Massenbach-Letter: NEWS 06/03/15

Massenbach-Letter. News

*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*

· Video Purports To Show IS Militants Smash Ancient Iraqi Artifacts To Dust


· Israel & Jordan sign fresh water, Red Sea, Dead Sea cooperation accord

· Kerry: Serbia is taking on increasingly important role

· Kirkuk Foreshadows Challenges for a Post-ISIL Iraq

· Japan Times:Hard lessons for the Ukrainian school of war

· Japan Times: Huge aircraft carrier beyond Russia’s capability

· Cyprus Signs Military Deal With Russia

· Japan: Abe government mulls dispatching SDF troops on EU missions

· Full text of Saudi oil minister’s remarks in Berlin (March 4, 2015)


Consulting a Compass in Dealing with Putin*

by Jackson Janes

The murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow has added another dimension to the German debate over relations with Russia. The stand-off between the opposition and Putin’s sympathizers has intensified— and it should. There is much at stake, and there is a need to maintain a firm grip on a compass.

Nemtsov’s killing follows a string of deaths among Putin critics . The assassination of a prominent political figure is another illustration of how Russia is in the hands of those who want to eliminate any perceived threats. They have created an atmosphere conducive to the paranoid style of political manipulation. The response of the state-controlled media following Nemtsov’s murder illustrates the well-known practice of witch-hunting at home and finger-pointing abroad to find the culprits trying to hurt mother Russia. Conversely, in Germany, media coverage has been transparent in its efforts to present the story and the questions looming around it. Those questions focus on the increasingly repressive atmosphere in Russia and the role it has played in generating animosity toward the United States and the West in general, along with a virulent wave of nationalism undergirding Putin himself.

Looking to History for Answers Today

For the most part, the German media coverage has been transparent in its efforts to present the story and the questions looming around it. Those questions focused on the increasingly repressive atmosphere in Russia and the role it has played in generating animosity toward the United States.

The debate in both countries over their relationship is influenced by more than individual events: it has always been influenced by history, particularly when millions of Soviets died in the catastrophe of the Second World War. The fact that those deaths were set in motion by Hitler’s monstrous regime is embedded in the postwar German narrative—a narrative that also recalls the Soviet army’s annihilation of the Wehrmacht’s attack and its ultimate triumphal over-occupation of Berlin in 1945. The upcoming seventieth anniversary of the war’s end can be expected to generate an emphatic celebration of that victory in Moscow in May. Russian patriotism will be on full display in Red Square, as it was in Soviet times. Meanwhile, one can also expect history to be tied to the current crisis in Ukraine. Putin will compare fighting German fascists with the modern-day versions he sees in Kiev.

As that happens, it will be important to follow not only the United States’ and Europe’s efforts to mark that anniversary by recalling their commitment to defeating Hitler and restoring a free and stable Europe, but also how Germans portray that narrative.

For the duration of the Cold War, and especially during the years after 1990, the narrative first in West Germany and then unified Germany was about both an alliance and the expansion of Europe and NATO. It was about creating a Europe whole and free. That goal became possible, if not inevitable, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A European—and transatlantic—community grew as countries sought to overcome a history of conflict. There are now countries knocking at both the EU and NATO’s doors, with many waiting in line.

The European Dream and Russian Nightmare

It was thought, at some point, that Russia might join that waiting line and it emerged out of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In spite of the mythology currently spun in Moscow, those opportunities were real and pursued in various formats—until they were portrayed as threats, encirclement, and dangers. After all, Putin had declared that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century.

The crisis in Ukraine and the evolution of Russia into an authoritarian oligarchy hell bent on restoring its national glory have now created a dilemma in Germany. With the invasion and annexation of Crimea and its efforts to destabilize Ukraine in order to rid itself of its own legacy of political corruption and affiliate itself with a European future, Putin’s regime has attempted to block any such Ukrainian efforts. He seeks to undermine the European Union by attempting to leverage his gas and oil supplies and intimidate those members on the Russian border with threats to help “protect” Russian minorities.

Germany is often cited as the main target of Russian propaganda and policies. Putin attempts to leverage that Russian-German legacy and play on German sympathies. He also uses anti-American sentiment to attempt to portray the United States as an outside influence and instigator interfering with real European interests.

Furthermore, Putin has helpers in Germany who buy into that message. It is not only those on the political left who use the old communist attacks on American capitalism. It also comes from the right wing, which has always harbored suspicion of American conspiracies to manipulate Germany. We witnessed this in the uproar over the NSA revelations. We see it in criticisms of alleged American preference for military solutions over diplomatic ones on problems such as the Ukraine conflict. In fact, there is a widespread sense of mistrust—if not outright cynicism—about American policy, whether it is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or confrontations with Russia, Iran, or the Middle East. During the past decade, the level of confidence in the United States has decreased in many ways. That has much to do with the Iraq war and its aftermath. But there has also been a decrease in confidence in U.S. domestic capacities given the gridlock in Washington and the language surrounding it. Some of that also came from a disappointment with President Obama for not living up to the unrealistic German images and expectations projected on him six years ago. After all, Guantanamo is still open.

A Tug-of-War Persists in Germany

Surrounding this development is an emerging trend—and a sense of déjà vu—that equates the United States and Russia as two similar powers vying for their own selfish influence and interests. That was a widespread attitude in the Cold War, and had significant traction during the debate in the early 1980s over the NATO deployment of U.S. missiles in West Germany as a response to Soviet missiles in East Germany. There was not much difference between the “two superpowers” and there was even a sense in West Germany that the Germans really had the high moral ground on preventing deployment, even though then-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was the first to call for it.

Only a few years later, all of that was forgotten as German unification suddenly became possible. The Americans were again the “good guys” for supporting unification over the massive objections of France and the United Kingdom. Indeed, 1990 was the high point for German-American relations.

Then came a period when Europe was expanding and feeling good about itself in the 1990s, even though the war on its own doorstep in the imploding Yugoslavia needed American help to stop the bloodshed and slaughter. The new century then saw a decade of post 9/11 responses in Washington, during which the United States, the lone superpower, acted according to its sense of self-preservation threats as the only superpower and set out to end evil through a war on terror been visited on .

That was then accompanied by the Great Recession, which exposed weaknesses in the U.S. economy.

Meanwhile, Putin was engaged in restoring national pride and influence in Russia by conducting massive attacks on Chechnya and Georgia. He finally set his sights on Ukraine when it became clear that the former Soviet country wanted to change course toward the West. He was also seen cracking down on political dissent and other forms of protests by referencing the “plague” of homosexuals and other “deviants” and exploiting the traditional Orthodox Church as a beacon of values against the decadent Western influences.

In Germany, some people chose to identify with this conservative backlash and also turned blamed the United States for these dangers. One sees traces of that now in the PEGIDA demonstrations.

What is emerging in some circles is a trace of German equi-distance to the United States and Russia, while in other circles there is a more explicit anti-American sentiment with regard to what is perceived as American interference in European affairs. This has arisen recently in commentaries at the very top of the European Union leadership, which had stressed the greater value of European negotiations with Moscow on Ukraine versus talk from Washington of arming Kiev. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, has been particularly eloquent.

Choosing Important Battles: Ukraine and Nemtsov

Within this argument is the sentiment that the United States has less understanding of and certainly less interest in Russia, that the Europeans need to live with Russia as a neighbor, and that Moscow has legitimate security interests to consider. With that argument comes a readiness to recognize Crimea as “lost” and to suggest that the government in Kiev is really made of oligarchs running what comes close to a failed or failing state. Underneath that is a sense that it is not worth confronting Russia, because no one is going to go to war over Ukraine. The notion that there is hope of sustaining a Ukraine worth defending seems limited.

Beyond that, there is a belief that negotiations are needed in principle before military options are considered—and preferably considered not at all, as it only escalates the speed toward war. By the way, that did not work in the Balkans.

The murder of Boris Nemtsov is another setback for Russians looking for an alternative path toward achieving a Russia that is not run by oligarchs manipulating the economy to enrich their bank accounts and using the justice system to rid people standing in their way. It is also a setback for Russians who do not believe in a zero-sum game between Russia and the West. Finally, it is a setback for Europeans who maintained hope that Russia can be part of Europe.

However, what will be equally important is the possible setback for the German debate on dealing with a Putin-ized Russia. The seductive narrative that Germany needs to be working with Russia to strengthen a non-U.S.-led Western alliance is not new, bu But it seems to be looming in the background. More mumbling among German business leaders about the sanctions is detectable. Those who promote the value of continued and sympathetic dialogue with Russia tend to dominate the unending German talk shows. Even though Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have labeled Putin and his actions for what they are—the worst transgression of international law since the end WW2of World War II—there remains a public hesitation in Germany to ratchet up further pressure. This follows case after case since Putin revealed his real cards—giving weapons to the rebels in eastern Ukraine, who used them to shoot down a passenger plane; showing contempt for European Union and NATO members by flying jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons through and around European airspace; and watching one opposition figure after another eliminated without any clear evidence of how it happened. Perhaps the trial in London about the poisoning of one victim will lead to a trail of polonium in Moscow.

The Lasting Challenge Ahead

The chancellor and her government will have their hands full trying to sustain EU solidarity behind the sanctions. It will be even more difficult if there is a move to tighten them further. There is leakage in Hungary and Greece, as recent events have illustrated. But she also needs to maintain the case in Germany, which at this time seems to be strong. As the year progresses, it will be crucial for Germany to lead this effort both by sending economic signals as well as by deploying military measures to those who will need it along the Russian border. Nothing can be ruled out when it comes to Putin’s prerogatives.

It may last many years, as was the division of Germany itself, but the shots that killed Boris Nemtsov were not only aimed at him. They were another set of warning shots, along with those continuing in Ukraine. Like it or not, there may be more coming. If the European leadership, and Germany in particular, explores more ways in which it thinks it can show its ability to negotiate with Putin, it will need to keep a firm hand on its political compass, and a firm partner hat should be one that is shared across the Atlantic.


Japan: Abe government mulls dispatching SDF troops on EU missions*

The Abe administration is considering creating a framework through which Self-Defense Forces personnel would participate in international missions involving European Union troops, under an envisioned permanent law on overseas SDF dispatches, a government source said.

SDF troops would be sent on EU international peace and cooperation operations under a different framework than that for U.N. peacekeeping operations, the source said Tuesday.

The envisioned SDF dispatch is likely to be discussed in a meeting among senior officials of the Foreign and Defense ministries with EU representatives in Tokyo early next week, the source said.

Japanese and EU officials are expected during the talks to sort out legal issues on the scope of SDF operations, as the administration is working out security legislation following a Cabinet decision last July on reworking Japan’s security policy, according to the source.

The move reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stated desire for Japan to make “proactive contributions to peace” and raise its global profile.

In the absence of a permanent law, the government has enacted special laws to authorize the dispatch of SDF personnel for refueling missions to support U.S.-led anti-terrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, and for humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

The permanent law would enable the dispatch of SDF personnel when necessary, a faster process than submitting time-limited, case-specific special legislation to the Diet for approval. Japan has a permanent law on U.N. peacekeeping operations that forms the legal basis for its dispatch of troops.

According to the source, the administration plans to dispatch SDF personnel to operations under the European Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) framework.

EU member countries have contributed troops and equipment as the need arises, and Japan was asked a few years ago to provide support.

While the EU troops have been involved in disarmament and conflict prevention, they have also taken part in nonmilitary activities such as helping Libya improve security on its borders in 2013.

Last May, Japan and the European Union agreed in a joint statement to “explore the scope for strengthened Japanese collaboration with the CSDP’s missions.”

SDF personnel have cooperated with and held joint exercises with troops of EU member nations, but they have never received direct orders from the EU’s command structure.

“With the ruling coalition parties’ talks on security moving forward, we will study how far (the SDF) can be involved in the EU troops’ missions,” the source said.

One of the issues that could be addressed in future discussions between Japanese and EU officials is an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement, or ACSA, which enables troops of different countries to share supplies and transportation services.


“The Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose”

Opinions: By Elizabeth Warren (February 25, 2015)

Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, represents Massachusetts in the Senate.

“ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court…. Replacing the U.S. legal system with a complex and unnecessary alternative — on the assumption that nothing could possibly go wrong — seems like a really bad idea.”

The United States is in the final stages of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive free-trade agreement with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Singapore and seven other countries. Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?

One strong hint is buried in the fine print of the closely guarded draft. The provision, an increasingly common feature of trade agreements, is called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled. Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.

ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.

If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?

If the tilt toward giant corporations wasn’t clear enough, consider who would get to use this special court: only international investors, which are, by and large, big corporations. So if a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.

Why create these rigged, pseudo-courts at all? What’s so wrong with the U.S. judicial system? Nothing, actually. But after World War II, some investors worried about plunking down their money in developing countries, where the legal systems were not as dependable. They were concerned that a corporation might build a plant one day only to watch a dictator confiscate it the next. To encourage foreign investment in countries with weak legal systems, the United States and other nations began to include ISDS in trade agreements.

Those justifications don’t make sense anymore, if they ever did. Countries in the TPP are hardly emerging economies with weak legal systems. Australia and Japan have well-developed, well-respected legal systems, and multinational corporations navigate those systems every day, but ISDS would preempt their courts too. And to the extent there are countries that are riskier politically, market competition can solve the problem. Countries that respect property rights and the rule of law — such as the United States — should be more competitive, and if a company wants to invest in a country with a weak legal system, then it should buy political-risk insurance.

The use of ISDS is on the rise around the globe. From 1959 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS claims worldwide. But in 2012 alone, there were 58 cases. Recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. U.S. corporations have also gotten in on the action: Philip Morris is trying to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations intended to cut smoking rates.

ISDS advocates point out that, so far, this process hasn’t harmed the United States. And our negotiators, who refuse to share the text of the TPP publicly, assure us that it will include a bigger, better version of ISDS that will protect our ability to regulate in the public interest. But with the number of ISDS cases exploding and more and more multinational corporations headquartered abroad, it is only a matter of time before such a challenge does serious damage here. Replacing the U.S. legal system with a complex and unnecessary alternative — on the assumption that nothing could possibly go wrong — seems like a really bad idea.

This isn’t a partisan issue. Conservatives who believe in U.S. sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from American courts, whose authority is derived from our Constitution, to unaccountable international tribunals. Libertarians should be offended that ISDS effectively would offer a free taxpayer subsidy to countries with weak legal systems. And progressives should oppose ISDS because it would allow big multinationals to weaken labor and environmental rules.

Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal. If a final TPP agreement includes Investor-State Dispute Settlement, the only winners will be multinational corporations.

Read more on this topic:

The Post’s View: Momentum for the Trans-Pacific Partnership needs to be revived

Harold Meyerson: Free trade and the loss of U.S. jobs

The Post’s View: Trans-Pacific Partnership and all free trade deals help the United States

Charles Lane: U.S. benefits from trade deals — never mind the protectionists’ hype


John Kemp: Full text of Saudi oil minister’s remarks today in Berlin – from the Ministry of Petroleum (with my highlights):

Exzellenzen, Damen und Herren, guten Morgen.

It is a pleasure to be here in Berlin speaking at the German-Arab Friendship Association.

I first visited Germany as a student in 1960, when I spent a summer traveling around the country, visiting Bonn, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Stuttgart and Munich. It is a time I recall fondly and I have returned many times since. I was here last August, enjoying a holiday in your beautiful Black Forrest. So when I talk about the friendship between Germany and the Arab world, I have personal experience of your nation’s kindness and hospitality.

Ladies and gentlemen. I have been asked to talk to you about Saudi Arabia’s role as an energy-exporting country in the 21st century. I believe that our role, as the pre-eminent, reliable and stable supplier of oil is well known. So I will instead address three specific areas of interest. First, I will discuss events that have taken place in the global oil market over the past eight months.

Second, I will outline Saudi Arabia’s policy position and, thirdly, I will look to the future. Finally, and briefly, I will talk about some of the areas where I see opportunities for increasing bilateral trade and investment between our two nations.

So first, the events of the past eight months.

Oil remains a vital component of modern life, powering economic growth and improving the prospects of millions of people around the world. Oil is a complex global industry and a necessary part of the 21st century energy mix yet, in some ways, the oil business is quite simple: it’s about supply and demand. The oil price, however, is not quite so clear cut. Supply and demand are key aspects, of course, but it also takes into account a range of other factors. These include speculation, conjecture – informed or otherwise – and perception about what the future holds. Also, oil is increasingly used as an asset class and this also impacts the price.

When prices are rising, or at an historic high, as they have been over the past few years, the global oil industry tends to increase investment. So we have seen higher production from oil fields that are more costly to develop or operate, such as in the arctic, deep offshore, heavy oils in Canada and Venezuela, and shale oil deposits in the US. Ultimately, this additional production has come during a period when the global economy is recovering from a deep recession.

Oil demand growth, particularly in Europe, has been impacted. These factors combined have led to an over-supply. If you add into this speculation about a future oil glut and potential falling demand, you get falling prices. This is how the oil market operates. We have seen this pattern repeated time and again over many decades. It’s happened again.

During periods of rapid price movement, up or down, there is often a frenzy of commentary ascribing various bizarre theories and motives – about collusion or conspiracy – to OPEC and to major producers, most notably Saudi Arabia. With the recent price drop, OPEC and Saudi Arabia have yet again been maliciously – and unfairly – criticized for what is, in reality, a market reaction. Some speak of OPEC’s “war on shale”, others claim “OPEC is dead.” Theories abound. They are all wrong.

It has always been the aim of OPEC nations to work together to do what they can to stabilize prices, ensure fair returns for producers and steady supplies for consumers. In November, I believe OPEC made an historic decision. It did not intervene in the market.

Many commentators have recently seen the sense in this approach. And I think history will prove that this was the correct path forward. From my perspective, demand is gradually rising, global economic growth seems more robust and the oil price is stabilizing. Saudi Arabia’s quest for market share is simply an effort to satisfy rising customer demand. We seek calm markets, because this benefits everyone.

Ladies and gentlemen. This brings me to my second point: Saudi Arabia’s oil policy. Seeking well-balanced markets remains the central pillar of Saudi Arabia’s oil policy.

We have invested vast sums to maintain spare production capacity, and consistently invest for the long-term. We believe our policies have contributed to market stability and our partners across the world recognize this. When significant supply disruptions have occurred we have risen to the challenge and the Kingdom has repeatedly made additional volumes available. This has helped blunt some of the negative impacts on the global economy. Saudi Arabia takes this role seriously and remains committed to being a reliable supplier to our customers around the world.

We have a long-term view. We try to avoid knee-jerk reactions to short-term market movements.

Over the past eight months, though, with the market in surplus, it is Saudi Arabia that is called upon to make swift and dramatic cuts in production. This policy was tried in the 1980s and it was not a success. We will not make the same mistake again. Today, it is not the role of Saudi Arabia, or certain other OPEC nations, to subsidize higher cost producers by ceding market share. And the facts on the ground are very different anyway. Non-OPEC supplies are much larger than they were in the 1980s and a much more multi-national approach is required. Saudi Arabia remains committed to helping balance the market but circumstances require other non-OPEC nations to cooperate. Currently, they choose not to do so. They have their reasons. But I would like it to be known that Saudi Arabia continues to seek consensus.

I would also like to reiterate a point I have made several times before. This new oil supply growth – much of it coming from the US – is a welcome development for world oil markets and the global economy over the past several years. These new supplies, along with Saudi Arabia’s own efforts, have helped offset outages from other oil producing countries. Without them, a still vulnerable global economy could have faced much higher energy prices. Saudi Arabia has consistently welcomed new unconventional supplies, including shale. As I said, Saudi Arabia has a long-term view. And in the long term, additional demand will need to be met by all sources of energy, be they fossil fuel or renewables. So what does the future hold? This brings me to my third point.

Ladies and gentlemen. Over the long term, the facts are indisputable. The world’s population is increasing, the global middle class is expanding, and the demand for energy will rise accordingly. Access to reliable and stable energy supplies will help improve global living standards, increase educational levels and boost economies worldwide. In this, I believe all nations are in agreement. We have a shared responsibility to create the conditions that can make this happen.

In terms of oil, the global market is large and growing, albeit slowly at the moment. But I believe there is room for all producers. Of course, during periods when supply growth outpaces demand, the lowest-cost producers will inevitably have an edge over higher cost marginal producers. Saudi Arabia, blessed with a massive hydrocarbon resource base and some of the world’s largest conventional oilfields, enjoys very low production costs. And we are more efficient than other producers. It is an advantage which we will use, as any producer would, to help supply dependent global customers.

But while a down cycle causes oil industry pain, it brings benefits as well. A period of lower oil prices incentivizes companies to take a more disciplined approach and focus on implementing production efficiencies. This is certainly true for our national oil company, Saudi Aramco. More importantly, the greatest short-term benefit of lower oil prices is to the consumer and the global economy. The benefits of lower energy costs are timely for those countries currently facing economic headwinds – including many emerging markets.

Achieving market stability remains our goal. We will never be able to curb volatile oil market investment cycles, but perhaps we can work to moderate them for the benefit of all producers. It is vital that all producing countries – OPEC and non-OPEC – continue to focus on long-term common objectives of ensuring oil market stability and a sustainable future for both oil producers and consumers. Going forward, I hope and expect supply and demand to once again start to balance, and for prices to stabilize.

Ladies and gentlemen. While I am here today, I would also like to say a few words about Saudi-German bilateral trade and investment, and opportunities for the future. Saudi Arabia is in the midst of an unprecedented and historic effort to diversify and industrialize its economy. To achieve our aims, it is vital that Saudi Arabia partners with successful countries, such as Germany, and its companies.

Today, bilateral trade stands at around 11 billion euros and many German companies are contributing towards the Kingdom’s rapid development. Siemens, Linde, and tunneling company Herrenknecht are already involved in a range of projects in the Kingdom. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are two obvious areas where I see more room for partnerships.

Germany is a world leader in terms of solar – and Saudi Arabia has a lot of sun, and acreage. We intend to harness more and more of our domestic energy needs from solar power so there really is scope for greater cooperation.

Saudi Arabia is also striving to establish an industrial rubber industry, and I hope we can do this in partnership with German companies, which have substantial expertise. There is also potential for partnerships as we expand our downstream chemicals business, especially in terms of creating polymers from carbon, which will also help tackle harmful emissions. Finally, there are opportunities in healthcare, training – especially vocational training – logistics and transport. I hope they are grasped.

Damen under Herren. I would like to thank you all for listening today and hope that German-Arab Friendship continues to flourish and strengthen in the future.

Danke schön.

John Kemp

Senior Market Analyst



No. 164: Economic Challenges: Weak Ruble, Unstructured Monotowns

Series: Russian Analytical Digest (RAD)

Issue: 164

Publisher(s): Center for Security Studies (CSS), ETH Zurich; Research Centre for East European Studies, University of Bremen; Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, George Washington University

Publication Year: 2015

This edition examines some of the economic challenges currently facing Russia. Firstly, Philip Hanson assesses the ruble’s dramatic fall vis-à-vis other currencies, arguing that among the many causes, the causal chain "oil price—exchange rate—inflation" stands out. Secondly, Stephen Crowley considers how the regime’s concern that monotowns – one-industry towns leftover from the Soviet era – represent potential sources of social unrest will likely lead them to continue subsidizing monotowns to avoid social conflict, which will preserve the country’s inefficient post-Soviet industrial landscape.


English (PDF)


Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* Befragung unter Geschäftsführern und Personalchefs:
Unternehmen setzten stärker auf Home Office

Unternehmen setzen in Zukunft verstärkt auf Home Office statt auf klassische Büroarbeitsplätze, greifen auf externe Spezialisten zurück und nutzen Videokonferenzen zur Zusammenarbeit in virtuellen Teams. Das ist das Ergebnis einer repräsentativen Befragung unter 1.500 Geschäftsführern und Personalleitern von Unternehmen aus allen Branchen im Auftrag des Digitalverbands Bitkom.

Demnach verliert der klassische Büroarbeitsplatz mit Anwesenheitspflicht künftig an Bedeutung. Davon geht jedes vierte Unternehmen (24 Prozent) aus. Nur 4 Prozent rechnen mit einer Renaissance des Büros. Zugleich erwartet fast jedes dritte Unternehmen (30 Prozent), dass das Home Office wichtiger wird. Nur 4 Prozent gehen von einem Bedeutungsverlust aus. Die meisten Unternehmen, die bislang auf die Nutzung des Home Office verzichten, geben an, die Arbeit von zu Hause aus sei einfach generell nicht vorgesehen (64 Prozent).

"Die Digitalisierung der Arbeitswelt ist ein zentraler Teil der d!conomy, der digitalen Transformation unserer Wirtschaft", sagt Bitkom-Präsident Dieter Kempf. "Viele Unternehmen werden sich umstellen müssen. Das flexible Arbeiten, auch von zu Hause aus, ist etwas, was vor allem gut ausgebildete Hochschulabsolventen erwarten."

Externe Spezialisten spielen größere Rolle

Künftig sollen externe Spezialisten für 35 Prozent der Unternehmen eine große Rolle für den wirtschaftlichen Unternehmenserfolg spielen, derzeit ist das erst für 24 Prozent der Fall. Drei Viertel der Unternehmen (73 Prozent) sagen, durch externe Experten erhöhe sich das Innovationstempo. Nicht einmal jedes zweite Unternehmen glaubt, dass sich durch externe Fachleute Personalkosten reduzieren ließen. "Es geht beim Einsatz von externen Spezialisten tatsächlich darum, die Leistungsfähigkeit und das Innovationstempo zu erhöhen, nicht um ein schlichtes Sparprogramm", sagte Kempf. Jedes dritte Unternehmen (31 Prozent) will in Zukunft verstärkt auf freie Mitarbeiter setzen. Nur 3 Prozent wollen weniger freie Mitarbeiter einsetzen.

Unternehmen setzen verstärkt auf Videokonferenzen

Deutlich wichtiger werden auch virtuelle Meetings, vor allem mit Hilfe von Videokonferenzen. Heute nutzen erst 8 Prozent der Unternehmen häufig Videokonferenzen für die Zusammenarbeit. 39 Prozent gehen aber davon aus, dass dieser Anteil in Zukunft steigen wird, nur 1 Prozent will weniger Videokonferenzen nutzen. Auch die klassische Telefonkonferenz, die 44 Prozent der Unternehmen häufig nutzen, wird weiter an Bedeutung gewinnen. 34 Prozent wollen sie häufiger einsetzen, nur 4 Prozent seltener. Dabei gibt eine große Mehrheit der Unternehmen an, dass virtuelle Meetings sowohl geeignet sind, Kosten zu sparen, als auch die Arbeit effizienter zu machen.

Die Digitalisierung der Arbeitswelt führt nach Einschätzung der Wirtschaft zu mehr Wachstum und Innovation in Deutschland. 70 Prozent der Unternehmen gehen davon aus, dass sich durch Home Office, den Einsatz externer Spezialisten sowie virtuelle Zusammenarbeit das Innovationstempo erhöhen wird. Zwei Drittel (65 Prozent) erwarten, dass die deutsche Wirtschaft dadurch stärker wachsen wird.

Hinweis zur Methodik: Im Auftrag des Bitkom hat Bitkom Research in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Meinungsforschungsinstitut Aris 1.500 Geschäftsführer und Personalleiter von Unternehmen ab 3 Mitarbeitern aller Branchen befragt. Die Umfrage ist repräsentativ für die Gesamtwirtschaft in Deutschland.


Politics: From Vision to Action


Joerg Barandat: WATERINTAKE 2/2015 Februar

by udovonmassenbach

TV-Tipp: Montag, 23. März 2015, 21:00 – … das Bayerische Fernsehen berichtet in der Sendung „Lebenslinien“ über die Kinderhilfe Afghanistan
Kinderhilfe Afghanistan

150228 WATERINTAKE 02_2015.pdf


Frankreichs Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik ohne Strategie:

Deutsch-französische Initiativen anstelle eines französischen Aktionismus

Author(s): Ronja Kempin, Lisa Watanabe

In: SWP-Aktuell

Publisher(s): Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik: Deutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit

Date: 2015/01/04

Publication Year: 2015

Die französischen Streitkräfte sind derzeit sehr gefragt: Im Kampf gegen die Terrorgruppe Islamischer Staat (IS) wird Paris in den kommenden Wochen sechs Mirage-Kampfflugzeuge nach Jordanien verlegen. Am 1. August 2014 hat Frankreich die Antiterror-Operation Barkhane (Sicheldüne) im Sahel und Sahararaum begonnen. 3000 Soldaten sind mit schwerem Gerät von Mali und Tschad, ab 2015 auch von Niger aus im Einsatz. In der Ukraine will die französische Regierung Aufklärungsdrohnen verwenden, Spionageboote der Marine patrouillieren bereits im Schwarzen Meer. Dass die Armee jeden Krisenherd der Welt bearbeiten kann, erweist sich indes zusehends als Irrglaube. Frankreichs Streitkräfte, so beklagen ranghohe Militärs, »gehen auf dem Zahnfleisch«. Längst reichen Personalreduzierungen und Standortschließungen nicht mehr aus, um die überfällige Modernisierung der Ausrüstung zu finanzieren. Deutsch-französische Initiativen in der Gemeinsamen Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik (GSVP) könnten Frankreichs Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik wieder schärfere Konturen verleihen


*Posture Statement*

Each year, Combatant Commanders are called to Washington to report on the state, or "posture," of their commands to the United States Congress. In these posture hearings, the Commander outlines the vision, priorities and progress that guide and distinguish the command, showcasing all of the hard work that goes on across their respective Combatant Commands every day and the results those efforts deliver.

For EUCOM, Gen. Breedlove delivered his testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on February 25, 2015.

Gen. Breedlove’s written testimony outlines for Congress the strategic purpose for EUCOM, the missions it provides in support of the national security of the United States, and the Gen. Breedlove’s vision for fulfilling those missions.

“EUCOM has experienced dramatic changes in the security situation on the European continent over the last 12 months, forming a new European security environment. These changes have significant ramifications for U.S. national security interests and those of our European Allies and partners. As a result, we are assessing the threat to U.S. and NATO Allies in the theater and beyond. Even as we continue to lean forward with our NATO Allies and partners in response to the conditions in this new environment, fully addressing these growing challenges and their long-term implications requires a reformulation of the U.S. strategic calculus and corresponding resourcing levied towards Europe. (…)

EUCOM must be able to assure, deter, and defend against Russian aggression; support ongoing and future contingency operations; counter transnational threats; and help build our partners’ capability to help us accomplish these missions, thereby enhancing regional and global security. (…)

Maintaining our strategic Alliance with Europe is vital to maintaining U.S. national security and is not to be taken for granted. We must reassure our European Allies and partners through the United States’ commitment to NATO and the credibility of that commitment fundamentally rests upon the capabilities, readiness, and responsiveness of U.S. military personnel stationed in Europe. The forces assigned to EUCOM are the U.S.’s preeminent forward deployed force and fulfill the United States’ primary treaty obligation to NATO. Our permanent presence also allows us to maximize the military capabilities of our Allies. Permanently stationed forces are a force multiplier that rotational deployments can never match.

EUCOM 2015 Congressional Posture Statement


Department of Defense Press Briefing by Gen. Breedlove in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenters: General Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and commander of United States European Command
February 25, 2015

GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Good afternoon, everybody.

It’s good to be back in this room and be back with you today.

As many of you know and may have watched, I just completed my testimony with the House Armed Services Committee. I’d like to start by thanking Under Secretary Wormuth for her time and her partnership. For those of you who did not listen to my testimony, I’d like to review a couple of key points I made to the committee before we proceed to your questions.

I told them, compared to just one year ago, Europe faces a very different and much more challenging security environment. We have concerns that a resurgent Russia is exercising power and influence, not only in neighboring countries, but also in the region more broadly and around the world.

The challenge is global, not regional, and enduring, not temporary……..



*Japan Times (Opinion): Hard lessons for the Ukrainian school of war*

by Stephen Holmes and Ivan Krastev

The ongoing turmoil in Ukraine has frequently been compared to the Yugoslav crisis of the early 1990s — and, indeed, there are many similarities.

But when it comes to understanding why the conflict between Ukraine’s government and Russian-backed separatists has persisted — and why, after a year of increasingly brutal fighting, a resolution seems so remote — the differences are far more important.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tactics in Ukraine do resemble those of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Putin’s misuse of World War II references in propaganda, aimed at fueling intense Russian nationalism, is often said to be a cut-and-paste replica of Milosevic’s disinformation campaigns in the early 1990s, which stirred up anti-Croat sentiment among Serbs.

Both Putin and Milosevic empowered ethnic kin in the countries over which they wanted to assert control, before launching military invasions under the pretense of protecting those kin. Finally, both leaders secured the establishment of self-proclaimed “republics” within another country’s borders.

Given these similarities, many argue that Western powers should emulate their approach to ending the crisis in Yugoslavia — and that means providing “lethal defensive military assistance” to Ukraine. After all, it is asserted, the Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian War became possible only after the Americans decided to arm the Croats and Bosnian Muslims.

But, of course, Putin’s Russia is not Milosevic’s Serbia. Russia is not a footnote in history or a Balkan mini-state; it is a nuclear great power, against which Ukraine, however heavily armed, does not stand a chance militarily. Given this, providing weapons to Ukraine would exacerbate the bloodletting, without compelling Putin to reconsider his approach and support a lasting peace.

Moreover, the geopolitical context has changed considerably in the last two decades. At the time of the Yugoslav war, the West not only occupied the moral high ground, but was also viewed as invincible, owing to its Cold War victory. Today, the West is perceived as in decline, with America’s legitimacy as a global leader increasingly called into question.

In this context, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is right to oppose arming Ukraine. But she is wrong to assume that negotiations with the Russians can produce a lasting solution like the Dayton Accords, because the conflicts themselves are fundamentally different. Whereas Yugoslavia experienced a local crisis with broader European implications, Ukraine is mired in a European crisis with local implications.

Milosevic had a clear strategic objective: to create a Greater Serbia. To this end, he wanted either to redraw the region’s borders, or at least conclude a deal that gave autonomy to Serbian-majority regions outside of Serbia proper. Negotiations to end the Balkan wars were possible precisely because they centered on maps.

For Putin, the annexation of Crimea was sufficient, in a strategic sense. He is no longer interested in redrawing lines on maps. His actions are not driven primarily by a determination to annex the Donbas region (which is of negligible strategic importance to Russia), carve out a land corridor to Crimea or create a frozen conflict.

Putin remains involved in Ukraine for reasons that seem largely pedagogical. He has a message for the sanctimonious West — and for the Ukrainians who craved entry into its club.

For the West, the message is that Russia will not tolerate meddling in its backyard. In Putin’s view, the West must acknowledge the entire post-Soviet space, minus the Baltic states, as Russia’s exclusive sphere of influence. (The Kremlin’s apparent failure to anticipate China’s refusal to accept such a dispensation — particularly in Central Asia, which is key to President Xi Jinping’s economic vision — represents a puzzling lapse in Putin’s strategic calculus.)

For Ukraine — and its new government, in particular — the message is that the country cannot survive, at least not within its current borders, without Russia’s support. Putin also wants to show Ukrainians that, at the end of the day, the West does not really care about them. Americans will not fight for them, and Europeans will not provide the money that their government so desperately needs.

The West’s motivations in Ukraine, too, seem more pedagogical than strategic: to show Putin that changing borders by force is unacceptable in Europe today. The hope is that economic sanctions, together with Russian casualties on the ground, will force Russia humbly to accept its post-Cold War status as a third-rate power, while sending the additional message that any effort to revise the U.S.-led world order is doomed to fail — with serious economic costs.

Clear strategic objectives enable negotiating parties to concede that half a loaf is better than none. But two sides that simply want to teach each other a lesson lack the common ground needed to hammer out a compromise acceptable to both. That is one reason why today’s negotiations on Ukraine are bound to achieve only patchy, short-lived truces, not the kind of long-term solution that was reached after the Bosnian War.

Stephen Holmes is a professor at New York University School of Law and the author, most recently, of “The Matador’s Cape: America’s Reckless Response to Terror.” Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. His latest book is “In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don’t Trust Our Leaders?” © 2015 Project Syndicate


Israel & Jordan sign fresh water, Red Sea, Dead Sea cooperation accord

DEBKAfile February 26, 2015, 6:28 PM (IDT)

Fulfilling a historic vision, Israel and Jordan Thursday signed a bilateral agreement to exchange water and jointly funnel Red Sea brines to the shrinking Dead Sea. It was signed on the Jordanian bank of the divided Dead Sea, the result of a memorandum of understanding that Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian officials concluded on Dec. 9, 2013 in Washington, D.C

Jordan and Israel have agreed to share the potable water produced by a future desalination plant in Aqaba, from which salty brines will be piped to the Dead Sea. In return for its portion of the desalinated water in the South, Israel will double its sales to Jordan of fresh water from the Sea of Galilee.

Signing the agreement on Thursday were National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom and his Jordanian counterpart, Water and Irrigation Minister Hazim El-Naser.


Middle East

*Cyprus Signs Military Deal With Russia*

Cyprus on Wednesday(02-25-15) signed a deal with Russia allowing its navy ships to make regular port calls on the island.

The deal with European Union member Cyprus, which also hosts British military bases, comes amid Russia-West tensions over Ukraine, the worst since Cold War times.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after Thursday’s talks with visiting Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades that the agreement would primarily refer to Russian navy ships involved in international counter-terrorism and anti-piracy efforts. He added that military cooperation between Russia and Cyprus isn’t directed against any third party.

"Our friendly ties aren’t aimed against anyone," Putin said. "I don’t think it should cause worries anywhere."

Russia has sought permission for navy ships to use ports in various parts of the world to replenish supplies and undergo maintenance, deals that would allow Moscow to expand its global military presence.

Russian ships already have made port calls at Limassol, but the new agreement apparently aims to create a more solid legal basis for that.

Speaking to TASS news agency before his trip to Moscow, Anastasiades said that Cyprus and Russia were also discussing a possibility for Russian planes to use an air base near Paphos for humanitarian relief missions.

See also:

Analysts: Russia Unlikely to Gain Access to Cypriot Military Bases


Japan Times: Huge aircraft carrier beyond Russia’s capability*

LONDON – The Kremlin is preparing blueprints for a huge new aircraft carrier, Russian media reported in early February, to replace its navy’s current flattop, the relatively small and aged “Admiral Kuznetsov.” Moscow’s new carrier, however, is likely to remain a paper concept. A quarter-century after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia lacks the money, expertise and industrial capacity to build aircraft carriers.

A new flattop could boost Moscow’s military power by providing air cover to warships sailing far from Russian shores and giving the Kremlin another option for launching air strikes on distant enemies. Both are now particular concerns for the West because President Vladimir Putin’s Russia has become far more aggressive along its borders.

But the Kremlin has failed to maintain its expensive shipyard facilities and perishable worker skills. So it can’t actually complete the new vessel any time soon.

The Krylov State Research Center in St. Petersburg, which brainstorms most of Moscow’s warships, is doing the design work for the carrier, according to Russia’s TV Zvezda. The TV network featured a model of the new flattop earlier this month, which is revealing. It underscores the Kremlin’s narrow chance of ever building the warship. Based on the model planes on the scale ship’s deck, the proposed flattop appears to be huge — at least as big as the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered supercarriers, which can exceed 305 meters in length.

The United States operates 10 such nuclear carriers, each with an air wing of 60 or more planes, plus 10 smaller, non-nuclear amphibious assault ships that can launch small numbers of vertical-landing Harrier attack planes.

Russia’s “Kuznetsov” is smaller than the U.S. nuclear flattops. When jets take off from the deck of “Kuznetsov,” which isn’t often, they rarely number more than a dozen. The new carrier that Krylov is reportedly developing would represent a big upgrade. That’s why Moscow probably can’t build it.

When the Soviet Union launched “Kuznetsov” in 1985, it was a major technical accomplishment for the then-superpower. Moscow began assembling “Varyag,” a sister ship of “Kuznetsov,” around the same time. It also started work on a true full-size carrier, as big as anything the U.S. builds. But the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 abruptly halted the carrier program. One emerging problem was logistics. The Krylov design agency is in Russia, but the Soviet Union’s main carrier-building shipyard was on the Black Sea in Ukraine, which became an independent country that year. Ukraine scrapped the big carrier then under construction and, in 1998, sold the half-done “Varyag” to China.

Russia was left with “Kuznetsov” as its sole flattop and, deprived of funds and Ukraine’s assistance, has struggled to keep the vessel in working condition.

The U.S. Navy deploys its carriers once every two years for cruises lasting between six and nine months. At any given time, the U.S. has two or three big carriers and an equal number of small carriers on station in the world’s hot spots. Russia, however, is lucky if its flattop is available for combat for a few months every few years.

U.S. aircraft carriers have engaged in almost all America’s conflicts since World War Two. “Kuznetsov” hasn’t launched a single combat sortie.

The carrier is clearly inadequate as a reliable instrument of Russian foreign policy. This says as much about the poor state of Russia’s arms industry, military planning and overall economy as it does about the ship itself. Eager to improve its ability to build reliable flattops, in recent years Moscow undertook two parallel initiatives. Neither worked out as the Kremlin had hoped it would.

First, in 2004, Russia and India struck a deal whereby Moscow would pull a small, Soviet-era carrier — the “Admiral Gorshkov” — out of mothballs, rebuild it to enhance its ability to support jet fighters and sell it to India to replace one of New Delhi’s aged British-built carriers or flattops.

The roughly $1-billion deal was supposed to be a win-win. India would get a reasonably up-to-date carrier for a fraction of the cost of building a new one. (Today, a new large U.S. carrier costs as much as $14 billion.) Meanwhile, Russia’s defense industry would gain fresh experience in carrier construction that should prove useful when it came time to replace “Kuznetsov.”

But the carrier sale quickly turned into a disaster for both countries. Moscow had underestimated the deficiencies of its main Sevmash shipyard on the White Sea. Costs more than doubled when workers fell behind schedule. Sevmash finally finished the refurbished flattop in late 2013 — five years late.

Then on its maiden voyage from Russia to India, the carrier’s engines broke down, an unsurprising development considering “Kuznetsov’s” tarnished record. The Indian deal was supposed to reinvigorate Russian shipbuilding. Instead it only underscored the industry’s weakness. Russia inked a similar deal with France in 2010 to acquire two French-made assault ships for $2 billion. Russian companies would contribute to the vessels’ construction and, at some later date, might build a few more of the ships on their own. The Mistral-class vessels can carry only helicopters, not fixed-wing planes. Still, Russian officials hoped that co-producing the ships with France would help restore Russia’s ability to construct big warships.

“The purchase of Mistral shipbuilding technology will help Russia to grasp large-capacity shipbuilding,” Russian Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said. “It is important for construction of ships like the future ocean-going class destroyer and later an aircraft carrier.”

But the French program failed in even more dramatic fashion than the Indian effort. Paris suspended the Mistral deal after Russian troops invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in early 2014. Notably, when Russia annexed Crimea, it failed to seize Kiev’s main shipyards just north of the peninsula — the same yards that had assembled the Soviet carriers, including Kuznetsov.

For at least 11 years, Moscow has been trying to restore its ability to build aircraft carriers but has made little progress. And with the Russian economy in free fall, owing in large part to sanctions that other countries have imposed over the war in eastern Ukraine, even that modest progress could grind to a halt.

Maj. Gen. Igor Kozhin, the Russian navy’s chief of naval aviation, said a carrier could be ready before 2025. But one expert doubts if even that is possible. “The earliest that Russia could build a new aircraft carrier is 2027,” estimated Dmitry Gorenburg, a research scientist who is an associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

So any concept for a new Russian flattop will, for now, remain just that — a concept.




*Video Purports To Show IS Militants Smash Ancient Iraqi Artifacts To Dust*

A new video released by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group appears to show militants turning Iraq’s cultural heritage into dust as they destroy scores of priceless artifacts at a museum in the city of Mosul.

The five-minute video, shared on social media on February 26, depicts militants smashing statues and other ancient treasures with sledgehammers.

The video shows a militant who highlights that the artifacts on display in the museum depict or refer to gods other than Allah and are against Islam.

A group of militants are then filmed removing plastic covers from statues and sculptures and turning them into rubble.

One of the statues destroyed by the militants depicted a 900 B.C. Assyrian protective god in the form of a winged bull.

An Iraqi Twitter user, who tweets under the name Ihsan, tweeted that the Islamic State group had "destroyed Iraq’s last bit of cultural memory."

"5,000 years of human heritage are gone forever," Ihsan tweeted, adding that, "All that’s left of our country’s heritage are pictures of what once was. We’ll show our children photos of the glory we couldn’t protect."

The Islamic State group overran Mosul in June. According to The Daily Beast, the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, visited the Mosul Museum shortly after the group took control of the city.

The release of the video appearing to show militants destroying priceless Iraqi artifacts came after the country’s antiquities officials called on the Obama administration in July to help save Nineveh and other sites around Mosul.

Iraqi National Museum Director Qias Hussein Rashid told The Daily Beast in July that the arrival of Islamic State was a "brutal shock" and that curators were "not able to take preventative measures." The militants told the museum staff that the ancient sculptures were "against Islam."

The shocking images of Iraq’s priceless cultural heritage being reduced to rubble in the February 26 video are not the first pictures of militants willfully destroying "non-Islamic" artifacts in Iraq and Syria.

Images shared in November by Chechen Islamic State militants on the Russian social networking site VKontakte in late 2014 showed extremists smashing artifacts with hammers. The exact location where the pictures were taken in Syria was not specified.



moderated by Srecko Velimirovic

Kerry: Serbia is taking on increasingly important role

WASHINGTON – Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, met in Washington Thursday with United States Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that Serbia is taking on an increasingly important role in many respects.

Addressing a joint press conference with Dacic before the meeting, Kerry welcomed Dacic at what he called "a time when Serbia is taking on an increasingly important role in many respects."
"First of all, they are assuming the chairmanship of the OSCE. And this comes at a really important time given the Minsk agreement, the efforts that we are all making to try to see that agreement implemented," Kerry said.

Under the chairmanship of Foreign Minister Dacic, we will all be looking for accountability in the process of trying to stabilize the eastern part of Ukraine, and see if we can’t get on a different road, he said.

He said that the OSCE observer status is absolutely critical to our ability to know if both sides are adhering to the Minsk agreements, and so the United States welcomes the assumption of this responsibility.

Kerry touched on Serbia’s European path, saying that the United States welcomes "the fact that Serbia has taken the step of moving towards EU accession."
"It will require a process of reforms and engagement. We certainly look forward to working with Serbia in that endeavor," the secretary of state said.

He said that the government in Belgrade has exhibited great leadership in helping to engage seriously in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and in helping to reach an agreement that really could begin to move things on a road to longer-term stability.
"We know it’s difficult and we know there are complications, but we applaud the fact that most recently there was a meeting with the EU High Representative Mogherini. There was a successful outcome of that dialogue with important next steps taken," said Kerry.

Serbia’s Foreign Minister Dacic said that Serbia attaches great importance to bilateral relations with the United States, especially in a time when Serbia is chairing a very important organization – the OSCE.

As holder of the OSCE chairmanship-in-office, Serbia will be fully committed to honoring and meeting its principles and commitments, bearing in mind that former Yugoslavia was one of the founders of the OSCE, and we will do all we can to help bring about peace and coordinate all our actions in the entire OSCE region from Vladivostok to Vancouver.

In line with this, we will be holding consultations at various places within the OSCE structures so that we can take the necessary steps and make the right moves.

Dacic said that he and Kerry will discuss not only the OSCE topics, but also touch upon some bilateral issues.
"And it is my great pleasure to have our bilateral relations advancing and going upwards, and I think that it is very important to renew the strategic partnership, which dates way back," Dacic said, pointing to the fact that the bilateral and diplomatic relations were established over 130 years ago.

Dacic voiced the hope that Kerry would take part in an OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Belgrade in December this year.
We would be very happy to see our two countries exchanging visits more frequently. "And I have to say that we cannot even remember who was the last president of the United States who visited Serbia. I think that this was Mr. (Gerald) Ford," Dacic said.

The Serbian foreign minister noted that it would be very good and beneficial for the relationship between the United States and Serbia to advance, mirroring the development of political cooperation between them.

We want Serbia to be a factor of stability and peace in the region, to resolve all issues with its neighbors in a diplomatic way and through dialogue. We will make maximum efforts and demonstrate responsibility as OSCE chair, especially when the whole world is watching what the OSCE, with its capacities, can do in this regard, Dacic said.

The Serbian foreign minister is wrapping up his several-day visit to the U.S. in his capacity as OSCE chairperson-in-office on Thursday.



Kurdish peshmerga fighters walk with their weapons as they take control of an area on the outskirts of Mosul, Feb. 6, 2015.

Kurdish peshmerga, IS reach stalemate

MULA ABDULA, Iraq — "How are the skies?" a gruff voice asks in Iraqi Arabic dialect. "The skies are clear," is the reply, after a crackle of static on the walkie-talkie through which a Kurdish major is listening to the conversation between two Islamic State (IS) militants on the other side of this front line, southwest of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq.

An irrigation canal no wider than 10 meters (33 feet) separates the lightly armed Kurdish peshmerga forces from the extremist militants in Mula Abdula, where Maj. Aziz Ahmad stands behind a defensive berm, holding the walkie-talkie up to intercept the enemy’s communications.

“They change the frequency regularly and it is not easy to intercept,” he told Al-Monitor. "IS is terrified of bomber aircraft, especially the French.”

With the help of coalition airstrikes, Kurdish forces have reclaimed most of the area they lost to IS in August 2014, driving the militants out of 15,000 square km (9,300 square miles) they consider historically their own. But the peshmerga forces have neither the will nor the means to advance much further into Sunni Arab areas.

The front line at Mula Abdula, 25 km (15.5 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, has not moved since June 2014, when the militants overran Mosul and other Sunni-majority areas including Hawija 35 km (22 miles) away.

“Why should we shed Kurdish blood for Hawija when we know the Iraqi government will claim it back once the IS threat is gone?” responded Capt. Rebwar Mala Ali when Al-Monitor asked whether there were any plans to cross the canal and attack IS on its own turf.

The Kurds’ reluctance to move forward and desire to avoid inflaming sectarianism by deploying Shiite militia forces to those areas means IS has not been dislodged from any of Iraq’s Sunni heartland. Efforts to reconstitute the several army divisions that collapsed last summer are proceeding slowly, and the “spring offensive” touted by some Iraqi and US officials to retake Mosul seems increasingly unlikely.

In the village of Mula Abdula, a flock of blackbirds and starlings alights on the remains of a pillar that used to sustain a house recently smashed by airstrikes. Thick columns of smoke belch from two oil wells, set on fire by IS militants when they were driven out of the area after briefly overrunning it on Jan. 29.

Although the militants have not made any gains in Northern Iraq since the airstrikes began in August 2014, they are still attacking peshmerga forces regularly and mounted a major offensive around Kirkuk in January, shortly after suffering humiliating defeats in the Syrian town of Kobani and near the Mosul Dam.

Taking advantage of dense fog, the militants managed to cross the canal, killing at least 30 peshmerga fighters, including two generals, before Kurdish reinforcements, including an elite counterterrorism squad, drove them back.

"We kept shooting at them but they kept coming," said Goran Nasraddin, one of the few peshmerga fighters from his unit to have survived the assault, in which he sustained multiple injuries. "I counted around eight IS fighters who fell as I fired my gun, but nothing stopped them.”

When Nasraddin realized all his co-fighters had fallen, he hid in a cesspit for 12 hours until IS militants were pushed back. "I immediately put my phone on silent. I knew I would be beheaded if they captured me alive," Nasraddin told Al-Monitor. By the time he emerged, his parents had already given him up for dead and dug a grave for him on a hill surrounded by pine trees in his village.

The bodies of at least 70 IS militants were recovered from the battlefield, but Kurds say over 200 militants were killed in the battle.

Defending Kirkuk proves difficult

The Kurds took full control of Kirkuk in June 2014, meeting no resistance as the Iraqi army melted away. But the oil-rich city is proving less easy to defend.

Since January’s attack, the peshmerga forces have destroyed all but one of the bridges crossing the canal to hinder any future attack. Lack of weaponry and communication equipment has also made Kurdish forces vulnerable to IS attacks. "In this unit, we only have two old rocket-propelled grenades and the rest is old light arms," Ahmad said. "We are fighting this group on behalf of the world, but we have no weapons to do so."

The force also suffers from internal weaknesses. Several peshmerga fighters on the front line speak scathingly of their commanders, many of whom they accuse of running away in the heat of battle.

Mala Ali, who retired due to injuries in 2005, has more than 20 years of experience as a peshmerga fighter and returned to duty when IS advanced on Kurdish areas in June 2014. He has fought IS as a sniper volunteer from Jalawla in Diyala province to Tuz Khormato in Salahuddin province and now across the Kirkuk front line. He told Al-Monitor that when IS attacked on the night of Jan. 29, he saw commanders run from the battlefield, leaving their men behind, saying, “It was by the grace of God that we were not caught.”

He added, "When I saw them that night, I shouted at the commanders and called them cowards for leaving their men behind."

As the two adversaries face off across the canal, bewildered Sunni residents caught in between try to make sense of the mayhem around them in Mula Abdula. Farmer and father of three Ahmad Salim told Al-Monitor, "Our problems started when IS emerged. We came back to the village because no one wants us. The residents of other villages don’t let us in and Kurdish security forces don’t allow us to enter the Kurdish areas.”

Across the canal, the IS militants have more pressing issues at hand as the roar of warplanes reverberates overhead. "Watch out, a warplane is approaching," an IS militant can be heard saying through the major’s walkie-talkie.


Kirkuk Foreshadows Challenges for a Post-ISIL Iraq*

Tensions in Kirkuk serve as warning of the instability that could rack Mosul after its liberation.

All eyes are on the Iraqi city of Mosul, the capital of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which could be attacked by Iraqi forces as soon as April or May 2015 according to a US government briefing given to reporters in February 19. But whenever Mosul is actually attacked, the key challenge for the liberating forces will not end when ISIL fighters are expelled. Governance of multiethnic Mosul city will pose an equally significant test for the Iraqi and Kurdish leaderships, as well as their international allies.

One way to gauge the complexity of post-conflict stabilisation is to look at the Iraqi city of Kirkuk today. Kirkuk sits partway between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) capital of Erbil. Placed at a crossover point between the Kurdish highlands, Turkmen towns and Arab farmlands bordering the Tigris, Kirkuk expanded greatly after oil production began in the province in the 1920s.

The 1957 census — considered the least politicized — broke down Kirkuk’s population by mother tongue, finding the province was 48.3 percent Kurd, 28.2 percent Arab, 21.4 percent Turkmen, and the rest Chaldean, Assyrian, or other. From the 1960s onwards, urban Turkmen and Kurds were targeted with increasing violence by successive Iraqi governments: In 2003, the pendulum swung again and the Kurds became the dominant force within the city.


Kirkuk is the point at which Iraqi Kurdistan is at its narrowest. Throughout the last century, Kirkuk was used as the jump-off point for government incursions into the Kurdish highlands. It sits astride the most direct highway linking the two main KRG cities, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. For a hostile force to control Kirkuk is to cut the Kurdish region in half.

Today, the Kirkuk area continues to represent a neuralgic point for the Iraqi Kurds — a potential chink in their armour. Multiethnic Kirkuk is almost unique because of the large numbers of Arabs who live within the frontline secured by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Kirkuk is linked to the KRG by highways, and a busy flow of commercial and passenger traffic still transits between it and the KRG cities every day.

This has made Kirkuk the single most significant entry point for ISIL car bombers and attack cells seeking to penetrate the Kurdistan Region. On January 30, ISIL launched a major localised offensive against the Peshmerga frontline southwest of Kirkuk city, simultaneously installing a team of suicide attackers on the roof of a hotel in the city. Mass sweeps and intelligence-led raids are now combing Kirkuk’s Sunni Arab communities for terrorist cells.


Kirkuk has attained a political symbolism over the past 50 years, much as Mosul is a political and economic centre for many of Iraq’s Sunnis. The Kurdish political parties vie for influence in Kirkuk, and when the city is attacked they rush to defend it. In August 2014, the inflow of Kurdish Peshmerga to Kirkuk arguably stripped other fronts to the extent that the ISIL offensive penetrated almost to Erbil.

Control of Kirkuk city currently rests with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the smaller of the two largest Kurdish political parties, but the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is gradually encroaching. In July 2014, the KDP opportunistically expanded their military control of western Kirkuk, including the Northern Oil Company’s Bai Hassan and Avana oilfields.

Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim, who is close to PUK leader Jalal Talabani, must balance the dual needs of maintaining Kurdish unity to defend the city while at the same time restraining further expansion of KDP influence in Kirkuk.


Compared to southern Iraq’s massive post-1950s oilfields, which are still expanding their production, the grand old Kirkuk fields have been in decline for a while. Yet control of the western Kirkuk oilfields is more significant than ever because of the dire financial straits that Iraq is suffering from due to high government spending needs and the collapse in oil prices since November 2014.

Kirkuk oil played a central role in the passage of the 2015 budget and the Baghdad-KRG revenue-sharing deal contained within it. Under the deal, Kurdistan must provide Baghdad with 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Kurdish-produced crude oil, which is made possible, in part, by the KRG’s takeover of the Bai Hassan and Avana fields. The KRG likewise is committed to helping Iraq export 300,000 bpd of Northern Oil Company-produced Kirkuk crude via Kurdistan’s pipeline to Turkey. Every barrel of oil shipped will furthermore earn $2 for the province under the "petrodollar" scheme.

In the next year, Kirkuk oil could fill a vital gap in Iraq’s budget (and provide Kirkuk province with investment) or it could become a source of disagreements between Baghdad and Erbil. The Iraqi government is already eyeing the return of Bai Hassan and Avana oil to the federal exchequer.

The Kurds meanwhile are winning over the Northern Oil Company with an effective outreach programme of technical support and pipeline-building, which could aid the full KRG annexation of Kirkuk’s oil industry if the revenue-sharing deal with Baghdad breaks down.


Perhaps the newest challenge to emerge in Kirkuk is the tension between the predominately Shia Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Units or PMUs) and the Kurdish-led administration. The PMUs have been gradually working their way up the Baghdad-Kirkuk road since September 2014, liberating Shia Turkmen towns overrun by ISIL and garrisoning Sunni settlements with a heavy hand.

Now the PMUs have reached the southern outskirts of Kirkuk city, the first federal security forces to return to Kirkuk since the 12th Iraqi Army Division disintegrated last June. The Kurds swore at that time that no federal forces would return to Kirkuk, but the Shia militias, in part due to Iranian backing, have very effectively grown their presence, with large training camps emerging to arm local Shia Turkmen and Arab Kirkuki volunteers.

Such Shia militants are not completely novel in Kirkuk: Shia Kirkukis from the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) terrorist groups fired rockets at the US-occupied airbase and attacked US vehicles in Kirkuk right up until the US departure in 2011.

Now these groups are beginning to challenge Kurdish dominance: On February 8, Badr leader Hadi al-Amiri, the PMU leader in much of northern Iraq, visited the Kirkuk governor with an imposing 50-vehicle security detail. On February 17, AAH leader Qais al-Khazali said that his fighters would enter Kirkuk city to challenge the Peshmerga if Kirkuk’s Shia residents called upon AAH to do so.

This emerging risk is an indication of the potential complexities that could challenge the post-ISIL governance of northern Iraq, particularly of a liberated Mosul city, an ethnic melting pot with nearly a million residents. The ultimate significance of the ISIL offensive in Iraq may not lie in the movement’s fleeting control of Iraqi cities but rather in the ethno-sectarian militias and decentralising forces released by the loss of government control.

Michael Knights, a Lafer Fellow with The Washington Institute, travels to Iraq regularly to work with local leaders, government ministries, and security forces.



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