin and government ministries, but also in the second tier of the bureaucracy, state-owned enterprises, and private companies…” (excerpted from The Siloviki in Putin’s Russia: Who They Are and What They Want, by Ian Bremmer and Samuel Charap).

Putin's History in the KGB


Ozero is a co-operative society allegedly instituted on November 10, 1996 by Vladimir Smirnov (head), Vladimir Putin, Vladimir Yakunin, Andrei Fursenko, Sergey Fursenko, Yury Kovalchuk, Viktor Myachin, and Nikolay Shamalov. The society united their dachas in Solovyovka, Priozersky District of Leningrad Oblast, which is located on the eastern shore of the Komsomolskoye lake on the Karelian Isthmus near Saint Petersburg. (Source)

I speculate that one or both of these compounds on the southeastern shore of Lake Komsomolskoye is “The Ozero”. Click on the picture for greater detail.

By now, its shareholders have assumed top positions in Russian government and business. As of 2008, Vladimir Putin is the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Yakunin is the Head of Russian Railways, Andrei Fursenko is the Minister of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, Sergey Fursenko is a brother of Andrei Fursenko, the Director-General of Lentransgaz and the President of the Football Club Zenit (St. Petersburg), Yury Kovalchuk is the Head of the Board of Directors and a major shareholder of the Russia bank, Viktor Myachin is its former Director General (1995-1998, 1999-2004), Nikolay Shamalov and Vladimir Smirnov are prominent businessmen. (Source).

Putin’s Extended Family

Yevgeniya Albats did not dwell on this group, merely mentioning that “nephews” and others hold middle or higher level positions in the state government. The Internet does not quickly offer insight into Putin’s family, except for this from Wikipedia:

On 28 July 1983 Putin married Kaliningrad-born Lyudmila Shkrebneva, at that time an undergraduate student of the Spanish branch of the Philology Department of the Leningrad State University and a former Aeroflot flight attendant. They have two daughters, Mariya Putina (born 28 April 1985 in St. Petersburg) and Yekaterina Putina (born 31 August 1986 in Dresden). The daughters grew up in East Germany and attended the German School in Moscow until his appointment as Prime Minister. After that they studied international economics at the Finance Academy in Moscow. Vladimir’s cousin Igor Putin is a director of Master Bank.

Other methods of control are open to see. On 28 December 2004, the Los Angeles Times Wire Reports stated that “President Vladimir V. Putin set rules for naming Russia’s regional governors after pushing through a law that abolished their direct election. Putin signed the decree that gives the presidential chief of staff the task of drawing up and submitting lists of gubernatorial candidates to the president.” (Source: Putin Signs Decree on Naming of Governors).

Russian Federation

Click on the images to view them more clearly

regions russia1

All the people who surround or are connected with Putin depend on him, in varying degrees, for maintaining their positions and lifestyle. Thus they have an interest in him staying in power. As Albats put it, “ it’s hard to break his spell over them” because they will lose power if he leaves the stage. And, by the nature of how he has gained power, he has trapped himself into continuing to do what he has been doing. He and his apparent stooge, Medvedev, have talked about reform, but little has been done in this regard.

Meanwhile, according to Albats: 2000 former business leaders are in labor camps and jails; 80% of all the top dogs in government are ex-KGB employees; the 83 regions keep only 30% of the taxes they collect and must send 70% to the Kremlin. The President of the Russian Federation is the effective ruler of every subordinate political jurisdiction.

In addition, Putin’s bullying of, and alleged murders of, independent commentators and journalists is notorious:

“The murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006 shocked the world. ‘Yet for every Anna, there have been many less widely known journalists killed for their work across Russia,’ says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in a groundbreaking report on the 313 Russian journalists killed since 1993.” (Source: More than 300 journalists killed in Russia since 1993, says joint report).

Russian human rights activists place flowers at a portrait of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on October 7, 2009 during a rally on the third anniversary of her death at the hands of an unknown gunman. (Source:

Boris Nemtsov, former deputy prime minister of Russia and current opposition leader, suggested in a 2011 interview that only those in Ozero really support Putin any more: “Everyone is unhappy with Putin, save perhaps his closest friends, members of the so-called Ozero dacha cooperative […] In only a few years these fellows turned from medium-sized entrepreneurs into dollar billionaires. For example, the Kovalchuk brothers have seized power over Gazprom; the KGB veteran Gennady Timchenko is now a trader who controls 40 percent of all crude oil exports; Putin’s former (martial arts) coaches, the Rotenberg brothers, continue to get lucrative contracts, and there are a few more people like this.” (Source).

In concluding her formal remarks, Yevgeniya Albats said these things (from my written notes):

Despite everything she has “hope”, but this is in her nature. People are getting sick and tired of seeing the same old faces in positions of power on TV and elsewhere. Rural people are offended by Putin’s “coming back”. Young people are angry at Putin’s announced return and are wondering whether to leave Russia. Only 36% of the people have access to the Internet, but as more come on line they will be able to connect with others who are dissatisfied with the regime.

The program ended with remarks from a panel of experts:

· Lena Jonson, Head of the Russia Research Program at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs

· Carolina Vendil Pallin, Head of the Russia Research Programme at the Swedish Defence Research Agency

· Torbjörn Becker, Director, Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics

· The moderator was Nathalie Besèr, Advisor to the Swedish Institute of International Affairs

Lena Jonson addressed the issue of Russian stagnation because its closed system is resistant to change. She asked Albats her opinion on the likely source of the possible collapse of the Putin regime. Albats responded by saying that there will likely be a confrontation over control of resources, especially form the trade unions, and, there are signs of cleavages inside the elite groups. There are no institutional avenues to accommodate necessary change, therefore action in the street such as currently in Tunisia and Egypt becomes more likely.

Carolina Vendil Pallin focused on the writings of the elite, especially through blogs. She sees that these elite feel “humiliated” by Putin’s actions and style of governance. She sees that growing Internet accdess wil play an important role in creating necessary change. (Personal Note: the Samizdat in the Soviet Union and European communist eastern states played a similar role).

Albats agreed and said that the PR of the Kremlin is out of synch with the rest of society. She said that Putin is aware of this but seems powerless to bridge the gap. He has tried shallow things such as trying to appear more youthful, through plastic surgery and public display of his athleticism, but these are not working. More than anything, there is loss of confidence in public institutions, especially the judiciary.

This could all lead to a collapse of the state, “which would be dangerous to other people, including you guys” (indicating the audience of, mostly, Swedes.

Torbjörn Becker pointed out that Russia looks “relatively OK economically” and still has general political support as a result. Albats agreed that economic times were (relatively) good in Russia right now, but Putin will not reform. She cited others who have heard Putin say that once you start reform, there is no way back, and he (Putin) used Mikhail Gorbachev (the last head of state of the Soviet Union) as an example as what he did not want to do. The growing middle class will put pressure on the current system to reform. The Russian economy has improved due mostly from the rise in the market price of crude oil. The grass roots issue is not economic, but one of representation.

Some final remarks by Yevgeniya Albats in response questions from the audience’s questions:

Putin sees the West as Russia’s enemy, especially the USA.

Putin wants to re-create the Imperial Empire, but it is not possible because of resistance in the “Stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan).

Despite her native optimism, Yevgeniya Albats is afraid that Russia has lost its opportunity to change peacefully.

Nuclear Arms in Europe: Who are the Adversaries?

This question arises from a comment made by Daryl G. Press, PhD at a seminar on “Nuclear Weapons and European Security—a good match?” in Stockholm, on 26 January this year.

Additionally, the seminar’s title raises the question of the potential enemy against which Europe remains armed, through NATO and therefore through the USA, with nuclear weapons. The Cold War is over. The quick answer is that the potential adversaries are found in East Asia and the Persian Gulf.

The full sentence uttered by Dr. Press that gives rise to this article’s title is, from my notes: “We need to be publicly frank about who really are the adversaries, otherwise our communications will lead toward hypocrisy.”

The sponsors of the seminar were the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI). The participants and their credentials are listed at the bottom.

Doomsday Clock

To frame the question more fully, here are essential facts gleaned from the seminar and the Internet:

  1. What kind of nuclear arms are there and what are their purposes?
  2. Which are the nations that have nuclear arms, and how many?
  3. What are factors affecting the continued development and maintenance of nuclear arms?

Strategic: weapons with the greatest range of delivery, with the ability to threaten the adversary’s command and control structure, even though they are based many thousands of miles away in friendly territory. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are the primary delivery platforms for strategic nuclear weapons. The main purpose of strategic weapons is in the deterrence role, under the theory of mutually assured destruction.

Tactical, or “non-strategic”: battlefield weapons, used by a theater commander to offset a numerically superior force. They will be targeted based on rapidly changing local circumstances, not pre-targeted like a strategic weapon. However, even the smallest nuclear weapon is considered a “threshold decision” and is under the control of the highest national authorities, not local commanders. (Source)

Active non-deployed: spare and “responsive” warheads, i.e., those warheads that could be returned to the field quickly to increase the number of deployed warheads. All active warheads are filled with limited life components (e.g., tritium) and are maintained through regular surveillance schedules.

Inactive: warheads still intact but with their tritium removed; thus, it would take longer to return them to service upon a decision to do so.

Nations with Nuclear Arms and their Numbers

deployed warheads 2010

Note: “Deployed” include strategic and tactical warheads. “Other warheads” are active and inactive non-deployed warheads.

Although not discussed in the seminar, the seemingly clear distinction between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons is no longer clear:

It is estimated that there are about 2,500 weapons designated as ‘tactical’, of which Russia possesses over 2,000. The United States has fewer than 500, and deploys around 200 of these on the territory of five European countries in accordance with agreements between the United States and its NATO allies. To describe these as ‘tactical’ or ‘theatre’ nuclear weapons (TNW) is misleading outside the context of the Cold War, when over 10,000 were deployed. Though China, France, Israel, India and Pakistan also have short to intermediate range weapons in their arsenals, it is unlikely that these would be classified as ‘tactical’ and considered distinct from these countries’ longer range (strategic) nuclear arsenals. Nowadays it is understood that any crossing of the threshold to use nuclear weapons would have strategic consequences.
(Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy).

Nonetheless, at least two of the four panelists made this distinction due, I believe, to the fact that governments and the communication media still use the terms. There seems to be a lag time between the development of current realities and the ability of the diplomatic and other organizational machinery, and the media, to keep pace. Also, publicly discussing the reduction of the number of strategic warheads provides good political theater for politicians in Russia and the USA.

Using the questionable distinction, it seems that strategic weapons, holdovers in Russia and the USA from the Cold War, are less of a threat than the smaller (but extremely destructive in their potential), tactical weapons. To quote further from the Acronym Institute:

Tactical nuclear weapons are portable, vulnerable and readily usable. They are potentially destabilizing and create additional risks and insecurities, including possible acquisition and use by terrorists. The risk of terrorist acquisition should not be over-stated, and the bombs are protected by a variety of timers, switches, mechanical and electronic locks and procedural safeguards against any attempt to bring about an unauthorised nuclear explosion, but the possibility of detonating at least a radiological ‘dirty’ bomb cannot be discounted.

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev after signing the new START treaty

The latest START treaty deals only with strategic weapons, those held solely by Russia and the USA:

Under terms of the treaty, the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers will be reduced by half. The treaty limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, which is down nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty, as well as 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty… It will also limit the number of deployed and non-deployed inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 800. Also, it will limit the number of deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 700. The treaty allows for satellite and remote monitoring, as well as 18 on-site inspections per year to verify limits…The treaty places no limits on tactical systems… (Source). [Emphasis added by Pavellas].

NATO’s “tactical” nuclear bombs in Europe are all owned by the United States and are stored under the control of the US Air Force. So, a discussion about Europe’s security necessarily involves discussion of NATO and the USA, which it did during this seminar.

Although the tone of my article, so far, may be seen as toward the negative, the full discussion by the panel’s participants provided many nuggets which I duly offer here:

  • The new START Treaty is a positive development in that it will cause a reduction in nuclear warheads, will restore the idea of nuclear accountability and provides a legal framework for reduction.
  • For nations, it is quietly recognized that tactical nuclear weapons have no military value, but are used primarily for political purposes, e.g., in “signaling” other nations about capabilities and intentions. (This does not address the dangers of nuclear arms in the possession of non-nation entities, such as terrorist organizations).
  • The domino theory of nuclear arms proliferation (i.e., if country A gets them it will induce country B to get them) is contestable by the facts. For instance, North Korea has them, but South Korea doesn’t and says it won’t. But, of course, the USA has promised to defend South Korea.
  • Existing nuclear warheads need to be maintained to be operational, and this is a costly enterprise. The implication is that older warheads will not be maintained fully over time and that there will be a decline in their numbers and capability, everywhere. However, new warheads can be produced by those countries with the means in the “tactical” realm without violating treaties and other public promises.
  • Other perceived threats to humans seem more immediate and needful for attention that the funding of nuclear weapon development, such as: climate change, pandemics and secure national borders.
  • There is increasing transparency (i.e., visibility) of those activities that threaten national and world stability. This transparency aids the work of civil, i.e., non-governmental, advocacy organizations such as IKFF, university research departments and private think tanks, some of  which were represented at this seminar (see below). Timely and publicly available oversight by such organizations can lead to more timely responses to threats to peace and freedom. (I refer the reader to my article Civil Society Must Succeed Where Governments Have Failed)

Seminar Speakers

Pavel Podvig: affiliate and former research associate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

Daryl G. Press: Associate Professor of Government, Dartmouth University.

Fredrik Westerlund: Security policy analyst, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI).

Petra Tötterman Andorff: Secretary General, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Sweden (IKFF).

Suggested Resources

Nuclear arms control and non-proliferation: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Strategic Outlook 2010Swedish Defence Research Agency (PDF)

Center for International Security and Cooperation: Publications on Nuclear Proliferation Issues

The Nuclear Dimension of US Primacy (PDF): by Daryl G. Press

Internet Links provided by: The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Dismantle the War Economy Committee: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

The Fallacy of Nuclear Primacy, by Bruce G. Blair and Chen Yali

The Future of Nuclear Weapons in NATO, by Ian Anthony and Johnny Janssen