Why Putin will fail | UPI.com

From Harlan Ullman:

Frozen conflicts are not in Russia’s long-term interest. Of course, while the short-term aim of preventing Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO because of contested borders is working, the long-term economic damage done to Russia will prove politically destructive. Putin certainly is riding a political tiger. However, he has no clear exit strategy for safely dismounting this dangerous beast. That is a fundamental predicament….

What should the United States do? First, common sense and not confrontation is the best means to exploit Putin’s political weaknesses. By threatening Russia, his public will rally around Putin. This does not mean granting concessions. It means being smart not petulant. It also means shifting NATO’s strategy to local defense based on a “porcupine” posture with emphasis on Stinger-like anti-air and Javelin anti-vehicle missiles all reinforced by alliance capabilities to blunt Russian cyber, propaganda, intimidation and other non-conventional forms of war.

Second, the United States needs to dial back on belligerent rhetoric. By all means plan for “full spectrum war.” But do not use a PR bullhorn to announce what is being done. Teddy Roosevelt applies — speak softly but carry a big stick….

Source: Why Russian President Vladimir Putin will fail – UPI.com

A New Cold War? Russia’s Confrontation with the West

Michael A. McFaul, Stanford University professor of political science; director and senior fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; Stanford University, former ambassador to Russia (2012 – 2014).

Colin’s Comment:
Here is what I see as the big picture:

  • The current confrontation is more about the actors than about long-term strategy or geopolitical conflict
  • Russia is part of Europe, culturally and economically, and its destiny lies in the West
  • A strong Russia is in the West’s interest — a weak Russia invites encroachment from China in the East
  • The West has to build a strong deterrent to aggression from the current regime
  • While leaving the door open to long-term participation in European democratic structures, scientific cooperation and trade.

“Putin is not some evil genius from a James Bond movie, he’s the despotic leader of a failing state under immense fiscal strain.”

~ David Llewellyn-Smith from Macrobusiness, commenting on the arrangement between Saudi Arabia and Russia to freeze crude oil output.

Putin: Despotic leader of a failing state….

Russia’s protesting truckers | Euromaidan Press

Vladimir Putin’s worst nightmare — a trucker-Maidan.

Dmytro Homon writes:

First, the protest is spontaneous and is not coordinated from a single center. For that reason, the police have been unable to shut it down because other drivers immediately take the place of the ones detained.

Second, the protestors are not the usual “fifth column” opposition by intellectuals. These are, for the most part, Putin’s voters — tough guys who in elections vote for stability…….

Third, all Russians clearly understand the complaints of the truck drivers. They boil down to the fact that greedy authorities are trying to take the shirt off the back of simple workers…..

For these reasons the usual methods of Russian propaganda are not very effective. The postings of the Olgino trolls (professional commentators from the “troll factory” in the Olgino district of St. Petersburg — Ed.) that these protests are organized by the opposition look ridiculous. Attempts by mass media to ignore the truckers completely are equally ineffective because they have become a major topic in social networks……

Meanwhile, more and more trucks have been arriving to Moscow. What will happen next is a question with no answer yet. In fact, even the truckers themselves do not know what to do after the blockade.

If the Russian authorities use brute force, this risks repeating the fate of Yanukovych. Putin, however, has nowhere to flee from the Kremlin. Well, perhaps to Syria…..

Read more at Russia’s protesting truckers and Putin | Euromaidan Press

Airport Donetsk: There are no victors in war

A surprisingly even-handed documentary of the battle for Donetsk Airport. The overwhelming hardship and sacrifice endured by both sides merely underlines this stark message:

There are no victors in this conflict. Only victims.

The war should not have happened. It was instigated by a cynical politician 1000 kilometers away (in Moscow) to stoke nationalist fervor and shore up dwindling public support. His callous disregard for the sacrifice of Russian and Ukrainian lives, and the economic hardship endured by his fellow citizens — a price he considers worth paying to extend his presidency — highlights what the world faces.

He considers the West weak and vacillating. The sooner we face down this threat, the safer our world will be. These words from William Shakespeare (King John, Act 5, Scene 1) still apply today:

Be great in act, as you have been in thought;
Let not the world see fear and sad distrust
Govern the motion of a kingly eye:
Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;
Threaten the threatener and outface the brow
Of bragging horror: so shall inferior eyes,
That borrow their behaviors from the great,
Grow great by your example and put on
The dauntless spirit of resolution.
….What, shall they seek the lion in his den,
And fright him there? and make him tremble there?
O, let it not be said: forage, and run
To meet displeasure farther from the doors,
And grapple with him ere he comes so nigh.

Putin Will Never Back Down | Institutional Investor’s Alpha

Excellent analysis of the situation in Eastern Europe by Bill Browder, founder of London-based Hermitage Capital Management:

I’m afraid that, based on the reasons behind Putin’s motivations for invading Ukraine in the first place, there is no chance that he will back down. To understand this, all it takes is a simple analysis of how this crisis unfolded.

First, Putin didn’t start this war because of NATO enlargement or historical ties to Crimea, as many analysts have stated. Putin started this war out of fear of being overthrown like Ukrainian president Yanukovych in February 2014. Yanukovych had been stealing billions from the state over many years, and the Ukrainian people finally snapped and overthrew him. Compared with Putin, Yanukovych was a junior varsity player in the field of kleptocracy. For every dollar Yanukovych stole, Putin and his cronies probably stole 50. Putin understands that if he loses power in Russia, he and his underlings will lose all the money they stole; he will lose his freedom and possibly even his life.

I believe that Bill is right. Putin was not reacting to EU or NATO encroachment (they were never a threat), but to Maidan. Especially when we read Michael McFaul’s (former ambassador to Russia) summation of Putin: “He is obsessed with the CIA…..With respect Ukraine he believes the US led the coup in the Ukraine. The Ukrainians had nothing to do with it. It was all the CIA.”

Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul

….. Putin has never dealt with economic chaos before. Though some may argue that this will bring him to the table to negotiate with the West, in my opinion any negotiation would be seen as a sign of weakness and is therefore the last thing Putin would want to do.

Putin’s only likely response is to escalate in Ukraine and possibly open up new fronts in other countries where there are “Russians to protect.” But doing so will only harden the sanctions, leading to further economic pain in Russia — and further military adventures to distract Russia’s people from that pain.

I cannot imagine a scenario in which there is any compromise, because for Putin compromise means being overthrown. Judging from all of his actions to date, he is ready to destroy his country for his own self-preservation.

We should start preparing ourselves for a war in Europe that may spread well beyond the borders of Ukraine. The only Western response to this has to be containment. This all may sound alarmist, but I’ve spent the past eight years in my own war with Putin, and I have a few insights about him that are worth knowing.

In Putin’s mind, he is fighting for survival. The US/EU/Nato and Ukraine are just a convenient scapegoat. His real enemy is the Russian people. This 1945 image of Benito Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, and three others hanging outside a petrol station in Milan must haunt his dreams.
Bodies of Benito Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, and three others hanging outside a petrol station in Milan

When they realize they have been duped, the anger of the Russian people will be palpable.

Read the full article at Unhedged Commentary: Putin Will Never Back Down | Institutional Investor's Alpha.

Russia’s Ruble in a world of pain

Russia’s ruble is in a world of pain, having lost one-third of its value against the Dollar over the last 40 months. The down-trend is accelerating, emphasized by two large 13-week Twiggs Momentum peaks below the zero line.

RUBUSD

Vladimir Putin has backed himself into a corner and has no way out but to escalate. His current strategy in Eastern Europe of one-step-back-two-steps-forward is becoming predictable and the European Union is likely to run out of patience, responding with further sanctions. Increasingly threatening behavior in the Baltic is also unlikely to intimidate, merely strengthening alliances and resolve.

George Soros on the Ukraine crisis:

Former Swedish PM Carl Bildt seems to agree:

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard weighs in on Russia’s economic woes:

In Milan, Germany’s leader strikes the right note on Russian sanctions | Washington Post

Opinion from the Washington Post:

To her credit, Ms. Merkel is staking out a firm position, perhaps because she has spent more time than any other Western leader talking to Mr. Putin about Ukraine. On Monday she said, “There’s a long way to a cease-fire, unfortunately,” and added that Russia would have to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity “not just on paper” before sanctions could be lifted. That added weight to comments last week by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who — even as he tried to promote U.S.-Russian cooperation on other issues — said Russia would have to withdraw “heavy equipment” and allow its border with Ukraine “to be properly monitored and secured” to win sanctions relief.

Mr. Putin is unlikely ever to meet those terms. To do so would doom Novorossiya, which can’t survive without military and material support from Russia. As the sanctions bite, he is as liable to escalate his aggression as to offer concessions….

Further escalation is not likely — it’s inevitable. Decisive action now will save much pain later. Read Putin’s Coup, Ben Judah’s piece on how Vladimir Putin has consolidated his hold on power. The parallels with Germany’s NSDAP in the 1930s are chilling — using fear to quell dissent.

Read more at In Milan, Germany’s leader strikes the right note on Russian sanctions | The Washington Post.

Anna Politkovskaya & Alexander Litvinenko

Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko (1962 – 2006) was a fugitive officer of the Russian FSB secret service who specialised in tackling organised crime. In November 1998, Litvinenko and several other FSB officers publicly accused their superiors of ordering the assassination of the Russian tycoon and oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Litvinenko was arrested twice before fleeing to the United Kingdom where he was granted asylum.

Alexander_Litvinenko

During his time in London, Litvinenko wrote two books, Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within and Lubyanka Criminal Group, wherein he accused the Russian secret services of staging the Russian apartment bombings and other terrorism acts in an effort to bring Vladimir Putin to power. He also accused Putin of ordering the murder in October 2006 of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

On 1 November 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalised in what was established as a case of poisoning by radioactive polonium-210, resulting in his death on 23 November. A British murder investigation pointed to Andrey Lugovoy, a member of Russia’s Federal Protective Service, as the prime suspect. The United Kingdom requested the extradition of Lugovoy, but the request was refused.

Extracted from Wikipedia.

Putin: If you love someone set them free…

Trouble in the East

Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania plan to form a common brigade:

Ben Judah, author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin observes:

“This emerging military alliance between Ukraine and Poland/Lithuania is a sign that the US/EU ability to control it allies decreasing fast.”

Lack of leadership from their Western allies is forcing Eastern NATO states to form their own alliances, which could drag NATO into a conflict with Russia. Garry Kasparov in an interview with Maria Bartiromo sums up the situation:

“If you try to lead from behind no one will follow you….Obama shows unwillingness to engage the challenges that are there.”

Garry Kasparov on Putin

Click on image to play video

Obama is no Ronald Reagan and his reluctance to confront Putin is encouraging further risk-taking. As Petro Poroshenko told the House:

We appreciate the blankets and night-vision goggles that you sent us….but we cannot fight a war with blankets.”

The ceasefire in the East is tenuous and likely to collapse at any time.

If the ceasefire does collapse, Putin will continue to escalate, destroying Obama’s and NATO credibility with their allies in the East. Sanctions have not worked as a deterrent. Brent crude is falling

Nymex and Brent Crude

But the impact on Russia is cushioned by the falling Rouble.

RUBUSD

In the long-term this will cause inflation. But the immediate deterrent effect is negligible.

Trouble in the East

Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania plan to form a common brigade:

Ben Judah, author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin observes:

“This emerging military alliance between Ukraine and Poland/Lithuania is a sign that the US/EU ability to control it allies decreasing fast.”

Lack of leadership from their Western allies is forcing Eastern NATO states to form their own alliances, which could drag NATO into a conflict with Russia. Garry Kasparov in an interview with Maria Bartiromo sums up the situation:

“If you try to lead from behind no one will follow you….Obama shows unwillingness to engage the challenges that are there.”

Garry Kasparov on Putin

Click on image to play video

Obama is no Ronald Reagan and his reluctance to confront Putin is encouraging further risk-taking. As Petro Poroshenko told the House:

We appreciate the blankets and night-vision goggles that you sent us….but we cannot fight a war with blankets.”

The ceasefire in the East is tenuous and likely to collapse at any time.

If the ceasefire does collapse, Putin will continue to escalate, destroying Obama’s and NATO credibility with their allies in the East. Sanctions have not worked as a deterrent. Brent crude is falling

Nymex and Brent Crude

But the impact on Russia is cushioned by the falling Rouble.

RUBUSD

In the long-term this will cause inflation. But the immediate deterrent effect is negligible.

Putin Attacks the West’s Soft Underbelly | World Affairs Journal

From Arthur Milikh at the Heritage Foundation:

Alexander Hamilton lamented long ago, in Federalist 25, what may become our tendency to act as if “all that kind of policy by which nations anticipate distant danger and meet the gathering storm must be abstained from.” Putin knows we want to be deceived. But what nation would choose, as Hamilton puts it, to “receive the blow before we could even prepare to return it”?

Putin’s new genre of war in part stems from our Western intellectual deficiencies. He knows we cannot countenance full-on conventional warfare in such a critical region—but we can swallow ambiguity. He knows that we will likely intervene only on account of moralism or shame, but we will not act strategically, trusting in our judgment. Putin will provide us with empirical data to sufficiently muddy the waters and thereby destroy our confidence in our own intuition. The incursion of a “humanitarian” convoy of 200-plus trucks into Ukraine last month was a masterful example of this….

Read more at Putin Attacks the West's Soft Underbelly | World Affairs Journal.

Putin’s Playbook | NYTimes.com

From Maxim Trudolyubov, opinion page editor of the business newspaper Vedomosti:

…So what is Mr. Putin up to, my American friends and colleagues keep asking. He is, quite simply, bent on preserving and expanding his personal and Russia’s international power. Some of his methods were inherited from the Soviets, some were developed in the absence of domestic political traditions, and some were borrowed from the West. There is no consistent ideology. Nor is there is anything particularly Russian about his beliefs. But the methodology in his playbook is constant and ruthless. It involves techniques that function when all past checks on power — institutional constraints and traditional values — are gone. If it’s true that much of the world is moving in this same ruthless direction, then, yes, Mr. Putin’s methods are indeed political guidelines for the future.

Read more at Putin's Playbook – NYTimes.com.

Garry Kasparov: It’s a War, Stupid! | TIME

From Gary Kasparov:

As always when it comes to stopping dictators, with every delay the price goes up. Western leaders have protested over the potential costs of action Ukraine at every turn only to be faced with the well-established historical fact that the real costs of inaction are always higher. Now the only options left are risky and difficult, and yet they must be tried. The best reason for acting to stop Putin today is brutally simple: It will only get harder tomorrow.

Read more at Garry Kasparov: It’s a War, Stupid! | TIME.

War in Europe

Vladimir Putin has escalated the conflict in Eastern Ukraine with new incursions of tanks backed with artillery, anti-aircraft missile systems and up to 15,000 Russian troops. Intent on seizing as much territory as possible, he is banking on the US/European coalition responding with another slap on the wrist. Each weak response has only made Putin bolder. But where he may miscalculate is that the coalition is aware that its “stick-and-carrot” policy has failed and will be looking for a new approach.

Willingness of the Europeans to endure immediate economic pain in the belief that this will avert a long-term calamity is yet to be tested. Success will depend on France, Spain and Italy’s support for their Northern and Central European neighbours, who face a more immediate threat.

A significant step-up in sanctions is likely and the initial response from European markets will be negative. Sanctions are a two-edged sword and likely to hurt Europe almost as much as they do Russia. But NATO rearmament in the medium-term would somewhat offset the initial cost. Never underestimate the stimulus effect of war on local industry — provided the war is fought outside one’s borders

Germany’s DAX is running into stiff resistance as it approaches 9750. And 13-week Twiggs Money Flow below zero warns of selling pressure, threatening a reversal. Retreat below 9250 would strengthen the signal and failure of support at 8900/9000 would confirm a primary down-trend.

DAX

* Target calculation: 9000 – ( 10000 – 9000 ) = 8000

Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50 reversal below 3100 and 13-week Twiggs Money Flow below zero would add further weight to the (bear) signal.

Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50

* Target calculation: 3000 – ( 3300 – 3000 ) = 2700

The S&P 500, unfazed by recent developments in Europe, broke resistance at 2000 to signal an advance to 2100*. A 21-Day Twiggs Money Flow trough above zero indicates rising (medium-term) buying pressure. Reversal below 1990 is unlikely, but would warn of another correction.

S&P 500

* Target calculation: 2000 + ( 2000 – 1900 ) = 2100

CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), shown here on a ten-year chart, indicates low risk typical of a bull market.

S&P 500 VIX

Shanghai Composite Index, responding to PBOC stimulus, is testing resistance at 2250. Rising 13-week Twiggs Money Flow indicates medium-term buying pressure. Breakout would confirm a primary up-trend, signaling an advance to 2500*. Respect of resistance is less likely, but would suggest further consolidation.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target calculation: 2250 + ( 2250 – 2000 ) = 2500

The ASX 200 is testing resistance at 5650. Continued strength in US and Chinese stocks would improve the chance of an ASX 200 breakout, suggesting an advance to 5850*. Bearish divergence on 13-week Twiggs Money Flow — shown here on a monthly chart — continues to warn of long-term selling pressure. But failure to cross below zero would negate this and completion of another trough above zero would indicate that buyers are back in control. Reversal below 5450 is unlikely, but would warn of a test of primary support.

ASX 200

* Target calculation: 5650 + ( 5650 – 5450 ) = 5850

The Russians Are Coming | Michael Weiss

Chilling how accurate Michael Weiss’ March 28 analysis in Foreign Policy is proving to be.

Euro, Yen plunge against Dollar

The Euro broke support at $1.33, signaling a further decline against the Dollar with a target of $1.30*. Falling 13-week Twiggs Momentum, below zero, warns of a strong down-trend. Recovery above $1.35 is most unlikely, but would suggest that the down-trend is slowing.

Euro/USD

* Target calculation: 1.35 – ( 1.40 – 1.35 ) = 1.30

The recent rally of the Euro against the Russian ruble has faltered. An economic contraction and rising tensions over Eastern Ukraine both contributed. The Euro remains in an up-trend and recovery above RUB 49 would suggest another attempt at the previous high of RUB 51. But failure of support at RUB 46 would signal a primary down-trend. 13-Week Twiggs Momentum oscillating close to zero reflects current uncertainty.

Euro/Rouble

Vladimir Putin is attempting to exploit fault lines in the US/European alliance, targeting the powerful European farming and motor industry lobbies. Unauthorized incursions into Ukrainian territory by his white-painted “aid convoy” are another example, where the infringement is so apparently inoffensive that Angela Merkel will find it difficult to convince her European allies to escalate sanctions further. Failure to react will merely embolden Putin to conduct further minor infringements in defiance of the EU, confident in their response, until the Ukraine suffers “death by a thousand cuts”.

Putin

Only if the US/EU adopt an aggressive escalation, as suggested here on Defence & Freedom, are they likely to contain Russian aggression.

“…a defensive and reactionary game plan makes one predictable. The very existence of a crisis should be understood as a hint that someone used this predictability to predict the outcome of a produced crisis — and arrived at the conclusion that it’s a good idea. Aka failure of deterrence.”

Japan

As with the Euro, the Japanese Yen is also weakening against the Dollar. The Greenback broke resistance at ¥103.50, signaling a rally to test the 2013 high. Follow-through above ¥104 would confirm. Rising 13-week Twiggs Momentum above zero strengthens the signal. Reversal below ¥103 is unlikely, but would warn of another test of primary support at ¥101.

USD/JPY

Australia

The Aussie Dollar, however, is holding its own — ranging between $0.92 and $0.95 against the US Dollar. The narrow band and 13-week Twiggs Momentum holding above zero both suggest continuation of the up-trend. Breakout above $0.95 would suggest a target of $0.97. Reversal below $0.92 is unlikely at present, but would warn of a decline to the band of support between $0.87 and $0.89.

Aussie Dollar

The ASX 200, retracing slightly from resistance at 5650, is also influenced by strong foreign investment flows. Indications are predominantly bullish, including 21-day Twiggs Money Flow forming troughs above zero. Follow-through above 5660 would signal another advance, with a medium-term target of 5850. Reversal above 5550 is unlikely, but would warn of another test of primary support.

ASX 200

* Target calculation: 5650 + ( 5650 – 5450 ) = 5850