FROM SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA Topic: RUSSIAN AFFAIRS
Those who can - do,
Those who can't - shoot.
SCOTTSDALE, May 8, 2006 - A man who can't shoot straight without hitting a friend instead of a quail, has chosen to shoot his mouth off in the hopes of taming the Russian bear. Good luck! Ever heard of the saying "let a sleeping dog lie," let alone a bear?Yet in a clear sign of provocation, the Veepotus chose to do it on the eve of VE Day, a big holiday in Russia, and on Russia's doorstep - in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, first Stalin's then Hitler's vassal in World War II - a predominantly (80%) Catholic country in which there is no love lost for anything Russian. In his speech, Cheney praised all of the anti-Russia opposition parties in former Soviet dominions that have gained power, while castigating the pro-Russian government in Belarus. And then he waded into Russia itself.
This is what Cheney had to say in part about the world's largest country:
Democratic movements? From Serbia, to Ukraine, to (unsuccessful attempt in) Belarus, we have seen what these "democratic movements" mean - the CIA trained and Washington financed puppet governments replacing those left over from the Cold War era. And that's what the Russian people should aspire to?
No wonder the Russian political analyst and President Putin's adviser, Gleb Pavlovsky, said after Cheney’s speech that it "effectively eliminates the vestiges of strategic partnership between Russia and the United States."
"Perhaps the vice president (Cheney) is privy to intelligence information not freely available to the rest of us—that he has received unimpeachable information that the Kremlin, for instance, is completely unprepared to support any sort of coercive measures against Iran in the United Nations Security Council, or has decided to exclude American companies from taking part in the development of the Shtokman gas field—one of the largest greenfield energy projects in Russia—or will instruct Aeroflot to purchase new aircraft from Airbus instead of Boeing," writes Nikolas Gvosdev in a current National Review article.
"Otherwise, the speech made no political sense," Gvosdev concludes. He adds...
Other commentators in the Russian press were even
harsher in their reactions to the Cheney diatribe. Comparing Veepotus'
words to a 1946 speech by British statesman Winston Churchill in Fulton,
Missouri, when he said Europe was divided by an "Iron Curtain,"
the business daily's Kommersant's
front page May 5 headline read: "Enemy at the Gates. Dick Cheney
made a Fulton speech in Vilnius."
How much more provocative can the Cheney "diplomacy" get?
Well, it can. And it did. From Vilnius, Tricky Dickey Second Edition (see NOTE), traveled to Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, another former Soviet satellite on its southern flank, an energy-exporter that controls many of the vast Caspian Sea oil and gas reserves. Cheney described Kazakhstan as a "key strategic partner of the United States" in terms of energy supply projects and anti-terrorism efforts. And on the second day of Cheney's Astana visit (May 6), Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov promptly announced that Kazakhstan would be ready to sign the stalled trans-Caspian oil and gas transport agreements next month. Since the pipelines bypass Russia, the moves can be seen as another slap in the face for Russia.
Now, the question the Russian analysts and politicians seem to be asking themselves is - did Cheney speak for the President? And the answer is - absolutely. No major speech of this kind would have been made without clearing it with the White House boss (some Washington insiders might even argue that Cheney is running the show anyway, i.e., that he is the real boss, not our figurehead President).
More importantly, Cheney also spoke for Condoleeza Rice, whom many regard as the next likely Republican presidential candidate. As the Secretary of State, she is not only in charge of the U.S. foreign policy, but Russia has been her specialty. Furthermore, she is a friend of and has had the ear of the President since before George W. Bush was a mere candidate.
The next question is why would the Bush administration want to provoke another showdown with Russia over democracy? And the answer has nothing to do with democracy. When was the last time you've heard a senior American official complain about a lack of democracy in China, for example, still a communist country? On the contrary, the Red Chinese president received a red carpet treatment and a royal welcome last month at the White House. The American officials at our self-proclaimed bastion of freedom had to backpedal and apologize to the communist leader when he was heckled by a Falun Gong (a Chinese religious group) member who posed as a journalist. The lady dissenter was arrested for speaking her mind. In Bush and Cheney's America! So much for freedom of speech in this country.
How unimportant democracy really is to the Bush administration officials can also be seen from their reaction to the newly elected Palestinian government. Since Washington does not own and control the electoral winner - the Hammas party, as they do in so many Eastern European countries - they screamed bloody murder and implemented the sanctions against the Hammas. Now they are trying to squeeze and starve the Hammas government financially since they failed to do so politically.
Closer to home for the Russians, the Bush administration officials went into apoplexy back in March after the Belarus people overwhelmingly reelected A. Lukashenka, the pro-Russian incumbent president. It was actually quite comical to see Washington protest the results of a democratic election they could not control. After all, Belarus is not Florida.
So if it is not about democracy, what was the Cheney Vilnius bluster about? It was about power, of course, what else. Russia is reasserting herself as a major player in world affairs. After a meteoric rise in global energy costs in the last 18 months, Russia is gaining new financial and political might. And Putin is flexing his muscles rather than acting as an obedient Washington stooge, the way most European countries tend to behave.
As the first-time host of the G-8 economic summit scheduled for this July in St. Petersburg, Putin's home town, Russia's rise to prominence on the global stage is likely grow. So the would be masters of the world are trying to reign Russia in; to upstage Putin; to isolate Russia by courting its former satellites; to bring her to heel - the way Washington dealt with the brief dissent that Germany and France staged back in 2003 in opposition to Iraq war. In other words, to show Russia and the world who is boss.
Meanwhile, by playing up the Cold War renewal angle, which can so easily stir up old anti-Russian emotions back in the good old U.S. of A., the Russian commentators and politicians are actually playing right into Bush, Rice and Cheney's hands. The Russians would have been much better off to have ignored or laughed off his Vilnius speech by saying, "how can America expect the world to take anyone seriously who shoots his 78-year old friend claiming he mistook him for a quail?"
Russia should also continue its courtship and wooing of the European Union and Chinese energy and military technology customers. After all, words are cheap. It is the common interests that cement global friendships.
The fact that the Russians are biting and taking Cheney's bait suggests a new baldheaded (not an eagle) Tricky Dickey II is back. And he is gunning for quail. Alas, not that Quayle. J The Russian bear had better watch out.
 Veepotus = Vice President of the United States
NOTE: For those among our readers who were not raised on American politics, "Tricky Dickey" was a derogatory nick name of the late U.S. president Richard Nixon who resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment.
MOSCOW, May 10, 2006 - Less than a week after Dick Cheney's attack on Russia, Vladimir Putin bristled in his response during his today's (May 10) State of the Union address to the parliament.
"Where is all this pathos about protecting human rights and democracy when it comes to the need to pursue their own interests? Here, it seems, everything is allowed, there are no restrictions whatsoever," Putin said, smiling sarcastically in the address to both houses of parliament, according to an Associated Press report.
"We are aware what is going on in the world," he added. "Comrade wolf knows whom to eat, he eats without listening, and he's clearly not going to listen to anyone."
Political analyst Alexei Makarkin told Ekho Moskvy radio the "wolf" reference was a response to the "United States, its actions in Iraq and plans toward Iran, its games on the territory of the CIS (former Soviet territory) and its criticism of Russia."
In another apparent barb aimed at the United States, Putin said countries should not use Russia's World Trade Organization membership negotiations to make unrelated demands. "The negotiations for letting Russia into the WTO should not become a bargaining chip for questions that have nothing in common with the activities of this organization," Putin said.
The ITAR-Tass news agency reported that the comments on reversing the population decline prompted 27 bursts of applause and that listeners in all applauded 47 times - more than in any of Putin's other state of the nation addresses.
Fore more on Putin's speech, click here to view a (British) Guardian report (May 10).
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WASHINGTON, May 10, 2006 - Just how hypocritical U.S. policy can be was amply illustrated today by the U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow. While the Vice President lambasted Russia last week, Snow kow-towed to China today, giving the communist country a mere slap on the wrist over its currency manipulation - in flagrant disregard of the U.S. law.
Under a federal law, the Treasury must begin bilateral or multilateral consultations with any nation that manipulates "the rate of exchange between their currency and the United States dollar for purposes of preventing effective balance of payments adjustments or gaining unfair competitive advantage in international trade," explained a MarketWatch report today.
No negotiations are required if doing so would "have a serious detrimental impact on vital national economic and security interests," in the view of the Treasury secretary, the law says.
And what national economic and security interests would calling the Red Chinese spade a spade jeopardize? None whatsoever. On the contrary. It would have helped the U.S. current account deficit of $805 billion in 2005, nearly 7% of gross domestic product. Our bilateral trade deficit with China was about $202 billion. But China has amassed foreign reserves of $875 billion, much of it in U.S. dollars. And the world's most populous country has attracted more than $753 billion in direct foreign investments by multinationals since the end of the Cold War (see "Yin-Yang Pacific Tsunamis," Oct 2005).
Some U.S. manufacturing and labor interests have said China's undervalued currency has cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs as cheap Chinese imports flood the market. They have demanded stronger action from Washington against what they see as unfair trade policies. Evidently to no avail. Their pleas have fallen on deaf ears of the big business-controlled and infatuated Bush administration.
Meanwhile, the Fed raised the U.S. prime interest rate today by another quarter point to 5%. It was the 16th consecutive increase. Yet it is yet to stop the precipitous slide of the U.S. dollar against the major currencies. Against the Euro, for example, the dollar has lost almost 8% of its value in the last six weeks alone. But the Chinese exporters haven't felt the pinch. Their Yuan has moved lock-step with the dollar. And that's not currency manipulation?
So the tail is now wagging the dog. Washington is putting the interests of the multinational companies ahead of those of the U.S. taxpayers. Nothing new there... (see "Who Lost China?" Aug 1999; "China Now Bigger Than the U.S.," Jan 2004; and "The Worst of Both Worlds," Mar 2005).
So Putin may yet have the last laugh. At least he's got all that oil and gas to fall back on if his luck runs out. And what does Bush have? A 34% (and plummeting) approval rating. Even a year ago, at 45%, Bush had the lowest approval rating of any president at this point in his second term, according to Gallup polls that go as far back as WW II. Except in corporate America's boardrooms, of course. That's where he is getting straight A's. Such is life in a plutocratic society.
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Also see "Cheney Nominated: Weep Mankind!" (Jul 26, 2000) (or should it be "Veep Mankind?" J); "American vs. Serbian 'Demo Farce'," Aug 2000); "Bush League All-Stars," Feb 2002), or click on the links to see other articles on global; and Russian affairs...
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