Category Archives: The Stans & Former Soviet Republics

UK Companies ‘Linked to Azerbaijan Pipeline Bribery Scandal’

Jamie Doward reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Azerbaijan pipeline bribery scandalFour British companies are alleged to have played a key part in a multimillion pound bribery scandal involving a leading Italian politician.

Luca Volontè, a former member of the Union of the Centre party in Italy, has been accused of helping quash a human rights report criticising Azerbaijan, one of the world’s most authoritarian countries. The Observer has also established that one of the UK companies was allegedly linked to a scandal involving Russian organised crime.

Volontè, who is also president of the European People’s party in the Council of Europe, is being investigated by the Milan public prosecutor’s office for allegedly accepting €2.39m in bribes.

It is claimed that Volontè received the money in exchange for persuading the People’s party to vote against a 2013 report by the council, Europe’s leading human rights organisation, that highlighted the plight of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. He denies any wrongdoing.



How Putin’s Fake News Machine Spread From Ukraine Across the Globe

Sebastien Roblin writes for War Is Boring:

The American press is awash with reporting on how fake news is flooding the Internet, and may have impacted the U.S. election. Blatantly false articles designed to stoke partisan passions on both sides generated clicks, ad revenue and righteous outrage that could be manipulated to serve political ends.

But while the 2016 may be the year that fake news on the Internet became the news, the outbreak of the fighting in Eastern Ukraine in 2014 was the first time it was weaponized in full public view.

It is natural, of course, that Russian media would have its own perspective on a conflict pitting ethnic Russians against Ukrainians. Accurate information is exceedingly difficult to obtain out of any armed conflict, and both loyalists and rebels in Ukraine engaged in “information warfare” and its fabrications.

What is not “natural” — or at least, naturally-occurring — is the concerted state-sponsored effort by the Kremlin to manufacture false news stories and commenters and push them through both official and unofficial outlets under its direction and control in order to enable Russian foreign policy objectives.

The methods pioneered in 2014 were a harbinger of the deluge that struck Europe and the United States in 2016.


Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying

Mark Ames writes for AlterNet:

Last month, the Washington Post gave a glowing front-page boost to an anonymous online blacklist of hundreds of American websites, from marginal conspiracy sites to flagship libertarian and progressive publications. As Max Blumenthal reported for AlterNet, the anonymous website argued that all of them should be investigated by the federal government and potentially prosecuted under the Espionage Act as Russian spies, for wittingly or unwittingly spreading Russian propaganda.

My own satirical newspaper was raided and closed down by the Kremlin in 2008, on charges of “extremism”—akin to terrorism—which I took seriously enough to leave for home for good. What the Washington Post did in boosting an anonymous blacklist of American journalists accused of criminal treason is one of the sleaziest, and most disturbing (in a very familiar Kremlin way) things I’ve seen in this country since I fled for home. The WaPo is essentially an arm of the American deep state; its owner, Jeff Bezos, is one of the three richest Americans, worth $67 billion, and his cash cow, Amazon, is a major contractor with the Central Intelligence Agency. In other words, this is as close to an official US government blacklist of journalists as we’ve seen—a dark ominous warning before they take the next steps.

It’s now been a few days, and the shock and disgust is turning to questions about how to fight back—and who we should be fighting against. Who were the Washington Post’s sources for their journalism blacklist?


Kazakhstan: ‘Bigger Than One Person’

Kathrin Hille, Lionel Barber and Henry Foy report for the Financial Times:

[…] Since its founding 25 years ago out of the ashes of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan’s economy has grown 10-fold thanks to its oil riches. Central Asia’s “big brother” has been a haven of stability and prosperity in a region plagued by Islamist radicalism, poverty and drug trafficking.

Most Kazakhs credit one man with this success: Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 76-year-old president. A former Communist party boss, Mr Nazarbayev navigated post-Soviet independence from 1991. He threw the doors open to foreign investors, privatised key parts of the economy and created a westernised elite by sending tens of thousands of young men and women to study in Europe and the US. He is also credited with forging a national identity in a country where forced migration in the Soviet era had made the traditionally nomadic Kazakhs a minority in their own homeland.

Kazakhstan has benefited enormously from its founding father’s pragmatic economic policies and geopolitical savvy, but the question of succession looms large. Over the past two years, Kazakhstan has been battling the fall in oil prices, a recession in Russia and a slowdown in China. And while it has managed to avoid a recession, it has seen strikes at its oilfields and protests over planned land reforms this year.

“This is the moment when you need a real risk manager. Right now there is no real successor to deal with such a dangerous situation,” says Aidan Karibzhanov, general director of Visor Holding, an Almaty-headquartered investment house with assets across Central Asia.


How World War III Could Start

Jonathan Marshall writes for The National Interest:

If humanity ever suffers a Third World War, chances are good it will start in some locale distant from the United States like the Baltic or South China Seas, the Persian Gulf, or Syria, where Washington and its rivals play daily games of “chicken” with lethal air and naval forces.

Far from enhancing U.S. security, the aggressive deployment of our armed forces in these and other hot spots around the world may be putting our very survival at risk by continuously testing and prodding other military powers. What our military gains from forward deployment, training exercises, and better intelligence may be more than offset by the unnecessary provocation of hostile responses that could escalate into uncontrollable conflicts.


U.S. Pledges $30 Million to Rebuild Ukraine’s Navy

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

The host of one of Russia’s main fleets until the secession of Crimea, calling Ukraine’s own navy a mess would be an understatement. Built around aging Soviet hand-me-downs, the ships they did have largely defected along with Crimea.
Indeed, while they have some small attack boats and the like, it would be fair to classify Ukraine’s entire “navy” as one ship, the Hetman Sahaydachnyy, their flagship, which is in the process of being repaired and refitted. Even this ship is just a frigate, but apart from coastal patrol boats and tug boats, it is what’s left.

Ukrainian Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ihor Voronchenko is playing up the repairs and upgrades to their ship as the beginning of a major increase in capacity which will allow them to “counter Russia” in the Black Sea. The US is bankrolling part of this effort with $30 million in aid.


Ukrainian and Russian Elite Benefit From New Flare-Ups at the Border

Jaisal Noor speaks to Moscow-based political economist Aleksandr Buzgalin about how recent border confrontations distract from domestic policies as a source of internal social problems. (The Real News)

Rise of the Nazi-Grave Robbers

Thomas Rogers reports for Bloomberg Businessweek:

IMAGE TITLE[…] During the final months of World War II, Latvia was the site of especially bloody battles between German and Soviet forces. Approximately 350,000 Nazis were cut off here from the rest of the German line in the autumn of 1944, in what became known as the Courland Pocket. In the months that followed, about 100,000 of them were killed.

After Latvia came under Soviet control in 1945, authorities had little interest in exhuming dead soldiers, and today, 26 years after independence, numberless bodies are still buried in the country’s forests and fields. That has left well-meaning volunteers like Esmits’s group to exhume, identify, and rebury dead soldiers.

But in recent years, the often illicit market in Nazi memorabilia has intensified, creating a new class of diggers across eastern Europe that is at odds with Esmits’s work. Of particular interest are relics—items dug up from the ground. “When we first started, the market for relics was a local one—you couldn’t even call it a market,” Esmits said. “Then the internet appeared, and Europe and the world opened up, and many things changed.”


How Trump’s (Former) Campaign Chief Helped Get a Strongman Elected President of Ukraine

Luke Harding reports for The Guardian:

The scene was Ostroh, western Ukraine, on the eve of parliamentary elections.

A tall figure bounded on to a stage to cheers from a crowd of elderly flag-waving supporters. They chanted: “Yan-u-kov-ych, Yan-u-kov-ych.”

The man addressing them was Viktor Yanukovych, who at this point – autumn 2007 – was Ukraine’s pro-Russian prime minister. Three years earlier he had tried to cheat his way to victory in the country’s presidential election, triggering the pro-democracy uprising known as the Orange Revolution, which swept Yanukovych’s rival Viktor Yushchenko into power.

Now, barely three years later, Yanukovych was back, and his Party of Regions was ahead in the polls.


Trump’s ‘Extreme Vetting’ Test for Immigrants, His Position on NATO and Russia and his Campaign Head’s $13m Scandal in Ukraine

Amy Goodman speaks to Matt Taibbi, award-winning journalist with Rolling Stone magazine, Phyllis Bennis, author of Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror and Linda Sarsour, director of the first Muslim online organizing platform, MPower Change. They join Amy Goodman to talk about a  number of issues including Donald Trump’s vow to institute “extreme vetting” of visa applicants, his position on NATO and Russia, and his campaign head’s $13 million scandal in Ukraine. (Democracy Now!)

Biden Urges Ukraine President to Avoid Escalating Tensions With Russia

Reuters reports:

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a memorial service for three slain Baton Rouge police officers at Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan BachmanU.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone on Friday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and urged him “to do his part” to avoid escalating tensions with Russia, the White House said.

Biden noted that the United States has urged the Russian side to do the same, the White House said in a statement. Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of trying to provoke a conflict over Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014.


How Liam Fox Got Into Bed with Azerbaijan’s Kleptocrats

Nick Cohen reports for The Guardian:

In 2013, Dr Liam Fox – he insists on the “Doctor” – published a book on the challenges of globalisation, which read as if he had dictated into his phone between meetings. Rising Tides was a meandering work. It took a long time to say little and did as abysmally as you would expect. Nielsen International, which monitors book sales, told me the English edition had sold a mere 1,723 copies in the UK and 1,876 copies in the English-speaking foreign markets it watches. (Most were probably in the US, where Dr Fox has a small following in America’s raging right wing.)

In 2014, Dr Fox received news that he was the beneficiary of a stroke of good fortune. Our new secretary for international trade may be hopelessly unqualified to deal with the dangerous pass he helped bring Britain to by agitating for Brexit, but he can trade on his own account.

The register of MPs interests shows that the oil-rich dictatorship of Azerbaijan, via its London lobbyists, paid Dr Fox £5,700 for the right to translate Rising Tides into an Azerbaijani Turkish edition. The generosity of Azerbaijan’s rulers did not stop there. On 1 February 2015, the regime flew him and an aide to Istanbul to launch the book and put them up in a luxury hotel. . The cost of the four-day trip was £3,579.94.


Ukraine, After War, Becomes a Trove for Black Market Arms Trade

Alessandra Prentice and Anton Zverev report for Reuters:

[…] The fighting in eastern Ukraine between the Moscow-backed separatists and Ukraine’s pro-Western government killed hundreds of people, displaced thousands of residents and created a Cold War-style stand off between Moscow in the West.

It also had another consequence that is less visible but could in time prove equally dangerous: the conflict took huge amounts of arms out of government arsenals and put them in the hands of irregular units unable to properly control them.

Now the fighting has subsided, according to security officials and experts on the arms trade, the weapons are getting into the hands of criminals and being spirited to buyers well beyond the conflict zone.

Interviews by Reuters with security officials and rebels, as well as study of law enforcement data and court documents have shown that weapons are being channeled out of the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in significant numbers, in some cases as part of an organized underground trade.


Hacked Emails Reveal NATO General Plotting Against Obama on Russia Policy

Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani report for The Intercept:

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, until recently the supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe, plotted in private to overcome President Barack Obama’s reluctance to escalate military tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine in 2014, according to apparently hacked emails from Breedlove’s Gmail account that were posted on a new website called DC Leaks.

Obama defied political pressure from hawks in Congress and the military to provide lethal assistance to the Ukrainian government, fearing that doing so would increase the bloodshed and provide Russian President Vladimir Putin with the justification for deeper incursions into the country.

Breedlove, during briefings to Congress, notably contradicted the Obama administration regarding the situation in Ukraine, leading to news stories about conflict between the general and Obama.

But the leaked emails provide an even more dramatic picture of the intense back-channel lobbying for the Obama administration to begin a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine.


Ex-NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen Named as Adviser to Ukraine’s President

AP reports:

A former NATO Secretary-General and Danish prime minister has been named an adviser to Ukraine’s president.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Twitter Saturday that he will do his “utmost to promote security, economic reforms and stronger EU ties.”

A statement on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s website did not specify on what issues Fogh Rasmussen might concentrate.

Fogh Rasmussen described the security situation in eastern Ukraine “alarming” on his Facebook page. Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine for two years and more than 9,300 people have been killed.

Ukraine, which wants to join the 28-nation European Union, also “must implement much needed reforms,” including “enhanced fight against corruption.”

The 63-year-old Dane was NATO chief 2009-2014 after his eight years as Danish head of government.


Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Will Remain a Threat for 3,000 Years

Matthew Schofield reports for McClachty:

Twenty years after the disaster, Yuri Andreyev, a former senior engineer at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, pointed to the destroyed Reactor No. 4 in a photo made a few hours after the April 26, 1986, explosion. // Efrem Lukatsky / AP Before the fire, the vomiting, the deaths and the vanishing home, it was the promise of bumper cars that captured the imagination of the boys.

It was 30 years ago that Pripyat and the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant became synonymous with nuclear disaster, that the word Chernobyl came to mean more than just a little village in rural Ukraine, and this place became more than just another spot in the shadowy Soviet Union.

Even 30 years later – 25 years after the country that built it ceased to exist – the full damage of that day is still argued.

Death toll estimates run from hundreds to millions. The area near the reactor is both a teeming wildlife refuge and an irradiated ghost-scape. Much of eastern and central Europe continues to deal with fallout aftermath. The infamous Reactor Number 4 remains a problem that is neither solved nor solvable.


NATO Seeks Bigger Black Sea Fleet to Target Russia

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Already picking fights with Russia in the Baltic Sea, and deploying ever growing numbers of ground troops in Eastern Europe, NATO’s latest focus in needling Russia is a major increase in naval presence in the Black Sea.

It makes sense from the position of NATO hawks. After all, the Black Sea includes one of Russia’s most historically important ports, at Sevastopol, and NATO is eager to contest Russia’s ownership of the Crimean Peninsula, in which that port is located.

It’s not going to be simple, however, as the effort will mostly have to come without the direct involvement of either the United States or Britain, NATO’s two biggest navies, and the two nations most eager to stick it to Russia.


President Poroshenko’s Problems and the Crisis of the U.S. ‘Ukrainian Project’: Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

Contributing editor to The Nation, Professor Stephen F. Cohen, and radio host John Batchelor, continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War, this week focussing on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and events related to the second anniversary of the Ukranian civil war/U.S.-Russia proxy war. (The John Batchelor Show)

U.S. ‘Information War’ and the Embryonic Kerry–Lavrov Détente: Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

Contributing editor to the The Nation, Professor Stephen F. Cohen, and John Batchelor, continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War, this week primarily focussing on the Panama Papers and negotiations between Kerry and Lavrov relating to Syria and Ukraine. (The John Batchelor Show)

What Triggered The Conflict In Nagorno-Karabakh? Interview with Daniel Hamilton, Sergey Strokan and Marcus Papadopoulos

In this episode of Inside Story presenter Martine Dennis talks to Daniel Hamilton, political commentator on eastern European and South Caucasus affairs, Sergey Strokan, political commentator at the daily newspaper Kommersant, and Marcus Papadopoulos, editor of Politics First magazine, about the long-standing dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Al Jazeera English)

Nagorno-Karabakh: Azeri-Armenian Ceasefire Reportedly Agreed In Disputed Region

Shaun Walker reports for The Guardian:

A ceasefire has been announced in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh after four days of intense fighting that has left dozens dead and threatened to degenerate into full-blown war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Karabakh is technically part of Azerbaijan but has been run by an ethnic Armenian government ever since the Soviet Union collapsed. Azerbaijan said 16 servicemen were killed in the past 48 hours, while the separatist Karabakh authorities said 20 of its troops had died and also reported civilian casualties.

The ceasefire announcement on Tuesday came amid diplomatic pressure to stop the fighting, with fears the localised clashes could spiral into a wider conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and possibly even a proxy war involving Russia and Turkey.


If Azerbaijan Is A Democracy, Why Were We Imprisoned For Our Views?

Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Anar Mammadli write for The Guardian:

Ilham Aliyev, the president of our country, Azerbaijan, is in Washington DC, attending a meeting with democratic leaders from around the world. But our country is not a functioning democracy.

We are now home with our families, but that was only a recent development. Two weeks ago, all three of us were behind bars with sentences of between six and seven-and-a-half years, prosecuted under trumped-up charges. Two of us were pardoned in the amnesty of Novruz holiday on 17 March, when 12 other political prisoners were also set free. A third, Inti gam Aliyev, had his sentence reduced to five years on probation on 28 March.

We were not the last political prisoners. Many journalists, politicians, activists and bloggers are still behind bars. The most prominent, Khadija Ismayilova, investigated the personal wealth of Aliyev and his extended family. She was detained in December 2014 and is now charged with embezzlement and abuse of power, and is serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence. She is locked up, but not broken: her mother says she is singing opera arias and she has translated Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani into Azeri. Ilgar Mammadov is also in jail for seven years for daring to be a candidate in the 2013 presidential election. He is head of the Republican Alternative opposition movement. His wife says that his spirits are high and indeed he continues a blog from behind bars.


Poroshenko’s Ukraine: Business As Usual

The Kyiv Post writes:

Want to know what life under President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman would look like? Judging from the behind-the-scenes jockeying to install Groysman as the replacement for Arseniy Yatsenyuk, it will be more of the same — and that will be bad for Ukraine.

Groysman’s emergence as likely prime minister is coming after closed-door dealings that lock out the public and, most likely, the public’s interests. To reach a majority of 226 votes in this Verkhovna Rada, it appears that concessions have been made to the oligarchs, fake populists and vested interests that have fleeced the nation since its independence in 1991. Groysman will present his program in parliament on March 25. He should talk about how he plans to break the grip of vested interests, but we doubt he has interest in doing so.

The stinky process to replace Yatsenyuk is more reason why only two options are acceptable: a professional and patriotic government led by Natalie Jaresko, the nation’s finance minister, or early elections to give voters another chance to drive out the corrupt old hacks that still dominate in parliament. In the end, Poroshenko became too frightened by Jaresko’s independence and the prospect that corrupt business as usual, especially in rule of law, will come to an end with her as prime minister.


BBC Imagines World War III

Gilbert Doctorow reports for Consortium News:

Now, with a nuclear strike on London imminent, military commanders and senior Government figures in a Whitehall bunker must choose whether to launch our Trident missiles in response, having already decided against a nuclear strike at an earlier stage in the crisisThe documentary film “World War Three: Inside the War Room was described in advance by the BBC as a “war game” detailing the minute-by-minute deliberations of the country’s highest former defense and security officials facing an evolving crisis involving Russia.

What gave unusual realism and relevance to their participation is that they were speaking their own thoughts, producing their own argumentation, not reading out lines handed to them by television script writers.

The mock crisis to which they were reacting occurs in Latvia as the Kremlin’s intervention on behalf of Russian speakers in the south of this Baltic country develops along lines of events in the Donbas as from summer 2014. When the provincial capital of Daugavpils and more than 20 towns in the surrounding region bordering Russia are taken by pro-Russian separatists, the United States calls upon its NATO allies to deliver an ultimatum to the Russians to pull back their troops within 72 hours or be pushed out by force.

This coalition of the willing only attracts the British. After the deadline passes, the Russians “accidentally” launch a tactical nuclear strike against British and American vessels in the Baltic Sea, destroying two ships with the loss of 1,200 Marines and crew on the British side. Washington then calls for like-for-like nuclear attack on a military installation in Russia, which, as we understand, leads to full nuclear war.

The show was aired on Feb. 3 by BBC Two, meaning it was directed at a domestic audience, not the wider world. However, in the days since its broadcast, it has attracted a great deal of attention outside the United Kingdom, more in fact than within Britain. The Russians, in particular, adopted a posture of indignation, calling the film a provocation.



NATO Plans Biggest Build-Up Since Cold War

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In a move sparked by the latest Pentagon plans for a major increase in US military spending, NATO defense ministers are preparing to meet later this week to work out the details of a massive new deployment along the Russian border, with plans to up to 40,000 NATO personnel to head to the area

The Baltic states and some other NATO members have been playing up the idea of a Russian invasion of Europe for over a year now, and while nothing ever came of it, they keep adding troops to the area, with the latest deployment to be the largest NATO deployment since the Cold War.

The Pentagon’s spending hike itself came on the pretext of “Russian aggression,” though the US of course outspends Russia on its military by roughly a factor of 10. Several other NATO members have spending only a bit lower than Russia’s.


The U.S. Is Fortifying Europe’s East to Deter Putin

Mark Landler and Helene Cooper report for The New York Times:

President Obama plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russia from further aggression in the region.

The White House plans to pay for the additional weapons and equipment with a budget request of more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe in 2017, several officials said Monday, more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million. The weapons and equipment will be used by American and NATO forces, ensuring that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade in the region at all times.

Though Russia’s military activity has quieted in eastern Ukraine in recent months, Moscow continues to maintain a presence there, working with pro-Russian local forces. Administration officials said the additional NATO forces were calculated to send a signal to President Vladimir V. Putin that the West remained deeply suspicious of his motives in the region.

“This is not a response to something that happened last Tuesday,” a senior administration official said. “This is a longer-term response to a changed security environment in Europe. This reflects a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor.”


The New US-Russian Cold War Originated in the 1990s: Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new American-Russian Cold War. This installment begins with Cohen’s commentary on Russian President Putin’s remarkable statements, in a recent interview, that post-Soviet Russia was itself, not the West, responsible for the misery into which the country fell in the 1990s (a tacit but harsh criticism of his own patron, then President Boris Yeltsin). More importantly, Putin blames the Yeltsin government for not resisting the beginning of US encroachment on Russia’s security in the 1990s through the eastward expansion of NATO, resulting in today’s new Cold War. Cohen points out this is typical of Putin’s candor and wonders if Washington’s Russia “experts,” who are always being “surprised” by the Russian leader, actually read what he says and writes. The discussion turns then to the growing crisis of the European Union, including worsening conflicts among its member states—among them disputes over the flood of refugees, the new right-wing government in Poland, a forthcoming referendum in the Netherlands that could block Ukraine’s planned association with the EU, events in Ukraine itself, and relations with Russia. Cohen ends by pointing out America’s escalating opposition to Secretary of State John Kerry’s photo-détente with Putin, as evidenced by op-ed articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times, and by statements of top-rank generals that Russia is an ever growing military threat to the West, not a worthy partner in the Syrian war. Meanwhile, at the political epicenter of the new Cold War, Russia is suffering from Western sanctions and the collapse of world energy prices, but Ukraine is in ruins. (The Nation)

Obama to Hollande: Stay the course against Russia

Michael Crowley reports for Politico:

obama_francois_hollande_AP.jpgWhen President Barack Obama hosts French President François Hollande on Tuesday, he’ll have more on his agenda than demonstrating solidarity against terrorism. He’ll also be working to make sure Hollande sticks with the international effort to punish and isolate Vladimir Putin for his aggression in Ukraine.

Privately, Obama officials say they are concerned about whether key European leaders are prepared to extend sanctions on Moscow, which expire in late January. And they are wary of any effort by Putin — who will host Hollande in Moscow later this week — to link events in Syria and Ukraine. The fear is that Putin might try to trade more aggressive Russian action against the Islamic State for France’s backing in reducing or ending the sanctions.

A premature end to sanctions in Europe “is always our worry,” said Evelyn Farkas, who served until last month as the Pentagon’s top official for Russia and Ukraine. “They can’t back away from sanctions. Ukraine is a separate situation” from Syria.


 Will Paris Melt the New US-Russian Cold War? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussion of the new East-West Cold War. Accelerating a trend already evident as a result of the Syrian crisis, according to Cohen, the savage terrorist acts on Paris almost immediately resulted in a French-Russian military alliance against the Islamic State in Syria, with French President Hollande and most of Europe dramatically breaking with the Obama Administration’s nearly two-year-old policy of “isolating Putin’s Russia” over the Ukrainian crisis. (The Nation)

John Kerry Is Cautious on Human Rights During Uzbekistan Visit

David Sanger reports for The New York Times:

Secretary of State John Kerry prides himself on his willingness to deal directly with some of the world’s most repressive governments, and his insistence on “engagement” has yielded results this year from Iran to Cuba. But even the State Department had a hard time explaining the strategy for transforming the behavior of President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, a ruler whose human rights record is frequently compared to North Korea’s.

The United States Embassy in Tashkent, the capital, famously described Mr. Karimov’s government, in a diplomatic cable leaked in the WikiLeaks trove, as a “nightmarish world of rampant corruption, organized crime, forced labor in the cotton fields and torture.” The State Department’s human rights reports indicate that with the possible exception of child labor, the situation has not improved. Mr. Karimov has been in power for a quarter-century and is in his fourth term, brushing off reminders that Uzbekistan’s Constitution limits him to two.

On Sunday, Mr. Kerry spent more than an hour with Mr. Karimov, on the second stop of a tour of all five Central Asian nations. And like the Bush administration and his immediate predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who visited here in 2011 and relaxed some of the sanctions imposed after hundreds of antigovernment protesters were shot in the streets a decade ago, he found himself struggling over how hard, and how publicly, to press one of the harshest authoritarian governments in the world.