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Belmont Club

Kerry Meets Lavrov

March 30th, 2014 - 1:13 pm

The scene is a familiar one. Two wizards parlay over the fate of their yokel followers. The yokels try to follow the converation. But it’s no use; they are shut out. No it isn’t the Gandalf-Saruman scene out of the Lord of the Rings. It’s the Kerry-Lavarov meeting in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower standing in place of Orthanc.  Barack Obama diverted John Kerry to the French capital so he could meet with the Russian foreign minister over Ukraine.

Sunday’s meeting follows an hourlong phone call Friday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Obama urged Putin to withdraw his troops from the border with Ukraine. The Russian leader, who initiated the call, asserted that Ukraine’s government is allowing extremists to intimidate ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking civilians with impunity — something Ukraine insists is not happening.

Alarmed at the ‘threats to ethnic Russians’, Putin suggested rewriting the constitution of Ukraine — without Ukraine in attendance — to change things to his liking.  You would think such a suggestion would be out of the question. But Kerry is listening!

Lavrov made clear that Moscow believes a federation is the only way to guarantee Ukraine’s stability and neutrality.

“We can’t see any other way to ensure the stable development of Ukraine but to sign a federal agreement,” Lavrov said, adding that he understood the United States was open to the idea.

U.S. officials have been coy about their position on a federation and insist that any changes to Ukraine’s governing structure must be acceptable to the Ukrainians. Ukrainian officials are wary of decentralizing power, fearing that pro-Russia regions would hamper its western aspirations and potentially split the country apart. …

The plan that Kerry and Lavrov are discussing covers Ukrainian political and constitutional reforms as well as the disarmament of irregular forces, international monitors to protect minority rights and direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine, according to U.S. officials, who say it has backing of Ukraine’s government.

The Voice of Russia also demands that the new constitution “should clearly state the non-bloc status of Ukraine”. And Lavrov says Obama is interested but not just now.  Not only are they going to rewrite the constitution, they’re gong to rewrite Ukraine’s foreign policy.

A new constitution should clearly state the non-bloc status of Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Sergei Brilev’s Vesti v Subbotu (News on Saturday) television programme on March 29.

He said this idea had been put forth in Russia’s proposals concerning the settlement of the crisis in Ukraine. “This thesis is reflected in our proposals. We are convinced that a new constitution should clearly state the non-bloc status of Ukraine,” the minister said.

“The Americans hear this. As to how much they understand this can be judged from their public statements. Last week in Brussels, President Barack Obama said that neither Ukraine nor NATO was prepared for this, and this issue should not be discussed now,” Lavrov said, referring to calls for Ukraine’s admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Gandalf refused to negotiate with Saruman. But clearly Kerry and Lavrov are talking. Lavrov suggests that Obama has been nibbling at the bait for some time but is hesitant to bite, probably because it looks bad. His interest however, is clearly shown by the alacrity with which Kerry changed course in mid-journey to land is Paris.

There are two uncertainties which will emerge from any potential agreement between Kerry and Lavrov. The first is whether Putin will keep his word. The second is whether Obama will keep his word.  The American president’s reassurances aren’t what they used to be.

Recently president Obama “sought to reassure Saudi King Abdullah on Friday that he would support moderate Syrian rebels and reject a bad nuclear deal with Iran, during a visit designed to allay the kingdom’s concerns that its decades-old U.S. alliance had frayed.” Which is to say, Obama promised not to enter into a prejudicial agreement.

The Hill notes that Obama’s “friends” are now taking nothing for granted. Three of America’s oldest allies in the Middle East are watching him like a stranger in close contact with their silver cutlery. “The United States is at odds with its three most important allies in the Middle East … Under Obama, a chill has settled on the U.S. relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel, which both opposed U.S. efforts to reach a nuclear accord with Iran. And in Egypt, Obama has an uncertain partner, given the toppling of two governments since 2010.”

A note of doubt has crept into the relationship.  For many allies it is now a case of “don’t openly doubt, but verify”.

But in fairness to Obama it must be asked: why if Obama believes his vaunted sanctions will bring Russia around, is Kerry talking to Lavrov? Why is Putin setting the terms? Why is Obama expected to sell this agreement to Ukraine? And most importantly, if Obama couldn’t keep Putin from shredding the Budapest agreement how can he keep him to this new agreement, assuming there is one?

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Top Rated Comments   
Yes Putin gets what Putin wants
That’s how he plays the game
He promises that Russian grunts
Will set the world aflame
With Putin it is all about
Diminishing the States
Reducing US world wide clout
America he hates
Obama smiles and without pause
Says Putin’s point of view
Is fine with him and that’s because
Obama wants that too

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not only Munich 1938, but also the Partition of Poland 1772, the Partition of Poland 1793, the 1795 Partition of Poland which ended the existence of Poland until Napoleon created a puppet Duchy of Warsaw in 1807. Which itself was partitioned by the Great Powers at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The crushing of various Polish uprisings, the reconstitution of a Polish nation after WW-I, and its partition between Germany and Russia in 1939.

"Gandalf refused to negotiate with Saruman. But clearly Kerry and Lavrov are talking."

And we are ruled by Grima Wormtongue.

And I would bet that the continued survival of the American and NATO army surrounded in Afghanistan with the Russians sitting on their supply lines is a question that if not openly on the table in Paris, is very much discussed under the table.

First, when we forfeit all honor, credibility, and power in the world by Partitioning Ukraine against the will of its people; there will be secondary and tertiary effects. Poland, the Baltic states, and those former Warsaw Pact satraps of the Soviet Union will have no option but to understand that NATO means nothing and they stand alone. For that matter, given yesterday's news, Finland probably does too. American allies, poor deluded fools, all over the world will take note of their past foolishness, and make their own arrangements for survival or surrender. Neither of their choices will be beneficial to us.

Second, I personally believe that one of the great faults of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies was the failure to include the "Scouring of the Shire" at the end. I don't think that I am alone in this group in longing to see it.

Subotai Bahadur
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Saddening, Wretchard. But not at all surprising for anyone who knows the Left. Obama is a man of the left. As such, he cares nothing for human freedom as long as he has power at home. Like the rest of the American Left, Obama will tolerate any atrocity, back any lie, make any deal with any regieme, as long as the result increases his own power and prestige at home.

I well remember how the left treated the fall of Saigon, the boat people, the cambodian holocaust - they rejoiced in the defeat of imperialist Amerika, and they cared nothing for their victims. So it was with the left and Stalin, so it was with Mao - and so it will be with Putin.

As long as Obama can continue to buy votes by cutting defense spending, he will not care a whit about the freedom for the people of the Ukraine - and his voters will not care either.

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (32)
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Is it with Saruman that Gandalf is negotiating? Or the Mouth of Sauron?

'These are the terms,' said the Messenger, and smiled as he eyed them one by one. 'The rabble of Gondor and its deluded allies shall withdraw at once beyond the Anduin, first taking oaths never again to assail Sauron the Great in arms, open or secret. All lands east of the Anduin shall be Sauron's for ever, solely. West of the Anduin as far as the Misty Mountains and the Gap of Rohan shall be tributary to Mordor, and men there shall bear no weapons, but shall have leave to govern their own affairs. But they shall help to rebuild Isengard which they have wantonly destroyed, and that shall be Sauron's, and there his lieutenant shall dwell: not Saruman, but one more worthy of trust.'...

But Gandalf said: 'This is much to demand for the delivery of one servant: that your Master should receive in exchange what he must else fight many a war to gain! Or has the field of Gondor destroyed his hope in war, so that he falls to haggling? And if indeed we rated this prisoner so high, what surety have we that Sauron, the Base Master of Treachery, will keep his part?'

Unfortunately, I don't see anyone who's qualified to play the part of Gandalf. "Rabble" and "Base Master of Treachery" are terms that apply to both sides in these negotiations.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
The book and movie about Farewell, the KGB colonel who betrayed a massive technology theft operation, also undermines the classic left 'Reagan was a dope' meme. The Soviets were left without their main research bureau, the West, at a time when Reagan was ramping up defense research and acquisition. One of the Lions of the Left, Clark Clifford, referred to Reagan as an amiable dunce. That same Clark Clifford was the beard for the Bank of Commerce and Credit International, also referred to as the Bank of Crooks and Criminals International. Who was the amiable dunce, again?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Putin has time...and actually needs a little.

According to, there's light rain forecast for later in the day in Kharkiv. Low today is 39, but there are some lows in the upper twenties later in the week with some more rain forecast. Average low for March is 27 degrees, this month averages 12 snowy days there. April averages warmer (perhaps in several ways): lows typically in the 40's. Average of two snow days in April.

Now his intervention troops have all-weather capability but the supply trains and regular infantry...perhaps not. Off the main highways that's an issue, just like it was in 1943.

Every day Putin delays the weather improves some and he can look good going through the motions with Kerry, get his troops readier, and arrange his nasty incident justifying intervention. Given the weather, the generals would probably like to wait till late April to boil the pot, and Putin can afford to wait. . .a little.

But I think he has to do something before the Ukrainian elections in mid May.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I understand that Kerry has taken to wearing long underwear to these meetings to avoid total embarrassment.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Extra Extra!! Video has been found of the meetings between Obama and Putin and between Kerry and Lavrov. Seven men died getting this information out.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Roots of Russia’s Revanchism — Energy

Western energy disarmament is proving suicidal.

By William Tucker – 3.21.14

On Wednesday, the New York Times published a very nice account of a speech President Vladimir Putin gave to a group of the Russian elite in the Grand Kremlin Palace. Reported by on-the-scene correspondents, it was free of the usual filtering that takes place in Washington or most of the country’s newsrooms:

In an emotional address steeped in years of resentment and bitterness at perceived slights from the West, Mr. Putin made it clear that Russia’s patience for post-Cold War accommodation, much diminished of late, had finally been exhausted. Speaking to the country’s political elite in the Grand Kremlin Palace, he said he did not seek to divide Ukraine any further, but he vowed to protect Russia’s interests there from what he described as Western actions that had left Russia feeling cornered.

This isn’t exactly the picture John Kerry and Angela Merkel are giving us. According to them, President Putin is “in another world, “behaving in 19th century fashion,” “completely isolated” and “has a huge price to pay.” Close your eyes, however, and you are listening to Hitler lamenting the humiliations visited upon Germany by the Versailles Treaty. They said the same thing about him. You know what happened next.

So why is Putin feeling so resurgent that he feels ready to hit the “reset” button back to 1989? The answer is simple. Practically everything that led to the downfall of Soviet Communism has now been reversed.

Go back and read Peter Schweitzer’s great book, Victory, chronicling how Ronald Reagan brought the Soviet Union to its knees. The first step was to go to the Saudis and make a deal with them to bring down the price of oil. At the time the Soviets were the world’s #2 producer of oil but outside OPEC, having no say in its price manipulations. Appealing to Saudi interests in the Islamic Soviet Republics, CIA director William Casey persuaded the Saudis to flood the market and drive down the price of oil — then at an unconscionable $14 a barrel. In exchange, the Saudis got AWACS to protect themselves from Israel and Iran. This meant placating Israel, which Reagan and Casey accomplished by allowing them to bomb Saddam Hussein’s nuclear complex. The Saudis opened the spigots and the Soviets lost billions in oil revenues.

That was just one piece of the puzzle. The Soviets were also trying to develop their Siberian gas resources and ship them to Europe through the Urengoy-Uzhgorod pipeline. But they lacked cold-weather drilling equipment and were preparing to buy it from Western oil companies. Reagan imposed an embargo on the technology and managed to slow the construction, although the pipeline was eventually completed anyway. This earned Reagan a reputation as a “warmonger” but the results paid off. By the late 1980s the Soviets were virtually bankrupt. Mikhail Gorbachev did not resist the Fall of the Berlin Wall and two year the Soviet Empire collapsed.

Now flash-forward to 2014. Russia is the world’s third largest oil producer, behind Saudi Arabia and the U.S, but coming on fast. When Putin came to power in 1999, the country was earning $41 billion from oil sales and Boris Yeltsin had just defaulted on a $40 billion debt. Today they earn $410 billion. Russia is also the second largest producer of natural gas, behind the U.S., and holds the world’s largest reserves. Europe now depends on Russia for 30 percent of its natural gas supplies and Gazprom is building a pipeline to the Pacific Rim where the market is even more attractive. Altogether, oil and gas exports earn Russia $160 billion a year and cover 60 percent of the national budget.

Moreover, the two strongest economies in the Western alliance — Germany and Japan — are both crippling their economies by abandoning nuclear power. Japan spent $68 billion on gas imports last year, more than half its $112 billion trade deficit. Germany is doing even worse. In a fatuous effort to substitute unreliable wind and solar energy for always-available coal and nuclear, it is driving its utilities to ruin. Last week RWE, Germany’s second-largest utility, announced its first annual loss since the founding of the German Republic in 1949. The company is hammered by grid regulations that require it to accept wind and solar whenever they are available. This means ramping coal plants and reactors up and down at a moment’s notice — virtually impossible — or running them for long intervals without being paid. On top of this comes special fees to cover the higher costs of renewable electricity. Last week, in a little noted transaction, RWE announced it is selling its entire oil and gas operations to — you guessed it — Russian oligarchs Mikhal Fridman and German Khan. No wonder Putin is feeling his oats these days.

The West’s unilateral disarmament over energy i
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
William Safire worked in the Reagan whitehouse and later went on to write for the NY Times. When William Safire told this story back in the 2004 he talked about a piece of subterfuge that resulted in an explosion of the trans siberian pipeline that was supposed to supply natural gas to europe and fund the soviet union in their arms race with the west. (The Russians stole some software with a bug.)
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
The moral of this story, then as now is that if you kill the cost of energy a lot of problems simply go away.

That's what strategic policy looks like. Reagans shows how men who think strategically behave.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama - Putin
Kerry - Lavrov

All a bunch of "leaders from behind'.

Check out what is happening to French Socialists.

What they had to say echoes what Texas conservatives, in particular the Tea Party stalwarts, have been saying for some time: Less federal government (whether D.C. or Brussels), more traditional values, and please, no more immigrants trying to change things around here.

To be sure, close to 40 percent of voters spoke by refusing to speak at all: Never before has the abstention rate been so high in a French election. As with the Texas Democrats — scarcely half a million turned out to vote in the most recent primary — voter abstention is the ruling Socialist Party’s greatest fear. And the problem has only gotten worse as the approval ratings of national leaders have plummeted. François Hollande continues to go in public esteem where no French president has ever gone before: Just before the elections, a poll taken by the newspaper Le Figaro placed his approval rating at 17 percent. (For a little perspective, Obama’s approval ratings in Texas are hovering at just above 30 percent.)

Whether it reflected widespread apathy or hostility, France’s unprecedented abstention rate benefitted the conservative opposition’s base.

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hmmm, I wonder if the Poles are thinking about buying some nukes, and if so who would sell it to them, the Japanese, Israel, France, India, Pakistan, or are there some left overs in one of the other former Warsaw Pact nations.
I read that Sweden is beefing up its military, Finland is making plans, and Norway is thinking about things. It might get nuclear in that neighborhood also.
Are Kerry and Obama whistling "The Col. Bogey March" from the movie "The Bridge over the river Kwai." as they travel from one negotiation to another?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Imperialism, ... an economic system ... to keep ... trade preferred within the empire."

David theLast,
Read the wiki on the Eurasian Economic Union (EAU). That is Putin's answer to the EU. Think of it as the Slavic branch office for trade of the SCO.

Putin's Soviet era vision of the role of trade in building the State differs from the classic British Empire system in a few ways. While the British imported raw materials and exported finished goods at a profit the Russians export petrochemicals and prostitutes and import finished goods. The result is more conducive to the short term concentration of power within the State and among favored cronies who control the trade and distribution networks. In other words it is almost classic Fascism. Compared to the British Imperial system it is more exploitative of both the external trade partners who are forced into a subservient relationship that drains wealth while debasing them and of the average citizens of his own nation who are trapped in a lawless system that discourages innovation and competition.

The best investment strategy in the ruble zone going forward may be in alcohol. While Putin has campaigned against vodka the system he is building will have millions self medicating. The best domestic investment may be in lead brass copper steel and nickel.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Kerry meet Lavrov,
reads a lot like
Lurch goes to the Laff Factory.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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